The year is ending. Let it. This is the magic of change, unmaking and remaking.
The year breathes through the rhythm of loss and relief: the deaths of winter, the births of spring, summer’s love, autumn’s burst of creative joy. It’s hardest now when the midwinter parties we love so well have all come to a close. What will get us through these next few weeks of cold and darkness, uncertainty and want, and the fluorescence of an illness that never seems to end?
I’ve been trying for days to write about the year that has passed. To find an answer to that question. This year was so similar to the year that came before it it’s like a montage. A few sharp memories stand out.
Winter, the Season of Endings
In January 2020 my husband Alex was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. In January 2021 his legs buckled and he hit his head on concrete. That’s an image, what he looked like lying unconscious on the ground. And the beautiful sunset my sister and I admired for a soul-healing instant while she drove me to the hospital to meet him there.
I lost that whole season. When the hospital told me they were releasing him to rehab I showed up like an avenging angel demanding they give him to me. Rehab centers are where the aged and injured get COVID and die. I Googled “care for an immobile senior at home.” Then there were hours of caregiving and days when doctor appointments stacked up back to back and nights when something in him broke and I had to call the ambulance again. The second time it happened in a week I climbed into the van to follow and broke down: “I can’t do this, I can’t keep doing this.”
Spring, the Season of Renewal
I didn’t think he would walk again, I really didn’t. So the day the physical therapist told him “Get up” and he got to his feet was the miracle of returning life. Alex being able to stand on his own returns independence, for him and for me.
The VA stepped up to remodel the basement into a disabled apartment. Another renewal. I found a care center for him to live during the construction where all the staff and residents were vaccinated and no one had ever had COVID. Like we should all have been doing this whole time. Then I collapsed and slept for a week.
Spring is when I got my vaccinations. Spring is when my newest book Cord Magic came out and I got to be more than a caregiver again, I got to be an author.
Summer, the Season of Companionship
When it got warm enough we all flocked back to the state parks. These are great places to meet because they’re outdoors and they have bathrooms. I rented a campsite at Scenic Beach for a day so my fully vaccinated friends could hug each other for a long, long, long, long time.
All summer long I gathered my Kemetic friends at a state park picnic shelter to recite Richard Reidy’s version of the Apotheosis Rite for Bodily Members for protection and health from Everlasting Egypt. The Isis Nephthys Temple of the Sisters of Seshat worked through four of our five initiations with a whole new crew; our August meeting date was so hot it broke records and we were so glad for the shade of the trees.
Since March of 2020 I’ve been to a restaurant exactly four times, for Ted’s July birthday and mine in August, on sunny summer days out on the patio at Anthony’s with tables set twenty feet apart and masked waiters serving us our food.
Autumn, the Season of Accomplishment
Cord Magic brought me back to my roots as a magician, working with color and timing and clarity of intent. I remembered I am a Witch and hooked up with all the young and older Witches who create podcasts and Instagram channels to talk about my work and theirs. It’s been so much fun.
The county Master Gardener coordinators asked me to stay on this year as their Zoom leader, so I did, shepherding non-technical but deeply knowledgeable gardeners through another virtual summer. I managed to grow lettuce, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers. More of the garden went into flowers this year, bright spots of color that cheer up all my neighbors.
I did something experimental for Durga Puja this year. I commissioned a statue from Kolkata, a bas-relief of Durga and her family, and invited them to inhabit their likenesses. In theurgy it’s called animating statues, in Kolkata trained priests (and this year priestesses!) do this ceremony for thousands of neighborhood shrines. My coven mates, all Tantric practitioners now, offered food and chanted and danced with incense burners and gave thanks for the harvest of the year.
Winter: Here We Go Again
I had just started thinking about going back to the gym, going into an indoor restaurant, when the next waves of COVID hit. In some ways it’s the same experience, sending me back to the strictest protection protocols. It is different this time though. The people I hear about in my extended friend network who die in hospitals are unvaccinated, vaccinated folk get the virus from their unvaccinated friends and family and recover.
I read that people are tired of the pandemic and I really, truly, absolutely understand it. Anyone who’s broken down sobbing “I can’t keep doing this” understands. But it doesn’t matter. We still need to mask up and vaccinate and keep our distance and, yes, give up our fun, or risk killing our neighbors and friends. I hired a handywoman I liked a lot and fired her immediately when I asked her if she was vaccinated and she said no. One of the best things I’ve done all year was manage the flash of incandescent rage when I realized she was willing to walk into the house of an immunocompromised veteran unvaccinated. There. Is. No. Acceptable. Reason.
My choir went back to in person rehearsals and held a socially distanced concert in a huge cathedral. I didn’t join in. It’s not just keeping Alex safe, it’s the travel time and the rehearsal commitment. Mostly though it’s that I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I watched a video of our Christmas 2019 concert and broke down sobbing. I don’t know if I’ll ever have that experience again.
The winter rains drove us back indoors. For my magic groups that means meeting on Zoom again. My coven which is my quarantine pod still met indoors right up until the December snowfall closed the local roads. We did our coven Yule on Zoom, sadly expert now at managing the electronic technology while simultaneously moving energy in the astral temple. Alex’s December birthday we celebrated with takeout for the second year in a row.
Spring Will Come Again
As I write I haven’t left the house in a week. I don’t trust myself to navigate the van on the inch of glassy ice on my downhill driveway. My life is locked down again on so many levels it seems claustrophobic. I struggle – maybe that’s it, I just struggle. Two years of being cheerful and determined and adapting through personal and public losses has got me beat.
I cry for no reason. My kitties climb into my lap to comfort me while I watch Lifetime holiday movies. (Lifetime has people of color and LGBTQ story lines). I mute during the commercials except for the King Arthur one. It has a name, The Power of Baking. Weary bakers trudge into their kitchens while Ashley Nguyen DeWitt sings “Don’t it seem like the end?” She says:
And they say oh it’s the darkest
Just before dawn
Tell me my darlin’
It’s worth carrying on
Cuz we will rise again
Alex rose again. I watch him every day, this man I’ve been married to for forty years. He’s gradually losing the ability to use his hands, use his legs, use his voice. He has never complained about this, not once, railing against fate. He finds the next adaptation to help him do as much as he can, he’s controlling his computer primarily with voice commands. He smiles and says thank you to everyone who cares for him. He says that the purpose of life is to live it. He is my inspiration and always has been. Frankly, he’s always been a better person than me.
We are so brave, Witches and magicians, throwing the glitter of our magic into the whirlwind of eternity. We stand up to fate, stand up for ourselves and our families and communities. We heal, we protect, we make things happen. We stake everything we have on love.
Magic gives us the knowledge and power to steer our little boats where we aim to go. Eventually something happens to spill us out of the boat and remind us that our story unfolds in the context of a larger story. Our individual plot lines are embedded in our blood families, our physical communities, and the shared karma of the times.
The lesson of winter is that there is an end to every mortal story. Every loss permanently changes the landscape. You have to have some sort of spirituality to navigate this. It doesn’t have to be in church, it doesn’t even have to be named. Whatever the source of meaning it needs to be more than making money or winning games. Those smug victories don’t get you through a night in the ER. You have to bank kindness somewhere against the time you need it, even in your own heart. Especially there.
How much more can I take? How much will I lose? Everything of course: my kitties, my husband, my lover, my body. All my religions teach that this is part of the soul’s story, the journey and return. All my religions teach that we all return to the Goddess. Everything does, in its time, and when it is time we let it go.
Love carries us over the grief.
I’m not doing as well as I did last year. I’m not doing as well as I think I should be. But I thought I would give the power of baking a try. I baked kolaches for Christmas. This is not one of those cultural pastries that has made the big time like stollen or panettone or buche de noel. It’s decidedly ethnic, made only in home kitchens. My Czech grandmother taught me to shape the egg-rich dough into little balls and then press down on them to make the dent to fill with poppy seed paste. It takes all day, this treat, punching the dough down twice in the bowl and twice on the tray. As the saying goes, “Without work there are no kolaches”. We had them for dessert at Christmas supper and we ate them all gone.
A sweet treat, a beautiful sunset, the smile of the people we love who are still sitting next to us. Maybe it’s not as much as I need, maybe it’s more than I deserve, but I’ll be grateful for it, until it’s gone. Until it’s unmade and something new rises up.
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