Archive for September, 2012

Summer’s end

September 3, 2012

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

~ Mary Oliver ~

To butcher a Wallace Stevens line, you would need a mind of autumn to see the leaves changing this early in September.  Even more so than usual, since this Labor Day we’re experiencing the remnants of Isaac, with muggy temperatures and dewpoints reminiscent of August.  Still, it feels as if summer’s over, even if autumn hasn’t quite arrived.

My cat Clarabelle’s passing has issued in a period of change I couldn’t anticipate, no matter how hard I tried.  To further complicate the issue, not only was she gone, but another close companion was suddenly, resoundingly absent from my daily life too.  As difficult as the resulting solitude has been,  while mucking about in my emotional swamp, I’ve tried to use it as a chance to get clear on what these emotions had to tell me about my expectations for relationships.

On one level, it’s strange for a person like me, so tenuously connected to the lives of dwindling few, would expect so much from relationships.  If I were a fairy tale character, I’d be an ogre living in a cabin in the woods, snarling ferociously at the approach of a stranger.  But on a deeper level, it makes complete sense.  Because my expectations of a relationship are unrealistically steep, I have very few.  Luckily, I’ve been blessed with a strong intuition that tells me within a few minutes of meeting someone whether she and I are meant to journey together for a while.  Thus, despite the high walls I’ve built to protect my heart, a few brave souls have ventured in to teach me something I never would have learned otherwise.

Clarabelle and I were parted by death.  Others I have loved have left my life because the path they needed to follow diverged from mine.  Neither way is easy; the loss churns up sorrow, anger, fear.  Too often at such moments my emotions have remained there, in the soul’s dark cellar.  I see each departure as a judgment against what I have to offer, a judgment that I’m honor-bound to resent.

It is a lesson I’ve had to learn again and again.  Mary Oliver’s poem makes the point so beautifully:

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

To get back to Stevens, it does take a different mind to perceive that the beauty of something isn’t erased by its inevitable ending.  The warmth of companionship isn’t negated by its loss; the flourish of the forest’s autumn colors isn’t diminished by winter’s approach.  We have been granted the mystery of minds and hearts capacious enough to let both possibilities exist.