William Stafford’s poem, “The Way it is”, is my companion on this first day of a new year.
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
Some days I feel like I have too many strands of thread in my hand, and I can’t keep them untangled. I can’t figure out which one to follow and which one to set down. Which thread matters and which one is a distraction.
One of the gifts of meeting my birth family in the past few years has been a dawning awareness of a thread I’ve had in my hand my whole life. It was lost in the jumble. I didn’t even know to look for it, but it was with me all along, slowly guiding me toward a piece of myself that I hadn’t figured out was missing. And it is not the only thread that matters, but I’m glad to have identified it, and seen how it contributes to the warp and weft of my life’s fabric.
I met my birth mother in February of 2017, (you can read about that here) and saw her again briefly in early December. I’m not sure I’ll see her again.It’s a thread I’m holding onto more loosely, and if I figure out how to better explain that publicly, I’m sure you’ll read about it here. It’s been good. And hard. And I’m grateful far beyond my ability to express it. In some ways, that particular thread feels like it is coming to the end, an imperfect completeness.
While a connection with my birth mother has been elusive, the rest of her family has been pretty welcoming. I received a Christmas card last week from my aunt, my birth mother’s oldest living sister (in her early 90s), welcoming me to the family. And I’ve received cards, texts, and phone calls from other cousins and my half sister on my mother’s side. (My half sister on my birth father’s side, and the rest of his family welcomed me into their family a few years ago. You can read some of that story here.)
To be claimed by people as family is a humbling thing. My adopted parents (and my sister and brother) did it first, when they claimed me as their own. They have always made room for me in their hearts. Eric’s adopted family also claimed me, making room for me to be in his life after the adoption. Justin’s family claimed me too, when we married. My birth father’s family claimed me. And now, as my birth mother’s family learns about me, I’m being claimed again. So many threads coming together, connecting to my life’s Thread.
How do you hold on to whatever thread it is that weaves its way through your life? How do you keep track of it, notice where it leads? How do we know which threads to set down? Or which ones are nearing their end?
For me, one of the ways I hold on to the thread is to write. Some of my writing ends up on my blog. Some of it ends up in sermons. Some of it is scrawled into notebooks and journals, not to be read or heard by others.
One of my intentions this year is to attend to my writing in some news ways. I’m reading The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World by Brenda Miller and Holly J. Hughes. It is helping me listen differently with my life and in my writing.
I’ve set up a corner of my house that is only for my writing. I claimed my grandmother’s desk this summer from my parents’ home, and have it set up in a corner of my bedroom.
I’m also going to continue reading good writing by other authors, and reading more poetry. David Whyte said, “Poetry is language against which we have no defense.” There are days when I need poetry to come into my head, sneaking past my defenses to shake things up, dislodging whatever is stuck or hidden.
Here’s a poem that is rattling around my head this afternoon. Hope it might be something against which I have no defense.
Variation on a Theme by Rilke by Denise Levertov.
A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me–a sky, air, light:
a being. And before it started to descend
from the height of noon, it leaned over
and struck my shoulder as if with
the flat of a sword, granting me
honor and a task. The day’s blow
rang out, metallic–or it was I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self
saying and singing what it knew: I can.
Happy New Year!