Dec 26, 2022 • 9M


Open in playerListen on);

Appears in this episode

Amy Isikoff Newell
Episode details

when you were 13 you lived on a boat for a month. the sea was deep and then shallow. the fishes flashed silver in the surf.

earlier, when you were 9, you noticed the thorn in your side. why do I have this thorn in my side, you asked. nobody could tell you the answer.

when you were 15 you pulled out the thorn and watched the blood spill dark red on the green rug, but nobody noticed.

now it is 30 years later and you think you understand why you came to the world with a thorn in your side. 


once when you were a child you were walking to the bus stop and you came upon a great blue heron standing in a neighbor’s pond. You thought maybe it was a creature from anther world, it was that miraculous. later you understood that such miracles are common in our world too, if you know how to look.


when a man dies in a hospital all the floor staff come and stand with you while you hold the man’s hand and you whisper that you are with him. later the rabbi comes and you sit in the room with the rabbi and the dead man and you pray.

when there’s a birth it’s the same. everyone comes to witness that shining. even though you’re in a hospital and you had an epidural and you puked on your doula and the labor was long and hospitals are alien and uncomfortable, people can’t help but come worship at that revelation.

sometimes you can see the crash coming and you swerve and swerve and swerve but you’re not the driver, it’s him, and he has such a clarity of purpose that no amount of flashing silver fishes, herons, or any damn blessing you can say will make him change his mind, stay with you. it will take you so many years to understand that you could not have saved him, and some days you can still feel the shrapnel from that blast.


you will do a thing or maybe more than one that will make no sense and seem to cause nothing but harm, but somehow you see that you could not have done otherwise, that you cannot stop a hound when it has the scent of its quarry, even if it has no idea yet what that is or why it must have it and can only run wildly along crashing through underbrush to go and find out


one day you will discover you can only live this one life but you can probably make it larger, or perhaps you look a different way and see that it is already larger.

you learn to choose the unexpected by the feel of it.

you learn to walk where the next place is to go.

you touch darkness again and again, the thorn twists, the blood spills. after many years, you begin to say yes, like the song says, welcome, my old friend. 

you become a magician. you know how to bend darkness so far that it turns into light.


you think you know who you are and then you find whole rooms in yourself that you didn’t realize were there, and then eventually you see that there will always be new rooms to find, as if life after all is a Borges invention.

probably something much more mysterious than Borges invented this life but you see it is not important to figure out with your small logics exactly what that is. your people already invented words to point in its direction: ineffable is one. also grace, solidarity, love, hope. awe.

you find you are never too old to have your heart broken, or to break a heart, or both at once.

or to slip your leash and find yourself running somewhere else without explanation.

usually the somewhere else you are running to will turn out to be another room in your house that maybe only recently bloomed.


the capacity for joy does not degrade with age. 


one day you see you’re not separate from your body.


when you were young you thought maybe some things, like sunsets, were trite. 
but trite judges, and it’s not for you to judge the sunset.

when you grow older you understand how important it is to stand every day before something that cannot be judged, and in return does not judge you.


one time, it’s so awful that you ask to be reset, over and over. 

trance, lightning, frenzy, wake. 
trance, lightning, frenzy, wake. 
trance, lightning, frenzy, wake.

three times a week, for a while.

after that, eventually, you learn how to do this for yourself. 

it isn’t so difficult to do, for a magician, or a witch. it just takes courage.


all this time, it turns out, you have been collecting the secrets of life and death, and it has made you powerful.

when you see this, you understand better why sometimes people are afraid of you.

you see that every sunset and moonrise you mark makes you stronger.

each death birth broken heart desperate dash into the unknown explosion disappointment struggle has filled you with power.

they are right to be afraid of you, and if they are not afraid, it’s because they don’t see.


why, then, did you come to the world with a thorn in your side? 

you came to shuttle back and forth between this world and the one underneath. 

you came to bend the darkness so far that it turns into light.


actually, your capacity for joy increases with age, because you are always finding another room in your house and it is full of new ways to love being alive.


one day you start to notice very small creatures, and then you never stop noticing them.


you see that Yeats was correct when he wrote that the center cannot hold, but he should have watched that show a little longer because then he would have seen that the falling apart and the coming together are the very same thing.

one day you will see how your parents failed you and you will be angry, and then later another day you’ll understand that we are all failing each other, that the thing we are making together is somehow made out of our failures just as much as the things we might say we did well.


every damn sparrow.


worshipping the bright full orange moon will become, you see, the most important thing. and you will wonder how much faster you would have realized that if you had not been provided an onerous book of rules dictating how you must worship the moon.

you will want to write down your own rules for worshipping the moon, though, so you understand the impulse.


when you forget to worship the things you know to be miraculous you might find yourself worshipping at that white ceramic altar too many times instead. or some version of it. 

that’s not so unusual. you see you do not have to be ashamed. we all forget. the sun and the moon and the sky and the small things and the extra undiscovered rooms in your house are still there, waiting for you.

you learn that when you forget what you love you can walk your way back towards it.


eventually you hear the church bells ring out Amazing Grace even when they don’t anymore. 

maybe sometimes that means you also hear screaming or crying or voices only inside yourself. whispering, or singing.. but you like the way your mind rings the bells so you keep them and you keep all the other sounds too. 


the shrapnel hurts.

every time you bear witness to the coming of life or the coming of death, you grow in power.

every night you worship the moon she fills you with light.

one day you say “the crazier I am willing to appear, the saner I can be.”

this changes everything.

it is august and the moon is full and you have never felt so sane in your life.

-- Amy Isikoff Newell, August 13 2022