While taking notes at Saturday afternoon’s neighborhood association meeting, I asked questions to clarify, that is, to understand the statement or situation more clearly. Being the secretary-treasurer, I wanted to be sure that the minutes were comprehensible to those present and absent. Events like this tend to clarify who we are. So, who am I?
Clarify who I am: a believer
Did you read Frank R. Stockton’s “The Lady or the Tiger?” when you were in school? The short story was in our eighth-grade anthology for Mrs. Steinley’s English class. Here’s a summary.
A “semi-barbaric” king discovers his daughter has a lover, a man below her station. As punishment, the king orders a public trial by ordeal. In an arena, the man must choose between two doors. If he’s lucky, he’ll choose the door behind which is a lady, in this case one of the princess’ attendants, who the man must marry on the spot. Behind the other door is a starving tiger and sure death. No one knows which door hides his fate, except the princess who made it her business to find out. Her lover knows this and looks to the princess for guidance.
The plot thickens. The “semi-barbaric” princess hates the lady, who she suspects is in love with the man. Although the thought of her lover’s death haunts her, seeing her lover happily married to the hated waiting lady seems to pain the princess more. But either way she loses. By the time of the trial, she has made her decision and gestures to her lover without hesitation. The author asks, “Did the tiger come out of that door, or did the lady?”
Mrs. Steinley asked our class the same question. Everyone yelled, “Tiger, Tiger, Tiger!” except me. Why did I raise my hand and vote for the lady? That short story in my eighth grade English class on that day helped clarify the person I wanted to be: a believer in goodness. My classmates made much of the princess being “semi-barbaric,” as did the author. But, I wondered, weren’t we “civilized” folks only one step away from barbarism? Weren’t all humans “semi-barbaric?” As I studied history and watched the news in the mid-60s, that point seemed pertinent—and still does today.
In eighth grade, my thinking wasn’t quite that sophisticated, and in truth, I was an atheist, though I hoped for something more. My classmates rightly accused me of being naïve, a Pollyanna. And yet, I stood up for hope that day, for the potential we “semi-barbaric” people have for kindness and courage when we find ourselves in an arena having to choose between bad and worse for ourselves, or good and bad for others. I wanted to think that I, like the princess, could choose what seemed more painful to us in order to do good for others.
Clarify who I am: a list-maker
Every day, I list what I plan to do—network, chores, workout, meals, devotion, write, read, practice—because I am a list-maker. Meh, huh? As it turns out, I can put my obsessive habit to good use.
- To clarify your concerns
- To name what you want
- To decide what to let go of
- To discover subtle layers of feeling
- To claim what gives you joy
- To dispel a few fears
- To explore implications
McEntyre’s lists encompass spirituality—laments, poems, prayers, pilgrimages, litanies.
Imagine, for instance, a litany of release—a ritual of dropping the regrets you carry one by one into a deep, clear pool of divine forgiveness where they will be dissolved. It could be as simple as a list naming the regrets: “Things I didn’t do for my dying father” or “Unkept promises” or “What I would do now.” Such a list could also be elaborated into an actual litany, each line ending with “I ask and receive forgiveness”: “For the preoccupation that kept me from paying attention when my child was in pain… I ask and receive forgiveness.”
Today, while pulling weeds, cleaning, attending Bible study, walking dogs, grocery shopping, doing laundry, and more, I plan to think about the ways I love God, my family and friends, my life—to claim what gives me joy. The next time I’m fearful or just plain vexed and don’t want to let it go, I’ll pull those lists out of my back pocket and create other lists: “For [who and/or what], I give you thanks.”
Clarify who I am: a writer
On June 19th 2011, in a fit of narcissism and anxiety, I posted my first blog. What if the world doesn’t like what I wrote, I wondered. I needn’t have worried. Hardly anyone read that first post, except my mother and only because I sent it to her.
“Social networking is marketing, and social networking begins and ends with a blog,” my marketing instructor had said. But marketing isn’t my most compelling reason to blog. So why do I blog? Another list:
1. I blog to think
2. I blog to practice
3. I blog to publish
Once every week, usually Monday, I click ‘Publish.’ In so doing, I hold my feet to the fire both in keeping to that self-publishing schedule and in writing the best I can on that day. I could emphasize marketing and social networking more, but that’s not why I blog. To bastardize Descartes, I blog therefore I write.
I believe therefore I am, which brings me to the second definition of clarify: to melt butter in order to separate out the water and milk solids. Isn’t that’s what happens during our fall season? Here above as the deciduous trees separate from their leaves, the evergreen pines and mountain laurels clarify, like believers, list-makers, and writers.
Linkup with Five Minute Friday: https://fiveminutefriday.com/2023/10/19/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-clarify/
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