Today in Meeting for Worship, two concepts competed for my attention, persistently and insistently. One was the tapestry of our lives as woven by the Fates. It occurred to me that the fabric of my life has more resembled a knitted throw than a woven one, a fabric that is vulnerable to snags that can pull neighboring threads taut or loose or to one side or another, disturbing their pattern as well. Like a tapestry, the fabric tells a story through a series of discrete scenes, some of them progressing in parallel and some sequentially. There is the story of my professional life, that progresses in parallel to my personal life, my family life, my spiritual life. The tapestry is mine, it has horizontal integrity, yet “I” have all these different facets, all of which progress at their own pace, so that progress is not usually synchronous. Sometimes, they run politely along their separate and parallel vertical tracks, and sometimes the lanes cross. And sometimes, a snagged thread pulls right across all those different facets.
A snag can be caused by the other concept that claimed my attention: F.E.A.R., defined as false events appearing real. Though a lifetime of technical editing has entirely banished imagination from my writing, the ability of my imagination to conjure up false events and react to them as though they were real is boundless, nurtured by a lifetime of immersion in the dour pessimism of the permanent expectation of the next diaspora that my Jewish ancestors cultivated. Fear is one of those things that can pull a nasty snag in the fabric, sometimes across all the parallel scenes, and sometimes across only one or two.
At one time in my checkered career, I was the section chief for the ladies sweater counters at Simpsons in Toronto, and I was taught to remedy a snag so that it would be impossible to know that it had ever existed. The technique involves perfect eyesight and supple fingers wielding a very thin straight pin with a particular type of head and applying gentle precisely calculated tugs on the garment in the vicinity of the snag, coaxing each affected filament back into its original position. As the deterioration of my eyesight and my knuckles has deprived me of the ability to fix snags in cashmere sweaters, the mellowing influence of experience and years has strengthened my ability to smooth the snags that fear raises in the fabric of my life.
Here, the Quaker concept of discernment plays an important role. First, I must discern where the fear originates—am I afraid for my family, for my job, for my spiritual journey? Then I must separate the real from the false, for sometimes (not nearly as often as we believe, but still sometimes) the light at the end of the tunnel truly is cast by something bearing down on us. And now, is that “something” a train or a fellow walker with a flashlight? Or perhaps it is a handcar that can bring me out of the tunnel. Sometimes, as Margaret Shepard said, your only available transportation is a leap of faith.
Then, having laboriously transported myself out of the place of fear, I must look back to see how far that snag has reached to disrupt the other facets of my life. Here comes the art of gentle, intentional tugging that smooths those other scenes back into their original designs. Because there are also real events that have been magnified by a radiating, unrelated fear. Those real events nonetheless exist and persist in their own right, and must be assessed and given their rightful weight. They cannot be dismissed out of hand as the echoes of that great, seemingly all-enveloping fear that I have acknowledged and disarmed, but each must be examined individually and returned to its place in the pattern.
Today’s ministry forcefully reminded me that this is a constant labor, but it is not work that I do on my own. I am supported on all sides by the light within me, and the light of those whom I love and by whom I am loved. As each snag forces me to focus my attention on one scene of the tapestry, the depth and richness of the weaving is revealed anew. I am inextricably supported by that multitude of threads that crisscross mine to strengthen and embellish the fabric: sister, son, Friend, friend—even, truly, the ancestors who bequeathed to me also the stubborn strength of the permanent expectation that the Jews would nonetheless survive the next diaspora, to the despite of all persecution.