I fell into a blue funk this past Sunday afternoon. Whether it was the cold, dark rainy day, the aches and pains brought on by the weather, the fact that a friend is struggling in ICU after having been suddenly struck down by an aneurysm or a combination of all of them, I am not sure.
It isn’t that my friend is my best friend, but that she is an important part of our community. She and her husband own a lovely shop with carefully selected toys and home goods that reflect her artistic bent. She is a warm and spiritual woman, who recently went through training to be a dream leader. And maybe my favorite fact about her, is that she has chickens, and each hen is named and loved. Her illness has shaken the community, and reminded us that despite our best efforts, things—willy-nilly–can go terribly wrong.
So the seriousness of her condition was on my mind after church on Sunday when I experienced a feeling of such vulnerability and panic that I could hardly move. I usually don’t mind solitude, but what this felt like was loneliness, abandonment. I cast around for what to do, how to flee this constricting feeling. Then I remembered to breathe. I thought about being a witness, and not fleeing or repressing or denying the feeling, but tried to invite it in, as Rumi advises us to do in “The Guest House”:
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
I can’t honestly say the feeling got much better, but it became less terrible. Luckily,
I was going to a chorale concert with my mother and busied myself getting ready for that.We drove through the pouring rain. When we got inside the new atrium where the concert was being held, the contrast between the gray outside and the brightly lit interior could not have been greater. Immediately, I felt better. As I listened to the voices singing Bach’s Magnificat in D, I traveled through the emotions expressed in the music—wonder, heartbreak, tentative hope and triumphant joy. I looked at the emotions playing across the faces of the singers as their voices swelled or diminished. I realized then in a visceral way how necessary the light, whether music or candle, is to see us through these short winter days that whisper the truth of death.
Despite our artificial lights, our gadgets that give us almost God-like powers, the perkiness of relentless Christmas songs, and the frantic rushing and shopping, are we so different from those who came before us? Are we so different from the ancient Romans, who celebrated the Saturnalia to dispel the gloom of winter, or the medieval Swedes, who celebrated dark St. Lucy’s day with a crown of candles?
And if we manage to really elude our inner winters, then what meaning does the light hold for us? What is the meaning of light, if the darkness is denied?