When I was seven, my mother, a Catholic convert instructed by the Jesuits, would rise in the darkness and awaken me. It was the darkness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula during winter mornings in the late ’50s.
I don’t remember complaining, though I may have. I do remember her loving attention to how well I was bound against the 5:00 am cold, against its Jack frost crispness, its powder-white snow and spear length icicles.
As she saw me out the door into that solitude, her faith and the times must have assured her. Had she absorbed into her marrow the belief, “This child of mine, a St. Ignatius alter boy, leaves me now and will help serve Mass and return to me”? I always safely repeated the passage home. I always returned to the warmth of her kitchen and the breakfast that carried that same warmth to my belly. For the second time on such mornings, she would watch me march away in the same direction, this time to school in daylight.
If she feared for me on those mornings, she never said so. If she feared for me, it would have been misplaced because the blocks of the journey were repeated again and again without scars, without losses, and without guilt. (I should add; the experience wasn’t entirely without hazard. While midway afoot, a boxer would surge from the shadows and bark beneath a dim porch light determined to treat me as an intruder. Its aggression or defense, mixed with the glass-like, stalactite ice in the boundary of the same dim light, fed fearsome fantasies.)
This was a foray into a world I would call-up as one potent early experience that helped shape my belief in solitude. A seemingly infinite assortment of retreats into it followed over these many years. Within its friendly silence, I learned to treasure detail, reflection, nature’s secrets and poetry. The extent to which this belief was shaped by disposition or disposition was shaped by belief is unanswerable.
What I do know is I see and feel the most when I’m alone. When alone, I tangle with a sublime unrest that only knows and welcomes relief — between rounds — in laughter and in the peopled corners of familial love.
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