Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How to Weather a Storm

Cherry blossoms in winter
copyright: Signe Pike
Today was the first real test for the small ceramic heater – it took ages for my little shed to heat despite the insulation, and there I sat in my wool socks and sweater and slippers, the grey mohair blanket given to me by a friend wrapped overtop of everything as the heater roared full blast, my computer open on my lap, waiting for the storm to come, and feeling more content than ever to simply write.
            Here in the south, our media highways have been cluttered with news of the impending ice storm. Potential loss of electricity and stores sold out of firewood, and I realized that despite any danger, for me there is always something exciting about a storm. I like the preparations, the battening down of hatches, the heaviness you can feel in the air and the utter quiet that falls over our yards and snakes out into the streets, chasing people inside because nature, no matter how much dominion some people think we possess, is still the supreme ruler here on earth, and I never cease to be awed by her power. Good. Make us scuttle, make us scurry. Remind us of the fact that this is not a democracy. Of course I never want to see anyone come to harm. But I think storms can be good; they remind us of our humility. Our humanity. They remind us, when we survive them, of our good fortune—which I think far too often evaporates as quickly as the storm fell upon us, with the appearance of the first sunny sky.
            Storms come into our life because things are beyond our control, and there is a peace in that, if you can find it.
            This past week I mourned the loss of my uncle, a man who was by far my most exacting critic and somehow also my biggest fan. I spent the better part of a week in Maryland helping sort his affairs, because when people go, there is so much doing that needs to get done, and in the quiet moments you lean against something and breathe, and feel your heart crack all over again. Sometimes I feel defeated by it – my aunt, my father’s only sibling, has now lost her husband, and she is terminal too. My heart breaks for her, but not just for her, for everyone who has lost someone, because I have learned too many times in my relatively young life what it feels like to lose someone you love, and knowing that this sort of heartbreak is both unavoidable and in its own way, pandemic, feels like too much to bear.
            But as I sat waiting for the first pounding of sleet to streak down my windows, I realized that these too are storms. There is nothing to control or battle. All you can do is weather it.
            A good friend once told me it is an honor to be present with someone at the end of their days.
            I have come to see that though this is hard, it is true. We can pray for safe passage, we can pray for protection, we can pray for the coming light. But perhaps if we do only these things, we are missing the point.
            Can we learn to honor the storm?
            We can prepare, but can we find a way to embrace it, because of what it brings to us? It is a reminder that life is fleeting and uncertain. And there is beauty in that. Storms remind us that there are powers on this earth we will never conquer, nor should we. This is not the natural order of things.
            We are stewards, not rulers.
            And it is the same on earth as it is within our bodies.
            This week, when I came back to myself, I found I was sitting before my computer, waiting for the storm to come, but I was not afraid. The manuscript that had felt daunting instead tasted delicate, it smelled like home. There was a new comfort in both the words and the feeling of sitting, of channeling and asking the scenes to come, and I thought, if this is what I spend my hours doing, my life has been good.
            I know as the planet groans and shifts we will face many storms ahead, both real and metaphorical. What we must remember, I think, is to do our best in the times in between. Live well, love hard, and offer others pieces of your heart in a thousand ways. That way when storms do come, we can bide them more easily.

            Pay homage to the power of wind, water and atmosphere, be grateful for what we have. And in the heart of winter, a good book, glass of wine, a hot mug of ginger root with lemon, or a game of Scrabble by the fire never hurts too.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

At Home in Winter: For My Father, on His Birthday

It doesn't get much easier, but doing things to remember them is the important thing.
Below is a video I was up into the wee hours making, and it did help ease the heart.
I hope you'll watch it, because this is not just his life, this is all of our lives. We are born and we live and we pass, and every moment is beautiful.

At Home in Winter:
A Poem for my Father

At home, snowy-patched fields are stitched
with spines of leafless trees,
the memory of summer
asleep in their mounds.
Here where the fist of some long-weathered god
thrust his hand through the crusted earth,
where fingers played in pressed thumbs 
or clawed their way South 
leaving frost covered pools,
half-frozen green lakes.

Soon, when you rise,
the world will be covered in snow.
There are places in the woods
where the thin deer
under low brambles of a thorn tree,
where white-tipped foxes burrow
in red-berried thickets,
where the water trickles
icy channels between rock and stream,
and the fissures of shale that splintered up inside you
can sense these things,
but they have no name.

Here the houses haven’t closed in.
There is room enough to walk and breathe,
and to listen to the way the pines creak
on the backbone of the hill,
because there is no port on an inland sea.

Here the lady of the water drew her slender fingers down,
carving places where you can still cast your wishes,
where you can cast your wishes away and forget them,
the way a sorrow is lost in the papery fold of a wrinkle,
the way that the hills lie naked in winter,

in the places where the sun does not reach.

Copyright: Signe Pike