Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Spiral Staircase

"When I entered my convent, I thought I had embarked on a mystical adventure like that of Percival and the other knights of the Grail, but instead of finding my own path, I had to follow somebody else's. Instead of striking out on my own, I had conformed to a way of life and modes of thought that had often seemed alien. As a result, I found myself in a wasteland, an inauthentic existence, in which I struggled mightily but fruitlessly to do what I was told. Even after I left the convent, I continued to follow goals that were not right for me, 'desiring this man's gift and that man's scope.' I had too clear a preconceived idea of what I was supposed to be, and was not open to new possibilities. So again I got lost in the wasteland. I had been repeatedly warned, for example, that I was not suited to the academic life, yet I had plowed stubbornly on. I longed to be like everybody else, with a warm family life and a successful career. But I was no more suited to university or school teaching then to the glitzy lifestyle of the television personality. No wonder each of these enterprises had ended in disaster. These were professions that brought fulfillment to other people, but they were not for me. Now circumstances had forced me to find my own track and enter the forest at a point that I myself had chosen, where there was no established path."

~ Karen Armstrong, The Spiral Staircase: My Climb out of Darkness

I started The Spiral Staircase during my bus ride to work on Monday morning and it had me from the first paragraph of the preface. I have no recollection of how I found this memoir, but it has been a thoroughly nourishing read, reminding me of the intense pleasure of being absorbed in a good book and the honor of being invited into an author's life, shared with honesty and vulnerability. In response to this experience, a section from Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese" has been running through my head this week:

"Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on."