Crises, by definition, are chaotic. They don’t always impart lessons and, contrary to what we like to tell ourselves, they’re just as likely to bring out the worst in people as the best. But the redemption narrative, along with its corollary, the recovery narrative, is so beloved in our culture that even rational people tend to glom onto it — if only for the sake of making polite conversation. Equal parts bedtime story, love story and horror story, it’s a perfect example of the American preference for sentimentality and neat endings over honesty and authenticity.
The problem is, it’s also perfectly designed for making us feel like failures — to ourselves, to our loved ones, at life in general. And, ironically, the more we care about the chief sufferer in the crisis, the more we’re apt to try to impel that sufferer into making sense out of it for the sake of soothing our own nerves. By expecting my mother to deliver some kind of grand epiphany on her deathbed, I was really asking her to make the unfairness of her death somehow seem more just. By expecting me to become a better person after my own brush with death, my friends were really saying that they hoped I hadn’t scared the bejesus out of them for nothing.
They needn’t have worried. I’m not a better person. I’m the same person. Which is actually kind of a miracle.
The reason we go to poetry is not for wisdom, but for the dismantling of wisdom.
Lisa Jo sent us the five-minute Friday prompt from the most lovely state that I can think of — Michigan, where the cherries are currently bursting off the trees — and the word is Belong. I learned how to belong and how not to belong there in a summer camp on the shores of Torch Lake.
I had never met mean girls before I was installed there for an eight-week stay when I was ten. After some rockiness in the road my first few days there due to my homesickness, I truly took to the place.
And suddenly writing this, I remember all of the good things:
- the blue of the lake
- the smell of woodsmoke from the fires we learned to build
- the dust and sand on the hard earth of the paths
- the whack of the doors to the cabins as they swung shut on their springs
- the cold of the nights that made my three doubled up blankets necessary
And the mean girls begin to pale in comparison. I was going to write about them when I saw the word Belong and the word Michigan. But they pale suddenly.
I met up, a couple of weeks ago, with a cousin of mine who went to that camp also as well as another camper who I knew, one of the Big Girls, but didn’t know she lived in our same city. We are all having a reunion later in August. I am looking forward to it though working out the travel logistics from Denver to Traverse City are a bit of a puzzle.
I will get to remember again the smell of the birch and pine forest, and sing the old songs again.