Fifteen years ago I donned a pewter pendant whose creator had named it “Clarity.” I had just left a beloved house in the city in which I had meant to grow old and was squatting (I hoped) in a duplex owned by my parents, in a town I would never have chosen and was damned sure I would never love. I had made that move with inner certainty. My still-friends had supported me in this decision but a mentor I admired and wanted to please had objected, telling me I was sacrificing my own life. I dismissed his perspective and admired him a bit less as I loaded the U-Haul. Moving across my home state to help my parents through their last years was an unanticipated compelling inarguable dictate from god knows where that I suspected was focused more on my own betterment than theirs. I was fifty-four—and perpetually disturbed by a life-long sense that I was waiting for my Real Life to begin. I’m almost seventy now and I’m still in that duplex and the town I don’t love. I have nursed my father through his last days and I’m now caring for my 95-year-old Mom whose body keeps hanging on as her mind turns to mush. Clarity hangs on a sterling chain around my neck almost every day, reminding me that I drove east out of Portland one July morning believing that I was beginning a quest.
I have, in fact, escaped the waiting. I’m not sure exactly when but maybe ten years ago I noticed that I actually, finally, felt Real. And my quest for clarity is, if anything, deepening and accelerating as I age. Yesterday, I opened the door of a small bookstore and two steps in Brian Doyle’s One Long River of Song caught my eye. I’d never heard of him but since opening his book to page four and reading, in an essay about hummingbirds and hearts, “The price of their ambition is a life closer to death,” his book has been within easy reach. A moment of clarity: This book will fuel my Quest for Clarity. And maybe provide a roadmap as well.
Surprisingly—or maybe not since according to his friend, David James Duncan, who wrote the book’s Foreward, Brian James Patrick Doyle, who was living in Portland while I was there and who died in 2017 while I was making a checklist of gear to take on an upcoming motorcycle exploration of Montana, helped resurrect the “spiritual writing” genre in America—this morning I am pulled toward the word God-with-a-capital-G. This alarms me. I avoid that word because I do not credit myself with the fortitude to examine it with clarity. “Capital-G God” is a word and an idea I have avoided for years because the Judeo-Christian dogma in which my formative years were steeped portrayed a being entirely too human to merit awe. Even when young I found preposterous the idea that any human or institutionalized collective of humans could know the mind of a Real God well enough to insist that their take on Truth was the one and only. I could not love, much less obey or sacrifice my life to, a deity who apparently excluded (and would eventually punish) any point of view not endorsed by my parents’ religion. So I walked away. And felt much cleaner…much clearer. Until this morning when Brian Doyle, who considered his writing an “attempt to stare God in the eye” reminded me of the plaintive voice I sometimes hear whispering “I wish I had a God. I wish I could pray.”
Am I being nudged toward a riveted gaze at divinity? I don’t know. But the past three years have been abundant with events suggesting that the Real Life I’m enjoying is changing in ways I didn’t anticipate and don’t want to accept. I’m living now in a process of grieving that seems as absolutely necessary as the dictate commemorated by the pewter suspended on silver under my pajamas as I write this. Ambiguity is, of course, unavoidable…and absolute Clarity unattainable—at least for humans. (Those who think otherwise will always scare the hell out of me!) I am unnerved by what appears to be beckoning, but I cannot stomach stasis. I won’t close the door.