Thursday, October 23, 2008

Disappearing Act

I have been thinking about something that happened long ago. Maybe it was that little white spider we found a few nights ago, near the orange juice machine at work. Maybe it is just that, after years of raising kids instead of flowers, I have finally decided that it is time to garden again. So I have been thinking about the gardens I have had in the past.

Whatever the reason that brought it to mind, it was 17 years ago. I was a different person, living a different life. I was a technical writer in Silicon Valley California, writing manuals for IBM. I was an agnostic: thoroughly practical, level-headed--nary a spiritual bone in my body. I was never a crystal twiddler, navel contemplator, Ouija board operator. If God or angels… or spirits or fairies… or ghosts or demons… existed, they certainly had nothing to do with me.

I owned a little suburban house on a tiny piece of ground that I lived in with my first husband.

And I had a garden. In California, the lavender will grow four feet high and as wide around. The buddleia will grow to nearly 8 feet high, with a hundred panicles of purple flowers drooping over your head and releasing the scent of cooking cherries for 60 feet around (at least it, smelled of cooking cherries to me). It mixed with the clove smell of the ankle-high dianthus, from their bright ragged flowers…. There were red climbing roses on the West fence--so dignified!--and sweet alyssum growing at their feet. And I had bright California poppies everywhere, cheerful fluttering orange flags, every spring.

It was the kind of garden that made a friend say, the first time she had lunch with me on the patio, “Oh, this is too Disney…. Talk about Disney moments!” (I think it was the flutter of house finches at the birdbath that clinched it for her.) It was the kind of garden that made little children exclaim to their mothers, as they walked by on the sidewalk… “Look, Mommy! Flowers!” And unnecessarily delay the walk, as the child knelt over each orange and pink and white and purple blossom, showing Mama the prettiness…. “Yes, dear. They’re lovely. Come along, dear. No, come along. Yes, sweetheart… come along…”

As far as I was concerned, there was no better way to spend a weekend, than puttering about in my little garden, among the flowers.

But I have been thinking about one particular day. I was working in the garden. On the east side of the house, was a little narrow strip of backyard between the house and the boundary fence (a tall privacy fence). It dead-ended in a fence that separated the front from the back yard. Mostly I just stored pots and extra bricks and tiles and such back there, although there were some jumbly low-lying plants that liked the shade back there, and there was a nice honeysuckle vine on the part of the fence that separated the front and back yard. It was in bloom. I was puttering about back there with some tools… I don’t remember exactly what project I was working on.

I glanced at the honeysuckle vine, and I happened to notice a spider, sitting in the middle of a web. It was an ordinary spider, and an ordinary web… which is to say, they were quite lovely. They caught my eye, and I looked at them a little closer. Then my eyes focused in closer, and this sort of telescoping thing happened, and pretty soon the spider and the web were filling the whole of my vision. Then something very difficult to explain happened, because for some period of time… I do not know how long… there was Nothing. It is very hard to describe Nothing… but there it Was. I wish I could find some way to explain what I mean. There was no fence and no house and no honeysuckle and no spider. There may have been a Me, but even that is uncertain. There was no body of Me, no eyes, no hands, no breath, no feet…. Nothing. Then my eyes were again looking at the spider and the web, and they were just ordinary lovely. I teetered for a moment, between wanting to try to plunge back into that Nothing and wanting to pull away…. But finally I said to myself, “Well, I can’t waste any more time staring at spiders….” And I went back to my gardening.

However, when I went into the house to get something, my then-husband pitched a fit. “Where have you been?! I’ve been looking all over for you!” I was in the back yard, working in the garden. “Why didn’t you answer when I called? I’ve been hollering all over!” I didn’t hear you. “What do you mean, you didn’t hear me?!” I was just in the side yard; I don’t know why I didn’t hear you. “I looked in the side yard! You weren’t there! Oh, fer Pete’s sake…”

But I was in the side yard. Wasn’t I? For years, I assumed that he hadn’t really bothered to look in the side yard; I would have been clearly visible if he had even casually glanced around the corner of the house. And people don’t just disappear. If a person is in a corner of the yard, That is where a person is…. Isn’t she?

But since then, I have met God. He has spoken to me. And I have seen angels. Not with crystal-clarity the way some have, but I have seen the waters stirred, that showed their presence. And I have seen the world *shimmer* like the surface of a pond, as God showed me that Reality was more than I had ever dreamed of in my philosophy.

So, I have slowly and recently come to the tentative conclusion that I may not have been in my back yard for at least a little while, anyway. Long enough for someone to discover he couldn’t find me.

But, if I wasn’t where I Was, where was I?


wendy said...

What a lovely story...reminds me of A Wrinkle in Time.

maurine said...

Dear Shawna,
Having visited the other side myself many times I know what you mean by "nothing." I call it the Great Void and yet it is so full. Paradox, eh? Mystics experience God and often cannot translate that into human concepts. Never mind. You are perfect just as you are and need no further explanations.


Shawna said...

Thanks, Wendy.

Thanks, Maurine. I'm glad you recognized it.

I wouldn't mind being perfecter enough to be able to keep up with all the things I would like to keep up with... blogs, just for example!