Light and warmth: what I keep wishing people these days, and wishing for myself. Light! Warmth. It seems simple enough. But, for some of us, this time of year–though not, of course, only this time of year–there is a gap that opens up (a gap neither warm nor bright) into which we can readily fall. A gap between the part of us that aspires and the part that remembers, or between the part that is healing and the part that still grieves, or between the loss we inherit and the gifts we wish to bring–and in that gap, trying not to lose our grip on where we want to be, we can easily lose sight (at least I can) of the crucial dignity of being where we actually are, and also honouring where we have been.
I think those of us minding the gaps this time of year–but not so far inside them the only option is applying basic forms of care–those of us who can manage it this year might benefit from gently, intentionally creating or adopting new forms of personal culture, and family culture, if that’s relevant–or artistic culture, or religious culture–any form of culture we can make or borrow or find–that gets us over the gaps intact, or out of them, when we do fall in, once we’re ready again to leave.
If you–or someone you love–has fallen into one of those stubborn gaps–or if you are sitting on the edge of one staring down–at a memory of yourself, or someone you love and have lost–or if you are, maybe, just this moment picking yourself up and dancing boldly around the edge of a gap you have been way down in before–or even if you are running in the opposite direction saying to hell with anyone sitting on the edge of that gap I’m getting myself out of here–to you, to me, to all of us, light and warmth, warmth and light, enough light to flood the room until we know the gap is not all there is, though it is real.
A gap, which is another way to say a wound, arises when the parts of a thing that are supposed to be together lose touch with one another, because of damage. Wounds heal when the sides come together. Recently, a friend of mine called to tell me her sheep had been attacked by a neighbour’s dog. This is a beautiful story, and one I will have to tell more carefully another time. But the short form of it is: my friend figured out how to save the sheep’s life, though she had no training in wound care, simply by educating herself enough to create the right conditions for the deep bite-wounds in her sheep’s neck to heal. By the time we talked on the phone, the ragged wounds had resolved into healthy pink flesh, and the sides of the wound were coming together. Even when the wounds look (and feel) pretty bad, healing happens–provided the right conditions are supplied. I think we can get better at supplying the right conditions: to ourselves, and for each other. Not just privately, but collectively: culturally.
This time of year some of us might need to clutch the pain of the past and our hope for the future like two sides of a favourite winter coat in the middle of a blizzard and not let go until we have fastened those two sides together with whatever implements are available. We are all in such different spots and it is our work to honour our own spots so well that our default position in the world is curiousity about the spots others are in, and deep honour for whatever stories people tell us about where they are now, where they have been, where they would like to go. Maybe some of us need to stick our old coats on the nearest pyre and let them, finally, catch on fire. Maybe some of us are going to need or want something other than a coat entirely now. Maybe some of us just aren’t going to be able to stay here, where the winds blow so cold. My elderly Swiss neighbour is a snow bird: she spends the winters in California. Last January, her husband of 61 years died in the night. What do we offer to one another? Warmth. Light. We find and try to make the rituals and traditions and habits that make life habitable for us, given our resources and the materials available, and we try to make more than we need, and to share what we have with others.
When I wish light and warmth to people, it is because I know the holidays can be cold and dark. But, friends, whatever our circumstances, whether we are patching our old coats or crafting new ones, we should not be at home hacking the serviceable buttons of our present lives out of raw materials and sewing them on alone. We should have button-making, button-sewing, button-doing and -undoing parties (because it is gonna all come apart, sometimes, let’s face it, especially this time of year). But if we want to do this work in good company, we will need to find places where we can show up with our coats and our skins in the shape they are actually in. And we will need to learn–insofar as we are sufficiently/safely clear of our own ravaging wounds and ragged gaps–how to open that door to others who are standing there in need of care, in need of the supportive conditions for healing. We are all–in such different ways!–going to need to do our work, whatever it is: wound care, tradition making, warmth-and-light-bringing–to make space for ourselves and the people we love to show up to the warmth and the light still available. Because while there is always more darkness, light keeps returning as well.
For ourselves, and our loved ones, and our neighbours–not just our next-door neighbours, but our parable of the Good Samaritan-style “Who is my neighbour?” neighbours, too–we are going to need traditions and habits that allow us to not be either happy or unhappy during the holidays. We are going to have to let ourselves and each other be bereaved and loved, miserable and hopeful–and all the rest of it–either, or both, and all of it flexibly, as needed. Despite the ability our capable, critical minds will always have to see how swiftly more dark and cold can come, our work is to cultivate stories and rituals and traditions and ways of being together that persuade us, like love does, that comfort is possible, that light and warmth are good things to procure and share and rest in. What we are looking for are rhythms of the body, sub-rational yet fully intelligent rhythms of being, that persuade us that something can be made, and made again, out of the available materials–whatever they are. Something that will fit, and keep us warm, and that we can make more of; let’s each see if we can’t make a bit more warmth, and light, this time of year, than we ourselves personally need. If that is too much to do, ask someone you trust to bring some warmth and light to you.