The Ineffable.

About this authenticity question?

I was at a political forum last night where two lead candidates for Peter Welch’s US Rep seat each took their turn answering questions from moderators and the audience. The forum was held at Jenna’s House, an empty church transformed into a community space and recovery center. Naturally, the questions centered on addiction and recovery. The space is beautifully redone, warm and welcoming. I pulled into the parking lot and spoke with a founding family member. He was standing in a warm rain beneath an umbrella, welcoming in guests. He said, I hope you enjoy yourself tonight.

Here’s the thing about the recovery world: all pretense has long ago been stripped away. The recovery world so often is portrayed as the unfortunate, the damaged, the weak, the outsiders. But these people in one way or another have lived through terrible things. Loss is no stranger to anyone here, and that changes the social landscape. I’ve met a generosity and openness and — honestly — kindness here that often seems absent from the take-care-of-your-own-family-first middle class realm.

The church’s inside was well-lit. I sat with a woman I’ve met here and there, and we talked about knitting and cancer and working. All the windows and doors were open. Rain fell. In a little while, a man would speak about the death of his sister when she was 26. I keep returning to this sweet place because I like these people — they’re funny and wry and warm — but I’m also amazed by them. In their own terrible grief, they chose to open their hearts.

Afterwards, I drove back to Hardwick along the river valley — so green in midsummer — listening to the radio and in no particular rush. The rain had passed by the time I was home, and the world sparkled for a bit before the night set down in earnest. Five years into living at this house, the hydrangeas I planted that first summer have finally blossomed magnificently, profoundly here for the duration.

My teenager was eating blueberries and talking on the phone with her sister. In a year, I’ll expect she’ll be shortly headed into her young woman life. But for this evening, I cleaned up the cat’s lettuce vomit and boiled water for tea. I had about ten things that all seemed important. Instead, I walked barefoot through the wet grass to the mint that escaped my herb garden and plucked a few leaves for tea. Washed with rain, the air smelled ineffably sweet.

“But along with the feeling of ineffability, the conviction that some profound objective truth has been disclosed to you is a hallmark of the mystical experience, regardless of whether it has been occasioned by a drug, meditation, fasting, flagellation, or sensory deprivation. William James gave a name to this conviction: the noetic quality. People feel they have been let in on a deep secret of the universe, and they cannot be shaken from that conviction.” 

— Michael Pollan, How to Change Your Mind