Morning without you is a dwindled dawn. ~Emily Dickinsonin a letter to a friend April 1885
For the past year, the most common search term bringing new readers to my Barnstorming blog is “dwindled dawn.” I have written about Emily Dickinson’s “dwindles” on occasions, but had not really been diagnosed with a serious case myself until recently.
I am not the only one. It has spread across the globe and I regularly recognize the symptomatology of the dwindles in my clinical work with patients.
There really isn’t a pill or other therapy that works well for this. One of the most effective treatments I might prescribe is breaking bread with friends and family all in the same room at the same table while the sun rises around us, lingering in conversation because there could not be anything more important for us to do.
Just being together would be the ultimate cure.
Maybe experiencing friend and family deficiency helps us understand how vital they are to our well-being. You don’t know what you have ’till they’re gone, sadly some now forever.
Point well-taken; it is high time to replenish the reservoir before dwindling away to nothing.
So if you are visiting these words for the first time because you too searched for “dwindled dawn,” welcome to Barnstorming. We can dwindle together in our shared isolation.
Because mornings without you all diminishes me. I just wanted you to know.
The thing is to love life, to love it even when you have no stomach for it and everything you’ve held dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands, your throat filled with the silt of it. When grief sits with you, its tropical heat thickening the air, heavy as water more fit for gills than lungs; when grief weights you like your own flesh only more of it, an obesity of grief, you think, How can a body withstand this? Then you hold life like a face between your palms, a plain face, no charming smile, no violet eyes, and you say, yes, I will take you I will love you, again. ~Ellen Bass, “The Thing Is” from Mules of Love
There is so much grief these days so much loss of life so much weeping.
How can we withstand this? How can we know, now, when we are barely able to breathe that we might know – at some point – we might love life again?
She wakes to gray. No words to guide the way toward son. His unfamiliar face seems kind enough. She nods hello. Just yesterday she knew his eyes, but now?
This morning’s mind welcomes the past but not the day. She was someone: woman who woke at 3:00 to sing her restless son to sleep, his calm her cause for celebration. Today the dawn brings
no clarity, yet still the stranger comes and draws her curtains wide. She thinks outside is where she left her life: daughters, a son who meet sunrise without her. Look, the light
is brighter now. The kind man helps her stand. To see the morning sun, she takes his hand. ~Marjorie Maddox “Alzheimer Aubade”
Lying still, your mouth gapes open as I wonder if you breathe your last. Your hair a white cloud Your skin baby soft No washing, digging, planting gardens Or raising children Anymore.
Where do your dreams take you? At times you wake in your childhood home of Rolling wheat fields, boundless days of freedom. Other naps take you to your student and teaching days Grammar and drama, speech and essays. Yesterday you were a young mother again Juggling babies, farm and your wistful dreams.
Today you looked about your empty nest Disguised as hospital bed, Wondering aloud about Children grown, flown. You still control through worry and tell me: Travel safely Get a good night’s sleep Take time to eat Call me when you get there
I dress you as you dressed me I clean you as you cleaned me I love you as you loved me You try my patience as I tried yours. I wonder if I have the strength to Mother my mother For as long as she needs.
When I tell you the truth Your brow furrows as it used to do When I disappointed you~ This cannot be A bed in a room in a sterile place Waiting for death Waiting for heaven Waiting
And I tell you: Travel safely Eat, please eat Sleep well Call me when you get there.
There is nothing I can give you that you do not already have, but there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take.
No heaven can come to us Unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven.
No peace lies in the future Which is not hidden in this present instant. Take peace.
The gloom of the world is but a shadow; Behind it, yet within reach, is joy. Take joy.
And so, at this Christmastime, I greet you with the prayer that for you, Now and forever, The day breaks and the shadows flee away. – Fra Giovanni Giocondo letter to Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi, Christmas Eve 1513
We are reminded in hundreds of self-help books, both secular and faith-based, to count our blessings in order to find happiness in our daily existence. The point is to peer out from under the shadow of gloom and grumbles to where light and hope is unimpeded.
It’s good advice as old as the Psalms, even if some folks don’t want to associate gratitude and blessings with Someone who actually bestows them.
There are some days when the shadows overpower all feelings of thanksgiving: seeing the tent and box cities of the homeless expanding, watching the numbers of sick and dying rise exponentially, witnessing the suffering of the lonely and isolated among us. How is it possible for us to grasp heaven or feel peace when all seems so bleak?
That is exactly why the Babe was born so many years ago, bringing with Him the Light and Hope so sorely needed by the world then and the world now. With His dawning, shadows flee away; we only need to take the joy and peace He offers.
Oh little child it’s Christmas night And the sky is filled with glorious light Lay your soft head so gently down It’s Christmas night in Bethlehem town.
Chorus: Alleluia the angels sing Alleluia to the king Alleluia the angels sing Alleluia to the king.
Sleep while the shepherds find their way As they kneel before you in the golden hay For they have brought you a woolly lamb On Christmas night in Bethlehem. Chorus
Sleep till you wake at the break of day With the sun’s first dawning ray You are the babe, who’ll wear the crown On Christmas morn in Bethlehem town. Chorus
Nobody in the hospital Could tell the age Of the old woman who Was called Susanna
Because she had no visitors I would stop by to see her But she was always sleeping
One day I was beside her When she woke up Opening small dark eyes Of a surprising clearness
She looked at me and said You want to know the truth? I answered Yes
She said it’s something that My mother told me
There’s not a single inch Of our whole body That the Lord does not love
She then went back to sleep. ~Anne Porter from “Susanna”
So many people lie in a hospital bed these days, all alone and fearful, wondering what could happen next, waiting for the tide to turn and move them back to the shore or sweep them out into the arms of their Creator forever.
We tend to forget the love of the One who made us, including our funny looking feet, our anxieties, the crooked teeth, the wrinkles, the scars, the split ends —
We see only our imperfections and frailty when our Creator sees dust made manifest in His image.
He loves us even when we do not love ourselves, as we hide our flaws and cover up our vulnerable nakedness.
He loves every inch because we are His opus, a masterpiece, so He became one of us.
He knew exactly what He was doing and even now, in the midst of our loneliness, He knows exactly what He is doing with the dust that still swirls around us.
The way a crow Shook down on me The dust of snow From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart A change of mood And saved some part Of a day I had rued. ~Robert Frost “Dust of Snow”
All those with whom I speak these days wish things could be different~ nothing feels right, rights feel like nothing, everyone sadly angry and angrily sad.
Friends no longer speaking to friends, families divided, opinions expressed and dismissed.
This virus is doing more damage than it was ever designed to do. It simply wants to replicate itself, yet along with its RNA, we have allowed it to sow discord, distrust, discouragement into our cells as well.
There is no vaccine for the stubbornness of heart ailing us now; we resist protective measures, act as if all is normal when a quarter million are dead and more are dying.
This infection of the spirit will far outlast the virus by spreading through the generations, eroding relationships, splitting human bonds, and withering our love for one another.
The melon shades of leaves will soon rust and fall gently to layers of rest and forgetting, like sunken poems, unusual love, and grave silence after the crows.
The black walnut tree trembles down its mysterious spheres to sleep darkly, to pulse with memory of heartwood.
Old roses are paling with grace in this air of ruining tomorrows. Autumn again, and all the years twisting a garland of melancholy. ~Tim Buck, “Autumn” from VerseWrights Journal
The beauty around me is dying. It becomes harder to find vibrance and life in my surroundings in the volatility of deep autumn: a high wind warning is on the horizon in a few hours and we face a long winter as the uncontrolled pandemic continues unabated.
Those facts alone are enough to make me wander about the farm feeling melancholic. Even more than the loss of mere leaves and the fading of blooms is the reality of so many afflicted and infected people whose season for dying will come too soon.
Woe to us who are more concerned about our inconvenience and discomfort today than the months of ruined tomorrows for millions.
Lest it be forgotten in our bitterness – the promise of healing and renewal is also on the horizon.
May I listen for the pulse deep within the heartwood of each person with whom I have differences; my love for them must not fade nor wither but grow more graceful, more forgiving, more vibrant and beautiful by the day.
Last night we ended up on the couch trying to remember all of the friends who had died so far,
and this morning I wrote them down in alphabetical order on the flip side of a shopping list you had left on the kitchen table.
So many of them had been swept away as if by a hand from the sky, it was good to recall them, I was thinking under the cold lights of a supermarket as I guided a cart with a wobbly wheel up and down the long strident aisles.
I was on the lookout for blueberries, English muffins, linguini, heavy cream, light bulbs, apples, Canadian bacon, and whatever else was on the list, which I managed to keep grocery side up,
until I had passed through the electric doors, where I stopped to realize, as I turned the list over, that I had forgotten Terry O’Shea as well as the bananas and the bread.
It was pouring by then, spilling, as they say in Ireland, people splashing across the lot to their cars. And that is when I set out, walking slowly and precisely, a soaking-wet man bearing bags of groceries, walking as if in a procession honoring the dead.
I felt I owed this to Terry, who was such a strong painter, for almost forgetting him and to all the others who had formed a circle around him on the screen in my head.
I was walking more slowly now in the presence of the compassion the dead were extending to a comrade,
plus I was in no hurry to return to the kitchen, where I would have to tell you all about Terry and the bananas and the bread. ~Billy Collins “Downpour”
Since the count began, the list of those who have died expands every day in media headlines and increases by the hour on websites dedicated to COVID tracking – –
–only there are no names. We don’t list the names of those who have been lost.
Maybe if there were names of over one million people around the globe that the virus has hastened to take from us, somehow it would matter more. Maybe if we witnessed the suffering that accompanied each case, we would understand this is more than “just like the flu.”
I’ve seen the flu kill the young and healthy, so hearing that comparison doesn’t comfort me or cause me to wave this off as something that will pass as soon as the election results are tallied. Even some health care workers are remarkably nonchalant and dismissive of the virus. I simply don’t understand: after decades of pandemic planning in my work as a medical director/health officer, this is the situation we all dreaded could happen, but knew we needed to be ready for.
I don’t want to see anyone else added to a list that is far longer than it ever should have been and growing by the day. Yet the tallies rise because our very own behavior, modeled from the very top of government, is responsible.
Will anyone someday build a monument listing the names of those who died in this pandemic? No, because there is nothing noble about dying of a virus and the list would be far too long. There is nothing noble about failing to protect others in the name of protecting my own individual liberty and civil rights.
So I wear the mask and so should you. It just might keep me or you or someone we love from being just another number on the list.
The shadow’s the thing. If I no longer see shadows as “dark marks,” as do the newly sighted, then I see them as making some sort of sense of the light. They give the light distance; they put it in its place. They inform my eyes of my location here, here O Israel, here in the world’s flawed sculpture, here in the flickering shade of the nothingness between me and the light. ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Be comforted; the world is very old, And generations pass, as they have passed, A troop of shadows moving with the sun; Thousands of times has the old tale been told; The world belongs to those who come the last, They will find hope and strength as we have done. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow “A Shadow”
A shadow is hard to seize by the throat and dash to the ground. ~Victor Hugo from Les Miserables
We are dealing and dueling with shadows, our flawed imperfect darkness rather than one another. We write things on a screen that we would never say to another’s face. We assume motives, predict behavior, ponder reactions but all is smoke and mirrors.
Such is the cost of feeling fear and distrust.
As the sun moves and time passes, the shadows shift and play with the Light from a different angle, so shall we shift and pray.
Rather than holding the Light at a distance while trying to wrestle shadows to the ground, we’ll embrace it and make sense of it, yearning for the illuminating hugs we’ve been denied for so long.
The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was, is lost For none now live who remember it. ~J.R.R. Tolkien Galadriel’s prologue to The Fellowship of the Rings
There trudges one to a merry-making With a sturdy swing, On whom the rain comes down.
To fetch the saving medicament Is another bent, On whom the rain comes down.
One slowly drives his herd to the stall Ere ill befall, On whom the rain comes down.
This bears his missives of life and death With quickening breath, On whom the rain comes down.
One watches for signals of wreck or war From the hill afar, On whom the rain comes down.
No care if he gain a shelter or none, Unhired moves on, On whom the rain comes down.
And another knows nought of its chilling fall Upon him at all, On whom the rain comes down. ~Thomas Hardy “An Autumn Rain-scene”(1904)
The rain has returned, now six months into a changed world. The rain blows, raging against the windows and puddling in the low spots, sparing nothing and no one.
It drenches all and everyone – none of us immune from the cleansing: whether missing the joy of sweet fellowship, whether bearing urgent messages or administering badly needed medication, whether trudging through the day’s chores, whether unemployed and praying for work, whether bearing witness to ongoing divisive conflict and tragedy, or whether the rain falls chill upon those newly lying still and silent beneath the soil.
In our universal soaking, may we look at one another with a renewed compassion. Each one of us deserves a warm and comforting toweling off, being buffed and fluffed so we’re ready to face what comes next.