Dispatch from a Near Drowning, and A Love Note to Self-Loathers
Today, an author, friend, another mama of 6, living not off land, but sea, a woman of deep wisdom and whom I hold in the highest esteem — Leslie Leyland Fields, with a dispatch from Alaska:
I was swept off my feet a few days ago.
By the massive cold hand of a wave—an ocean wave twice as big as its brothers. I was there on the beach beside my house with camera in hand because of a certain desperation. A certain hate of the familiar.
Rain and snow had lashed our houses and windows for days on end, which is usual for this island in the Gulf of Alaska. We live and commercial fish surrounded by wilderness, among stupendous beauty, but it is not always enough.
When we predict the weather successfully, first we feel smart, then we’re depressed. We don’t want to be a weather prophet. We want to be surprised. We want the weather to break free from the centrifuge of our gloomy prognostications.
This week, for a few days, I had a stupendous bout with self-loathing, which is much deeper than despising the familiar. I suspect you’ve had a bout or two yourself. At least I hope so. I do wish it upon you, even now, this month when in many places spring begins to pull grasses, flowers and hope from the cold soil beneath us. I am not of the cult who instructs people to begin their days standing in front of a mirror wrapping their arms around themselves chanting, “You are Beautiful! You are gorgeous! You are loving and perfect!”
(I have an article in my files from a pseudo-Christian magazine urging just such a routine.) I won’t confess the details, but for a few terrifying hours, I saw into my cracked, pathetic heart and I was slain. I was stripped of excuses, the usual cover-ups. I was selfish, callous, a Cad without the “bury” to cover it . . . I was no-good, rotten.
In that mood, and tired of cowering from the weather, I took to the beach with my two youngest sons, 9 and 11, in a freezing rain. With winter coat, boots, hat and hood I followed them out to the black gravel beach a minute’s walk from our house. The days of storm and wind brought massive waves, a thunderous surf crashing to our familiar black shoreline.
They had come to play. With my new camera in hand, I had come to work.
They stood on the rocks and as each wave pulverized the shore, they stood above on the rocks and lifted their arms, as if flying. Faces into the rain and wind, every watery explosion brought exultation. When tired of that, they played wave tag, me following them with the camera, snapping their joy in the relentless storm, a marvel.
What brings me fatigue and despair brings them delight.
Then it hit. The boys warned me as they ran to the higher rocks. But I didn’t hear in time. The wave hit my knees, knocking me to the beach. Splayed and aswirl in seawater and kelp, I thought only of the camera, my new expensive camera and held it aloft. Imbalanced, and all my clothing immediately sodden, I couldn’t get up. The wave, retreating back to the water, began to drag me with it.
“Mom!” the boys cried, watching with horror.
“Abraham, help!” I called to my 11 year old, who stood too stunned to move.
“Help me!” I cried again, helplessly. He ran toward me and held out his hand, eyes huge. As the wave receded, I heaved myself over onto my knees, grabbed his hand and stumbled to my feet.
My boots were full of icy water, I was wet to my waist and littered with pieces of kelp. I knew I would be shaking soon.
It was the best thing that happened that day. Swept off my feet by the familiar—the familiar grown strange and dangerous. How had I forgotten? Like my own heart. How had I forgotten the danger there, the darkness, the force that can slay others, slay myself, when I see it true?
I was swept by another wave just two days later. On Sunday I was part of a drama troupe that enacted “The Love Chapter,” perhaps the most beautiful and most famous words about love ever written. “Perfect love is not proud, it is not self-seeking, it does not boast, it does not envy, it does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth . . . True love hopes, believes, endures all things…”
As I spoke and enacted these words on stage with people in my church—-giving food to a hungry man, bending down to tie a boy’s shoe, giving another my coat, I was nearly drowned with the simplicity and hope of this love—a love that pours from a humble heart, from a heart that knows its own darkness.
‘O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbor
With your crooked heart.’
I realized, this is all I have, a crooked heart.
This is all you have, a crooked heart.
Knowing this, we can drown in our own salt tears — or we can love one another more.
I choose more.
Ann and I “met” through word and screen at first, as she was beginning to write One Thousand Gifts. Profoundly aware of the responsibility that had come to her, Ann sent her first chapters to me, as I work with writers as a Professor in Seattle Pacific’s Creative Writing Program. I walked the edges of my wild Alaskan island reading those chapters that sucked the wind out of me. I did not know how God would use her words out in the world—who can know such a thing? But I knew this was an uncommon, pure heart I wanted to listen to. A year later we met at a writing conference and sat up until 3 a.m. joining stories, children, farm and ocean, and our deep shared love for Jesus, logos, word and world. A year later Ann contributed her stunning essay “The Land that is Us” to my anthology, The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God. We continue to share a common feast…come join me at www.leslieleylandfields.com