Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Inexplicable

Saturday, February 20, 2016

My first foray into the world of higher education provided me with the training to understand (to the degree that science currently can) the behavior of the atmosphere. Using the term 'behavior' is perhaps not the most apt term considering that many are likely to associate such a word with a sentient being. People display a wide variety of behaviors. Animals behave in certain manners - we notice certain behaviors in our domesticated pets and describe them as variously adorable or irksome. But the atmosphere? Can we describe the never-ending motion of the atmosphere as a behavior?

When something (a behavior, an unanticipated event) defies our explanation we may call it inexplicable. I have experienced a number of things in my life which have strongly defied explanation - easy or otherwise. I have recently been reflecting on one such event as I continue to explore who I am.

In 1997 I lived among the Lakota people of South Dakota for approximately four months. I was sent there as a novice of the New England province of the Society of Jesus. The Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits, is a well known Roman Catholic religious order known for its preferential option for the poor as well as the mantra of everything "for the greater glory of God".
My four month period of life among one of the many indigenous peoples of North America was profoundly transformative.

One day I found myself driving back to the Rosebud reservation after making a trip in the direction of Rapid City. You can drive for many, many miles in certain stretches of South Dakota and not encounter another car on the highway. I had no company with me in my car. I suddenly found myself feeling overcome with tears. It seemed my body had suddenly become the locus for something far bigger than my own self. My tears, at least at the time, seemed...inexplicable.

In a New York Times Sunday piece from April, 2014 Barbara Ehrenreich talks of a mystical moment she experienced at the age of 17 in Lone Pine, California. She saw the world "suddenly flame into life." She goes on to recount that she was left with only one explanation as to what had occurred:

"I had had a mental breakdown, ultimately explainable as a matter of chemical imbalances, overloaded circuits or identifiable psychological forces. There had been some sort of brief equipment failure, that was all, and I determined to pull myself together and put it behind me, going on to finish my formal education as a cellular immunologist and become a responsible, productive citizen."

Like Barbara and her experience of a flaming world I was similarly perplexed by what I experienced on that day amidst the frozen badlands of South Dakota. Years later as I recall this experience I offer an explanation for what occurred which many all too rational individuals might believe to be absurd. I could feel the grief of the Lakota people in the landscape of South Dakota. It was as if the grief of a whole group of people had, albeit briefly, inhabited my own body and mind. The vessel of my one body could not hold such heaviness. So I found myself crying out in a state of overwhelm. I believe that memory is something that lives not only in our own brains and bodies but also in the very places we inhabit and mark as our own.

There is something else I have also found inexplicable. How did I survive what I did growing up? A friend recently described it as unsurvivable.

The anger and rage I once carried regarding what I endured is long gone. The grief is settling out now as well. I find myself mourning what seems to be the last layer of my layer cake of emotions. I find myself grieving how I endured so much of what I did alone as a child among many dysfunctional adults.

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I invite you to accompany me as I document my own journey of healing. My blog is designed to offer inspiration and solace to others. If you find it of value I welcome you to share it with others. Aloha!