It seems that life entails these continual movements of coming together and pulling apart. We experience union then separateness and all of us deal with it differently. Yet even those of us who thrive on independence acknowledge that there is a deep bliss in unity and a feeling of emptiness when we perceive separation.
A dramatic example of this is when after love making two partners eventually disengage from one another after their bodies have been completely unified. Yet the experience is also felt acutely in other ways. Children often feel the pangs of separation when the babysitter shows up and they suddenly realize mommy and daddy are going out for the night. Likewise animals appear increasingly forlorn when we’re at work or on an overnight trip. It seems few of us want to experience separation from the bliss of love, affection and nurturance.
Yet all of us must deal with separation and loss on a daily level. People leave. They go to work. They grow up. They move on. They can check out. And they die. Likewise, the separation process is also what makes the reuniting so special. It is a constant dance of coming together and then doing a few steps solo.
It would seem then that the only constant union is the one with our Creator. He is the entity with us moment by moment. And when we separate from our loved ones, we can remember that He is there – always.
I always get a slight kick out of watching toddlers pretend they can read. Typically they know their story books well enough that they can pretend to read the words on the page while telling you the narrative unfolding in the pictures. Yet I always feel a tinge of omnipotence as well for I am acutely aware that without the power to really read, I am infinitely more in control than the child. I hold the keys to a world they have not yet gained access to.
I remember the wonder of learning to read. While I don’t remember the mechanics of how I learned, I do recall when I knew enough to start intuitively figuring words out. Suddenly, it was as if my world went from black and white to technicolor. I went from being single to being madly in love.
I haven’t felt that kind of intellectual ecstasy for some thirty-seven years but the other day while doing Hebrew homework, I realized I knew enough to fairly rapidly translate some very fundamental phrases from Genesis. “The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.'” I stared at these words – words that even in English made no sense to me until a year ago. And it was as if God was saying them to me. I felt an almost eerie sense of the Divine as I realized the power of words. The sacredness of words. And the link to the Divine through words. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Wow.
For years I thought of Shakespeare as the Bible and so it has always pained me that others typically despise Shakespeare. Yet I know this is because most people had a bogus high school teacher for English who did not understand the words of the Bard let alone how to teach the texts to teens. Most people have never been told that theatre is meant to be seen and heard more than read and that the characters are flesh and blood people who ache and orgasm and despair. They are people we can identify with and learn from.
The Bible is similar – often misunderstood and taken for granted as archaic and boring. But oh it is so alive. The text breathes and pulses. It can come alive before your very eyes. Yet so much gets lost in translation literally and figuratively. Therefore, I wonder, are we humans still like those in Babel? Unable to communicate? Unable to comprehend or connect meaning with words and with each other? Yes, we are and as long as we are, there is power in story.
For the record I am claustrophobic and my claustrophobia has gotten worse in the last few years. I’ve dwelt a little too much on what could happen to a person if he or she got stuck in an elevator or trapped underground in a tunnel. So when visiting the Gateway Arch in St. Louis this weekend, I realized I was confronted with my fear of confinement head-on. If I wanted to go up to the top of the arch, I was going to have to endure a four minute ride in a tiny cramped car that jutted about making clicking sounds while navigating up the structure. I turned to my traveling companion and said, “The only way I’m going to make it up without having a panic attack is if I close my eyes and can hold your hand the entire way. Seriously. I will wig out otherwise.” So as we settled into our car, I closed my eyes, took his hand and let him talk to the other people in the car. Anytime someone started to comment on how cramped the car was, I asked them to please change the subject.
I nestled closer into my companion and listened to him rattle on with the strangers about where they were from and heard their response that they were in town for a wedding. They had never been to St. Louis nor visited the arch. Click. Click. Click. The car adjusted itself into a new position. I breathed. And continued to listen to them talk. Before I knew it we reached the landing and disembarked. We repeated the same procedure on the three minute descent down.
What I realized is that I had renegotiated with my fear. I had found a way to see what felt like a potential trap into an experience of being soothed and comforted. By the time we made it back to solid ground, I had begun to conceptualize the cable-tram as a ride at Disneyland. By changing my approach and focusing on the non-fear as opposed to the fear, my experience was radically different than what it could have been. And because of the support, I was able to transcend and transform panic.
I doubt the visionaries who created the arch obsessed on how the thing could collapse. Instead I bet they fantasized about the potential glory of their architectural feat. Here’s to reaching towards the sky while maintaining a steel structure of support.