Mystery: “Difficult or Impossible to Explain or Understand”

Oh Friends, it has been a long time. A long ass time. And honestly, this morning I wanted to take to bed, and thought perhaps I could stay there if my children cooperated. Of course they didn’t. My children are the best mysteries to me. I am always trying to read them, see the world in the way they see it. And I am always trying to nudge them with huge love, even when they don’t want it and it is hard to give.

Today, my son asked me, “Is Florida part of Orlando or is Orlando in Florida?” This speaks to his age. Once, he did a self-portrait with the qualities and characteristics that define him. He wrote “Short”, “Loyal” and “Trust worthy” over the crayon drawing depicting how he saw himself. He is an ally at 8 years old, and while he is shy, he will raise his voice if he sees unkindness or fears for those he loves.  And I showed him on the map so he could see where, exactly, Orlando is.  Where terror and hate and murder coalesced. I could not explain the why. We could only touch on the worth and value of every life lost. My children understand that Pulse was a gay club, and that this was an act of both terror and hate. They do not understand what happened there. Why it happened.

I am reading Annie Dillard’s extraordinary An American Childhood. Last night these words were like one of those old-fashioned life savers, and I found myself floating on page 44:

Walking was my project before reading. The text I read was the town; the book I made up was a map. First I had walked across one of our side yards to the blackened alley with its buried dime. Now I walked to piano lessons, four long blocks north of school and three zigzag blocks into an Irish neighborhood near Thomas Boulevard.
I pushed at my map’s edges. Alone at night I added newly memorized streets and blocks to old streets and blocks, and imagined connecting them on foot. From my parents’ earliest injunctions I felt that my life depended on keeping it all straight—remembering where on earth I lived, that is, in relation to where I had walked. It was dead reckoning. On darkening evenings I came home exultant, secretive, often from some exotic leafy curb a mile beyond what I had known at lunch, where I had peered up at the street sign, hugging the cold pole, and fixed the intersection in my mind. What joy, what relief, eased me as I pushed open the heavy front door!—joy and relief because, from the very trackless waste, I had located home, family, and the dinner table once again.
An infant watches her hands and feels them move. Gradually she fixes her own boundaries at the complex incurved rim of her skin. Later she touches one palm to another and tries for a game to distinguish each hand’s sensation of feeling and being felt. What is a house but a bigger skin, and a neighborhood map but the world’s skin ever expanding?

Today, I wanted to be reminded that I belong to the world even as I shrank from it. I wanted to be reminded that our skin houses something greater that I can’t explain or even put words to. If I had to put a word to it, it would be love. I found myself watching documentaries, curled on the couch, feeling frail and deeply flawed. And in mourning.

There should be places of joy and sanctuary and dancing and belonging and sitting at the table in companionship and community and food and drink–of home. And our larger map, our larger world must work to protect these places. We must.

This is what I thought as I watched an episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix that celebrated the mystery of culinary creativity and connection and pushing boundaries, widening the map. And  I was reminded, via Netflix, of our human resilience (even when all has been taken from us, we can imagine it all for ourselves) as I watched The Fear of 13. And I pulled my dog closer, his silken ears between my fingers as I watched Lance Mackey and his sled dogs endeavor onward in The Great Alone.  

How to push the map’s edge and remember we belong to one another? Lance Mackey, 4 time champion of the Iditarod,  explains at the film’s end he’s always understood dogs better than people. And part of me wants to choose my dog,  the woods, the wild blueberries, the contemplation of a solitary life where I would sew bells into my kids’ overalls and solar power lets us hear the vinyl records we love as a family as I cook a meal in silence and sweet oblivion. Part of me wants to run away even when the greater mystery dictates we must run toward, at great speed, the world we are a part of, even if it terrifies us, but especially when it must be changed.

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