Midwinter now, the snow has fallen, been washed away and fallen again multiple times.
The light, clarity, shadows, and stillness of winter create a space of reflection unlike any other. It is a time, a season I cherish and have written about here before, the slow turning from dark to light in the midst of what are still very long nights.
Halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. I began writing this post the week after Epiphany, about a month ago, inspired by a quote a friend had sent. But I needed more time, and space. For so many years, the fact that my son was born on New Years Day felt an extension of the intrinsic sacredness I’ve always felt around that time of year. Now, I question so much, even that. He turned 30 this year.
The quote my friend sent is from a Moth story, it came through like a laser beam of love and light shining through fog. Anna formerly of Mass now of Minn, my right hand at les collines for the on-fire summer of 16, who brought us adorable globe jars as rosé glasses and rekindled my love of hummus– mille mercis, tu me manques.
Like Brigitte’s query a few months ago about where had the grace gone, it reminded me of some truths that were getting lost in the sauce.
The story is A Phone Call, it’s about 10 minutes long. A story of privilege tossed away; of bad choices that could have been tragic, or fatal; of redemption. I won’t give anything way in case you listen (you probably should). There is one line, though, that rang somewhat hollow to me, given my own situation, and led me to think, sadly, unfortunately, well, that is great but it just is not over until the fat lady sings. But…otherwise, this is a genuine telling of a moment of grace complete with unexpected plot twist. As ever: grace comes in the most unexpected, surprising forms when we most need but probably don’t deserve it.
The author refers to experiencing a peace that passes all understanding, and the existence of random love in the universe, some of it unconditional, some of it for each of us. Undeserved yes, and often we are too dumb, ruined, and/or hopeless to think, much less ask for it. It is nothing to achieve, not by all the self-help ebooks on Amazon, no ten-step program or weekly therapy session will lead us there.
This is what I know: In the deepest, blackest night of despair and anxiety, it only takes a pinhole of light, and all of grace can come in.
It is a beautiful image, resonating all the more as the heart of the story takes place over a phone line. Slender cables (this is the early 90’s) carrying sound and in this case, grace.
Some, maybe too many significant moments of my life have transpired by phone. Sometimes by necessity, other times circumstance, other times cowardice on the part of one or both parties. The hours with friends in high school; over greater distances in college– those north of 40, remember hall phones? The years of AT&T bills averaging $500 with transatlantic calls. The very long oft-tangled coiled cord that for me symbolizes the birth of multitasking– as a young mother, I never would have had time for phone calls without it. The advent of mobile phones and the wonder and horror of all that. The first moment I saw my son texting in the seat next to me as I drove and was, I thought, having a conversation with him.
The endless possibility and problem of connection whatever the mode.
There is a great scene at the beginning of Krzysztof Kieślowski‘s Rouge (this is one of my all-time favorite films, along with the first film of the trilogy, Bleu) where the camera races from one person holding a receiver, all along the wires and cables– in this case under the English Channel– to the other. The urgency, the distance and the illusion of no distance when you are speaking to someone by phone. The benefits and the shortcomings of that form of communication.
When I was teaching French, I would ask students who were having trouble pronouncing something to close their eyes. Closing their book or notebook sometimes was enough– not looking at the words helped reduce the clattering of different languages– but often it required more complete reduction of sensory input. It did not always work, but mostly did: I would repeat the word or phrase, the student would listen, eyes closed, and repeat, and there was marked improvement.
Such can be the phone when we are talking, and listening. It can strip away distraction and reduce things to their essence. The flip side may be, depending on the nature of the connection to begin with, a danger of dehumanization. And personally the phone can compound my tendency to be a disconnected talking head, which is a coping mechanism from early childhood.
This Moth story is lovely to me in part because it happens by phone, with a veritable stranger. There is no prior connection between these two people, but the desperate need of one establishes a link, a lifeline, and more than one life will change as a result. A pinhole of light, yes. Unconditional love in the universe, it is there. Redemption, if we can survive long enough.
Our ties to those we love may be steadied or undercut by the phone. Sometimes, as in Rouge, the illusory link serves to reinforce a growing disconnect. Or it may be there was none to begin with. In that stripped away phone space there may be no hiding from the truth.
Cables or wifi, corded slimline or smartphone, stranger or lover, the connection is ours to make. It just never ceases to amaze me the myriad ways we have to show up with grace, or to phone it in, whatever the context, the hour, the mode at hand.