Saturn’s Return

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I first heard of a Saturn return through No Doubt.

When I was 14, they released “Return of Saturn”.  In one of the tracks, Gwen Stefani references the album title, singing:

The return of Saturn / assessing my life / second guessing

But I was an adolescent and -– like a lot of the more subtle poetry in lyrics -– it was lost on me.  I wouldn’t hear it again until I read an article on Kesha’s current situation –- the sexual assault by the hands of her producer, the court battle to get out of her contract, the proof we still don’t get it as a society -– before I really understood what it was about.

It’s an astrological concept.  And I’m zaney enough to believe in it.  Whether it’s truly cosmic, mystical energy, or it’s psychological phenomena, or there’s some other, potentially scientific, parallel –- or it’s just a case of someone being in need of guidance, who lost the conventional faith nearly a decade ago and is a little too willing to look at the stars.

Whatever it is, there’s a part of me that cozies up next to it.

It’s supposed to happen when Saturn essentially completes a full orbit around the sun, returning back to the spot it was when you were born.  Something that happens every 29 or so years.

Our first Saturn return starts around the age of 27, and really doesn’t stop until we are 31.  It’s supposed to be 3+ years that bring light to the way we were doing things for the last 27 — and, particularly, the way we should be doing things going forward.  It’s a line in the sand between your younger, naïve, downright ignorant past and a more mature future self.

And it’s supposed to suck.  It’s supposed to suck hard.

“It’s when shit gets real,” Kesha had said in her interview.

It makes sense, even from a psychological perspective.  We are simply old enough to start knowing better.  The cells in our bodies have completely changed four times over by now, making us, on a cellular level, completely separate from the person we were as a kid.

It would also make sense that I’d adhere so quickly to the concept.  I was 27 when everything started changing.  When where I thought I was, who I thought I was, and what I I thought would be doing shifted.  When the positive and the negative gently started shaking the world around me, forcing certain things to rise up in the sand.

And I’d be 28 when the shaking would stop being so gentle.

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I look to the events themselves – practical, empirical, objective events – and go, “I’m not making this up in my head.  I’m not arbitrarily assigning mystical value to the regular evolution of things.”

The gloriously positive events that got me in the direction I’m going.  The equal and opposite negative events that created the same outcome.  All things that spiked in intensity and frequency, to the point that the only thing that could keep my head above it all was the constant, insufferable mantra: “This will make for a great memoir someday…”

Saturn returned, and it broke down the door without knocking first.

And now I’m 30 — and, upon learning about the Saturn return, cried out to myself, “You mean I have another year of this?!”

Because it’s exhausting.  All of it is.  The return of Saturn.  Assessing my life.  Second guessing.  Watching so many safe, predictable truths fall out and fall by the wayside.  Seeing my entire family and the dynamics within it shift in irretrievable and irrevocable ways.  Seeing what I thought I had mapped out for the future get crumpled and burned up, the ashes still floating around me to this day.

Witnessing my old way of practically sleepwalking through the world and getting outright furious with the mess I had made for myself, if only because I wish I had woken up sooner — and because I wish it hadn’t taken this much noise to wake me up in the first place.

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But the kicker of a Saturn return -– and this has more than enough roots in the psychological & pragmatic -– is that letting it happen will produce the best results.  Go with the changes and the pain and the fact that shit got real (real, real, really fucking real).  Don’t try to cling to how things used to be, or what might have been, had things not been shaken up.

In fact, don’t even cling to the self-loathing over the fact that you used to go about life a certain way.  It’s just as bad as clinging to the old ways in the first place.

In short, let the return of Saturn destroy what it needs to, because if you go about it intelligently enough, it will all be replaced with what you should’ve had in the first place.

The other kicker?  If you fight this period of upheaval in your late 20s/early 30s — if you refuse to address what needs to be addressed and change what needs to be changed — the next time Saturn returns (this time, in your late 50s), the doors will only get kicked down with more force.

You don’t need crystals and horoscopes and transcendental meditations to know that resistance to change only creates suffering, that there’s strife when the gap between what you had in your mind and what is actually happening is kept alive.

You don’t need to read a single astrological forecast to know how bad it is in the long term to force yourself to stay with what used to be, to cling to what you had previously built, to be so afraid of change you’d rather waste your youth, your health, your life — until you’re nearly 60 and the panic only intensifies and the feeling of being stuck is only worse.

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I’ve likened the last 3 years as a bit of a slow burn – and only recently have I been able to accept that everything had to have been a slow burn.  These types of changes can only happen gradually.

Let them combust in a glorious mushroom cloud, and you’ll only mal-adapt.

And –- likewise, with that slow burn -– the smoke is still rising, and the embers are still hot.  And reaching into the fire to grab the things you want or wish you had will only sear the skin.

And I’d much rather rise like the Phoenix than be covered in scar tissue.

The Expressions We Make

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“Well, someone is looking chipper.”

She’s sitting on one of the larger rocks off to the side.  A fellow hiker, one of the countless people you meet and effortlessly talk to and then equally as effortlessly part ways with while on the trails.  I’m probably a quarter mile in to what is about a solid half mile of pure uphill rock climbing.  I’m far enough away that she can’t hear my huffing and puffing (I’m assuming).

“Look at that smile.  You look like you could go another 10 miles of this,” she adds on.  Her pack is off and she is in the middle of eating.  A break from the trail.

“Don’t let the demeanor fool you,” I reply. “My legs are absolutely pissed I’m putting them through this.”

And they are.  My calf muscles are screaming and my quad muscles have fatigued out.  I’m already having trouble lifting my feet high enough up and I keep tripping over roots.  I’ve been periodically pushing myself up the mountain by clamping down on my bent leg’s thigh and pushing off it, as if to simultaneously keep the knee down while propelling the rest of me up.

It’s fitting that I’m having this conversation.  Perhaps a mile or so back on the trail, back when the terrain was relatively level, I had just realized that, when I’m knee-deep in the trail and too physically exhausted for the chitter-chatter of my mind to sustain itself, the corners of my mouth naturally turn up.

At that point, I was about two or so miles in to a solo hike, getting what might’ve been my last hike of 2016 before training and travel and work would fill up my weekends from now until the holidays.  I was already breathing heavily, my mouth slightly agape (and…smiling).  It was an expression I would keep as the terrain got rockier, as the incline got more extreme, and as I found myself essentially on my tiptoes as I scaled the mountainside.

“You couldn’t tell with that smile,” another hiker interjects, responding to what I had just said about pissed off legs, hoisting himself up the rock with hiking sticks that I start wishing I had brought along as well.

My natural smile as I hike.  Perhaps even part of why I hike in the first place.  But it’s not the expression I tend to get in other forms of exercise.

When I run, there’s almost a scowl on my face.  Brows naturally furrowing, as if focusing in on a complex question — or determined to push through an arduous project.  If my race pictures are of any indication, I can even look angry at times.  It’s as if running is a slow burn to whatever it is I’m dealing with.  Like I’m unearthing every demon, forcing them to the surface so they can be dealt with accordingly.  It’s really no wonder, then, that nearly every running playlist has Eminem’s “Not Afraid” on it.

But it’s time to exercise these demons / These motherfuckers are doing jumping jacks now

Surprisingly, none of that anger shows up behind the heavy bag.  The look I get when boxing or kickboxing is more laser-focused.  Instead of a slow burn, I feel like Artemis, goddess of the hunt, zeroing in with the kind of clarity a mountain lion must feel before striking at its prey.  It’s a similar look I get when practicing yoga.  Stoic grace.  Zeroed in.  A heavy calm.

And, when I hike, apparently I smile.

I spend a good portion of my remaining hiking contemplating this.  The faces I make as I get too exhausted for anything else but the activity at hand.  When the chitter-chatter of my brain is mercifully turned down and pretenses fall by the wayside and all that matters is that I keep going.

It’s beautiful, in a way.  The way they’re all so different.  The smile, the scowl, the focus.  Each activity bringing out something that — I hope, at least — rests at my core.  The furious, determined side of me.  The precise and focused side of me.

And – most importantly – the content side.  The side that is at peace.  The side that smiles effortlessly.  The side that, despite the brain’s chitter-chatter and the fatigue of it all, makes people go, “You couldn’t tell with that smile.”

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I finish the trail in half of the time I had allotted myself.  I use up the other hours meandering back, avoiding the highway and opting instead for the deliriously gorgeous backroads.  I end up at an intersection in Meredith, NH — one that is about 15 minutes from the highway, with a McDonald’s and a few traffic lights and nothing else.

I’ve come to this intersection by accident once before.  Thirteen months back, when I was driving up to Freedom NH to find my childhood campground in a fevered haze, just days before my father would pass away.  When I realized what I had found back last September, I burst into tears.

It’s one of those memories that make no sense as to why they stick the way that they did.  The way a child’s mind will latch on to a passing sign, or a casual comment by an adult, and remember it for the rest of their lives.

But that intersection meant something.

I have a snapshot-like memory of it, coming up to it in my father’s pick-up truck, knowing that it meant we were almost there.  Almost to the campground.  Almost to vacation.  After an exhausting 4-hour drive through Boston and into New Hampshire, we were barely 30 minutes out from that beloved childhood campground — a campground that has long since gone out of business and replaced by a more upscale RV-and-cabin company.

This time around, I calmly pull into the McDonald’s — something we never did as a family, no matter how many times we passed it — and order myself a post-hike treat.  I gravitate towards the things that feel like poetry, and I try to piece together exactly why this gesture feels as so.

It’s been an intensely retrospective year, and an intensely introspective past few years.  All of it marked by runs and hikes and time behind the heavy bag.  Time on the yoga mat and time teaching alongside it (fittingly enough, when I teach yoga, I naturally smile, and the chitter-chatter of the mind mercifully slides away).  All of it marked by things that remind me of what I am of.  The strength.  The anger.  The determination.  The focus.

And the natural smile.  What rises to the surface when everything else is too tired to take up space.  A reminder of what I am at my core.

Procession

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There is time to pause when coming upon a funeral procession.

Waiting in your own vehicle, the steady steam of little purple flags and highbeams and hazards passing you by.  It’s a moment to reflect.

Music gets turned down when I come upon a funeral procession.  I might be on my way to get groceries.  Or to a class.  Or to a meeting.  For me, I’m going about a standard day.  For them, they are bringing a loved one to rest.  My morning’s agenda will bleed into the afternoon’s without much thought.  I will forget most of what I do that morning, none of it really lingering.  Their morning’s agenda will signal the start of something irrevocably different.

The funeral procession is universal.  It spans cultures, countries, centuries & millennia.  Somehow we have all banded together in this collective ritual.  By foot, by horse, by carriage, by hearse.  To the pyre, the temple, the gravesite.  We travel single file to lay the dead to rest.

This morning, I’m on the other side.  Now I’m the one in the procession, watching the cars that have to wait at intersections and streetlights.  I stare at the drivers, the passengers.  I see exhausted, impatient faces.  Are any of them reflecting?  Any taking that moment to pause?  Will any of them go to the grocery store or the gym or work with a little more reverence?

The procession for my brother-in-law is vast.  Two towns are essentially on pause as we pass through.  It gives the smallest hint as to how loved he was.  The impact he had.  The legacy he is leaving behind.

Tired, exasperated faces.  A few visibly showing regret — even annoyance — that they picked that time to be on the road, that time to turn left.  And now they are stuck in traffic.  Now they have to wait.

I want to huff out a, “Show some respect.”  But I know it’s easier to be angry than in pain.  Easier to be aggressive than confront mortality.  It’s something even more pervasive in human beings than funeral processions.

We pass by a yard sale on the way to the cemetery.  People perusing tables filled with knick-knacks and used appliances and old clothes.  A few miles from that, we pass a group of three girls in a front yard.  Whatever game they were playing has been put on pause.  All three watch us, hands on hips.  They’re middle school aged, at the absolute oldest.

A procession so long and vast that we snake around multiple roads in the cemetery.    As we park along the roadsides, an SUV attempts to pass by us.  As we come in to lay our loved one to rest, they are coming out after visiting theirs.

The weather holds out for us: what was promising to be a cold and cloudy and drizzly day has stayed relatively warm and sunny.  It is a sea of black around the new gravesite, around a casket with treble clefs carved into the corners (the smallest hint of his time as a drummer, his unyielding passion for music).  A large crow flies overhead as the minister gives the final words.  Some see crows as a bad omen.  Death.  Destruction.  Disease and dis-ease.  I see them as symbolic of change.  Of fearlessness.  They’re seen as spiritual guides in some cultures.  One foot in our world, one foot in the other.  They’re intelligent, resourceful creatures.  In some ways, it is the perfect bird to be flying overhead.

It’s been a long and vast morning.  I focus in on my sister.  I focus in on my niece, on my sister’s youngest daughter.  I lose my composure all over again.  I’ve reached the point where I’m crying for the pain of those around me.  It hurts because it hurts.  It hurts because tragedy ripples out.

Rituals around death.  Every culture has it.  Every religion has them.  Processions, prayers, tears.  Flowers, music, food.  Moments to pause.  Moments to reflect.  Moments to hold each other up because we all feel like collapsing.  Moments to move forward with a little more reverence.

As a lone car in randomized traffic, my husband and I pass four more yard sales on our way to the funeral’s reception (how food permeates every ritual, big and small. Punctuating everything from weddings to funerals to meetings with this life-sustaining activity).  People milling about in driveways, looking at someone else’s possessions, taking advantage of the unexpectedly nice weather.  I look out, wondering how many people are looking in.  Seeing two people with black clothes and tired faces.  I wonder how their mornings are going.  What’s on their minds.  Is today as simple as finding a cheap, used bicycle — or is something else lingering in the background?  What wars are being waged against their mortality, or at least against the fear of it?

Our highbeams and hazards are off.  The little purple flag with FUNERAL in white letters has been removed.  The morning signaled the start of something irrevocably different.  And now we are removed from the procession, from our long, unbreakable line.  A lone car in a sea of SUVs, pick-up trucks, sedans.  Everyone going in all sorts of directions.  Morning agendas blending into the afternoon’s.  Yard sales and children playing and people annoyed by the delays in life.

Wasp

A wasp has made my back porch door its final resting place.  As the days and nights get colder and colder, it stays on the glass panel, moving minimally.  Far from its nest and, as far as I can tell, waiting to die.

It’s funny.  I viciously hate wasps.  I think nothing of spraying neurotoxin into the air and risking poisoning myself in order to effectively kill them off.  For this one, I wouldn’t even need poison to kill him off: I’d simply need something broad to hit the door with, and it would be gone.

And yet, I let it stay.

In this state, the wasp loses all menace.  From inside the house, I can watch its feelers slowly move and bend.  I can watch it attempt to get closer to where the sun hits.  It inches across the glass pane slowly, each leg a deliberate move.  It’s so innocent in this state.  I give him his spot, even opening the porch door slowly when I step outside.

On day three of the visit from the dying wasp, I get word from my sister.  My brother-in-law has passed away.

I am stunned into speechlessness.  Stunned into disbelief.  He had been on the losing end of a cancer battle, but he had been charging forward, regardless and relentless.

And we thought we had time.  Just a little more time.  One more family event.  One more outing.  One more barbecue.  One more baby shower.  One more cancer treatment trial, and maybe — just maybe — this one would be it.

Stunned.  Silent.  Numb.  It’s the calm before the storm.  The tsunami tide receding back before the big wave hits.

I get the news barely half a week after the one-year anniversary of my father’s passing — and barely a month after my older siblings’ mother had passed away as well.  It comes on the heels of health scares, an organ transplant rejection, a premature birth.  It comes on the heels of my little brother finally having the wires removed from his jaw, as he returns to life as usual before the motorcycle accident.  In the hurricane of unfortunate events, nothing is left dry.  When the tsunami hits, everything gets washed away.

“What are you going to do to take care of yourself?” asks my best friend.

“Do you need me to come home?” asks my husband.

“Keep telling me things you’re thankful for,” says a dear friend.

In this storm, I vacillate wildly between incoherent tears and a cascade of thoughts & words.  I vacillate between my stomach clenched & knotted and my stomach gurgling — a gentle reminder that I haven’t eaten since my morning run.  That my plans for the day had been upended the second I stepped out of the shower and checked my phone.  That I react to trauma by accidental starvation.

By the porch door, on the inside staring out, my black cat whines.  He wants to be hooked up to the harness and leash set-up we have in our backyard.  Well, truth be told, he wants to be allowed outside to roam the forest freely and terrorize the chipmunks & garter snakes, but this is our compromise.

I leash him up and let him outside to prowl.  I open the chicken coop cage and allow the chickens out to range as well.  The weather is warm and the skies are a vibrant blue. It’s a perfect fall day and I stand in my backyard, bare feet in the grass, hands in my sweater pockets, eyes drifting between the trees & deeper into the forest.

I am thankful for good weather and good friends and snuggly cats and only having one class on the roster tonight.  I’m going to take care of myself by making homemade potato chips fried in bacon grease & then eating the whole batch.  I’ll be fine — no one needs to come home yet.

The cat gets his leash tangled up in the stone walkway and whines at me to unravel him.  The chickens continue to putter along, bobbing their heads at the ground, pecking at whatever might pass for food.

I am thankful for finishing assignments early and appointments being mercifully cancelled and warm sunlight and living by the mountains.  I’m going to take care of myself by drinking another cup of tea and taking another shower and then going on a drive.  No one needs to come home yet — I don’t even plan on being home for much longer today, anyway.

I turn to go back inside — to prepare everything to make homemade potato chips, to brew me another cup of tea.  The animals will be fine without my supervision for a little while.

I am thankful he lived long enough to walk his stepdaughter down the aisle.  I am thankful the world got to bear witness to such a kind and generous soul.

I step up onto the porch again, realizing that the wasp wasn’t in his usual spot.  I know he was there this morning.  But in getting the cat outside and my breathing to normalize, I didn’t even register him when coming out.  And he’s not there as I come back.

I check both panes of glass.  I check in between them.  I check the runners on both sides.  I check the corners.  I check the ground, the crevasses in the porch, the edges of the welcome mat.  Whether he had finally passed on and one of the chickens plucked him up or he got second wind and was able to fly away, fly back to a nest I would be destroying under any other circumstances, I don’t know.  All I know is that he’s gone.

The little wasp has left me, and I’m completely heartbroken about it.

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