“It’s a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet, and what is sand.” There is surely something to what Madeleine L’Engle says, how when devastation comes along in a life (which it will, and probably more than once), it does have a way of separating the truly mattering things from over-emphasized trivia. A radical undermining makes vivid the things with enduring authenticity, not subject to whim, or even to a major tremor.
Then again — if we’re fortunate indeed — maybe what we’re left with, in the wake of catastrophe, is the sudden bodied knowing that there is in fact nothing under our feet, and never actually was. The discovery of being in freefall, constantly.
And furthermore there’s the recognition that this oh-so-human condition can be actually exhilarating.
There is in fact nothing under our feet.
Strangely, the recognition that our feet have nothing holding them up — that life amounts to a plummeting — is attended by perfect stillness. Nothing is rushing by, because . . . well, because when all of this has become vivid, the sense is that there’s actually nobody here. Nothing solid to rub up against the rushing air. No real-seeming self having continuity, moment to moment.
You have become the moment (which is ever new). There is not a sense of a you “experiencing” life. You are life. Just as it is, right now. Then something different happens, the new fleeting reality.
In freefall, it’s as though the air passes through you as much as you-through-it. Life moves through you, you through it.
With nothing solid to hold the feet, whatever comes along doesn’t spawn terror or fury or resistance. It is simply taken in, like that air. You’re entirely porous, penetrable. Instead of holding up a shield to life, or pulling life in and processing it (mind-as-food-processor), you are like a window screen. In it comes, out it goes. No residue, no burden to carry.
Oh, if what enters is enormous, it stays awhile. It lingers as long as the heart needs it to. There’s a generosity, each thing given its due. Felt, recognized — not processed, not made into a story, or distorted into a new emotional tumor, piled onto a life’s accumulation of tumors, like barnacles.
How long is needed for a heart to break all the way open? For worship to open its full self, petal giving way to velvety, fragrant petal? Is it indulgent to linger and linger in a shocking recognition (someone’s sudden death, a natural disaster, the rampant cruelty of our human kind)? Is it crazy to dwell in a blinding clarity that’s cracked whatever might have remained of rigidity? How long does it take for such a thing to register, to snip all the remaining bits of tough connective tissue, to allow the delicious release of whatever had kept you bound, until now?
It takes as long as it takes.
In the presence of awe, the head takes the time it needs to bow. It does not hurry itself back up. There is no rush, no better place to be.
This being the only place there is.