10 October 2008

Maps and legends

Today, words failed me.

This happens sometimes. Sometimes, I can't frame the story the right way. I wrote it three different ways, but none of them worked well. Today, somehow, I just sounded histrionic. Not what I wanted.

It was a simple story. The phone rang early this morning, a stranger calling me from New York. She'd been given my phone number by someone who believed I could help her. I've been asked to do it before, and I am able but reluctant to play this part. We spoke for something close to two hours, and I tried to give her the information she was seeking.

There are times, and today was one of those times, when I speak with particular force and authority. It is practically an out-of-body experience when this occurs, this flood of words, and I joke about it, saying I am speaking ex cathedra. But it is terrifying how powerful it is, and the experience leaves me drained. And it leaves me fearful that I have sounded arrogant, so damned sure of myself.

Yet realistically, I know I have done exactly what I've been asked to do.

That was the story. Simple.

But in the context of everything else going on, quite complicated. I feel like I've lived another lifetime in the last year or so. Finding my way has been a bit tricky. I want signs but ignore the ones I'm given. I want a clearly stated declaration, with well-defined boundaries, a starting point and a finish line. Because that's how you play the game of life.

This isn't a game. I'm already on the road. The signs are right in front of me.

And then today, recognizing that for some, I am the map. I hold in my head a possible route, well-defined boundaries, a starting point and a finish line, the legend written on my heart in my hand. Reluctantly, perhaps, for better or worse, but there it is.

When I was in sixth grade, maybe seventh grade, one of the nuns sent me on an errand to the school office. The junior high wing was at the opposite end of the small campus. I was bored, chronically bored, and ready to romp in the cool morning air. So I began to run to the office for no other reason than I wanted to, mapping in my head the route I'd take to make the moment last. And as I gained speed, my heart flew ahead of me, and nothing, nothing, nothing could stop me, including the teacher yelling behind me STOP RUNNING! My heart was full, my feet were fleet and I had no brakes. I was running; I was committed with sort of commitment you make when you are running off the high dive and you take the last step into freefall. I was running despite the consequences flowing from that teacher's mouth...the ones that couldn't quite catch up to me because I could run so fast.

I am running now, and I'm so afraid the consequences of what I'm doing. I am running ex cathedra. I am giddy with the height of the dive, anticipating that moment of freefall. The world has opened to me again as it was when I was a child. But I'm not a child and so there is responsibility attached to everything around me. I can't refuse my calling any more because it always finds me. All the noise and all the sound, all the places I've been found.

I said it months ago, ex cathedra: I am no longer running from; I am running to. And it has to be right this time because no one is telling me to stop.

Go listen to some good music: "Maps and Legends" from the album Fables of the Reconstruction by REM.

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