Yesterday, I wept at breakfast with my family. We’d walked under an expansive cloudless sky to the nearby truck stop where two interstates meet and where since moving here, we’ve learned they have both the best biscuits and gravy on the open prairie, and the best trucker conversations to eavesdrop on. I reveled in stories about offloading in Anchorage and how there was a warmer chill than the shoe-sticking cold of Chicago’s sidewalks this week. I live for ear food like this. A sentimental old trucker stopped by our table on the way out to wish the kids a merry Christmas, and turned to say he wished Santa could bring them “just, everything”. He was so wistful- so goddamn sincere, it hit me square in the chest.
The day before, a woman at the bank brightly chirped: “Did your candidate win?” I was disarmed by the raw sincerity behind her eyes. It was as if she’d wanted to high five me in the hall after a home game. I replied with a reserved “no”, and her face changed with sympathy and gave me a conciliatory “Well, at least his family looks normal!” as she nodded her empathetic little head in my direction. Tell me, stardust; what else could I have done besides laugh until it was unclear to both of us if I was indeed laughing or crying? I am a sincere animal, too.
I’ve felt this before. I am a living, breathing, organic archive of emotion and I know these feelings from previous travels in the arid desert of the Middle East. A certain sun-soaked open-skied honesty lives there that supports an overbearing presumed collective aspiration of religious idealism and family-centered simplified living, while it simultaneously marginalizes and radicalizes the individual with blazing ray-like intensity. I wondered to myself if there had to be a supernova… point at which divine intuition was suppressed so far down, it finally turned in on itself into a moebius black hole of dogma where the light of empathy is bent into a merciless endless night. How often do we contemplate the other side of these things before they appear on the evening news? Not often enough.
I sat with my family and cried over my steaming gravy burdened biscuits and spoke to the kids about how chickens have this natural tendency to gang up on the sickly or malformed and peck them to death. Being a chicken is competitive as hell. Chickens can teach you to love and care for creatures whose consciousness is so brutally, honestly ignorant, you can’t help but be revolted enough to consider those parts of yourself.
Jung once wrote: “To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light. Once one has experienced a few times what it is like to stand judgingly between the opposites, one begins to understand what is meant by the self. Anyone who perceives his shadow and his light simultaneously sees himself from two sides and thus gets in the middle.” The middle. The crossroads. Where the devil and the divine meet and drink and dance. The point where even if we head off where we shouldn’t have gone, but can still go back and choose another direction before we completely lose our way.
Warm gravy will make the coldest of us reminisce. I spoke about those brief liminal years in my late childhood when it was my turn to raise chickens. I told them a little about how I’d let other people hurt me, about how I never felt like I fit in, about how much of my personal shadow work circumnavigates shame, but also how I believed I was loved. I want them to understand loving is the dead simplest, most difficult thing to do in the whole world. Between tear salted sips of good bitter coffee, I wanted them to know if loving is ever to be sustainable, that we’d have to start by first finding the contours of the darkest parts of ourselves. I don’t speak of this enough.
It’s one thing to observe fear on a diode lit screen, and another to kiss it on the forehead when it tries to smother you in your sleep. Jung wrote: “If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all his projections, then you get an individual who is conscious of a pretty thick shadow. Such a man has saddled himself with new problems and conflicts. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that they do this or that, they are wrong, and they must be fought against… Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.”
I miss the graffiti of my hometown. It leaks out from silent faces at the bus stops at night in brightly colored spray paint onto anything that will hold the message. It’s resistance reassurance symbol soul language from the underground on trash bins, brick school walls, virgin sidewalks, broken bar windows and outdated ATMs. That is the kind of news you can’t hide from your digital social feed or switch the channel from. When I walk across this interstate in the mornings, I sometimes fantasize about what I could paint and drape over the side, illuminating an imaginary underground interstate of fellow star people toward my particular hue of enlightenment.
I find myself now here on the winter wheat planted plains, unable to turn a face away from the daytime programming at the bank, and at the restaurant. There is no where to go under this open sky except deep inside where, armed with a lantern of love, I no longer trip over my own feet in the darkness. Feeling along the edges, I find a solitary solace from which to do the work. The hard stuff: the loving. It is from this new stronghold at the convergence of light and dark where I will be found, integrating it all until there is nothing left of the divide.