Walhydra notices something a bit different about the onset of The Dark this year.
Thank Goddess, it's not the psychotic rollercoaster ride of two years ago, when chronic depression actually overthrew Walhydra's homeostatic whosiwhatsis, so that her brain couldn't keep the serotonins in balance. It's also not the long slow decline into the fat-fed lethargy of Winter Solstice holidays...not yet, anyway.
Instead, what Walhydra is gradually becoming aware of is an uncomfortable sense of transparency.
"No, I don't mean that I can see through myself," Walhydra snorts. "It's just that I can...well...see through myself…and others...."
Let's backtrack a bit.
Walhydra tends to get her first annual glimpse of The Dark around Lammas Day, August 1st, the old English festival of first harvest.
She knows that the modern calendar considers Summer Solstice to be the beginning of summer, which would make Lammas mid-summer's day.
For some time, though, it has been at Lammas that Walhydra senses the first whiff of autumn in the air…just as at Candlemas (aka Imbolc, aka Groundhog's Day, aka February 2nd) she senses the first whiff of spring.
After a few years of experiencing this backwards shifting of "whiffs" through the cycle of the seasons, Walhydra finally decided just to go with it.
Now she starts counting autumn from Lammas, with second harvest at Fall Equinox as "high autumn," and third harvest at Hallowe'en (aka Samhain) as the first whiff of winter.
Somehow this widdershins shifting of the seasons helps Walhydra to be better prepared for their changes, better prepared to watch for their subtleties and complexities.
Anyway, this year at Lammastide Walhydra noticed not just the first whiff of autumn. She noticed the "thinning of the veil" between the living and the dead, which Pagan tradition places at Samhain, half a year later. Granted, it took a month or so for her to realize that this was what she had sensed, yet by now the message is clear.
The message isn't an apocalyptic, end-of-the-world kind of message. It is present-moment and down-to-earth.
We are all mortal…now.
The veil between the living and the dead is our own bodies. They are always thin, and they grow thinner by the moment.
"What's going on here?" Walhydra laments.
Until two years ago, autumn had always been Walhydra's favorite season. She loves the crisp air and the fall colors—although Florida…ahem…somewhat lacks the vast forests of autumn-covered hills of Walhydra's Ohio childhood.
Then came the serotonin crisis, actually a physiological over-response to the family crisis of moving Walhydra's mother, Senior Witch, to Florida and beginning the long process of selling Senior Witch's house from 300 miles away.
Last year, after Senior Witch had moved yet again to an assisted living facility (ALF) near Walhydra, there was no chemical or family crisis, yet the taste of autumn had become somewhat spoiled. Walhydra realized that her brainstem was reacting to the shorting days be deciding it was time to feel chilly and to anticipate grief.
This year, autumn has an added taste. Aside from the obvious seasonal changes, The Dark now brings with it a concrete and increasing sadness about mortality.
"But it's not just sadness about mortality," Walhydra explains in a somewhat subdued tone. "It's mortality itself, which feels very real this year. Not just a notion, not just an abstraction from a fact to be dealt with...eventually."
It isn't fear of mortality, either. It's simply knowledge.
"We are all running up against actual, irreversible limits," she says. "It's a basic, visceral reality."
Four Saturdays ago, Walhydra and Hubby Jim were called to the hospital at 2 AM. Senior Witch had fallen in her bathroom. She got nine stitches in her right temple and had to have a huge flap of fragile skin taped back in place on the back of her right hand.
No concussion, no broken bones, so, fortunately, not a major fall. In fact, Walhydra watched bemused as this steadily shrinking old lady joked with the ER doctor about "my poor, ugly hand" and rebounded by lunchtime the same day to gossip with her friends at the lunch table.
But…Senior Witch has clearly moved into the childlike phase of Alzheimer's.
She still remembers people. She is still that sweet person who charms everyone she meets. She still sometimes summons the mental focus for brilliant conversation.
Usually, though, she takes a child's approach, making up explanations and excuses for troubling things that happen…including that fall. And she rewrites her own history, free-associating different real and imagined details to account for events…including that fall.
She is unlearning. The likelihood of teaching her new safety steps is questionable.
In response, Walhydra has had to drag her clinical social worker persona out of mothballs to deal with crisis and follow-up issues with emergency room staff and with ALF resident care administrators.
The certain knowledge of mortality hit home about a week or so after Senior Witch's fall.
This was when each next story of hurt or loss, a bombing in Pakistan or a shooting in the US or a library colleague's family illness or…whatever, became not just another story but visceral evidence that we are fragile, irreplaceable animals with an irreversible mortality.
And the sadness....
Walhydra has begun waking up each morning in sadness. Not the crazy sadness of brain chemistry imbalance, but base-line racial sadness.
She gets booted back into consciousness at 4:30, 5:30, 6:00 in the morning. Staggers into the living room to do some sort of imitation of tai chi and meditation. Flees from the over-focus of meditation back to the bedroom to clasp herself against the warmth of Hubby Jim...who dutifully rolls into playing spoons, even in his sleep.
And stifles the temptation to descend into a serotonin-exhausted grief because she knows that Jim, too, will age and die.
Last weekend, Walhydra took a long overdue trip back to her home in Columbia, SC, to spend a Friday evening with her longest-known and best friend there, and Saturday and Sunday with her father, the Lutheran preacher, and his second wife.
The visit with her friend, whom Walhydra considers her senior Virgo mentor and technology guru, was excellent, as always. It's a relief to escape the mundane world into the saner company another Virgo practitioner.
[Note from the amanuensis: "The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it." George Bernard Shaw, Irish dramatist & socialist (1856–1950)...a Leo, but it's the thought that counts.]
The visit with Walhydra's father had a peculiar, frustrating grace.
Her father has Parkinson's. It makes him mumble so much he's difficult to talk with...this man who's been a preacher and teacher for most of his eighty-some years. It makes his handwriting tiny. He's feeble and shrunk down to nothing and bruised and bored.
For decades, Walhydra has struggled with a compounded version of the classic eldest-son's resentment of and distrust toward his father. Despite—or maybe because of—both of them being gentle, sensitive, articulate men, the father-son misconnections of patriarchal cultures have all been painfully present.
All of that was compounded further by Walhydra's being in the closet her first twenty-some years. Compounded yet again by her father's having left Senior Witch for another woman, back in the late1970s.
Still, over the past decade, both Walhydra and her father have been graced with what forgiveness is often really about: the ability to willingly forget past sins.
"It's too important to be together now," Walhydra explains.
"I'll never get an acknowledgement from him of all his 'crimes'...or, most likely, be able to give him my own acknowledgements. But I don't need that any more in order to be okay with myself. What I need is just to be with him in the present."
So that's what they did.
They sat together watching hours of Saturday football.
[Patriarchal culture's ultimate irony: two peaceable men, bonding...as best they can, since they can't speak...by watching other men fight.]
They listened to her stepmother's parrots and cockatoos and canaries talking and making noise out on the sunporch. They shopped for groceries. They had silent meals together.
And talked as much as they could manage...which, though painfully spare, was enough.
On Sunday morning, Walhydra's father cooked lunch and then forced himself to a level of articulateness, in order to speak briefly about how his parents lived into their late eighties, and how his eldest brother is now in his nineties.
"I guess I've got a few more years left," he smiled. They both smiled, Walhydra feeling the hollowness grow behind her solar plexus.
They stood and shared one of the longest, warmest, best hugs they've shared in years.
And, when Walhydra finally let go...her father collapsed backwards like a tree and landed up against the kitchen cupboards.
"Dad! Dad!" Walhydra knelt in front of him with her hand behind his neck, supporting his head.
He looked dazed, then his eyes cleared, and he said, "I'm all right. I'm all right. I sort of blanked out for a moment."
Once she sensed he was okay and had gotten him into his armchair in the den, Walhydra went for her stepmother.
"Did he hit his head?" Stepmother asked.
Walhydra put her hand behind the top of her head.
"Oh. Well, then, he's all right."
Walhydra stared in confusion, used to yet still startled by Stepmother's blunt, practical manner.
"He has a hard head. As long as he didn't hit the bottom of his skull...."
Stepmother spoke to Dad and checked his blood pressure.
The two of them laughed if off, to Walhydra's dismay...though at some level she trusted their humor.
"Did I scare you?" Dad asked.
"I think you hugged him too hard," Stepmother said. "It might have impeded the flow of blood to his brain."
Walhydra nodded blankly, knowing that they were not teasing her but, rather, witnessing to her their daily, moment-by-moment method of coping with...well...their age and mortality.
The three of them spent a while longer reassuring each other, hugging each other (gently), and saying their goodbyes. Then Walhydra got in her car for the long, boringly safe drive back to Florida.
"I hugged him too hard?" Walhydra wondered.
Decades of longing for closeness with a distant father whom she remembered having been very physically affectionate in her childhood. Decades of longing to talk with a private, withdrawn father who now was open to her but could not speak.
And the most affectionate hug they had shared in years—exaggerated, perhaps, by Walhydra's longing—had made him pass out.
"Who's writing this script?" Walhydra asked with tragicomic sarcasm.
Here, then, is how Walhydra is coming to understand her transparency, and the transparency of everyone who crosses her path.
"We are mortal for every moment of our existence," she says. "And, for now, I'm seeing that...not in every moment, yet often.
"We are so fragile. Anything could tear the veil. Yet we stay alive...for a while."
Walhydra imagines a different reading on the Garden of Eden story.
She knows—as many people tend to forget—that Adam and Eve were created mortal, the same as all the other animals. Death is not a punishment. It is merely part of the Creation, about which the Divine One said, "It is good."
But when they ate that apple, suddenly they knew they were mortal, unlike any of the other animals.
The rest is show business.
Now, whenever someone does something that annoys or distresses or angers Walhydra, something stupid or selfish or inattentive...or...or....
Whenever that happens, Walhydra realizes, "Oh, he's mortal. That's his way of trying to cope with or deny his mortality at this moment."
That's how people have become transparent to Walhydra.
Well, maybe not "whenever," of course. Walhydra's own avoidance/denial habits tend to keep her in resentful curmudgeon mode—or, more kindly, in struggling human mode—much of the time.
That's how Walhydra has become more transparent to herself.
It all doesn't feel good...or maybe it sort of does. Like it sort of feels good when you fall backwards, crashing your head against a cabinet door, and then the pain at the back of your head starts to mellow and feel a bit warm.
Seeing in The Dark.
And so it is.