Last night I was reminded how important it is to be connected to wise friends. I was with Kai in front of a roaring fire, the waves of heat were hitting us like surf. There was tea on the wood stove – just hot enough but not boiling. The day was done and it felt good to look back on it with an awareness that I had worked hard and done a good job. But something was working underneath this comfort like a computer virus – not stopping things but slowing them down a lot – noticeably – menacingly. I did what I was taught to do in Thailand – mindfulness. “Charles” I said to me, “What are you feeling?” My answer was the dumb stare of a child who was doodling while the teacher was teaching and then got called on to answer an easy question. The evil one smirked. More to the point, the evil one was there – at a distance but staring. Kai sat up, head erect as if something was wrong. Kai looked at me. I looked at me. Then I burst into tears. Kai went berserk, licking my face and wagging his dumb black tail causing clouds of ash from around the wood stove to waft into the air. “I am going to have to dust ….again!” was all I could think.
We all have times in the night when, as the Compline service says “The evil one prowls around like a lion, seeking someone to devour.” This is not the stuff of ghosts and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night. This is not a spiritual warfare either – no dualism – no battle between good and evil. That war has been won even in the midst of the skirmishes which still cause mischief. Augustine (who is currently on my @*%^$ list) said well that the evil which assails us now is not the result of a war between God and satan but rather just the violence of the snake’s tail thrashing after death-by-crushed-head. All really is and shall be well.
But I was heaving sobs and was not sure why.
I had spent the weekend leading five back-to-back retreats throughout the state of Vermont for the people who responded to human need during and after the tropical storm Irene. I had a kind and wise driver who ferried me around from church to church and an excellent support team. The attendees were full of hurt and sadness and fatigue. I heard and absorbed hundreds of stories.
I asked God why I was sobbing. A smile seemed to hang in the air like a full moon on lover’s lane. “…because, sweet one, when you got home from Katrina, no one did for you what you have been doing for all those Irene Disaster Caregivers. Because, sweet one, you too are healing even as you heal…” Funny how everything from God has those three dots before and after it…as if the conversation never stops but is simply interrupted from time to time.
So I called my friend Betsy – rather too late for socially acceptable phone calls. She is a wise older woman. Wise, older women is our church’s only hope. She talked to me gently, soothingly. She reminded me that I was human and that what I was feeling was normal. She did not give me advice nor scold me for working too hard. She just listened and reaffirmed that calling her was the right thing to do.
When I hung up the phone I made myself some rich, smooth and melty English Onion soup in one of my new soup bowls. (My mother disliked the French so I was only taught how to make English Onion Soup with chicken stock and sage and five different kinds of leeks and onions.) I had pre-caramelized onions (usually on hand to spread on toast as a kind of marmalade) which I added to broth from yesterday’s chicken carcass – the kind of broth which is gelatinous when cold – the kind that heals. I melted a ton of cheese on toast which floated on the soup and then ate it slowly, stringily, with a rather too-large glass of wine. As I ate it, Kai lay his face on my lap and heaved one of those massive puppy sighs after which he looked up at me with eyes which seemed to say I was really too much work for one puppy but that he would continue to do his best.