It had been raining for days, or maybe weeks. After a long day of work and a dentist’s appointment for a cracked filling, I trudged up the hill to pick up several bags of rice. The cat had tipped a vase of wilted flowers onto my partner’s laptop, so this was my last ditch attempt to dry the thing out and bring it back to life. The unpredictable wind made sure my umbrella was either reduced to half its size where I held it at a 90-degree angle in front of my body, or it was turned helplessly inside out. I threw myself through the doors of our corner grocery store and stood there for a moment, dripping and panting. I gave a bedraggled smile to the woman behind the counter and said in my bad Spanish, “What horrible weather.”
“Yes,” she said, kindly, “but it’s good. We need it.”
Every Madrileñ@ I complain to about the weather says something to this effect. Rain is good. Madrid is dry. We need the rain.
I’m not going to lie to you, folks,
I do not feel as evolved as the good people of Madrid on this matter. Not yet, anyway. The gloom has been getting to me. The Madrid forecast has been almost nonstop rain for weeks, and the U.S. newscast we can’t seem to turn away from has been nonstop-runaway-train-level-scary for…quite some time now.
I’m trying to practice re-categorizing “darkness” in my mind,
because my kneejerk reaction is to call this all darkness—this long winter and its seemingly endless string of cloudy days, the way it feels to read about the effects of greed in our world, the prospects and uncertainty hanging over us—and to call this darkness bad.
But some deeper wisdom whispers to me, well but shadows are dark and shadows are very important, aren’t they? That’s where Mystery and the things we have yet to learn are waiting. What’s more, this dualistic notion that light/white=good and dark=bad plays all too nicely with white supremacy.
So I need to reprogram some old code inside me. How do I more accurately describe these blues I’ve been feeling? Is it possible that part of the reason this is difficult is because I haven’t been letting myself really feel them?
Between Black History Month and Women’s History Month,
here on International Women’s Day, I just finished reading Your Silence Will Not Protect You, a fantastic collection of poetry and essays by “self-described ‘black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,’” Audre Lorde. For years now I have been haphazardly coming across her words and loving them, and I’m a little ashamed that it’s taken me until now to buy one of her books and digest all of its nourishment. Regardless, I’m so glad I got to receive it in this moment. I’ve clutched it to my chest like a life preserver more than once. On days when it feels like greed and deception and chaos are winning, it helps to remember that we are standing on the proverbial shoulders of the giants who have come to these same fights for safety, respect, and balance before. It is hubris to ever think we are alone or starting from scratch when we can always benefit from the wealth of wisdom and trial and error and spirit before us.
I cannot recommend this collection enough—especially to my fellow white women out there, who, like me, need as much insight as we can get into understanding the whiteness we bring to our feminism and how we so often do not notice or know what to do about the impact it has on the women of color around us.
Not only has Audre Lorde given this hetero white woman the gift of sharing the intimate emotional innards of her reality, with her famous assertions that “poetry is not a luxury” and “…there are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt,” and with her own clear, chopped lines left exposed face-up to the white space of the pages around them, she has also given me the gift of my own poetry.
I used to primarily think and write in poetry as a young person, but, for several reasons, I eventually stopped wanting it. Now that I’m older I understand the deep usefulness and necessity of poetry, but I haven’t felt any moving inside me for a long time.
Or I hadn’t until recently.
The other night, a poem came to me as I was falling asleep. It felt so clear and promising. I drew the whole outline of it in my mind and chanted the central image to myself again and again—certain that I would be able to write it all down like taking dictation from my memory when I woke up.
Most poets in the audience likely know the ending to this short story. Of course it wasn’t there, waiting for me in the morning. It was gone. I didn’t wake my damn self up to receive the gift that was given to me in the dark.
A week ago, in the middle of what was forecasted to be at least 2 weeks of rain, I opened my eyes early on Saturday morning to see bright light coming in through the cracks in the shutters. I remarked on it, unthinking at first, “Man, it’s sunny out there.” Then I heard my voice saying it, and I said it again. “It’s sunny out there!” My partner and I leapt out of bed, hoisted up the shutters and opened the windows to let the vitamin D stream right into our bedroom and onto our skin. I knew it would not last, but I knew this would help keep us balanced in the coming days.
I kept thinking, “I’m just so glad I was awake for this.”
Because I almost wasn’t. I almost went back to sleep.
How many gifts have I missed waiting for the alarm to go off or the sun to rise?
A blast of sunshine in the cold dreariness is a gift just like the cool shadow of a tree is in the steep heat of summer. I want to move beyond the easy “light vs. darkness” trope here; it’s not really about the quality of the weather or the light—it’s about paying attention so that we can realize and get what we need. It’s about waking up when the poetry is moving and getting rest when our minds are jangled. And sometimes that means being uncomfortable so that the dry earth can drink the rain before springtime blooms, or so that the respect and safety our privilege wraps us in can be extended around others as well. Maybe this is the order of things that requires all of the meanness buried in our humanity to get coughed up so that we have to look at it in the light and then sit close to it in the dark—so we can know how to give it whatever it needs to transform.
I’m going to practice saying “I’m just so glad I was awake for this,” as much as possible in the coming weeks. Starting now, on this cloudy day.
What do you do that helps you stay present, dear reader? What does your discomfort teach you?