August rushes by like desert rainfall, A flood of frenzied upheaval, Expected, But still catching me unprepared. Like a match flame Bursting on the scene, Heat and haze of crimson sunsets. Like a dream Of moon and dark barely recalled, A moment, Shadows caught in a blink. Like a quick kiss; One wishes for more But it suddenly turns to leave, Dragging summer away. – Elizabeth Maua Taylor“August”
August is rushing by in its anxiousness to be done with this summer of upheaval: too many tears and too much tragedy.
The sky in weeping empathy leaves a quick moist kiss on our cheeks, dripping bedazzled.
It won’t last; we know these dangling drops will fade in the heat of the moment.
This wilted, withered summer won’t leave easy ~dragged away still kicking~ we’ll wave it goodbye, blowing our kisses in the air.
Every night, no matter where I am when I lie down, I turn my back on half the world.
At home, it’s the east I ignore, with its theatres and silverware, as I face the adventurous west.
But when I’m on the road in some hotel’s room 213 or 402 I could be pointed anywhere,
yet I hardly care as long as you are there facing the other way so we are defended in all degrees
and my left ear is pressing down as if listening for hoof beats in the ground. ~Billy Collins “Sleeping on My Side” from Whale Day and Other Poems
It seems amazing we can actually sleep at all, knowing all the hazards out there beyond the bedroom walls
– whether it is pandemic viral particles floating in the air, or pollution from wildfires, or ozone layer depletion or “the-big-one-any-moment” earthquake, or an errant nuclear missile launch, or bands of roving bandits –
it is a wonder we can quiet our minds at all.
When I was about 8 years old, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I didn’t sleep for several days, fearful if I slept, then the world would end and me with it, without even knowing the bomb had hit. Somehow, my staying awake saved the world from destruction and no one, not one single person, ever thanked me for it.
There is always so terribly much to fear if you really think about it. We are constantly lying with our ears to the ground, listening for the hoofbeats of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, wondering how close they have come to our bedside.
These days I take comfort in knowing I don’t always need to be on high alert. I know, in fact, His eye is on the sparrow and He watches over me.
I was walking along the road with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature. ~Edvard Munchdescribing his inspiration for his famous painting “The Scream”
I get the sense there are now millions of people who just want to scream about the situation the world is in. In my telehealth visits with my patients whose worlds have been turned upside down in the last two months – plans canceled, jobs lost, schooling disrupted, finances uncertain, social support only through screens – I hear the words “overwhelmed,” “isolated,” “frustrated,” in addition to their usual “depressed” and “anxious.” Labeling these feelings “normal” just doesn’t seem to cut it. They want life to feel normal again and don’t want to accept that normal is a moving target and things won’t ever be quite the same again.
They don’t know what’s next for them and neither do I, but we are living it out, one day at a time, all in the same rocking bouncing (perhaps sinking) boat together.
I know Mr. Rogers always counseled to “look for the helpers” when something scary and unpredictable happens, and it is gratifying to see the immense support being given to the thousands of workers who are doing just that – at great personal risk. Even grocery store clerks are no longer unsung heroes but have become the real deal and I never fail to thank them when I go get my one week food supply.
There are other great efforts to make us smile together such as John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” reports on Youtube and the worldwide participation in Facebook’s “View from my window” page. Zoom Virtual Choirs and Orchestras are entertaining us and late night TV hosts are broadcasting from their own bedrooms.
In our angst, we may forget that nature itself is full of its own powerful emotions, and this year is no different. I’ve read somewhere the high pitched sound of sap rising in trees in the spring is like a shriek beyond our capacity to hear. The sound of a bud growing, bulging and eventually unfolding must be like an exhalation of relief. Seeds and bulbs erupting through the soil surely groan and mutter in their strain.
Nature has also yielded mutated viruses attaching with vigor to a new host’s cells, and if we had microscopic microphones, the release of the duplicated RNA packets from a decimated living host cell probably sounds a bit like a scream as all the other cells prepare for a deadly virus on the move. It is like the Revolutionary War all over again in microcosm.
I do think a little screaming is in order.
So I remind myself and my patients: anxiety is normal. Discouragement is normal. But so is our need to scream out loud every once in awhile – even if all that comes out is the sound of silence.
Whatever harm I may have done In all my life in all your wide creation If I cannot repair it I beg you to repair it,
And then there are all the wounded The poor the deaf the lonely and the old Whom I have roughly dismissed As if I were not one of them. Where I have wronged them by it And cannot make amends I ask you To comfort them to overflowing,
And where there are lives I may have withered around me, Or lives of strangers far or near That I’ve destroyed in blind complicity, And if I cannot find them Or have no way to serve them,
Remember them. I beg you to remember them
When winter is over And all your unimaginable promises Burst into song on death’s bare branches. ~Anne Porter “A Short Testament” from Living Things.
When the night’s darkness lingers, beginning too early and lasting too late, I dwell within my own persistent winter, knowing I too often fail to do what is needed when it is needed.
How I look inward when I need to focus beyond myself. How I muffle my ears to unhear supplicating voices. How I turn away rather than meet a stranger’s gaze.
The wintry soul is a cold and empty place.
I appeal to God who dwells not only within my darkness, but unimaginably promises His buds of hope and warmth and color and fruit will indeed arise from my bare winter branches. He will bring me out of the night.
“If there were no God, there would be no atheists.” —G.K. Chesterton
It’s the season of grace coming out of the void Where a man is saved by a voice in the distance It’s the season of possible miracle cures Where hope is currency and death is not the last unknown Where time begins to fade And age is welcome home
It’s the season of eyes meeting over the noise And holding fast with sharp realization It’s the season of cold making warmth a divine intervention You are safe here you know now
Don’t forget Don’t forget I love I love I love you
It’s the season of scars and of wounds in the heart Of feeling the full weight of our burdens It’s the season of bowing our heads in the wind And knowing we are not alone in fear Not alone in the dark
Don’t forget Don’t forget I love I love I love you ~Vienna Teng “The Atheist Christmas Carol”
I have heard the same message from several patients: they feel so alone so in the dark, so afraid and weighted down they would rather choose to end their life~
yet not believing in God means jumping from the pain of living into …nothing at all…
(feeling nothing being the point of ceasing to be)
Perhaps they can’t imagine this God who loves doubters too sore afraid of His caring enough to die to assure no one ever becomes nothing.
I lift mine eyes, but dimm’d with grief No everlasting hills I see; My life is in the fallen leaf: O Jesus, quicken me.
My life is like a frozen thing, No bud nor greenness can I see: Yet rise it shall–the sap of Spring; O Jesus, rise in me. ~Christina Rossetti from “A Better Resurrection”
I remember panicking as a small child when my mother would help me put on or take off a sweater with a particularly tight turtleneck opening, as my head would get “stuck” momentarily until she could free me. It caused an intense feeling of being unable to breathe or see – literally shrouded. I was trapped and held captive by something as innocuous as a piece of clothing.
That same feeling still overwhelms me at times when I’m frozen in a winter of my flaws and deficiencies, bruised and fallen in my struggles to be freed.
My only hope for salvage is a new life quickening within me. There is no freedom without spring sap flowing, His life blood rising in what is left of my dried husk.
And rise it shall — the confining shroud of discouragement discarded and cast aside.
Now that it is spring once again, I can breathe free, quickened.
All the paths of the Lord are loving and faithful Psalm 25:10
“All does not mean ‘all – except the paths I am walking in now,’ or ‘nearly all – except this especially difficult and painful path.’ All must mean all. So, your path with its unexplained sorrow or turmoil, and mine with its sharp flints and briers – and both our paths, with their unexplained perplexity, their sheer mystery – they are His paths, on which he will show Himself loving and faithful. Nothing else; nothing less. ~Amy Carmichael–Anglican missionary to India 1867-1951
Sometimes we come upon forks in the road where we may not be certain which path to take. Perhaps explore the Robert Frost “less traveled” one? Or take the one that seems less tangled and uncertain from all appearances?
Sometimes we have chosen a particular path which looked inviting at the time, trundling along minding our own business, yet we start bonking our heads on low hanging branches, or get grabbed by stickers and thorns that rip our clothes and skin, or trip over prominent roots and rocks that impede our progress and bruise our feet.
Sometimes we come to a sudden end in a path and face a steep cliff with no choice but to leap or turn back through the mess we have just slogged through.
Navigating the road to the cross must have felt like ending up at that steep cliff. There was no turning back, no choosing or negotiating a different pathway or taking time to build a staircase into the rocks. His words reflect His uncertainty and terror. His words reflect our deepest doubts and fears–how are we to trust we are on the right path?
When we take that next step, no matter which way, we end up in the Father’s loving and faithful arms. He has promised this.
“Why, what’s the matter, That you have such a February face, So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?” – William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing
February never fails to be seductive, teasing of spring on a bright sunny day and the next day all hope is dashed by a frosty wind cutting through layers of clothing. There is a hint of green in the pastures but the deepening mud is sucking at our boots. The snowdrops and crocus are up and blooming, but the brown leaves from last summer still cling tenaciously to oak branches, appearing as if they will never ever let go to make room for a new leaf crop.
A February face is tear-streaked and weepy, winter weary and spring hungry. Thank goodness it is a short month or we’d never survive the glumminess of a month that can’t quite decide whether it is done with us or not.
So much ado. So much nothing. So much anything that becomes everything.
Tired and hungry, late in the day, impelled to leave the house and search for what might lift me back to what I had fallen away from, I stood by the shore waiting. I had walked in the silent woods: the trees withdrew into their secrets. Dusk was smoothing breadths of silk over the lake, watery amethyst fading to gray. Ducks were clustered in sleeping companies afloat on their element as I was not on mine.
I turned homeward, unsatisfied. But after a few steps, I paused, impelled again to linger, to look North before nightfall-the expanse of calm, of calming water, last wafts of rose in the few high clouds.
And was rewarded: the heron, unseen for weeks, came flying widewinged toward me, settled just offshore on his post, took up his vigil. If you ask why this cleared a fog from my spirit, I have no answer. ~Denise Levertov “A Reward” from Evening Train.
~Lustravit lampade terras~ (He has illumined the world with a lamp) The weather and my mood have little connection. I have my foggy and my fine days within me; my prosperity or misfortune has little to do with the matter. – Blaise Pascal from “Miscellaneous Writings”
And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment … a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present… ~Wendell Berry from Hannah Coulter
Worry and sorrow and angst are more contagious than the flu. I mask up and wash my hands of it throughout the day. There should be a vaccination against unnamed fears.
I want to say to my patients and to myself: Stop now, this moment in time. Stop and stop and stop.
Stop needing to be numb to all discomfort. Stop resenting the gift of each breath. Just stop. Instead, simply be.
I want to say: this moment, foggy or fine, is yours alone, this moment of weeping and sharing and breath and pulse and light.
Shout for joy in it. Celebrate it.
Be thankful for tears that can flow over grateful lips just as rain can clear the fog. Stop holding them back.
Just be– be blessed in both the fine and the foggy days– in the now and now and now.