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Holding The Light

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Carol Bossard

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Our continental travelers have returned home, tired of traveling and full of stories.   And Joey has joined them.  I’ll miss his warning bark when someone drives in ---- or when a bear comes by, and his focused, soulful gaze when he wants to once more check on what’s outside.  More and more leaves are off the trees as November ushers in the last real month of Fall.  The larch trees are turning a bronzy-gold before the needles drop.  It is time to construct burlap cages around the azaleas.  The strange shapes always look rather odd on our front lawn; I’ve thought of putting faces on the burlap. The cages keep the deer from munching the shrubs down to little nubs.   As the days turn gray and leaves continue to fall and drift away, I find myself warming toward the idea of semi-hibernation.

I did not appreciate the time change this past weekend.  I need lots of light.   As the day darkens, my energy tends to seep out.  And now that my eyesight has become difficult, I need light even more just to see.  So if it were up to me, I’d have Daylight Savings time year ‘round.   To help cope, I use a “Happy Light” for a couple of hours in the morning.  It supposedly fools the brain into believing the Finger Lakes region has sunlight after all.  Quite a few people suffer from the SAD* malady.  Our brains apparently feel that without sunlight, we should be tucked away for the winter.  Energy fails, depression may set in and a person’s mood becomes one with the gloom.  So those of us who know we have a problem learn to take mitigating steps.  We keep our house lights on even during the day, we use that special light in the morning to simulate the sunshine, we play music that cheers us and we read books that lift our spirits instead of tomes that might drag us down.  No matter if your book club thinks a discussion of Greek tragedies would be culturally useful; in November, read something happy.  And we try to keep moving ---- activity and new interests help us hold onto inner light for our spirits.

November is also a month for gratitude.  It has become a custom for some to post a “what I’m grateful for” each day on social media.  I find those posts good reminders of the many wonderful things for which I’m grateful.  The delights can be as small as a cardinal lighting on the 5-foot tall kale outside my window or as large as family members coming to visit.  It can be the setting sun lighting up the maples or one of the cats popping up unexpectedly outside the bathroom window with a “whatcha doin’?” look on his furry face.   There are studies that clearly show a correlation between one’s regular acknowledgment of gratitude and a healthier immune system.  In this time of flu and Covid our immune systems need all the help they can get.  Gratitude is so worth it.

The whole western culture emphasizes getting things done; we all have the inevitable TO DO list.  What have I accomplished today?  How many things can I check off my list?  Meditation --- being quiet and sitting ---is often regarded by doers with a skeptical eye.  Its good effects can’t be quite as easily translated into statistics, so if it doesn’t compute, we don’t bother with it.  But meditation**, in whatever form one uses ---- and there are many ----lowers blood pressure, calms anxiety, helps the immune system, keeps the brain alert, and generally makes life move in better directions.  Of course, even if we get past the drive to do-do-do, we may still resist because it is a bit scary to meet quietly with ourselves.  But truly, it is a practice that yields immense benefit.  Joseph Campbell*** said: “Sacred space and sacred time and something joyous to do is all we need.  Almost anything then becomes a continuous and increasing joy.”

Kerm and I have changed our homes several times in our years together, and one of the things I’m really grateful for are the friends we’ve made along the way.  There are several levels of friendship from the casual let’s work together for a common goal kind, to those who “have your back” and who will be honest with you and can be confidantes and a shoulder to cry on if needed.  Friends who know, trust and understand are a gift.  Misunderstandings with friends, as with family, can be very painful.  And today, in this contentious atmosphere, it is easy to offend people often without knowing.  Mending the torn fabric of relationships is not easy.  Confronting isn’t a very popular solution, but it is only through thoughtful conversations, that don’t bypass the uncomfortable, that we can achieve understanding.  We appreciate the friends we’ve found in our life journey; they are wonderful, caring people and are to be cherished.

November is the month when we celebrate Veteran’s Day --- what used to be called Armistice Day at the end of WWI, but those who remember that day of church bells ringing across the continent, are mostly gone from us.  War is seldom a good thing, but we’d be who knows where if it were not for those who are willing to defend us when war happens.  We have seldom treated our veterans with the care and gratitude that they deserve.  I found these verses by Stephen Spender**** to be a reminder:  “Born of the sun, they traveled a short while toward the sun, leaving the vivid air signed with their honor.”  If we ask young men and women to fight for their country, we should, at the very least, show our gratitude in more helpful ways than our complicated and sometimes ineffective VA hospitals and medical system.  I know there are pockets of excellent care in these hospitals, but there are so many stories of red tape so tangled that a vet could die before getting the treatment he/she needs.  They deserve to be restored in as whole a way as is possible after they have been sent where their minds and bodies can be painfully torn asunder.  PTSD is no joke or imagined malady.  Whether from war, abuse, trauma or shock --- it is a condition that needs treatment.  And for veterans, at least, we bear a responsibility to see that they get it.  Actually the very best thing we can do to show our appreciation is to find some less deadly way than war to solve international differences.

I think ---- do I dare say it? ---- our bear family is gone.  We haven’t seen them now in three weeks.   They really needed to be out of our woods by the onset of deer-hunting season.  No one wants to find a bear sitting in his tree stand even though such a scene is quite humorous when shown in a video on Face Book.  In reality, it wouldn’t be so funny!  And I can just see one of those chubby cubs climbing up to see what he can see.

Wooded areas, at this time of year, are good places to be and super places for meditation.  The structure of the trees has emerged as the leaves have fallen, becoming a forest art form!  Usually there is the sound of woodpeckers de-bugging the trees and squirrels just being squirrels.  Almost always, there is a bit of wind making music; the instruments being the twigs and branches --- both bare and evergreen --- through which it blows.  There is a decaying leaf fragrance that one only finds at this time of the year.  I think many hunters use deer as an excuse to spend some time in the quiet of November woods, away from the daily hustle and bustle.   But --- I hope too, that there will opportunities to put venison in the freezer for those who eat this healthy meat.   

And meanwhile, November is before us, to be experienced and enjoyed.  From Dixie Willson*****……. “I like the fall, the mist and all.  I like the night-owl’s lonely call --- and wailing sound of wind around.  I like the gray November day, and bare, dead boughs that coldly sway against my pane; I like the rain.  I like to sit and laugh at it --- and tend my cozy fire a bit.  I like the fall --- the mist and all.

Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net.

*SAD---Seasonal Affective Disorder

**Meditation ---There are many ways to meditate: Transcendental Meditation, Walking meditation, focus on a Scripture meditation, just sitting in silence meditation, prayer and meditation………………..

***Joseph Campbell--- American professor at Sarah Lawrence College specializing in comparative mythology and comparative religions.  He is best known for his book, “The Hero With A Thousand Faces.”  1904-1987

****Stephen Spender--- British poet, novelist and essayist whose work concentrated on themes of social injustice and the class struggle.  1909-1995

*****Dixie Willson--- American screen-writer who also wrote children’s books, short stories and poetry.  1890-1974.

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