Paying Attention: Darkness into Light

On this past Solstice eve, instead of celebrating by the fire with friends, I went to Lahey hospital for a last minute MRI, to rule out something an ultrasound had picked up.  The details of that true story don’t matter, in the end it was nothing, but the experience of that journey is still with me.

It was a bit gruesome, the strange long hallway down to the Trump—yes, the Trump building—something out of one of those sci fi movies where the rebels are being marched by their captors to some nefarious lab where all the goodness will be brainwashed out of them or where they will be tortured for the location of their secret refuge.

Observe, I said to myself, noting how weird it all was.  Pay attention.

We got to the MRI unit and I was given my prison uniform, the kind that fits anyone and everyone, enormous and loose, along with yellow socks designed for elephant feet.  I said to myself, notice everything. Take dictation. The small trash can in the dressing room filled with abandoned socks. The tired blue of the pants. The ghosts pacing up and down the hallway and inhabiting the empty chairs in the waiting room.  Remember the young girl and her mother, the conversation about horoscopes and the Dominican Republic. Note Everything.

I was feeling pretty freaked out, and observing helped both distract and ground me. I played Narrator, writing this piece in my head as if it were simply a story I was inventing, imagining my way through as if I were a character in a novel I would never ever read.  And sometimes I would simply ride the percussion of the magnets into outer space, under the sea, to a rock concert overrun by lousy bass players.

I like to think the gift of that evening was all about that—some kind of call to my writer’s heart, a reminder of how we writers survive the challenges of being human in these and all difficult times.

When I was in the experience, I felt as if it might be of some value to the Dead Darlings community.  I wasn’t clear why, but I knew I was writing the beginning of the piece in my head even as I walked down the hallway approaching the machines.  Of course, it might only have been a survival strategy, one I’d used many times throughout my life, but I also think I wanted to be able to say, when it was all behind me and I no longer felt the enormous fear, Look at us, how lucky we are. Whatever life throws at us, we can use it!  And if we can’t use it, at the very least we have a way to survive the difficult.

I was immensely present in the days that followed.  My eye was sharp and I saw in a way I hadn’t seen in a long time.  I wrote extensively about anything and everything. I found a renewed sense of love for the world, for every kindness, technician, machine and yellow sock.  I was filled with such gratitude for this rich and strange life, for coming into it as a writer and for the community of those who also endeavor to transform life’s push into words.   Look at us, I say again. How lucky we are.


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