As the days get shorter, seasonal sadness begins to steal over me. It’s a familiar feeling, it’s been with me the for as many winters as I can remember. I am consistently surprised when the crisp, splendid, yellow days of October find me anxious. Awake and fretful at night, sluggish and tired in the morning.
This October, the sadness and anxiety are layered. My usual cloud is hovering beneath a larger one that seems to be cloaking the world in deeper sadness and anxiety. I’ve seen skies like this: where one, huge, low, dark gray rain cloud blocks out the whole sky so it seems like the world has a dismal and dark roof on it. Beneath it, smaller, lower clouds scud on wind currents that make the trees thrash.
The dissonance of holding this interior space while the world is bathed in golden autumn light —it takes fortitude and tenacity to just show up. Let alone live my life well.
In this space, I know what to do.
I have to be soft. I have to soften everything. How I approach myself, how I talk to myself, how I engage with the children. How I pray. A deep breath and another and soften. The lower I feel, the lower and more measured my voice becomes.
I soften because the sadness deadens everything. It’s so quiet, I almost can’t hear.
I soften because the anxiety amplifies everything. It’s so noisy and shrill, I almost can’t hear.
I soften because I have to have open arms to embrace what’s happening, whatever it is, however I am. I can’t move on until I embrace it. Like little girl when she skins her knee. Even if she’s not bleeding, she can’t move on until she’s found my arms open and my voice soft. When she gets loud and wild in the hysterics, I get soft and low so she has to stop and listen if she wants to hear the murmuring comforts.
Isn’t this how I have to listen for God in this season too? Doesn’t he soften like I do?
In this space, I have to be relentless. Relentless because the path through the fog, through the labyrinth is an invisible thread like Ariadne’s. I can’t take my hand off it for a second for fear I’ll lose my way. Relentless in the self-discipline. Daily, these things are not optional, they must happen: an hour of happy light time first thing in the morning, an hour of study and meditation, an hour of outside time, an hour of exercise, simple meals full of green things. No sugar. Limited alcohol. Memorize poetry (for when my mind begins to spin out). Reach out to people (even if I don’t feel like it). Every year I trust that this relentless discipline of taking care and showing up no matter what will show me the way toward freedom. It does not feel good, this self-care. It is not simply a bath and a candle. It’s a radical self-investment. It’s a radical trust that I can influence my outcome. That the little things accumulate and add so much density to my person, that I’ll achieve enough critical mass to be permanently and gloriously grounded. Sometimes the feelings follow the discipline. Sometimes not. The discipline reminds me of what I can control: myself. My niece calls this “basic maintenance.”
I asked Builder-husband if I should consider getting on something. I wasn’t sure I had the capacity to carry all of this and carry on. He said, “Give it a week, a week of basic maintenance, and then we’ll re-evaluate.”
I have to be soft and relentless.
The man-child, my first son, had a birthday yesterday, which I am still in awe of. I’m not sure I’ll ever stop marveling at his existence. We got him a 7 by 7 rubix cube. As he went in for the inaugural twist, hundreds of little, brightly colored plastic pieces avalanched out of his hands and onto the table, revealing the mechanics inside.
All of us sat with mouths gaping in shock.
“We’ll get you a new one to replace that broken one right away, buddy.”
“Don’t do that, this one isn’t broken, it just isn’t fixed yet.”
For two hours, he worked at the table to reassemble his cube. Inventorying all the pieces, gluing the shattered ones back together, gently putting them all in place. Disciplined in his focus. Patient in his attempts.
He was soft and relentless.
I’m just trying to be like him. I’m trying to really believe that: I’m not broken, I’m just not fixed yet.
The world isn’t broken, it’s just not fixed yet.
I’m trying to believe that there is some kind of sanctification in this ongoing work to put myself—to put us—back together again.