When I in doubt, back when I was a child of faith, I prayed to God—white-haired, father-figured and slim-Santa like—to take a personal interest in my problems and intervene in my favor. As a maid, after the father-figure faded, I forwarded my quandaries as to which way to go, which decision to make, which road to follow, to the Universe. Communicating via an esoteric system of symbols and signs, the Universe, I believed, would guide me to the places, all favorable, where I was supposed to be to fulfill my purpose. Now, as an adult, having found mostly fettered favors from fathers and myself situated in a universe indifferent to my flourishing I recognize these approaches have been contrivances. In one hand a magic feather, in the other a baby blanket, and over my eyes willful blinders all functioning to comfort me in the face of Uncertainty.
The stratagems of God and the Universe absolved me from the responsibility of thinking or attempting considered judgment when facing (as usual) partial information. My senses and sense atrophied under their influence. Appealing to God and the Universe to satisfy my wants and needs avoided accepting the inherent cruelty and necessary opportunism in my acts of self-serving survival. Their coddling authority rocked me to sleep in the self-satisfied justification that whatever happened, happened for a reason and that in the end, everything would be okay. For me.
I set down the feather, outgrew the blanket, and removed the blinders and discovered myself naked and alone among uncountable others, each of us facing uncertainty on every side. Without these devices, I had to own that my present position was due to the collective and uncoordinated activity and responses to and of every inseparable agent all around and through me: animal, mineral, vegetable, and those in-between. Startled awake I saw nothing happening for reasons, only things happening and not happening. I saw nothing was okay, it just was, and would be until it wasn’t. Decentered I found myself to be simultaneously liberated and bound. Unfavored by God and the Universe, I found myself in and a part of the vertiginous predicament of Uncertainty; terrifying, but not without magic and wonder.
Last Friday morning sometime around 8:45 there appeared a rainbow on a wall in the room where I write and study. I’d never seen one there before even though eight years prior I had contributed an act that—given other actors and conditions—could produce such an event.
I had placed a prism in the narrow window of this room. The window, shaded by evergreen trees allows sunlight to enter, sparingly, and only directly for a mere 10 minutes each winter day when the sun is cold and low in the sky. The prism, like several others in my home, was a gift. All of them gifts from loved ones who answered my cry for rainbows in my room when death was near me. As the sun transits east to west, its light shines through the windows and scatters rainbows, transient and ephemeral, inside my home. The minutes of their emergence and their location in this space varies with the seasons such that even though I know why they are there each manifestation surprises me still. Like magic.
I had never seen, or more likely never noticed a rainbow in this room before. As it slid down the wall and faded in its intensity, a tree branch intercepted the sunlight and cast its silhouette for a moment over the redorgangeyellowgreenblueviolet. Bobbing, swaying, dancing side to side the limb moved by the wind entered my eyes. I was not in charge of the affair, only a witness to a collective event. I had contributed the act of crying for and then hanging the prism many years ago. And the planet tilted so the sun swung low on the horizon, a breeze blew and a branch resisted. My loved ones responded to my plea for light and color. And someone, somewhere, sometime made the prism. And 20 years ago the previous owner of this house planted its trees. 44 years ago I was born, and 70 or so years ago so was the loved one who gifted me. More than 100 years ago someone built this house, and Daniel Swarovski patented his glass cutter. And beyond that, Mormon pioneers displaced the Utes on the land and further back still, the planet exploded (or so some say) into being. Where to begin describing the setting of the conditions that made possible my witnessing the rainbow in my room last Friday morning at 8:45 AM? Full of wonder I watched the gambol until it flickered and went out like a candle, like a life.
I didn’t wonder at this rainbow as a sign, a Noah-dic promise of fair-weather, receding flood-waters, and promised-lands. It did not offer respite from Uncertainty. It deepened my capacity to enjoy a decentered existence; to recognize the collective magic arising from the infinite compositions enlivened by infinite activity through time and space; to witness with humble awe—no matter how horrible or beautiful the event—the small and yet critical role of every collective part. To observe without a claiming that this is how it was meant to be, but experiencing a sense of it just as it is. Until it wasn’t.