Southern Exposure

Ruminations of a Native Son


Greater Washington. DC., United States
February 06
Compulsive writer (mostly memoirs and sociopolitical rants), musicologist, hermeticst, fiscal conservative, radical centrist, agrarian socialist; Charter member, Factualist Party; born and raised in DC, healthcare professional, retired businessman, civic and political activist on two coasts, civil rights movement veteran. An empiricist's worst nightmare, I believe in everything but I don't believe everything, including many things I believe in. Turned down by US Army in 1966 for medical reasons, thrown out of Col. Hasan's Black Man's Army in 1967 for being "too militant." Scion of a family only Tennessee Williams could have dreamed up. There's more. There's always more.


DECEMBER 10, 2010 2:36PM

Heading Toward the Longest Night

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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.

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Glad your Thanksgiving weekend gave you such joy. I identify about waiting for children who are with other parents. It makes the holidays darker and colder.
Julie -- You always somehow get it and give it back so concisely. Thank you.

Lea -- Thanks. It really did. Thanks also for understanding how it can be with children at a distance, either physical, emotional -- or both. I'm sorry you know, but thank you for the empathy that comes with that knowing.
Perhaps one day. A small flower. A minor light. A song that hugs the heart. Perhaps then, it won't be so always dark.
Scupper...god...yes, all that, and it's already here. I simply have to open my eyes and let in that light. Thank you so very much.
I actually knew a girl named Kali. She fit her name to a T- dark and powerful. It was her birth name.
I hear you on the endless funk. Not much wisdom to offer -just hope and pray and try to get something good going, I guess.
Fernsy: Wow! I've never known anyone with that name. As for the funk, I think I'm starting to figure out this needs to work, so I will definitely try and make something happen. I'm not as alone in this as I had thought. Thank you so much for your comment.
An excellent, thoughtful post. Rated.
Patrick, thank you very much.
What a poignant piece on the reality of divorce, death and all those things persistent in life that rightfully bring us down. I see so many people during the holidays in pain for the very reasons you mention and for that, you are not alone. Not that there's much comfort in that but for you, my wish is that future Christmases will return with brightness and light, for you are anything but "nothing".
God, Mary, you are the best, you know that? Thank you so much for these comments, for your understanding and insight, and most of all for your friendship. I'm certain, too, future Christmases will return with the brightness and light that may be missed this year. In fact there is more than one kind of light. Thank you for loaning yours.
Flower Child: You have expressed this life-stage transition business in an especially lovely way, and I thank you. My neighbor -- and other neighbors -- do indeed add something fine to the spirit of things, all year round, really. And your observation that "But there are those who share our blood and those who share our heart," that is what Thanksgiving taught me. I suffered a momentary lapse of gratitude and faith, I suppose, but you are oh so right about that.

I will look forward to hearing from you, perhaps, as you look back at the stack of ramblings I've accumulated here. And again, I thank you.