Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Angels and demons

What is that knocking at the door in the night?
It is somebody wants to do us harm.
No, no, it is the three strange angels.
Admit them, admit them.

—D. H. Lawrence

Three of them, huh? However many, they are strange, certainly. Or . . . maybe they’re more strangely familiar: sheltering shadows, hidden pockets of my soul. They are part of me; their strangeness lies in how they tug me away from what I know, what I expect, what I take for granted; how they then invite me to imagine a future—or no: a present—in which I dance with mystery, with uncertainty, with chance, buoyed all the while (I can only hope) by curiosity and an open heart.

The one on the right I know well: her name is Desire, Longing. Passion, when she’s fully realized. She doesn’t answer to a name, but to waves of impulse and joy. What she promises is connection, intimacy. A space where even the familiar shadows, the hidden pockets, are exposed and, dare I say, beautiful. I see her in dolphins porpoising at the bow of a boat, in the intricate patterns at the heart of a red poppy. I see her when I gaze into my lover’s eyes, no walls. It’s the ordinary, but observed close, on its own terms—as, simply, what is. But no: that’s not quite right. My yearning, my longing, is to become that joy of the leaping fish, to become the perfection of the rifled seedpod. I long to become one with my lover, indistinguishable from the world around me, around us. But all I can do, in fact, is taste that joy, that perfection, for an instant, then tuck it away and—be grateful that I have had that moment. That that perfection exists. Just that.

I recognize the angel on the left, too. She is Sadness, a gift of my parents, and borne by my brother and me through our lives, stolidly, solemnly. She may be the gift of generation upon generation of ancestors, I don’t know: my family barely has roots, never mind deep ones; my forebears are unknown to me or, at best, shades, ghosts. But I don’t need to go back in time; the sadness has always been there, tempering the heartbeat of my childhood home, of the homes my brother and I have created. Although sadness is not a desired angel, she is a constant one in this world, a necessary one. Grief, Sorrow. A partner in the dance of birth and death, joy (there she is again) and tragedy, awe and horror, and all that comes between. Without her, I wouldn’t know delight, I wouldn’t have cause for celebration. And so I welcome her; if she knocks, I let her in. And I weep with her, and I allow her to cleanse my eyes, my heart, my soul, and witness anew.

The third angel, the one in the middle—who is she? I’m not sure: I don’t recognize her. She isn’t anger, or regret, or guilt—that much I know. She’s bigger than those, more enveloping. She spreads her cloak and wraps it around even the yearnings and the sadness, giving compassion and comfort. Maybe she is Time. Change. The creeping journey toward death. Bringing gain as well as loss. Satisfaction on top of the cravings, healing to the shatterings. Lessons learned. She teaches me to let go rather than cling tight. She tries to teach me that now is all I have. That, feeling the gentle weight of her hands on my shoulders, I should stop, breathe, and feel the sadness or joy, whichever is present; feel the yearning or the release. And marvel. And be grateful that I am alive, and can continue to welcome the angels, all of them—whether they be three or eighty-three.