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.
I was prompted to write about this--"the fourth trimester," the three months following the birth of a full-term infant--for several reasons. First, I've been devoting a lot of time over the last two years to learning about attachment, the process by which we come to be connected to our caregivers early in our lives, and through which we come to underatand what it means to be a person, and especially, a person in relationship. And that learning begins in the fourth trimester. By twelve months, a baby has arrived at a deep understanding of how to be in relationship, of what it means to care and be cared for.
As this is happening for us as babies, for us as mothers? We are navigating our own changes, ranging from postpartum physical recovery to neurological and psychological changes that typically allow us to be more attuned to the needs of their babies--and often less attuned to our own needs. Partners too, when they are present, are busy coming to terms with changing relationships in the household, with the enormity of their new roles, and what it means to them.
I'm moved by the efforts of babies to reach out and engage the people who care for them, just as I'm moved by the efforts of those same caregivers--mothers, fathers, grandparents, and many many others--to rise to the challenge of care as best they can, all the while confronting the physical challenges of care and the profound feelings about being in relationship that typically surface at this moment.
And then I saw an article in the New York Times that touches on this moment. It's flawed in a variety of ways--most obviously to my eyes, in its assumption of economic privilege--but it's still an important recognition of the vulnerability of this moment in the lives of families. It mentions some great new books, like The Fourth Trimester, and urges women to attend to their own well-being in a variety of ways--getting help day-by-day, getting sleep, supporting physical recuperation, supporting breastfeeding.
Please know that if you're seeking support at this moment, there are many local resources available to you, everything from pelvic floor therapists like those mentioned in this article, to lactation specialists and nursng mother's groups, to free support groups for women experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety, and much much more. And there are therapists like me who are ready to help you make sense of what's happening for you.
This is the time of the year when the light begins to ebb, to shorten, to fade, when we are reminded of mortality. But it is of course always with us. Children discover it in myriad ways: the broken cookie; the dead bird on the sidewalk; the death of a friend. This essay, by Monica Dux, is a meditation on the ways in which her daughter makes community and makes meaning in the wake of the death of her stick insect, Johnny:
My grief-stricken daughter put him in a glass bowl on the kitchen table, where he lay in state, while she decided what to do with his body.
She knocked on the neighbour's door, to let them know that Johnny was no more. She spread the word at school too, and it was there that one of her wise teachers comforted her with the words "It's not how long you live, but how well that counts". This was true, my daughter told me. Johnny had lived well. She repeated this solemnly when she rang her grandparents, to break the bad news.
If you're wondering how to help a young child you know begin to make sense of death, if you want to offer some ways of beginning to speak about it--as the teachers Dux describes do--you might explore some the following books.
And if you're with an adult, you might simply hold space for them.
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a sick society.
The goal of therapy should never be to help people adjust to oppression.
Therapists are challenged in these times to walk a path between, on the one hand, helping people adjust to thir circumstances in ways that diminish their suffering (by reframing perceptions, or finding coping tools, for example), and on the other hand, helping people recognize when they are encountering circumstances that are unjust, that create pain, that demand action in the world. This has in fact always been our work, to notice together what is in our control, what is not in our control, and how best to make sense of those realities, and of the actions that feel meaningful and appropriate in the face of those realities. Here is an essay in the New York Times that addresses just this problem--the necessity of talking about people's external lives as well as their internal lives.