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SHADOW

One of my favorite things to do with my friends when we were kids, was shadow dance.

There was a newly paved parking lot at our local bank that was located on the other side of an empty lot across the street from the house I grew up in. Late afternoon made for the longest shadows, so sometimes if we were bored after school, we’d wack our way through the wildly overgrown grasses and weeds and various scraggly bushes, and emerge victorious in the empty parking lot ready to dance.

We didn’t require any music; we were a bunch of gangly goofballs back then, unafraid to march to the beat of our own drum.

We danced together and alone, our elongated shadows faithfully following along, step by step, as we glided across the blacktop with legs ten feet long.

Other times, inside dark tents, one of my sisters would flip on a flashlight, and we’d stay up late giggling at the shapes our shadows made across the ceiling. Hands contorted into bunnies and giraffes and fish until we’d hear “Light’s out!” coming from my mother in another tent, which always prompted “the hand” to appear from the holder of the flashlight. Its ominous shadow crept from a corner of the tent, then slowly stretched across the side wall before covering the entire ceiling as it mover closer and closer to the source, until, in its final act, it covered us all, extinguishing the light and letting in the night.

“Shadow is a beautiful, inverse confirmation of our incarnation.” – David Whyte Consolations

I have always paid attention to shadows. The way the dappled sunlight invites the leaves to shadow dance in the tall grass and along my arms and across my face as it turns to the sun, or when a shadow becomes a reflection and tricks the eye into wondering which way is up.

Everything casts a shadow; shadows do not exist by themselves. The long beautiful shadow I cast in the sunlight is the same one I carry with me into the dark where it requires new eyes to be seen.

“To live with our shadow is to understand how human beings live at a frontier between light and dark; and to approach the central difficulty, that there is no possibility of a lighted perfection in this life; that the attempt to create it is often the attempt to be held unaccountable, to be the exception, to be the one who does not have to be present or participate, and therefore does not have to hurt or get hurt.  – David Whyte Consolations

This blog has given me new eyes; eyes that can peer into the dark where my shadow hides unaware that I am feeling my way around, unaware that I am about to shine my light and make my darkness conscious.

When someone or something has hurt you, your instincts are to protect yourself from further harm, but writing this blog requires that I let my stories inhabit me, which in turn requires that I trust not to be hurt again which is a big ask but an important one.

I wrote three novels before I realized that I couldn’t properly write fiction yet because I didn’t have a handle on my own feelings. Feelings of being hurt or betrayed as well as hurting others (it’s a two-way street after all) have been dark shadows lurking in my subconscious, haunting me for far too long.

After three failed attempts, I felt like I was ready to tell my stories by bringing them out into the light of day come what may, not as an attempt to become perfect but as an attempt to become whole.

It’s been painful at times to be sure, but it’s also been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

“Shadow is a necessary consequence of being in a sunlit visible world, but it is not a central identity, or a power waiting to overwhelm us.” – David Whyte Consolations 

Anytime you step into the dark, into the unknown, your first instinct will probably be that of fear. Fear of the unknown overwhelms us and controls us and keeps us paralyzed in place, unable in the end, to transcend the fear of our uncertainty.

Whether it be the fear of what others may think of us, or that what we may think about ourselves (good or bad) might actually be true, or simply the fear of failure even though there’s nothing simple about that, I spent my life believing I cannot or should not confront it. Better to just leave things be the way they are.

But was I better off for it? I find myself asking that question a lot lately.

Because it’s not just about me as an individual; I am part of a larger community and country. As Americans, our stories are entwined together. They are stories that will seemingly forever cast long dark shadows, no matter how much light we shine on them in our collective effort to dispel them.

Indigenous Native Americans slaughtered, poisoned, driven off their lands, their children later ripped away from them and sent to boarding schools where they were given new names, still waiting hundreds of years later for our government to honor their treaties.

African slaves brutalized, forcibly removed from their families and their homeland, chained together and sent to America to suffer in silence, their children ripped from their arms and sold on auction blocks like animals.

Shadows from the Inquisition spread to our shores as the Catholic Church attempted to do away with heretics by way of torture and public hangings during the witch-hunts.

Japanese Americans forced from their homes during World War II, rounded up like cattle and incarcerated in concentration camps.

Patriarchy’s power was America’s umbilical cord during the birth of our nation, and the ensuing years have been a foot on the throat of women everywhere no matter what color or creed.

Shining a bright light on America’s past brings forth its long dark shadows for all to see and in a perfect world for all of us to learn from.

These policies of the United States government all began with the same assumption: that the idea of family is less important to people of color, that Native Americans and African Americans and immigrants and refugees are less than human, and that white men are born inherently better than everyone else alive.

Because of this, too many people in our country grow up believing it is normal to be afraid of other people who do not look or speak or dress or pray like them. This fear of the other gives them free rein to go right on believing that they are inherently superior to all others.

What we wrongly and dangerously assumed was all this was in the past, but those shadows still loom large and still haunt us today.

Racism and misogyny still run rampant. Colin Kaepernick kneels to bring awareness to racial injustice, while a new Supreme Court Justice accused of sexual assault is confirmed. It’s me too, and her too, and him too, in every town, in every state, and in every walk of life. Sexual abuse survivors brave enough to risk finally be seen and heard are not believed. The Supreme Court now has two justices accused of sexual assault. Our president, likewise accused of sexual assault, is on public display every day, spewing lie after lie after lie as he preaches to his devoted followers. Income inequality is at an all-time high as the one percent make rules for the masses and more and more of the masses eek out survival in extreme poverty. Immigrants desperate to escape the horrors of their own governments risk their lives for asylum in our country and are rewarded for their superhuman efforts by having their children ripped from their arms and locked away in cages. A journalist is murdered and dismembered by a hostile foreign government, and our president is so corrupt he uses this mans violent death as a drum beat to provoke more violence against the “fake” media from his base the very next day.

Despite the capacity for greatness inherent in all and not just a few of us, we keep repeating the same destructive patterns throughout our relatively young history. It’s an endless loop of hatred and fear of the other.

Ironically, when you get right down to it, we are all “others.” We are all descendants of Native Americans or slaves, immigrants or refugees, whether or not we came here or were born here, we’re all more alike in that regard than we think.

I am one woman telling my stories, but I am also part of a much larger story. My shadows are enveloped by larger shadows that shape and make us who we are.

So who do we want to be?

We are at a tipping point, even the future of the earth itself is at stake.

Just as the sun sinks below the horizon and the Earth’s shadow rises in the east every day, we can all be certain of one thing – none of us are getting out of here alive.

I hope when I am on my deathbed, I can die with dignity knowing that I did my best to not hide from these shadows. I hope that I can relish every moment from my life, wise enough to understand there was never any point in trying to escape the inescapable – we are born we live and we die. We don’t get to choose our birth or our death, but we do get to choose how we will live.

 

NEXT WEEK: SHYNESS

About Amy

I am many things to many people. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend. I am a worshiper of nature on a journey inward, rewriting my story one word at a time.

One Reply

  1. Linda Wells

    Who do we want to be indeed
    Beautiful picture and writing Amy!! Love you dearly

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