Every year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, a claustrophobic pressure in my soul. The darkness begins to feel overwhelming, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously contend with the darkness, to ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, when we proclaim the light really and truly returned, I will set it down here on the blog. Knowing how the season hits me, I will give myself permission for some minimal days, a sentence or two, or soothing words from another poet or writer instead of my own. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.
The first panic rises
when the days begin to dwindle,
when the darkness fills the afternoons,
and each day-cycle offers less light.
At first, I cannot make peace with darkness,
cannot move, cannot stop moving,
cannot rest for the restlessness.
In the last month, the dark has become
something like a living creature,
a dragon or a bear that pursues me
down the tunnel of the year.
So. First, we feel the panic,
name the restlessness,
sit with the great bear of darkness,
no matter how restless,
no matter how afraid,
no matter how filled with dread.
As the dark surrounds my soul
and presses into the light-filled rooms,
I will ask its name, and listen
for the words it has to teach me.
Today, I think the name is insufficiency.
Within myself, I fear I do not have reserves
of patience, or goodness, or strength,
of time, or will, or energy
to make it through. Insufficiency
is an ache in my bones, a rodent
gnawing in the back of my brain.
The trick I am trying is simply to sit
with the names that come,
not to deny the ugliness or fear.
I will not end this with an affirmation
that denies the reality of the feeling.
Today, I will meet only one goal,
and then perhaps I will find the strength
for another, and another.
I will find the inner resources
for a single task at a time.
Yesterday, due to some schedule changes, I had an ad hoc study period with students who are not usually in my classes. After lunch, a spirited group came laughing into my room to ask me to settle a silly argument. They pointed to a blue circle on a package of gummy fruit. “What is this this?” they demanded. When I said I was sure it was a blueberry, giggles erupted. Some said blueberry, some said grape.
It was a good-humored debate among a group of four girls from different places in the world: Bahrain, US/Russia, China, and Belize. One of them has a sign language interpreter. They weren’t ignoring their differences or trying to be all the same–they were reveling in their differences, finding delight in each other and in their difference of perception.
We just kept up the conversation for the rest of the period, and two others came in just after, and joined, these two from Ethiopia. The playful conversation grew and expanded, and soon someone was asking these two what it was like to be twins, and everyone was sharing stories.
I know that we don’t always meet our goals to be as inclusive as we want to be. We still have separation of race and ethnicity and social class and identity at our lunchroom tables, but we do break through. We do expand beyond our little circles. We have times of totally un-self-conscious openness when we delight in our stories together.