Way up above my study is a meditation loft. There are pillows and an electric tea kettle. A hexagonal window looks out to the ocean off the cliff on which I live and so my pillow faces out that window to the far right. It is a breathtakingly beautiful experience to sit in darkness and then, as the sun rises, to see the ocean slowly arrive like a diva on center-stage with the Cascade Mountains beyond. The Olympic Mountains can be seen a mile away on the other side of the island, behind me.
Today the sea held a distant fog bank. On clear days I can see a neighboring island. From time to time the silence is punctuated by a foghorn from the ferry in the next town over connects our island to the nation. The foghorn can, at times, remind me to stay in the present moment. The base tones feel even better than my bell. The fog reminds me of the Transfiguration – a story I particularly like and which fell this week in our calendar. It was a gentle reminder of the nature of fear. The foghorn, that is. And the feast. Both. And the ladder I use every day to ascend to my little loft. That too.
When Jesus and his followers were on the mountain, and Jesus stood between Moses and Elijah, Jesus lit up like the filament of a light-bulb as the prophets stood on either side of Him like glass-rooted wires and spoke of suffering; of fear. I often think of a light bulb when I hear the Transfiguration story…the Christ-filament, the prophet-wires, the inert gas clouds, the glass ball, the divine current. A hundred sermons could be written about the Transfiguration just from the metaphor of a light bulb.
I ascend my little ladder in the morning before sunrise. Going up is easy, as it was, I expect, in the Transfiguration story. But coming down…that is harder (as it was in the Transfiguration story also, I expect.)
To descend the ladder for breakfast and to walk Kai-the-dog, I need to kneel on the edge of a cliff in my home (which sits on the edge of a cliff on this island!) my back to the study below. I must place my foot on the second rung without being able to see it. And I am naturally terrified of heights. Did I mention that? So there’s that.
The first time I went up to meditate, I was so frightened coming down that I just sat there on the edge with my feet dangling – unsure exactly how I would get down – Kai staring up at me (and seeming to be rolling his eyes.) I even thought of calling the fire department (it’s a block away…I’m sure they would not mind. I could make breakfast before they leave!) The second time I came down, I figured out how to swing my body out, over, onto the ladder. The tenth time, I went down so fast that I forgot, for a moment, that I was afraid of heights. The fear had metabolized into a new kind of energy.
Henry Winkler (the actor known as “The Fonz” of “Happy Days” fame) says that he lives by two words: gratitude and tenacity. Gratitude keeps him joyful and tenacity helps him keep going – to get done what must be done – no matter the obstacle and no matter the fear.
I am grateful to live on an island in Puget Sound as a potter and a writer. And I am tenacious. Willing to fight. Willing to risk. Willing to keep going.
Fear is a very real thing. That ladder terrified me at first. And yet, when I faced that fear – stared it in the face – stayed with it, unwilling to yield to its temptations to freeze – when I stared that fear down by moving right into it – the fear evaporated like a morning fog. And the fog horn gave way to the seagull songs.
This has been a week of fear. Fear in the gospels and fear in the newspapers. I have, I am sorry to report, had to face a lot of fear these past few years. We all have, in different ways. To step onto the ladders of our lives and get on down into the next day takes tenacity. The word “Tenacity” comes from the root word “tenere” which means to hold-tight. And “tenere” comes from the root “ten” which means “to stretch.”
Every morning I stretch to reach each ladder rung. Every day I hold on to each rung as I reach, stretch for the next one. Going up and going down I reach, I stretch, I hold on tight.
Gratitude and Tenacity are two good words for these days in our nation’s reality. I never really thought “the Fonz” would amount to much. I was wrong. Thank you, Henry Winkler.