As we grow and evolve, oftentimes we are surprised at the results of our efforts. New buds emerge and growth spurts push through our watered soil quite like the new, colorful dogwood trees with that have recently reappeared on our landscapes.
Yes, we have become more cognizant of the importance of caring for ourselves as we eat healthier, sleep more deeply and cleave closer to our personal faiths. The pandemic has brought us to our knees on so many levels and it has made us rethink some of our former choices.
We realize that our help most certainly comes from above and from there alone. It is the only real source of answers to our incessant prayers. We stop looking to the left or to the right to ask our friends and peers which way we should go. We can see that they do not have the solutions. Therefore, so we are less inclined to listen to them spew out their half-baked ideas which can send us further down the rabbit holes of despair.
We slowly remember to clearly think for ourselves and recall that most of the answers are buried deep within us. But we must become still enough to listen. Truly listen. Just as we can hear the birds chirp or the mourning dove sing his songs of lament, we will once again hear the still, small voice whispering, “This is the way. Walk ye in it!” We will feel more assured as we trust our own inner instincts to lead us forward. And quite like the late Prince Philip advised, we can then, “Get on with it!”
Oh, who would you rather be?
One with things, but without glee?
Or, one with a heart of gold
Gelled in an undaunting mold?
Sufferers whose hearts are ripe,
Are immune to all of the hype.
Blind to the false claims of self,
Not functioning as an elf.
Yes, those cups of eternal love,
Raise you high like a small dove!
April 18, 2021
Joyce Carol Oates’ latest collection of short stories, The (Other) You is filled with ruminations about life’s journey. She ponders what life would be like if we had chosen other paths or made different choices. In fifteen short stories, she makes us think about our mortality as we look back over our years of living.
She has written stories that cause us to think deeply about the what-if’s as she takes us through snippets of her own journey as a literary writer. As she quibbles with a beloved spouse whose health is declining during a disappointing trip abroad, she has us thinking about the depth of enduring relationships. Yet, we are rudely awakened as we see that nothing lasts forever and she also notes how close friends and co-workers are aging and facing health challenges.
She visits her childhood home after many years and sees and hears about what happened to some her former classmates. Though she holds onto precious memories, the present conditions there do not mirror her past recollections. There are only fractures of what she experienced strewn here and there, once again reminding her that life is ever-moving and nothing stays the same.
In one story, a character wonders why her loved ones cannot see her, only to realize that she is no longer alive and they are mourning her accidental demise. Or, in other instances she experiments with speaking from several characters’ points of view though they are all involved in the same scenario.
Oates takes many risks, as she writes in a variety of genres and a couple of her stories even border on horror. She makes the valid point that we unconsciously dismiss the importance of others due to our own stereotypical beliefs. She labeled her writing best when she called it speculative fiction. She certainly makes us appreciate the gifts of our current paths which shaped us into who we are today because other choices would have molded us into becoming someone else!
Every now and then, we may meet a great mind that spurs us into action after one brief encounter. Years ago, I heard Iyanla Vanzant speak to a large group of people and shortly after listening to her, I was so inspired that I booked a flight to Paris, alone. She honed my senses, heightened my confidence and I spontaneously took that risky trip abroad with limited funds. I am here to assure you that I landed on my feet.
Well, this year, after living in a writer’s hovel and in a turtle -like existence, I listened to a live conversation with the prolific Joyce Carol Oates through the Chicago Humanities Festival. When I saw that she was giving this talk, I immediately purchased a ticket. For those on the academic side of literature, the name Joyce Carol Oates rings loud and clear. Her works are in multiple college literary anthologies.
Many in-depth readers took this opportunity to hear what she had to say to the Chicago audience. Rebecca Makkai, an award-winning author and the interviewer for this event, asked well-researched questions which drew Joyce Carol Oates into an hour-long conversation. It was an exchange that was steeped in a wealth of knowledge, reflection and storytelling which left all of us spellbound.
An author of over fifty books, countless criticisms, articles and reviews, Joyce Carol Oates still teaches at Princeton University where she continually engages young minds. After the virtual talk ended, I was inspired to write this short piece. I wanted to express my gratitude for seeing this woman whom I both admire and hold in high esteem. Her works take risks, and she explores subjects that most writers would much rather avoid as though they do not exit.
Normally after an experience like this, I would call my mother and we would talk for hours but that was not possible. So, I wrote and wrote instead. Joyce Carol Oates mentioned that we often find our voices after losing ours parents. But even from afar, I know that my mother would bow her head in agreement with my appreciation for this literary event. I close with a sigh and I think to myself, “What a gem and national treasure we have in Joyce Carol Oates!
It is up to us to change the negative rhetoric and trajectory that has us on a frightening path. And how do we do it? By slowly changing the mindsets of our children who will be our future leaders. It will be their world one day and we can start by altering world viewpoints through them.
There are no quick fixes for decades or even centuries of wrong thinking but as purifying rusty water in a tainted glass, it can happen one drop at a time. We can add clean, healthy, soul-lifting thoughts one at a time and over time, the contents will look a lot different.
As those piercing drops clear the waters, we know that there will be drips at the bottom of the bucket. Yet, if we keep mending the holes and continually pour positive thoughts armored with virtuous deeds, the souls of our children will evolve as they become more altruistic and balanced adults.
They will be able to rationalize and make good, useful, and sound decisions. They will be able to push the ‘pause’ button when their guts tell them that something is not right. They will be able to think things through and follow the elders’ advice and sleep on it before moving forward.
Then, with each new dawn, our future leaders will know the best paths to take which will benefit all people. They will have confidence in themselves and know their own values and worth. Then, it will be quite easy for them to extend a helping hand to others in the strong spirit of agape love!
Life is full of choices! Should we turn left, or should we turn right? Should we talk to this person or to that other one? Is this a person that I can trust with my feelings or not? We make hundreds of decisions each day and most are unconscious reactions.
Some answers come like clockwork and we oftentimes rely on that gut-like prompter to lead and guide us. Small signs and signals point us in the right direction and inaudibly whisper, “This is the way.” A letter may fall out of a book or a card with a certain logo may appear and we receive the needed information.
Choices do, however, have long-standing consequences. The easiest and most popular way may not always be the best route in the long run. Convenient? Maybe. Productive? Probably not. Those of us who are more seasoned have witnessed this time and time again simply by observing others. We have learned that slow and steady does indeed win the race.
What may be lucrative now may have some long-term costs that outlast the good times. Those that chose the nearest way may find themselves shaking their heads and wondering, “What was I thinking? “ Or, better yet, they may ask, “Was I even thinking?” They may have to admit that they were just participating in the moment.
When we find ourselves at a crossroad of indecision, it might be best to push the Pause button. Wait. As many have advised over the years, “Sleep on it.” See if it still makes sense the next day. We may find that our viewpoints may have been altered to some extent. We will know exactly what plan of action we should take and then proceed with confidence!
It’s those little foxes, those small taunts or jibes and ridicules that we must jump over as we journey through our lives. Like a track athlete, we see the hurdles ahead, leap over them and try our best to land on our feet.
I had a friend who advised me to step over the Lilliputians or the little people that Jonathan Swift mentioned in Gulliver’s Travels. He was offering comfort after I shared an experience from a hostile job environment. We must overlook a lot of things if we want to keep it moving.
It often seems as if those obstacles are strategically placed to hopefully get us off course. But as we keep our eyes on the prize we carry on. Nehemiah in the Bible kept a weapon in one hand and a chisel in the other as he built his wall. He refused to be distracted by the shouts from down below him. We can do the same as we build our personal treasure troves and stay armed with our faith in ourselves to succeed.
Charles Barkley recently reminded us on a talk show that the spectators don’t scream when the mediocre guy shoots the ball. They bring their noise-makers, raise their voices and sit right behind the basket to do all they can to break the concentration of the winning players.
We too can ignore the detractors as we run our races. We can pass the little foxes, the hurdles, the little people, and even the invisible barriers. When we get to a resting place, we can take a breather or pant, if need be. We can even channel Maya Angelou and sigh, “Wouldn’t Take Nothing for the Journey, Now!