archipelagos of calm amid a roiling sea
ar·chi·pel·a·go /ˌärkəˈpeləˌɡō/ noun
noun: archipelago; plural noun: archipelagoes; plural noun: archipelagos
- a group of islands. “the Indonesian archipelago”
- a sea or stretch of water containing many islands.
early 16th century: from Italian arcipelago, from Greek arkhi- ‘chief’ + pelagos ‘sea’. The word was originally used as a proper name ( the Archipelago ‘the Aegean Sea’): the general sense arose because the Aegean Sea is notable for its large numbers of islands.
alternative definition: calmus interruptus, in which rocky protruberances, barely discernible in dimension, arise from roiling fluid surface, providing flash of terra firma before which desperate swimmer loses grip, plunges once again into tempestuous sea — alone, afraid, intent on staying afloat. sanctity provided, ephemeral at best.
we turn to the mapmaker’s lexicon — complete with dictionary definition and etymology — because it was the faint and far-between dotted line of rock piles (aka the archipelago) that leapt to mind as the fittingest metaphor for an otherwise nearly indescribable heap of twists and turns, as i tried in vain to keep from keeling over amid this week’s drama of near historic family proportion.
it went something like this:
round about the middle of tuesday, the geography of my interior life morphed suddenly and without warning from restless squatting on the shores of big-enough occasional islands of calm (the sort where you might slow your breathing for as long as five-minute stretches, and in which you might temporarily put at least a shred of worries to the side) to swimming breathlessly through an archipelago of tiny anxious island dots, each one offering maybe a moment’s lull before the waves kicked up again. before i found myself paddling madly to not go glub-glub-glub.
while awaiting the biopsy results of brother No. 2 (see last week’s news), beloved brother No. 3 up and had a heart attack. a real one, a not-so-small one. oh, lordy. (i only have four brothers, so these odds are getting stiff.)
brother 3 — four years younger than me, the father of two young and glorious children — had called mid-afternoon that day (as ordinary as a tuesday might be when awaiting a second biopsy of someone you dearly love), wondering what to do about a terrible case of heartburn, a dyspepsia he was blaming on the banana pepper and hot sauce he had tucked into his lunch and the preamble pot of coffee that had started his until-then ordinary weekday. next thing we knew — and i mean within minutes — there was an ambulance and ER, swiftly followed by OR and days in ICU, all deeply laced with prayer upon prayer.
and i mean hard-knees-against-the-floorboards prayer. the highest octane of beseeching known to this prayerful sister.
as of this writing, brothers 1 and 4 are idly sitting in their homes, where they’ve been instructed to not move, not lift so much as a pair of scissors for fear of fate tap-tapping at their wintry windowpanes.
quite frankly, i’ve found it hard to breathe at various twists and turns in this wildly unspooling narrative. i was reportedly circling room-to-room-to-room the other afternoon, muttering, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” in more exclamatory than prayerful tones. (and i was not previewing the Christmas story.)
a mere week ago, i was finding episodic solace in simple kitchen tasks — slicing onions, plucking cloves. this week, that all went whirling out the window, and i could not have cared less if we swallowed air for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
there is only so much adrenaline one’s itty-bitty fight-or-flight pump can spurt and swoosh through veins. and i’m about to call a truce, to leave my shaky nerves stranded on some unassuming island. which is where the archipelago — or interrupted line of splintered refuge — comes in.
cling is the more appropriate verb in describing my posture when, amid hyperventilation or dizzying projections down the pot-holed road ahead, i catch my breath via one of my ever-shrinking litany of soothing balms. (hot bath; hot bath; hot bath.)
we humans do seem to have a godly bottomline default, a trapeze net for those stretches of our lives when all hell seems to be breaking from the quiet room where we try to keep it handcuffed to the chairs. in those rare quiet spells, when i might be sitting in the dark watching the dance of the candle flame, or folding one lone shirt from the dryer, or glancing toward the moon while taking out the trash, i find my inner gyroscope settling still. i manage an in and out breath. i might even think of something that makes me laugh. (gallows humor is a saving grace; brother 3 mentioned in a text from the ICU that, after a weekend conversation about Faulkner, he’d requested “As I Lay Dying,” from his local library. and then he drolly mentioned “it awaits me now,” fully acknowledging said gallows. God bless his never-ceasing wit.)
the reprieves were short, so short, the fractions of a minute when breath was caught, when fog of fear fugaciously lifted. the rocky seas between made it seem i might not ever get there. might be swallowed whole by swirling waters, pulled down by stubborn riptides.
i’ll get through this tight passage, as we always have before. but, oh my, this december at the start of the twenty-first century’s third decade…it’s a doozy.
here’s hoping we return soon to more quotidian rumblings round the chair.
i mean not a word of this lightly, and fact is, the palpitations just beneath my ribs have not yet quelled. i seem to have twisted myself into a knot of nerves that, as the author of a tome on stillness, is making me feel a wee bit silly. i am employing all my stillnesses, and for the momentary peace they bring, i am deeply deeply grateful. my brothers and i are deeply blessed to be so close, to march through life (especially of late) arms locked and bent into whatever winds we face.
all i need now is for child No. 2 to turn in the last of his string of finals, to prowl the Christmas tree yard for the humblest branches on the lot, and to await the word that things are taking turns for all that’s good and blessed and ripe with hope.
i wish the same for you.
when you’re at wits end, what wraps you in a cloak of calm?
I am so sorry to hear about brother #3. You and your family have far too much going on. I am upping my prayers for all of you. Remember to breathe and keep in mind that all of you have tons of inner strength! Take care!
Thank you, beautiful JACK❤️❤️
I am not clicking the like button on this one… because Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! That phrase was also my parents’ go to when things were beyond their control. A reassuring Trinity to be sure. I am so very sorry, dear heart, that trial upon trial has visited you and yours this year. From missing moving trucks, to mono, to having to miss Mama‘s birthday, Michael’s trials, so much more I’m sure we don’t know about, and now this. If Brother #3 allows, please let us know his name, so we can pray for him by name as well. As for my go-to comfort when life is hard – – I sleep with my ancient and faithful teddy bear, Theo. (Don’t tell anyone.) Love you.
Oh! Dear! Gracious!!! I swoon knowing of Theo ( and of course it reminds me of a certain Theo all my own!!)!!!!
Will send name offline. I try to be very very careful, and haven’t asked permission…
Just what you do… I write, write it all down. The effect is like lancing a boil, letting all the dangerous poisons run out and leaving me to breathe and hope and wait in calm. And then I read…a friend gave me a gratitude journal which starts me on a right path and a great friend (you know who!) gave me the newest Mahoney who always brings me stillness, wonder and joy.
May blessings pour out unabated on you and all in your family.
With love and prayers,
I miss spelled Mahany! Forevermore!f
oh, i love that description: lancing the boil, letting the poisons run out. i didn’t want to clog the chair this morning with another tale of woe, but honestly i couldn’t not write it. it was everything this week. and will take weeks for us to understand, or even absorb, the whole of it. bless you and thank you for those unabated blessings. and merry almost Christmas. xoxox
Breathe and pray! Try and stay calm for you and yours – They need you!
i know, i know. i keep whispering that in my each and every other prayer. dear lord, not now!!!!!!!
Geez! Another Mahany boy goes onto my prayer list, yes. My coping: I experienced a medical issue some years ago and at that time, “Don’t freak out until you have a reason to freak out…and most of the time, there is no reason” was my reaction, which served me well in that situation. After some thought I realized this has been my reaction all my life. Hmmm. Your brothers are in good hands, so I wish you calm – for now, waiting to let things unfold as prayers surround all of you.
Love monkheart’s “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! That phrase was also my parents’ go to.” Mine, too, but my Dad would say it in Polish. I do too.
oh, i think it might especially emphatic in polish. i love the hard consonant sounds in all the polish i’ve heard. feel free to leave clues as to how to say. i might start saying it in all languages. the more, the richer. xoxo
I am surrounding your beloved brothers in round-the-clock prayers, sweet friend… xoxoxoxox
i know, sweet friend, and i feel them all. each and every one. xoxoxo bless you, and thank you. love, me
Oh, man! So sorry you’ve been hit with this avalanche of worry. Sending prayers things get better soon.
it really has to get better soon. and it will. i know it will. (or, at least i sure do hope it will,,,,,she says hedging her holy bets….)
Jesus Kohany! (Dear Jesus! in Polish) Remember you are the eye of the storm: calm amid all the swirling winds. Breathe deep, find peace, pray and practice your Polish….
ohhhhh, dear translator of Polish-English prayer, thank you. thank you. boy No. 2 JUST TURNED IN HIS LAST FINAL so at least that part of me can breathe.
sending love and love. xoxoxo
and Congrats to T on completing semester! Yay! hugs and love.
Wha … what? Yet another brother on the prayer list! It’s apparent this year has thrown everyone in a tailspin, but, to address your query, the one thing that keeps me from leaping off the proverbial edge is prayer. Prayer puts my focus on the Father, who knows it all, sees it all, and is able to do it all. He already knows what weighs heavy on our hearts but longs for the fellowship of prayer. To think that the God who threw the stars and planets in the heavens would entertain my prayer is overwhelming, but the peace I feel when I lift my burdens up to Him is the proof that He’s listening and He’s got it.
I love you, my dear bam. What an honor it is to join my prayers with yours. xox
ohhhhhhh, honey, the way you just phrased that took my breath away: “that the God who threw the stars and planets in the heavens would entertain my prayer…..”
i am going to meditate on that from now till forever.
can you even believe it?!?!?
i love you, too. xoxo
dear all of you, it is the end of a long day at the end of a long week. the last shabbat candle is nearly at the end of its waxy column, the challah half peeking from its cover, the rest consumed with sighs for its deliciousness. i am awash in the comfort blanket of all your kindnesses, here and otherwise.
i stumbled upon an english poet priest, Malcolm Guite, tonight who looks to me something like a hobbit (or the Captain Kangaroo of old), who sounds as if he’s just poked out from his hillside cavern. his words are sending me to the moon. he has an anthology for advent, from Cambridge Press, entitled, “Waiting on the Word,” in which he picks a poem for each day of counting toward Christmas.
this is the poem from a few days ago, a poem by a british poet, Anne Ridler, a contemporary and colleague of TS Eliot (she worked alongside him in the poetry department of Faber and Faber), as well as Dylan Thomas and WH Auden. but, a woman poet in that time, she faded into the shadows of the famed male poets.
it is titled, “Christmas and the Common Birth,” and it was written just before she birthed her own first child. this is my gift to all of you whose hearts and souls might be duly stirred by this poetry and the discovery of this most blessed poet:
Christmas and the Common Birth
by Anne Ridler
Christmas declares the glory of the flesh:
And therefore a European might wish
To celebrate it not at midwinter but in spring,
When physical life is strong,
When the consent to live is forced even on the young,
Juice is in the soil, the leaf, the vein,
Sugar flows to movement in limbs and brain.
Also before a birth, nourishing the child
We turn again to the earth
With unusual longing—to what is rich, wild,
Substantial: scents that have been stored and strengthened
In apple lofts, the underwash of woods, and in barns;
Drawn through the lengthened root; pungent in cones
(While the fir wood stands waiting; the beech wood aspiring,
Each in a different silence), and breaking out in spring
With scent sight sound indivisible in song.
Yet if you think again
It is good that Christmas comes at the dark dream of the year
That might wish to sleep ever.
For birth is awaking, birth is effort and pain;
And now at midwinter are the hints, inklings
(Sodden primrose, honeysuckle greening)
That sleep must be broken.
To bear new life or learn to live is an exacting joy:
The whole self must waken; you cannot predict the way
It will happen, or master the responses beforehand.
For any birth makes an inconvenient demand;
Like all holy things
It is frequently a nuisance, and its needs never end;
Freedom it brings: We should welcome release
From its long merciless rehearsal of peace.
So Christ comes
At the iron senseless time, comes
To force the glory into frozen veins:
His warmth wakes
Green life glazed in the pool, wakes
All calm and crystal trance with the living pains.
And each year
In seasonal growth is good– year
That lacking love is a stale story at best
By God’s birth
Our common birth is holy; birth
Is all at Christmas time and wholly blest.
Adding my prayers to the chorus assembled here for both of your beloved brothers. xoxoxo
xoxo thank you. xox
oh, bam, I don’t know what to offer you. I just think of how fragile we really are, and how our safe, taken-for-granted everyday lives can be upended in a heartbeat, the blink of an eye, the mutation of a cell, a split-second lapse of attention, a bullet, or a thousand other events beyond our control. I wish both precious brothers full recoveries and futures of good health.
bless you, and thank you, dear dear karen. xoxox sooo sooo true. the blessing here is that every cell in me is awake to how precious and fragile it all is, and it’s all condensed to the essence. all that matters, in the end, is the love that binds us. and all the joys and wonders are icings on that cake. xoxox
Wow, Barb… I only now had a chance to read your piece.. I hope everyone is ok? Thinking of you… Sending you strength.. Jacqueline >
thank you, dear JSH. xoxox hope you feel blanketed by your pair of boys. xoxoxo
I thought of you as I finished editing and hit ‘send’ earlier this week, knowing that you would appreciate the most recent publication of my author-boss. I see now that the subject matter is, sadly, much too relevant, and so I hesitate to send the link I had intended. (Philip just completed a paraphrase of John Donne’s “Devotions” from whence originated the phrase “As I Lay Dying”) Know this, Barbie, I am holding you close to my heart, and releasing you afar, among my sky-bound prayers.
I will send you a copy of the book, and meanwhile here’s a preview: https://www.ttf.org/product/devotionsbyjohndonne/ [and the pdf is free if you enter code: COMPANION].
oh, sweetheart, don’t ever hesitate here! i hope this is the link you’d intended to send, as i intend to read. i love this…….and i am hitching a ride on your skybound prayers as they whirl, like that Christmas star, just above my roof.
you do my heart joy to find you here. i sigh a sigh of joy each time i see a chair pulled up to the table, and most especially a chair as sacred as yours.
diving in. uncanny the serendipities….
sending love. always love…xoxox