The Magic Of Books

I firmly believe the answer to any problem can be found in a book. I further believe that synchronicity brings us into relationship with the book we need when we need it.

However, if I am to be honest with myself, I must consider the possibility that my belief in synchronicity — a concept psychologist Carl Jung developed over a period of 30 years — is a holdover from graduate school and my foray into reading Tarot cards. I wanted to write my thesis on the works of Canadian writer Robertson Davies, specifically a trilogy (I think) in which a reading by a gypsy fortune teller was woven into each plot.

This appealed to me because I had read somewhere while earning an undergraduate minor in psychology that Jung used Tarot cards with his patients. Assuming my memory is accurate, he didn’t use them for fortune telling, but rather to open the minds of his patients to new connections through the archetypes found in the cards. Having been raised Catholic, I shied away from anything related to the occult, but I was still intrigued.

When I ran across the reference to Tarot cards in a novel in one of my grad classes, my ever-creative mind found a valid loophole for exploring them. I felt I needed to understand the cards themselves before I could understand Davies’s use of them in his novels. I felt that as long as I limited the scope of my research, I wouldn’t slide into anything my Catholic conscience would consider sinful.

And thus it began.

I ended up reading Tarot cards off and on for 20 years — far more off than on. I only read them regularly for a little over a year. After that, they lay in the bottom of a dresser drawer until I finally gave them away. You aren’t supposed to read the cards for yourself, but I could never resist the temptation to do so when my life was in transition. Yes, during difficult times, I looked to Tarot cards, hoping God would use them to provide some guidance, because he never saw fit to send angels or burning bushes to give me direction.

Eventually, God managed to wrap my head around the idea that I needed trust him to work in my life one day at a time. Eventually, I learned I don’t need to know what is going to happen when my life seems to be unraveling around me; I need only know that when all that makes my heart ache and my stomach churn and my head pound finally passes, and the dust settles, all will be well. While I may find myself in places I would not have dreamed possible, I will be grateful.

Of course, I would be negligent if I didn’t say this: Sometimes those periods of uncertainty last for years. The path of faithfulness is not for those who lack courage. Trusting God for daily bread when you are unemployed — tough. Trusting God to give you wisdom to traverse the minefield of a relationship in turmoil — tougher.

But you do it. And books can help — if you are receptive to the possibility.

Whether finding the right book at the right time is simply synchronicity, one of Jung’s meaningful coincidences, or whether God works through synchronicity to provide needed sustenance is a mystery. Personally, I lean toward the latter, but I tend to think God does work in the circumstances of our lives.

Granted, the gift of a book seems like a pretty small miracle when compared to some of his splashier jobs — creation, the virgin birth, the resurrection. But when it comes to miracles, I don’t know that size matters. Miracles essentially do two things: they get our attention and they change the world.

The right book at the right time can do exactly that. The right book will get your attention, and it will change the way you deal with a difficult situation. That change will affect the outcome, because it creates a space for God to work.

So, lately, I have been wrestling with a relationship in transition. A separation I chose, because it seemed like the healthiest option, is more difficult than I expected. I knew I would be sad, but I did not expect this profound sense of loss, this post-knocked-through-my-middle, will-I-ever-breathe-again pain. I vacillate between thinking I made a horrible mistake and knowing I made the best decision possible considering the circumstances. The problem with pain is that it likes to tug you into despair.

Fortunately, I experienced a book miracle. I found a book of essays called: Beautiful Hope: Finding Hope Every Day in a Broken World. I am trying to read and reflect on one of the essays every day or so. This week, I was both comforted and encouraged by one called, “Expect the Impossible” by Father Jacques Philippe. He wrote:

“Faith and hope are like the wings of love; they give power to launch out ever further, to take flight unceasingly, without getting exhausted or discouraged. When hope dwindles, love dies down; the heart is invaded by uneasiness and worry, which stifle charity. Hope keeps the heart free to love, and to give itself.”

I smiled when I read that. “Got it, God,” I thought. “Don’t give up hope.”

Hope on that particular day was truly a miracle.

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I Hurt

I suppose I should get out of bed. That’s what I told myself for well over two hours. I should get out of bed.

If I have something to do, I manage it. You don’t live with depression for as long as I did without developing a few strategies for coping with an energy-sapping roommate like that. The first was always: fulfill obligations.

This morning, I did get up and dress for Mass. I even managed to drive to the church — a new church since the priest in town thinks Mass is a theatrical production, not a worship service. I don’t have patience for shenanigans like that. Unfortunately, the website for the new church hadn’t listed the correct time, and I didn’t have the energy to start looking for a different church.

I went home and went back to bed. Sleep is a wonderful way to escape emotional pain — when emotional pain doesn’t keep you awake, poking and prodding with unanswerable questions until your bed is a tangle of sheets and you’re physically exhausted from tossing and turning. I did manage a couple hours of deep and dreamless sleep; my body was probably exhausted — it happens.

As I lay in bed, I remembered a passage from a book I read more than 20 years ago. I had picked it up on a discount table, where I found most of my books in that pre-ebook era — Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood by Wayne Muller. I was no longer in therapy, having unraveled most of the knots which resulted from the physical, sexual and psychological abuse I had suffered. However, I hadn’t found my way back to God.

I vacillated between feeling unworthy — I had been raised Catholic after all — and being angry with God for the plethora of obstacles he had flung in my path. In my late-30s, I was a single parent with two children, receiving no child support, working two jobs with a combined income that still placed us well below poverty level, and had no day-to-day emotional support. Instead, I always seemed to be mothering some young woman or another who latched onto me until she found her bearings.

I was putting one foot in front of the other, but that was about as good as it got. In some ways, I was grieving what might have been. I was smart. I was willing to work hard. What might have been had my life been different? But, there was also the despair of knowing my life wasn’t going to get much better. As a single woman in a low income bracket without the redeeming quality of physical attractiveness, I was always going to be disposable.

I knew that and the knowledge hurt. I wanted desperately to find a relationship with God that would carry me through, that would make the burden bearable. I don’t know that Muller helped me find my way back to God, but he did offer what was for me a life-changing idea. He said we have to enter into our pain and learn what the pain has to teach us to experience healing. He writes about counseling a client, “For just a moment, imagine letting go of the ‘Why’ and just allow yourself to say, ‘I hurt.’ Nothing more, just repeat that phrase a few times slowly, ‘I hurt.'”

I hurt.

How many times over the years have I gone back to those simple words, lived with them, and then slowly allowed healing to enter into my life? Two? Three? Four? The emotional wounds that are nearly as incapacitating as physical wounds don’t come often, but when they come, they take a toll. They not only disrupt your emotional equilibrium, but also churn through your life like a tornado, tearing apart relationships and routines, leaving everything in disarray.

You have to rebuild or move on. I’ve moved on after devastating job losses. This loss is different. I don’t know what I will do, what I can do. I spend hours laying in bed, wrapped in a warm knitted blanket, and mentally review the carnage. I say those two simple words over and over, “I hurt. I hurt.”

In a book which has offered me much encouragement over the years — The Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher — Penelope loses the love of her life during war. When she receives the news, she recalls a poem her lover read to her, a poem from Louis MacNeice’s Autumn Journal, which contains the lines: “There will be time to audit / The accounts later, there will be sunlight later / And the equation will come out at last.” As she recalls the lines, one phrase — there will be sunlight later — stays with her “And it seemed as good a way as any to start out on the left-over life that lay ahead.”

There is always “the left-over life that lay ahead” which must be lived. I know this, and I will undoubtedly manage to live it. But right now, the way is not clear. I can only cling to the words that were a life raft in the past, and hope they will once again help me to keep my head above water.

I hurt.

I can only trust “there will be sunlight later.”

No Fool like an Old Fool

Everything is a matter of perspective. The kaleidoscope on my prayer desk reminds me of this. The mirrors refract images of the objects contained within. Shift the kaleidoscope, the pieces shift and the pattern changes.

With physical kaleidoscopes, the patterns are always beautiful. In life, shifting patterns can break your heart — show you things you don’t want to see. I know; I sit here bleeding all over the carpet — metaphorically. I can’t afford to replace the carpet in my rented apartment, so I am careful not to damage it in any way.

I wish I were as careful with my heart, with my life, with the people in my life. I am not prone to falling in love at the drop of a hat. I’ve had several sexual liaisons over the years — though none within the past 20 years (I’d say 30 years if I could just forget that guy who weaseled his way into my life because he needed admiration and I have a penchant for appreciating others) — which created that artificial bond that replicates but is not love.

Consequently, having never loved, I eventually arrived at the conclusion that (a) I was incapable of love and/or (b) I was not lovable. I don’t know exactly when that happened. Before I recognized imitation love for the fiction it was, I imagined I could love anyone. A couple abusive husbands and several disappointing pseudo-relationships later, my attitude had changed. I went through a phase where I believed that I had simply become involved with the wrong men, and still thought “someday” was possible. That gently slipped into an acceptance of the single life.

I loved my friends — primarily women. I loved my daughters — definitely women. I adored my granddaughters — girls rather than women. I slipped into a casual, bantering manner with men, and entered into a love affair with God. I spent long hours in prayer and meditation, allowed my heart and mind to be transformed by that relationship. I slowly began to craft a life with faith at its center.

Then I started working on a project for a friend and fell head over heels in love with her brother — want to spend my every waking moment with him love, can’t sleep at night because I am thinking of him love love, imagining the wedding before I knew his middle name love. It was crazy-making and wonderful all at the same time. I would listen to love songs and dance around my apartment, dreaming of him.

For the first time in my way-too-long life, the chemicals unleashed by physical intimacy were not leading me into an inappropriate relationship. (If God is truly merciful, and I make it into heaven, I am going to ask my sainted mother what she was thinking when she told me, after I was sexually molested at the age of 12, that a man grabs a woman to show he likes her. That was poor sex education.)

For the first time in my life, I was in love — no reservations love — with a man simply because he was so incredibly amazing. Smart and funny. Hard-working and responsible. Kind and generous. When we were together, I didn’t feel old and fat and ugly; I felt alive and appreciated. Before long, the hours we talked when we were together were extended by hours of conversation on the phone.

I jumped in with both feet. As much as time allowed, I started doing things I might do if we were together, weaving my life into his as much as circumstances allowed. I didn’t notice for a long time that he had drawn a line — you can come this far and no farther. I like you, but I do not love you. We are friends, but we will not have a life together.

I didn’t notice, and then the kaleidoscope shifted and a shaft went straight through my heart. I noticed. Mystery writers use the intuitive way the human mind creates patterns as a plot device which enables the detective — often amateur — to solve the crime which drives the plot. Of course, those new patterns often lead the crime-solver into danger. As an avid mystery reader, I should have recalled this, but I didn’t.

I withdrew the shaft from my heart, and probably severed the chances of crafting something different, more realistic and balanced. I will miss the gravelly sound of his voice at night, the chuckle of his amusement tickling me into laughter, the peace of knowing there is always someone just a phone call away who will listen to anything I have to say. I will miss the generous friendship that was faithful enough, steadfast enough to hold firm when I was lost in a dream. And, I will miss loving him.