I have written about my attraction to the edges of things, to this world’s, and this life’s, borders. I was born on the cusp as one season turns into another, and I am drawn over and over again to the places were one thing turns into another – darkness and light, memory and the present, water and sand at the coast. There are a million examples I can think of.
What I’m thinking about today is similar, and feels like a related or adjacent topic, but it’s slightly different. I am thinking about the poles that we each hold as we navigate this life. Or, at least, the poles that I know I hold. These days, the world feels so terrifying, so bleak, in many ways. And at the same time, I’ve never been more aware of its beauties, of its tiny joys. These poles. These opposites. Every single day holds both terror and delight. I think that has always been true for me, but it does feel particularly bold now, the contrast between these two things.
I read my friend and mentor Katrina Kenison’s gorgeous post on a similar topic last night and haven’t stopped thinking about it. n The whole piece is exemplary, and it was hard to pick a passage to share, but these words, the ones she closes with, are a manifesto for us all:
Given the state of our fractured, imperiled world, it seems safe to say we’re in this struggle for the long haul. If we’re going to find the strength to carry on and to fight for what matters, we must also continue to celebrate what we love. To embrace delight, to dance with abandon, to soak up beauty, to share each day’s small gifts and doings, is to take care of ourselves and each other. So, if you should see a tree full of robins or a mackerel sky, be sure to tell someone. Your delight is mine.
In my comment I wrote about Katrina’s piece giving me permission to allow these seemingly contradictory poles of life to coexist. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming, schizophrenic, the way I can be deeply sad about something and, simultaneously, intensely touched by the particular blue of the sky. But Katrina’s post got me thinking that perhaps these two extremes of experience are – rather than random, unusual, or something to bear with – absolutely necessary. Maybe we need both. Or at least I do. It also occurs to me that these seemingly-opposed feelings can be effectively mapped onto the bigger canvas of my life, as much as they can also inhabit the smallest moments of my day.
I’ve written before about the months after Matt’s and my fathers both died quickly and suddenly, and about the Robert Lowell lines that “darkness honestly lived through is a place of wonder and life. So much has come from there.” I said that that time had both “difficulty and surprising grandeur.” And that’s true. And it strikes me that those dark experiences somehow burrow into us, making room for the light. That makes sense on some existential level, right? Was it Kahlil Gibran who said “the deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain?”
When I write about “holding both poles,” an image of my child hands holding ski poles comes to mind. Not sure why, and obviously that’s not the poles I mean.
Regardless. I just felt like sharing that visual.
It is true that these days – whether that’s 2020 or being 45 or just the particular ecosystem I live in – things feel particularly charged, in both directions. The world feels threatening, unstable, and worrying. And it also feels gorgeous. I am so aware of spring being right around the corner, of everything about to burst into life. This tension – this pain and this beauty – is animate in the very bodies of my children, flying towards young adulthood as they both are. It’s impossible for me to look at them without blinking back tears, some days. It’s just all so outrageously lovely, and so unavoidably, excruciatingly short-lived.
I think I have a sense of why the world feels perilous and dark right now. I think often of Dad, who in the months before he died was increasingly speaking about how uncertainty that the United States would stay united, and who I wish I could talk about what’s going on in the world. It’s less clear to me why my awareness of life’s tiny joys and beauties feels so amped up right now. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism. Maybe it’s growing into midlife. I’m not sure why, but I’m grateful. I hope we can all hold both poles, welcome life – with all of its heartbreak and its beauty – with open arms. As another one of my beloved teachers, Dani Shapiro says, “this too. this too.”