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I am not done with my changes

The Layers
By Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?


Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

I am completely taken with this poem. It so describes where I have been in my life. It pinpoints that kind of inner journey that can both wound and transform, that can stupefy as well as awaken.

There is a depth of spirituality we enter if we can say with either pride or humility, “I am not who I was.”

My transformations have often been awkward and sometimes in reverse. I was first a fundamentalist before I became a liberal. I was a Republican before I became a Democrat. I was a Baptist before I became what I am now which is not defined.

I started out trying so hard to be right only to later discover I just wanted to be me. It’s difficult to be right or true or honest if you are busy being someone else.

Somewhere in the middle years of my life I found myself saying with Shakespeare’s Macbeth, “And nothing is, but what is not.” And I realized I had moved beyond the ancient beliefs of my childhood and adolescence, beyond the early years of my career in ministry, beyond what I had been taught and thought was infallible and fixed; things I thought could not alter or adjust or change.

But for me they did.

Life changed me. People changed me. That is why I am pro-choice. That is why I support gay marriage. That is why I believe in equal rights. And, though I am not a Pacifist, I am anti-war. I marched with 3000 protesters against the Iraq war. I oppose the war in Afghanistan. And I am against war with Iran.

The journey has sometimes been lonely. Often my family did not understand me. Some in my congregations never understood me. My changing beliefs sometimes seemed like denials to them of them. But of course they weren’t that at all. They were denials of what for me I could no longer believe.

I still bewilder and sometimes anger the religiously and politically settled. But I have no quarrel with those who found a set of beliefs long ago that felt right, fit the shape of their needs, and became to them comfort and safety.

I am not however in that group. I am with Kunitz and not yet finished with my changes:

“Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.”

© 2012 Timothy Moody


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