Out of the deep
Have I called unto Thee, O Lord —
Lord, hear my voice!
tr. from Requiem, John Rutter
The first snow fell this week. So did the second snow, and that has stuck, and the pool has frozen over firmly enough to support the neighbor’s rotund clumsy cat, which lost its balance trying to drink the other day and landed, perplexed, on the surface while I watched out the window. The third snow is coming, tomorrow night into the next, and that will require shoveling the walks and borrowing Spouse’s car when I go down to Portland overnight.
It is a month out from the election, give or take a couple of days. In that time I have crafted and delivered three worship services (two Sundays and one weeknight) and worked three overnights and a day shift on-call at the hospital, and done the other things with (mostly) calm efficiency, and also finished this morning the last sequence of blocks for what will become a small bright quilt in the next week or two.
I am functional. I am so very functional. I take pleasure – pride, perhaps – in my capacity to be highly functional under stressful conditions. I get satisfaction from being able to show up and deliver even when things are falling apart.
But my heart is not in it.
My heart – small wild thing that it is, with flashing eyes – has gone to ground, disappeared into a tangled thicket of branches and old roots, wary and invisible, silently observing a world that has once again demonstrated its pervasive untrustworthiness and inherent danger.
Whatever other image you may have in your head, this is also what PTSD looks like, or feels like: for me, it’s an emotional flashback to my Reagan-era childhood of being bullied and social manipulation and parental disengagement, all under the sociopolitical cloud of imminent thermonuclear armageddon and/or the Holy Rapture, whichever came first.
When all experience feels pervasively, inescapably dangerous; when continued survival depends on being favored, or at least overlooked, by those with slightly more power in a rigged system; when authority is ineffectual or malevolent or just plain not there: the heart learns wildness to survive. It grows claws and teeth, learns to bite hard and writhe free and escape certain destruction. Stay back, it hisses, fangs bared and eyes glittering. When the world is unwelcoming, the heart learns how to survive — and nothing more.
When one doesn’t know anything else, one learns to function without it.
What is different, this time around, is that I miss my heart, that small wild tender thing. It was starting to become tame, a little bit anyway, and beginning to learn trust; that now seems much harder.
And also, when I pretend not to notice its glittering eyes watching me from the shadows, I imagine that my heart would also rather not hide and fight always, but has forgotten how to do that other thing for which it knows no name, newly learned and sweet.