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Monday, January 04, 2010

Epiphany on Ice


The water on the Bay is frozen.

I've never seen it like this before. I find myself fascinated and curious and awed and horrified, all at the same time.

The thickening layer of ice has completely stopped the current. Or, at least, that's the way it seems on the surface.

I know that the current is still running free and wild and uninhibited, underneath, just as it is supposed to. But, on the outside, the water looks hard. Cold. Dead. Unable to support life.

There are no birds in the water or near the water. No ducks or gulls or heron diving for food. No birds in flight anywhere. An eerie quiet hangs in the air, broken only by the sound of an occasional gust of wind.

A comment from one of my neighbor caught me up short and stopped me dead in my tracks. "The Bay looks perfect," she said.

"Perfect?" I asked, when I caught my breath from the cold.

"Yes," she said. "Look at it. It's perfectly still. Like a photograph of itself."

I nodded my head, mostly because I didn't know what to say. Besides, she was right. It did look like a photograph of itself. Sort of the way a corpse looks in a casket. Not real. Perfectly still.

Sometimes, when I look out the window, I can hear in my head some of the words of Madonna's haunting song "Frozen":
You only see what your eyes want to see
How can life be what you want it to be
You're frozen when your heart's not open
You're so consumed with how much you get
You waste your time with hate and regret
You're frozen when your heart's not open
I know a few people in my life who are like that. You probably do, too.

There are people who are so consumed with regret and envy, or in the pursuit of something - some goal, some thing, some one - that their hearts harden like the ice on the Bay outside my window.

They are hypercritical of most everything. They have an internal critic who has been working overtime for years - laboring long hours for occasional, meager compensation - but never seems to tire or resign his/her duties.

You can usually tell them by their relentless quest for perfection: their homes are beautifully appointed, the lawns finely manicured, and their cars always washed. Their clothes are always freshly laundered and neatly pressed, every hair in place and for women, make up is always neatly applied.

Should you catch them on an off-day, they apologize profusely - almost to the point where you become as embarrassed as they are. Which, I suppose, is the point.

They are also a dead give away in the reception line at the end of church service.

I'm an avowed, self-confessed, unrepentant 'hugger'. I'm also not particularly fussy. I hug anybody, any time, any where.

Lots of people - in church, especially - are huggers. Some of them are GREAT huggers. Warm. Embracing, as it were. Enthusiastic. Joyful. Some practically melt in my arms. They seem to need the hug even more than I do. It's a beautiful thing.

I understand. Not everyone is a 'hugger'. Personal space is a delicate subject. People have been hurt by allowing someone too close - physically or emotionally.

Trust is a huge issue for many people - especially in the church. I respect that, watch for the cues and signs and keep a respectful distance.

Some are just awkward or shy - or just a little guarded - which they try to overcome, partly for themselves and party out of deference to me, but their bodies betray them.

They try to cover up with quick, light pats to the back. In an occasional fit of silliness, sometimes I'm tempted to burp. Others 'air kiss' while they hold your shoulders at a safe distance. Some just approach me with their hand out for a polite hand shake.

I appreciate them all, especially when they are honest expressions of who they are, or where they might be, emotionally, at that particular time.

Sometimes, I don't feel like hugging either. Happens to the best of us, from time to time. Even an enthusiastic hugger like me.

Those who are emotionally frozen feel more than awkward. They feel stiff. Hard. As cold as ice. Like they are taking a spoonful of medicine while holding their nose.

And some, well, some just skip around the back way and avoid the reception line entirely. We're all busy, important people, you see. Places to go. Things to do. People to meet. And others, well, others know they will see me later in the week, anyway. They can get their hug in then.

It's the ones who are frozen who concern me. I see the current of passion flowing underneath the surface. I know that there is a depth and rawness of emotion beyond the perfection of the exterior. I know there is so much more than what is visible to the eye.

I have come to believe that perfection is death. Life is far from perfect. We make messes of our lives. Love the wrong person. Get our hearts broken by those we thought loved us best. Hurt the very people we love the most.

That can be enough to turn anyone's heart cold.

I have come to know that there are seasons of the heart. Sometimes, winter comes, bringing and unexpected cold snap or blizzard - and catches us unaware. But, seasons change. There is always the hope of spring.

Even before that, there is the knowledge that the sun will return, bringing warmth enough to melt the ice and allow us to feel the currents of life stirring in our veins again.

Then our eyes will open and we will see life the way we want it to be. We can allow hate and regret to release itself to the flow of life, keeping what's good about the past - the lessons that couldn't have been learned any other way, the love we couldn't have known any other way - and bringing that into the future.

To dream. To risk. To dare.

I have also come to understand this: Hope is not a strategy. It is a state of being. It is the undercurrent of life that pushes away the ice until the sun's rays of a new season can begin to do its work.

I guess you could call this my Epiphany On Ice.

No one is more surprised than me. I thought I knew all this. I guess it takes being alone with God as S/he is revealed in nature to learn it in a new way.

21 comments:

Kirkepiscatoid said...

I am a paradoxical hugger. People kind of have to reach a certain level with me before I really care to be hugged by them, but once they are there, I am a tremendous hugger!

But even if someone unexpectedly hugs me and I'm not "ready" for it, I do see to it I give a real hug back. I hate "fake hugs" and refuse to give a fake one. Fake hugs = those stiff little pat pat jobs.

I also have a strange way of showing affection to some of my friends in the line for communion. Some of them, I am standing behind them with my hands folded and take my chin and put it up on their shoulders and "bump heads." People seem to like that! LOL

The other show of affection people tend to do with me is when you are like me, with "fuzzy" hair, people oddly like to touch it! I have never figured it out, but it is kinda cute.

whiteycat said...

Great post, Elizabeth! This one has real meaning for me. Like Kirke, I am also a paradoxical hugger. This post is a wonderful Epiphany meditation. pluapo

Grandmère Mimi said...

What a beautiful essay, Elizabeth. I see the younger me in your description of the perfectionist, but not the present me. I've left the pursuit of perfection behind, thanks be to God.

As you well know, I am a confirmed hugger, not always aware of the cues from the I-am-not-a-hugger types, more's the pity. Even those folks are usually kind to me. Perhaps age truly does have its privileges.

So Kirke and Whiteycat, if we ever meet face to face, am I on hugger level? I'm just asking. ;-)

romelover said...

I love reading your blog. I think this may be the third (fourth???) time I've said that. It's true.

I have no particular comment on hugging (except that I'm one too), but I love your reflections on perfection.

It deserves a wide audience. (you should be published...or is that too antiquated??)

chrissie

Geeklet said...

I imagine heaven to be a group hug, shared with God and the whole of humanity. :)

Mary-Cauliflower said...

I too am a paradoxical hugger. Added to that, I'm going through kind of a bristle-y period in which I know that people are wondering where nice Mary has gone. Hugs are generally fine with me (though after-shave and perfume hugs can be disconcerting). I have issues with touch that feels cloying, controlling, or a bit too intimate (albeit in a non-sexual way). As a young secretary I had to explain to a manager why I didn't want him to ruffle my hair affectionately as he passed my desk. And even now I find an unsolicited shoulder rub or too much hand-holding kind of creepy if I feel pushed into expressing affection I don't yet feel. An after-church hug or an exchange of hugs during the Peace is fine. But some expressions of physical closeness feel coercive - and I'm struggling with how to have some integrity without seeming overly prickly.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I've been away from my laptop for most of the afternoon and early evening but I want to say how very grateful I am for all of your posts.

"Paradoxical Hugger" is a GREAT term. I love it. Not to be confused with the "Prodigal Hugger."

Thanks, Romelover and all y'all for your very kind words. As I say, this blog helps to keep me sane - which, I suppose, says a whole lot more about my sorry life than I care to admit.

Mary Cauliflower - thank you for your honesty. I know exactly what you mean about the "fake hugs" or the unwanted touches. I almost wrote about them but then decided that I wanted more to write about ICE than a whole essay on huggers. Maybe that's a subject for another time.

Thanks, y'all. 'Ppreciate it much.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Mimi--well, like yeah, DUH! We've known each other a long time--just never met! Therefore, you've crossed all the hurdles.

Mary-Cauliflower said...

Elizabeth, I should have said first - thank you for an inspired post. It's an intriguing subject with a lot of nuances, and the ice/current image is amazingly powerful. I firmly believe that following the image is the "path with a heart," and perhaps the evocative power of that image created a space for us to open up.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Kirke - do I get a hug, too?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Mary-Cauliflower. I find the images on the Bay overwhelmingly powerful. But, I also find powerful images in the City. In people.

Whoever said "following the image is the path with a heart" was very, very wise.

Grandmère Mimi said...

OK, Kirke, now I know. I'm relieved that I don't have to jump hurdles. I'm too old.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Oh, Elizabeth, I am a little dismayed that you and Mimi even had to ask. (Big eye roll and another, "DUH!")

Lisa Palmer said...

Hugs have sustained me through some very difficult times. I hadn't really thought about what someone else may be sensing about me, just assumed it was an exchange of loving kindness.

Barry Fernelius said...

Before I read your entire post, the title conjured up some very strange images. In my mind's eye, I saw a big arena set up for a skating competition. A loud rock music score started to play, a jazzy rendition of "We Three Kings". There was a set that included a stylized manger. Colorful theatrical lighting illuminated the scene. A spotlight shone at the side entrance to the skating rink. The deep voiced announcer intoned, "Ladies and gentlemen, EPIPHANY ON ICE!" At that moment, the Three Wise Men made their triumphant entry into the arena and started their skating routine.

This is probably not what you intended...

PseudoPiskie said...

I'm a hugger and wish others in church were. There are a number who look forward to my hugs but won't hug anyone else. It was that way in the Lutheran church too. Several older ladies would line up to hug me but wouldn't touch each other. Sorta sad.

I love winter and am disappointed when our lake doesn't freeze. I see it as a time of rest, a time to retreat indoors from the often frantic life of mowing, playing and vacationing. A time to snuggle, read and contemplate. Winter can cause the death of the unfit but is that all bad? Do we often postpone death longer than we should? I guess I'm cold as ice when it comes to death. It is part of life as is winter. Out of winter and death, new life comes if we allow and encourage it. Hugs help.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Lisa - An astute pastor or lay leader is carefully trained to pay attention to "body language" - so as not to do unintentional harm. That's all.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Barry - that's a HOOT! No, I didn't intend that, but I love the unintended consequences. ;~)

Erika Baker said...

The sad thing is that the current running beneath the frozen perfection is one of fear and that the fear can only be contained by a layer of ice.
If only we could simply hug the ice away, release the fear and fill the person with a current of warmth and passion for life.

Hugs to you all.

ehartsay said...

Hi! I just found this post doing a seach on personal space.

I am really interested in your discussion of the frozen river and how it is connected with the post of PseudoPiskie.
There is a very nice song called "The Fallow Way" that enlarges on the concept of the frozen 'dead' time as a time of recuperaption and rest.

I had some thoughts on these part:

"I understand. Not everyone is a 'hugger'. Personal space is a delicate subject. People have been hurt by allowing someone too close - physically or emotionally...
Trust is a huge issue for many people - especially in the church. ....


I don't know if you mean to imply that people who don't like to hug must have been hurt?
Personally, I am a person who simply doesn't really like to be touched -
I haven't been hurt much
and I don't have problems with trust. I just don't really like to be touched.


I probaby would be one of the 'busy' people who would avoid the line if I could sneak out of it.
And if I couldn't I would probably be some one combining a 'cold' hug with back pats, if I was trapped into hugging a near stranger.

And the truth is that passion IS there - for oh so many things. People expect that as passionate as I am for htings I am into, anmd as much of a hippy gypsy goth type a sI am, I should be really ito hugging - but I am NOT into physical touching. It doens't mean that there is any thing rong with me or anyhting repressed - jus different comfort levels.

ehartsay said...

Hi! I just found this post doing a seach on personal space.

I am really interested in your discussion of the frozen river and how it is connected with the post of PseudoPiskie.
There is a very nice song called "The Fallow Way" that enlarges on the concept of the frozen 'dead' time as a time of recuperaption and rest.

I had some thoughts on these part:

"I understand. Not everyone is a 'hugger'. Personal space is a delicate subject. People have been hurt by allowing someone too close - physically or emotionally...
Trust is a huge issue for many people - especially in the church. ....


I don't know if you mean to imply that people who don't like to hug must have been hurt?
Personally, I am a person who simply doesn't really like to be touched -
I haven't been hurt much
and I don't have problems with trust. I just don't really like to be touched.


I probaby would be one of the 'busy' people who would avoid the line if I could sneak out of it.
And if I couldn't I would probably be some one combining a 'cold' hug with back pats, if I was trapped into hugging a near stranger.

And the truth is that passion IS there in me - for oh so many things. Just not in a physical way. People expect that as passionate as I am for htings I am into, anmd as much of a hippy gypsy goth type a sI am, I should be really ito hugging - but I am NOT into physical touching. It doens't mean that there is any thing rong with me or anything repressed - just different comfort levels.