We all have days that are off script, interruptions in our normal lives, when gravity is temporarily suspended. Some exceptional moments are luscious: somebody we miss shows up unexpectedly; our candidate wins; some cosmic key turns, and we fall down a rabbit hole, into a new journey. Our world shivers. Some are tragic: break-in, miscarriage, or sudden loss of a much loved furry friend. We are transformed and our hearts are still. Small irritations seem petty and unworthy. One thing we know: normal has lost its meaning. We are sure it is permanent.
When I see purple irises I think of a ten day retreat I attended a long time ago, in the rolling hills of Maryland, at Shalem Institute. We were in silence for days at a time; the silence seemed fragrant, and even sacred. We who barely knew one another, wished each other well in a hundred small silent ways, when crossing paths in the woods, sharing photographs, passing the salt. In that sheltered place, we were mindful of one another, effortlessly. Wished it would last forever. Then, suddenly, the retreat was ended, and we scattered to our interrupted lives. Re-entry was difficult.
Exceptional moments end. Ready or not, we must all return home to something we call normal. How do you do that?
Gently. Other people do not get it. They cannot share your experience, though some may try. Some will not take it seriously. Some are too busy with their own lives right now, and always. Others are distracted by some provocation. There will always be more. We feel very different than we did yesterday, and it is urgent; our priorities have been rearranged like ice cubes in a cocktail shaker. It is absolutely shocking to discover that for those outside our skin, nothing has changed. Same old stuff. Political bickering. Puzzling coldness. Facebook rudeness. All of it seems suddenly odd.
Savoring the time outside of normal does not mean trying to prolong it. We really cannot live on the mountaintop forever. Surprises fade. Grief, mercifully, softens. But we choose to savor the moment because it has glimmerings of landmark status, and we will need to revisit it later, when we can. Returning to normal, whatever that means, requires making a place for reminiscence, letting exceptional moments continue to teach us, even when our time is once again scheduled, like the lives of other people and ordinary times. There is no schedule for reminiscence.
Returning to normal is difficult, because the world we re-enter resists change. It wants you back just as you were, maybe because you were nice, but even if you were difficult. If you are changed, others may have to adapt, and they would rather not. Some may offer charming advice as to how to get over yourself, or to shake off troubling emotions. Nice glass of wine. It’s not that serious. Try EHarmony. Paleo diet. The Unitarian church. Get a new cat. What can you say? It’s all meant with great kindness. Part of starting to come back to ourselves means noticing where we encounter resistance, our own or that of other people, because something doesn’t fit as it once did.
The sense of sacredness of our time off-script can endure, if we allow it. Even after we have adapted to the shock of changes in our job or family, the new car scent has faded, the moment of awakening is over, we can think of morning coffee with new attentiveness. This is a way of bringing transforming times in touch with the ordinary ones, and to let them become friends.
There is no formula for the day after. Perhaps the kindest thing we can do for ourselves, when we sense we are ready to integrate the moment into our ongoing story, is to find a place to sit and think, and to not be in a rush about it. Regrouping involves sifting through what we used to take for granted. What is nurturing and helpful now? Questions may have different answers than they used to. Be suspicious of instant answers. Even your own.
Easter is a potent metaphor for new beginnings, interrupting the annual calendar. For one Sunday, the pews are full. The music is transcendent. The nation frets about whether the White House will or will not cancel the annual egg hunt on the South Lawn, due to budgetary crisis. Now it is Monday, the chocolate is gone, and normal programming resumes.
Interesting, our love of sacred ritual, whether one is religious or not. It feeds us in ways for which we lack words. Fortunately, for that we have purple irises. And places to sit in the woods.