Photograph by Josef Stuefer
Have you ever read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard? If not, do. It is a loveliness and a fearsome gift you will give yourself.
I read this book for the first time the summer I turned sixteen, filled with the romance and angst of teenhood. I put on a long ruffled salmon colored skirt with a tee shirt and sandals, got in my little old blue Fiat, and drove out of the suburbs into the outskirts of the city to a large, meandering park. I found an appropriately accommodating and dramatic tree under which to while away the afternoon hours, and got lost in the pages. As much as a very self-conscious adolescent girl by herself in a public park could get lost.
The opening passage stayed with me over the years - Dillard's image of a big old tomcat who would come in through her open window at night, to sit on and knead her bare chest and draw blood, so that she would wake in the morning to find her body covered in bloody paw prints, as though she'd been painted in roses. This picture stayed with me such that sometimes when my cats over the years have purred and kneaded in utter contentment, I see a young girl's bare chest, small breasts budding, with beads of blood blooming into roses.
Dillard's language is breathtaking. Her woven words about the creek, the animals, the saints, and her amazement over and over again at her blessed humanity, in all of its weakness and want, made me want to be a writer. She writes without compunction, with no holds barred. For a teenager, her passion, bordering on hyperbole, mirrored and fed the same passion that coursed through my body.
I stood with difficulty, bashed by the unexpectedness of this beauty, and my spread lungs roared, she writes.
And - I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I've come to care for.
As I read, I felt the world - wide unknown splintered reeling around me - waiting to be discovered. It was waiting for me to wander out into it. Annie Dillard presented the world to me all wrapped up in the most enticing, mysterious package and said, "Here. Open it. It's all for you."
Once, not too long ago, I had a waking dream in which a Spider wove a Web between two large cedar trees. The Web was immense, a wall sized tapestry, dripping with dew, glistening in the morning sun. It was Spider's gift to the world, what She was born to do. I knew that She didn't have to learn how to spin this Web. The knowledge was inherent in Her being. It was Her being - this Web. For days after this dream, I yearned to be Spider spinning such a Web. I yearned for the simple knowing deep in my bones, in my blood, in my gut. I yearned for the materials, for the space, for the courage to indulge in this creative act. Of course, the more I yearned, desired, thought, and geared up for such an event, the further the possibility slipped from my grasp.
This is the paradox; what we yearn for most is right there and the most difficult to attain. The yearning is the resonating echo within us when we recognize our heart's calling. Yet, as soon as we pursue the yearning, paradoxically, we are taken right away from what calls us. Because the yearning is the gift.
Don't seek to alleviate the yearning. Lean into the yearning, and we are there. Embrace it. Soak in the sweet ache. Arrive at the place we will never quite get to. How bitter. How exquisite. We step out into the world, wandering, and finally realize that it is the search we seek.
One day, maybe we will wake up, and each of us will have woven a Web for all the world to gaze upon. We will have gotten out of our own way enough so that whatever gifts we have to give this world that we in-habit have been flung far and wide. It will be like Christmas. Like Spring time. Like Spider in Autumn, Her Webs jeweling fences, the shrubbery, and long blades of field grasses. Or maybe we will be wandering, walking around turned completely inside out with astonishment, and it will happen, in that moment of utter Mystery and paradox - the Weaving, the Embrace.