Naked in a Tornado

In striving to return to some essential self, to blank sheets of the “Book of Me,” pre disasters, pre more than a decade of peace work through women, pre marriages and divorces, and rich and poor, and social and anti-social, pre entrepreneurship and playwriting and photography, pre vanity, pre personas, pre successes and failures . . .

In striving to come to baseline Me, I have held close to the memory-feeling of myself as a seven-year-old in summer cotton dresses or shorts and little tops with midriffs when I stood on the Midwest front lawn challenging the vast and troubling sky to send a tornado my way. Seven, when I found secret places for wild whirling when the first warm breezes came after winter, when I knew what every adult was thinking, and knew I was utterly alone and it was okay. Seven, when I entered an abandoned house and looked a white owl in the eye and saw mystery.

In striving to return to that knowing, before the cleverness of learning . . .

. . . because I have shifted from irrational invulnerability to rational knowing that I will die because it is the trend around me . . .

. . . because I want my last decades to be tasted with a cleansed palate . . .

. . . I have found it is impossible to be seven again.

Simplifying my life, leaving daily peace work, having time for lunches, processing and discarding crap, sleeping in some mornings, daring to love and meld, even gardening, have taken down the walls between myself and the Vastness of Everything – from the stock market to species of blooming trees, from kinds of wine to how my grandchildren’s minds work, from the cosmos to sewer systems, from artists and poets to cooking. Life cannot be simplified, it is overwhelming. I have simply cleared the way to experience the infinite order and chaos a teeny bit more. It is the tornado.

I chose to simplify, thinking it would return me to the clarity I had as a child. Instead it has left me as a child in babbling overlapping realms of emotions, memories, data, relationships, coincidence, and systems that make, theoretically, for progress. Without the protection of persona to filter, judge, weigh, censor, select, and measure, I have been broadsided, sucker punched, unmoored.

I have become a pilgrim whose life and manner seem calm, even serene, as I stand inside infinite options, interpretations, perspectives, realities – and wonderment. It is as beguiling as it is disorienting, and was more or less my secret until now.

Over the months I have found three walking sticks through the sometimes howling storm: curiosity, humor, and attempting to be honest. When I feel yet another certainty slip away, I hold to these three, and try to do it with a tad of grace. Curiosity and humor are easy. Honesty is more problematic when your sense of self – necessarily including your emotions, beliefs, and perceptions – shifts daily.

Life is so complex that to experience a microscopic fraction of it is to see how ignorant we are. As we take off the barriers of our beliefs of who we are, what we do, what we believe in, what we have done, what we like, we are naked in the enormity of life.

To simplify one’s life by striping away one’s accumulated sense of self is careful work. When I was eight, my mother stripped decades of darkened shellac off the hardwood floors of my childhood. I remember her on her knees with chemicals and scrapers and rags. It took time and the chemicals burnt, even through rubber gloves.

Few of us have been given the gift of time and safety to strip ourselves rather than add more layers of shellac. I kneel in gratitude, gently scraping.