Monday, July 19, 2010

Day 200- Mad girl's love song

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you'd return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

-Sylvia Plath

Dear Mr. President,

I want to write about policy tonight, but I just finished a book that I can't stop thinking about. I'm still walking the streets of Damascus, wandering in the desert with angels and saints and old friends from long ago. I'm also feeling like I've overstepped the boundaries of polite acquaintance, because, unlike some anonymous reader, I can put faces to some of the characters and I have heard their voices and I have heard their telling of the same story. You're an author, you probably experienced that strange freedom of telling your life's secrets to strangers. I don't know about you, but I think it isn't the same, telling it to people you know, or at least have spoken to in person. Maybe I just like to hide behind my keyboard. But still, I'm overcome by the beauty of my friend's writing, of her story, of the hope it gives me. I think it is, at least in part, because I see myself in the story, not me exactly, of course, but a part of me, the part of me that has always been afraid that I'll never feel like a normal person.

The author means a great deal to me, not only because of the kindness she showed me when we met, but because of the strange moment in my life at which I encountered her. I wasn't heartbroken, not all the way, but I was in the middle of a descent into the kind of love and grief over love that are never really distinct from one another, or from madness. I've been in this state several times before. I know all the signs. I know the feeling, that's something like finding what you've looked for all your life, only to realize it isn't at all what you wanted.

Anyway, I was just starting this vicious cycle all over again about the time I took a trip to Palestine. It was hard. It was eye-opening. I hoped it would be life-changing. While walking the path of Abraham, a prophet who I hadn't given much consideration, even during my brief forays into organized religions, I saw amazing things. Sites of power and history and faith. I met people who believed more deeply in these things than I could possibly understand. One morning, waiting for the group to get organized and explore Nablus, my cell phone rang. Up until that instant, I wasn't even sure I could get calls. It was the man I thought I was in love with. He was drunk. He needed to ask me for a phone number of another friend. I went to this place because, for my entire adult life, I'd felt drawn to it, while circumstances or bad choices seemed to prevent me from ever getting there. And, once I finally got there, my cell phone couldn't help reminding me of all of the things just waiting for me to come back. Things I knew I couldn't face as the same person I'd been when I left.

And I met the amazing woman who wrote this book, and she seemed to be, in many ways, what I wanted to be one day. Happy. Sane. Wise. An outsider who had accepted and been accepted in a new place, without losing her ties to home. The type of person I didn't think people like me were allowed to become. But most of all, she seemed to understand the conflicted nature of being an American in a place where America had done or helped to do really awful things. Of having yourself represented by a passport that got you special treatment, and the nightly news images of bombed-out buildings and dying children on TV. Of never, ever, being able to hide from your origins or to express the pride and affection you still have for your country, for all of the things it means to you that never get translated well. Of wanting to Do Good, (whatever that means,) and finding that you could never make it all right. That no one can. And I got to experience all of that all over again reading her book. It's good to be reminded that I'm not the only one who has ever felt so lost. That sometimes the fight just to figure out your own life, to keep your own sanity and to mend your own heart is more important, and harder, than we let ourselves say out loud.

When I was in Palestine, they gave me a new name. The people I met made me reconsider a number of things I'd been sure of. But my life did not change, right away. I went home and fell into the same patterns and was trapped by the oppressive sameness of my life, compounded by these dashed hopes for instant renewal and transformation. But, eventually, I got better, in no small part because I had begun to understand what I was looking for. Because I learned that change is hard. Change takes time and work and doesn't often look like the original plan. Change requires moving in utter darkness, pressing forward on uncertain ground with only faith to tell us that the path exists at all. Change does not happen all at once.

Ok, I guess this was a little bit about policy, after all.

Respectfully yours,



The book I've been writing about is one I've mentioned here before; it's called The Bread of Angels and the brilliant author is Stephanie SaldaƱa.

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