My name's Dave. I'm working on it.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Ceremonies of Light and Dark

O February, you coldest of months.
In the dead of winter, synchronicity took a dark form. Death was everywhere. I used to write about how winter, if I could whittle it down, was the season of death. It looked good on paper. But that reality has touched all of our lives in many ways this past month. The tangible death of bodies, the amorphous deaths of the day-to-day lives we have known. The changing of the sights and scenery.
I moved from my old house into an apartment. So much of my recent past was tied to that place and that neighborhood, and I have taken it and put it in the ground. I don't look back much anymore. When Nick died, the grieving ritual began, and I tried to see to it that it was completed properly. The function of ritual and ceremony, as I understand it, has always been to satisfy our human need to give shape and form to a feeling. It focuses and sharpens our messy lives into crystalline meaning. From my purely secular perspective, ritual has a place even in our callous, modern hearts. It transforms everything, from our smallest actions to the doorways of birth, growth and death into something pure, even sacred.
I fell without question into the position of supporting my friends through the tragedy. It was simple necessity. I played my part, offering comfort and love as it was needed. Yet all the while I felt more like an observer than a participant. I observed my grieving friends, and I observed myself among them. To say I felt nothing would be inaccurate; but I was aware again and again that I felt less than I might expect of myself, in the middle of all this turmoil. I became adept at disconnecting myself from my emotions. I did it because I had no choice but to do so; to submerge my own little sorrows and private fears for the greater good. What else could I do?
The month felt like a long, arduous trek uphill in the middle of a storm. You couldn't think of how far you had left to go; you'd collapse under the knowledge, the sheer hopelessness of it. You could only think of how you'd make it through the next few feet. Then the next few hours. Then the next few days. There was too much that demanded our attention that we had neither the time nor energy to give to. So we did what we had to: we pushed everything else aside except that which was absolutely necessary to get through the moments. The rest of our burdens could wait, caught in our filters. We would attend to them in their time. Near the end we just felt like we were holding our breath, waiting for the calendar to pin itself up one more page and for the sun to begin to creep back into the world.
I learned that my ability to drive a stake between myself and my heart is far greater than I had thought. That I am capable of a detachedness I never imagined possible. I felt nearly inhuman; the cold, calculating mind that sees everything from a tactical perspective. Step by step. This is what we must do to get by. It's a strange thing to feel, especially in such a concentrated dose of time. I can't imagine that I'll ever be called upon to do it again in such intensity. Though I take some small comfort in knowing that I can.
But everything has a price.
In this case, the price is a tiredness that has crept inside of me and is refusing to leave. Even though the worst is past (it's March, hallelujah), I still finish each day desiring to disappear off the face of the planet, if only to sleep, uninterrupted and unreachable, for at least a week. To see no one. To have no obligations. I lay down in bed and can't turn away from the fact that though I manage to complete my necessary duties each day, I still leave the truly important things undone. I was surviving before. Now I'm getting by. It'd be nice to step up one further into actually living.
But I know that I'm getting better. I've got that much at least. S and I go for coffee from time to time, and I cherish the time spent. Something we recently discussed comes to mind when I think about this feeling of shortcoming. We can be the best things for others in our lives: wells of wisdom, encouragement, strength and love. But we struggle to be these things for ourselves. Even propping myself up with a clean new apartment of my own, putting up the Neutral Milk Hotel poster and lighting candles is not enough: I still, when left alone, cannot cheer myself out of a hole. Why is it so difficult to do for ourselves what we so easily do for others?
But it's a start. Living alone fills me with a small joy every morning when I awake to the blinding sun streaming in through my windows. Knowing that I have only my lonesome to answer to as I go through the rituals of preparing coffee and putting the stereo on. Sitting on the windowsill looking over Hawthorne as the busses roll by.
March has come, finally. The new Arcade Fire record has dropped, in all its holy, blistering splendor. I joke with a co-worker about how this record (centered around religion) is darker than the first (which is merely about death). The arms of the record grab me roughly and pull me back to life, practically slapping me in the face in an attempt to revive me. To remind me that, though February is the coldest month, it is also something else: the harbinger of spring.
Winter is the dead season.
Spring, as I have written elsewhere, is the season when we come back to life.
The Minbari (I know, I know, I'm obsessed with Babylon 5) have a ritual known as the rebirth ceremony. It involves reflection and meditation on what has past, what is now, and what is still to come. You must tell someone a secret that you've never told anyone else before, and you must give up something of great value to you. After all the pain we have endured, it seems only appropriate that we come together, now, to try and rebuild what has been torn apart. If you wish to participate in this ceremony, know that you will not be alone in doing so.
Ritual is for the living. We attend the funeral to say goodbye. We drink a toast at the wake to honor him. We shake hands to affirm: we are friends. And so on. Will we not now be reborn?

The Arcade Fire - Keep the Car Running
Will Sheff - Girl I Knew, Guy I Met
Pulp - Dishes
Laura Gibson - The Longest Day

1 comment:

  1. I discovered This Is Hardcore, and therefor "Dishes," just when I was turning 33... that album is really something. There aren't many heavier, yet listenable, albums. And I know "Best Ever" is the ultimate false claim nowdays, but Best Opening Line Ever for "Dishes"?

    I'm hoping 1) this is the last month of this much grey til Sept. 2) if not, at least days like Mon n Tues of last week coincide more with my DAYS OFF. Because the sunlight will help me; I think these lamps might be helping too.

    I don't think it's unreasonable to turn it off for a month, especially a hard month. Just remember where you left it.