If the eagerness with which I get out of bed in the morning is any indication, beneath my coating of cynicism and bad attitude there is a much more sanguine core. Even though starting a new day excites me most mornings, there are days when the alarm clock is a trauma. By my energetic standards of activity, sleep is awfully boring, but it’s still sometimes a challenge to rip myself from the comfort of the boring to the activity of day. And there’s nothing worse than that in-between place: brain awake and body asleep, liminal and confused.April is the cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain.
More than a decade ago I decided to get help for my depression, not because I’d been cycling through self-destructive behaviors or because I was cloaked in a negativity that oppressed everyone around me, but because autumn was approaching and I was crying all the time. So I talked and processed my way through the winter, fighting my habits and stretching my emotions, finally having my first real breakthrough as spring began to emerge. How surprised was I to find, when spring was in full flower, that I was crying all the time again. This wasn’t supposed to make me more susceptible to the seasons.
With some guidance I realized I was crying because the veil was lifting and I was watching it fly away. It had conformed itself to me, becoming a second skin. As it disappeared my image was imprinted on it and whoever I was becoming was left standing in the springtime sun, feeling very exposed.Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow, feeding A little life with dried tubers.
This past week was difficult. By the time I got to Thursday morning’s shower-inspired crying jag, I decided to admit defeat, wallow through the rest of the week, and demand more from myself on Monday. A gloomy Friday made it easy to indulge my grumpiness, watching more snow fall on what should have been spring. Between work and an evening concert I went home to get changed, tossed my bag on the ground, and was stopped in my tracks. Like someone flipped a switch, light poured into my kitchen as the sun emerged from behind a cloud. I was awestruck, even as I thought “Crap. I guess this means I have to cheer up now.”What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow Out of this stony rubbish?
After long Boston winters I always hear from one or more friends that they didn’t realize how down they had been until the springtime came. The sun is out now, spring is coming, dragging us out of hibernation.
We settle into troughs and grooves, sometimes agreeable, sometimes not, but always familiar. We settle into darkness, taking refuge into patterns we control. When the sun comes out, yanking us out of the comfortable discomforts we’ve come to rely on, where do we find the courage to follow the light into the unknown?
Like most other things in my life this is a matter of discipline and will. When I took Philomena as my confirmation name, it was not just because it was a family name but because I knew it’s meaning was who I wanted to be: a friend of the light. I think I also knew, even as a teenager, how challenging it would be for me not to be intoxicated by darkness. Darkness offers familiarity, limits, and excuses. To come into the light offers terrifying liberation, an existence so alive it hurts, and a chance to reflect a brilliance so blinding the only appropriate reaction is awe.My friend, blood shaking my heart The awful daring of a moment’s surrender Which an age of prudence can never retract By this, and this only, we have existed
[All poetry from T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. The first three excerpts are from The Burial of the Dead, the final from What the Thunder Said.]