Last night crept in, longest night of my life–farthest north I’d ever been on a winter solstice–and I dissolved into the sort of writhing, fearsome sobs that feel like they ought to produce something. I hoped they would.
“I am feeling overwhelmed,” I told my husband. “I think I’d benefit from some time alone.” I imagined the angels looked down upon me, sorry I was in such consternation.
Two Mary figures vie for my affections. The first, Lady Mary of Downton Abbey. She is not the exemplar of success; it’s only that she fell into the comfort of an aristocratic family and has the pride, class, and stubbornness to hold onto it. And then there is Mary, mother of God. Her most confident cry is one of praise that God has favored her in her humility.
I want to be both, to stop sniveling in apology and worry, to be the listener and accepter that Mary is: Let it be unto me. For three years running, that line grips me. But couldn’t I yet know the graces of being a confident woman, whose etiquette and words are so deftly handled that it’s a social comfort to be with me in any circumstance? On the other hand, if I choose let it be, then I fear my natural foibles will fall undisciplined upon and around me, an embarrassment to the potential of beauty in the universe. In short, surely both Marys cannot coexist in me.
If I accept that I am growing and not seeing my own growth, then I accept that it is okay to be in the dark, to be ignorant. Maybe it’s never a lingering thing, of course, but it seems a weak word anyway: ignorance. Pressing on, accomplishing my version of good, making and remaking–in the name of glory (but never, admittedly, in the name of greed)–those are the prizes of success: not that we are given to, but that we are able to give and must, by all means. Christmas giving, after all.
Oh, our tilted axis, and oh, earth orbiting round the sun–you mean dark days. Clark Strand, in his New York Times article “Bring on the Dark: Why We Need the Winter Solstice”, honors the idea of darkness as something robbed from us in our modern generations’ immersion in artificial light. Darkness used to be a holy space, when people of old “touched one another, told stories and, with so much night to work with, woke in the middle of it to a darkness so luxurious it teased visions from the mind and divine visitations that helped to guide their course through life….It was once the hour of God.”
The hour of God. The hour of open hands. The hour of sleep, when there is ample space for rest. Darkness puts a stop to our constant seeing, our intentional discovering. Perhaps it leaves space unfilled, so that we may be recreated and named by God instead of giving in to “the impulse to remake the world in our own image.”
There will be light in time; there will be springs and summers in which to walk and plan and build. But in the darkness, we open the habitual possibility of listening to the words of a messenger angel, who may tell us what great blessing comes to the world beyond all that we could ever dream, through us (see Mary mother of God’s story) or through others (see Joseph the carpenter’s story).
Or maybe we will grow to savor the darkness, when nothing of consequence at all is announced, when we realize that peace has already come.
It’s hard to describe the weight and significance of my words being blessed by someone else and showing up in a new space. Today SheLoves Magazine is running my poem “I Dream of Girls.” I’ll welcome you over there if you want to read more.
I Dream of Girls
The wind I least want
away: the whispering one
that howls in secrets
to the gentle girl…
We are making our way in New York City this week. After seeing, walking, exploring, as much as three young boys can handle, we seek quiet in a small Brooklyn apartment. Well, quiet is relative. There were snatches of it this morning, as I read that even though I’d walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I could dare to fear no evil.
This afternoon, though, my boys can’t stop rough housing, hurting each other, and making a game of crushing fallen cereal pieces all over the living room floor. I slam down my Chaim Potok novel, storm in to call my boys hellions and demand they clean up the war zone. Oldest son thinks I need to know that the fallen cereal did make the floor look like a minefield.
Clearly. A reason. To ruin. Someone else’s. Apartment.
I ban the electronic devices, cursing them as “lazy games,” and set the boys to work making dinner. They do well. One chops onions, another tomatoes. They stir the lentils, measure out rice.
And on the cleared minefield, we eat.
Food is thrown across the floor, eventually. And again, we work toward restoration. (And again, and again. How many things were spilled today.)
But my partner in this marriage comes home and takes the boys out to play, and what do I do with this unexpected time of peace, of genuine quiet? How much longer it lingers than I expected.
In my hour, I receive word of war zones half a world away. Of children beheaded. Of the advance of ISIS, and attacks between Israel and Gaza. Prayer has never been so urgent. Mind you, it’s not perfect here in Brooklyn—my lover and I startled awake to gunshots the other night. “Maybe it really wasn’t,” he said sleepily. But we both knew it was. We slept anyway, as though the tragedies of the day don’t touch us clear through.
I wonder how it is that peace is restored after the mines are strewn in our fields, after brother-anger flashes through my little boys’ eyes. I don’t have answers to these things—no tidy packages to pull together why the real consternation of my little day doesn’t keep us up at night. We still circle around dinner together, and we say grace, for that’s what it is.
But there are gaps sometimes, like this one, when the whispers come: how do Iraqi Christian mamas fear no evil?
Tweetspeak Poetry invited me to write a poem about laundry this week, tossed in with an offer to be entered in drawing for a Scratch Magazine subscription. How could I resist? Laundry is so present, I might have more than one in me if you beg me to wring another out.
Only walls know how I
laundered by hand and—
by back, arms, by this body—
how little I’ve laundered in compare
to the matròn bunched, swayed
over Riviere Cotes de Fer—
only my one day paused enough
to wonder why I’d relegate
this tactile communion
to a mechanical cube three
times my size when I am muscle,
I am water, I admit dirt hunkers
against the fibers—scrubbing,
I have had enough! I sever
myself from the wash of women’s
fortitude that binds us all in
unity. I can take the grace—oh!
and couldn’t I have more?—
my Western wringing has left me
hanging for a generous Wind—
lay me limply, let me fold. I can
claim the four-four measures,
of garments in quadrants if only
to be clothed again. It is a small
preparation I can handle, this dress
over my head—