Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Rest and Relaxation

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that." ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Though it's just turned to Fall, I've found myself drawn to re-reading one of my favorite essays every night this week - Winter by Nina Zolotow. I first saw it in Rodney Yee's book Yoga: The Poetry of the Body. I understand this essay now more than I ever have in the 7 years since I first read it. I pull it out in times of trouble, in times when I'm feeling sad and worn out and confused about how to move forward. Her conclusion makes me a feel a little better, gives me a bit more license to give myself a much-needed break. I love that the only period is at the end of the essay, and that all of the other sentences and phrases run together in one long, cohesive thought, just like life.

And now here I am at the final day of September, ready to release this month in favor of a happier, sunnier October. And some much needed rest and relaxation. A tired heart and mind can only be rejuvenated by rest and care, not by further trial and challenge. So that's my goal for the next little while - a simple one, really. To just take care of this heart who has endured so much this month, to surround it with love, to nurture it back to its original state. It has done some heavy lifting this month and earned some well-deserved down time. Just like the fig tree, it will certainly be revived.

Last night, I listened to Professor Michael Sandel's lectures at They were just what I needed. He spoke about how to value life and the utilitarian philosophy that seeks to maximize pleasure over pain. I was lulled into a relaxed state as he told me about Sophocles and Plato, J.S. Mill, and Jeremy Bentham. And fell into a deep sleep between my comfy sheets made of bamboo fiber and topped by a fluffy duvet. I buried myself into my new bed, cocooning and nurturing my weary body and mind, and didn't stir until the sun came up. So this is what it feels like to heal.

Winter by Nina Zolotow
"In their garden there was always a wild profusion of tomatoes ripening on the vine, and leafy basil, arugula, and lettuce, and glossy purple eggplants, and red and yellow peppers, and zucchini with its long, bright blossoms, and there was always lunch at the wooden table on hot summer afternoons, with plates of pasta and bread and olives and salads with herbs, and many bottles of red wine that made you feel warm and drowsy, while bees hummed and the sprawling marjoram, thyme, and rosemary gave off their pungent fragrances, and at the end of the meal, always, inexplicably, there were fresh black figs that they picked themselves from the tree at the garden's center, an eighteen-foot fig tree, for how was it possible - this was not Tuscany but Ithaca - Ithaca, New York, a rough-hewn landscape of deep rocky gorges and bitter icy winters, and I finally had to ask him - my neighbor - how did that beautiful tree live through the year, how did it endure the harshness of a New York winter and not only survive until spring but continue producing the miraculous fruit, year after year, and he told me that it was quite simple, really, that every fall, after the tree lost all its leaves, he would sever the tree's roots on one side only and, on the tree's other side, he would dig a trench, and then he would just lay down that flexible trunk and limbs, lay them down in the earth and gently cover them with soil, and there the fig tree would rest, warm and protected, until spring came, when he could remove its protective covering and stand the tree up once again to greet the sun; and now in this long gray season of darkness and cold and grief (do I have to tell you over what? for isn't it always the same - the loss of a lover, the death of a child, or the incomprehensible cruelty of one human being to another?), as I gaze out of my window at the empty space where the fig tree will stand again next spring, I think, yes, lay me down like that, lay me down like the fig tree that sleeps in the earth, and let my body rest easily on the ground - my roots connecting me to some warm immutable center - luxuriating in the heart of winter."

The photo above is not my own. It was taken in Centennial Park in Sydney, Australia by Mike Bogle. I can be found here.


Ann Hassett said...

I know Nina, love her writing and have this book -- but I don't remember ever reading "Winter." Thank you for printing this - you are right, it's worth reading and re reading.

Christa said...

Hi Ann! Thanks for much for your comment. I love Nina's writing as well. I've heard she's working on novel - I can't wait to read it. Her essay Winter has been such a source of strength to me through so many tough times!