2007 ~ flashback: The nights are long and I’ve been thinking. Things seem to need more than one go to get right these days. More effort to accomplishment, more problems to solve, more humor required to engage in the challenge of living day to day. I’m a plugged-in citizen of the information age riding along on the the internet wave but, more often than I’d like to admit, I find myself overwhelmed by the quantity of media coming at me in any given hour. I turn off the news, walk in the woods, divert the thought about migrating birds and avian flu. I feel bewildered by the extent to which the global landscape overlays local terrain. It doesn’t take a math whiz to calculate the trajectory of converging streams of change; it all looks like it’s coming right at us.
I watch moms at the grocery store lifting ever more costly gallons of milk into carts, their faces grim. While we gripe about the cost of gas and worry over anticipated heating bills a deeper apprehension is lurking under the surface: when will things get worse? Is our 'happy valley' version of the American Dream slipping away with our civil liberties? We remember the complexity of it’s sweetness but have we lost confidence in our ability to pass a good life on to our children? These questions come hard to my pen, they are even harder to speak aloud.
When my thoughts veer in dark directions I begin to wonder--what’s a determined optimist to do when there’s too much shade on the bright side and we’re down in the dark of the year? I’ve concluded that having a functional bright side requires maintenance, not just of the hope-building sort. I have to attend to darkness in good measure also. So sometimes in the afternoon I crank up the blues and wail a few tunes. I sway and stomp, lament my troubles, cry out for love. If I time it right I find beauty in the sadness and a way to absorb the dark so that my heart is restored to balance. My children come off the school bus chanting their mama-mama-look-see songs: then pause and smile when they see me clumsily tucking the raw edges back in. I check the mirror, I look as if I’ve been caught in a big wind.
The government reassures us we can spend and spend, expecting us not to let on that we’re scared silly by the war, worried about making ends meet, keeping our families warm, and finding a road to world cooperation. Sometimes it feels like we’re dancing in air, reduced to cartoon ‘Wile E. Coyotes’-- suckered and surprised (again!) and realizing it’s gonna be a long, long fall. Even though we recycle, compost, buy local, vote, protest, use alternative fuels and volunteer it appears as if we’re doing our best and still only making slow progress.
It’s Winter and my black petticoats show ragged beneath optimism’s rainbow garment. In the shadows of the long nights I imagine that my capacity for optimism can be made into an all weather cloak. In moments when the chaos gets close I have the audacity to raise it up above my head. Woven of darkness, hope, and pragmatism and seasoned with humor and love--I wave it in an arcing figure eight until, in the magic of my minds eye, it shelters us all from indifference and the reign of fear.
Like our world, we are made of light and dark and all the spectrum between. With the world seemingly gone awry, the most daring act I can think of is to nurture a whisper of wonder at it all; the universe, life on earth, creation with a small ‘c’. To celebrate the vulnerability of the human condition without having to package the experience, give it a dogma or make it shiny.
When the news, the holidays and the dark overwhelm me, my favorite antidote is to tell the dog, “Lets go woods,” and head out for a walk. I meander and she fly’s--we listen to the forest, the brook, maybe startle an owl. I find my bearings again and let the blues and bright collide for a while where all the consequences are benign and the worst that can happen, wet feet and cold paws, are easily remedied.
So, this is a friendly tip o’ the pen to quiet worriers, coyote dancers, and everyone who volunteers in small towns so that good things keep happening. Let’s keep balancing shadows with better-case-scenarios. Let’s sing the blues, cherish the ordinary, rock boats, and make peace. May the stories we tell through the long nights carry us through to Spring.
fast forward ~ 2019: I wrote this piece twelve years ago. How could I have imagined Fukishima or Sandy Hook? Or Trump and Putin being bros? How could I have imagined thousands of Nazi's marching with torches in Charlottesville? How could I have imagined soggy arctic tundra and the Amazon and Australia burning? Or Ebola outbreaks? How the war would be so endless or how the rich could be so heartless? How could I have imagined that disability would make a slow walk in the woods impossible?
It is darker now and harder now and I gimp my way through. The cloak has become more tattered but I have discovered that it is amenable to repair, even when it has been torn by sorrow and hardship or by death. Repair, reuse, renew. The three R's of an optimist. I have learned from being disabled that I am adaptable to change and that I carry my heart with me into every day's journey. I remember writing these words, I remember reaching for a way to describe weaving that cloak into a thing that exists in my personal life-skills tool kit. I remember reading those words from a coffeehouse stage, a gathering of the village. It seemed like that cloak I dreamed up settled over the room so gently, like a blanket of stars on a clear winter night. And we took a collective deep breath, sighing into the moment's comfort.
This morning I went looking in my archives for Solstice writing and so here we are, reflecting on the passage of time and the state of existence on earth. All of us are showing signs of wear and tear from living in a world that has taken an ugly sharp Right turn just as the climate crisis begins to gain frightening momentum. The president is facing an impeachment trial, Brexit is a go – avian flu worries seem like an outdated first world joke. Ten thousand immigrant children are in prison camps on our southern border and we are ok with that because not so many of us are actually working to get them free. There is so much that is snafu'd right now that when you try to fit it in a paragraph or two it becomes absurd. Not laughable. Just absurd in that upside down way that makes you need a walk in the woods.
There is a pink post it note on the wall next to my desk, tucked away in a nook so only I notice it. It says: clarity of vision & consistent effort | steady & calm. This is how I make it through in the day-by-day cafe. Sometimes I take risks. Sometimes I take shelter. One of the things I have learned in adapting to being disabled is that it matters which way I lean going into the curve. In adapting to a meaner society I suggest that humanity is better served when we lean into resisting instead of accepting. My adaptation to fascism is to name it and resist. Like Mother Jones said, “pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”
For the moment, the outlook for earthlings from the tail end of 2019 is grim. The rainbow heart optimism of 2007 seems a life time away. I feel as if I'm sitting in the bottom of the well looking up towards an opening to sky at the top. Anything is possible from down here. As the light returns and we spin into 2020 I can't help but wonder what the Solstice update of 2032 might look like. I imagine my cloak to be well mended but I can't imagine we'll all be ok.
If you are able, wherever you find yourself, take a moment for a deep breath outside in the dark and hope with me; may our atmosphere continue to shelter us in the beauty of a starry night. I'll keep my cloak mending kit ready, let me know if you need a hand with yours.
photo: Nahid Hatamiz/Unsplash