14 January 2011

ii. On be(com)ing a hermit

Reader reactions have varied with regard to my previous post in which I share a soul-deep desire to be more of a hermit this year and spend time writing, far from the madding crowd. (See “Year of the hermit.”)
Yesterday a friend in warmer climes (who calls me Anne, possibly because of my simple letter-writing ways and passion for books, my fondness for Canadian author L.M. Montgomery, my river of flow’ry words—many and unapologetically fast-flowing—and my hidden red-haired temper!) sent me the following in response. With permission pending (!) I am taking the liberty of posting some of her thoughts, in particular the Merton quotes she so kindly sent:


I read your writing on being a hermit and I was (and continue to be) deeply moved.
First off, you are following your vocation to be a writer. You are a writer, gifted and blessed. You go, girl!
Secondly, you are listening. You are following. Into the dark wood. Into the dark night of the soul. Into transformation.
I have been reading a little of Thomas Merton this morning. (You may appreciate his hermitness—balanced and authentic.)

“Only the one who has had to face despair is really convinced that she needs mercy [inclusive pronouns added by my friend]. Those who do not want mercy never seek it. It is better to find God on the threshold of despair than to risk our lives in a complacency that has never felt the need for forgiveness. A life that is without problems may literally be more hopeless than one that always verges on despair” (The Pocket Thomas Merton, p. 124).


“…the secret of imperfection of all things, of their inconsistency, their fragility, their falling into nothingness, is that they are only a shadow of the one Being from Whom they receive their being. If they were absolutely perfect and changeless in themselves, they would fail in their vocation, which is to give glory to God by their contingency” (The Pocket Thomas Merton, p. 120).

I have always recognised your inner hermit, Anne. It warms me in an unexpected way that you are honoring her. Might I strongly and humbly suggest that you journey with a spiritual director who is familiar with the contemplative life?
You are beautiful. You inspire me with your writing, with your life. You make this world a much truer and more colorful place.
I miss you. I honor your choices, your changes, and if I am one of them, I accept that (though not without sadness).
May our gracious God bless you and keep you, Anne; may He make His face to shine upon you and bring you peace.

(And my faraway friend signs her name.)

In an adjacent province, GPDM, my buddy-since-high school and university daze, and fellow sesquipedalian (lover of polysyllabic words), writes:

Dearest HC,

I just read your online posting and believe this is a wise and healthy choice for you. Well done on communicating it clearly and unapologetically to your friends and broader social circle.
I look forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks and hearing as much (or as little) as you feel like sharing.

Recently when feeling vulnerable after being told by a fellow Canadian for whom I feel deep and abiding affection that I talk too much (no, really?), am too intense and push folk away with my many words, with no room for misunderstanding, this same gentle neighbour across the Rockies wrote to remind me of all the people I had not pushed away but invited in over the years:

I mean, let’s look at the evidence—how many people do you have in your life? How many people seek to spend time with you, seek your input on things? How many people find your energy indicative of your joie de vivre?
If anything, sometimes you have to flee from people to get some time for yourself and the really important friends (looks at self in mirror and smiles). Your liveliness is a delightful contrast to the lukewarm, complain-about-every-little-thing mindset that characterizes large swathes of society.
The thing to say to this person is: “If I agreed with you, we would both be wrong.”

Problem was, I did agree with this fellow pilgrim, and went into hiding for a time; out of self-defence I stopped writing—even stopped speaking for days at a time. I was filled with sorrow and suspicion, asking myself far too often when in the company of others, “Are they being polite? Enduring me rather than enjoying my company? Am I pushing them away?”
I am well aware that I have a lot to learn, a lot of s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g and growing to do, but on the whole, I also realise that I am who I am; my personality is basically the same as it has always been. I haven’t undergone any dramatic character changes since childhood (although I did choose to align my identity with Christ as a young adult: and day by day I am learning more fully what that means).

A local coffee companion from Calgary, delightful kindred of the past decade, and bottom-drawer author (one who writes but doesn’t share her verbal brilliance—yet!) asked the following question in an e-mail:
“Aren’t you taking that remark about too many words too seriously??”

Yes, I did over-react rather, didn’t I? But I’ve wanted to do this—break away a bit from my routines and abandon myself to writing—for a long, long time already. Regular readers have seen this, heard this.

My friend continues:
“Actually, my first reaction to your declaration of becoming a hermit was—envy!”

Funnily enough, she’s the third to admit as much. That’s understandable; many writers (and parents of wee ones!) wish to exhibit hermit-like behaviour at times, I think; life doesn’t always allow it, though. I’ll have to see how it goes.

She concludes:
“I understand to some extent, but remember to strive for balance—and remember all the love that surrounds you.”

Yes, a wise word. A kind word. {Thank you, J.}
I have not been striving for balance of late, admittedly; I have been decidedly unbalanced. And strangely, peacefully content in my state of (temporary) disequilibrium.

I need to remember on “dark nights of the soul” that I am (over)abundantly blessed by a wide array of loved ones who value and cherish who I am, and when I clash with someone very different from (or similar to!) me once in a blue moon, I need to “build a bridge and get over it” {thanks for the expression, JD}.

And that is all I have to say about that. For now.