The seaweed fingers of the ocean laced themselves through Friday night’s post as I dreamed of a Cape Cod childhood. The specter of all I didn’t really appreciate living with the ocean so near to my door sweeps ever closer as I delve into the essence of place.
We are steeped in the language of landscape – after all, this corner of the blogosphere is stated to include notes from a spiritual quest, and what is a quest if not a journey along a path? Only one part of me envisions a trail through a forest; the rest of me relies on the abstract – images of neural pathways or a trek up a spiritual mountain with little reference to reality. We have reached a point where we move through life without ever risking blisters as our feet never touch the ground. William Blake’s vision has been realized in so many ways: “Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow.”
So often in my life I have lived this creed, devouring poetry for the sway of the verse rather than to feel the rise of the hill being glorified on the page. We can discover countless aspects of the planet with such speed and alleged accuracy, but still I am left to wonder if I have ever actually seen a moose by the side of the road or if I have just watched the opening credits of Northern Exposure often enough to feel I have that big mammal all figured out.
At last I am beginning to realize that my moments of greatest unhappiness (often after heady flushes of joy) generally swallow me when I am most oblivious to the cycles of nature, the constant spin of birth and death that exists well beyond my narrow scope. It strikes me as strange that we can completely forget the ground beneath our feet. Does a sailor ever forget the ship that keeps him from slipping into the sea?
These considerations come at a time when my husband and I talking about where to set roots for an eventual family. Back to the Cape, back to Europe, some foolishly warm part of this country, or perhaps just embracing the community in which we currently find ourselves. There are so many factors that would inform that decision – occupation and livelihood; the proximity of family and friends; whether residents of these new places would seem to be “of our tribe”; is it too hot, too provincial, too landlocked? What would it mean to make the decision not only in light of such practicalities, but because of the pulse of a place, the language of the land itself rather than the vocabulary we have thrust upon it?
This weekend my husband and I began the search for our first home. Dreams and make-believe were layered in with the grown up panic of 401K withdrawals and credit scores. We laughed and drank too much coffee and wound our way through the country lanes and modest neighborhoods that occasionally gave way to old orchards that now nurtured Hummers and McMansions. It was a day of escaping from ourselves completely even as we made plans that would structure the next phase of our lives.
In the same way that I lost track of all that I would normally consider essential while planning a wedding (a pedicure chosen over the time to cultivate some inner peace, etc.), I realize now that I am just as likely to lose sight of the ideals that cover these pages in the process of buying a house. In the same way that I am tempted to invest in traditional stocks whose profits are derived from guns (defense industry) and drugs (pill pushing, um, I mean medical innovation) and deforestation (development) rather than the “social choice” plans with low dividends and high feel-good points, I am guessing I will consider trading energy efficiency for a lower down payment.
The fact that life is a process of constantly balancing needs and wants, ideals and deals is well established. For me, I also recognize it as a perpetual act of reconciling my reality with the pictures I can paint of my perfect world in which environmentalism did not come at the cost of foregoing an extra bedroom and sound financial decisions were not based on taking every penny the bank would offer.
But then I remember the Sacrament of Reconciliation and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the act of reconciling invoices and payments. Penance and nation building and accounting all wrapped up in one word. I had to turn to my friends at Merriam-Webster:
Main Entry: rec·on·cile
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French or Latin; Middle French reconcilier, from Latin reconciliare, from re- + conciliare to conciliate
1 a : to restore to friendship or harmony <reconciled the factions> b : SETTLE, RESOLVE <reconcile differences>
2 : to make consistent or congruous <reconcile an ideal with reality>
3 : to cause to submit to or accept something unpleasant <was reconciled to hardship>
4 a : to check (a financial account) against another for accuracy b : to account for
synonym see ADAPT
It is beginning to seem that “reconcile” in all of its forms is the constant thread binding my ostensibly disparate planes of existence. I reject the connotation of the term that links it to the need for an Act of Contrition, but if I can step back and realize it is possible to examine all that I am and have been in light of who I wish to be, it seems possible to escape the mantle of guilt (and that painful memory of my first penance at age seven when I was afraid to cross myself because the chocolate I had been clutching in my hand while waiting for the priest had melted through my fingers).
How strange to understand that a single verb can encompass both the restoration of friendship and harmony and the submission to the unpleasant, but is it such a leap to say that the search for harmony in the face of suffering is itself the process of living?