on proceeding sans words

While preparing for a long-anticipated silent retreat this week, I dove into old notebooks, savoring words long ago encountered and forgotten, because words—even the reading of those in books—must cease for silence to have any hope of approaching my word-drenched mind|body|spirit. I’ve hung my whole soul on words from the outset of my time here, latching onto them as to a mother’s breast, her words, her stories offering me every bit as much succor as any physical nutrition. Or more.

My grandparents, too, started with words and me on Day One. My mother’s mother making the trek to our house from Day Two on in a flour-streaked apron and farm boots with a Pepsi-Cola bottle in one hand and a teaspoon in the other: determined that I should start every day with one sip to put hair on my knuckles and grit in my backbone and a bucket-load of stories that to this day have never been excelled. My father’s father began the stories on Day Two, too, but waited till I could crawl over and stand myself up hanging onto his overall legs and ask for a sip of Folger’s before he paired his words with hot coffee tipped into a saucer and blown on until it was cool enough for me to drink, committing an outright sin (ingesting caffeine) on a dappled front porch and knowing from the start that hell had to be worth it, even if the coffee did taste like dried cow spit (and mostly still does).

They all told stories, Daddy and Mama, grandparents, aunts, uncles, everybody I ever knew: it was our way. Words are my soul’s milk, the very food of my bones. And yet now, faced with a world I can no longer continue to engage as I have for so long? I regularly walk to a place of silence and dwell there. So I am reveling in words this week, and these emerged and begged re-readings for days, these few taken down long ago while reading a book I disagreed with otherwise (on a round umpteen levels and most of the main and minor points, too) and have largely forgotten since, Peter Matthiesen’s The Snow Leopard. These words brought me back to the book two days ago, and to a completely new read of it, word for lovely word, and I am glad, for this formerly rejected book is a good, even fine place to walk from into silence.

Still, though, the plucked quotation, an excerpt from Deborah Love’s Annaghkeen? Holds the heart of my questions.

The flower fulfills its immanence, intelligence implicit in its unfolding. There is a discipline.

The flower grows without mistakes.

A man must grow himself, until he understands the intelligence of the flower.

To proceed as though you know nothing, not even your age, nor sex, nor how you look. T o proceed as though you were made of gossamer . . . a mist that passes through and is passed through and retains its form. A mist that loses its form and still is. A mist that finally dissolves, particles scattered in the sun.

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