Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer's end. In time's maze
over fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed's marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.
--Wendell Berry, from Collected Poems 1957-1982 (North Point Press)
Sometimes, the only way to get through a thing is to be saved by a poem.
This is the poem that saved me last year. Along with it, the word "abandon" kept showing up.
For some time now, my husband and I have been struggling to redefine ourselves. As empty nesters, we've been assessing all the ways we have changed. We've questioned and doubted our togetherness.
We have engaged in heated discussions, tearful walks, awkward airport goodbyes, and passionate welcome-home embraces. We've played out each scene with as much respect and integrity as we could, getting support from our couples' therapist, or venturing on road trips, or taking purposeful time apart.
I didn't want to be the abandoned one, so I thought about doing the abandoning.
There is something in me that cowers in fear of the unknown in relationships. I want my love secure, locked down, bolted. I want to count on the other person to stay the same.
But life doesn't offer this kind of security. We as humans are constantly changing.
Yesterday we spent a day skiing on Mt. Hood, an activity that brought us together 16 years ago. I noticed all the things that are different now. We don't stop for donuts; I'm gluten-free. He got rid of the old boots that used to creak with every stride. These days I ski ahead of him, but in the past, I was always behind.
With all this change, where is security? Where is peace, or unconditional love?
It is not found in the changing scenery, but in my lookout point, as I acknowledge Presence with me, with us.
Wendell Berry wrote about the parallels of poetry and marriage, that when a couple commits to each other, "we speak into no future that we know, much less into one that we desire, but into one that is unknown."
That unknowing is uncomfortable, but it is part of the beautiful wild design of the whole thing.
We are committed to this changeable, unpredictable form, which requires our tending and our courage.
And so I took another look at what I needed to abandon.
I abandoned the past. No matter how I cling, it refuses to stay.
We can attempt to recreate the Thing We Always Had, but it isn't possible.
Another thing I abandoned was trying to control my feelings. I wanted to call up the old feelings, and I felt shame about the new ones. Yet feelings will not be ignored, pretended away, or bullied into other forms.
I abandoned trying to please another human instead of telling the truth.
I abandoned my preconceived ideas of who I am.
I abandoned stubbornness. And I abandoned fantasy.
Sometimes the hardest thing is letting go my idea of what I need - and simply experiencing what is.
Exchanging a kiss after an uncomfortable discussion. Snuggling into arms that reach for me in the dark. Finding a note on the counter that makes me smile.
I experience God in the midst of is-ness.
Really, it's what any relationship is all about: being present for self, and for the other. Experiencing the Greater Presence that accepts and loves and is.
What we need is here.