Today, August 22nd is my birthday. I’m retiring “Crazy Catholic Questions” for the year and my hope is to finish 52 bulletin articles/blog posts over the course of the 52 weeks of my 52nd year of life. This is the first of this series. Your feedback is a very welcome and an essential part of this conversation.
I encountered the work of poet David Whyte for the first time on April 17, 2017. I remember this date distinctly because it was also the first anniversary of my death. Since you are reading this article, it’s obvious I didn’t die wholeheartedly. From all the reports, it looks like I was a goner only between 10-16 minutes. A little context…
In the early morning of Sunday, April 17, 2016 I suffered a cardiac arrest at age 46 years old. Miraculously, my husband who can usually sleep through a freight train, woke and became curious about some “strange gurgling noises” from my side of the bed and looked over just in time to see me pass out and feel my pulse cease. I had stopped breathing and my eyes had rolled back into my head. He and my then 13-year-old daughter took turns giving me CPR until EMS arrived. My best friend, who happened to be visiting from out of town and was staying with us that evening, took care to make sure my other two younger daughters were sheltered from this rather frightening sight. I was shocked twice on the floor of my bedroom but my heartbeat did not return until I reached the ambulance. I spent the next 2 days in an induced hypothermic coma and two weeks in ICU.
What brought it on? Still a mystery. Doctors’ best guess? “Long QT syndrome” ironically caused by the medication I was taking for an irregular heartbeat I’d been having for about a year prior to this craziness.
Some interesting tidbits that I’m sure my family members were reading on google while I was frozen:
The survival rate for an out of-hospital cardiac arrest is 6%. By minute 9 of a cardiac arrest severe and irreversible brain damage is likely. After 10 minutes, the chances of survival are very low. Even if a person is resuscitated, 8 out of every 10 will be comatose and sustain some level of brain, liver and/or kidney damage.
To this you might respond “Well, you came out of this near miss relatively unscathed, so big whoop…” and you would be quite justified in doing so. Many people have suffered much worse with lasting impediments. So why am I bothering to tell you all this? And what in the world does all this have to do with poet David Whyte?
Well, as you might suspect, there was just a teeny-tiny bit to “unpack” after this wild and wacky near-death experience and I was still knee-deep in doing this work of trying to understand and find God in the experience that shook my faith and my family to the core on this first anniversary. Anyway, as I was shuffling the kids off to school, and racing around – showering, getting dressed and packing my bag for work – I was quite unexpectedly stopped and struck by how the sunlight was hitting the sofa in our spare room. I wouldn’t normally notice such a small, insignificant thing, but on this day..at this moment…the sun hitting the couch “just so” felt distinctly like an invitation.
A few days earlier I had caught the tail end of an On Being Krista Tippett interview with poet David Whyte on NPR while waiting in line to pick up my kid from school. Charmed by his Irish accent and moved by some of his observations, I put a couple of his books on hold at the library. I had just picked up the bundle of over 15 books from the library the night before this peculiar invitation via sunlight. I had dumped the pile right next to the sunlit sofa and Whyte’s book Consolations was right on top.
Where ever it is that God speaks within us, I heard quite clearly “sit down Lisa.” So I did.
I picked up Consolations and within 10 minutes it became one of my top 5 favorite books of all time and my fan-girl status as a serious Whyte devotee had begun. I never did make it to work that day. Instead I accepted the sunlight’s invitation, planted myself on our spare room sofa and read the entire book cover to cover. So, now, instead of remembering April 17th as the anniversary of my near-death experience, I rather choose to remember it as the anniversary of when God, via sunlight, introduced me to my favorite poet, David Whyte AND the day the idea for this little creative effort that you are reading now was born and has been percolating in me ever since…
By no stretch of the imagination am I a poet, but the format of this series of articles/blog posts is my little homage to his work and its impact on my life.
Whyte’s book Consolations has the extended title “The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday words.” It is dedicated to “Words and their beautiful hidden and beckoning uncertainties.” He describes the aim of his book to “rehabiliate” certain powerful words that have lost some of their punch.
Consolations invites readers into a poetic and thoughtful consideration of words whose meaning and interpretation influence the paths we choose and the way we traverse them.” My hope is to achieve a fraction of what Whyte accomplishes in his book with 52 words from our Christian tradition, because though we believers THINK we are speaking the same language, I find very often we are most definitely not.
As philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is credited as having said “You cannot enter any world for which you do not have the language.” So, this is my small effort to wonder about, chew on, break open and ponder collectively with all of you some words that are part of our spiritual lexicon that, depending on how we understand them, can alienate us from or invite us into a deeper sense of belonging – to God and one another.
Below is a tentative list of words that I hope to explore over the course of the next 52 weeks. I will likely not tackle the words in this particular order and I have a list of about 75 more, so the list may change. If you have other suggestions please feel VERY welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you!
In closing, a side note. My daughter says she learned CPR from watching Grey’s Anatomy. I very seriously considered not allowing her to watch that show because…well, so many reasons. But, alas, I’m alive and she wants to be a doctor! So, McDreamy? Not to be underestimated!
In Christ, Lisa Abad-Brown
“You cannot enter any world for which you do not have the language.”-Ludwig Wittgenstein