The Minervas meetings (is “meeting” the right word? space, brief transcendence, soul gatherings) have become one of the few monthly moments in my life where I’m not bound by politics, upbringing, geography or the particular details of my identity that often hold me back, and, to some degree, hold all of us back. Perhaps it’s a fantasy, but at least one I can indulge successfully for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. And I’m larger because of it, less bound up, freer. We connect and it’s finally safe to be ourselves – whatever that is, something in flux, growing – in a more genuine way than in other spaces (for me, at least). That means we go out into the world less confined to ourselves, less tightly moored to our particular selves with our particular pain and fears and hopes. In that way, expanded, I’m able to give more of myself to those around me, to help free them up a bit too.
What I love about our gatherings is that it simply doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what you do for work. These are all interesting details, no doubt, but not the point. Mostly, they’re protective layers of experience and identity, and it is such a relief to me, one Saturday a month, to strip them away as much as one can, or at least to cull what’s best about our experiences as a gift to the group.
Last time we met, the shifts we’re seeing in this country with the election, the changing political narratives, crept into our collective space like uninvited guests that wander into your perfectly tended garden. Perhaps the intruders are children, but, whose children? Yours have grown up and moved away. You thought you were done with all that. But you’re not. These are new children who’ve come to claim you. They trample your flowers and tear around, begging for your attention, demanding food. They want love. They need to be heard, to be fed, held and to sleep in a safe place. They need you to be their witness. Anyway, there’s no getting rid of them. Whatever fence you build, they’ll burst right through it. Whatever pain or terror you hide, they’ll dig it up and show it to you, again and again.
The more I reject someone else’s fence or proposed fence, the more I must look at the barriers I’ve erected in my own life. My fence comes down, my heart opens, and the children come in.
This is not to minimize the collective pain out there, or, in half our country, the sense of promise. I feel anger, frustration and fear. (Is it entirely reasonable? I don’t yet know. What’s in store? Back-alley abortions? A dressed-up, modern-day Jim Crow? Mass deportations?) Many of us last month, if I heard you right, felt winded by events, even devastated. But we had each other’s backs that afternoon. More than that, we were buoyed by each other, by the creativity, art, the healing strength and leadership in this group. There’s no easy panacea. Nothing justifies the brutality of any form of exclusion, and no amount of waxing poetic will soothe away the rhetoric of intolerance, or the specter of rolling back years of progress. But (as a wise friend said at our meeting) we must simply be the best we can be, the best version of ourselves. This is the gift I took away from you all last month. This is the gift of the times now, to draw out the light, “los focos de luz.”
I’m reminded of a Theodore Roethke poem:
In a Dark Time
In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood–
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.
What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocks–is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.
A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is–
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.
Dark dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.
Traducción al español, mezcla de Juan Carlos Villavicencio y de un libro publicado por Huerga y Fierro Editores.
En un oscuro tiempo, el ojo empieza a ver,
Encuentro mi sombra en la sombra que se adensa;
Escucho mi eco en los ecos del bosque–
Señor de la naturaleza llorando ante un árbol.
Vivo entre la garza y el abadejo,
Bestias del monte y serpientes de las cuevas.
¿Qué es la locura sino nobleza de alma?
En contradicción con las circunstancias? ¡El día arde!
Conozco la pureza de la desesperación pura,
Mi sombra clavada en un muro sudoroso.
Ese lugar entre las rocas –¿es una caverna,
O un sender tortuoso? El borde es lo que tengo.
¡Una constante tormenta de correspondencias!
¡Una noche rebosante de pájaros, una luna desgarrada,
Y la medianoche que regresa en pleno dia!
Un hombre va muy lejos para hallarse a si mismo-
Muerte del yo en una larga noche sin lágrimas,
Todas las formas naturales resplandeciendo una luz no natural.
Oscura, oscura mi luz, y más oscuro mi deseo.
Mi alma, como alguna mosca de verano enloquecida por el calor,
Se mantiene zumbando en el umbral. ¿Cuál yo es yo?
Un hombre caído, escalo por sobre mi miedo.
La mente entra en sí misma, y Dios la mente,
Y uno es Uno, libre en el viento que se desgarra.