The Glimmering Hush
As I considered this, my last installment of “The Glimmering Hush,” I came across a quote by the recently deceased Rev. Thomas Keating that reads, “Silence is God’s first language. Everything else is a poor translation.” And I thought about how so much of life and being human is also a poor translation. So much of what we say and feel and think and do only touches at what we really want to say or how we really feel or really think or what we really want to do. I thought of this as our country suffered through the horrors of more than one mass shooting and a hate crime that occurred in Louisville when a white man walked into Kroger and killed two black people because of the evil in his heart. People were slaughtered in a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Bar patrons were gunned down on college night in Thousand Oaks. There is a running list that leaves us begging for mercy.
Our words in grief can be such a poor translation of how we really feel. The phrase thoughts and prayers is thrown around so casually, it has become almost meaningless, and not only meaningless, but these words invoke disgust in many and rightfully so. Thoughts and prayers is now poorly translated into Sorry but absolutely nothing will change. All of this awful news was in addition to the devastating California wildfires, the mid-term elections, the usual amount of political news, more mass shootings, and all the violence not widespread or flashy enough to make headlines. The regular run-of-the-mill American gun and racial violence barely makes a blip these days; school shootings quickly become old news in this environment where church members boast about carrying guns to Sunday morning service. It is easy for me to say that a hollowed-out Bible with a handgun inside is a poor translation of the Gospel. A blasphemous one, even. But I didn’t want to write about that.
I wanted to write about how my last Whiskey & Ribbons book tour event was in October and that I took a break from my email for a couple weeks and worked on my books and knit blankets and watched Netflix. How I watched Salt Fat Acid Heat and how it inspired me to make buttermilk roasted chicken and to buy Maldon Sea Salt. I wanted to write about the World Series and missing baseball so much already. I wanted to write about learning French and taking my passport photo and how I’ve decided to live in oversized sweaters and leggings and clogs until spring. I wanted to write about Persuasion and Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, about how Henry Tilney is right up there with Mr. Darcy for me. I wanted to write about my very reasonable crush on Beto O’Rourke and about marathon watching Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and how it makes me happy because I love it and sad because Tony is gone. I wanted to write about one of my favorite sounds I heard this year: the glassy bottle-rocket alarm whistle of the red-winged blackbird in North Carolina, but I’m not sure if the beach house we rented made it through Hurricane Florence and, honestly, I’ve been scared to look. But even telling you I worry about the birds, telling you I worry about the beach house, telling you I worry about going to the grocery store in my city because someone may shoot me because I’m black . . . these are all poor translations of me saying Fuck it. I worry about all of us. I worry about this world.
I wanted to write about seeking the quiet, but instead I am compelled to write about the sounds of gunfire. About gasps and screams and the rocks crying out. About the weeping of mothers and fathers and family and friends. The deafening silence of death, of lives brutally snatched over and over again. I am compelled to write about the ca-ching of the cash register—more assault rifle sales, more rounds of ammunition—the crisp fold of the almighty dollar. The drip-dropping blood as it begins, the splashy pouring of blood from the body, the sloshing of pools of blood, the wire-scrubbing of bloodstains, the tacky stick of those stains underfoot. The hush of running water as we try to wash our hands of it and the echo of Lady MacBeth’s Out damned spot! Out, I say!
I would write about those things, but I cannot, because I am too tired to translate.
I have a naturally buoyant personality, but as I write this, it is gray and cold and I am identifying far too closely with Solange singing about being weary of the ways of the world. But stubbornly, I’m identifying even more with her singing, I’m gonna look for my glory yeah. I’ll be back real soon, reminding me of Psalm 71:14, but as for me, I will always have hope. Hope for better translations, hope for this world, hope for quiet spaces, hope for light and pages turning. Hope and hope and hope for learning from our past. Hope for knowing the stark difference between when to speak up and when to listen.
I’ve decided to let “The Glimmering Hush” playlist say what I cannot. I think of “Holy, Holy, Holy”: Though the darkness hide Thee, Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see; Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee. And “Peace Train”: Get your bags together, Go bring your good friends, too. ’Cause it’s getting nearer, it soon will be with you. Leyla McCalla singing, My heart it sinks reflecting on your muddy banks, overwhelmed accepting how much work it takes in “Changing Tide.” Leon Bridges singing, But there’s blood on my hands and my lips aren’t clean. In my darkness I remember Momma’s words reoccur to me “Surrender to the good Lord and He’ll wipe your slate clean.” All these poor translations of “Let’s us go then, you and I” and “Get busy living or get busy dying” and “I love you” and “Help, please help.”
And let the heavens hear it, the penitential hymn.
I listened to “Come Healing” by Leonard Cohen—Behold the gates of mercy in arbitrary space and none of us deserving the cruelty or the grace. The Be Good Tanyas’s cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Waiting Around to Die”: I tried to kill the pain, bought some wine and hopped a train. Seemed easier than just waitin’ around to die. Paul Simon’s “Peace Like a River”: Peace like a river ran through the city long past the midnight curfew. We sat starry-eyed. We were satisfied . . . you can run out your rules, but you know you can’t outrun the history train. Mahalia Jackson singing, Why should my heart feel lonely . . . when Jesus is my portion? in “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” and Rhiannon Giddings and Iron & Wine covering Dylan’s “Forever Young”: May God bless and keep you always. May your wishes all come true. May you always do for others and let others do for you.
All of the beautiful songs, the incandescent lyrics—poor translations of what we really want to say when we cry or lift our hands or close our eyes and pray. Poor translations for “God, where are you?” and “It’s all going to be okay” and “I need to feel loved right now, will you love me?” We are called to be still and know. We are called to be quiet and know. We are called to listen and know. We are called to learn and do better.
This year has been the busiest of my life, second only to the years my husband and I had our newborns. I’ve traveled more than I ever have before, written more, met more people—everything I did this year was an off-the-charts departure from my regular life. I learned a lot about the publishing industry and how important it is to have an amazing team of encouraging, supportive people. I’ve learned to say No more easily and effectively. I am grateful to Oxford American for the opportunity to share my quiet heart here in ways that don’t always come easily for me. My column on quiet, like so many things, quickly became a meditation on life and death and work and art. I can’t help but think of Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat, sweat, sweat! Work and sweat, cry and sweat, pray and sweat.”
In “Just Be Simple” by Songs: Ohia, Jason Molina sings, I ain’t looking for that easy way out. This whole life it’s been about try and try and try. And that’s where I will leave this, not exactly quiet, but not loud either—just being. Simple. With many blessings to you, much love, peace, and try and try and try.
THE GLIMMERING HUSH PLAYLIST: December
“The Glimmering Hush” is a part of our weekly story series, The By and By.
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