Now is where this experience has to be discussed in all its seeming hopelessness and sincerity, because if I don’t warn you, then you, or those you love, or someone—anyone—won’t know how to find their way out of the vast, fearful place that they were not taught to interpret—were not given a map through—when they are lost. When everything becomes too hard and the ocean seems too deep; when you are too far from shore to consider hope an option, when you feel too weak. That’s when people die. Of grief. Of despair. By their own hand. Because they don’t cope. Don’t know how to be what they’re not. Don’t even know how to be who they truly are. Because there is no one to say this is what they are experiencing. In all its immensity.
No way can I or anyone else, even though we may care about you deeply, know about your private terror or despair. This slipping off sure footing. Your life gone crazy. You, sitting at the kitchen table, hardly able to breath and repeating over and over, what just happened? Whatjusthappened? Whatjusthappened? Whatjusthappened, like some litany of confusion because what are words, all said and done, if they leave us in a tangle of tapeworm-type congestion where even our eyes ache? We can only ever compare. We can only ever hold you as safely as we can.
This is the Dark Night of the Soul. And the truth—the secret—is that you all experience it. Some of us—oh, yes, me also—hide it from anybody else because what happens to the weak? The ashamed? The beaten and infantilized?
You’re with a booze-crazed partner caught (and trapping you) in a delusion-fueled rage—a bitter parent—and you don’t know what to do when they hurt you. You are raped but you know, or think you know, how bad things can get if you report it. When you’re fourteen, at a family get-together, and you say you have an announcement. And you come out. And no one wraps you in their arms, and whispers softly in your ear, It’s okay, I gotcha. That thing in your gut that twists your ability to think right, so it’s senseless, and then drives you to the edge of the cliff and whispers Go on, GO ON!
You have a choice. They had a choice. Some never knew that, though.
Without a level of insight, they jumped. They never knew of the Temperance card. There was no wise elder. No inner voice that said you’re grand, valuable, beautiful. They took that extra jack, they put the gun to their own head and hoped like almighty fuck they could do it right. They went to bed and never got up. That’s been me, that’s… is it you? Do you recall that moment? You know you will never recover from those words of cruelty. That absurd degradation. If only there was someone—anyone—who could explain what just happened. Or, when you finally cotton-on to the fact that you are not the problem; that you’ve been sucking on the straw of that bullshit from your mother or your brother, or your father, or the government, or a doctor who thought antidepressants were a great idea when all you really needed was for somebody to say I’m sorry. For someone to hold you and really mean it. For recognition and mutual respect.
Am I explaining this okay? I know it’s a piss in the ocean of the muck you’ve been drowning in, but I’ll say it anyway. I’m sorry. For the whole filthy, uncaring, inconsiderate, off-the-cuff throw away insult. I’m sorry.
For the injustice in your family, for the snide jokes at the expense of your outraged, dangerous, sullen, ratbag, anarchistic self who maybe has to hide behind a fucking perm, or an old lady face, or a suit, or boardies and a pair of snow-white Adidas, when all you want to do is put on that red dress, Roxanne, and go out, and make out with someone whose name you’ll never know, but who is liberated enough to agree to a condom, or maybe to just have a home that feels like one, and not some upright coffin.
Devil, Death, Tower, making a triangular trap between your instinct for self-preservation and the safety of those you love, and the desperately beautiful acknowledgement of who YOU are, in all of this. Devil Death and Tower, like a double-spring steel bear trap. You know the one. With the chain and the spikes on its jaws that point inward? With the Come this way, little kiddie, I’ll look after you, sign just above where it’s buried, in a shallow pit, covered with flowers and a box of chocolates like some callous and deceitful 1950s Rock Hudson movie.
RING PASS NOT
If you have no level of insight you will return to the soil. A not-person. Identity-less. You will have accepted the humdrum demon of deceit, and the invisibility that seems someone agreed was love. If you followed the rules. Behaved like you weren’t who you are.
So don’t. Temperance is that bloody-great stick a tightrope-walker uses to maintain their balance as they cross from one cliff to the other. Your strong gnarly fingertips. It’s the ancient stairway down, and it will support you. Go to the deep places. Yes. But hold the rope your ancestral grandmother tied around the log that spans the chasm, the abyss, with the little note in the bottle, hanging from the end that’s just above the river far, far below that reads, I gotcha, I won’t let you drown, child of my future.
It is good to remember that the original woman was herself an immigrant. She fell a long way from her home in the Skyworld, leaving behind all who knew her and who held her dear. She could never go back. ~~ Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
Temperance is medicine. Not the kind you get from a physician, but the medicine that is forest, island or fjord wisdom. The little inlet by the river, surrounded by ancient old pines. It is the medicine of plants and silence and, as Robin Wall Kimmerer suggests, it is having someone braid your hair with those real hands. Temperance is that log across the seething waters and the boulders at the bottom of the ravine. Temperance says, Jiggle the stick, don’t look down, feel, feel your feet on the raggedy bark, I have made it like this for you. You can be safe if you take your time and remind yourself of what you have learned.
DON’T LOOK DOWN
See, that’s exactly what we do when we are in grief, when we despair, when we doubt. Right down at our feet, when it’s the sky calling, sighing, whispering, Straight ahead to the other side, kid of mine. I gotcha. Eyes on the horizon, darlin’.
When even one of these three cards turn up on the table, I ask that you recollect this final section. That for a fleeting second you recall that you’ve been here and know this ache. Then, and only then, can you spae. You think that being lied to, being accused, being ignored is poison? Someone fed it to you once, like a metaphorical deathcap toadstool instead of a goldtop psilocybin one. And yet, here you are. So, hold their hand when you see these.
Be kind. Rough is okay, just like the bark on that log. But don’t lie to the traveler and have them think you never knew this cruelty. There is a time for looking another human being in the eye, to say, I gotcha.
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