To Know and to Be Known

I'm thinking a lot about fire these days.

My son, Nate, set his hair on fire the other night when he was goofing around close to the candles on the dinner table; a family of six in Pawlet, where I used to live, lost everything when their house burned earlier in the week and then a friend's business offices and baking headquarters burned mid-week. Most of all, though, I am thinking of fire because this is the night that a friend's son, in the course of saving others' lives, lost his own in an apartment fire in California six years ago.

Powerful stuff, fire.


If I wasn't the on-call chaplain, sleeping in the hospital tonight (and the sky wasn't spitting icy pellets) I would be at home having a fire of my own -- a solstice ceremony to bid adieu to old energy and make space for new wonders. If I actually make it out of here tomorrow, I'll do just that and it will go like this:

Into the fire I will place bits of paper containing the dashed dreams, sad endings and weird occurrences of this past year. To that mix I will add my gratitude for patient and loving friends and family and for all of the delight I've experienced moving through new doorways this year. Tonight I have been sitting vigil, on and off, with a patient who is dying. Though this is foreign and uncomfortable territory for 99.9% of the population, I am at home in the presence of death; I love my work and I am infinitely grateful that the Benevolent and Sneaky Universe led me here this year.

To the flames I will add all of the things that scare me and worry me; that cause me to eat too much sugar and to lose sleep. And once I've burned up the stuff I don't want anymore, including old heartache and grief, and I've released my attachment to the things I don't wish to drag into the coming days, I plan to place into the flames two very specific intentions for the coming year: to know and to be known.

I'm forty-eight years old and what I want this year is to know love.

There. I said it.

To be clear, my life is a freaking carnival of love: kids, dogs, parents, siblings, friends. It's the partnership version, the lasting partnership version, that has eluded me, to date. Though almost all of the men I have loved are still in my life (I don't believe that we are meant to invite people in to our most intimate places -- our family, our home, our hopes, dreams and fears -- and then toss them overboard. Objects are expendable; people are not.), so far every relationship I've been in has ended and it's made me weary. I've seen a lot of death and suffering lately; I know how this gig ends and I want to go there holding someone's hand. And I want that hand-holding to mean important things...I adore you, I admire you, the world is a better place when you are near. I want to live through all of this beautiful madness with someone who is as awed and humbled by it as I. I want to have the lifelong conversation that is love.

And I wish to be known. As a writer. 

I've been writing stuff since I was a little girl. If you look at my report cards from elementary school, you'll see that I was "good at creative writing." In fourth grade I was so good, apparently, that I spent my spare time tutoring other kids. In high school I was one of the editors of the newspaper. When I went to St. Lawrence, I waited until my very last semester to take a writing class. I still have all the assignments I turned in. "Talent to burn," the professor wrote on one of them.

"Yea, right, " I muttered. For about twenty-five years.

Even another stint as a newspaper writer and editor (The Charlotte News) couldn't convince me that It wasn't until a few years ago when I went to Alaska and gave my camera a rest that I began to really write, publicly, in earnest. Then last spring I took the standard chemistry notebook I've used as a journal for the past thirty years to a local leather craftsman and together we designed a cover for it, adding a robust ampersand in the lower right corner. I carry it with me everywhere I go, scribbling notes, trying to make sense of this beautiful, tragic, haunted and sublime life. For me, to not write is far more difficult than to write. Stories flow through me like oxygen and blood; I don't really know where I end and the writing begins. 

So there you have it. And I have told you this today because I want you to join me in this conspiracy of language and love. I need you to help me keep it real. 

Blessings to us all in this icy, fiery Solstice season.