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Intent and Accident [May. 14th, 1998|09:09 pm]
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Intent and Accident

Every moment is a seed point, every choice can grow to be a vine that weaves itself throughout our lives. I have believed this, when I thought about it, most years of my life. I have acted it in fits and starts, attending to my choices when I remembered to remember that I had them. This is the story of a choice I did attend to, one I made with awareness and with intent.

It happened quite by accident.

In early 1997 I was emerging from a bad depression--bad enough to have had me thinking about suicide once or twice a day (though since I was still able to get to work, it was technically a "mild" depression). Time and a good therapist had gotten me past the bleakness I'd gathered for myself: I had hope, but not much idea of what it was I was hoping for. I tried a lot of things, and dropped a lot of things. I have a pile of jazz CDs that I bought and enjoyed and somehow stopped playing. The note cards with art on the covers that I bought to look at hardly made it out of the envelopes. The books on psychology got boring, reading about neurolinguistic programming was interesting but convinced me I didn't want anything to do with it, and the one relatively non-authoritarian book on hypnotism I found was also relatively dull. But I seemed to be circling something.

For years my partner had done a form of trance journey she called "going underground," though she would never say much about it. I decided to try it, and spent some months traveling through a landscape filled with imaginary people. As time went on, those people began to seem more and more real to me. I wanted very much to find a way of thinking, around or between or woven into the scientific, skeptical, rational way of thought I was still committed to (and am still committed to), a way of thought that would allow me to admit my friends' reality without hedging or wincing.

So I bought a book. Several books, actually, but I remembered seeing The Spiral Dance some years before, at a time when my interest in witchcraft was strictly intellectual--I'd been disappointed when I realized that it was a manual of practice. Now a manual was a bit more appealing. The Spiral Dance didn't really help my philosophical dilemma--it just assumed that one could believe in the kinds of things that were giving me trouble--but I did notice that Brigid (or Imbolc or Imbolg or Candlemas or Oimelc or whatever) was coming up on February first or second.

It was the morning of February first and to the best of my recollection I was putting on my shoes. With a fraction of my attention I was thinking half-seriously about what I might do to mark the day, and with another fraction trying to decide if Brigid's feast was that day, or that day's evening and the next day's daylight, or what, and with yet another fraction I was playacting in my head, assuming the part of someone who believed in all this stuff, saying silently to myself "Surely, on her day, if I call her she will come." But when I played it back that wasn't what I'd said at all. What had actually come out was this: "Surely, on her day, if I come she will call me."

That was the accident.

This was the choice: I put my shoes down and thought about what I had said. And thought again. And said (this time with attention, and with intent) "All right, then."

Because of that choice I am no longer the person who made it, so I can't say exactly what I meant by what I said; but I know that a central part of it was a decision to act with respect: to be willing to listen for a goddess in whom I didn't believe; to be willing to answer.

Today, I believe that she did call me (though part of me is most uncomfortable saying so); and I believe that I hungered so desperately for meaning in my life that I made up a miracle out of whole cloth; and I believe that the deep parts of myself, the ones a little nearer to the sacred, finally got a word in edgewise at a time when the rest of me was ready to listen. I believe these things simultaneously and see no contradiction in them.

Today I look back and see in that day a cusp, the marker of a major change in my life. I don't want to give the wrong impression here: the Earth did not deviate a jot from her usual habits that day. The things I experienced were completely ordinary: I overheard a conversation between a father and a son, and another between a mother and a son. I walked home by a route I hadn't taken before. I started to resolve my philosophical dilemma. The trees' bare branches against the evening sky moved me to joy and thought and tears. I was sad, and happy.

***
From my journal:

Saturday, 2-1-97. A day of omens.

[Description of the morning omitted. Later:]

I was in MacDonald's, in line behind a man with a 12-year old boy. The man was quarreling with the young woman at the register ? he wanted something almost like one of their special deals but not quite, and refused to hear that he couldn't have just that. Three times his son said, "Dad, order number 2 and super-size it." The first time the father waved his hand at his son dismissively; the second time he said "Be quiet"; and the third time he turned around, shoved his face into his son's and snarled, "Zack, shut up." Zack turned around and stared at the counter, clearly wishing the earth would swallow him.

I ordered my food and sat down. As I was writing about Zack and his father, a rather butch woman came in with a boy about Zack's age and headed for the restrooms. She told him firmly "Because I said you have to wash your hands." She finished before him and stood waiting halfway to the food counter. My back was to the restrooms, but I could tell when the boy came out even before I saw him because she broke into a grin as he approached her.

"Did you wash your hands?"

"Yes."

"No, you didn't." (But she was smiling.)

"Yes I did!"

"Let me see."

He showed her the backs of his hands.

"Turn them over." She grabbed one hand and put her finger in the palm. "See, you missed some." He laughed and wiped his hand on his jeans, and they went off to order their food.

I know just how Zack felt as he stared at the counter (or I think I do), that sick feeling of trying to do the right thing and being punished for it. I know just how his father felt (or I think I do), appalled at himself but not stopping, not stopping because the more he abused his son and the woman behind the counter the angrier he got, the more he felt that they and not he were the cause of his public loss of control.

I don't know how the woman behind the counter felt, having to stand there and take abuse from some white guy because he was the customer and it was her job. I can guess, but I don't have that feeling of reading her mind, of being inside her skin.

I don't know how the mother and son felt as they laughed with each other over their tug of wills. I can't slide inside his skin, or hers. I don't know just how they felt. But I want to, I want to be someone who knows just how love feels. And I do, sometimes, not often enough but often enough to know that I can.

I carry Zack's father with me always, though. He is the man I have to heal. We are the men with holes in our hearts.

[I didn't record everything in my journal, of course. I was running some sort of errand that day, though I've forgotten what. I wasn't successful, and I recall being grumpy and irritable (and irritating) on the phone with my partner. I didn't record that. The journal picks up again with the walk home.]

Walking home in the twilight, I took a different route than I usually take. A beautiful young black man was walking down the median strip as I crossed Broad Street. He kicked something and shouted, I think about football, then ran across the street against the traffic light and kept on running. I usually turn left there, but I'd have been following him and he made me a little nervous, so I kept straight on down Malvern. The trees were tall there, naked against the indigo sky. I've never really looked at trees without their leaves before this winter. I find it hard to say how I felt, walking down that road -- entranced, I suppose, both literally and in the more ordinary sense. It was just an ordinary road, and I was thinking, mostly, ordinary thoughts. But I was seeing it through new eyes.

[The sense memory of those trees, that sky, is still a key for me. Winter branches in the twilight have become a personal rainbow, a concrete embodiment of hope, and I don't have the skill with words to tell you why. My journal records some thoughts about the people I'd been meeting in trance. Giving the context for that would require a long diversion (and anyway I'm embarrassed by the naiveté of the thoughts). What I didn't record were the more abstract thoughts, about the nature of spirits and deities. That would be a long diversion too. Suffice it to say that I found a way for a materialist to believe in the Goddess and the gods--one that satisfied me, at any rate.]

I was grateful to the young man for throwing me off course. It occurred to me that the God might act like that. The rational side of me immediately objected, and the modest side thought I was getting very grand. But if I really believe that the gods are in us, are us, are the universe and its people and nothing else, then who am I to withhold divinity from that young man running dangerously down the street? He was no more running his race for my sake than the trees were growing for my sake; but I need not on that account appreciate his intervention less than that of the trees.

***

So ends my journal for the day. Every moment is a seed point, and most seeds never germinate--but that day was extraordinarily fertile for me. Extraordinary because more than once I knew, in the moment, not what it would mean for me--but that it could mean something, that it was a seed point; and extraordinary because it was not the culmination of a grand plan.

I had worked hard in the months before, but not toward any conscious goal. When the inevitable accident occurred, I had a choice, and knew it--that was the small power my work had given me. So small a choice, to respect what I'd been in the habit of discounting. So small a seed.
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