December, January, February. Dark, Cold. Loss, Death, Pandemic. Isolation, Change, Uncertainty. Hope? The drumbeat of these days can feel unrelenting. It's been difficult for me to conceive of this newsletter. I've had thoughts that have seemed muddled, not clear. I've abandoned the tropics of Survivor for the tundra of the here and now. "Melancholic" is a word that comes to mind.
I could reach for Freud himself, on "Mourning and Melancholia." Or perhaps Melanie Klein on "Mourning and Manic Defense." I could reach for various diagnostics: "Seasonal Affective Disorder." "Ambiguous Loss." "Dysthymia." "Anxiety" or "depression" ... "not otherwise specified." It can be useful to have a way to frame things, to know there are people who think about these things, to know there are books and guides and help and possibilities and ways to cope. But these things might also be faint relief for felt pain.
It could be easy to dismiss the pain, "'Pain' is too strong of a word." "Maybe it's 'disappointment.'" Or, "at least I'm not this, or at least it's not that." "It could be worse." "This, too, shall pass." It could come naturally to skip a beat and go straight to the bright side. New Year's. Inauguration. Vaccination. More jingle, less jangle. A focus on the positive. Cookies to bake, lights to be lit. To all of these options, I want to say, "Yes!"
And ... I'm reminded of one of my history professors in college, Mr. Holmes. Mr. Holmes used to bang his knuckle on the lecturn occasionally rising to the climax of some thing or another, insisting with what had to have been a well-worn joint in his dominant hand, "There may be more to it than that!" His percussive admonition suggests, even now, maybe there's more to all this than what appears on the surface.
Maybe there's something deeper. Something more.
Maybe there's an outburst that everyone knows isn't about whatever it appeared to be. Maybe there's a phone call that simply can't be made - or picked up. Maybe there's an urge to binge in the late night hours while the family sleeps. Maybe there are the lonelies after everyone goes home, or while everyone is home. Maybe there are worries and terrors that return to mind just as sleep comes. Maybe there are losses that come to mind. Maybe there are no words. And maybe, no matter how hard the effort, whatever it may be does not shake loose into something clear or manageable or easy.
A writer for The New York Times, Timothy Egan, asks the question on many of our minds these days, "How do we get through it?" In what is one of the more sublime offerings I've read lately, Egan suggests this possibility: "Hibernation — taking a cue from our fellow warm-blooded mammals. Looking inward, discovering the nuance and overlooked dimensions of things long neglected." So, what are those things, and how to find and be with them? Egan finds instruction in the extremis of Lewis and Clark's expedition, in the winter of 1805-1806. A winter of pain and survival.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, perhaps it is inthe expedition toward and into the shadows that hope may be found. Even in the dark. Even in my most human self. It is here in fact, day after day, that my drumbeat endures. shington
Photo of Oregon Coast taken in Ecola State Park by Tyler Dempster in February 28, 2016. 210 years earlier, Captain William Clark and twelve members of the Corps of Discovery traveled through what is now park land.