In The Overstory (Penguin Random House 2019), Dory, one of Richard Powers’ characters, watches the twin towers fall on 9/11. She thinks, Finally, the whole strange dream of safety, of separation, will die.
This may seem an odd opening to a holiday message, filled as they usually are with hope and good cheer. But I am not one for false heartiness (or toxic positivity as pop psychology would have us call it). Times are tough, and we are being called upon to dig deeply into our reserves of resilience. I agree with Powers, and pondering this line, which stayed with me long after reading it, I think we have an equally strange dream of certainty. We want to believe that we can manage the planet, and our lives, into something predictable, stable, certain and safe. We seek control over that which cannot be controlled.
We rail against the inevitability of winter, aging, darkness, and death. We imagine ourselves as separate from one another, from the earth and all the life forms it supports– including bacteria. We imagine ourselves immune to suffering, dreaming of the twin illusions: safety and certainty. I write this, not to pile onto the already challenging circumstances of living with Covid, climate change, and the common disasters of being human, but to lovingly nudge you into wakefulness.
It is past time that we learn to navigate the inescapable actuality of life with grace and engage a kind of spiritual warriorship. We can bravely awaken from our strange collective dream and allow life to unfold on its own terms. We can remember our oneness.
This week I posted a meme in my Facebook feed, from a quote by author Heidi Priebe:
“To love someone long-term is to attend a thousand funerals of the people they used to be. The people they’re too exhausted to be any longer. The people they grew out of, the people they never ended up growing into. We so badly want the people we love to get their spark back when it burns out, to become speedily found when they are lost.
But it is not our job to hold anyone accountable to the people they used to be. It is our job to travel with them between each version and to honour what emerges along the way. Sometimes it will be an even more luminescent flame. Sometimes it will be a flicker that temporarily floods the room with a perfect and necessary darkness.”
We can apply this philosophy to the planet as well, and to the bacteria that populate it. Winter itself is a “perfect and necessary darkness”. Covid too, a kind of darkness that we pray is temporary. Our job it seems is to learn and re-learn how to live with the fact of our lack of control and to learn to love uncertainty, to welcome the unknown.
Well-acquainted with personal darkness and the demons that linger there, my grandmother often said, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” She understood the expected presence of the dark, and that it could not be vanquished. It could, though, be illuminated.
May this season bring you candlelight, that you might make peace with darkness. In doing so we honour our collective becoming. Looking forward to exploring 2022 with you.
Note: The Overstory is also my reading pick of the year. For the love of trees, read it!