A couple of things happened this last week that prompted me to look back into the past with renewed interest. Friend 1 sent me a book of devotionals in an apparent “coincidence” (she had no knowledge of the role those specific devotionals once played in my life) and in my blog reading, one of my regular stops had a post about the seeming incongruity of the writer’s journey from paganism to Roman Catholicism.
The book was the same one we used to read at every lunch in the religious order I was once a part of. It brought back fond memories and resurrected lingering questions about the long, strange journey I have been on. The blog post, likewise caused me to reflect on that same time period, my choices, and where I am today, having traveled from heathen to Episcopalian to “Jubuan.”
Many years ago, in my early twenties, I was a postulant in an Anglican religious order. I loved it – the life, the work, the prayers, the people. I can still remember it like it was only yesterday. As I write this I can smell the incense, hear the singing, feel the joy I felt in taking my temporary vows, all excited to wear my habit, which as part of an active order was reserved for special occasions. I believed in the work we did and that the most important thing in life was to know and serve God.
The long line of tradition meant a lot to me, and I, in my innocence, believed that it was more than sturdy enough to hold up to scrutiny. In my thirst to know and understand, I delighted in learning more and asking questions. But I asked “too many questions,” and it would have been much easier on all concerned if those pesky little visions and psychic occurrences that have been with me all my life had simply ceased.
I still miss it sometimes, just like I miss firefighting and EMTing. It’s funny, though, the things that I miss are 1) the people, and 2) the tools. The people part is pretty self-explanatory, I think, but the other seems a little odd to me. I’ve always taken a lot of pleasure in the outer tools of my trade, whatever that happened to be at the time. I still miss my prayer book and rosary, just as I miss my fire trucks, the ambulance, my badge and blues. These days, I thoroughly enjoy my guitar and my laptop. But as much as I like the outer trappings, most of all it is the inner life that the trappings feed, support, and point towards and beyond, that I love. That has remained, despite the outward changes.
That said, I guess I’m still most comfortable in a “uniform,” even though I know that is only symbolic of how I gravitate towards collective efforts. Yet I always seem to run into trouble because of my need to speak my mind in a personal war against groupthink and narrowness. I wasted a lot of time figuring that it was my problem, that somehow there was something wrong with me because of that. I still distance myself off from groups because I do not want any more fights or disappointments. Whether or not that will always be the case, I don’t know. It’s undoubtedly one of the reasons I read about others’ winding journeys with such fascination. (I can still hope, can’t I?)
Once again I find myself on the lonesome trail, wandering and wondering. I sometimes question whether the extreme outer-directedness and the concreteness of fire service culture was not an attempt on my part to leave all the inner questions behind in a flurry of action. If it was, it certainly didn’t work. But when I really think about it, I know that it was not about leaving the questions behind as much as an effort to express my inward experiences in some outward form. And, just as in the religious order, it was a defined opportunity to serve as part of a group.
For now, the way is long hours of solitary struggle, doing art, music, writing, webwork (of both kinds!) in an attempt to put what I have seen and done and experienced, in both the outer and inner realms, into forms that can be shared with others. Agonizing. Ecstatic. Daunting, exhilarating, scary, and fun, all at the same time. Once again, my favorite Ed Abbey quote from Desert Solitaire comes to mind. “May all your trails be winding, crooked, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.” Ah yes, they have been and they have…
I find myself standing on a rocky outcrop, footsore and weary, gazing with awe and amazement, back at the trail behind, ahead to a wreath of clouds that crowns jagged, snowy peaks beyond. The trail climbs ahead higher, further, and is just as rugged, if not more so, than that which came before. Sigh. Smile. I may seem to be hoofing it alone, but I am accompanied by all of those, past, present, future, on similar journeys on similar paths, whether in a recognizable “uniform,” or just in raggedy, old, patched together traveling clothes like me. See you out there.