The Grief of Discovery

Gwyn and I were at the piano labeling chords in her lesson book; she’d just learned tonic and dominant, one and five and their corresponding Roman numerals. Because piano practice can be grueling, we do it before school when Gwyn’s most alert, but this also means an awful time crunch, so when Gwyn leapt from the bench to stand in front of the fireplace, I had little patience. She pointed at the clock on the mantel, a fancy one with Roman numerals. “Now I can read it!” she proclaimed, and told me it was 8:40. She had cracked the code.

Which was all so exciting she couldn’t practice, she wanted me to write one through a hundred and I started while Emily did her hair, but then I remembered why we use the Arabic system—Roman numerals are cumbersome, laborious, and there’s no way I could write a hundred before 8:50, when we needed to leave. “But you promised!” she wailed and a meltdown ensued, a full-fledged, stiff-bodied temper tantrum. I kissed a timely school arrival goodbye.

Only afterward do I recognize the symptoms. Even now I am in the throes of this same human phenomenon: A moment of “getting” something, when a layer of film is peeled from our eyes and we see the world more clearly, if only by a fraction. It’s both thrilling and disconcerting. I recently learned that our democracy is not an irrefutable, indestructible fact but rather a fragile construction requiring vigilant defense, support, and construction. I, too, threw a temper tantrum. I’d rather go back to my old way of seeing. I’d rather not suffer the consequences (my increased responsibility) of this new understanding. But once we’re seeing more clearly, going back to old ways means unhealthy denial. Best to throw a fit and move on.

Emily wrangled braids into Gwyn’s hair and we got out the door onto bikes, where I coached her on I, V, X, L, and C, the system of subtracting lower letters that precede higher ones, and two blocks down she had it, if she wanted she could write one through a hundred herself, and she was happy as a clam. We did Roman numeral math problems the rest of the way. I’m glad for the reminder that learning of any kind is a way we come into consciousness. It’s how we’re changed, how we grow, and how we come more alive, which is also how I understand God’s movement in us. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, Gwyn was late for school. But no other human work is more important, I believe, and if we can get through the tantrum there’s complex delight on the other side. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
Upcoming Opportunities

Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions, Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality, Second Fridays; 1:30-3:30 p.m.:

March 10: Holy Resistance
April 14: Living the Questions
May 12: The Natural World
June 9: Looking Back, Seeing Again

Do you live in Waukesha or Marinette?  I’ll discuss incarnation, Christianity, and bisexuality at noon on April 5th at the University of Wisconsin–Waukesha and at noon on April 6th at the University of Wisconsin–Marinette.  Please join me!


October 2-6, 2017: Alone Together: Living Revision at Madeline Island School of the Arts.
September 24-28, 2018: Alone Together: Living Revision at Madeline Island School of the Arts.

5 thoughts on “The Grief of Discovery”

  1. Hi Elizabeth, my name is Amy and was on the writing retreat you did at ARC a couple years ago. I learned so much there and I still think of you often when I write. I was wondering if by chance you will be doing any retreats at the Christine Center or ARC this year? I would love to attend.

    Ps. I don’t know if you would ever remember the piece I was working on while I was on your retreat about going to ARC with my daughter but I was able to get it published in a beautiful magazine called Taproot. Everything I learned from you on that retreat definitely had a hand in that so thank you!!!!

    1. Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

      Dear Amy,

      Wonderful to hear from you! I’m so glad to know that your creative work emerged into the world. Please send me the link; I’m always happy to spread the word about publications by students and clients.

      I’m afraid I’ve cut back significantly on teaching these days, but I do have two upcoming retreats–one that’s more a do-it-yourself retreat in conjunction with Naomi Shahib Nye’s visit to Wisdom Ways, and the second a revision intensive up at Madeline Island. I imagine I’ll be back at the Christine Center in early 2018. I hope to cross paths with you at one of these events!


  2. I believe it’s illegal to do Roman numeral addition and subtraction while riding a bike on public streets. (Or maybe it’s just when one is behind the wheel.) Well, seriously, I loved this. I get the overall point (in a nice new way) and agree with you on this recent discovery about democracy. The layers, the peeling, the community that buds in response, the heart pain.

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