I’ve gone to the dogs tonight. Or, rather, the dogs have gone to me. Carter is out having a sleep study done, so Mazel Tov and little Toby, whom we’re babysitting for our kids right now, decided they should take up posts on the bed and serve as my protectors this last full night of 2012. Mazel set himself up at the foot of the bed, looking outward into the hall. He’s all snuggled into the quilting like a hen in a nest. Toby was protecting my shoulders, until he decided the room was too cold and he could serve my safety better by nose-shoveling under
the covers down to my feet.
Tonight and tomorrow night, and continuing into New Year’s day—these are the most contemplative days of the year for me. They never incline me toward celebration and libation. These few days always call me down deep inside myself. This morning, I sat in reflective meditation at the Quaker Meeting where I’ve been spending my Sunday mornings lately. One of our reflective queries was to ask ourselves where we had felt spirit/God/mystery moving in our lives this past year. I slipped quietly out of the pews and went to sit against the wall near the floor furnace, letting the hardness of the wall press its strong hands along my cranky back.
For the next 45 minutes, I sat surrounded in the peace and deep comfort that settles over people when they pray silently together…
The Holy One has been generous with my family this year, riding shotgun in the car that carried us all safely to our new Washington home. Our health has held steady. We are making connections in this new place. We have more of everything than we need. In our little rented house, we live like royalty compared to most of the people in this world.
Into the waiting silence, I sent my questions, as I always do: “What am I to do now?”
“Forge your Self in the silence and small things.” The gas furnace hissed next to me, and pipes tlicked like an old clock. I turned the thought over in my mind—small things?
Then, suddenly, I asked the question that I’ve asked myself for years, but have never put to Spirit. I didn’t expect to ask this, because it has alway sounded ungrateful and sniveling to me. But it came tumbling out of the recesses of my brain where it has been tumbling, ceaselessly, for years: “Why did my public voice never become as large as I had wanted? Why was my voice never among the well-known, the famous ones? Spirit, you gave me the talent. Why didn’t I ‘make it’? I have so many things I wanted to share.”
It has not gone unnoticed to me that many people who are on the lecture/television/conference circuit did not have the luck I did along the way—A New York Times bestseller, two interviews with Oprah Winfrey on her radio show, speaking accolades that didn’t quit.
Yet no matter what luck and grace I had, the speaking offers were small and soon dried up. My book sales fell. My workshops canceled for lack of interest. I’ve watched my success disintegrate slowly over the years. Recently, my publisher for the first time turned down a new book manuscript of mine.
In my bones, when Animals as Teachers and Healers became a bestseller, I felt my life’s work had begun. My God, but I was fired up! My passion for my topic was huge, my energy endless. I knew with a knowing beyond faith that I had been given the task of speaking for those with no voice. I knew with total certainty that I had been gifted with the talent and the desire to do it and to do it big for animals and the Earth.
But it never happened. The big kickoff just kind of kicked sideways, and my voice became lost along the way. Oprah said to me, “Susan, you are not like most people.” I thought maybe that was my problem—that I was just too odd to be a true star in the public eye. Hear me on this, please: I was NOT looking for fame for myself. I wanted it—terribly—so that my voice and my message would be big enough to be heard, and big enough to make a difference.
None of this matters anymore, because it is really all in the past, but boy, did that question just fly out into that quiet room! How much energy I have spent turning those questions over and over in my mind: “Why? Why?”
The answer flew back at me just as fast as my brain had spit it out: “That was never your audience. The general public? That was never yours. Yours are those who feel like they don’t belong. Those who walk a different path. Those who are lost and those who grieve.”
I thought about the previous message I’d just been given: “Forge your Self in the silent and the small things.” And I realized that while I feel so drawn to the small and the silent in life, a large, lurking part of me feels that certainly bit is better, and small must mean—on some cosmic level—failure? The truth of that—that small must mean failure—settled in the pit of my stomach with an unsettling, rusty clunk.
Where do we get these foolish notions that drive us from the back seats of our lives where we never get so much as a glimpse of them, until one day when we sit and meditate with a bunch of quakers and then—suddenly—we catch a glimpse of the bastards in the rearview mirror: Small is failure.
My life is small. My writings are delivered in small bites. My house is small. My days are filled with very small activities, no grander than baking bread, or tossing balls for my dog, or breaking open an owl pellet on my back porch, or marveling at this sudden, delicate snowfall I see drifting outside my window just now.
If “my audience” is those who who grieve, who are lost, those who carry a deep love for animals and nature in their tender hearts and feel foolish for it, then I speak and write for the small, because we are most certainly a small band of compassionate dreamers living unseen and unheard beneath the radar of the grinding machine of this Western culture.
What is it to be small, sound small, live small in a big, big world? The answer flies into my heart on swift wings: “It is grace. The silent, the small things—this is grace.
My head if fairly racing tonight with more questions. Why is it that small things and small, quiet ways seem to hold so much depth? How can small mean deep? Does big always foreshadow shallowness? Why did I ever believe that small was failure? Can one live small on a big stage? And what about this word “forge”—such a strong-sounding, action word, all wrapped up in images of metal and fire and roaring bellows.
So here I sit, still as a mouse, pondering images of steel mills and alchemist’s laboratories on this so-quiet night.
What are your questions for Spirit here on the tail end of the Mayan dream year? What answers fly on bright wings to you?