Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Wall at Carcassonne

Carcassonne, France  (Photo Courtesy of UNESCO World Heritage Sites)

I have been to Carcassonne, France - twice.  Within the modern city of Carcassonne is the old, original city.  When inside, it's easy to imagine and romanticize about the lives of the tradespeople who lived in community there.  While there was probably a greedy and demanding householder to be served, surely there were opportunities to gather in the taverns and shops, to make music and art and love.

The first time I was content with the knowledge that I didn't know anything about where to enter or what was inside those majestic walls.  I knew I'd have to pay close attention to signs and follow their directions to make my way inside those city walls.  As drove closer and closer, I was filled with anticipation, and confidence, that a way in would become clear to me.  That happened.

The second time I went, I took for granted that I'd been there before, that I'd know what to do to get myself in.  As I drove toward the small town of Carcassonne, I could see the old city still standing guard over it's newer namesake.  But something happened that I think about every now and again as a metaphor for what happens in my life sometimes.

On the second trip to Carcassone, I began to get anxious.  From a few miles away, I could see the old city clearly, but I could not see any place in the wall that looked like an entrance.  Was I on the right road?  Would it lead to the parking lot?  (Yes, the old fortress city has a modern parking lot, complete with yellow painted stripes to indicate parking spaces.)  Every time there was an option to take a different road, I slowed down, I considered turning in a different direction for a moment, then sped on by.

Eventually, as my friends back in St. Chinian assured me it would, the road I was on led directly to the parking lot.  I pulled in, took my parking ticket to be validated at a restaurant or shop inside, and started walking toward the wall. But soon, again, I felt filled with anxiety.  Were was the entrance to the city?  It was weekday morning in March with no tourists in sight.  I started walking to my left, then to my right, then back to the left again.

Eventually, I found that the way in, was straight ahead.  As soon as I got closer, I remembered that you could not actually see the gate from the parking lot below until you got closer to the bridge you had to cross to get in.  I took a deep breath and went across the bridge, into an environment that was filled with gaiety and plenty of attention paid to a solitary traveler in the off season.  

I found familiar shops and tasty treats.  I took the tour of the cathedral and became temporary best friends with the tour guide - she appreciated my attempt to speak French as opposed to the couple who were the only other people on the tour.  They looked upon the darkness of the rooms and decor with disgust and kept commenting about SAD. (Seasonal Affectual Disorder).  The only thing they wanted more than the tour to end, was to spray a generous dose of Tilex on the damp, musty stones. I know because I heard them say that.

I spent most of the day knitting inside a little restaurant with the yummy hand spun yard I'd purchased in one of the shops.  The wait staff oohed and ahhed and encouraged me as they kept offering more and more and more coffee, more chocolate and pastries.  I smiled as I crossed the bridge to leave late in the day.  How silly of me to be so anxious when what I was seeking was always right in front of me.  I'd feared the wall.  It took approaching a little closer to find and opening and what was contained within.

Today, even though I am in Ames, Iowa, living my normal life, I feel as if I am driving to Carcassonne that second time.  Today I felt the enormity of that wall before me that seems to keep me on the outside, while I long for what is found on the inside.  I feel I am in the parking lot, searching left - bam!  Then right - bash! Then back to the left - ouch!

Rather than finding my courage and setting straight toward the wall with resolve, today I panicked.  I stood there before the wall and cried out, well, perhaps lashed out.  Why don't things go the way I want them to?  I yelled at a poor bystander.  

Tell me more about your questions, she invited.  Oh, I did tell her.  Plenty.  As I was explaining exactly what my problem and her problem and everyone other person's problem was, I began to hear myself. In sharing my tirade, I was getting no nearer the wall.  And . . . I was keeping the person who'd come out to see if she could assist, I kept her from being inside the wall.  

I was able to calm myself.  To shed some tears in release.  I appreciate the companionship of the listener who stood by me before she was beckoned back inside to that safe and welcoming place. I could have gone with her, but I felt that my tantrum-ous energy might spill over into the Utopian environment that I do hope to visit again soon.

Tonight I'm sad that I stood outside the wall wailing today when what I wanted was to be inside. But I'll not make myself feel worse by going over every action and word that was so out of sync with what I seek, what I try to offer for others who look for safety and peace inside the walls I help build.  Instead, I'll make myself a small fire of deep breaths, poetry, and hot tea to warm me as I drift off to sleep out here in the parking lot of Carcassonne.  

Tomorrow, after a lengthy spot of meditation - with new light and new resolve - I'll go find the bridge that leads back inside to that wonderful old city.  If things go as I hope, after being renewed inside the walls of Carcassonne, I'll leave with the renewal of  joy and strength to help others find their way inside the protective cities they seek.  I'll take my turn encouraging, inviting as my guide invited me, tell me more about your questions. . . .

Monday, January 18, 2016

Midwest Winter Writer

I've been meaning to get back to the book I am working on.  On such cold, short days, writing inside a warm home seems like appropriate work.   Each time I open the file, though, I am annoyed.

Annoyed that I have somehow added a shaded border to the right side of each page in the document.
Annoyed that this whole process much more isolating and longer than anticipated.
Annoyed that scenarios I see in my mind need so many words to convey them to the pages in the book. (She wept when he turned away from her. vs. The rhythm of his rejection and her tears seemed connected by a biological process.  Each night she tried to climb into their bed as gently as she could, picking up the sheets as if they were made of tissue.  She'd hold her breath as she executed the single motion of lifting the sheets, sliding her body - with bulbous baby belly - softly onto a small slice of bed, and bringing the sheets down again without effecting him.  But he always knew when she arrived.  And he always performed his matching ritual.  "Don't get to close," he'd instruct her as if this was the first time they'd shared a bed. Then, a moment later when he had turned his back to her, taking more than his share of the sheet wrapped around his shoulders, he'd release the words that contained his personal amino acid sulfoxide. "And don't let your stomach touch my back." Those words physically moved through the air, spontaniously rearranging to form a chemical that attacked her eyes and released her tears.  Whether she stayed lying on her back or rolled gently to her side determined whether her tears rolled down silently into her ears, or if they would make a small patting sound that only she could hear as they dripped directly onto her pillow.)
Annoyed that poetry arrives when prose was expected.

Photo by Brenda Brock, NWS, Des Mones, IA

Minus five degrees,
at five-thirty PM.
This kind of weather 
thaws the souls of
people I've lived with.

Some of those people
. . . . were me.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Religion of Meeting You

religion | noun | re li gion | \ri `li-jen\ |
an interest, belief, or activity that is very important to a person or group

The Religion of Meeting You

No longer will I limit myself to _______ religion,
to tangible operators like interests, beliefs, or action.
I no longer choose one day a week to gather for hymns and
readings that affirm me and like-minded, like acting congregants.

No more creeds, principles, by-laws, or mission and vision
statements.  No more trying to brand or promote the Truth.
No more bring a friend Sunday, or spreading the good news.
No more sacred texts, holy covenants, or zombie ressurections.

Today my religion becomes the religion of meeting you.
We meet where we find one another, as helper or helped.
I am allowed to meet you where you are, in my religion.  I do
not have to inform you on what we agree or disagree.

I do not have to invite you to label yourself as I label myself -
progressive, liberal, socialist, survivor, environmentalist,
depressive, poser, liar, truth teller, pilgrim, healer, teacher,
feminist of the second or third wave, depending.

Now, let me stand beside you so I may know that you are real.
Then, tell me what you need and I will not judge.
                                                                                             ~ Lori Allen