So for my battered soul, that the last sunset of this year should be indistinct and muted could not be more welcome. A peaceful graduation through gentle shades of grey. There have been so many trials this year and it is only as I begin to find closure that I can see that so much of it has been spent in shock, almost numb to the howling pain that threatened to devour me. Hasty walls of protection that would crumble or be breached and then need repair, an overabundance of the toxic fight or flight hormones coursing through my system for far too long. Of thinking that nothing else which I loved could be taken away from me and of finding out that I was wrong.
As I began to release into the dark of the year I hoped for healing, I felt optimistic in a way. But healing is not always comfortable or gentle and the very act of consciously facing all of that pain is not something to be taken lightly. My gods and guides have gone with me, by times sternly making me look at my own place in my wounding; pushing me to accept which of the things I thought I wanted are actually the things I really need; or allowing me to rest and dream of my future and forget for a while the work that is to come in building it. The dark is not just a place of dreaming and forgetting, to only use it in this way would be to refuse its true power. For within the dark there are no distractions, only the stillness needed to truly confront my past and my future.
“Proserpina” was the last song Kate McGarrigle ever wrote and ever performed. A beautiful re-telling of that descent into the darkness of the Underworld, it is heavy with a feeling of loss and contains all of the sorrow of a parent losing her child, but really it is about a mother who knows she will lose her children because it is she who is about to die. On the 9th of December 2009 I heard that unique performance and it made me weep, just as it does to this day. I was in the audience for “A Not So Silent Night” at the Royal Albert Hall… an untypical Christmas concert thrown by the sprawling folk dynasty of the McGarrigles and Wainwrights. At the heart of the clan are Kate and Anna McGarrigle and Kate’s children Rufus and Martha Wainwright. Only those close to her knew at the time how seriously ill she was. Kate McGarrigle would finally lose her battle with cancer in early 2010.
But the song was not a sole melancholy note in a night of frivolity. It was a powerful proclamation of one woman, her art and her love for her family. It was a song from a woman who was able to face her own death and create a lasting piece of shining beauty that told the world who she was and what she stood for. A reminder that the darkness can never be permanent.
From a deep point in this descent into the dark I have found an unexpected new awareness: the returning of the light manifesting in my own life, not just in the natural world around me. Throughout this Yuletide season pagans will find themselves talking about the rebirth of the light, the coming of the Mabon or divine child, the astronomical process of the days lightening. Within my fortress of intellect I know all of these things, for years I have stood in ritual in the dark and lit a symbolic flame, or in bright frosty day turned to face the Sun to eagerly strain for the feeling of warmth on my face. Yet this year it is within the pool of my soul that I feel this light returning through the people who carry it into my life.
They have brought in the light in as many different ways as they are themselves individual. The gentle lantern which sheds new light on what was already there, the stalwart lighthouse who helps me plot a new onward course, the bright new beacon who insistently draws my gaze away from the dark. With each connection I can feel my own light begin to glow ever brighter and I am so grateful for the inspiration and optimism that they each bring into my life. So at the closing of the year, I reach for the water of life and toast these wonderful bright spirits, these people I am so lucky to call my friends.