Happy Monday, everyone! Today I have sort of a Monday-type question for you (in other words, one that you probably won’t really feel like answering because you suspect you will have to admit something unpalatable about yourself if you did). But don’t worry, we’re all here together, and I promise not to leave you on an uninspired note. Anyway, here’s the question: do you have something, or a variety of somethings in your life, something about yourself, something you want to stop doing, or need to start doing, but you don’t, and what’s more, the way you are going along is simply making you more and more miserable (or you have the suspicion that it is, when you spend a moment to look at whatever the situation is out of the corner of your eye), and yet you keep doing it anyway? Well, I do. I have one big something and a variety of small somethings, and I can’t seem to get any real traction on dealing with them. Most of the time I feel like I really don’t have what it takes to do what it takes. But then yesterday afternoon I fell asleep and had this dream…
I dreamt that I was slowly starting to lose function in different parts of my body, but I couldn’t tell if it was real or not real. Like for example, I couldn’t move one side of my body at one point. I kept falling over or down flights of stairs. Then later, I couldn’t talk. It was rather a desperate situation, because no matter what happened, the people around me didn’t really believe that anything was wrong with me. They kept saying various unhelpful things like, “Just ignore it.” Or, “see, you didn’t really fall down, you caught yourself at the end, so you must be okay.” Or they’d take me to a doctor who would say that I didn’t have a fatal illness, so I must surely be exaggerating. And I had no way to say what was wrong with me, because I had no idea. The whole thing had a frightening, paranoid, and overwhelmingly desperate feeling to it, like being trapped completely inside your own self, and your own self was no place you wanted to be.
What’s worse, I had that afternoon nap feeling where you sort of wake up and then fall back to sleep and you keep feeling like you know you need to wake up but you can’t because you’re stuck in sleep quicksand. But, I felt very strongly like there was something this dream was trying to tell me, and so I kept letting myself fall back into it over and over.
There was a priest in the dream. I know he was a priest because he was wearing a long purple robe. Sometimes he would talk to me, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. And sometimes he would be standing somewhere in the distance and I knew I had to make my body move in order to get to him. The dream started to come to this crescendo where I was just about to finally say what was wrong with me–it was a heartbeat away–and I knew that if I said what was wrong out loud, I would be saved–but then I started to wake up. And while I was waking up I was having a conversation with God.
Because in my real, non-dream life, I know that prayer will make the things that I am struggling to do differently more possible. But when I try to pray, all I feel is enormous anger. Anger and desperate, frustrated questions like, “Why do you feel so far away from me?” “Why don’t you help me?” “Why does it feel like you are letting this go on and on and on?” And of course, what all of these questions mean is: “Why don’t you fix my life right now in exactly the way I want you to?”
So when I was waking up from the dream, some part of me asked God, “Are you here. Are you with me?” And God said, very clearly, “Yes.” And I said, “Do you promise?” And God said, “I promise.” I asked twice more and twice more God promised that yes, He was with me.
Then, with perfect clarity, the lyrics of a song I’ve been listening to for the past three weeks came into my mind with an entirely new meaning. The song is called “All About Your Heart” by Mindy Gledhill. Please, please click on the song link to listen to it if you have time. It’s 4 minutes of inspired loveliness. The chorus that came into my mind as I was waking up goes like this:
“Oh, I’ve loved you from the start
In every single way
And more each passing day
You are brighter than the stars
Believe me when I say
It’s not about your scars
It’s all about your heart.”
The funny thing is that not one time when I’ve listened to this song did I associate this verse with me; scars, me? No, not really. But as I was waking up, the whole song suddenly seemed like a song that God would to sing to anyone of us clueless, struggling humans, “poor old God,” as Anne Lamott writes in Grace (Eventually), “just waiting for you to notice, and enter your life like a track coach for slow people.”
Sometimes I feel like everything that I write is a sham because I mostly feel lost and frustrated, and not quite meeting anyone’s expectations, let alone those of whoever is reading this blog. But for a little while yesterday, I felt like whatever was happening in my life had a purpose, no matter that I did not particularly appreciate the pace at which it is unfolding. That what was happening was not about the scars, the persistent failures, but all about my heart.
The reason this post is titled, “Lesson of the Orchid” is because I have an orchid in my office. Well, more of a stick, really. Here, see for yourself:
Once this orchid was lovely and exotic, and to be perfectly honest, you seem a little lovely and exotic yourself when you have blooming orchids around where people can see. But a few months after I had this orchid, all the blossoms fell off, the larger leaves started to wilt, and the stem dried up and turned from a lush dark green to a clearly dead brown. I was assured that this is part of the orchid life-cycle, but I did not care for it. I hate it, actually, but I hate even more what I imagine people think about me when they walk into my office and see it: “Well, she can’t even keep a plant alive, how is she going to help me?”
So a few weeks ago I decided that I had had it with the stick-in-the-pot, and I was sneaking down the hallway at work, trying to figure out how to dispose of it without being seen by the one guy who seems personally wounded by all poorly treated office plants. Then I heard this voice that said, quite jovially, “Hey! An orchid!” It was a 20-year old student, standing around with some friends, and I showed him my stick and asked him if he knew what I should do with it. “Oh, it’s totally fine,” he assured me. “The stem will die off and a new shoot will eventually grow up and it’ll bloom at some point.” “When?” I asked. “It can take a long time,” he said. “You have to be patient.” “How long?” I asked, and he just sort of laughed. Then he showed me the tiny new leaves that were still alive at the base of the old stem, and I walked back to my office and put the stick back where it was next to my computer.
The stick and I will wait it out. We will spend the winter together, and I’ll check and see if there’s anything special I need to do for it from time to time. But mostly I will try to love it, in its dormant, dry stick-ness, and also remember how uplifting, how beautiful, how perfect its blossoms were, and can be again.
Today’s poem, one some of you have seen before, but quite perfect for today, nevertheless: “The Healing Time,” by Pesha Gardner:
The Healing Time
Finally on my way to yes
I bump into
all the places
where I said no
to my life
all the untended wounds
the red and purple scars
those hieroglyphs of pain
carved into my skin, my bones,
those coded messages
that send me down
the wrong street
again and again
where I find them
the old wounds
the old misdirections
and I lift them
one by one
close to my heart
and I say holy