Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fall from Grace

I am trying to write more, and it also occurs to me that I'd like to be blogging more. I thought about setting up a content-specific blog -- but it's hard to anticipate what I'll be writing about, so I'm hoping that the "labels" feature of blogger will enable me to categorize things usefully, so that someone interested in the teaching side of this blog can avoid my sentimental musings on parenting and so on.

Speaking of sentimental, let me start off this blog from a journal entry I wrote earlier today. This week I'm on solo-parenting duty while K takes a class at UMass Boston. I've gotten into the routine of taking Grace out for a walk for her first morning nap -- usually I end up at our local Starbucks or one of its competitors and it gives me time to read or write in my journal. Here's an excerpt from this morning's journal:

Back at the same table -- again, Grace asleep on my chest. Yesterday on the radio I heard a stroke survivor describing her stroke as an enlightenment-like experience. Her left brain was choked off in the stroke, leaving her mind thoroughly in the present and giving her a feeling of connectedness and unity (what James called a mystical experience). I dabbled in just enough Buddhism in college to intuit, along with the survivor, that this was a kind of ground of experience or being, though I realize there's no good reason to think that connectedness is any more fundamental to our sense of being than any other part of our psyche (say, the list-making or anxiety-generating functions of the brain). Still, she described her experience as a kind of return to infancy, and that struck me suddenly, the way nearly anything to do with childhood strikes me since I became a father.

I have been struck often by the sheer joy I see in Grace -- it's hard not to think that that boundless, unrestrained joy is in fact a default setting for humanness, a ground of being, what we feel when nothing stands in the way. And for now, for Grace, the obstacles to joy are small and generally easy to overcome -- she is hungry or tired or uncomfortable. It's hard not to imagine growing up as a kind of fall from grace, to think of consciousness as an accumulation of obstacles that stand between self and unadulterated joy.

Yet sometimes it is that very fall that makes my heart move as I see Grace the person emerging. More and more she cries not from hunger but from more unique wants -- there is something out of reach and she can't get it, or, try as she might to crawl, she just pushes herself further and further away from her destination -- her backwards crawling so cute to us until a pout quivers onto her face and slowly but surely breaks into tears of frustration.

There is an easy spiritual metaphor in that. Her desire, Desire itself, pushing her away from Joy, which is, ultimately, what she desires.

(And now I notice a teenager in line, glossy lipped, her hair teased out model-like, a pout planted firmly on her lips -- how many desires and anxieties tell the story of her crossed arms, her polished and painted nails, her mini-skirt, the words across her t-shirt, her dramatic stance -- how adult she looks, how thoroughly sad)

But surely this line of thought, the Golden Age, the Fall, leads ultimately to a kind of misanthropy. It is hard not to want to protect Grace from this (now she is waking up as I write this), but isn't the real thing to celebrate every little piece of being human as she discovers it--every tear, every grasp and frustration and laugh -- and now I'm starting to cry just watching her wake up in Starbucks -- isn't that the thing, even here, to wake up, to bring a tear.

I told you that would be sentimental. It's what's been happening to me lately. I cry at everything. I am so happy.

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