Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Reflections on the new life of Spring...including the dark nights of the soul

Old age is not a disease—it is strength and survivorship, triumph over all kinds of vicissitudes and disappointments, trials and illnesses. (Maggie Kuhn)

As new life springs out of the ground, running through unfrozen brooks and streams, pushing green sprouts through what was only yesterday frozen earth, how is one not prompted to reflect on previous springs, their gifts and their cross-checks, their births and their deaths, their hopes and their failures.
T.S. Eliot wrote in The Wasteland:

A
PRIL is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Life and death collide in this season of the wildest wakening following the somnambulance of winter’s silence. Birds hatch their eggs in nests perched on the most unlikely tree branches. Fish hatch their eggs under rocks covered with moss and lichen. Trees hatch their buds and leaves from barren branches and twigs. In Ontario trilliums sprout from dank forest floors, making community with octogenarian maples and oaks, and middle-aged jack and white pine. And amid this pulsating fertility, when least expected, come the tragedies that rip life-long dreams out of their imaginary incubators, phone calls announcing death, report cards spelling doom, and transitions that call for respite care, tranqillizers and therapy.

The epic release of energy overwhelms the nervous system into believing anything is truly possible, only to slam that same system to the mat of crushing judgement, as if Good Friday still needed centuries of reiteration, re-interpretation, and revisiting with a different cast of characters in many different ethnicities and faiths.

The paradox of Lent, an extended wandering in wilderness, attempting to come to terms with insurmountable odds, life-threatening opposition, conflict and virtual emotional and spiritual destruction, bears witness to the undying human need for releasing all the locked and hidden symptoms of anxiety, fear, insecurity and the demons hereto packed away in the attics of our memories. Those demons are both within each of us and in the outer world inhabiting all people. And, whether from within or in the wider world, these demons seems to break out of their winter slumber along with the rest of the natural world. And all of these demons join the throng of new natural generative life as if to warn of limitations when none seem compatible and congruent with the pulsating sap, blood, fertilization and gestation.

We are consistently, eternally, a dull and dumb species, waking only, it seems, when everything has gone to hell in a hand basket, when hope seems to have fled like green broke horses let loose from the fenced fields. And when the damn breaks, then we all panic, wonder what just happened, and what are we going to do about it. We seem incapable of preventing these demon-insurgencies, whether in concert or in conflict with the natural burgeoning of new life.

For teacher-lifer’s, spring is also not the beginning but the end of the calendar year, when most of our energy is spent, most of those exams and term papers have been marked and everyone is panting for the final day of June and another summer break. Our beginnings climb out of our consciousness in September, when we start with all the hope of firing psychic, intellectual and bodily cylinders forcing our engines into overdrive.

So, there is another irony that our work-life does not dance to the same rhythms as nature.

In my own life, I have, like most, pulled envelops from a mailbox that bore exam results of which I was not proud, in the Spring. In Spring, I have also shifted workplaces, cultures and even nations, borne out of new springs of death/life (they really cannot be and will not be separated!) that seemed at the time like tectonic plates pushing new horizons up into my vision. From the vantage of decades of reflection, however, the trauma of some of these upheavals seems manageable, whereas, at the time of their occurrence, the world in which I lived went deep black.

Guilt, shame, regret, embarrassment, the realization of the depth and ripples of complete failure as a man, as a father, as a professional and as a son and nephew were the constant companions of these personal dramas. Sometimes these emotions writhed through my body for a night or two, sometimes for weeks. Men do not, cannot, give birth to another human being. We cannot know the pain and the ecstacy of that birthing experience.

However, there is such unshakeable truth to the notion that, for every man who has gone through the longest of ‘dark nights of the soul’ there is a monumental gift of the gold that emerges from those dark and mysterious mists, fogs and traumas. While none of us would or could have choreographed our darkest nights, through planning, through preparing, through saving money, through any training program. Nevertheless, like the swimmer who realizes he faces a violent whirlpool, and yet plunges into its chaotic swirling white water, not knowing whether or if he will emerge and yet, somehow, risking it all, the possibility of emerging into the “silver reaches of the estuary” often follows. (References from The Swimmer’s Moment, by Margaret Avison)

None of those dark nights, none of those disappointing report cards, none of those death-announcing calls, nor any of the betrayals and injustices that came my direction, whether earned or merited or not, would have been more helpful had they been directed to another. My life, with all of its hopes and dreams and blessings, including the profound pain and loss of pride, from both a confluence of influences over which no one had control and from mis-steps that at the time I was unable to avoid, is still my own, and the currents that still flow in and through my arteries and veins would not be as strong, or as pulsating or as throbbing with emotional ‘excess’, political perspective and identity insights.

The west wind that pounded a stranger onto the rocks on Georgian Bay outside my bedroom at three a.m., that pushed by Dunlop 65 golf ball far to the right into the bush on the dog’s-leg on what was then hole #6, also blew through my loafers as I pranced to the stage at eleven, stubbing my toe, and falling flat on my face in front of 500 strangers in the Steelworkers Hall in Sudbury in 1951. It was the same wind that turned my head, at twelve, while riding by maroon Raleigh two-wheeler down McMurray street to gawk at a co-ed, just as a vehicle was backing out of a parallel parking spot, throwing my head-over-heels onto the pavement, interrupting my errand for bread to the local A & P. That same west wind blew in the rainstorm on the same day my crew were scheduled to canoe to a distant island in Blackstone Lake, or the first fire-cooked stew in the blinding rain, an afternoon I cannot erase from my memory.

That same west wind blew through my spirit when I contemplated changing careers after twenty-plus years, and then, only three years later to try to follow a life-long dream. That wind has been a constant companion blowing through my conversations, my adventures and my failures. My risk-taking has not found expression in dare-devil rides ( I punctured my lower lip on my only trip down “zoombaflume” at Ontario’s  Wonderland Park!). it has however, found me trying my mettle without formal training in selling suits, coaching basketball, free-lance reporting, and more recently, in organizational and human resource consulting and coaching.

It is Spring that reminds me of every other spring:

·      long and lonely train rides with my father whose patience and love shine like an eternal flame in my memory and heart,
·      long and lonely waits outside the rehearsal room of a professional pianist’s home, with whom my teacher had arranged a formal lesson, although she never did show up,
·      phone calls announcing the untimely death of that first piano teacher
·      another phone call to a foreign land announcing the death of my mother
·      long wait in the lobby of the local hospital while our first daughter underwent bilateral myryngotomy surgery, complete with mastoidectomy at three, following days of a 105 F temperature
·      long walks along the shore of Georgian Bay learning the lines for Jules from the Bella and Ira Spivak one-act play, My Three Angels
·      the long silent emptiness between an inappropriate “trial” of an examination piano and the first words from the two examiners at the Conservatory
·      the silence of the whole night following a bitter and loud dispute that ushered in the beginning of a marriage separation after twenty-three years

And, then there are other Springs when graduations brought family together, and when trips to sunny shores brought smiles to family faces.

Springs, and springs and here is yet another…..filled with all the life that any one of us can fully observe and assimilate and mine the energy of new life that waits our embrace!


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