The local, as in Savannah, public radio station is off the air right now as a result of damage from a lightning storm. Without the voices of Steve Inskeep and David Greene and — since it’s October and the Supreme Court is in session — Nina Totenberg igniting the pilot light of my brain, I have been left to entertain myself as I perform my morning ablutions. So I sing.
I know a lot of songs. A lot. I can easily do a set of 70s pop, American folk songs or Broadway show tunes. I can do Streisand from all six decades. I can do traditional hymns and contemporary praise music (what my friend Phyllis calls “hippie songs”). This morning I found myself drying off, applying moisturizer and brushing my teeth to the sweet and simple melodies I learned in Sunday school. “Jesus Loves Me.” “Only A Boy Named David.” And, of course, “Deep and Wide.”
It’s hard to sing “Deep and Wide” with a mascara wand in your hand. You have to fight the urge to do the accompanying hand motions, the vertical and horizontal extensions and, once you get to the “fountain flowing” part, the swaying and finger wiggling. “Deep and Wide” is probably the first song I learned to sing, after “Happy Birthday,” and I remember standing in front of the church and being particularly proud of the coordination I was exhibiting as we sang to our parents — remembering all the words and extending and swaying and wiggling at all the right times. All these years later there was something in me that felt the need to demonstrate my continued competency in that regard, but I was running late for work, so sing was all I can do.
Which is probably why I actually heard the words themselves. Deep and wide. Paid attention to the refrain. Deep and wide. Heard them and stopped to consider for a moment what they actually mean. Deep and wide. To my 3-year-old brain the only possible association was literal. The deep end of the pool. The door left wide open. But to the woman standing before the mirror, the connotations were far less material.
Deep and wide hold associations positive and negative. Deep and wide carry the weight of a lifetime of dreams and experiences. Deep and wide are both rich and troublesome.
Human beings hunger for conversations and relationships that are deep; experience that is wide. And, yet, there remains something in us that demands ease and predictability, limits and boundaries. Like our brains partitioned into lobes assigned different physical functions, it seems that our psyches are partitioned as well. We may not be both Jekyll and Hyde, but surely where there is within us a place for City Mouse, there is a spot for Country Mouse as well.
Native American lore tells of the two wolves, good and evil, residing within the heart of man and the answer to the question of which one prevails — “The one you feed” — may well reveal the only way in which deep and wide triumphs over shallow and narrow. Dive farther down. Sweep farther out. Drop the plow, broaden the blade. Feed deep, feed wide.
When I left home for college I had no intention of coming back. Deep and wide beckoned me with greater intensity at every mile marker. Deep and wide existed, in my mind, in places and people I’d not yet seen or met. My arms could not extend far enough to take them in.
For seven years, I dug deep and I swung wide. I excavated my heart and stretched my mind deep enough and wide enough that, eventually, the territory I could claim encompassed that sandy piece of dirt and that great cloud of witnesses that make up home. So I returned.
Sometimes, when a friend sets off on a great adventure or accomplishes some notable deed, I wonder what might have happened if deep and wide had become far and away. Sometimes, when the burdens of the day press down on my shoulders like a fertilizer sack, I wonder what I might be doing if I had chosen shallow and narrow and followed a path someone else had forged. But sometimes, when the sun is setting and the tops of the pine trees look like paint brushes set aflame and the deer at the edge of the field shine like burnished bronze and the rhythm of the rocking chair matches that of my beating heart, I don’t wonder. I don’t wonder at all.