In my first 30, maybe 35, years, I breathed out a ceaseless prayer for thunder and lightning and the accompanying rain which seals their promises.
A true believer in everything romantic, I watched clouds pop up as if created out of a matter-less sky, sensed molecules in the air cool and charge each other, and longed to be caught in the sudden, elemental shift.
Sixth senses don’t really exist, a truth that didn’t keep me from trying to develop one.
Sixth senses don’t really exist, a truth that didn’t keep me from trying to develop one. I paid acute attention to the sweep of every story, made out shapes of other lives in the coming clouds, divined the possibility of possibility. When it came to a common definition of romance—our faith in a stranger’s presence entering a room and rearranging every room thereafter—I cast my lot with Peter Martin in Jack Kerouac’s The Town and the City.
“He knew in the pulse of his blood that he would meet such a woman, an inevitable woman who was ‘waiting’ too,” Kerouac wrote, “and he thought: ‘She’ll just wait, she’ll be there, and when I see her we’ll both know!’ ”
Seeking the knowing within every moment, and watching far too much TV, I imagined one inevitability after the next. The inevitable record producer nursing a longneck as I floated my charming little folk songs through the dust particles traveling the beams from barroom lights. An inevitable publisher brow-furrowed, with hands about to surrender hope of meeting the Next Great American Writer before stumbling on one of my sentences. The inevitable, benevolent destiny ushering me into the just-beyond-my-reach.
Rather than a record-scratch movie moment, I craved the romance of an entire three-minute scene. One in which the soundtrack swells and opens up until every note is colored gold and blue and all eyes are in agreement: This is fate, playing out before us.
See, when life revolves around some great and nimble light—always changing direction, always hovering over your next best chance at significance—your theology can’t break away or develop in peace.
I wonder which I believed in first: A world built like this, or a God who set it in motion.
See, when life revolves around some great and nimble light—always changing direction, always hovering over your next best chance at significance—your theology can’t break away or develop in peace. Every day dawns with possibility, and every possibility is holy.
Then you hear nothing but the records scratching in reverse. The child taking up the center of your prayers—the one who cannot shake his own shadow—trips through another day. Hopes for reconciliation, for someone to absorb your loneliness, hang in the air, humiliating you. A Sunday’s desperation, to feel anything at all in the presence of the word, the sacrament, the altar just keeps on gnawing.
Your God, it seems, has no interest in romance.
Confusion only grows as you rely on your five surest senses. You watch it happen, or sit silently within earshot of another testimony—someone else’s prayers for rain are answered, their plot of ground soaked through and pooling.
Answers offered only undermine your questions and convictions. “God doesn’t work that way anymore.” And yet God’s story anchored your faith in all things being possible. Is he choosing not to work this way anymore—or just not for my sake?
To believe in big breaks only leaves you breaking big, the gash running transverse across body and soul.
In the night’s second watch, quiet chords surround me, and somewhere before the kind release of sleep and the wildness of dreaming, I trace the wound and rehearse what I know. The woman breathing next to me rearranged the first room she entered, yet no guitars played ‘90s soundtrack arpeggios. Not right away. Three years gave up their mercies and lessons so we might sit down to tentative confessions of love.
Much as I want to, much as I’ve tried, I cannot get to cynicism or evaporated faith.
No big breaks or rocket rides define my writing career. But friendships do, smaller and somehow more beautiful chances offered. With gratitude, I become more myself with each sentence.
Much as I want to, much as I’ve tried, I cannot get to cynicism or evaporated faith. Instead, I perform these minor sums, draw these momentary conclusions. Too often we sell the smaller, deeper things for a pittance of misplaced hope. We play zero-sum games rather than bearing witness as the world forever opens up before us.
I want to rest my faith not on the obvious miracles, but upon the proposition that every day yields ten thousand little glories. Waiting for destiny to hurry up and conduct its business means missing out on the still, small voice that tells us “Look, listen, reach out.” Saint Mary Oliver keeps telling us her three secrets to living: “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
If my work and my walk through this world stay faithful to the poet’s principles, then keep the fates at bay. Let them play somewhere and with someone else.
Every day can bring rain, if we only pay our attention. Sometimes the storm arrives, not with electric rending and thunderstroke, but in a silent drizzle that keeps the earth alive and satisfied. This rain teaches us. Do not waste your days racing to stand beneath clouds or trying to trick the sky. Live and let the possibilities live. You just stand still, lips open and skin ready to drink in every drop.