Today requires a helping of grace: I fell asleep last night, thanks to some Benadryl, and missed keeping my Lenten pledge to write. I’m challenged to remember the point of my Lenten reading and writing is to deepen my faith and focus, not to have a perfect record. I’m trying to meet the challenge.
My task today was to travel. Ginger drove me to Logan Airport early this morning and I caught a flight to Newport News, Virginia to spend the weekend with friends (and one of my godsons) in Hampton and lead a youth retreat for their church. Between a couple of short naps on the ninety minute flight, I finished Practicing Resurrection. (That’s sounds as if I’m now ready to try resurrection for real.) I learned two new words today from my reading I would like to share with you.
inchoate (in-KOH-it or in-KOH-eyt) – adjective
- not yet completed or fully developed; rudimentary.
- just begun; incipient.
- not organized; lacking order: an inchoate mass of ideas on the subject.
I’d heard the word before, but had to look up the meaning. I like the way it sounds, for one thing, and I think it will be a useful addition to my vocabulary. The second word is even better.
arcana (ahr-KEY-nuh) – noun, pl.
- a secret; mystery.
- a supposed great secret of nature that the alchemists sought to discover.
- a secret and powerful remedy.
Gallagher used the word as she quoted from lectures by William Countryman, a New Testament scholar on the West Coast.
‘Arcana are secret because they cannot be; because there is no simple way to understand the world.’ Each of us has a special knowledge of life because each of us is ‘standing in a spot no one else occupies.’ Each of us has a unique perspective on the world, born of our own vision and experience . . . It is from this perspective that each one of us can reveal to another person our own arcana, our secret knowledge, about life‘s mystery or meaning. We absolutely depend on this in one another, because no one of us can know enough. Or, put another way, we are built to be dependent on each other to piece together how to live. No one person is supposed to have all the goods. We are built to be dependent on each other to be whole. (161)
For some reason, there was a baby exodus from Boston to Newport News this morning. I counted six mothers who got on the plane, each with two small children. One was already seated as I boarded. Her little boy, who looked to be three or four (like I know how to tell how old a kid is) saw me and said, “This is Anna, my baby sister. She’s new.” I said welcome to Anna and sat down only to hear him say the same thing to most everyone behind me as we boarded. We were a hundred or so people bound together by our common destination and little else, each of us with our own arcana. I wondered what each of us might tell the new kid. I wonder what she might be able to tell us.
I remember reading in one of Madeleine L’Engle’s books about a little girl who was not quite as happy as the boy on my flight when her mother came home with a new baby brother. She made no secret about her disdain for the tiny interloper. Then, one night, nothing would do but she be allowed to go into his room by herself. The parents were a bit worried, but they let her go in and stood at the door to watch. The little girl went up beside the crib and leaned between the wooden bars on the railing. “Tell me about God,” she said. “I’m forgetting.”
Gallagher also helped me remember something else. Eleven summers ago, I participated in the Humber School for Writers Summer Workshop just outside of Toronto. I spent a week writing, reading, and listening, sharing a dorm with about thirty other writers who were trying to figure out how to tell their secrets. I’m still marked by those days. One of the sessions was on the business part of writing and the buzz that summer was about a first time novelist who had gotten a significant contract based solely on her query letter. Her name was Anne Michaels and the book that grew out of that letter was Fugitive Pieces. Gallagher quoted her:
If you know one landscape well, you will look at all other landscapes differently,” says a character in Anne Michael’s novel, Fugitive Pieces. ‘If you learn to love one place, sometimes you can also learn to love another.’ (176)
I’ve moved around so much in my life that I’ve never felt a singularly enduring attachment to one particular landscape. When we lived in Kenya, I remember seeing the Ngong Hills each day as we drove to and from school, “ngong” being the Swahili word for knuckles since the hills had the shape of the knuckles on a giant’s hand. The only enduring sense the geography of north and central Texas left me was that of being the ant under God’s magnifying glass in the summertime. Green Harbor, where we live now, offers the long slow curve of Duxbury Beach as it runs out to Gurnet Point; the tides that come in all the way to the sea wall each night and change the face of the beach when they go back out; and the marshes that stretch out like carpet behind us, changing colors with each season. The mix of green space and concrete in Boston is perhaps the landscape that feels most home to me, but in moving I learned I am rooted more like a potted plant, able to be transported and still grow, than an old oak, whose roots go deep, deep into the ground. In some sense, my roots are inchoate, not yet fully developed.
How I understand the world is not so much in places as in people. Here in Hampton, whose landscape has all the nuance of a bowling lane, I find my roots in my godson and his sister and parents. Home will always be a moveable feast, as long as I’m moving with Ginger. The mystery, to me, is that we are connected and dependent over time and distance. Wholeness has more than one address.