Stagger Onward Rejoicing

This wasn't what I thought my joy-filled great adventure of my first week on the road would look or feel like in the imaginary Hollywood movie script I wrote in my head as I sold my belongings and packed up the remaining pieces of my life over the past month and a half.

I didn't envision two days of gale-force winds and torrential hydroplaning rain with no outside adventures while driving in tandem across the Plains with my outdoor-loving best friend Pamela. I didn't think there would be no time for back roads or birds, or that my driving days across fourteen states would be so long and tense and exhausting. And I certainly didn't imagine that when I reached my final destination I would put the car in park and slump over into uncontrollable floods of tears and wish, like a six-year-old sent to camp against her will, that I could go home.

Which is not to say that there weren't some incredibly joy-filled moments.

The beauty of the rolling hills stretching from Dubuque, Iowa, to Mineral Point, Wisconsin -- a Fertile Crescent if there ever is one -- bright green fields checkerboarded with unplanted ones covered in lush black topsoil, interspersed with the sweet shapes of dairy barns. One of the most lyrical landscapes I have ever seen.

Talking about birds and bravery (with someone exemplifying the latter so beautifully while struggling with a life-changing illness) under a 100-foot tree in lush, green, gorgeous, Madison, Wisconsin.

Realizing that all of the deep hard spiritual work that Pamela and I have done on our best friendship over the past twelve years, even through its potential dissolution this winter, and the healing on which we have worked so hard, had all paid off -- in feeling so at home and comfortable with her (even during our tensest moments) during our three days on the road together. In feeling and trusting the deep deep love we have for one another, and our profound spiritual connection, which I trust (and pray) will survive the miles that are now between us.

Speaking in Shelbyville, Indiana, where I met up with old friends and made new ones at a sweet small-town theatre that has become beautiful gathering place for sharing joy and, in doing so, brought a community together in creativity.

Walking up the stairs for the first time to a class at my New York City seminary while hearing the joyful buzz of familiar voices, and being greeted with huge hugs that made me feel so deeply loved.

Connecting with my deans and classmates -- particularly with the leader and heart of the seminary, Diane -- in some truly hopeful and healing conversations.

Listening to talks about love and our collective journey given by my classmates, and the rightness and delicious joy of having my wonderful friend Elizabeth chosen as our graduation class speaker.

And praying with my classmate Aldina about love in a way that broke us both down into tears that felt deep and true, pure and cleansing.

But having spent the last two nights in a weird emotional combo plate of catatonic anxiety, having fallen asleep in my clothes on a sofa, I woke up this morning in a somber and reflective place. The same word ringing through my head with which I went to sleep.


This happens to me a lot. One word or phrase that reverberates until I pay attention to it. Sometimes it is a line from a poem. Other times a peculiar pop song reference. Once a really profound healing even came through a line from Billy Ocean's "Caribbean Queen"!!

So when Telemachus circled over and over again, I paid attention.

I knew he was one of the central character's of Homer's Odyssey, but for the life of me, I couldn't remember his role. I was always much more interested in the Cyclops and Sirens. But Telemachus tapped at my temples all night through intense dreams about being a passenger in a car whose brakes were failing, and trying to release birds trapped in rooms. So this morning I read more about him.

He was the son of Odysseus and Penelope, and four books of The Odyssey are the story of his journey searching for his father. But when he finally returns home, he discovers that his father has gotten there before him.

Poetry, as most of you know, is one of my chief spiritual practices. And this week two poems have circled over and over again. One is by the great Greek poet, Constantine Cavafy. It is called "Ithaka". It was one of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' favorite poems. In fact, it was read at her funeral. Perhaps this is why Telemachus surfaced. . .

To me, it has always been the most beautiful reminder that the journey is the destination. Or as Cavafy puts it,

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

The other circling poem is by W.H. Auden, and it is called "Atlantis". It is a newer favorite for me -- but one which seems even more apt for my current state of mind and heart.

It begins:

Being set on the idea
Of getting to Atlantis,
You have discovered of course
Only the Ship of Fools is
Making the voyage this year,
As gales of abnormal force
Are predicted. . .

Auden goes on to enumerate in his beautiful verse the many bends and twists in the road of the journey to find the mythical Atlantis. . .but the line that has been my mantra these past weeks is this:

Stagger onward rejoicing.

As should be clear by now, I don't have much that's cheery to write. In fact, I really didn't want to write at all. I had almost talked myself out of posting anything, so barren felt my interior joy landscape, when I reminded myself that a promise is a promise, and this is the one constant in my life right now -- the promise to write this blog, no matter how slim the joy pickings of the week may be.


Have I been following my father my whole life only to find that he has gotten home long before me? That the joy I have been seeking through my wanderings just needs me to return home to my quiet true heart to feel it?

I don't know what my life is going to look like. And I have vowed not to be suckered into easy answers or quick solutions, but rather to stay the course of this journey, no matter how hard, no matter where it takes me -- inside and out. But I do know that, without joy, my heart remains closed. That my connection to love, life, other people, animals, and the planet is shuttered and dark without joy. That hope without joy feels like these past two sofa nights -- lonely and stiff, defended and dark.

And so the best I can promise is to stagger onward rejoicing. Rejoicing that this, too, is rejoicing. That whatever I need to hear, whatever my next steps may be, they will come to me. Rejoicing. That my fears that I don't really have a heart are just that -- fears. That the belief that my joy might be a mythical kingdom is a lie. That these are just my own Cyclops and Sirens luring me away from what already is. Rejoicing. That the monsters of my interior imagination are, in fact, not the heart of the story, but rather that, like Telemachus, I will come home and find joy waiting for me with open arms. 

You see, Telemachus' story is essentially a coming-of-age story. A story of a boy who never really knew his father, but who, by coming home to him after a long and immature journey and then fighting by his side, finally earns his father's respect. That respect allows Telemachus to become a man and a leader in his own right.


I began this journey back to joy because of this photo. Because of this joy-filled little girl.

Talking with Diane yesterday, who shared a story of seeing a photo her joy-filled younger self and wondering, too, where her joy-filled little girl had gone, I realize that I have been trying to reconnect to the joy I felt in the presence of a man for whom joy came as naturally as breathing. Not that he didn't have his dark moments, his maudlin anxieties, his nasty drunks. But joy, for my father, was like air. And I have been trying my whole life to make it mine.

For all of us who have felt the kind of planet-changing, life-altering joy that comes through service to others, connections to nature or to animals, the alchemy of language, through a cracked-open heart to love, we know that joy is a divine connection unlike any other. In that light, rekindling our joy is not an optional exercise. It is the superhighway to life, truth and love. 

Joy is the True Self experienced and expressed in the here and now.

So the only thing we can do is to stagger onward rejoicing.

But at least we can do it together.


And so it is.

Stagger Onward Rejoicing


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