Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What's important is the action. You don't have to wait to be confident. Just do it, and eventually the confidence will follow.
In the week before Christmas, my reading group leader wished us a "complicated holiday," a reference to Rev Bruce Marshall's wish for a Complicated Christmas. I hope that yours, too, has been a little complicated. I hope you've felt joy and sorrow in more or less equal measure. I hope you've had a moment to marvel at something and a moment to miss something and a moment to breathe.
When I was about twelve, my dad rented half a little duplex apartment in a little bitty town. I say it was a little bitty town, and it was, but it was bigger than the little bitty town I lived most days in with my mom. Dad's little bitty town was big enough that it had a video store, playgrounds, a public swimming pool.
The pool was a pretty big one for a small town public swimming pool; it was big enough for lane racing, at least, and had a high and low diving board as well as a slide over a 15-foot deep end. There were several lifeguards and it was rarely crowded, and my brother and I were strong swimmers, so some days Dad would skip paying his own entry fee and set up a lawn chair on the other side of the fence. Now, I'm not sure how that would fly, and the summer a friend just had makes me leery of kids and pools in a way I've never been before, but it was a small town in the late 90s and nobody batted an eye.
My favorite activity on those days would be to dip under the rope divider to the deep end, out of the zones designated for the slide and divers, and try to reach the bottom. I could hold my breath for a solid two minutes at the time, so I could always stay under long enough, but the depth was enough that the last three feet or so were always excruciating for my ears. I would touch the bottom with my fingers and do a quick turn to push off, surfacing with tears in my eyes as the pressure eased. And then, as soon as it went away, I filled my lungs, turned, and dove under again. Over and over, sinking and surfacing, each time hoping that somehow the pressure wouldn't get me and I'd be able to enjoy being so deep underwater that it was quiet and still for a moment.
A few years ago, the Doctor Who Christmas special opened on a vignette that referred to how so many cultures have a midwinter holiday that is celebrated to some degree with lights, usually around solstice. Many, many people celebrate, among other things, being halfway through the dark. We have reached the deepest point, the pressure of night has reached its greatest lengths, and now we're on the return. This is what I'd intended to write about this week, but as the days passed I realized that, all things considered, except for the literal solstice, we're not halfway through many metaphorical darks right now. We're waiting, in fact, to see how much darker it'll get before it gets lighter. We have little way of knowing. We're at the bottom of the pool, lungs aching, blood rushing in our ears, trying to find the bottom so we can push back toward the glittering surface. But at the bottom of that pool, knowing I could surface at any time, I know I had a lot of really big thoughts. The pulse in my ears and the dim, flickering light made me calm enough to process things, to recognize truths about myself and others. I surfaced, kinder.
Solstice marks the beginning of deep winter, a time that is hard for most and does harm to many. We may get more daylight, but it'll be some time yet before the harsh cold begins to ease, and confined spaces make for bad moods and poor health. We need solstice-time celebrations, I think, to help make sure we're starting out more or less on the right foot. We gather with people we may not be able to reach again for several months, and some we may not see again at all. We eat well and let flickering candles and twinkling lights guide us into dark nights. We perform exaggerated versions of our normal cycles of both stressing ourselves out and finally relaxing, and if we're lucky we learn a little bit about ourselves from both.
It's admittedly a little tough to put a bright spin on the new year this time around, but I hope there's still some comfort to be had from taking a moment to ourselves to put the year to rest and open a new one; to take a breath and force ourselves to acknowledge that we've reached the point where we can choose to turn around, even if we know we're just going to dive again when we have enough air. The new year is, of course, an entirely cultural practice, but as a practice, I think it can bring us closure on one set of slights and hurts and sorrows so we're better prepared to greet both new joys and new hurts with a fresher heart. I for one prefer to do it at this time of year, but if this isn't the time you do it, that's ok. I just hope you find a way to do it now and again. Find the point where you're halfway through the dark, and let that knowledge pull you through the cold.
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