Embracing Darkness

On an ordinary quiet night, I took a break from writing to make a cup of herbal tea. Suddenly, I was in the dark. Tea freshly brewed, and I couldn’t even see the mug. I had to feel the doorway to get out of the kitchen. Funny how the mind works. I have to find light, I have to find light. In the living room, my laptop had gone to sleep on the coffee table, and I found it by the tiny red dot on its rim. I woke it up and used it to see my way around, searching for things I knew I didn’t have. Matches. Flashlight.

Sudden change and loss are hard to accept. I’ve been reading two books that deal with this topic: Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior and Marc Ian Barasch’s The Healing Path. The first is a novel about both ecological and personal crises; the second is nonfiction, about facing life-threatening illness. My response to the simple lack of electricity confirmed what these writers say about how humans react to an unwelcome shift in circumstances. We want normal. I kept thinking I could go into another room and turn on a light. No. There’s no power. The whole town was dark. Then maybe, I thought, I could sleep through the outage. No. There’s no fan, no air conditioning. What was I going to do in the dark with my laptop battery running low? It was 11:30 p.m. and that’s when I do my best writing.

I shut off the laptop after I’d found my Nook, which had more charge, and took it and the mug of tea outside, using the Nook as kind of dim little flashlight. I thought, I can read.

No. Not once I’d seen the stars. Then, all I wanted was the stars. Even in the desert in a town with little night glare, the removal of all manmade light was … breathtaking? No. Awe-inspiring? Too weak. Sacred.

I didn’t do anything to pass the time in the powerless night. I just lay back and looked at it. Thoughts drifted in. How long will this last? Should I pack up and go to a hotel in another city? I didn’t move. Stars. The lingering craving for electricity grew weaker and weaker.

This is it. The dark still night, afire with diamonds in its endless depths. The ordinary and normal gone. Someday my power will go off, and that will be it. Maybe it will be like the kitchen was, blind nothingness. Maybe it will be like the brilliant, hidden, undiscovered sky. All I know is that I had that sacred moment under the stars, and that I chose not to miss it.

The Souls of Ordinary Things

Going through back issues of Alternative Therapies in Health Medicine, I came across one of Dr. Larry Dossey’s profound and intricate essays that he called editorials—they were far more than that—when he was the editor of that journal.  It’s  called “When Stones Speak: Toward a Reenchantment of the World.”

I wish I could link it the way I can a web site, but it’s in a scholarly journal you’d have to get through an academic library database. It would be worth the effort to look it up if you can. It’s in Vol. 2 #4, pp 8-13 and 97-98, July 1996.

Dossey examines the possibility that consciousness can move beyond human minds—that it pervades all things, from fish to musical instruments to the implements a physician uses again and again in the practice of medicine. He suggests that we share traces of our souls with our objects, and cites scientists who consider seriously that inanimate things are “rich with pattern and information.”

If you’re a regular listener to Car Talk on NPR, you’ve already thought about this, of course. The discussion of whether cars have souls has been going on for some time. The callers and the hosts seem to agree that some cars have souls and some don’t. There have been some fascinating conversations about detecting the presence of a car’s soul. I remember a neighbor who had to part with his ancient VW Rabbit when it was beyond repair. He went down to the parking lot of our apartment building and sat with the Rabbit late at night, as if it was a dying friend. To him, that car had a soul. They had a relationship.

My new Environmental Defense Fund thanks-for-contributing water bottle arrived in the mail today. Shiny brushed aluminum decorated with the EDF logo and the face and front paws of a polar bear happily basking on the edge of some ice, it’s a replacement for the one I lost. Identical bear. But no soul. The old bottle was dented and scratched from being dropped on the cement at Santa Fe Bandstand. The Robert Mirabal concert was in one dent, a memory in the soul of the thing. Another dent remembers me waltzing to Michael Hearne’s rendition of “New Mexico Rain.”

My psychic protagonist Mae Martin could pick up an object like that bottle and read the stories in its soul, if she had a reason to look for them. Many years ago I heard John Sebastian sing a song about lying back on the bed in some hotel and listening to the stories it could tell. I think it replayed for me subconsciously when I wrote the prologue of The Calling, and the scene in which Mae realizes, with some dismay, that she can listen to the stories an old bed can tell.

The energy carried by ordinary things can be negative as well as positive, haunting and dark, not always nostalgic. Something clings to a murder weapon, and to a house where violence took place. In some indigenous traditions the names of the dead leave the world with them. Saying the name can call back the ghost. Relatives may give away everything that belonged to the dead, sending the spirit on its way. Our things may not only trigger our memories, they may have memories of their own. Would that explain famous “cursed” objects that carry bad luck?

My Zuni fetishes were created to have spirits. My barefoot running shoes have acquired their souls with time. My yoga mats have energy in them, but not souls. Which things do you own that have souls?