I woke up this morning thinking about how the circumstances of life alter our fields of vision. I got a packet of information in the mail from Global Exchange yesterday. They are a wonderful organization deeply committed to social justice on many fronts and have been one of the primary sources of information for me as I have sought to learn more about the issues related to child slavery and cocoa production. I brought the packet with me as I came to write today because I wanted to widen my focus. My life has felt very local lately – and by local I mean mostly consumed with going to work and doing stuff around the house. It’s been about me. I need it to be more than just that.
Part of my morning ritual is to check and see if anyone commented on my blog posts from previous days, and to check in with a few of the blogs I read regularly to see what they have to say. One person with whom I have found a particular affinity is Laurie, who writes a blog called Africakid and the World. She wrote about an autobiographical poetry exercise she picked up at Blogging in Paris, who got the idea (I found out) from Fragments From Floyd, In a couple of clicks, I went from Marshfield to Germany to Paris to “a quiet place in Floyd County, Virginia.” Talk about a change in focus.
Here’s the poetry exercise, called, “Where I’m From”:
I am from (specific ordinary item), from (product name) and ______.
I am from the (home description… adjective, adjective, sensory detail).
I am from the (plant, flower, natural item), the (plant, flower, natural detail)
I am from (family tradition) and (family trait), from (name of family member) and (another family name) and (family name).
I am from the (description of family tendency) and (another one).
From (something you were told as a child) and (another).
I am from (representation of religion, or lack of it) — further description.
I’m from (place of birth & family ancestry), (two food items representing your family).
From the (specific family story about a specific person and detail), the (another detail, and the (another detail about another family member).
I am from (location of family pictures, mementos, archives and several more lines indicating their worth).
Though the exercise looks like fun (and is something I will do later), what sent me on my journey today was the way Laurie began her poem: “I’m from deep fried samosas.”
One of my enduring memories of living in Nairobi is the samosas: wonderful deep-fried triangles of beef and peas and spices. Just hearing the words brings back images of the street vendors that sold them, of being downtown with my high school friends, of Iqbal’s café (chapati and keema), of playing guitar for hours, and of laughing uncontrollably after seeing Start the Revolution Without Me. All that from the mention of those tasty morels. Thanks to a wonderful cookbook my friend Cherry gave me for Christmas, Extending the Table, I found a recipe to help me remember them even more. Tonight may be samosa night at the Brasher-Cunninghams. I posted the recipe here.
On the page adjacent to the recipe in the cookbook is a Swahili proverb: “A hasty person misses the sweet things.”
Two days ago, Ginger asked me if I was doing all right. I said I was and asked why. She said I just seemed down. The pattern of my depression has been that she can see it coming before I can – there’s usually about a three day delay between what see feels intuitively and when I fall through the hole in the floor. I’ve been watching my steps ever since.
Charles and Jennifer, who are the parents of my godson, Samuel, have the same kind of foresight when they see their son going into a funk.
“Don’t go in the hole,” they say to him.
Ginger said the same thing to me on Tuesday. So far, so good, though I do feel somewhat of a gathering gloom. Maybe that’s why I’m looking to find a focus larger than myself. Depression is not only a downward spiral, but an inward one. When I am in the hole I can’t see much of anything but my misery, which is not a perspective that offers much hope for healing.
I’m not looking for an escape from the pain as much as a reminder of the context. I’m not the only one in pain, and I’m certainly not the one whose suffering is greatest. I have a home, a job (hell – I have two!), and I am married to an amazing woman. I live with depression and I have some significant life choices to make in the days ahead; on the scale of struggle, I register about as much as my blog makes a blip on the World Wide Web. What I’m doing is important, and I do well to approach it all with a sense of appropriate insignificance.
Parker Palmer unintentionally gave me a smile the other day. He wrote:
“Rather than speak of contemplation and action, we might speak of contemplation-and-action, letting the hyphens suggest what our language obscures: that one cannot exist without the other” (15)
Though the welding of contemplation-and-action speaks to me in the moment, it’s what he said about hyphens that made me smile: the hyphen suggests one cannot exist without the other.
I live with such a hyphen: Brasher-Cunningham.
When Ginger and I married and we both took each other’s names, that’s we meant when we bound our names together with the unobtrusive little piece of punctuation. The hyphen said what our culture obscures, what computer fields can’t translate, and some of our family had a hard time understanding. I feel the power of the bond when she sees the gathering gloom before I do, when she encourages me to fight quixotically against the windmills of globalization, when she listens to me talk about how much joy I find in making soup or samosas even though the passion is not her own.
I don’t know how to read the forecast of my life. I don’t know if I will simply brush up against my depression, or will have to saddle up and ride the monster deep into the darkness. I don’t know how to titrate my life to have time to work, to write, to respond to the opportunities to do something about the fair trade stuff, and to be present in my marriage and my friendships.
Whatever happens, I do know I’m called to remember I’m only one thread in the tapestry – an essential one, but still only one.
I know you’re looking deep inside right now, but you say that you’re only one thread in the tapestry as if that isn’t a wonderful thing. At least I’m hearing it that way. Your thread gives the tapestry its diversity. God put you here for that very reason. You know that John Donne said, “No man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” The tapestry wouldn’t exist in the form it does if it wasn’t for you. Therefore we will rejoice, my friend.
Don’t those foods just take you back in time? Another favorite of mine when I went to boarding school in Kenya–chapatis from the local duka, with lots of chai to wash them down. Mmmm. Thanks for the link, and I plan to try your recipe soon!
PS. Prayers to you, and a poem, “Let Evening Come” by Jane Kenyon–look it up online if you don’t have a copy (tried to paste it here but the format messes up).
Sometimes we don’t our storms coming, but it’s wonderful that you have a forecaster who knows your weather so well (now insert something about threads connecting and ties that bind, to keep us from being blown or washed away…).
Sorry the tone is unclear. To me, a sense of appropriate insignificance is just what you say. I am only one, caught in the creative process of grace that takes all of us single strands and makes each of us essential to one another.
I found Kenyon’s poem and a way to add it here (though it may show up in the main blog soon). Thanks for sharing.
‘Let Evening Come’
Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.
Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.
Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.
Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.
To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.
Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.
— Jane Kenyon
Milton, I’m enjoying reading your blog, I know what you mean about not being able to figure out how to do everything that’s important to you…Yes, I think we should accept that we have depression, but it’s too scary for me to ride it–don’t liike it at all– no good thoughts in there. Anyway, just wanted you to know you have another fan.
A friend recommended your blog, and the more I read, the more fascinated I become. As you described in this entry, so I also hyphenated my last name with my wife’s. We both sought to take on the long history and emotional weight of the other’s family of origin symbolically in this way. How idealistic we were! How difficult to carry out!
As a recent convert to Orthodoxy, I also loved reading your recounting of dropping in on a Paschal service in Greece… Such a gracious and gentle perspective you have!
Keep writing, I’ll be reading.
Ben in Michigan