Comfort In Ambiguity

Goldfish jumping outI had a supervisor once who told me “to leave nothing to ambiguity” when I had to explain to others a rather ill-conceived policy he was intent on implementing.

The policy was stupid and counterproductive and I think the people knew my heart wasn’t in it so we all kind of shrugged. Fortunately, he didn’t last long and the others eventually all moved on without rancor. In the long run, I guess I’m the benefactor since I was left with the ambiguity phrase.

It’s all well and good to pursue the nymph of clarity, but I find comfort in ambiguity, in what change can mean. At this stage of my life, I have found contentment without the need for certitude. The liminality of being on the threshold, that space between the passing from one moment of ritual to the next, can be comforting, certainly not disorienting. The malleable moment suits me best.

As our late poet laureate Stanley Kunitz said in his poem The Layers,

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.

Sitting here looking out the window of my “command center” as the cold wind blows and my friends the White Oaks sway, I’m reminded again that nothing stays the same. My doctor just recently told me at my annual exam that the only constant in medicine is change. I wonder whether it is really true that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

What intrigues me most, though, is what exactly is different those first few seconds after change, sometimes momentous change when life is gone, when eyes are closed, and sometimes just the pleasant minor change when friends arrive and later leave.

An old buddy recently told me he was going to show some will power and back off from those second helpings at the dinner table, since he could no longer ignore the change in his waistline. Then we laughed and looked at some dated photos that showed us both as different visitors from another world, a time past that is always with us but we can only visit and never really rejoin. We were two beings that no longer resembled those images, at least in appearance. The physical changes were evident. I even had a dark beard and my waistline also was trimmer.

I look upon my dogs, now resting contentedly by the fire after their meal, chasing those dreamland rabbits. They are fast and quick off the mark. They know where the adventure lies and are eager to join it. You can’t help but smile when you watch a dog in deep sleep, legs in abbreviated motion, little whimpers of something we’ll never know. I stare at them and know that they, too, will eventually change, as will I. I gaze on them and also see the pack of other pups who have graced my life, now long gone to the play fields of the Lord.

How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face,
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.

I am not afraid of change, but I know it brings loss as well as opportunity. It can be the time to mourn, but also the chance to stretch anew, to slough off that old skin and replace it with something different, something with slight changes.

Meanwhile, the fire needs poking as the shadows now start to play across the walls. It’s a comfort to sit by the heat with the dogs eager to join me. They don’t need to talk, just be petted and told they are good lads and lassies. They rest easily, but always have their eyes alert to what is happening, what is changing before them.

With my loved one away and children now grown with children of their own, snug in homes miles away, one can savor the moment to know you’re not really alone. You are simply with yourself, in the (sub)liminal, smiling over those who bring you joy.

Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

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Image: Goldfish jumping out of the water photo licensed by LikeTheDew.com at iStock.com.

David Evans

I'm retired from another life and live in the mountains of eastern West Virginia with my muse Jody along with one remaining dog.  We've decided no more dogs and cats.  Losing them is just too painful. Being independent and no longer in the reins of someone else's driver, I now have the chance to revisit the many people and places that have enriched my life. The good folks at Wesleyan College in central West Virginia guided me to a graduate degree in fine arts in early 2018.  My plan is to use some of the skills I learned from two years in this creative writing program to tell my story.