Thursday, January 6, 2011

The still small voice--that nags


I want to thank the readers who have been sending me private e-mails in response to my blog posts. It means so much to me to be connecting with others about matters that I find so important.

In this case I specifically want to thank Linda B. Glaser, whose response to the question posed in my last post was so brilliant I'd really rather use it than give the answer I had prepared! With her permission, I pass along her comments about how to recognize the voice of God:
I love what that insurance salesman said: “If you don’t think your life is worth recording, you aren’t taking your life seriously enough.”

Your mother’s words, on the other hand, essentially invalidate the value of the past. As the saying [by American philosopher George Santayana] goes, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Without looking backward, we’ll never know if the patterns unfolding are ones we are repeating over and over and over.

How does one know the voice of G-d? It resonates in our bones with the clarity of a ringing bell. It transforms our understanding and our outlook. As Yeats wrote, “All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.” When we are privileged to hear that still, small voice, and we are honest with ourselves, we do recognize it.

Your mother’s words, on the other hand, sounded very human to me.
Linda exemplifies the process of listening for the voice of God in my story. She did not look for who was right and who was wrong in what Peter (the insurance salesman) or my mother said; she looked for what seemed divine and what seemed inexorably human.

Some context: My mother's father was an alcoholic; he committed suicide when she was seventeen. This happened before therapeutic support became commonplace, so "that was then, this is now” was the prevailing attitude toward “healing,” and it suited her disposition. I didn't know about my mother's father until I was sixteen, when I finally asked her how he died. Enter Linda's admonition that we are bound to repeat history if we fail to examine it: my mother was "coincidentally" stuck with me the full day of the standoff at the farm, when my own alcoholic husband committed suicide. My mother says she remembers nothing from that day.

With our psyches as with physical danger, human personalities exhibit the fight or flight sensibilities more prevalent in other animal species. To the casual observer, "fighting"—my choice—might seem harder. But it takes great energy to sustain a lifetime of flight away from the fact that, as Yeats said, "all changed," denying the unwanted ramifications of this choice, reaching for fantasies that evaporate in our grasp, and suppressing the still small voice that begs attention. I don't have the strength for that.

So I choose to keep my feet firmly rooted in life's realities, and seek its "terrible beauty." When the time comes that I must face death, I want to know that I have truly lived.

So to answer the quandary put forth in my previous post: in whose voice did I hear the voice of God?

Because I want to learn, because I want to be challenged and long to be transformed, because I believe we are all characters in a common story, and because I believe in the resiliency of the human spirit, the still small voice inside me—which has been nagging me ever since that insurance party to stop with Christmas break already and get back to work—resonated with Peter's statement.

I will honor the precious gift of my life by continuing to write the memoir.

I sense another voice, now, not quite so small. It's Linda, saying: "Get back to work."

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