Word Medicine

Writing and Healing: exploring the art of healing and the healing of art

Longing for the Light December 9, 2011

In the choir room, we practice our Christmas hymns.  “Let thy bright beams disperse the gloom of sin, Our nature all shall feel eternal day, In fellowship with thee, transforming day to souls erewhile unclean…”  The longing in the hymns for the coming of Emmanuel, for the coming of light into our darkness, never fails to move me.  More now, than in the simple faith of my childhood.  Because now I know how dark our darkness can be.

In the paper yesterday, the headlines included the death of a seven-year old Hispanic child, who had been raped, beaten and stabbed to death as she returned to her apartment from the apartment playground.  The younger two children were taken from the traumatized mother  because she was under suspicion of neglegting her child by allowing her to play in the complex playground.  I also read about the certain pain my daughter’s beloved friend endured when she was murdered at UNC, taken from her home where she was studying, and shot.  I heard about the troubled homes of the children my son goes to school with, one father so drunk he couldn’t pick up his child who was suspended from school for selling drugs and alcohol. A dear friend is still looking for work two years after being laid off.   She has to choose between food and medicine.  It is hard if not impossible to keep from giving up oneself to whole-hearted despair, or cynicism.

What can we do? How can we live?  our hearts ask us.

Christmas is for children, we think.  For the rest of us, it might be a respite or chance to “get” whatever the latest gadget might be, the one that promises to transform our life.  It might be precious time with overworked family members.  We keep our expectations modest.  And if the yearning for that elusive something rears up in us, we dismiss it as childish nonsense.  We are realists, we are adults, after all.

We can’t go back to childish ways, nor should we want to.  We know the world for what it is.  We know that wishes often don’t come true.  We know that precious children are wantonly destroyed.  It is hard-won knowledge.  And yet to dismiss our yearnings for the light, for transformation within ourselves and in our worlds, is equally as  foolish as indulging  a childlike fantasy that the world is a large Disneyland.  The high Holy Days of winter, in whatever tradition, honor both the inky darkness, and the light that often does shine in our lives, despite all.  And they ask us to live in the tension of knowledge of the dark, and the heart’s yearning for wholeness.

Please accept this offering of a poem, and the wish that light will come to you this winter solstice, and you will recognize it.

Hodie Christus Natus Est

Solstice Song in Four Parts

HODIE

Today.

Not tomorrow.

Not yesterday.

This night.

Not some perfected end time.

   Tonight.

Here on earth,

this earth,

this fire,

this hearth.

These clinking glasses

these voices ringing.

Our voices.  Not angels’.

Our voices, cracked and sweet, tired,

but singing.

CHRISTUS

The light in us

all.

We, like winter stars,

alone in the night sky,

constellations dancing together,

then apart,

circling this earth.

Our fires finite,

our fires bright.

NATUS

Born to us.

Born of dust in cattle and rank hay,

dust enlivened with breath.

Born of breaking waters,

born of blood and old enmities.

Out of this

a new thing.

A child.

Mild,

tender,

new light to walk the earth.

This earth.  Our earth.

EST

Is.

Not was

or will be.

But is.

Now.

Here.

To us,

this night.  Out of our darkness

of broken bodies, broken dreams, losses,

failures, sins,

we light candles

to

what

is.

 

Thanksgiving Panic November 23, 2011

Had a moment of panic in Trader Joe’s today.  By the very fact that I was in Trader Joe’s, the ultimate Bobo store, it would seem I’d have no reason to panic.  Yet I was overcome with “doing Thanksgiving.”  I want it to be lovely–the house beautiful, the food delicious, everyone relaxed.  But instead of rolling up my sleeves and getting to work, I want to crawl under a rock.  Even though Todd is a great cook, and I have help cleaning, I found myself oppressed by the distance between what I want and what I am able to do.  To add to that, I’m coming off a really tough treatment for CFIDS, which has left me dizzy and my digestive system a wreck.  How am I going to pull this off?  How am I going to be the relaxed, gracious hostess I want to be?  And then, to really crank up the misery, I think, my table will never be as elegant as my mother’s.  At my age, I will have failed Womanhood 101.  Again.

There is absolutely nothing to be done about myself in this state but to take a walk.  So I get out the leash and Maisie, my overweight labradoodle, is at the door.  We step out into an absolutely gorgeous fall day, unseasonably warm.  There is a light breeze and golden leaves eddy around me.  A Japanese maple blazes a deep red across the street.  I tell myself to just breathe, to be in the now.  Bombs aren’t falling, the earth isn’t trembling.   The holiday is supposed to be about thanks, you idiot, I tell myself.  And so I start saying thank you to the leaves, to the sky, to the clouds, to the heavy orange persimmons hanging from a neighbor’s tree (that I’d like to steal).  And it helps, a little.  Let go, I keep saying, let go.

Then I meet a grandfather strolling with his 5 month old granddaughter.  His wrinkled face is lit up like the trees.  I look at the baby, Elly, and she gazes back at me with enormous blue eyes.  She looks intently at me , and then smiles.  I feel like I’ve won the lottery. I continue on my walk, my step quickened.  I start to make my way towards a small park, and see an old friend checking her mail.  We stand and talk in the sunshine.  Her son is disabled, and has serious issues with his neck.  A former middle-school teacher, Marianne’s life now is largely that of a caretaker.  She tells me her sisters want her to have more of a life.  “But Taylor is my life,” she says.  Not the life she would have chosen, but the life she has.  I think of the book I’m reading, Radical Acceptance, and how she exemplifies the principle of accepting what is, rather than moving heaven and earth to make reality more to your liking. Marianne is funny as hell, too, and you don’t get that kind of funny when life has been a bed of roses.  “I’m convinced,” she says, “that life would be 100% better if I could lose weight.”  We laugh ruefully.  Who doesn’t believe that?

We part, fortified with hugs.  I start to make my way back.  The leaves swirl around me.  I do feel in the moment. For a moment.  I feel at peace, enjoying the sun and the breeze.  The moving leaves remind me of a movie we saw on Netflix several nights ago, Cherry Blossoms.    In it, a middle-aged man’s expectations are totally upended, but in the process, he is transformed from a grumpy, closed character, to a man with a fully human face, a face alive to the world, in all its glory and sorrow.  In the final scenes, cherry blossoms quivered and fell.  Watching this film, I felt a renewed sense of life’s beauty and mystery.

I would like to say that I have been able to maintain a sense of peace and calm and that also my house is picture perfect and my silver polished.  I have not.  I am hiding out in my study, hoping the elves will come. But as soon as I turn off this computer, I’m going in there and putting on some music and making my stuffing.  I hope I will look out at the falling leaves, and remember life is change.  Live only this moment.
I hope I remember to be grateful.

 

How Does it Feel To Dance? January 7, 2009

I wanted my twelve year old, who is a sensitive soul, to see the movie Billy Elliot, which is currently a hit on Broadway. I had remembered how much I enjoyed it years ago, but had forgotten what a terrific movie it was. As a former dancer, I wanted to share my love for dance with Adam. I also wanted him to see a story about a boy who was artistic and still a real boy, and how important it is to be true to yourself, especially to your passions.

I hadn’t anticipated what conflicting feelings the movie would bring up. I have fibromyalgia, and many days my body feels as if it is encased in a cement cast made of pain. But seeing the movie, I remembered when everything made me jump, twirl, soar. I remembered dancing past exhaustion. In the movie, when one of the judges at the Royal Academy of Dance asks the twelve-year old Billy what it feels like to dance, and he answers that “it feels like fire….I forget everything…I feel like I’m flying,” tears came to my eyes. Yes, that is what it feels like. To be so one with your body, so alive! My tears were for the dancing I would never do again, for the body that had been so supple and strong, so free of pain.

In my enthusiasm, I showed Adam an ancient photo of my sixth grade recital. There I was in front, my arms long and graceful, my position perfect. But on my face I had the most anxious look. “Why do you look so weird?” Adam said, and I said it had something to do with not wearing my glasses. But looking at my partner, her arms not so perfect but her face suffused with joy, I knew the expression wasn’t just the product of myopia. It was also a product of anxiety, of wanting so badly to get it just right and the fear of being imperfect.

Later that night I looked at recent photos of myself. I am overweight, not young, but there is a softness to my face. There is enjoyment. There is acceptance. You would be hard put to put the photo of the young girl with the one of the woman. Kat Duff, in her wonderful book, The Alchemy of Illness, talks about the transformations that can occur in the crucible of illness. I know that for me, I’ve been forced to give up the illusion of perfection and the need to constantly prove myself. And that is a grace.

I do dance, sometimes, when the opportunity presents itself and I am well enough. And sometimes I feel the fire and forget myself.

And yes, Adam enjoyed the movie.

 

 
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