By Lindsay Sanwald
Composed on October 18th, 2020 for “Climate of Unknowing,” a Harvard Divinity School class taught by Terry Tempest Williams & Dr. Diane Moore.
It’s hard being a time traveler. Everyone calls me First Generation. It’s an odd name, considering all the others who came before me. My oldest knowns crossed the sea on a ship called Faith close to 400 years ago. This is a true story.
My parents: the Acrobat and the Secretary. He worked as a lifeguard in his youth. She almost drowned three times in hers: thin ice, ocean, high school pool. She ended up drowning herself in drink. Ours is a plague of loneliness. We will need rescue and rehabilitation.
Deep end kick. Keep swimming. Meditation is a free swim.
I learned CPR yesterday at a homeless shelter. On a computer. A virtual Sim game of survival. 30/2, mouth-to-mouth chest pumps. Holy moly do I miss mouth-to-mouth chest pumps. The loss of touch. The monotony of catastrophe. This is an emergency. Check the scene. Call for help. Clear the way. Count out loud. Dive your hands two inches into the heart. CPR is a voodoo witch doctor life-saving ritual. Life is the magic of repetition. Am I sustaining, or am I dying? Or am I just being born? Everyone calls me First Generation. I speak a letter and it clocks in at 9 minutes and 11 seconds. 911, what is your emergency? I am coming to my own rescue.
“If you don’t feed me soon I’m going to die of starvation,” says a chubby 3-year-old me to my mom in bed. She laughs about this memory, making fun of my endless appetite. It is not funny. I am a hungry child.
Goddammit, give me a lover! I want! I want! I want!
“Well, then,” says Buddha, “You shall suffer, suffer, suffer.”
My aches become my alphabet. I spell out what I wish. I remember the feeling of my first enlightenment. I was a child looking into opposite facing mirrors, beholding my first glimpse of infinity. It sparked a silent three-part chant…
“I — am — me.”
Over and over again…
“I — am — ME!”
“I am me! I am me! I am me!”
This quiet repetition rushed me into a loud mental crescendo of awe at my own existence, ever-extended in the reflections. One easy utterance rapidly brought me to the un-utterable.
“I am” sounds close to OM, to Amen–these primordial prayer phrases meant to get us beyond the phrase. I think of OM as an express train to our higher tuning. It operates like a password–if you enter the code correctly, access is granted, and the accelerated ascent begins. This mystical syllable is both utterly simple, and infinitely complex. Anyone can voice its vibration, but the tone will go nowhere unless one is devoted to getting lost in its utterance. OM maps the course from the gross to the subtle, from the obvious to the invisible. It serves as a compass pointing to the infinite in. It is spiritual CPR.
OM lives in the heart and has component parts: A — U — M — a beginning, a middle, and an end, followed by a silent pause before the beat re-starts again. A is associated with Brahman, the creator; U goes with Vishnu, the sustainer; and M is indicative of Shiva, the destroyer. The holy trio of Generator, Organizer, and Destroyer: G — O — D.
I am learning how to start, sustain, and die.
I feel the tingly pain of my paint drying, the concrete set of my being. This is wet cement — Don’t touch (somebody please touch me). I blow on my colors to cool, to dry my cries. I had gotten used to mirage, but then getting a little sip of water made me stark mad. I remember learning about concentration camp survivors who after rescue succumbed to death from eating or drinking too much, too fast. Be careful how you replenish. Mind the tinder.
To make sense of my broken home origins, I use a semi-soothing metaphor: I imagine that my entire family died in a hallucinated house fire while I just happened to be out on a walk, narrowly avoiding the flames. I celebrate my survival, but nowadays, I’m beginning to wonder if I even made it out alive? What if I am one of those confused ghosts who thinks she isn’t dead? Someone please remind me of my own flesh! I am a burning building, touch-starved and love-hungry. This hollow throb is a smoke signal, a God call.
My Catholic grandfather (mother’s father) quit seminary to marry/fuck my grandmother. They needed touch, too. My coming into being would not have happened had his holy hunger not been fed. Pious pioneers. Oops. Opus. Generation. Destiny doesn’t forget. Today, wide open, I get to write the magical spell: I AM.