There's a hoary old Ralph Waldo Emerson quote you may know: "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." I like that one, I do, but I'm going to qualify it tonight. My last event at the Cambridge Wordfest was a reading by novelist Ben Okri. Overall, I'd call it a so-so affair, though I did do no small amount of writing in my notebook as he read and as others asked him questions and provoked a variety of responses from him. Early in the reading, he suggested that our identities, our selves, consist not just of what or who we are within ourselves but also--and perhaps more importantly--by the power that stands behind us.
That idea resonates with me particularly strongly this weekend. I've been wrestling with a great anger just now, really grappling with it in what feels like hand-to-hand combat. In some ways, it feels like the biggest personal anger with which I've grappled in years; I suspect that the reality is that this is the first big one I've let myself actually feel, instead of trying to defuse it artificially or rationalize it away. Sometimes I've been winning my fight; sometimes I've not been. Today, a spot to which I ventured for refuge, for a break from the noise of my own hurt and frustration, almost immediately became the site of a pseudo-standoff when the people I'd been most hoping to avoid by going to this truly isolated place actually turned up there only a minute after I'd arrived there to read. I swore under my breath but held my ground--but so did they, leaving me able to see things I didn't really need to see. In that particular instant, Emerson was mostly right: what literally lay (or sat, anyway, thank goodness) before me was nothing compared to what lay within me, just nothing, and I'd never known it so fully before that moment. But what lay within me was only as rich and defiant as it was because of what lies behind me, the people and power that I believe (as Okri suggested) may actually be visible to people who know me.
That is to say: what's made my full-body fight bearable--and winnable--is knowing how many people, here and elsewhere, have got my back. My heart is a prize-fighter, I tell you. I've got all the big gaudy belts, the four-foot trophies of faux gold mounted on slabs of real marble (man, did I love the marble bases of my swimming trophies). But most of them are due to those of you who are the powers behind me, or who have helped me develop the powers that back me up. I don't necessarily believe that there's a reason that this crap has happened; nor do I have any belief that, in the grand scheme even of my own individual life, the crap happening to me is anything even approaching importance. This morning, though, I realized that even if there's no reason for these happenings, there certainly may be opportunities opening up because of them, if I can keep myself open enough to see them. And even if the only opportunity I've been given just now is that of being able to recognize my friends' excellence, that's far from a small thing.
(I mean, to be sure, I could also now offer some new and improved pointers to people who might wish to burn their bridges with me. Just let me know.)
It's possible that I'm going to need some increased stillness and silence for the next couple of days, just to process some thinking and work I need to do--things related not to the Anger but rather to the projects I've undertaken this year. Don't be alarmed if I'm very quiet. I'll still show you what I'm seeing, even if I'm not telling you about things and stuff.
On my way home from my reasonably successful (all things considered) reading session in town, I happened upon an English robin who was just hanging out in a tree--calmly enough so that I was able to take its picture. I tell you, this never, ever happens. It felt like a compensation more than adequate.