Needing a lift

written Dec ’18

I’m aware that I need something, but I don’t know what. Words that will speak to me, a song that will tap into feelings I can’t honestly feel yet. A voice, a human connection. A motivating force, a point of interest. A hug, an inner jolt, a reminder.

I wake up knowing I need something, but not knowing what or where to find it, where to look.

I assume I need to look outside of myself for something to plug the gap; that I don’t have the thing that I need. It is a belief that places the stopper on the bottle of creative power. It keeps it all sealed in so that not even a hint of the scent can escape.

But in my new life as a new mum I have no choice but to use all the resources that are possibly at my disposal. I can’t afford to keep the stopper in. When my baby cries until I can bear it no longer, I throw myself outside so that we can go for a walk together. And halfway into our walk, I find myself looking up, and remembering: there is the sky, there are the upper floors of the houses, there are the branches that the birds get to rest in. I look up. It’s more like the beginning of a warm up than a move that might feature in an exercise routine, but it makes the biggest difference. Suddenly there is more than there was a moment before. And I am glad to be there to see it: as far as I know I am the only person presently looking at the things I am seeing.

There is unrecorded life at this level. These are quiet streets. I enjoy looking at the still life that each glance is able for a moment to contain.

The psalmist David probably dwelt within a quiet landscape himself, only he will have spent more time out in the open than I do. Nevertheless, he too was aware that looking up and looking around him involved an active, decisive step.

‘I lift up my eyes to the mountains – / where does my help come from? / My help comes from the Lord, / the Maker of heaven and earth.’

The mountains are on a different scale to the man. The eyes have to lift up in order to see them, to see what the maker has made, what He has put in place even in the distance. And yet lifting up the eyes here is still only the question that prepares for the desired answer. Asking the question makes room for assurance: my help comes from the Lord. The rhythm itself holds a calm belief.

Sometimes, though, without looking, a lift can come out of the blue, as a wonderful surprise. The old woman walking towards me stops to talk, and then continues far beyond her initial comment on the weather. I sense her hunger for conversation, and the pleasure of being able to satisfy that hunger purely by giving in to it. Suddenly the day has expanded to include a perspective I was not expecting to find.

I may feel it pretty frequently, but I am not the only one who needs a lift. I notice the bored faces of certain drivers passing down the road. I listen to a friend speak of how the job she loves has worn her down until she has little left for herself.

My newborn is not yet at the stage where she will reach out her arms to be picked up. But already it is the thing that calms her most quickly: lifting her up so that she is at shoulder height, lying flat against your chest. Once she is there it is as though she doesn’t have to fight any more: she has a good vantage point from which to see, she can stretch out her limbs, and she can feel that you are there.

Sometimes it is this simple.

I love Wendell Berry’s poem ‘The Wild Geese’, which ends with the following lines:

‘Geese appear high over us, / pass, and the sky closes. Abandon, / as in love or sleep, holds / them to their way, clear, / in the ancient faith: what we need / is here. And we pray, not / for new earth or heaven, but to be / quiet in heart, and in eye / clear. What we need is here.’  

In his poetic wisdom, Berry places the example of faith in the geese rather than in the human witness. Perhaps the ‘ancient faith’ here is as basic and natural as the ‘way’ that the geese know to fly in. It is the way of clarity, that twice-repeated word, but it is a clarity that also brings comfort to human beings caught up in concern over various and sometimes unspecified needs, in that twice-repeated refrain: ‘what we need is here’.