A Solstice Ramble on Shadows and Loss
I am watching a winter sunset and welcoming the evening after a big snow. More than a foot fell. The woods are quiet. I woke up with my head full of memories from the Wayback Machine; snow days with little kids, runny noses, mittens, and hot chocolate. My brain even provided a gallery of Kodachrome snapshots of sledding with my brother in New Jersey. Red cloth coat, wet socks and chilblains.
Tomorrow is my father's yahrzeit (death anniversary) so here in these very long nights I find myself remembering, trying to be gentle with the whole tilting megillah. It is the ragged tail of 2020, the year we can't wait to have end. The covidiverse is a scary place to live. And it is not like we will be leaving it in the rearview just because of the vaccine. But I really really really hope it becomes less treacherous and that we will be able to hug again.
My dad was a hugger. He gave the kind of hugs that people remember. The last time he hugged me he told me not to cry and I told him he was not the boss of me. We laughed through our tears.
In the late afternoon, before the sky turns orange and magenta, the way the winter light slants in makes the shadows of things ridiculously long. Out in the yard the shadow-self of the 24 inch cat statue, with today's cone hat of fresh snow, guards the daffodil garden with a shadow companion 6 feet long. The losses in my life feel as if they are attached to elongated shadows like this. There is loss itself (of hugging, work, normalcy) and then there is the light (people and doing stuff I love) which the losses displace from my life. During these long nights I find myself up too late, way past my bedtime but not inclined towards sleep. I am not bothered, or productive either, but find myself waiting. Holding space for a shift. Cultivating hope for the solar encouragement that will come late in January, when the light is measurably longer each day. We are all learning to live with loss. Here at the liminal edge of the year, in a transition between regimes, we navigate the in-between. I try to fill mine with an equal measure of pragmatic action and doing nothing. Doing nothing is hard work.
The photo below of a vintage Lambretta scooter is a tribute to my dad, who bought a used one just like it in 1966. He attached an extra seat to the back, made of plywood and spit, so that both my brother and I could cling on for dear life. I was 4, and we loved going for rides with him, helmetless, because 1966 ;-) screaming at the top of our lungs and all three of us throwing out a synchronized arm to signal a turn.
"This is the way," I stage whisper to the dog, waving my arm out and practicing my best Mandalorian grumble. A theatric tip o' my hat to the metaphor of turning on the inner light of a happy memory to illuminate the shadows and forge ahead.
Every thing is changed. The light returns even as we traverse the darkness, all of us coming to understand that life does not return to the same place where we left off. I remember how it felt, after my dad died, as if the news traveled through my body cell by cell. And bit by bit my sense of self changed, and I began to get the hang of my own gravitas. Like the way I used to sneak a dishtowel from the kitchen to stick between my butt and the plywood on the ersatz seat of the Lambretta. I did not know I needed a helmet and, still, learned to cushion my tuchus for the inevitable splinters, potholes, and bumps. Did I mention the whole tilting megillah? Safe travels, beloveds. Here in the in-between, we hold space for our losses even as we hold space for the beauty that is yet to come.
Postscript: My dad drove some interesting vehicles in the 25 years between 1950 and 1975, before he started driving a tractor. My mom tells a story about the Model A Ford that surrendered at the gate to the junkyard, where the steering wheel came off in his hands. This was followed during my childhood by a Fiat, a Citroen, A VW pop-up van, an MG, and a Saab. None of them were new when they came to us. A Farmall was his favorite tractor. This is the first time I have ever made a list of my dad's cars. It does contribute a certain nuance to the portrait of the man.