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.

27 thoughts on “Clarity (?)

    • SuzanneShafer says:

      If your wait was (I do hope your wait is now over) anything like mine, my heart goes out to you Penny. I can’t really say what ended mine, though I know that the joy I felt for the very first time the day I began riding a motorcycle was a big part of it. So maybe finding one’s Joy is the key.

      • I was awake much of the night thinking about your words and my own search for bliss. I’ve enjoyed watching your Real life unfold as you take on one challenging endeavor after another. Once you get that “ah-ha” moment of clarity, you seem to gain confidence from it and move on to the next learning opportunity. It takes courage to face your own mortality and the pending loss of your mom, and it’s very natural to grieve. Writing down your thoughts on life (and death) for public consumption is heavy lifting. I look forward to reading more of your essays. And, good luck on your spiritual journey.

        • Linda, my friend, forgive me for keeping you awake…unless, of course, you consider the time to have been well spent. And yes, even the small “ah-ha” moments do help move me forward–IF I take at least one Baby Step in the direction they point me toward. I’ll look forward to hearing about your own moments of clarity and the steps that follow. I think that sharing such things with our friends is absolutely essential to our well-being.

  1. Amazingly honest and real. Scared is always good – it alerts you, awakens you. It means pay attention. Sometimes if it’s danger flee, if it’s change – deep breath and keep moving forward. You have always moved forward and been open to embrassing what lay ahead. I personally am delighted to see you opening to God with a capital G and releasing the bad representation He has and always will have. He is never a reason to hate or punish. He is always a reason to love – unconditionally. That is not humanly possible on our own so love gets conditions added. You have been on a quest to grow since I have known you. It is an honor to be a witness to this. You continue to inspire. Thank you. Donna

  2. Nancy McCoy Nedderman says:

    Thank you, Suzanne, for this powerful piece. We are all searching for clarity and finding it in bits and pieces that often make no sense at the time. For me it was a breast cancer diagnosis that bumped me into looking at things a little closer. I’m not sure how far I am on the path of “Clarity,” but I somehow feel calmer about unanswerable questions and keep plodding along…
    Nancy McCoy Nedderman

    • SuzanneShafer says:

      Nancy, I take comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one who sometimes requires a bat upside the head to make me pay attention. But your bat was a really big one and I’m sorry I didn’t know about it earlier. Truly, I doubt that few honest people ever do better than coming to terms with the unanswerable and being willing to keep plodding along anyway.

  3. I see so much of myself in what you wrote. Thank you for putting it on paper. Keep writing more. I’m ready to read. Maybe I can get some clarity. My mom died in October, and I have such mixed emotions about it all.

    • SuzanneShafer says:

      I didn’t know about your Mom, Peggie, and I totally understand your mixed-emotion response. It’s exactly what I anticipate when my mom eventually goes. Thank you for the encouragement to keep writing. As much as I want to do that, my fear that what I write won’t be meaningful so often keeps me from even picking up a pen. I’m so grateful to have been jarred into action this morning by Brian Doyle, and if you’re ready to read things written by a spiritual man seems to have seen love and joy in everything, I heartily recommend his book, One Long River of Song.

  4. Thank you, Suzanne for your openness in your writing to share your self. We all have questions about God. It is hard to decide what is true. My mother just passed away a month ago and I feel like Peggie. There are many mixed emotions. Her death made me realize that we are not left with much at the end except the love of friends and family

    • SuzanneShafer says:

      Emily, thank you for taking the time to read what I wrote to and comment on it. It means so much to hear that I have touched something important in your life. You are so right that, in the end what matters is love. These days I find myself pondering the down-side of my decision not to have children, and realizing that it’s up to me now to create a “family” of friends with whom to share love. And for me that means openness and honesty about things I believe many of us have in common. I think that, like me, many of my friends are at that time of life when grief is one of those things. Please know that my thoughts are with you as you come to terms with the loss of your mom.

  5. Kristen Walsh says:

    Suzanne your writing clearly reflects your quest for your own truth and path. Beautiful. John Lennon – “My role in society, or any artist’s or poet’s role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all.” Your struggle is universal. As for God with a Capitol G. Don’t forget Rumi, “What you seek is seeking you.”

  6. Suzanne, I hear your heart. Twelve years ago, while reading my Bible, I came across something that changed my life. I no longer believe in “religion”. I never felt Christ wanted us to separate into groups and point fingers at each other. I know you know what I’m talking about. I reject the ‘trappings’ of religion and today, my heart rests, quietly and contently, in faith and faith alone. Tia

    • Thank you, Tia. My capacity for quietness and contentment is growing now that I’m living my Real Life (and probably also because I’m aging) so I’ll hang onto the hope that I’ll someday realize it on a spiritual level.

      • Terri Ludden says:

        Suzanne, P.S. I’m training myself not to use the word ‘hope’. Hope means you’re not sure. I don’t hope for salvation. I am assured of it and so are you. Tia

  7. Suzanne, it took a lot of courage & love to give up the life you had made for yourself and move to serve and care for your aging parents. Not all could have done something so selfless. I know your are headed in the right direction of knowing more about God with a ‘G’. I believe we each have to find that knowing on our own, without all the input from others. & yes, you are changing. I have seen a spark of real joy in your eyes & on your face on more than one occasion in the last few years. Keep up your search.

    • SuzanneShafer says:

      Thank you for the encouragement, Kathy. And I especially appreciate hearing that the joy is becoming visible. Yesterday I remembered reading that God is the joy I feel…and also the grief. That God is all of it, Everything, makes more sense to me than anything I was taught as a child.

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