If you’re in the mood for meme-length considerations, I’d move on if I were you. This is likely to be lengthy. It’ll cover some ground.

In the lobby after last night’s show a man outwaited all the other patrons to offer me dramaturgical advice, to wit: the end of the festivities should not leave the paying public where it does, hefting a life’s stonepile of regret. It should release them to the limit defamation of the stars in a night’s sky – where it starts, in fact –  that they might revel without compromise, I guess, and break even on the evening, and perhaps be not afraid. I won’t be taking up the rewrite. Nothing wrong with stoney ground. Nothing wrong with regrets. The chagrin and self loathing normally associated with them is optional.

Today is another travel day. Evening has come. A bellicose loom of rain is gathering above, a biblical boil, a storm cloud of a sky, all greens and greys, scissored by lightning. I’m sitting in the supremely forlorn designer-lite lobby of one of the Quality Inns in Cleveland, in front of an array of snacks and lurid mystery power elixirs only midnight ennui could make compelling. The night clerk is watching a talent show on the television. The inn’s patrons are coming and going, shaking the weather off their shoulders. I’m far from home, soaking up a bit of America. Later the rain will throw itself against the room window like a beast down from the mist bands trying to get in, and I’ll be relieved that this night’s turbulence won’t succumb, will overcome the ghost drone of the mini-bar’s fridge. It’s wild. The storm’ll be out there, on the other side of our plans for reconciliation. Later still there’ll be storm warnings, that long reeling wail, that siren out on the edge of town, the vestige jeremiad that many patrons will sleep through.

Weather’s a storyteller now. Weathermancy – what a storm means, say – is new religion. New to us.

But for now I’m in this lobby wondering, as you may have wondered, what these days are likely to stand for, say, twenty five years from now. It’s a temporal frame I won’t survive, so it’s a serviceable, human scale for me to consider. The mists of time aren’t involved. There’s only prophecy – acute attention to our details, by another name. I’m wondering what those being conceived tonight in the gale will make of what we did with what we now know to be so. There’ll be blasphemies to go along with the blessings, likely, and disownings.

So much of the Nights of Grief and Mystery anticipates the coming on of those young people, anticipates the blight on the bloom they will inherit from these days, grievance drunk as they are likely to be. This summer I’ve run away to the circus for weeks of touring and performing at a time that will carry on into the winter, across borders of polemic, despair and dispute. I’ve brought those young people with me. The stern homelessness of this ordeal calves the mind. You can be dangerously alone with your thoughts, out beyond the fenceline. I think on the near future. And I staunch the temptation to spew on every disturbance and debauch that draws down from the grind of the information bludgeoned conscience. I was asked for opinions and solutions during my working days in Israel, and in Greece and Scandinavia and downtown America during these lucky travels of mine, and I resisted omniscience pretty well. There are places on this earth so sternum-deep in vexation and compromise that it may be kingdom come time before there’s liveable peace in the valley. We have a piece we do called Still. I’m taking Still’s advice on giving advice.

You’re wise if you choose your words, wiser still if you’re deliberate with their tone.

But you don’t get to choose their meaning. That’s like choosing what people mean. You choose among them instead. Meanings are things you inherit, and then perhaps treasure, perhaps squander, perhaps forget.

The etymologies say that our word saunter has no traceable story to tell. It has a current meaning – a casual kind of a gait, something those extraordinary Ethiopian runners might use to finish 1/2/3 in the long distance Olympics. The word today has insouciance, plenty of attitude.

With little to no authority, I’d like to imagine that tone comes skewed and hesitant from an undocumented ancestry, one that describes how you move when you’re traversing holy ground and you know it. Saunter could have been partly acknowledgement, partly detonation, partly awe and overwhelm. All of these tones are out of fashion in a personal truth era. Emptied of their awe, saunter turns into something closer to slouch. That’s an outsider’s take on the marvel which is sauntering. I’m going with saunter: awe in the ambleGod in the architecture. Brailing your way through the rooms of the Big House, the Holy House.

We’re in wicked times. They are other things too, but they’re torqued and drawn. Hurt is currency. Historical memory is grievance in the bank. Transgression is more enduring than grace. Hard days.

Fires and floods are more than weather come round. They’re revelator spirits now. They are the tailings pile of our neglect and unwillingness to abide by limits. They peel the eyes open. They prize ancestral flesh from bone. They are making new kinds of sanctity, scorched and besotted, smeared and seared sanctity, untouchable, unapproachable, personal burning bushes, psychic no-go zones, mitigated holy lands capped by gold-leaf domes of anguish and grievance. Fires and floods are cultural patrimony now, vestments, holy cloth, fortune tellers, prophets unto themselves. We’ll see if they become craven images, whether they’ve already been seized by opportunistic psychic real estate conglomerates for retread and resale. Or maybe we won’t see. Seeing isn’t inevitable.

I was taken to Auschwitz some years ago by a Polish woman. The devastation of the unconsidered in me was utter, relentless. The place enforces sauntering. Just the weight of it, and the perimeter wire. What undid me most, though, was the parking lot outside the famous gate, and the snack bar in the basement of the ticket kiosk. Just the ordinary fact of them. They were completely understandable, predictable even, but they muddied the holy ground some. I remembered then Elie Wiesel’s dismissal in an interview years before: ‘I have nothing to say to the perpetrators’, I recall him saying then. ‘The victims are my business. The perpetrators are yours.’ And I mourned the all but-insurmountable apartheid of the thing.

Maybe a slower gait is called for now, something hesitant, less strident, something that defers a bit to mystery. Maybe catastrophe is called for, etymological catastrophe: a woven thing, a way made for us by those who came before, for going down and into the mystery days.


Stephen Jenkinson

Founder of Orphan Wisdom