We are all frightened of the Stranger.
Probably because the Stranger is not nearly as far away as we think. She can come upon us suddenly, after an act of cruelty, the death of a loved one, or stumbling over an unknown dog in the forest. For no apparent reason, we cross some hidden border and the Stranger is born. In a heartbeat, we do not even recognize ourselves.
Our own fear with a face —that’s who the Stranger is.
And that is what makes her so very dangerous.
People of The Owl
___Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear
My younger sister handed me this book several weeks ago, in a bag of books she had read and dropped off here. I have somehow become the depository of books that my siblings have read and now wish to get rid of without needing to throw them away. My sister knew that I had read most of the other books in this series of fictionalized stories about North American prehistory. She had no idea that I was not familiar with this particular novel, and that her actions would create a bit of an issue for me.
Years ago, I became fascinated with the series and would latch onto the books whenever I came across them. I thought I had read all of them. But, just because I had read all the ones that were available, didn’t mean the authors had stopped creating them. I had definitely moved on to other things, and wondered, when I saw it, if I should even bother to read it.
Would it pull me in as all the others had done? Would I find, within its pages, some message aimed directly at the aspects of life that deeply interest me, or had while I was so engrossed in their pages? Or would I be disappointed to find that I had changed in those intervening years? Would I no longer find those wonderful nuggets of truth and wisdom that had so informed me in the past, turned on the light bulbs of my mind and given me so many filled pages for my journal and different ways of seeing my own reality? My life has become complex and busy and could I afford to distract myself from this new and different routine?
I finally stopped wondering and opened the book to read. And found all the same things that had fascinated me in the past, along with new messages that I certainly needed now. I have not yet completed the reading, but am closing on that quite quickly. There are several passages, like the one above, that have stopped me in my tracks and forced me to think through much of my current situation, as well as many in the past that have brought me to the place I now find myself in.
This blog is essentially about keeping a personal journal in an ongoing effort to know ones own person. As far as I am concerned, one of the most primary tasks of being born human. Within the story, one of the major characters has spent her entire lifetime working toward a specific goal. She has put all of her skills and abilities toward accomplishing that one goal. And as will happen, just as she is about to see and grasp hold of that reality, life steps in and all is changed and altered. She becomes a stranger to herself and to all around her, completely lost in a grief process that resembles dementia. No longer able or capable of taking the position she has worked so hard to attain. She has crossed some unseen border and no longer recognizes her own person, let alone those who surround her.
This isn’t an easy book to read, yet my time, in the present moment, has been freed up so that I can do just that. I have set aside other activities in order to finish it. Those other activities, doodling, writing, making gifts, continue to call to me, but I invariably pick up the book and tell myself I’ll just read one more chapter, and then get lost for an hour or two instead.
I couldn’t possibly pass up the quote that introduces this blog. It holds within it, the very reason I continue to struggle to maintain this space even as my life changes and I am changed by it.
My Mother will be 91 years old tomorrow. She is struggling with a fast and progressive cancer and has been informed (yesterday) by her doctor that she might want to consider stopping treatments and let Hospice make her as comfortable as possible in whatever time she has left. She has refused, until now, to even consider such a thing because that would be giving up and she is not a quitter. She is facing the Stranger inherent in all of us. And we who love her are doing the same.
Meanwhile, I am stumbling through a work of fiction, finding small, but very hard nuggets that lighten the path that I find myself walking on. A path that would seem to end in darkness but for those nuggets my sister so casually dropped into my hands. Illuminate the face of the Stranger I could have been if I had taken another path. I am grateful.