This is a piece I wrote last year. It felt appropriate to share again as the winter months approach.
The days are getting shorter now, as autumn has fully emerged from the warm summer months. Darkness has subtly welcomed our mornings and taken more from our evening light. We wrap ourselves in layers of comfort, to ease the chill of these colder days. Naturally, I think, we take on a slower pace. We cannot anticipate the first snowfall, or the Southern Ontario ice storms. But somehow, we adjust to the rhythms of autumn and winter, to the darkness; to the cold.
Our bodies know that they need to keep warm. That they need a bit more light. They know that we may need to hibernate more than usual; and to walk gently through the world lest we slip. We go to bed earlier, and perhaps allow ourselves that extra bit of sleep in the morning. The physical world teaches us that darkness too has its time and place. Creation submits to the presence of the darker, colder months. Not only does it invite us, but somehow gently nudges us to accept it too. The resistance only seems to make us more miserable.
Truth be told, I am a lover of these darker months. Autumn and winter are my favourite seasons. They have a moodiness, and a melancholic spirit about them. Two things that aren’t foreign to me (sometimes I wish that weren’t the case). However, the seasons in our lives that are clouded by deep darkness, and despair, do not explicitly carry the same magic or anticipation that fall and winter do. They often hold in them much fear, anxiety, confusion and disorientation. And yet, this darkness too is a gift.
I am sure you each have had your fair share of darkness. Perhaps it has been cloaked in grief, loss, or mental health struggles. Perhaps it came from a wrong done to you, a move, a relationship conflict or ending, abuse, or a an unmet longing. Maybe you experienced it, or are currently experiencing it, but have no idea why. It just seems to be there, with no explanation or understanding of it. And you can feel it, almost viscerally.
I know you’ve heard it before, that there is hope within the cloud of despair. That “this too shall pass”. And as cliche as it is, it’s the truth. And maybe just something we all needed to be reminded of. Not only will it pass, but it will mark you, maybe even leave a scar on you, to remind you that you endured, and that grace held you through it. It will remind you, that you too can be, and hold hope for someone else, because you lived to tell the tale of it.
If I look back on my life, it is the times that were completely and utterly dark, that formed me most, and frankly, made me more kind. This is the gift of hindsight. When you are in it however, it feels like complete shit and as though joy will never return to you. But it does and it will.
I can’t tell you how your own box of darkness (as Mary Oliver writes) will shape your life. How, you too will look back on it with some sense of gratitude for the ways it taught you about grace, compassion, kindness, forgiveness and love. But it will. In its own mysterious way and timing, it will cultivate an empathy and spaciousness within you for others to sit, and just be, in the dark.
Just as we let our physical bodies be cared for in these months approaching, with warm baths, and soups, blankets and early nights in with a friend or a book; let yourself be cared for in the times of pain. Make self-care a priority, and don’t feel bad about it! And please, please let others care for you.
I will leave you with a poem by Mary Oliver that a friend gave to me not that long ago. Along with a poem that I often come back to in the more trying times. May these words leave you with a little more hope and light.
Heavy, by Mary Oliver
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
I went closer,
and I did not die.
had His hand in this,
as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poets said,
was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry
but how you carry it—
books, bricks, grief—
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it
when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?
Have you heard
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?
How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
to which there is no reply?
Kindness, by Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.
I have collaborated with the wonderful Staci Lee Kennelly in some of these writing projects. Please check out her work here:
https://alifedeveloping.org and follow her on Instagram at stacileekennelly