Updated: Mar 23, 2021
January 2021 Soul Notes
Ironically, in spite of the “sameness” of the shape of my lockdown days, I don’t quite know what to expect of myself from one day to the next. Some nights are sleepless; others peaceful. Some mornings, I press snooze so many times, that it’s definitely a second sleep; others, I bounce out of bed and head out for a dawn walk. Some days, I feel blurry, out of focus and on a slow setting; others I’m sharp, light and energetic. I’m learning not to expect too much and go with the energy when it’s there, and be kind when it’s not. If I were a horse, you wouldn’t bet on me, but I can be exciting to watch when you’re least expecting it 😊
Today started with a bounce. I was excited to join a morning writing workshop, run by the wonderful Gemma Seltzer at Write & Shine. The theme, aptly, was HOPE. Twenty of us were guided through writing exercises, first wakening all of our senses to the theme as we imagined what hope tastes, smells and feels like. Then some inspiration as we read and responded to poems by Emily Dickinson, Lucille Clifton, and Naomi Shihab Nye , followed by time to write a story about finding hope in a bleak situation.
I feel lifted by my morning experience. More connected to myself, thanks to the writing and the conversation. I feel like I’ve come up from the cabin below deck, where I’ve been huddled awhile, feeling a bit seasick in the tumult of this world reality. It allowed me to stand on the boat, look out at the horizon, and feel steadied by the connection with something larger than this.
The reset was much needed. Hope has felt in short supply over the last few weeks. Writer, Rebecca Solnit calls hope “an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable”. I’ve been struggling to get my arms around this tiered and sheltered life which defines our current reality. As life got gradually more restricted with every passing week over the holidays, I watched the little lights of comfort go out - the prospect of seeing my family in Manchester; a visit to the local cinema for our annual screening of It’s a Wonderful Life, a spa break booked for me and my daughter. Then my daughter’s uncle died suddenly after contracting CoVid. And we wait now for news of my mum’s cousin, also in hospital and on a ventilator. The restricted life regretted. And then the confronting reality of the lives lost each day. My arms don’t lift to embrace any of this easily.
In his seminal book Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl asks the question how is it possible to say yes to life in the face of the triumvirate of pain, guilt and death? How do we find hope and a way of embracing all of this life?
Emily Dickinson writes that:
“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul”
She describes something that exists in all of us that is so delicate and yet so enduring. It is not a fey optimism that says that everything will be ok. It is not breezy and brash. It’s more subtle - the halting rise of a winter sun in a grey sky; a bud waiting to unfurl; a whispered prayer before bedtime. Hope holds the lift doors to the heart open when the pain is racing to clamber in. Hope doesn’t pretend that life exists without pain – that it can be avoided, eluded, resisted, controlled. Rather, hope faces into all of it as part of this life. Like the bird in the gale of Dickinson’s poem, not surrendering to the winds, but nestling down in the battering and seeking warmth within.
As the doors remain open, other passengers arrive too. The humour. The joy. The care. Writer, Mark Nepo tells a story of lying on a hospital bed in a cancer ward feeling desolate and afraid. Across the ward, a man began to chuckle. Nepo describes the jolt of this incongruent sound. Then he caught the man’s eye and found himself smiling and then also laughing. The same happened with others in the ward, until they were joined in laughter. Here is a group of people in physical, emotional and spiritual pain, with no certainty about their future, embracing all of it and finding each other along the way.
Hope is a gift that makes possible an answer to Frankl’s question, echoed by David Whyte in his Book of Consolations:
“how will you shape a life equal to and as beautiful and as astonishing as a world that can birth you, bring you into the light and then just as you are beginning to understand it, takes you away?”
Gemma was so right in the writing workshop – hope is sensual - something to be felt in the body – to be tasted, to be smelled, to be felt. We have to climb into our body to fully experience its warmth and texture and the space it creates. Sitting at screens, scrolling but otherwise immobile disconnects us and that seasick feeling closes in. Heading outside, even looking up at the sky, reminds us that there is sunshine as well as clouds. For me, hope tastes like lemon sherbet…..smells like the waft of a freshly baked loaf on the air and feels like the lightest touch of a feather on skin. How about for you? What does hope taste like?
The last word today to one of the wonderful poetesses of the day. A prose poem that paints a hope word picture:
What can a yellow glove mean in a world of motorcars and governments? I was small, like everyone. Life was a string of precautions: Don’t kiss the squirrel before you bury him, don’t suck candy, pop balloons, drop watermelons, watch TV. When the new gloves appeared one Christmas, tucked in soft tissue, I heard it trailing me: Don’t lose the yellow gloves. I was small, there was too much to remember. One day, waving at a stream—the ice had cracked, winter chipping down, soon we would sail boats and roll into ditches—I let a glove go. Into the stream, sucked under the street. Since when did streets have mouths? I walked home on a desperate road. Gloves cost money. We didn’t have much. I would tell no one. I would wear the yellow glove that was left and keep the other hand in a pocket. I knew my mother’s eyes had tears they had not cried yet, I didn’t want to be the one to make them flow. It was the prayer I spoke secretly, folding socks, lining up donkeys in windowsills. To be good, a promise made to the roaches who scouted my closet at night. If you don’t get in my bed, I will be good. And they listened. I had a lot to fulfill. The months rolled down like towels out of a machine. I sang and drew and fattened the cat. Don’t scream, don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t fight—you could hear it anywhere. A pebble could show you how to be smooth, tell the truth. A field could show how to sleep without walls. A stream could remember how to drift and change—next June I was stirring the stream like a soup, telling my brother dinner would be ready if he’d only hurry up with the bread, when I saw it. The yellow glove draped on a twig. A muddy survivor. A quiet flag. Where had it been in the three gone months? I could wash it, fold it in my winter drawer with its sister, no one in that world would ever know. There were miracles on Harvey Street. Children walked home in yellow light. Trees were reborn and gloves traveled far, but returned. A thousand miles later, what can a yellow glove mean in a world of bankbooks and stereos? Part of the difference between floating and going down.
I hope you find whatever it is that keeps you afloat in these coming weeks and months.