December 21, 2009
By Jude Rittenhouse
Yesterday’s blizzard, now referred to as “The Storm of the Century” by some, dumped twenty-one inches onto fields, stone walls, roads, trees, beaches, yards and asphalt, while we slept. My love and I spent Sunday removing snow from our long drive and, as we lifted our final full shovels, sunset burst out of clouds, lighting branches of oaks and maples with an orange glow. Like now, as I write this, it was just after 4:30 PM. That momentary brilliance, at the end of a short gray day, made us grateful to be outdoors, noticing nature’s complex creation made of beauty and pain, of challenging tasks and heartfelt celebrations.
Today, winter solstice, my middle-aged muscles ache as afternoon speeds into evening. The first streetlights come on like shimmering candles against a long night’s blackness. Along with that fresh layer of whiteness and the deepening evening, ocean hunkers down against earth’s cold body. For the first time in my adult life, I am spending the holidays in my own home. During all those seasons of travel, some years by car, others by plane, I sensed a deep longing for silence. Stillness. Now I have it and am filled by the deliciousness of small things I haven’t savored since childhood. A single string of colored lights draped over the curtain rod of our picture window, two red velvet stockings (the ones I made twenty-odd years ago) hanging from the mantle, holiday music sung by deceased stars from the 1950’s and ’60’s, even yesterday’s hot salt bath after hours of hard physical work—these fragments came together like a sumptuous surprise party that no one hosted or planned. It all simply happened.
Recent weeks—absent the typical frenzy of shopping, shipping, packing—have also provided time and space to allow life’s many losses to surface and shake my body with deep sobs, which then settled like snow, allowing old pains to cool and find their proper places in a fresh wholeness. If we had planned to travel this year, the weekend’s weather would have frustrated and stopped us. Instead, we were able to settle into what winter tries to teach each year: slow down, go quiet, rest, look inward, listen to those places inside that have been waiting for attention.
Although she died this past Labor Day, I hear the laughter of my mother-in-law as she calls to a grandchild; and I see her husband’s eyes, rimmed red by loss, sadness. Despite my own father’s absence for the past seventeen holiday seasons, I hear his long-dead voice singing tenor harmonies to “The First Noel” while my now-lost-to-Alzheimer’s mother plays the Steinway baby grand that lies buried with its irretrievably broken soundboard somewhere in an Illinois landfill. When my love of twenty-five years and I lie in bed, our aging bodies tangled together, I vividly feel our taut-skinned beginning in Colorado. Inside my loosening skin, it lives enfolded by ensuing years in Chicago, New York City, Rhode Island. Our twenty nieces and nephews simultaneously become babies, children, grownups in their twenties and thirties; some of them already raising children of their own. A week ago, I wrote:
What Is Here Now
Needle and thread
for mending torn places. Light
painting an oak floor gold. Nuggets
of time. Approaching
the cusp of solstice,
projects, small gifts
to mail. A racing
winter’s cave. The shortest day
flickers ahead like a candle. Prepares
to flit by like the red of a cardinal.
Oh my heart. Filled
A few days later, an unscheduled afternoon stretched its luxury of solitude and peace before me like a kind aunt: someone childless who remembered being a lost girl, so knew to offer space, simple comforts. My heart stretched again, breaking open a fresh layer of old sorrows tightly held, opening its arms to welcome whatever hid within those secret, sacred chambers. I thought of my father, a niece, a childhood friend and wondered: why these three? Is some held-in-common wound a theme between these people and me? Or is our unity nothing other than being human? Surely that is enough.
When a heart breaks open in such a way, a fluidity of light can enter and stretch, if it is allowed. If it is welcomed. Presence isn’t just about being with whatever is in front of us in the outer world. The ability to remain deeply present can come from bearing and compassionately carrying whatever lies buried. Waiting to be held.
Jude Rittenhouse has received a Writer’s Grant from the Vermont Studio Center, a first place short story award, and various poetry awards. In addition to her holistic practice, Integrated Healing Services, Jude teaches at conferences, retreats, schools, hospitals, alternative health centers, and domestic violence shelters. She is also an inspirational speaker and presenter for literary audiences, cancer survivors, spiritual gatherings, high school and college students, and other groups. In all of her endeavors, she strives to empower others as they explore their unique journeys toward wholeness.
To learn more about her holistic practice or to inquire about her poetry chapbook, Living In Skin, contact: Jude@JudeRittenhouse.com or call (401) 348-8079.
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