I have been reading a lot of feminist speculative fiction this summer, mostly short story anthologies that present snapshots of womxn wrestling with the imbalances and injustices of their times. It is easy, in the world of story, to identify the villain, personality flaw, or systemic evil that the protagonist must combat. We expect to encounter characters at their crossroads, anticipating conflict or change or revelation near at hand as they wind their way through the narrative and emerge victorious on the other side. This rhythm usually satisfies my hunger for hope. However, lately I have found myself most taken with the stories that do not follow this mold. Instead I find my mind ruminating on the stories that explore the mundane horrors and impossibilities of everyday life and the characters who do not wake up to what is possible because they are so consumed with just surviving.
Not that it’s any surprise. Isn’t that all of us right now?
We are, after all, six months into a life lived mostly at home. We are un- or anxiously employed. Our communities are quiet. We see few friends, and only from a distance. There have been no trips, no normal summer activities, life plans shelved as we live intensely in the present moment. The loss of rhythms and traditions leaves an ache of loneliness and fear. What are we without the routines that define us? I feel adrift, and also like the walls are closing in. I want to hide in bed forever, the weight of my kids’ warm morning bodies hemming me in, and also to run away and not be touched by anyone for at least a month. Or 12.
My therapist is always nudging me to notice these bodily longings. “What does your body need today?” she asks. I look away from her face on my laptop, settling my gaze on the pile of papers collecting dust on the dresser. Bills. SNAP paperwork. A birth certificate. I need to organize those. We’re going to lose them. I’m so behind. This is embarrassing. I’m so glad she can’t see it. What do I need? I need to get my life together. I need – She waits, her kind eyes trying to pull mine back as I sift through the swirling chaos of all the responsibilities and anxieties I carry, all my striving towards peace, towards answers, all the learning and unlearning of the last 6 months and 6 years and I know the tears are right there, ready to spill but I cannot bear to face them. I do not have the bandwidth for my own needs. I have to attend to everyone else first. Secure my peace. Find the elusive rhythm that will sustain us.
Today is the autumnal equinox, the halfway point between the scorching heat of summer and the frigid days of winter. Day and night in perfect balance. Enough light for the work of day and dark for the rest of night. These things I strive for every day of the year briefly held in harmony – yet it is an anomaly rather than a constant. Every day before and after the balance is shifting, light and darkness stretching out or shrinking. Too much. Not enough.
I study this phenomenon with my children as we pore over library books filled with cartoon drawings of our solar system and seasonal trees neatly divided into four quadrants. At the park my daughter directs their brother to orbit them, positioning his body so he tilts wildly to one side. “See mom!” they beam. They are the sun. My sun. They nudge their patient earth into motion. “It’s like this. Winter, spring, summer, autumn.” The earth model trips and falls into the sun who screams in pain or frustration or both.
I know this rhythm in my soul and my bones. I can even see it, sometimes, like dust motes in the air, swirling around on hidden wind. I imagine drinking the equinox down like a harmonizing elixir. It will steady me, sort out my priorities, tuck me into bed on time and wake me with a kiss of sunlight. Perfect balance.
Of course, it cannot be held. It is only a cosmic snapshot, the precise and temporal angle of our planet as it hurls around a star. The cosmos is a mirror and the equinox is my seasonal celestial therapist, nudging me to see all my longing and all my need. The rhythm of the infinite beats on.
I turn my head and refocus my stinging eyes on the good and wise woman who is reaching across time zones to meet me in this moment. She reminds me I can trust my body to tell me what I need, and that sometimes what it needs most is to let go so that I can embrace what may come. What may heal. What may next inspire that spark of hope.
This is the gift of the equinox, a mindfulness exercise woven into the natural order of a planet that has warmed and cooled, endured and evolved and yet never ceased its course. I open my arms to autumn. To the coming darkness and death of old rhythms. I open my arms to the cleansing cold, to coziness and rest. I open my arms to whatever my body may need as we continue this wild hurling through space around that brilliant star that both warms and warns us. I open my arms in greeting, and in releasing. I am grounded, even in the unknowing. We rest, and we rise again.