It’s no wonder so many wonderful people in my circle or friends and acquaintances are feeling a bit blue- or worse. The hue of their visualized emotion roughly matches that of the wet world around us. Rain. It has been raining for a seeming record number of days here in Nashvegas, dimming the fluorescent lights of the honkey-tonks on Lower Broadway as it does the inner light of many a creative soul. Rain. When will it stop?
The maintenance man told me he was going to have a talk with Noah. Coworkers tell of families in other cities with flooded homes. Rescue stories flood in from other states. But rain, rain, rain is all we get here in this seamless bubble of gray earth and sky.
As an adult, I’m a bold kind of girl. As a painter, I fill my canvases with bright, bold color. I prefer hard black lines to vagueness, and intense primary colors to olive, peach and mauve. In my home, I far prefer motion to stillness, noise to silence, and excitement to peace. In the same way, I’ve always preferred loud, passionate rainstorms to endless gray drear. There is something so numbing about being in the gray bubble of endless cloud cover; sound is dulled, absorbed into some unknown place. Even the sound of my own voice loses its crisp edge. Black lines in the landscapes around me become fuzzied and colors muted, making the shortening days of autumn even less colorful.
Somehow, the drear of this gray weather translates to my soul. I begin to question how I define myself, the lines that define foundational truths are fuzzied, I begin to doubt what I thought I knew for sure, the sparkles in my eyes that made the world look happy quickly fade, and I put on my gray glasses when I survey my personality and accomplishments. Sometimes even my body takes a toll and the clean, rested, happy feeling transforms into aches and pains and fatigue.
It can be scary to feel so numbed by gray dreary days, one after another. Scarier than when we face a clearly-defined storm and can see that there is blue sky and sun rays beyond it. Definition- those clear lines that delineate shape from shape, sound from sound, idea from idea, and demark our moments of time passing-definition is something we unknowingly depend on for peace of mind.
When definition evades us, as in these endless days of Nashville rain, we have some tools we can use to break the bleakness and reawaken our peace of mind. I find myself looking for ways to imbue my day with definition in color, warmth, sound, excitement, people. I take a walk. I phone a friend. I shift gears at work more frequently and to tasks that require more creative thought. I try to find something colorful and intensely flavorful to eat. I move- doing a little yoga in my cubicle or taking a walk. I breathe deeply.
But I propose today trying another approach- and I’m speaking to myself as well here; learn to embrace the uncertainty, the UNdefinition, the dullness. I’m no expert, I’m an explorer in this territory. What is familiar to me is my garden. I’m familiar with digging in the soil, turning in the compost, watching the seedlings pop out of the earth in bright greens, observing the unfurling of curly leaves under the sunshine, the burst of each opening flower or purple baby eggplant. Not so familiar to me is what is happening beneath the surface of the soil. What’s happening under there for days, weeks, sometimes months on end in the darkness is the crucial nurturing of the seed or bulb. Are we not unlike these seeds?
There are equally critical times of growth we must go through when we as humans are entombed in a dark, sometimes lonely place where sound is diffused and clarifying lines are fuzzied and we can’t see beyond the tips of our noses. Sometimes we are enshrouded in ambiguity, but we don’t realize that “this place” is like a protective womb nurturing our growth. These endless days of rain, we can recognize logically, are supplying our fresh water reserves and nourishing food-bearing land. Why is it so much harder to recognize our own need for such times?
My pastor’s wife, for those of you familiar with the Christian faith, likens these times to that during which Jesus was entombed, just prior to his resurrection. Three days came and went, during which his friends agonized that the dream of his becoming king had apparently crashed down, but down in the depths of the dark tomb, Jesus was ultimately transformed into the savior of the world. Whether you espouse this story as truth or not, this picture of the tomb evokes an agonizingly long time of what, death? What could be worse? Isn’t that our ultimate fear? Absence of light, of life, of others, of any joy, color, peace, or remaining purpose. That describes so accurately how I feel during dreary times in life like these endless days of rain. Nonetheless, we can embrace those times as moments of growth to be followed by far brighter days, as symbolized by the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb. We simply can’t rely on our sense to feed us truth about these times, so perhaps we can learn to remind ourselves of the impermanency of the darker times. One simple thought, the one that says “this is only temporary,” can brighten our outlook for hours and sometimes days on end.
I was just interrupted by the sound of my pager beeping. Talk about a delineating sound! That one tiny sound led to some interesting and highly defined bright moments in my day. Returning the page led me to meet some unexpected visitors downstairs, getting me up and moving which was nice enough. But as I awaited the visitors outside the hospital I met with more defined sound- that of a young girl throwing up. Now, I apologize for any shock, disgust or nausea you’re now experiencing. But turn your thoughts to this young girl- who was quite obviously a cancer victim leaving the hospital after treatment. I was instantly transformed by gratitude that my own daughters are healthy. The sight of this young lady’s smooth, hairless head instantly changed my mind about my daughter’s long hair that so often covers the bathroom floor. My thoughts were jerked from their stale, dreary outlook to a more realistic view. And when my visitors arrived, they came bearing brightest mylar balloons and bags of chocolate candy for our patients. My vision was instantly changed not only by the bright shininess of the balloons, the smiles on the faces of my visitors, my imagination of the taste of chocolate, but also by gratitude.
So what can you do to jumpstart another dreary day? I recommend a little gratitude first. It is a much more potent healer for the blues and blahs than anything else I know. Think of and express three things for which you are grateful. Secondly, try a little color, a little motion, crank up some music, see the faces of friends, amp up your day by dressing in bright colors, eating an interesting meal. Anything that tempts your senses makes you feel just a little better by reminding you that yes, you are alive. You may be experiencing the dull quietness of waiting under the soil like a seed being nourished, or in a sort of “tomb” where something in your life that needs to change is, indeed, being transformed. Either way, the bright hope is that while you are alive you still have choices, this is only temporary, and yes, the sun will shine on us again.