“I and this mystery here we stand.” -Walt Whitman
A few days ago, I talked with a friend while an emotional storm blew through her mind. It was a sizable storm, and the winds howled about everything she would lose, and the rain poured down to mingle with her tears, and how, she asked, “How can I handle this?”
I wonder if Whitman would say that she didn’t need to handle it. It was. Joy, sorrow, pain, connection, winds that howl and hills that sleep, and changes in our connections–all these things are, and the storms that turn our minds into darkened rivers of churning cloud shot through with rain and lightning can be handled no more than real storms can be held within our hands. But we can go out into them: today I saw an old friend, and we walked through the rain and the wind to a lake. I was soaked and cold by the time we were getting close, and then my friend asked, “Are we going to jump in?”
A second later she added, “You’re looking at me like I’m crazy.”
I hadn’t meant to be, but I probably was. I was cold and wet already. At the same time, I didn’t want to hold a good friend back.
“I will if you want to,” I said. And so we did. The wind picked up and ran faster, running its cold hands along us before we made it to the water, and the water swept over us like a cold night happening in one great wave. Then we got out, tried to wipe some of the water away, tried to get dressed again without ending up with mud packed into our underwear. Standing there, we weren’t cold anymore: suddenly the storm felt lovely. Physically, I suppose, my skin’s pores had clamped down to hold in whatever heat my body could make, and my body had woken up to work at the making. But supported by all that, we just felt at home. We felt the storm around us, felt the chill, and felt alive in it.
What if we treated the storms that we cannot handle in our minds the same way my friend saw the lake? What if we understood what we could understand, walked when we could walk, and stood (or knelt, or cried, or howled, or laughed) with the great mystery when we couldn’t hold the winds inside our hands? The storm I walked through today, of course, was a little one, in mild California. Perhaps sometimes you need a shelter of some kind, but building a shelter isn’t the same as trying to hold up your hands and control the wind. In any case, I think most of the emotional storms that pass through my mind aren’t that bad, and I think that, in trying to stand against them, in trying to direct them, I end up shouting myself hoarse and building walls that just get broken away and leave me amid the rubble.
Standing beside the lake, the storm was strong, it was fierce and unexpected and entirely beyond me. In the face of that great mystery, what if we did not try to control or comprehend: what if we witnessed it, and were part of it?
“I and this mystery here we stand.”