Many years ago now, a wise old priest invited me to come speak to his church in Alabama. “What do you want me to talk about?” I asked him.
“Come tell us what is saving your life now,” he answered. [...]
What is saving my life now is the conviction that there is no spiritual treasure to be found apart from the bodily experiences of human life on earth. My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical activities with the most exquisite attention I can give them. My life depends on ignoring all touted distinctions between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the spiritual, the body and the soul. What is saving my life now is becoming more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world.
I read these words a couple of weeks ago, in the introduction to Taylor’s luminous second book, which made me nod and say “Amen” and itch to underline quotes and scribble notes in the margins. (I didn’t, because it was a library book, but I am buying my own copy ASAP and it will be underlined, you can bet.)
Every day since, these words have been ringing in my ears and I’m asking myself, “What is saving my life now?” It has become the question I want to ask people instead of “How are you?” (which we know most people don’t answer honestly anyway). What is saving your life now?
Sometimes the small and mundane saves my life – tangible, life-giving objects like a sturdy pair of re-soled boots or a plate of steaming homemade enchiladas or a mug of tea that heats both my fingers and my core with its warmth. Frequently it’s community, those hilarious texts from my sister or those just-checking-in phone calls from my mother or husband, those chats over tea with my girlfriends on Tuesday nights, those tweets, emails or letters from far-away friends.
Words are the way I make sense of the world, so writing often saves my life: either struggling over my memoir pages for the Glen East Workshop in just over a month (!), or typing frantically on the super-secret project that fills my daydreams these days. Sometimes the books, the inviting stacks of stories and memoir and poetry that cover most of my coffee table, contain the words that save my life on any given day.
Most often, though, all these things add up to the same thing that is saving both Taylor’s life and mine: the insistent call to the difficult but rewarding task of paying attention, of looking other people in the eye, of noticing not only my life but theirs too. What is saving my life now is the practice of trying to live it, even when it is drab or lonely or uncomfortable, so that, as Mary Oliver says, I do not “end up simply having visited this world.”
What is saving your life now? I really want to know.