Hello, struggler, wisher, thirster-
I meet you at the well to wonder,
to ponder, and possibly to fight for
what it is to be alive.
Both of us are drinking from the same cistern.
We created it; the cracks refused to seal
and the water refused to heal our parched souls.
Goodness knows we have looked in all those cracks
for answers and heard enough echoes
to reassure us we are alone.
But what of the music that we didn’t make?
We hear it shake the ground sometimes
and we analyze the sounds that aren’t our own.
O great unknown, you sing to us
and call to us in open roads
and feather-leafed mesquite groves
and in places that are kind or bleak to us-
you are deeper than our well goes.
O Otherness beyond our echoes,
you have a voice that fills us
in the emptiness of subway halls
and other people’s flawless love.
Mend our cisterns! we cry,
and you reply,
Leave them dry. I will supply parched lips
with my munificence and drench
you in my providence.
O holy Christ, your voice is stronger
than the torrents tempting us to take
the earthy waters; human potters mold more vessels
but you call us-
like a wave: one but recurring.
Beyond words, beyond our singing
you are matchless:
to have tasted of your depth
is to know Already and Not Yet
and greater love and greater debt.
There were ships
oh, and there were ships as well
each herself a well
seeping sordid men
each her boats were buckets
dipping out the crew
a harbour of shouts
eating up the night
Fly away: and with you, I.
We will find a way to die
To the ships, to the shouts
and the sea will come alive.
I’m climbing a ragged staircase that’s in the process of being slowly sucked back into the cliffside from which it was carved. When I reach out to steady myself, I feel the fuzzy heartbeat of the moss nudging my hand like a contented thought. The seagulls fall like snow and rise again with the wind, calling out with voices that remind me of wilderness and playing hide-and-go-seek with anxiety. My wellingtons keep slipping on the loose gravel, and I’m concentrating so hard on the path that I forget to look around and smell the sea. There’s something about fear that sharpens my concentration and changes me from an amateur to a professional, and instead of the little tourist who just wants to splash the crabs and stay out of everybody’s way, I’ve suddenly become a park ranger with responsibilities… and now I have to strain my eyes unless I want to see the same things over and over again.
There was one day when the sky was a sheet of silver and I was keeping my eye on the rhododendron bushes because they kept jostling about in an unnatural sort of way, when someone poked me harshly on the shoulder and asked me the quickest way to town. I blinked twice and began to surreptitiously look for the fire escape. Because there’s something about that town I don’t really fancy… maybe it’s the identical lightening rods on all the apartments or the deserted playground behind the city hall. I always send people the long way back. And I stay out here with the friendly moss and the rocks that steam in the morning. But people are always asking me for directions to leave.
So now I’m climbing a ragged staircase up a wizened precipice, and everyone has left. Maybe I left them. I’m on a quest, see. I don’t really know what I’m looking for, but I’ve always wanted to go questing. When I was little, I used to lie in bed and make up stories that usually involved Ivanhoe. There was one hill in my imagination that I remember very clearly, though I don’t know why. I think we changed horses there once and spied upon the world at our feet before racing into its environs. Now I pull myself up to a narrow ledge that looks like it belongs on the stairs of Cirith Ungol and slowly turn around to face the wind. The muscular beauty of the sea owns the landscape far beneath me, and I can see the pinprick outlines of a few lingering tourists stooping to collect shells as souveniers. Suddenly, I begin to feel very lonely. Maybe there’s still something I need down there. Someday I’ll reach into my backpack, pull out the pieces of canvas and cord I stuffed inside, and assemble them with shivering hands. Then I’ll throw off my heavy coat, reach into my pocket for a little extra courage, and jump on the wind’s back (and away we will go). And maybe I’ll find in flight what I was looking for on foot. Maybe, suspended among the seagulls, grasping my hang-glider with reddened hands, I’ll know what to wish for when I see the first star at night, and when at last I reach the ground and roll before coming to a stop, I’ll rise knowing what God expects of me.