The Way It Is by William Stafford
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
I came across William Stafford’s poem in April, almost half a year ago. I began wondering, what is my thread? I wasn’t sure it had a name. Oddly (or maybe not) what came to my mind was when my parents were dying and I suspended everything else to be together, my sisters and I, and whoever happened by in those weeks. I’ve always measured other significant experiences alongside these.
I couldn’t name the “it” of the weeks I spent with my Dad when his cancer seemed to take a turn. I had visited him several times after his diagnosis. We’d get Pizza King’s cheese pizza and talk on the way there and back. I was “in the driver’s seat” literally now, a listener, and a caretaker. We shared our love of pizza that took me 40 years to know.
Growing up, I often had a contentious or non-existent relationship with my Dad. After he retired, he moved back to central Indiana, where I had also returned after years away. When I dropped everything and drove the two hours to his house on a Tuesday without plans for when I might return home, I was surprised the going seemed so natural.
For the next five weeks, I was an intimate observer of my Dad’s life and his death. That was an extraordinary gift; I was simply present with him. I didn’t remember my job that someone else was now doing for me. I wasn’t concerned about my husband and young adult children. I didn’t remember the harsh words my sister and I had shared or my younger sister’s distance from extended family affairs. Now we spent our days together as the family we never were.
We weren’t aware of the gratitude that held us. At first my dad joined our easy conversations about uneasy subjects until it was only with his eyes that he loved us, a fact we now believed. We rested in those who brought food and medical care and the steady presence of my Dad’s youngest brother. Gratitude was the divining rod that moved among us that made God’s faithfulness visible.
That’s the uncanny thing. I was taken beyond my circumstance. I wasn’t too concerned about what I should do or think or be or wear or eat or worry about. I imagine now that I held the thread of the possibility for something else, a wholeness that lies beneath even my greatest fears. I somehow opened up to some goodness that was beyond my usual view.
How do I grab on to this thread? I’m not sure but I know it is possible, if even for a moment.
If even for a moment, to grab hold of the thread that frames a different way of seeing. I don’t get lost or react to whatever is happening in my life. And as my compline prayer reminds me: be present, O Merciful God AND Me …so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.