The Great Dark approaches and I am steeling myself against Kali, the Dark Mother of Hinduism, because I feel a dark coming on. For the past decade the holiday season, which in my world includes Christmas, has cast an ever longer shadow even as the celestial bodies align to create the longest night of the year. It has become an ever darker night of the soul for me. My sense of humor fails me.
Once upon a time, Christmas was for me a time of light, color and good feeling, of family closeness and celebration of childhood, new light, all those things we forget in the madness that has become the American Holiday Frenzy. It wasn't that much about gift-giving, although it was huge fun as a kid to get and give presents, and later just to watch the kids enjoy them. But kids will grow up and out with time, and wander, and the elders die off until one day we realize, as my dear cousin and surrogate sister Kathy said on the passing of her mother, "We are them now." It was true. My aunt had been the last of her generation in my family.
I didn't mind becoming an elder but I did mind the dissolution of my own family due to death, divorce, maturation, all that. Before long I was not alone though, and for seven years there was a constant partner and some semblance of Christmas, including a slightly dysfunctional secondary family and visits, at least, to or from the home base. It was enough.
Then that came to a screeching halt and I returned to the east coast, and the deterioration of the color and sparkling lights and genial foolishness really began to fade.
Over the past four years, despite my youngest's valiant attempts to keep things more or less festive, it was hard -- for her and on me. Yes, it was hard on me. It was hard to wait all day at Thanksgiving and Christmas while her other family got her first, her mother and my former in-laws and eventually even her adopted little sister. Those days were long and grey, blessed only by the eventual arrival of my daughter and her husband.
So why can one not simply curl up with a book and pretend nothing is happening? Why is this still so difficult? I believe it is partly the persistence of memory, partly seasonal, the moon and the tides. And everyone else, it seems, is forcing him or herself to do something with it.
Since I left California it has been difficult. No, I would not go back in time or place. It isn't how I operate. It is simply a historical marker. At least I have gotten out of my day-t0-day rut and am living life much more fully again -- or even more so -- on a daily or weekly basis. But this time, along with Thanksgiving, it's just not easy or comfortable.
I will qualify that statement, because the Thanksgiving just past was different and quite wonderful, and I feel blessed by that and am profoundly thankful. It was, in fact, for all its newness and variation from the best of past ones, quite possibly the best ever.
Maybe that is why I look toward the Dark Mother, Kali, as Christmas approaches. No, I haven't coverted to Hinduism nor Thuggee, will not be joining up with wealthy caravans and garotting them in their sleep, but I will be in that sort of mood, I fear. And I do fear it much.
It is a weak, pathetic ingrate writing this. Two weeks ago I was as happy as I've been in years, largely because I felt at home, was blessed to share someone else's home, family and marvelous company for a while, and it was very very easy and very very good to feel truly at home for a while. I will never forget that gift. Yet the prospect of a Christmas with really, finally, the last light gone out on the family tree while my youngest and most devoted is living in England (and freezing) honestly fills me with dread. Christmas is not what it used to be, and quite possibly never was.
The dread will last a day or two and then the usual madness will resume and I will swim in it again. But those couple days will be dark as the face of Kali, and I will question not the lovely traditions of the past, dedicated as they were to children and the child in each of us, but the whole ostensible point of the holiday. Without the closeness of others, without the warmth, the light, the color and the company of very good people, it becomes painfully underlined for me, how ridiculous life can be when lived in solitude. I live in the western hemisphere, so the reminders of Christmas are more than unavoidable: they are ubiquitous, relentless, even persecutorial. I am developing an active dislike.
My life is better now than it was four years ago or even four months ago, incalculably better. But I have also learned William Blake was right when he said "More! More! is the cry of a mistaken soul. Nothing less than all will satisfy mankind."
Weak, selfish, blue like the face of Kali, with grey, yes, grey snow falling outside this day, I've whined my way toward the event that once marked the beginning of longer and brighter days, and now I realize, having said all this, that those days will still be longer and brighter regardless of how I occupy myself on one or two particular days not far off, that the sun, the moon and the stars will still execute their assigned duties, that spring will come, that life overall will continue to be good, that I have been incredibly blessed and continue to accrue more blessings, more light, more love -- just in ways different and perhaps on days different than the ones everyone else will be trying desperately to recapture what I already know I have lost and found again.
I still will long for weather warm enough to allow me to wander a beach again without having to wear a parka. This is hard enough, and no, I am never satisfied. I will not want to wander that beach alone.
Sometimes all that's required is to talk myself through it. This exercise in self-pity might have done the trick.
Then sometimes some cosmic twitch intervenes in times like this and slaps me out of my self-pitying funk. It just happened again, as I was wrapping up this fine whine and I discovered my next-door neighbor, Mrs. Jackson, a widow in her late 80s who has been a wonderful friend and great neighbor but who has multiple medical problems, had called for an ambulance. I've just been over there, helped the local EMTs assess her, have reassured her, and will keep track of her progress at the hospital. In doing this I realize this is what will carry me through my own trivial Longest Night: being awake and aware and watching out for others. It is what I do wherever I am, and it is a responsibility far more important than feeling at home. It is my calling, and now thanks to my neighbor's misfortune everything is changed. I remember who I am and why I am here, here being wherever I happen to be at any given moment in any given season.
Instead of making offerings to the Dark Mother I will begin again, like Shiva, to throw myself at her, to try and stop her murderous rampage, to remain mindful of my place and to shut the hell up and just be.
For the record I still hate the cold, the grey snow, this silent house, this empty room, and a lot of other things, but the dread has retreated now. I truly believe I am better than this.
I have to be, or I am nothing.