The rhododendrons make me laugh. After a long stretch of autumn, the sun came out, the temperature rose into the 60s for a minute, and they got all pink, as if to say, “I’m ready for spring now!” I identify heartily.
But I really do love fall and winter. The skies, especially, astonish me at dawn, when I’m smart enough to catch the sunrise, and at sunset. Walking the beach now, only a few people share the vast and driftwood-littered back side with me. Same on the flats where I wear my rubber boots and bring my clam rake and come home with supper.
What I love most about winter might be the smell of wood smoke and the chance to sit with others, warming our toes and souls together by a fireplace.
In these winter gatherings we are more aware than at other times, I think, that we are part of the human village, responsible together for stewarding the care of our planet and of each other.
I laugh at my rhododendrons’ mistaken optimism, but it is a rueful feeling. These are times full of hurt by any assessment. This does not feel vague or abstract right now. Even though there is little threat of its brutal intrusion on my peaceful life in Eastham, I am, like many, walking through my days with a heavy heart.
Closer, though, there is Lewiston, Maine. How are we to anticipate the dangerous unexpected without living lives of distrust and constant trepidation? The decisions rest partly with the people we invest our tax dollars in to protect us — many more armed with weapons than with psychology degrees, it seems.
How do we create safety?
Maybe it starts in ourselves, in our histories and our bodies.
Psychotherapist and author Resmaa Menakem suggests in My Grandmother’s Hands that trauma is handed down generationally and resides in each of our bodies. His is the African-American experience, but his teaching is that our histories live in all of us, shaping our ways of thinking, feeling, and being.
Menakem frames individual and cultural healing as something that emerges from hard work. It is painful, though there are two kinds of pain, he writes. “Dirty pain” goes with shutting down our experiences; numbing ourselves to feel less, we breathe in shallow breaths; we are ever-wary. “Clean pain” comes when we have the support we need to incorporate our historic trauma into our present embodied awareness.
It seems to me we are offered too many ways to shut down and allow distrust to dominate. Our imaginations are fed enough anxiety by the mainstream media to generate a lifetime of fear for our loved ones and suspicion of our neighbors and strangers.
It is easy to see how this leads people to feel separated from democracy, too. I maintain my hope for its future even as I feel separated from the decision-makers on many issues right now, especially on matters of war and peace.
I pray we might better address our distress by coming together. This is why, even far from the warring places, shared public expressions or demonstrations of concern on issues that alarm us matter. May we engage in them with open hearts.
There are other ways to come together. Listening to live music helps me. Being involved with others in worthwhile activities — soup kitchens, knitting groups, historical societies, arts centers — gives us access to kindred spirits who care about each other and about our world. Giving thanks is a daily practice for members of our indigenous community and a practice that is expressed in every faith tradition I know of.
What we can be sure of is this: war leads to more and continued atrocities and trauma to be inherited by generations to come.
For now, from here, we can do this: attend to our individual and collective pain, including all that has been handed to us, to find ways to feel safe, to breathe deeply. We will do it each in our own way.
For now, from here, I will get some wood split for the first indoor fire of the year.