Last week I wrote about a word I made up to describe a condition I live with much of the time: peacelessness—one root, two suffixes. I think it describes the condition of the culture I inhabit as well.
Peacefulness, only one suffix different, is a state of being that seems to descend on or well-up in me, to arrive at times unbidden but long-expected, long awaited, satisfying a longing I didn’t know I had. It’s like not knowing I’m hungry until I sit down to eat (which also happens to me frequently.) I realize that makes me appear kind of oblivious, but I make this confession because I suspect I’m not alone.
More than thirty years ago, while I was still working in Davis, I discovered a metaphor for these two states of being. It was the river. Then I thought it was a metaphor for love (which it still may be,) but now I see it is my working hypothesis for God, or life. When I am metaphorically in the river, going with its flow, running its rapids, resting in its pools, I am happy. Content. At peace with myself and neighbors. Sometimes I get bumped out of the river by a boulder, or stuck in an eddy behind one. Sometimes I get washed up on a sandbar or crawl out and yell “I’ve had enough!” and stand on the bank, wet and beleaguered or mad as hell. It’s not fun in the river most of the time, but it’s good—and it’s the only real game in town.
When I was interviewed for the book In the Struggle, the river metaphor showed up as the guiding light of my work on agricultural communities and the landownership structures determining their futures. When it appeared in the chapter more prominently than the fact that I’d created critical statistical variables for macrosocial accounting or that I’d comprehended socio-economic relationships between land ownership and community development more completely than the academics with salaries, I have to admit that I felt a little betrayed. But none of the other scholars who were described so beautifully could see or admit this invisible aquamarine force in all our work. Perhaps my real job is to put words to this variable.
Being at peace with that is currently in process. To some extent, it requires relinquishing words, the tools of my trade. I didn’t know that until Sunday night, after rereading for the third time Walter Brueggemann’s magnificent little book Journey to the Common Good over lunch. “Relinquishing” is his word, and I felt it’s relief as well as the grief, sometimes, in letting go. It seemed like good medicine.
But then, by some magical convergence of seemingly accidental occurrences, I put on some music I love from the past, a Windham Hill CD given to me by a friend long ago. It’s instrumental music, no words. Suddenly I was flooded with peace as I followed the melody lines, harmonies, the delicate intricate rhythms. It wasn’t just hearing the music, it was wanting to make the music, to bring out my instruments and tune them up. To dance and to play. To find others to join in.
And then, as if I didn’t know it was coming (though I’d memorized the album long ago), I heard the strains of a Christmas carol we sang in church the previous Sunday. A guitar plucked out the melody to “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” and my mind filled in the words because they had followed me all week. But it was the music’s flow that had me swimming again.
And now it has occurred to me that perhaps Christmas—for some of you—is like getting to be in the river full-time for a month or more. Getting permission to immerse yourself in love, in God, in Life and put economic rationale aside, that limiting force found on the riverbank where the fear of death lives. I’m not advocating that we turn over all our hard-earned savings to the merchandizing corporations, which is one of the hidden boulders in our stream. But I understand the impulse now better than in years past. Man does not live by money alone.
Spend carefully, friends, but love freely. Enjoy the peacefulness of the Christmas river while it lasts.
Trudy Wischemann is an ambivalent Christmas celebrator who lives in Lindsay. Send her your favorite swimming experiences c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.