The boy just stood there staring at the pile of clothes and cat food and bows. I went over and asked him if I could do anything but he told me that he was used to it. I wasn't actually all that surprised by his answer.
And so I ask myself: Which story of the family are these two telling themselves? Does the boy know that he is Horus and Apollo? Or does he know that he is Bluebeard in the making? And does the woman yearn to be Demeter? Or is she still aching to be Persephone? Persephone is for Jung a symbol of completeness, for she encompasses opposites -- life and death, mother and daughter, even male and female. The whole eternal cycle of birth through to rebirth.
Then there were two women, well dressed, nice jewelry, standing in the candle aisle. I was there because -- like pretty much every year since I began my own household -- I don't have any candles for my menorah. (Celebrating Jewish holidays and believing in either a benevolent or vengeful God are pretty much unrelated in my experience.) So I'm standing there looking for the right size of candles, and feeling just a tad irritated at myself because I remember doing exactly this same thing in this same aisle last year and also not finding any of the right kind of candles. I was having one of those little discussions with myself about why I expected things to be different, and not just different but better this year (ah, that Western attachment to the idea of progress) and started listening to the two women to avoid castigating myself. And the two of them were discussing a coworker like this: "I don't know -- I think that she's worth $18 this year. Help me find something that costs that much."
A very distinct breath of the Shadow of capitalism.
And, yes, I know that in giving gifts we do make calculations about relative worth. I'm certainly not naive about the ways in which gifts are assessed and selected. But this suddenly seems very unclean. And then -- and this was not so much bad behavior as simply bizarre -- there was a woman dumping dozens of boxes of toothpaste into a shopping cart. I thought at first that maybe she was an employee and this was a recalled item -- maybe seasonal workers don't wear name tags? -- but then I saw her pulling up to the check-out line. She must have had a hundred boxes of toothpaste and nothing else. I have been entertaining myself with possible scenarios that explain this and I really can't think of a plausible one.
What role is she acting out? What story does she tell to herself to make it through this dark time of the year? Is it a story that I would recognize?
And a final observation. Putting up tinsel and lights and faux-Victorian cut-outs in a hospital doesn't make one feel unafraid or make things not hurt. Hospitals still smell like hospitals, and the floors are always cold. I am spending a good deal of this holiday season watching a friend head toward the kind of diagnosis that -- depending on how the internal pendulum is swinging that day -- makes one think either that it could have been so much worse, or that it could have been a damn lot better.
Life, as you keep telling us, Prof. Jung, is the constant merging of opposites.
I did find candles today, and will light them tomorrow, in honor of the solstice and of the rituals and ceremonies of my forebears. And for my child, who's so desperately trying to be well. There is power in saying prayers that have been said for millennia, even if one does not think that there is anyone out there listening. And who's to say that prayers said for oneself alone are unheard?
To light a candle is to cast a shadow. -- Ursula K. LeGuin
And one more step back, another step downward into the unconscious & #8230;
So I go out in my back garden this morning to check on my aviary (it's been cold here, and very windy and I was worried about my birds so I was out early) and I found a nest that had been blown down over night. Not one of my birds' nests. (My birds are saved the work of making their own nests by the fact that I have provided them with deluxe nest boxes.) I looked up into the trees above me as soon as I saw the downed nest. Irrationally, because as we near the winter solstice I know that this nest was used months -- if not years -- ago. So whatever life was hatched here, in this cluster of rather sturdy twigs, made its way (or failed to do so) when the days were longer and warmer. Nothing is actively imperiled here. This is merely a collection of sticks, clipped into surprisingly regular lengths and loosely twined together. You might even think -- as the nest blends in, blurs into the other sticks that have been blown down into my yard in this latest round of santa anas -- that there was no intelligence behind this. Just a few sticks in a pleasing arrangement.
I tried to convince myself that it wasn't really a nest because it would seem so forlorn if that were the case. I went over to it and bent down and touched it, trying to persuade myself that it had never been the abode of small and fragile things. But there were bits of down caught in the smallest nodes on the twigs. And there was a sturdiness in the construction that comes only through intention and intelligence, not the mindless fierceness of the desert winds.
So what meaning does this nest bring to my life this day? If I start with the personal and the particular (as one is taught to do), the meaning is a melancholy one. I feel as if I were being blown out of my own home, feel as if my foundations were being over-tipped and my family scattered. The record of a family ever having been here as hard to read as joss sticks. Jung saw the nest as a sign of the collective unconscious itself, as a symbol of the ways in which our unconscious knits together disparate stories.
This is a sort of waking dream for me, an experience to which I can brings Jung's (1966) advice to the wanderer through the realms of the mind's nether worlds. Usually we find access to such spaces only within the waves of sleep, but they can be found in other places as well. There are moments that are out of time when our consciousness recedes, Jung notes. I am in one of those moments now.
Now, if I step back a pace, what then do I see? Nests are evocative of life and beginnings and spring and of stories not yet told. So this nest -- found at the crest of winter, upside down, on the ground, made of dead twigs and lifeless feathers -- is a thing as much out of place as it is possible to be. The wedding guest who comes in funeral black.
But no -- that's not right. That's the wrong-way around. This is not the presence of death where it should not be, but rather the suggestion of life and birth in a season in which they should be absent. Here is the reminder that, as Shelley wrote, "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"
So here I find a more universal set of associations -- birth and hope made doubly more potent by showing up unlooked-for.
Well, perhaps. I wouldn't kick that interpretation out of bed. But it's lacking in nuance certainly. Although one well might ask, should one go looking for nuance when the gods toss such an obvious symbol literally at one's feet? I don't know. I think that depends initially on what an unnuanced reading gets one. If it suffice, then is it acceptable simply to approve it and move on? And doesn't it matter -- as I think that it must -- which pantheon one is appealing to, and one's understanding of the relationship between the gods and us corporeal types? If the gods be benevolent, then perhaps they give us obvious symbols so as not to make us work too hard. If they are simply careless -- or worse -- then certainly I should consider any easy reading of my bird nest as reliable as those little signs importuning Alice to "Eat me" or "Drink me."