Jon Anne Willow
Up All Night

The way of the Soul

By - Oct 20th, 2009 10:22 am
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Me and my dad in 1971. That's a Righteous Mouse t-shirt, babies!

My dad and me in 1971. That’s a Righteous Mouse T-shirt, babies!

“Growing up” is too often a trick play, a series of potentially debilitating compromises that stifle the soul’s voice. Maturity provides the ability to forge a place in the material world, but at the peril of the spiritual compass all children are born with.

Like a lot of “high-functioning” adults, I have lost my touch. I have been living for too many years almost exclusively on practical terms, assessing the needs of a situation and then forging ahead according to that plan, without wasting time mulling over the true personal cost. I am focused on goals.

This is not all bad: I imagine it’s a key component of the tenacity that has come to define me. To second-guess difficult choices and whether the journey is possible (or even desirable to take) once you’re half-way up the mountain is a near-guarantee of failure. Sometimes blindness itself is a kind of sight. Most of the time, it just is what it is.

But yesterday I was listening to pop-rock radio in my car and heard an old alterna-dance tune I used to play when I was a DJ. Suddenly I was in another time: I turned around in my booth and that boy was standing there, giving me the unforgettable smile that shot through me like an arrow, forming so much of my destiny in one instant. Then I was in another moment when I laughed so hard in my booth that I fell down the stairs, knocking over a row of shots and twisting my ankle, which just made everyone (including me) laugh harder. Then another, when a boy I had met that night kissed me in a dormitory stairwell and vowed he would marry me one day. I pulled the car over so I could travel back to a summer night behind the wheel of a red ’70 Chevelle convertible with my girls screaming/singing every word to “Boys of Summer” into the warm, dark wind as I pushed the pedal down harder on the country highway, raising birds and disturbing the peace of sleeping cattle.

I traveled to many moments where I was the merry prankster, the ringleader, the mischief-maker, pulling off capers that many would never attempt, to the delight of some and the dismay of others. I journeyed to Haircut Sundays, where my guy friends lined up with towel-damp hair, feeding me weed and whiskey while I gave them each a trim, nobody wanting to be last because we were all pretty wrecked at the end, but never considering sobriety as an alternative to uneven ears.

I journeyed from there to my grandfather’s bedside as he lay dying in an Arkansas hospital. Such a powerful man reduced to a fragile shell of bones and skin and tubes, and I saw myself from above as I prayed for his speedy departure. I communed with him and my ancestors, both known and unknown. With the celestial doorway open and a stiff breeze behind me (and with “Lightning Crashes” on the radio), I flew to my cousin’s true graveside, in tears again after so many years for the troubled little boy I had loved hard. He lay as he was found, gunned down at 19 in a field in rural Arkansas over a wallet full of money. I went to my father, sitting alone in his apartment on the California coast, withering, lonely and full of regret.

My mother came to me, and in our communion she wasn’t confused, irreparably damaged by years of prescription drug abuse and Raleigh cigarettes, but the young woman who used to race me in the grocery store parking lot and take me out of school in the middle of the day to go for ice cream. She used to sing in the car. I heard her crowing, “Now that you’re g-o-o-ne, all that’s left is a band of gold…” as she took her hands off the wheel to snap her fingers, scaring my little girl-self half to death but thrilling me at the same time. She was strong once: I felt safe in her protection. I kissed her and smelled her warm hair and good perfume as she wrapped her arms around me and took me to a hospital where I was dazed and wounded, but holding my brand new son in my arms. Mine now, mine to care for, to protect, to race in the parking lot. I came back to this world in silent tears, sitting in my parked car with my keys still in my hand.

I now see that the day I first held my son I made a promise to him and to myself: to protect him at all costs and to see him through the journey of childhood. But I also began to break a promise to myself that I made when I was 10, just a little younger than he is now.

I was walking barefoot through a scruffy tree stand along a muddy Iowa stream near my house, puzzling out the weighty matters overtaking my family — the impending loss of our home, my mother’s failed engagement to a man I wanted for a dad, my real father’s prison sentence, my little sister’s painful shyness towards most people but me and how I had to be the one to take care of her. Pulling my left pigtail and staring at the water, it occurred to me that I was thinking about all this like a grownup. At the time I believed in magic, in fairies and brownies and powerful witches and wizards that could banish evil. I believed I could fly in my sleep. I knew I saw things that grownups didn’t — all the colors in a common leaf, infinity in the sparkle of the sun on our pond, whether a person was good or bad or just confused. I knew I could read minds — not every thought, but certainly intentions. So I promised myself I wouldn’t forget to pay attention to what grown-ups ignore, because if I did a huge part of me would be dead. This is a true story.

I believe I unintentionally broke my promise because keeping the door open wide requires the ability to openly accept things into your soul that you didn’t invite. And as life goes on, much of what wafts through that doorway is in direct conflict with the tactile needs of the day. The boss who gives you the heebie-jeebies still signs the paycheck you need; the unfixable man you married is still the father of your child. The floors must be swept, the food cooked, the bills paid. To live by pure instinct runs counter to the demands of the physical world. Often there is little time even for sleep, and reflection is a luxury saved for the Future.

But the Soul has her ways, exactly as does the Earth. No matter how hard we try to construct every facet of our existence, to manipulate and control our surroundings, she will always exert her will when the time comes. My Soul has come to remind me of my promise. I will try to keep it. And if I fail, I know she will remind me again, because she has never failed me, only I her by pretending not to hear.

She whispers in my ear: Today is a new day. I am listening.

Categories: Up All Night

0 thoughts on “Up All Night: The way of the Soul”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Jon Anne, you’re a great writer and amazing soul. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Well done.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for sharing your gift of writing Jon Anne, we’re rooting for you and for you to get more sleep when you can!

  4. Anonymous says:

    This story touched my soul. Thanks.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thank you. It was shockingly easy to write.

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