Thank you, Leonard
Updated: Apr 16
Day 20 of my self-isolation offers a beautiful morning. The sun is bright but not yet imposing. The birds sing. The air is the freshest it’s been in recent memory, and somehow in it’s smell reminds me that the mountains are not too far away. How I long for them. Could I go? The idea of travel right now seems as attractive as it does frightening. I’m sure we’re all feeling this right now. “Exposure” seems everywhere. And soon, masks of all sorts will be as well.
I traverse cream-colored sidewalks dappled with shade from overhanging branches. In the brief relief they offer from the climbing sun, it occurs to me how important the shadows are. And yet often run from them, fearful of what happens there.
It might be time to look at our relationship to them, these shadows. Mostly, they work tirelessly to define the light. On bright days, when the sun has unleashed her strongest rays, we actively seek them out. We build tents outside to shield us from the shine. Wear dark colored lenses, put on lotion meant to block it, lest we burn or sunstroke. More than once I’ve said, “being out in the sun really takes it out of you, doesn’t it?” It’s as if shadow is the oft ignored straight man to the wild sun. Its role allows us to enjoy the light ever more.
Not everything we say or do right now will be profound. Nor does it have to be, nor should it be. Can we for a moment, soften the pressure of being anything other than alive during this crisis? What more is there to be? Whatever we’re going through, however we’re processing this time is valid, worthy of being heard, and worthy of standing without judgement. Perhaps we’re on the front lines or perhaps we’re staying home, which creates a whole different kind of front line. We’re down, some of us, for not being more productive, or holding to a more disciplined schedule or structure. But how do we expect ourselves to act when our mode has been set on “survive?” When we’re stuck in fight or flight mode by the news, which doesn’t change, except to get worse?
When I’ve lost loved ones in my life, the pain was tremendous, like I’d lost a limb that was attached to my heart. And yet, the beauty that I discovered afterward, within the grief, is unparalleled. It was when I felt the fullness of my aliveness, when I knew for certain I was appreciating every breath. When we understand the preciousness of life, is there anything more to understand? Those moments are fleeting, to be sure, but they are priceless, and live within us, sharpening our eyes. When we’ve experienced loss, when else are we so absorbed in the details?
“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” I wonder if Leonard Cohen knew how many of us would be comforted by this truth when he wrote it. If he had any idea how many times his line would be repeated and paraphrased, how many people would quote it without knowing who said it, without knowing who Leonard was. It’s a truth so simple it feels like public domain. And perhaps it is. This moment in history is clarifying our light. Asking us to define it.
Years ago, when I was suffering through a loss, a dear friend sent me the passage below. It gave me great comfort and tempered the judgement I’d placed on how long I was sad. I don’t know who wrote it, though if someone reading this does, please tell me, I’d like to thank them.
In the meantime, know that wherever you are is okay. It’s okay to avert your eyes. It’s also okay to lift them. I promise there is light there, waiting to be discovered.
When sad, be really sad, sink into sadness. What else can you do?
Sadness is needed. It is very relaxing, a dark night that surrounds you.
Fall asleep into it. Accept it, and you will see that the moment you
accept sadness, it starts becoming beautiful.
Sadness is ugly because of our rejection of it; it is not ugly in itself.
Once you accept it, you will see how beautiful it is, how relaxing,
how calm and quiet, how silent. It has something to give that happiness can never give.
Sadness gives depth. Happiness gives height. Sadness gives
roots. Happiness gives branches. Happiness is like a tree going into
the sky, and sadness is like the roots going down into the womb of
the earth. Both are needed, and the higher a tree goes, the deeper it
goes, simultaneously. The bigger the tree, the bigger will be its
roots. In fact, it is always in proportion. That's its balance.
You cannot bring the balance. The balance that you bring is of no
use. It will be forced. Balance comes spontaneously; it is already
there. In fact, when you are happy, you become so excited that it is
tiring. Have you watched? The heart immediately moves then into
the other direction, gives you a rest. You feel it as sadness. It is
giving you a rest, because you were getting too excited. It is
medicinal, therapeutic. It is just as in the day you work hard and in
the night you fall deeply asleep. In the morning you are fresh again.
After sadness you will be fresh again, ready to be excited.
light/shadow, existing during this time.
as we’re going further apart, we’re making an extra effort to connect.
A runner across the way hollers a friendly hello, and I reciprocate. It happens twice more with distant passers-by. When in this city have we been so eager to acknowledge each other with more than a sly glance, or a curt nod before continuing briskly on our way to more important matters?
There was one woman on my walk that didn’t respond to my saying hello, even when our dogs were. She’s wearing earphones, listening to something. She didn’t look at me, which honestly wouldn’t have been that unusual a few weeks ago- we were all in our own worlds, weren’t we? But now I feel specifically unseen, so much have I appreciated the briefest of connections lately. I remind myself again; grief hits us all in different ways.
I started leaving my phone at home during walks. “It’s not that I don’t love you, I just need some space,” leaving quickly before I change my mind.
Let me be clear: I’m not suggesting that this pandemic is a necessary balance to our world. But we cannot ignore the shadow that it’s created, that’s put us all, collectively, in a state of grief for the world we knew. And, well, what do we do in the shadows? What do we do within its quiet?