Dumbfounded: to be filled with astonishment and perplexity. Around 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon, I dressed with an extra layer against the autumn chill, put on shoes instead of sock-less Birkenstocks, checked for reading glasses and cash in my shoulder bag, and took my body for a walk. Two weeks after surgery I felt ready for a test-drive.
At two points along the way downtown I experienced a rush of pure sensations — within and outside of my/self. In fact, there seemed to be no boundary between one and the other. Simply and purely waves of awareness. Around me I noticed rays of sun on my face and hands, maple trees lining Pandora Avenue, two tall buildings, parochial St. Andrew’s Elementary advertising “Kindergarten: everyone [?] welcome,” people scurrying past the homeless shelter, a security guard outside the music academy next door, cold air touching my exposed skin, an overall sense of well-being, of convalescing: simultaneously vulnerable and confident. I stood still and wept.
A while later, staring at the shelves inside Russell Books, the monk Thomas Merton (1915-1968) came to mind. During a rare excursions outside the monastery, en route to a doctor’s office, he experienced an epiphany*:
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. …
This changes nothing in the sense and value of my solitude, for it is in fact the function of solitude to make one realize such things with a clarity that would be impossible to anyone completely immersed in the other cares, the other illusions, and all the automatisms of a tightly collective existence. My solitude, however, is not my own, for I see now how much it belongs to them — and that I have a responsibility for it in their regard, not just in my own.
*epiphany: “sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience” (www.dictionary.com). text source: “Conjectures of a guilty bystander,” in Cunningham, L. (2002). Thomas Merton, spiritual master: the essential writings. Paulist Press, p. 144. image credit: Autumn Maple Blaze trees by Erik M. Lunsford.