The Cycle Continues, The Pendulum Swings
As autumn tints the leaves to auburn and old gold, mahogany and wine, I’ve been gathering armfuls and carrying them home. Since childhood, I’ve been fascinated by leaves, from swelling bud to browning crispness to lacy skeleton. This year, I’m moved to make an outdoor ofrenda, an offering of seasonal beauty, more precious because so fleeting. In the past week, several old friends have died and other friends have lost dear ones, suddenly or slowly. This season of gentle decay seems such a suitable time for departure; darkening days and long, cold nights offer little enticement to linger. Even so, as I line beds and pathways with bright leaves and seedpods, I’m reminded of the swing of the seasons, as implicit in the seedpods as in dying leaves. I’m reminded too of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who was fond of saying, “The pendulum always swings.”
As election day draws near, I’m finding myself more anxious than I can ever recall being before. Not even when both my husband and my mother were both sliding down that slippery slope have I been so aware of the dread weighing down my spirit. Making calls, urging others to vote, carrying the ballots of elderly neighbors to the ballot box, all these feel hopeful. The early polls seem hopeful as well, yet the innumerable unknowns make me afraid to hope. That is a terrible feeling and one I hope I never feel again. To be afraid to hope, afraid to look forward to a juster, kinder, more equitable world is to lose more than I can afford. Right now, my greatest solace is in creating momentary beauties of color and form, natural paintings that brighten the day but fade or fly away in the night.
A few weeks ago, out internet was knocked out and kind neighbors lent us their passwords so we could get online. Through various complications we are still offline without that generous help. Reception is best in our bedrooms and disappears entirely if we wander into other rooms. As a result, both my daughter and I have become keenly aware of being connected or not. I was shocked to notice how adrift I felt without the ability to get online and was even more astonished to discover that what I missed the most was the ability to check the weather frequently. If warm, sunny days are coming, I can plant bulbs, transplant shrubs, and divide perennials. When cold snaps are predicted, I can protect the more tender of my plants, including the gorgeous, shrubby Fuchsia Blutini, which may or may not be hardy way up here near Seattle. I also find myself checking the air quality as often as possible, even though the summer wildfires are almost entirely suppressed, and that feels like a symptom of yet another underlying anxiety.
What I don’t miss is the news. Like many gardeners, I tend to be just a tiny bit obsessive and this year, my focus has been first on the pandemic and then increasingly on social and political disasters. After two weeks without watching the news, I’m finding myself just as politically involved as ever but with a healthier, less intense attitude. What’s more, my blood pressure is lower and I’m sleeping better at night. When I get an itch to find out what fresh horrors have been unveiled, I go outside and gather more leaves, stringing them into glorious swags to thread between shrubs and trees.
As I became aware that anxiety was making me ill, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, I decided to start a new practice of seeking solace wherever it may be glimpsed. This weekend, we had a rare overnight with my grandkids, whose parents only allow visits after they have been suitably isolated for at least a week. Before they settled into bed for a story, they lined the hallway into my bedroom with little solar-powered tea lights in case they woke in the night. The gentle flickering of those little lights felt as peaceful and comforting as firelight and I decided to keep some burning on our windowsills as the evenings draw in to cheer the hearts of our neighbors as well as ourselves.
Music can also be cheering and comforting, though our choices are often highly personal. When I start to feel edgy, I play a favorite recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, complex yet soothing music that I played when my kids were quarrelsome and now again when my grandkids get cranky. Played very quietly, it has an astonishing power to soothe the spirit. When I’m knitting keepsake comfort shawls, I speak a long litany of power words outloud, incorporating them into each stitch: Compassion. Loving Kindness. Release. Peace. Comfort. Serenity. Ease. Tranquility. Courage. Trust. Community. Reconciliation. Connection. Faith. Grace. Forgiveness. Understanding. Mercy. Wisdom. Clarity. Sometimes I add special wishes for the recipient: Sweetness of spirit. A merry heart. Good nature. It’s not exactly prayer, I suppose, but it feels like an invocation of goodness. Prayer has been difficult lately but I recently read an article that said the proper way to pray for your enemies is to ask that evildoers experience the full consequences of their behavior. Now that I can wholeheartedly do!
Light In The Night
Much as I enjoy making Halloween costumes, I’m more interested in celebrating All Souls Day, a link to more ancient festivals that celebrate both loss and light as darkness gathers. A few years ago, blogger Adrienne Maree Brown wrote something I’ve found helpful:
“Things are not getting worse
They’re getting revealed
We must hold each other tight and
Continue to pull back the veil.”
Pulling back the veil of illusion is extremely uncomfortable, much like ripping off a dressing stuck to a festering wound. However, if we ever hope to achieve cultural healing, it has to happen. The veil that hides patriarchal authoritarianism/racism/cruelty/inhumanity must be pulled away, forcibly or gently, over and over and over again, a little more each time. It’s difficult and often discouraging work, so it’s helpful to remember that in doing all we can to propel our country and our culture forward, we are actually working to bring human nature from adolescence to maturity. Though definitely necessary, altering genetic and cultural patterns that have been repeated for millennia is never easy. Onward, right?