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 In response I have become like a moon snail and withdrawn into the depths of my spiral.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.

28 replies
  1. Gretchen Staebler
    Gretchen Staebler says:

    Well, and now you have written something. And it is beautiful. I have pulled myself inside–grief, anger, disbelief–it’s dark in here and I embrace it. I’m good with it. It’s cozy. Winter seems to have become more and more my season as I age. Sometimes it’s lonely. Thank you for this beautiful storytelling. Gretchen

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Yes, Gretchen – “it’s dark in here” – but see that dim golden light filtering in through the translucent operculum? That’s the always-comfort, even in the sometimes-loneliness.

      Reply
  2. Mary Knight
    Mary Knight says:

    Oh dear Cynthia, I’m so glad I took the time to visit your operculum. Through your words, we immediately share that curving, spiral space together–a truly magical process that happens between writer and reader. I, too, have deeply felt the darkening days in all the ways you mention and have responded in kind.

    I love the Eliza Daly excerpt that champions the “small.” I think of the author visit I just experienced with sixth grade students from a school on Long Island via Zoom and their brilliant questions and insights. I am comforted by this “small” encounter that brings me hope–as I snuggle back into my operculum. It was hard to draw myself out of it for that one hour of personal contact….but I’m glad I did. And now, again, I’m glad to be back in that comforting darkness….with you.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Do all those sixth graders know you’re really a snail in disguise?

      Thanks for taking the time – and the effort – to be with the kiddos. They need you, because you hear and honor their wisdom as few others can!

      Reply
  3. Joni Takanikos
    Joni Takanikos says:

    Dear Cynthia, moon snails were some of my first presents I received on Whidbey. I have short poems my goddaughter wrote rolled up and placed in two of their operculum. This dark morning my present came from your words strung together like small lanterns on the path.
    Ringing your bell with love and gratitude,
    Joni

    Reply
  4. Fenna Diephuis
    Fenna Diephuis says:

    Cynthia dear Cynthia! I am feeling so deeply the gift of simply having met you and experienced your “Isness”. I too am ringing your doorbell knowing Linda Albert is already there with you! My heart is a rising tide at full moon. Blessed Soultice as wise women gather to celebrate the womb of creation! Love you soul sisters!

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      It’s so sweet to be snuggled into sacred spirals with my sisters who understand the vortex and the dark. I miss you, Fenna. We must learn the skill of teleportation soon . . . !

      Reply
  5. Meredith Bradley
    Meredith Bradley says:

    Simply beautiful. I am taking these words to my meeting this afternoon to plan Fountain Street Church’s Blue Christmas service. And I will take one of my operculum shells along with me. Blessings to you!

    Reply
  6. Starr Rohrman
    Starr Rohrman says:

    Oh My! I have missed hearing from you. I can so relate to your why. Seems as though the good people have lost their minds. And that is a loaded thought. There was a time when I knew that most were wise, decent, kindred spirits on some level, but now for me that has become uncertain and I find myself wondering often if the world is on the path to end of days on so many levels. Eliza Daley says it so well. Thank you for sharing her words and yourself. I would love to have a cup of hot chocolate with you. Knock, Knock! ox

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Starr, do you realize we’ve known each other for nearly seventy years?! How is that possible?? And how is it possible that we who played in the waves at the beach in the sunlight all those years ago, now find ourselves seeking the darker places? Perhaps it’s because wisdom seems to dwell there, and wisdom is what we are called to in these strange times. The operculum is open to you, and the hot chocolate is simmering on the stove . . .

      Reply
  7. Claudia Walker
    Claudia Walker says:

    May I come over?
    I will lock knock loudly.
    I will even call beforehand and find a time we both know we will be available to each other.
    I love you Cynthia.🌠💫

    Reply
  8. Denise Shankin
    Denise Shankin says:

    This is so beautiful! I can really relate to what you are expressing. For me it’s not writing, but not being able to express myself through my crafts. I have no energy or desire to be creative these past several months.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      And yet, there does not need to be any “product” to creativity – just connecting with that energy, amplifying it in our hearts, and sending it back out again to whoever needs it . . . that is enough. Warm blessings, Denise.

      Reply
  9. Janice O'Mahony
    Janice O'Mahony says:

    It is a doorway into healing meditation for me to think about (paraphrasing) “The darkest times have become the swirls of my beautiful shell.”

    To give one-on-one time, as you do with generosity, curiosity and affirmation, would be plenty. But you give us your thinking, writing and poetry that shines through confusion, bringing us meaning in the deep winter.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  10. Corrine
    Corrine says:

    As I was reading this my breathing slowed and deepened. I say Yes! to the quiet dark, the cozy covers, the small things, the candles, the shells close at hand. Thank you for this winter gift.

    Reply
  11. Johnny Palka
    Johnny Palka says:

    Dear, Dear Cynthia – This is very moving. The details of my own space are very different – I am pouring out writing and photography, most especially since Yvonne’s passing two years ago. But the feelings behind your words resonate with me and I love the photographs. In fact, I even love your use of the word “operculum,” a word that is standard in my biological world but sadly rare elsewhere. Thank you for sharing so openly. If I were not far away in Minnesota, you would soon be hearing my knocking on your operculum. I’d be savoring your words in person, and of course your hot chocolate as well! Much love from Johnny

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      So wonderful to be able to reach across a continent and touch in with each other – bypassing miles, tornadoes, angry protesters, Covid infections,SCOTUS decisions and whatever other impediments might seek to trip us along the Journey. Please keep offering your sweet disposition and formidable knowledge to the Minnesotans around you!

      Reply
  12. Linda Albert
    Linda Albert says:

    Oh Cynthia. I have been missing you! Thank you for opening your shell to write this. My heart, my soul, my mind and aging body all agree. Your words bring tears to my eyes. Thank you!! I send my love to ring your doorbell. Hopefully you won’t need acute hearing to feel its presence. Xxoo. Linda

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      I hear it, loud and clear. And I feel our connection across the miles and the years. Congratulations on your writing awards, my Sister of the Pen!!

      Reply

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