catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 9 :: 2010.04.30 — 2010.05.13


Leave your slumber

Some mornings, it’s hard to wake up.  The warmth of the bed lulls me into lying there just a little longer.  Some mornings, I go through the motions of getting ready for the day without much thinking, sort of on automatic pilot.  But once in a while, something out of the ordinary happens and it causes me to wake up — to pay attention to what is happening around me.  I’ve had two experiences in the last two weeks that have caused me to wake up — to sit up and take notice, to pay attention again to the beauty and fragility of life.

One ordinary morning two weeks ago, I was driving to work listening to National Public Radio, mostly lost in thought about nothing in particular, when a story on the radio grabbed my attention. It was an interview with Natalie Merchant (of 10,000 Maniacs fame) who was talking about her new album that was being released that day.  She described the new music as being largely influenced by her becoming a mother seven years ago. Within seconds I was captivated by her story. Her new album sets to music the poetry of writers from different ethnic backgrounds and different time periods and reflects many genres of music. In the interview, Merchant says that anywhere you begin in the album the listener is instantly put into a place geographically and historically through the music and the words.  Many of the songs are whimsical and eccentric, but one piece in particular captured my attention because it touches on the sorrow that is a part of our human experience.  “Spring and Fall: To a Young Child” is a poignant piece that encompasses a poem written by Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Jesuit priest who lived in Victorian England.  The poem tries to explain death to a small child, an experience Merchant had when her own child lost three friends in a short span of time.  With tenderness and pathos, Merchant described the difficulty she had attempting to explain mortality to her young daughter. The music captures this sorrow of our human condition. I arrived at my office long before the interview concluded, but I couldn’t pull myself away or turn off the radio.  I just sat in the car, spellbound.  At the end of the interview, the interviewer reminds the listener that Merchant’s new CD is called Leave Your Sleep.  And its call to me succeeded — it jolted me, and for several days I kept thinking about sorrow and joy and how our lives are interwoven with both.

The second experience in the last two weeks that caused me to wake up was an unexpected phone call that my mother-in-law was in the hospital with low oxygen levels that the doctors couldn’t explain.  Because this came on without warning, the doctors were fearful she may not live until my husband and I could travel the 1200 miles to get there.  Suddenly the world seemed different.  Everyday activities — the deadlines, the meetings, the endless emails or phone calls — seemed insignificant compared to what was happening with my mother-in-law. Again, I was forced to wake up and place the everyday ordinary within the perspective of what really matters.  Thankfully, my mother-in-law responded to medical treatment and after five days in the hospital, she was able to return home.

As I’ve been reflecting on the happenings of the last couple weeks, I realized again how grace and mystery can sneak up and surprise me.  It has led to a deeper gratitude for the ordinary and the unexpected, for the occasions when I’m shaken and nudged into a deeper awareness of life because of the reality of death. The words of poet Luci Shaw ring true to me:

Every day gives us new chances for small discoveries, ways to view some commonplace object from a fresh angle…to recognize what we already know but still need to learn. To detect the extraordinary in the ordinary… True gratitude requires a concentrated awareness, a single eye, which is linked to recognition.  Awareness, attentiveness is something we all need to learn, or re-learn, and practice… My slowing down, stopping, being still, listening, allows me to hear the microcosm speak. (From The Green Earth: Poems of Creation by Luci Shaw, 2002) 

To do so, I have to be awake and attentive and notice. Yes, I have to leave my ordinary slumber and wake up.

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