Rest dear friends. Embrace your tired body. Love one another in this hard time.
from “Songs for the Shadows” Lydia Wylie-Kellermann, Editor, Geez Magazine
A writer is supposed to write. I have not been writing much.
An author is supposed to be publishing. I’ve had only one poem published this year. Not any books.
A memoirist is supposed to be keeping journal notes – I’ve not written in my journal since a few weeks after the January 6 attack on the Capitol when I was too traumatized to find words for much of anything.
A blogger is supposed to be writing essays. It’s been months since I have done so.
Writing is usually a gift I have to offer. Some prose, but mostly poetry. As I bow to the gentle deficits of my aging, poetry and one-on-one being-with are what I can give.
I can string words together that invite others into healing, rest, caring for themselves and each other. I can struggle to find the right words to help us remember who we hope to be, who we are at our best. I can support you as you choose to be on no one’s schedule but your own, to hold no one else’s truth but that which resonates with your own soul. We can encourage each other in this vastly-changed time.
Back in July of 2018, when we lived in a different world, I wrote a blog post about spiritual retreats, and I used the word “operculum.” I’d just discovered that word; I love enunciating it, drawing out the second syllable into a purrr. I love thinking about the ability of a snail to create a portal into its spiral shelter, a doorway that opens and closes. Over the years I have delighted in finding a few abandoned moon snail opercula among the stones and shells on the beaches of Whidbey Island.
Even this early in our usually gray, wet island winter there have already been two power outages of the electrical kind (up to three days long), and lots more of the personal kind for me (usually not longer than a few hours). In response I have become like a moon snail and withdrawn into the depths of my spiral. I pull my operculum closed and huddle inside. There sometimes I remember the darkest times of my years, and I am amazed once more to see how those events have shaped my life, how they have become the swirls of my beautiful spiral shell. When I reinhabit the dark times briefly, I realize that I would not change them even if I could. And I wonder how my shell will grow in response to the current dark times.
Storms are racing across the Salish Sea, trees blow down across power lines, and those lines short out. Likewise, too much chaos is happening out there in the world, and most of it is painful. News of it is way too accessible. I’m shorting out; I’m losing my capacity to absorb it. A few days ago I found this by Eliza Daley, in her blog, “By My Solitary Hearth”:
I see such despair in people who are trying to feel everything, who are trying to note all the destruction in a continual stream of jagged memento mori for ourselves, for our cultures, and for the world we are mutilating. I understand the urge. … But we are trying to feel more than we are capable of feeling. Or bearing. There is such hopelessness in simply trying to notice all the wrongs, never mind right them. And hopelessness breeds apathy eventually … .
So I have chosen the small. I have drawn lines around what I am capable of feeling and, to a lesser extent, what I am capable of affecting. … I believe in small things. Humans are small. We are ephemeral. Even all this waste we are wreaking on the world will be a small drop in earth time, barely noticeable in the geological record. That is both humbling and reassuring. I don’t matter very much. Humanity doesn’t matter very much. But at the same time, if we all focus on the small ephemera of our daily lives, if we noticed what we do and noticed how we fit into our places, we can effect change in beneficial ways. We have short reach, but in that circle … we can do mighty things.
While we are in this dark time, I want to be solitary sometimes, deep within the spirals of my small shell, wrapped in warm fleece, focused on the glow of just one candle (it’s my shell; I can imagine anything inside it that I want). From time to time I want to have the courage to blow out the candle and be embraced by the dark. Rilke said it best, in his poem “The Night”:
But the dark embraces everything:
shapes and shadows, creatures and me,
people, nations–just as they are.
It lets me imagine
a great presence stirring beside me.
I believe in the night.
Perhaps I will notice a sacred something “stirring” in the candlelight, or in the dark; maybe I can write about that and slip the writing through the crevice between my shell and its operculum, like a love note for my friends, or like a message in a bottle tossed into a digital sea.
Or maybe, if you happen to wander near my shell, you might choose to knock on my operculum. (I’m getting a little hard of hearing, so you may have to knock twice, or ring the doorbell – yes, my shell has one!). I’ll be glad to light my candle, open my operculum, invite you in for a cup of hot chocolate, and have a quiet chat about what we notice moving in each of our hearts.