A Moment of Fatigue that is Also Luminous

A long, full, persistently challenging Monday. One thing after another. I believe I handled everything with some amount of calm and dignity – always aware that I was carrying such a heavy load. Breath by breath, footstep by footstep. So much to be grateful for . . . and yet, so hard.

I haven’t played a lot of guitar over the winter. My callouses are gone. All my songs are rusty. My tired lungs have trouble belting out the choruses I penned several years ago now. There’s no audience to serve. I feel myself capitulating.

Capitulating to what? To the inexorable silence of a society with no socializing? To the tight grip of non-celebration and non-gathering that has us all in a chokehold? My voice capitulates and weakens in the face of it.

A few days back, I was walking down an empty Government Street and heard Dave Harris with his pal on harmonica playing “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World” by Neil Young. Hearing it, and singing along, really felt like a bona fide act of subversion. You could practically see the Covid germs spewing out of their unmasked synchronous mouths onto the sidewalk before them.

I found myself hollering like a crazy person, in support of their simple exuberant joy. Free! We’re still free!

Are we?

Yes, the quiet has gotten to me. Lately I’ve been pulling out the guitar and giving it a try, but something in my spirit has changed from before. At the beginning of the first lockdown, my creativity burgeoned. I came up with all sorts of plans and ideas for keeping myself occupied. Now, my creativity sort of limps along with excuses for why its feet hurt.

I should be a jazz singer in a quiet smoky lounge now, one year after I was a cheery folk singer. My old bubble gum doesn’t quite stick anymore.

This is the first time I’ve sat down all day and allowed myself to absorb the many layers of heaviness in my life. It’s as if I have to sit and steep in myself, taking long slow sips of my tension and stress, until finally it is all sipped up and settling down to the bottom of me, where the sediment will be completely absorbed by the earth. If I sit long enough like this, then I’ll just fall asleep or start to cry, or just float luminous in an empty space of peaceful absorption.

There’s a lot of space in me to absorb it all, but it takes time and silence.

There’s not much to rail at, really. Nothing new under the sun, as they say. Mothers of any civilization have wept and wailed over their children down the centuries, across the millenia. Nothing I say or do is new. Even the vastness of this reality makes me feel vaster; I have to yawn up my pain, gulping it all in. This is what growing old is like, if you’re going through it with any grace at all.

I’ve found myself becoming quite good at being gratified, over the years. There’s a lot I’ll do to ensure my own satisfaction. Maybe you can identify with this? In fact, our whole lives, everything in or around us, can end up centering around some sort of gratification; having what you want; having your needs met; working hard so that you’ll get the things important to you; being fulfilled.

And now I find that life is here to turn me upside down, shake me up, knock me around, and kick my ass to kingdom come before plunging me into a nice hot bubble bath – again and again, before finally I die.

I feel betrayed by society, by my elders and family. I will never have what I want – yet they told me I could. Not only that I could, but that I was deserving and destined to have it. A child of the times. I’m finding, of course, that the opposite is true. And part of me wishes that I’d been raised in a more ancient society where courage, strength, commitment and civic virtue were prized above self-gratification, fame and influence.

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