Last night I caught just a bit of a Minnesota Public Television program with Kevin Kling. Kling, a Minnesota storyteller of great accent and great talent, was speaking to On Being host Krista Tippett about resiliency.
Kling was born with physical disabilities, but they didn’t limit him. Then in 2007 he was in a near-fatal motorcycle accident. The recovery was long and hard, and has given a spiritual depth and weight to his storytelling, which before that was mostly humorous and nostalgic.
Kling told Tippett he looked up resiliency and found it means “keeping your shape.” The twisted nature of his body after the accident, painful surgeries and a full brace, and in the end paralysis of his right arm, the arm he had used for most tasks, tested that shape. And in the end, he didn’t come back to his shape, but rather grew into the new shape.
One must live.
I have been tested in my life, no doubt. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and came through a divorce. I have been disappointed that my writing hasn’t found a wider audience, even as I’ve persisted in writing and arranging my life to make writing possible.
But I have not been physically challenged before this cancer fight. The procedure to insert the port for drug delivery was the first time I’ve ever been operated on in any way. And it will not be my last operation.
There is a poem in my new book which I almost didn’t include because it seemed a little overly dramatic. In the end I included it as part of the trajectory about my divorce and remarriage, a sort of turning point when I came to Minnesota. It opens like this:
After two years of so much loss
it had the shape of a country song—
my car crashed, my husband and my cat
run away, my job, my home put in storage,
the friends that fell silent or chose sides,
the in-laws and an in-law’s child taken
by the State and no words to sing it—
God would have had to start carving
from my body itself to take more.
Some days I’d start to speak and lose my breath.
The loss after that divorce was emotional. And it was a space I could navigate well. I was surprised to find out how solid I am, how much I remained myself through that loss. I always felt myself intact. The poem is called “I Greet the Fall” and here’s the rest:
I left the sad crowded shore of California
and moved to a place where the leaves fall.
And the leaves fell slowly to the earth,
spinning and floating in twos and threes
down to the still surface of the lake.
Overnight they dropped and blew around
until they covered all the ground.
It did not feel like loss at all.
The birch trunks were such a glory,
the gnarled branches of an oak by the water,
the two maples still themselves
without their party dresses on.
Someone built a fire one night in my yard
and I saw a shooting star, even that.
The frost formed like white moss
and I found myself not alone
in singing and celebration.
In the natural world, signs of resiliency. Maple trees without leaves are still maple trees. In fall, loss that does not feel like loss but has its own beauty, and provides an opportunity for celebration.
The lines that have come to mind recently are the ones about carving something out of my body. That is something I have been spared. My body has always been strong, well-nourished, kind to me. It has not required much care, and it has done whatever I asked of it.
Again, I am glad for the things I’ve done with my body. I have not stood back from cold water on a hot day. A friend sent this photo of me in a creek. We were on our way through the Badlands of South Dakota and pulled over. I quickly changed into my bathing suit to jump in, while my friend held back, thinking it was too cold. What joy, a rushing creek.
I did my backpacking and hiking in wildernesses. I tramped on snow in snowshoes and cross country skis. I did not do anything risky or life-threatening. But I have heard snow sliding down the sides of a tent. I have seen the night sky undisturbed by light pollution. I have ridden waves and climbed high. It was not always in my comfort zone to be in those places– I hate bugs, especially mosquitoes. My feet are flat and I’ve whined under the weight of the pack. There are plenty of things I have not done. Some of them I might still do, but most of them I don’t even want to do.
Still, I believe in resiliency. I believe we keep our shape, or grow into the new one with plenty of opportunities for pleasure and selfhood. We continue to be physical beings in community and in nature.
Today, the temperature went up to 62 degrees, a record for March 11th in this town. I walked a bit, and went outside to the cold frame, which was full of warm, dry soil. It needs to be watered, and it is time to scatter seeds for greens. It will snow again next week, but the greens can wait it out beneath the frame and adjust to spring high and lows, and then, maybe in just one month, we will eat. It is that time of year– when the soil is ready to be worked.