I don’t know about anyone else, but stories have played a constant and major role in my life. I have come to the conclusion that God figures out how we are able to hear Him best, and then He sets about making Himself known…and for me, some of the most beautiful encounters I have had with God have been in beautiful works of literature.
I often struggle with envy as I read inspired writings of people who seem so connected to the Godhead. ”How do they do that?” I have wondered many, many times. I long to one day be as skilled and intuitive as I search for my own soul’s pulse and tell it’s story.
I will remember reading, “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin for as long as I live. My babies were little and I had put them to bed at 8 o’clock as usual. I sat on the end of my couch for a long night of reading and I couldn’t have know just where this story had planned to take me. Conversely, I never could have imagined all the places I would take it.
For example, I remember reading:
“All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours. I just watched Sonny’s face. His face was troubled, he was working hard, but he wasn’t with it. And I had the feeling that, in a way, everyone on the bandstand was waiting for him, both waiting for him and pushing him along. But as I began to watch Creole, I realized that it was Creole who held them all back. He had them on a short rein. Up there, keeping the beat with his whole body, wailing on the fiddle, with his eyes half closed, he was listening to everything, but he was listening to Sonny. He was having a dialogue with Sonny. He wanted Sonny to leave the shoreline and strike out for the deep water. He was Sonny’s witness that deep water and drowning were not the same thing-he had been there, and he knew. And he wanted Sonny to know. He was waiting for Sonny to do the things on the keys which would let Creole know that Sonny was in the water.“
Shortly after reading this story, my own life became “deep water.” I developed a mantra of sorts over the years, “deep water and drowning are not the same thing deep water and drowning are not the same thing deep water and drowning are not the same thing…”
I began to deal with clinical depression shortly after my second daughter, Lydia was born. I remember being hospitalized once because the darkness had become so deep and so wide… One morning, I awoke after a night of frantic dreams about drowning. In the dream, the water was dark and swirling. I was looking for a friend (I thought) and all that I was able to find in the dark waters were little belongings of mine. But that particular morning, as I sat consumed in my own thoughts, there was a gentleman on the hospital unit with me by the name of Benard. He either was suffering from dementia…or had succumbed to insanity. He was struggling with feeding himself breakfast and without thinking too much about it I sat next to him and started to feed him. I didn’t try to talk to him; I was still consumed with my dream. I was remembering the dark, cool water and wanting to go back to it. As I held the spoon to Benard’s mouth, waiting for him to take his next bite, he looked at me and his eyes cleared. He looked right at me. His entire countenance changed and he pointed and said, “Keep your head above the water!” I sat mute and stared back at him. Again, he said, “Keep your head above the water!” And then he went right back into his delirium. All I could do was quietly whisper, “Okay.”
I wish I could say I got better after that. Life continued, divorce happened, sadness happened, addiction happened, abuse happened, homelessness happened, and lot of loss happened. But I never forgot the words, “…deep water and drowning are not the same thing.” Towards the end of some of my darkest days, that chant sustained me. I’m sure some will say that maybe if I had chanted scripture instead, the living Word, I wouldn’t have been in that shape in the first place. I don’t know. I only know the soothing, sustaining powers of those particular words held me at times when nothing else did.
I wonder sometimes if other people sit and think about some of the things that I think about. I think about James Baldwin a lot. Is that strange? I think that he and I could have had a wonderful friendship. I wonder about that mystical and magical place inside him that he would find when he wrote. I wonder if I have a similar place inside of me? In my mind I ask him, “James, what made you want to “Go Tell it On The Mountain…?” Anyway, that’s just me.
It’s funny the things one teaches her babies without even realizing it. I know many of the lessons I have imparted to my children but I wasn’t prepared to hear my daughter say one day, “My momma always said that there is a difference between deep water and drowning!” Wow. Thank you, Mr Baldwin! I am certain that you never could have dreamed all the places your words would travel in the universe.
I am not as afraid to leave the shoreline and strike out for the deep water as i used to be. While I don’t have all the answers I do know that “deep water” does not have to kill me…it sure makes me a stronger swimmer, though!! And I also know that I am not finished with all the lessons this one short story has to offer. As I continue being distilled in my Process, I know that “more will be revealed” as i re-visit these passages from time to time. I think that I am so grateful that God loves me enough to talk to me in the ways that I can hear Him best; through the magic of words and stories, He continues to woo me and entreat me to know Him just a little better-in the deeper waters.