I drafted this post for a guest blogger spot on a lovely website.
My “assignment” read “So far when I’ve had guest blogs on my site, I’ve had people write about their dreams, how they almost missed them, what it’s finally like to achieve them–Any angle you want to take on that would be appropriate. Consider that your writing assignment if you’d like to take it!!”
I’m a schoolteacher; I love assignments. So, sprawled out on my big bed last night with my four-month old grandson and my cat, I wrote. Then I got up this morning, flipped open my laptop, and saw the news about Julian Bond. The result is this slightly revised blog.
Thank you, Sydney Scrogham, for letting me use this on my own site today. I find I am too exhausted from writing, and too exhausted from unexpectedly intense grieving, to think of anything else.
This morning I opened my laptop to my home page, The New York Times online, and saw the front page story, with a photograph, Julian Bond 1940-2015, “A Charismatic Leader of the Civil Rights Movement.” I was seventeen years old and a Freshman at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, when I first heard Julian Bond speak in his soft voice that captured a room, first saw the beautiful young man of twenty-three, first experienced the fire of those heady years.
This morning, I read back over what I wrote last night for Sydney’s blog on dreams.
I remember with a rush of adrenaline and sorrow the exact flavor of the dream that Julian Bond embodied for me.
I am nearly seventy years old and that’s a long road to look down to find those early dreams. Like most of us, I chased more than a few mistaken dreams down too many hard roads. And somewhere after 50, but well before 60, I came to understand that I was happiest alone, happiest working, happiest with the love of child, cousins, aunts, friends, colleagues, happiest with books and animals—Faulkner, Dickens, Austen, Shakespeare; cats, bees, llamas.
I recall a poem by William Carlos Williams, called “Dance Russe,” which describes his dancing naked before a mirror when his wife and child are sleeping and “singing softly to myself:/ ‘I am lonely, lonely./I was born to be lonely,/I am best so!” Clearly the poet is well grounded in home and wife and child and the dancing alone, while an important dream, is not his life. I always ignored the wife and baby in that poem and felt in my bones only the loneliness; that was what moved me. There is a kind of delicious luxury in those feelings in the midst of married life, but few would choose that loneliness as the life itself. Perhaps the cloistered religious.
I also recall, from some years later in my own dream journey, weekends I spent at a convent in Kentucky and the stop I always made on my way home at Gethsemane to listen to the sounds of Gregorian chants. For me, the silence, the chants that only deepened it, the quiet men perfectly still as they sang, were pure and absolute joy. I went on retreats of silence and fasting; I never wanted to come back. I chased the intensity of the mountaintop experience. For decades that was my dream, that high moment lived in a time outside time.
I supposed that my dream of intense solitude never was realized—I have always had a few close friends; I taught for over thirty years, surrounded by a community of colleagues and students-and I loved it; I have a flock of cousins with whom I am closely in touch; I am in touch, in the past year, with several students from 30 years ago, and I delight in these renewed relationships; I have this wonderful new grandson with whom I have chosen to spend two long days a week. My telephone, which I used to approach with trepidation, rings constantly and I talk for hours a day. I recently said to a friend that I didn’t know if it was good news or very bad news, but “I am happier than I have ever been in my life.”
Was this a dream of mine—to be 70 years old, retired, spending 20+ hours a week with an infant, working to master computer skills, active on the “social media,” writing and publishing a book? Not one of those things ever occurred to me. And yet at their core they are exactly what I might have dreamed. Like Williams, I am grounded in family, and in my writing I have found the loneliness I have chased. Like T.S. Eliot I “arrive where [I] started/ And know the place for the first time.”
I am happier than I have ever been in my life.
A friend of mine, a Baptist preacher, came up with the title for my book, Looking for Lydia; Looking for God, which I describe in the book’s Epilogue:
The preacher told me that, “Looking for Lydia is like looking for God, and you’re doing both. We are all looking for Lydia. We are all looking for that something we may or may not find, but the search for which defines our lives. In the course of that search we find frustration, disappointment, loss, and grief, but we also find much that we didn’t expect—work and love and relationships and joy.”
As I read the long obituary for Julian Bond, it came to me that the dreams that young girl nurtured more than fifty years ago–dreams of passionate solitude and passionate community–are the dreams I am living today.
It really is only a matter of recognizing them.
Thank you, Mr. Bond.