Mapping Mental History: 2021

[Results of Proprioceptive Writing exercise, 9/13/2021]

Part I: A Meandering Mississippi of Mind

I thought I would be ready to write today; the energy of it written behind my eyes.

But here I am not writing about anything but not writing.

I sit with it.

I sit with it some more.

And still I sit, words forming but empty, without form, void.

Again I return to creation, the still of it. Or was it chaos and loud. Damning and adrift.

But still I sit, wordless, or at least meaningless in intent.

How long can we sit in Holy Saturday? It is the middle of September, neither Advent nor Holy Week. But still we sit through virus and storm. Another on the horizon, first bands having pelted our panes, but, for now, like this effort at writing, we are in a lull, or “between bands,” as they say.

Between bands of chaos notwithstanding—notwithstanding the order of God, the hand outstretched—Leviathan is allowed to play, albeit at the end of God’s fingertips or leash. Why does chaos feel like both the storm and the lull, the cacophony and the silence?

On the wall in front of me, we have three maps matted in frames, three maps, each of a different section of the great Mississippi river. Each map tells a story of the river’s ebb and flow, the paths it took at different times in the land’s history. The current path is rendered without color, outlined on either bank in a thin black line. Previous paths are similarly outlined but filled in with a color already found in our decor. How fortunate. How beautiful to our senses. The interplay of not-quite-random journeys on top of not-quite-random journeys through shifting sands and tilting ground… It finds its way nonetheless.

I think of what might have been, what may have been in a multiverse unknown to us in this lifetime. The Mississippi, wandering, changing, definitive and then not so, it still stays within a broader range. The loops and straightaways overlap imprecisely but all have ventured only so far before returning again to a greater-groove in time and space. Perhaps what might have been has such ranges, too. Such “this far but no further”’s. Chaos will be chaos, but only so far as our God of order permits. The water returns to banks beyond its previous course but not beyond God’s sight. Not beyond God’s redemption. God brings us back home.

Part II: God Brings Us Back Home.

Why does it feel like I have nothing left to say to the world? Like I uttered my last words and yet still breathe? One never knows when they will peak, it is said, but they never speak of the grade of the hill on the other side. My path to the peak was long but I cannot tell if this is a plateau or descent, and, if the latter, must it be neither gentle nor cliff-like. Must it be just noticeably different? Or is this merely ennui, or habituation, or an extended pause created by circumstance, the circumstance of a lingering pandemic, political unending unrest, the overlay of a climate crisis ramping up but still at the speed of evolution, not revolution?

My brain is like yours these days, compromised, redirected to attend to low-grade but pervasive threat. I’ve allowed this to be so as I have learned to trust it, my brain, that is. I question it, to be sure, particularly when it sends out warnings or intense annoyance. The former usually is right and I will respond, but with care if I can. But for the latter, annoyance, I have learned to pump the breaks, to slow my roll, to listen but challenge, to breathe and then seek compassion. Sometimes I fail.

But my brain is like yours these days. It has a mind of its own. It misses what used to be essential or at least useful, like remembering if I replied to an email, or that there was an email to reply to in the first place. But these days it remembers the quality of your mask, and the speed of fans, the space between customers and the number of x’s and blobs on maps of the Caribbean sea. I have accepted this, which helps me, I am sure. I have also learned that if I stay in my general routine and let the world be the thing trending towards chaos, then I am able to stay generally within the greater bounds that God has set for us; I might not make it to Sunday, but I know I will be brought back home.

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