All day I have been forgetting that this is the first of May. All day time has meant nothing to me save that it touches upon the necessity of picking up the girls after school and eventually feeding them.
I have been playing with fountain pens and inks tonight, foolish ink-stained wretch that I have become. I form letters, loops and backloops, humps and dots and swirls, as if they matter, as if they have meaning there upon the page. "Noodler's Burgundy," I write, and, "Diamine Royal Blue," "Private Reserve Purple Haze" and "Unknown Black." I write them over and over, some with fine nibs, some with medium. Some I write with flex nibs, adding unnecessary flourishes and scrolls until, impatient, I begin to write too quickly, and the flowing lines turn into scrawls and worse-than-scrawls. Afterward there are pages and pages that mean nothing, that say nothing save that I was restless. Nowhere on the pages do the words "conflicted" or "dissatisfied" appear. "Unhappy" is not among the eloquence of looping lines, nor "discouraged" nor "slipping," "dark," "falter" or "lost." Only the objective and the cheerful names of inks: "Apache Sunset," "Purple Martin," "Sapphire Blue,""Claret."
A power line was down across the road in town this morning. I had to back up and turn into a parking lot, then turn around, go back the way I'd come and try a different route to my destination. What if the destination is unknown? What if one finds oneself in a parking lot three times a day? Four? Five? Six? Turning and heading back up the path already traveled? Without direction, without a goal, one loses the way. There is no coming or going save only to keep moving, long for rest as one may well do.
The rain is falling outside, pattering on the walk. It, at least, knows its own direction, single-minded, enviable phenomenon of nature.
"...when we choose
the way by which our only life
is lived, we choose and do not know
what we have chosen, for this
is the heart's choice, not the mind's;
to be true to the heart's one choice
is the long labor of the mind.
He chose, imperfectly, as we must,
the rule of love, and learned
through years of light what darkly
he had chosen: his life, his place,
our place, our lives..."
(For whole poem, click quote and scroll down to Thursday, Aug. 26, 2004.)
Wendell Berry's words strike home both as a sharp blade and as a life preserver that having been thrown, hits the person in need of it and gets his attention. I think of choices I have made, choices I repeat weekly, sometimes daily. I think of how, unknowing, I first chose, how knowingly I continue choosing, a life in which I am so restless, how still that life is full of love and how choosing against it would betray myself far more deeply than I have yet to do, even traitor that I am. "We live the given life and not the planned," writes Berry in another poem, and I believe these words, too, believe that they are not in opposition to the others, believe our hearts in making their own choices, result in given lives, lives far different than anything our minds would have ever planned.
Perhaps it is an exercise in humility and discipline at last, to subjugate the lofty mind to the inexplicable and single-eyed determination of the simple heart. At least there is in it for me this consolation of choice: "...his life, his place,/our place, our lives." It lightens the weight of doubt to consider that my own choice of the rule of love is a choice that has resulted and continues to result in the places and lives of our two daughters and perhaps to some lesser degree, Great Scott's, too. I do not choose perfectly, but I choose. I choose.