Monday, February 14, 2011

Another Take

Valentine's Day at the Oatmeal

Couldn't resist. 


Today is Valentine's Day.  Just what does one do with that??


I feel very confused and hollowed out by all the marketing frenzy around these holidays.  Blame it on the Dementors.

A week or so ago I was shopping at our local mega-supermarket and was drawn down the "seasonal" aisle--you know the one, with its steady rotation of colorfully wrapped candies, novelties and other proclamations of holiday fervor, all emanating a sickly sweet smell that drapes its cloying, oppressive scent within and without, and sucks all the joy from your soul.  The experience is a bit like meeting up with a sudden flock of Dementors in Harry Potter's world, I suppose, but worse, because it is so well-masked.  Under a guise of festivity and light and a promise of love and fulfillment, Valentine's Day rolls into February like a steam train shimmering with an expectation of something better and leaves most of us stranded at the station.  Ugh.  I don't even want to go there anymore.

But there I was, feeling some unseen, unsightly pull into the land of pink and red, standing amidst all the sugar-fuel for diabetes and obesity and cancers, and forgetting at once just what holiday it really was.  Expecting to see candy corn, or little foil Santas, I was overcome instead by endless bags of red-foiled chocolate hearts singing shiny and bright BUY ME, EAT ME, FEEL LOVED, and bags of conversation hearts stacked high for the Great Flood calling to me with their inane text-like messages, I-M SURE, MAD 4 U, U GO GIRL, and, sigh, E-MAIL ME.

That's when the Dementors came, hoods pulled over a faceless ghastliness, the swoosh of their cloaks announcing the hiss of cold fear that suddenly encircled me.  I could barely moved, but as I reached for a bag of candy hearts--UR MINE--and then another, NO WAY, I could feel all the sparkle and life being sucked out of me in frightening speed, the emptiness spreading, the anxiety taking over.  DON'T TELL.

I knew I had to get out of there fast.  SEE YA.  So lost in a supermarket was I that when I saw the egg coloring kit on the other side of the aisle, I actually breathed a sigh of relief and thought to myself, "Oh, yeah, at least we can dye eggs..." I took only a split second to register my mistake.  Wrong holiday.  LOL.  My head-spin complete, I stumbled to the end of the aisle to try to save my soul, but it was too late.  I can no longer shop happily.  My happiness mere fodder for the Dementor-led marketing blitz, I stumbled out towards the check out line with my two bags of conversation hearts, depressed and disenchanted.  GOOD BYE.

At this point in my life, Valentine's Day has merged with a whole host of other holidays that I enjoyed much more when my kids were young, and we had time together for creating handmade cards, baking treats, and reading picture books.  It was all about spending time together, and now, well, MISS YOU.  The holidays lurk out there like shadows from the past, old snapshots of happier days, songs fading in the background.  And yet, there's something about Valentine's Day that I always disliked: the excess of candy JUST ONE, the pressure to pair up, to flaunt what you've got, to make it all glossy and show-offy and suitable for the Valentine's Day showcase of lovers.  Ugh.  When my kids were little, I refused to buy the Sponge Bob Valentine's Day cards at the supermarket; instead, we spent hours losing ourselves in the painting and collage and cutting and pasting and creating, until, well, all the other kids were sending out Sponge Bob with candy attached and Valentine's Day became more insidiously-sweet than Halloween, and that's, I suppose, when I stopped being able to tell one holiday from another.

Nowadays, Valentine's Day merely taunts, reveals the faulty wiring of a memory that, thanks to the Tamoxifen, has seen better days, and reminds me that despite my best efforts to stay connected and true, the prodding fingers of loneliness often strip me down to an empty shell.  Still waiting for my train, I suppose. 

And there's the matter of  the dupe-marketing-machine and the collective crush of spirit and creativity and brings out my inner cynic.  I want to take no part in it and yet, I've wrapped up two cellophane bags of conversation hearts for my boys-- MY BOY, BE MINE-- bought them some really good chocolate, and made little cards for them out of pink construction paper and markers and a deep, simmering love that overflows for them and can't quite resist the Dementors.  Better work on my Patronus charm.  And be glad I wasn't shopping at (Lord) Wal-de-mart.  Might have been the end of me.


Friday, February 11, 2011

The Journey

The Journey by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

This time of year, when the days start to lengthen, and that bit of discernible change in the light fills your heart with gladness and hope for the coming changes that spring will bring, there's a feeling that things will get a little better, bit by bit.  That in spite of the impending collapse of those very foundations that you once worked so hard to build, something new will be built, that you will build it, that it will suit you much better, that it will be a safer, more nourishing space, a room of your own.  You stand and wait for the explosive shudder, the taste of grit in your mouth, the clearing of the dust. Things must sometimes fall apart--the road full of broken branches and stones, the skies obscured with fear and uncertainty, the abyss beckoning from below--before we can seek something new.  We are reminded that death begets life, and spring brings renewal.  That as the stars continue to burn through the sheets of clouds, that voice within might just be the brightest light of all.  

Thank you, Mary Oliver, for the reminders that The Journey brings.  As I struggle to find my way in this world, to shed the self-doubt, step out of the rubble and embrace a deeper love, I am grateful for the wild nights that make those starry skies possible.

Pema Chödrön speaks of the "Dance of Gloriousness and Wretchedness," in "Start Where You Are":

"Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both.

Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. We feel connected. But if that's all that's happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction.

On the other hand, wretchedness--life's painful aspect--softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody's eyes because you feel you haven't got anything to lose--you're just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We'd be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn't have enough energy to eat an apple.

Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together."