How Does the Mind Hold All This?
Going Outside, Taking a Break
It’s Friday morning and I am working, settled beside the window in my big, stuffed therapy chair, my coffee on the windowsill. Beyond the glass there are two robins, side by side, their heads cocked as they search for bugs on the sliver of green lawn; in the air a phoebe flies by on her way to look for a nest under the porch overhang. Finally, the sun is out. My Zoom screen opens and the worried face of a woman I’ve known for a long time appears. Her eyes look startled. I know her to be warm, funny and articulate as well as deeply informed and involved with the crucial issues of our time.
After a few minutes of banter about the color of the walls of the room each of us is sitting in, she shakes her head and says, “Climate change, abortion rights, LGBT rights, the war in Ukraine, our threatened democracy, covid— it’s all too much. How does the mind process all this? How do you hold it all?” She doesn’t startle easily, this veteran of political and cultural discord, but the news about the Supreme Court’s intention to overturn Roe v Wade has deeply shaken her, as it has me and all the women I know.
Fortunately, she wasn’t really asking me for a simple answer to this question, a tried and true formula for how many crisis and existential threats an individual can hold at one time.
“Little nibbles, one at a time, maybe that’s the only way to take in all this week’s devastating news. I can’t think about climate change now, I can only take small bites out of one thing.”
And suddenly I see it. Groups of us, like the robins on the lawn, our heads bobbing up and down as we peck away at the little patch of green grass we find ourselves on, intent on this moment, this action, these little bites: what we do to survive, to thrive.
I find this image comforting, and, as I write about it, I find it helps me organize my own feelings of being overwhelmed by the catastrophes unfolding around me and the number of tasks I’ve taken on to address these dangers. I see, as my father used to tell me when I couldn’t finish my dinner, my eyes are bigger than my stomach. Soon, I will burst apart and fall into a deep stupor and not wake for a hundred years! Oh! There’s a story. What will the world look like in a hundred years?
Something must go. Spring has arrived and there are so many things waving outside the window which lure me: the black pyramid of dirt under the spruce trees waiting to be wheelbarrowed and spread so life can spring from it, the gardens filled with native pollinators and fruits I am dreaming about, the Saturday fire-pits with friends Bob and I will host, the leaps into Rang Pond with the grandchildren, the books with pictures of native plants and shrubs that need to be studied, the invasive honeysuckle that must be hunted down and torn up by its roots.
All this is to say it’s time to say goodbye again, reader. It turns out I’m not a fair weather writer! I write better in the dark and the cold. When nothing outside is crooning for me to come peer at its newly emerged leaves, writing organizes my week, my brain. As soon as I finish one blog post, my mind begins to search for images or words I want to explore for their resonance and meaning. I look forward to Saturdays spent creating these little bouquets of words. I look forward to connecting with you every Sunday around these words.
In the winter there was time to spend nurturing my curiosity about how the mind I know best goes about reorganizing its relationship to the consumer, unlimited growth culture which shaped its thoughts and behavior for so long. And as I look back on all that reading and wondering and rethinking and writing, I am thrilled to report how profoundly it has reordered my priorities, my foreground and background, my ideas about ownership, connection, success, self. I have a whole new set of eyes.
Last week my husband and I were invited by a dear friend to stay with her at her house Downeast, a few miles from the treasured home we sold this winter. It was our first time back since the new owners moved their things in, parked their cars in the driveway, hung their clothes from the clotheslines out back. Bob was worried he’d feel like an outsider if we walked the road in front of the house, saw old neighbors. I was determined to experience our return as a Native American might have experienced her return to that very summer campground: that she belonged there not because she owned the land but because she was connected to its beauty, to the grasses and crabapple trees and boulders and wild raspberries and cranberries that grow in the meadow. That she belonged because of her connection to her tribe, to the people in her community whose stories she knew, whose families she cared about.
“You don’t have to own something in order to belong,” I told Bob, practicing my newfound mindscape. “Try to think this way: belonging is about relationship, not ownership. Let’s go over to our old neighborhood and walk the old places and see whom we meet on the walk.” With trepidation that this mindset might not work, we drove over and parked our car about a half mile from the old house. We got out and walked, passing all the old landmarks: the lily pond just beginning to bloom, the vast sandy beach we’d walked every summer, the meadow where the gravestones of the first settlers catch the morning light, the open ocean with the islands emerging from the mist. On the road, we met neighbors, exchanged greetings, caught up on their lives. We even met the man who bought our house, out for a run in a big orange knit cap that at first disguised his identity.
“You didn’t tell me about the mice that roam the kitchen!” he teased as he caught his breath on the road and the wind blew in off the ocean and the seagulls muttered their high calls. “They keep our cat busy. Oh! and we’ve been hearing such high praise about your gardens, my wife is a little intimidated.” Ah! My gardens. No they aren’t my gardens. They are the world’s gardens. I rearranged life onto them, hauled seaweed from the beach to feed them, grew tall colorful phlox and day lilies, but now, as the cycles continue, life will be rearranged once again on that heavy clay.
We will go back to Addison again many times. We will go to the 4th of July concert beside the old Chapel, we will see old friends. While I confess to a brief sharp pang as I walked by the house, I am happy to report, you don’t have to own something to belong.
When the dark and cold return, look for me, reader. I will need to make more word bouquets to survive the winter, to make sense of what’s happening in the world and to feel accompanied by you. Thank you for your company on Sunday mornings this fall and winter. It meant a great deal to me.
There are terrible catastrophes all around us, but only in this season are there bluets and star flowers and phoebes to love. May your summer be filled with a pyramid of dirt and all the life that leaps from its fertile black heart.