Wednesday, October 12, 2011

We sat in her autumn garden and talked, Martine and I. I'd dropped by her studio on the way back from Ottawa, hoping to find her in -- her studio is open "by chance or by appointment", so it was a bit dodgy. But there she was, getting ready for the weekend art tour. She works in all sort of media -- glass, pottery, watercolours, oils. I love visiting, seeing what she's putting together from her tableful of stash -- she does a lot with found objects. I have several of her pieces; my favourite is a small black iron cage, adorned with slips of coloured glass and big bright earrings, which dangles in my front hall.

She made me tea and we talked and talked. Lately I've been blessed by such conversations; they seem to be becoming almost normal in my life. I'd had coffee with Andrew, whose partner Bill has bone cancer. I'd listened to Sybil telling about her husband's difficult death; he'd put her through hell on his way out. I'd visited my friend Toby in prison, and he had babbled like a brook, totally transparent and open, a transformed soul. I'd had a long, good lunch with Anna, whose marriage is foundering. And now Martine, who'd lost both parents and her husband in 18 months and is facing one of those huge life transitions -- as am I.

I grew up in a culture of reticence, where we didn't speak of important matters, where such speech was suspect, even indecorous. Keep the conversation light and civilized and (preferably) clever and stimulating.  Don't air the dirty linen. A part of me can still see the value of this approach; it doesn't burden total strangers, as the Ancient Mariner did, with a hell of a lot more information than they want. It puts high value on discipline, reticence, and good form, none of which is a Bad Thing. I'm generally with Miss Manners, and this sort of discourse is exactly to her taste. And of course I don't like whiners any more than you do. (But there's whining and there's real suffering, and those who really suffer rarely whine.)

The problem with this way of operating is that it doesn't work very well in Interesting Times. In Interesting Times, you lack the energy for polite conversation; what you need to do is to talk -- really talk -- with genuine honesty, because that sort of talking and listening is where love truly happens, and love's what you most need.  That's the part that dear Miss Manners, much as I admire her, doesn't get -- or at least doesn't write about: It's not about being correct; it's about mustering and communicating it love, and making a space for someone who's suffering to be open about the suffering. It's about holding the sufferer in support and later in healing.  It's not narcissism or self-indulgence to need to talk openly and authentically when you're hurting really badly, although that's the message that I'd been brought up with and had heard a little too much from the communities to which I could not quite belong.  It's normal and human and right.  It's what we're supposed to do for each other.

I've listened to friends' troubles any number of times in the past; I think particularly of my adoptive daughter and the long, good talks we've had, and of other friends who have confided in me and who've listened in turn to my burblings. But something's different now.  There's been a sea-change, and it's in me. It's no longer a matter of caring for others, because that was the right thing to do; it's turned into a joy. It's an affirmation of the distance I've come since my own Interesting Times, the things I've learned, the wisdom I've garnered, usually the very hard way.  It's emboldening me to take the path that's authentically mine.  And that may mean walking away from places that don't permit that sort of honesty, not in anger or even in disagreement, but because I'm called to something richer and more nourishing.

Artists say that nothing is more beautiful than the naked human body. Martine and I don't fit the culture's definition of "beautiful body", not by a *very* long shot, but as we talked, our souls were naked, and I saw -- as I'd seen in talking to Toby and Anna and Sybil and Andrew -- how extraordinarily beautiful a thing is the naked human soul.

We sat and sipped our tea and she smoked a cigarette, and the autumn garden shone green and gold around us. She'd planted sunflowers, yellow and bronze, and their flowers glowed in the late afternoon sun. The garden held a Tree of Life she'd made in orange glass, hung on a black iron frame. The Tree of Life is her central symbol; it's painted on the front of her studio. It's an ample and bountiful symbol, full of fruit.  She's done so much serious suffering in the last couple of years, and yet joy poured out of her studio and washed through the garden she created last summer. Joy streamed through her small house and spilled out on the front lawn. Joy shone in her voice as she picked up a small piece of glass and started musing about where it might take her. We talked about the hard things we've been through, and joy -- the most satisfying golden stuff -- lapped around our feet. I'd believed it in theory, but now I could feel it in fact, that joy is indeed the other side of suffering. When we withhold ourselves from suffering -- our own or others' -- because "it's not quite nice", we lose that joy.

I bought a small glass panel, but I left it in her studio for the gallery tour. I'll collect it in a couple of weeks.  It may be too cold then to sit out in the garden, but we can hope for a warm October. ~Molly Wolf

No comments: