Posts Tagged #darkness
I took my car to the dealership this afternoon. I brought my work along, dreading having to tune out the flash and blare of the ginormous big-screen TV in the “customer lounge.”
Ironically, the last time I was at the dealer, trying to ignore the television, it was Inauguration day. Me, a woman who hasn’t lived in a house with a TV for years now, who would have sooner walked barefoot across a bed of broken glass than watch a man she had zero respect or faith in rise to power — yes, I accidentally ended up seeing the live streaming coverage of Trump being sworn in. It was inescapable in the “lounge.” I gave up trying to work, because they had it cranked up. The office staff was watching, a few mechanics wandered in and out, catching a peek.
I listened to the others, the customers and car salesmen, many of whom probably voted for Trump, making comments about how pretty Melania looked in that ice-blue, how nice it would be to have her in the White House (seriously, someone said that, that she would look so pretty at those state dinners). Oh, how handsome and cute fidgety young Barron was. Switch to a close up of Trump, hand on Bible.
“Look how serious he looks,” marveled a white lady about my age. She sounded relieved, and mildly surprised. Her tone said what I think everyone there hoped: that the campaign was over, and now he would behave like an adult. The pussy-grabbing tapes could safely be shoved into the crypt of collective memory, along with all the things he’d said on the campaign trail. Calling Mexicans “rapists,” hollering for the crowd to “knock the crap out of them! I’ll pay the legal bills!” — well, all politicians say crazy things in the heat of a battle. Don’t they? It’s like a man killing his wife in a fit of jealousy. Sort of, well, excusable, right? I mean, don’t we excuse that? It’s all just locker room talk, to be tuned out, glossed over.
“Wow. It’s gotta be a hard day for them,” said a round-faced woman, as the camera panned to a close up of the Obamas. She sounded like she was commenting on a reality show where a couple’s just been voted off the island. She sounded both sad and gleeful at once. Like, I mean, this is exciting! We wanted change! And look — the camera pans back to Melania’s sculpted cheekbones. “You know she was a model, right? She still looks so amazing. How old is she?”
An older black couple stood up right then, and moved as far away as they could get from the “U” of couches set up in front of the giant screen. The overall vibe in the lounge that day felt more tense than celebratory, even though, as I said, I’m willing to bet many of those present had voted for him, and most of them made comments along the lines of, “I bet he’ll get really smart people in to run things. You know, he’s an excellent business man.”
It was a surreal experience.
I do think most people, liberals like me included, hoped he’d delegate responsibly and treat the job seriously. That he’d want to do right, in the end. End his association with openly racist “platform of the alt-right Breitbart” Steve Bannon. Stop the twitter rants. I mean, he’d be President! He’d have to be a responsible, sober adult. But that was 207 days ago.
Today at the dealership, the big screen was dark and silent, and I really didn’t think about why until I came home and watched a recording of Trump’s press conference online.
That’s why it was off! No one wanted to see that. No one wanted to hear that. No one can sit through that and make polite conversation about his tie.
But we have to watch him, don’t we? We have to listen. We have to speak.
Because he’s not sober — he’s dangerous to our society. Dangerous to people I love, and people you love, too. Dangerous to civility and liberty.
I wonder what the history books will say someday? I wonder who will write them? I wish I could write more coherently about what is happening right now, in real-time, but it all feels too much.
So instead, I took a walk. I took this picture. A bright sunset fading into darkness. A lone streetlamp shining. We have to watch, but not fade into darkness.
All of us who care about our country and everyone in it, we have to watch, and not fade.
Somehow, we have to be the light.
“Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.”
Fear is ever-present, a room in every house. I think it must be acknowledged to be lived with. Denying fear’s existence, its slithery form under the bed, under the pillow, in your head, in your darkest dreams—is to deny part of what makes us human. Unexamined, it drives us. Unacknowledged, it diminishes us. We want to chase it away, but without it, we are not quite all there. We are fragmented. Brash and bold or handwringing, but not whole.
We are whole when we can look in fear’s hissing-badger face, see it clearly, yet remain calm. It doesn’t mean we are not scared shitless of those needle-sharp badger teeth tearing into us. Tearing into everyone and everything we hold dear. Oh, no. We are terrified of the tearing and even more terrified of the silence that precedes it. Our hearts are beating too fast. We scan the news and cannot breathe, cannot think what to do.
I am saying “we” but when I say that, I am talking of my many selves. Maybe you know what I mean? The selves that scatter as I try to ward off fear.
I’m not afraid of dying, I won’t die tonight—I told myself that, told you that, but lying in the hospital alone, I met fear. It came in the night to shake me awake. It shook every part of me, parts I forgot were there—the frozen teenager, trembling in terror. The happy little girl, lying on her back looking at seagulls and cumulus clouds, breathing sea air, fully in the moment, the one I lost so long ago. It shook the anxious, lost traveler feeling around in the dark for a warm hand, the one learning to hold herself when no one is there.
It awakened the bright-eyed lover who is peaceful as storm clouds threaten, because the sun lives inside her, as it lives inside all of us when we feel whole. It is her I search for now, and I think she’s deep inside, in the fear room, hanging out.
Fear lives in a room deep inside me. A stuffy room I must visit, opening windows, letting in air, relaxing into, though it makes me edgy. It is a room I go to ponder things I cannot understand, go to find the best parts of me. A room where all my many selves find each other, the default meetup place. In the darkest corner is the cradle of courage, dear little courage, weak as an infant, sobbing, wobbly from being so neglected.
I hold this tiny part of me—she is crying for love—and picking her up, I feel again like a strong, sure mother, courageous enough to look at the fear. All the fears. There are so many right now. It seems important to be strong, be together. Strong enough to smile into the invisible beams of hope that shine behind all fears, casting great shadows.
Hold hands, everyone. No matter what, everyone.
Look at fear honestly, and you will find courage.
Yes. There it is, fear. It travels with us, but we don’t need to feed that snarling beast, it always finds something to feed on.
Say, I see you fear. Then turn away. Let it grow dull from inattention.
It’s courage we need to nurture now.
I drift to this place
where water turns to vapor
where the cold night melts
“Feeling emotional upheaval is not a spiritual faux pas; it’s the place where the warrior learns compassion.”
–Pema Chödrön, From The Places That Scare You
“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Heard a story on NPR today about exposure therapy—a guy who had paralyzing anxiety of rejection set out to GET rejected, over and over, until it no longer frightened him— and it worked for him. It made so much sense. He faced his fears until they stopped scaring him silly.
I guess that is what I am doing, though I hadn’t thought of it quite that way. Exposure therapy. I have been delving into dark places lately (no, no—not all the time, that would be crazy!) and the more I look at things inside that are scary and just ‘be’ with them, the more I appreciate their beautiful powerful forces and the less scared I feel. Rejecting part of yourself takes a lot of energy. It makes you worn down. I wonder if the denial of dark things inside is what creates some cases of chronic anxiety? My overall anxiety level certainly is ebbing as I dig. (But also: spiking like mad as I hit uncharted tunnels.)
Digging it all up is a messy process. I’m not all that great at it, a lot of times. I get stuck sometimes. A lot of times. I thrash and make it needlessly worse. I grasp. But I’m hoping I’ll get better at being with it when it comes, unexpectedly. Because it’s the fear you have to fear. Like the guy who was afraid of rejection. He wrapped his brain in a new direction. Away from fear, into acceptance of something that scared him. So hopeful, stories like his.
Like anything else, it takes practice. All any of us can do is keep trudging!
Per aspera ad astra. (A rough road leads to the stars).
Wednesday night is writing circle night for me. I write with some amazing, inspiring women, and look forward to it all week. In tonight’s fastwrite, we were invited to take a line from the poem, “Hunger” by Gunilla Norris, and write for 12 minutes to see where the line might lead us.
The title is the line I chose from the poem, and here’s what came up for me:
Light a light so we see the emptiness
Oh, please light a light, I’m so scared and alone down here where I live all by myself, defective and lost. I have no navigational equipment. No radar. Did you know you can be born lost? I was. Lost. A baby never meant to be, stillborn in spirit and left like a foundling, to search the earth endlessly, fumbling in the darkness—oh, please, please—light a light so I can see, really see, the emptiness.
Perhaps the emptiness is very small? Perhaps it is not so frightening, perhaps nothing bad will happen in this tiny or possibly endless darkness?
Perhaps I will just curl up in it, the way that lost bat, hunted by the cats, crawled into the folds of an umbrella overnight. How in the morning, I saw the cats staked out there, by the umbrella stand, and I knew: that was where the bat was hiding.
Imagining the bat flying around my head again, I summoned my courage and picked up the whole damned umbrella stand, big ugly ceramic thing, heavy, containing Totes folding umbrellas, Lydia’s old rice-paper parasol and also an umbrella that belonged to my Swedish grandmother, my farmor, an umbrella that has outlived dozens of cheaper ones. I dumped the mess of it out on the front lawn.
There was nothing there but umbrellas, no bat at all. As I put the umbrellas back in the stand, I peered down into the navy blue tunnel of farmor’s umbrella, and I saw something deep in the shadowy depths. I shook it out, and the poor bat, pathetic and frail, tumbled out, as threatening as a burnt marshmallow. Poor thing. Poor scared, dead thing. I left the bat carcass and the umbrella on the lawn, and headed for my walk. I couldn’t bear to pick it up yet.
Later, as the afternoon sun was shining, I stopped to study the creature. Such delicate wings, such fine fur, almost like brown velvet. A marvel of nature, this flying mammal. As I stared, a wing seemed to shudder, but the grass quivered, too. Just the wind.
I leaned closer. All at once the bat reanimated, surged to back to life like the killer everyone thinks is finally dead in one of those creepy movies that used to scare me. “It’s alive!” I cried out, couldn’t stop myself. But I wasn’t afraid. It was a miracle, this resurrection. A cause for joy.
The bat flew away fast and fearless, into a completely unknown world, no longer contained by an umbrella or a house or frozen up in fear. Off into the blue, alone.
As I’m thinking about a different kind of darkness, and my own ancient fears, I think of that bat, curled in the dark of the umbrella, not knowing when or if she would find her way.
Perhaps I will learn to fly like that, someday.
Early stargazers coined the word
influence to describe how
ethereal fluid ‘into us flowed’
changing destiny: starlight, steering us
think of starlight flowing, think of it with me:
a glimmering river of it flowing,
washing into black velvet voids
filling the endless emptiness
changing darkness to insight—
pixie dust of healing
invisible oftentimes but— Oh!
how caring words can be forever felt
an ache in the sunny yellow kitchen
of my heart, where loopy cursive poems
were crayoned on construction paper
while soup bubbled, a brightness like
the stars the night of our first shared smiles
shining still, even on this dark January night —
beaming through time, flooding the bottomless
hollows of my heart, helping me steer
It is the last day of Autumn, a cold, thick-oatmeal gray day, and finally: I put on my rubber boots, and I’m raking leaves. It’s the first time since mid-October that the sleeping leaves have been disturbed, and I quickly realize it’s a bigger job than I thought it would be.
I live on a beautiful street in a center-ring suburb, one of my city’s first suburbs, with century homes and century trees—both the houses and the trees are big and sturdy. Maples, oaks, sycamores, beeches, mulberries, pears—their leaves fell all fall, layering up, narrowing the front walk until suddenly it was just a forest footpath. The decaying leaves built up along the edges of the walk, damply clinging and narrowing it like plaque in an old artery.
So I rake, scrape, pile and gather leaves up on an old blue tarp. Pile, lift, carry down the drive way and across the backyard, heave-ho up over the fence, letting the leaves cascade into the ravine. The heaviest clumps of wet leaf mold settle in the folds of the tarp, reforming into a mass with heft, like a body. I know now how it feels to lift and dump a body.
Over and over, I rake and repeat, dumping body after body into the grave of the old stream that used to run through here. All the while, I play a Patty Griffin song in my head. The song is “Making Pies,” but I have reworked it to suit my task.
You could cry or die
Or just rake leaves all day.
I’m raking leaves
This song makes me smile, on this, the nearly darkest day of the year. I can’t carry a tune, but I’m singing aloud because it feels good. (And also because no one else is outdoors! The neighbors all use lawn services, and I’m sure they will be thrilled to see I’ve finally decided to reclaim my yard from the wild woodland drifts.)
It strikes me, on this shadow-less day that is soft-lit and diffused, that there have been brighter days when I’ve been unable to see the very sharp shadows right in front of me. The shadows that are part of me, and of all of us. I was afraid of my own shadows, my long, looming shadow side that I now know is there to help me understand the light.
What joy there is in sharing darkness, in holding it up instead of pretending it doesn’t exist. I tried that—‘thinking positive thoughts’— and while I’m all for gratitude journals and happiness projects, I now see that you can’t dump the shadows like bodies. You need to hold their hands and embrace them and honor their existence. And then be grateful for their lessons.
I am so grateful for every beloved fellow traveler, my dear friends, both new and old, who showed me their shadows, and gently helped me see that mine are just part of me, and nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to run from. I thought pain was something I could or should try to skirt. Your shared darkness brought such bright light.
Darkness is as beautiful in its way as light. It is a sharp thing, brittle and bitter and raw and rough and dark and painful as wet bark scraping your skin when you are running from things and you fall into arms waiting to catch you, and you feel held, and warm.
That’s when you see the light in its brightest form: when you are so cold your teeth are chattering and tears are freezing on your cheeks and you are enfolded in a hug that feels warm, like a blanket straight from the dryer, wrapped around you, and you take a breath, and know you will be okay.
Even when the arms that hold you are your own scraped-up arms, and even on the second-darkest day of the year.