A camel out on a limb


She dwells with Beauty--Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
~ John Keats, 628. Ode on Melancholy

I had the rather hilarious thought today that I, in motherhood, am remarkably like a camel. Probably one with two humps (bactrian). How am I like a camel, you ask, and what does this have to do with a lovely poem by John Keats? It's simply, really: motherhood involves long stretches of time without a drink. (And no, I am not referring to alcohol!) For it is in solitude that the soul drinks...mine, at least. And solitude is lacking in busy days when even the separation of a bathroom door is insurmountable to the psyche of the young ones I tend. All this is made even more noticeable in times when my freedom is so limited. I cannot drive, and, therefore, must be in the company of another even when I am not with my children.

I remember feeling downright tortured by the lack of freedom - and solitude - as a teenager and college student, the last time I went without driving for any extended period of time. I chalked that up to youthful immaturity, but apparently I was mistaken. The velvet night, full of frog song and cricket trills, descends like Keats' melancholy at the close of each busy. The countryside is no less isolating than it was fifteen years ago. I am thankful for the foresight to commence summer school in the woods, where the dappled sunlight and the rush of breeze through tear drop tree leaves at least coats my soul with the dew of solitude. It may not be the flood of rain I'm longing for, but it suffices. After all, a camel doesn't need much to survive!

The poet speaks of the unhappy coexistence of Joy and Melancholy. I am struck often by this, never more so than in times of health crisis in the midst of the effervescent happiness of my little brood. I am balancing tenuously on the limb of health, with solid footing, at the moment, on Joy. Yet I am just a breath away from disaster. Today I realize with new perspective that out on a limb is, indeed, "where the fruit is". That with melancholy dwells joy. In busy places, in ceaselessly busy days, we realize afresh the inherent solitude of the heart.

O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.
You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
~ from Psalm 139