Sometimes, for those of us living in the Pacific Northwest, the winter can seem long, unending, the spring so far away--even now, when night and day are the same, and we know more light is coming. This poem speaks to the longing for the light and the warmth and the spring.
Winter Road Trip
by L.L. Barkat
The road is long as I travel south
and the sun is low in the white sky.
Last night I woke to a great silence,
in a house that is anything but silent
by day. Old pines keep watch
over that dwelling, and the moon
keeps watch, and I wish
for this kind of watching,
but my bedroom in the town where I live
looks out over streetlights and the sounds
of cars and sometimes sirens. In my room,
the roads seem short, and I wonder
if tonight I will dream of the long road
home, and how the sun bathed the trees
in gold, and how the sumacs leaned with flowers
the color of some wine whose name
I can’t remember, near the trees whose names
I’ve never known, now strung with long red necklaces.
There's a blog I like to read sometimes, called Posie Gets Cozy, written by a woman who lives here in Portland. She writes about very ordinary things, like breakfast and adoption and moonrise. And in 2006, she wrote a beautiful post about an accident she was in. She had been badly hurt--terribly hurt--and so she spent a long time in the hospital, shocked, frightened, recovering, recuperating, trying to heal. The accident changed her life. It changed her husband's life, too--he went from being a geologist to becoming and being a nurse. And it changed the way she saw the world.
I had a vision about the world when I was there [in the hospital]. It came to me one night as if a little door opened and I looked through and eavesdropped on the truth. I saw that the world was constantly falling apart, it was always in a state of little things always falling apart, and then there were these brigades of individual human angels, with kind eyes, apples and stitches, repairing, fixing, mending, patting, bandaging the wounds of the world, and putting it back together, piece by tiny piece.
I have also been graced by moments of pain and wonder and hope and grief--I think we all have, if we pay attention. They have changed my life. They have changed the way I see the world. And they have encouraged me to try to see through kind eyes, knowing that there are so many others who are also trying.
In a few days, her accident will have happened 21 years ago. You can read the full post about it here. Or you can read any other part of her blog. It's all very ordinary and very human.
With the new year, I've been thinking about newness, and the rawness of the new--new babies, new families, and new ways of being. This article addresses this kind of experience, and the ways in which our experience can be transformed. The author wonders:
What would it be like in winter, awake in that dark silent house, holding a baby I couldn’t even imagine? I’d always thought of the deepest part of night as the witching hour, a time, my childhood books had taught me, that was not for humans. In a month or so, I’d see the witching hour again and again.
Then my son was born, and what shocked me most — more than the surprising goriness of my body’s healing, more than the strange sounds newborns make, more than the ferocity of my nursing-mother appetite — were the nights. Those long, dark, cold winter nights I had feared more than childbirth itself. They became something I hadn’t known a night could be: a haven. A shelter.
It's a lovely read for these short days, when the year is still new, and we feel ready to make changes to the ways in which we experience the world.
See Paris First
by M. Truman Cooper
Suppose that what you fear
could be trapped,
and held in Paris.
Then you would have
the courage to go
everywhere in the world.
All the directions of the compass
open to you,
except the degrees east or west
of true north
that lead to Paris.
Still, you wouldn’t dare
put your toes
smack dab on the city limit line.
You’re not really willing
to stand on a mountainside
and watch the Paris lights
come up at night.
Just to be on the safe side
you decide to stay completely
out of France.
But then danger
seems too close
even to those boundaries,
and you feel
the timid part of you
covering the whole globe again.
You need the kind of friend
who learns your secret and says,
"See Paris first."
We often need words to describe our experiences and our emotions. And as our circumstances change, as our environments or our responses to our perceived environments change, we need new words. Solastalgia is one of those new words, coined to describe a new feeling in response to a new reality.
In 2007, Glenn Albrecht wrote that "[a]s opposed to nostalgia--the melancholia or homesickness experienced by individuals when separated from a loved home--solastalgia is the distress that is produced by environmental change impacting on people while they are directly connected to their home environment." He went on to describe the process of coining this term:
Solastalgia has its origins in the concepts of ‘solace’ and ‘desolation’. Solace is derived from solari and solacium, with meanings connected to the alleviation of distress or to the provision of comfort or consolation in the face of distressing events. Desolation has its origins in solus and desolare with meanings connected to abandonment and loneliness. As indicated above, algia means pain, suffering or sickness. In addition, the concept has been constructed such that it has a ghost reference or structural similarity to nostalgia so that a place reference is imbedded. Hence, literally, solastalgia is the pain or sickness caused by the loss or lack of solace and the sense of isolation connected to the present state of one’s home and territory.
It's a good word, I think--useful in helpng us to identify this new feeling inside many of us, that we are not at home in our home environments. These environments have changed, are rendered unfamiliar, and in some profound way, inhospitable--not because they are forbidding but simply because they are deeply different from our expectations.