Meditation on Daily Living
Upon waking, I read Annie Dillard for an hour in bed. For the Time Being was published in 1999 and given to me as a gift not long after that. It takes me a long time to get to a book. And so it is, seven years later, with all the warmth of eight hours’ sleep swirling at my feet under the covers in the darkness of morning, that I decide Dillard is getting more and more obscure with each printed word.
She’s doing something grandiose; I can tell that much. But is it the fault of the writer or the reader that I cannot find the strength of mind to connect the dots? Or in the name of obscurity, perhaps it is the fault of timing. The sun is not up and my heart is heavy from gamblings with love; poor timing to read a book indeed. I decide, instead, to burrow under the covers with all the determination of a small mammal preparing for winter. This bed my earth, these quilts my soil, these hands my claws.
Down here it must be eighty degrees. One sheet, a thin wool blanket from Mexico, two quilts, and my zero degree synthetic down sleeping bag make up the layers of my cave. I have sealed off every point of light, pinching them out like candles with the tips of my fingers; a tuck of the covers here, a yank there. Darkness.
This is an experiment. Some people live like this, all the layers of their cocoons stuffing their real skin farther and farther away from the surface of life. I could become a submarine in my own life, conducting events from below sea level, adjusting the blankets around my coral-decaled body to afford the most protection. Sealed off.
I imagine it would be different trying to live like this, in my tight cave cocoon sunken far below the roughness of life. I can feel the air I’m breathing moving in and out of my lungs, the same molecules each time. There is the slightest sensation of pressure building in my chest. I want, almost, to fall asleep, but there is not enough air available to support full relaxation. It’s a twisting game of comfort and pressure, calming the mind and the surrendering of the body. And yet, and yet…And yet my mind is racing. West Virginia coal miners. Second-class citizens on the Titanic. The three children of Susan Smith drowning in their Volvo after she, the mother, lept from the car, released the e-brake, threw a brick on the accelerator, and watched them pummel over the side of a dock into the lake. She remembered to lock the doors and roll up the windows.
I come up for air. The sun has risen and natural light paints one white wall of the loft. There is sweat on my brow, behind my kneecaps, above my upper lip. I rest my chin on the pillow near the top of the bed, the cocoon falling away below my neck. The pillow smells distinctly like Parker; sweet with a hint of wood smoke. I do not ask for these small tortures; they find their way into my psyche. I recoil under the covers again, my cocoon-building almost immediate, yet still pretend. Within seconds I have submerged myself.
By mid-afternoon the dread and anxiety fade. I begin to have some distance between myself and see how dramatically I experience even the slightest twist of fate. The cocoon could never be my way of walking in the world. I feel things so deeply, so immediately; it is my way of being in the world. There is no such thing as blunt, no such deal as only half-way, no such thought that does not carry weight. I carry a seriousness that has cost me deeply but also carried me far in the directions that I want to go in life. Like this morning’s cave under the bed sheets, any hiding or burrowing I claim to do would be superficial. I simply couldn’t pull it off even if I tried. Heart and bone. That’s me.
So by nightfall I arrive home well past sunset and it is snowing, the winds picking up and the temperature dropping. An ocean of clouds has swollen over the top of the Black Mountains (I can see the clouds’ swooping silhouettes, undulating like the waves of the Bermuda Triangle at six thousand feet). The electricity has gone out and the neighbors have been gone for over a week. I build a fire first in my cabin, then in their house to keep the pipes from freezing. At this point, the fire in their house is more for peace of mind than necessity; a favor I’m doing to keep a promise and guard on their house while they’re away.
This is the real me. Task-oriented. Doing things where things need doing. Casting worry aside with confidence because it takes away from my efficiency and ultimately, my ability to focus and get down to the art of writing. By late evening I have calmed down entirely. The morning’s suffocation has almost fallen away completely. I could never live in the cocoon and no is asking me too. Pain is part of the game. But perspective is what matters most, and I choose to calm down. I choose to omit needless worrying. I choose to lighten up and let love fall where it may. I choose to stop forcing labels and start being present in the moment. I choose to count my lucky stars – of which there are many visible on this electricity-free new moon(ish) night. I choose a fire in the hearth, the reassurances of its warmth, the strength to start anew tomorrow living the only way I know how. One heartbeat at a time, mediated by wisdom and a passion for life’s lessons.