It is time to revisit Ernest Hemingway’s poignant masterpiece, “A Clean Well Lighted Place.” It is a short story about a cafe which shelters the lonely and distraught, affording them safe harbor for a few hours. A clean well lighted place where one can feel at home. A place where “everyone knows your name.”
An older waiter is convinced that all is “nada,” nothing, meaningless and that his elderly customer is there to push the nothingness away for a while because “This is a clean and pleasant cafe. It is well lighted. The light is very good and also, now, there are shadows of the leaves.”
Isn’t that all each of us desires, to sit with someone in the light when “nada” starts closing in? Let’s do that for one another when we feel hopeless, when panic pushes up from our gut threatening to take over our lives. Be that clean well lighted place, a safe haven for one another.
An old codger on a bar stool Spins victory vignettes Swaying in sync With the melodies of stories That play in his head Hoping for a listener to relieve him Of the nothingness that calls him To the warmth of the cafe.
“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”
― George Orwell, 1984
“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”
― George Orwell, 1984
“It was a bright cold day in April [January], and the clocks were striking thirteen.” So begins George Orwell’s story of descent from freedom, 1984. When I read the news in real-time this morning my instinct was to panic; instead I determined to weave reality with Orwell and develop a spiritual practice with which to combat the onslaught. Here it is:
Turn PANIC into PRESENCE:
P= Pay attention, live consciously
A= Analyze the situation; no intellectual or spiritual sloth
N= Now; Live in the now. Don’t let fear of the future take possession
I= Inhabit; live in the deepest self where the divine in us is present
C= Call on the wisdom of the Spirit. We are not alone.
And breathe…..be well travel companions.
It is encouraging to me that so many are in sync in our response to news of the last two days. This morning the Washington Post carried this story:
A strong woman is a woman who is straining A strong woman is a woman standing on tiptoe and lifting a barbel while trying to sing “Boris Godunov.” A strong woman is a woman at work cleaning out the cesspool of the ages, and while she shovels, she talks about how she doesn’t mind crying, it opens the ducts of the eyes, and throwing up develops the stomach muscles, and she goes on shoveling with tears in her nose. A strong woman is a woman in whose head a voice is repeating, I told you so, ugly, bad girl, bitch, nag, shrill, witch, ballbuster, nobody will ever love you back, why aren’t you feminine, why aren’t you soft, why aren’t you quiet, why aren’t you dead? A strong woman is a woman determined to do something others are determined not be done. She is pushing up on the bottom of a lead coffin lid. She is trying to raise a manhole cover with her head, she is trying to butt her way through a steel wall. Her head hurts. People waiting for the hole to be made say, hurry, you’re so strong. A strong woman is a woman bleeding inside. A strong woman is a woman making herself strong every morning while her teeth loosen and her back throbs. Every baby, a tooth, midwives used to say, and now every battle a scar. A strong woman is a mass of scar tissue that aches when it rains and wounds that bleed when you bump them and memories that get up in the night and pace in boots to and fro. A strong woman is a woman who craves love like oxygen or she turns blue choking. A strong woman is a woman who loves strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong in words, in action, in connection, in feeling; she is not strong as a stone but as a wolf suckling her young. Strength is not in her, but she enacts it as the wind fills a sail. What comforts her is others loving her equally for the strength and for the weakness from which it issues, lightning from a cloud. Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse. Only water of connection remains, flowing through us. Strong is what we make each other. Until we are all strong together, a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.
Once upon a time women would not leave the house without wearing a proper undergarment we called “a slip”..this explanation intended, of course, for a newer generation who is perfectly happy with laced thongs! A story from my tenure in high school dovetails perfectly with this poem that emerged this morning. My father introduced me to the world of 1950’s Hollywood musicals which I came to love, along with John Raitt. The spring I graduated Raitt stared in a production of “Oklahoma!” performed on the floating stage of the Aqua Theatre on Green Lake in Seattle. Dad took me as a graduation gift. I was walking on air to the Aqua Theatre with scores of other people when I noticed that my slip was slipping, the absolutely worst faux pas of 1962. I ducked behind the nearest tree to pull it up and emerged red-faced and relieved to have set the world right again.
My slip is Showing
when we get old we don’t mind anymore if our slip shows its shocking ruffle of black Chantilly sashaying under our outer armor.
let the young be shocked I say for shock shakes the souls of the old exposing the richest parts to innocent adoring eyes and transforms limitation to fine laced truth