Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Walking the labyrinth

Every week, or at least as many weeks as I can and when the weather is clear enough to be outdoors, I walk the labyrinth I have found near here.

The surrounding landscape is scarred, of course, by development: the tops of the hills carved out for housing developments, the surrounding woods second-growth, obliterating what farmland used to be here. The drone of cars on Rt. 173, and probably on the interstate, is incessant. The Baptist Church, in whose backyard this labyrinth exists, is stark, modern, rising impossibly out of the hillside.

But these Baptists are generously hospitable, providing this set-apart place for my quiet, weekly walk. I am most grateful. Walk in, listen, walk out. 

Today I carried brokenness along with me. Recent revelations here in Syracuse, accusing a college basketball coach of sexual predation, are disturbing. At first, there was much pooh-poohing of the charges -- the alleged predator is well known, well traveled -- aren't they always? Sexual predation harms and involves everyone -- in the seduction, the denial, the secrecy. No one is culpable, except the predator, and yet no one feels clean.

The rocks which make up the path of the labyrinth occasionally break into pieces. Water, the great destroyer of everything we know is solid, gets in through a crack and when it freezes is powerful enough to break the rocks open. 

Today I found the cracked-open ones beautiful. Everything is cracked. Abuse and trauma breaks us all up. We are shocked when we hear of the death of friends, the heart-breaking illness taking over those we love, the fear of loss. 

Things break apart, yes, but only then do we see how well everything fits together.

When I moved back here to Central New York, I re-read the stories of John Cheever, brilliant chronicler of the discontented and worried suburban middle class. 

In a posthumously published collection of essays and reviews, John Updike wrote this: "The joy of the physical world, so often extolled in his fiction, and the triumph of his rise from an impoverished young immigrant to New York City to star literary status afforded him, it seems, far from enough comfort."  The reviewer in the Times, still quoting Updike, continued, "Cheever's characters, too, he writes, are 'desirous, conflicted, alone, adrift, ' unable 'to achieve the crystalline stoicism, the defiant willed courage, of Hemingway's.'"

Cheever peers through the cracks in our social facade. We yearn for wholeness, yet are confronted day after day, in newspaper headlines, in the books we read, among our friends, in our own memories, with assaults on our confidence. 

Walk the labyrinth. There is one path in, one path out. Along the way, the pattern emerges and recedes. Sometimes you know where you are, and sometimes you do not have a clue about how you got here. But there, in the middle, in the silence, is a glimpse, a whisper, a breeze, a hint. What to do now? Take another step.