Sunday Morning ~ First Words
Nchenzi inamva mau oyamba. ~ The rat heard the first words.
~ Chewa proverb
March 7, 2021
The rat, hearing the trap would be set tomorrow, got caught when he failed to hear: “On second thought, I’ll set it today.”
Our women’s writing group met yesterday over zoom. It was odd initially, this simulated gathering, but as we wrote and read it relaxed into a comfortable acceptance; for it was this or nothing. It was uplifting, nourishing, accommodating. Almost thirty years ago a discussion about women telling their stories morphed into this group and a monthly Saturday morning of writing. With a desire to tell those stories we learned to abolish the editor, the ghostly voice telling us we can’t write; it’s not good enough, no dangling participles please! We write without judgement. Then we read. It is a treasured part of my life, this group of women. It began with women who wanted to write, that’s it, their lives revealed in short, raw, funny, painful, garish segments. The authors alone decide whether to reveal them anywhere aside from this safe and sacred place. There is no judgement and the only commentary an occasional sigh, a nod, a tight smile, a tissue handed across a room, a pat on the knee, an outburst of laughter. Silence. Then another story.
To get to know a group of women by what they write then choose to read, in short segments, six or nine minutes, sometimes only three, has been deeply meaningful. Our souls and hearts bared, our deepest worries, questions, regrets, triumphs, joys, and sorrows laid out in poetic phrases, unpunctuated, often illegible. It’s all okay. No judgement. No advice. Just gratitude. All this makes for a unique human connection. Our monthly gatherings are personal, we’re older, with varied pasts and skills. Ordinarily, we sit in crowded living rooms, the most comfortable chairs are first come first serve. The windows, the teacup, the scone, the artwork, all highlighted as we seat ourselves. Hallways filled with boots and scarfs, coats and purses, frame the scene. Apologies for icy walks and distant parking places all shaken off with smiles and hugs, warmth, welcome. It’s as healing as a full day at the spa.
This ritual stopped a year ago. While everyone shook off the shock and adjusted to the new rules, the women’s writing group sat on a shelf like an classic novel. Creative outlets sprouted here and there, there may have been talk of frustration, of missing this, if so it wasn’t to me. I only felt it. I still wrote, but missed these friends. Turns out, others felt the same. So they organized a way to do it over zoom, again, odd, but it’s what we have to work with and are lucky for that. I was excited! In the morning I flitted around the house, feeling like I should make scones and clean the bathrooms, as if they were all about to arrive at my house! I wanted everything ready, the smell of bread baking, coffee brewing, and some sort of living green dotting mantlepieces and side tables. I came back to reality, adjusted to the times. I arranged the laptop for an attractive backdrop, a comfortable writing space, a perfect angle of light.
While I waited, I sorted and organized piles of stuff from a cabinet I impulsively opened and emptied earlier in the week when I’d received an upsetting phone call. A little side bar in my brain wondered what I was doing? It seemed my arms belonged to someone else as they pulled piles and piles of stuff out on to the floor. I listened intently. offering only, “Oh,” and “I’m sorry” and “What now?” and “I’m glad you called.” I hadn’t opened this cabinet in a very long time. I had to move stuffed baskets away from the cabinet doors just to open them. I put it all in the hallway: baskets, bags, bundles, cast offs, and well-intentioned future projects. Half done or less, they looked up at me from the hallway floor, pained, like the voice in my ear. I looked at the hallway, now nearly impassable, and thought, I’m sorry I’ve hidden you away, imperfect and incomplete, unacceptable, and undone. I just shoved you away waiting for a day when either I or my prodigy would decide what your future would be. The voice in my ear said goodbye and thanks for listening. My heart was like a stone in my chest, not cold and uncaring, but heavy, bulky, solid. It weighed me down. I looked around at the mess in the hallway and wondered what I had done? Why did I just pull all this out? Knowing it can not go back in the way it was. Maybe I needed something to control as I had none over the pain on the phone. Clear out what I’m not using, haven’t used, held and stored. I need to make space to breathe and think, organize, control, reorder to a form that makes sense and in the end, might keep someone warm.
I wrote about this, about letting go; how we decide what to keep, what to abandon. I think many of us are considering this now. We’ve been home so much, noticing cracks, collections, sentiments gone stale. Framed gems that seem hollow and well past their expiration date. What to compost and what to trash? Then there are the words. I found old journals. I refrained from reading them, knowing I’d neglect the piles for days to come once I started. I stacked the journals and wondered, if I died today, would anyone read them? And if they did, my kids for example, would it be painful? Would they devour them and discover who their mother really was? Or would it all get scooped up in a weekend, deposited in a burying site, lost, because no one has any space for anyone else’s stuff anymore. Armoires, dishes, linens, and silver relegated to archeological overload. I consider how much we are learning now about incentives of historical figures, dredged from their journals that someone has finally taken the time to read. Paper fades. Words don’t. Their meanings morph and first words may not reveal the truth.
Love to all,