Event Details

Birth & Death Among Us with Stephen Jenkinson and Kimberly Ann Johnson

Part 1/3 of an 3 part on-line conversation on successive Sundays starting January 15th

R e g i s t r a t i o n link ($225 Regular Price).

You’ve misheard your spouse.

In most people’s’ worlds – even the morally and ethically single, even the polymorphous – those four words spell out foreboding, and things going sideways. ‘Giving’ heading off in the direction of ‘misgiving’. Or worse.

A while ago my wife’s birthday was coming on with haste. She’s a person prone to giving herself. I don’t know why this makes her hard to gift, but it seems to. I made some idle chatter designed to lay bear some subtle longing or striving she might have, something missing from the house, or from her life. To my utter mystification, I swear she mentioned a piano. As in: it’d be something to have a piano in the house.

Noted. A big ticket item, but okay. Somebody knew somebody who was a piano restorer for an orchestra somewhere, and as easy as you please I’d lined up the piano of her dreams, as I understoood them. On the day of the reveal, she clarified my mishearing. What she’d said was: it’d be something if you had a piano in the house. So, I got myself a piano for her birthday.

Most days since then, when not on the road, I’ve sat a bit of penance at that piano, trying to play something on my wife’s secret birthday gift that she might enjoy. A piano is a symphony, a universe, a marvel. I regret that I came to have one so late in my term. A piano that is in tune has this marvelous quality of stillness about it, a sonorous quality that amplifies while the notes ebb. It’s a presence that leaving leaves, you could say. The piece on stillness I did for Swedish filmmaker Mathias Olsson happened around that sound, that ebbing, that quiet around the sound. Still:

So you pray for clarity. And you get it.
And it’s too much.
So you pray for mercy instead. And you get it.
And it’s not enough.
So you pray for clarity. And you get it.
Still too much. So you pray…

There is a real kinship in things that seem opposite. I knew from early on in my term in the death trade that I had a vocational kinship with midwives, for example. Something approaching a devotional kinship. We looked from the outside as though we were working on opposite ends of life. We knew otherwise, without speaking about it much. It was a hunch.

But it seems that it took me taking up with Kimberly Ann Johnson that the kinship clarified, intensified even. As is her wont with me, she has so far traded quietly upon her expertise in post-partum health, in our book Reckoning, and in our public appearances together. I’ve begun to see some things from those death trade days all over again. Particularly this: arrival of the long-awaited in death and in birth, the unwinding of the great torque, it has an abiding echo to it, a kind of stillness that doesn’t collapse, doesn’t fold in on itself, doesn’t end. The death, and the birth: they are bringers and takers. They make things be. They call up water from the depths when the people have forgotten their thirst.

So, on three Sundays starting the fifteenth of this month, Kimberly and I will take up this kinship of things that seem to end and things that seem to begin. Something like a two-handed symphony. In real time.

Stephen Jenkinson
Founder of Orphan Wisdom