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first person

Wenting Li

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The darkness is coming. I can feel it long before it arrives. Crumpled leaves layer the sidewalk, tattered and moist, clumpy and dead. The air has a bite and snowflakes dance lightly above, not quite reaching the ground. It’s the in-between season, when the whirlwind of “the holidays” is almost here, and there’s no doubt that the darkness will soon take over our lives for the next few months. I take brisk walks, cry on a regular basis and shiver when I see the street people huddled on the corner.

Darkness comes early and wraps itself around us, pushing us indoors, into the warmth and light. We turn up the heat, light a fire, put the kettle on for tea. We prepare ourselves for the coming cold, dragging out the winter crates and ensuring our closets hold piles of scarves, hats and gloves. We resign ourselves, knowing our doors will soon be cluttered with oversized boots, dripping and clumped with snow.

Going out becomes tougher. Simple excursions – a drive to the supermarket or a walk to the bus stop become overwhelming. Bundling in several layers, bending awkwardly to pull on boots and then braving the cold car that may not warm up until we’ve reached our destination. And always the perils of hathead.

We scurry like squirrels to ready ourselves, strategizing to find new ways to cope with the inevitable season of cold. We’re bonded by the weather and talk incessantly about the wind chill. We find distractions galore to take us away from the darkness. Weeks of carols and parties, glamour and glitz. We fight our way through parking lots, plan and attend parties that we’re really much too tired for, but onward we plunge.

A couple of Novembers ago, I attended a "winter is coming” party, a chance to huddle with others in front of a blazing fire, drink hot rum toddies and dance away the darkness. My wise friend celebrates her annual urge to hibernate, cocoon herself into a warm blanket and hide away from the cold. I wish I could.

The darkness is coming. I know it well. Grumpy mornings and the cloud of depression that threatens to swallow me whole. All the sadness of life condensed into this short period of darkness; I long to feel it intensely, to let it wrap itself around me and penetrate my insides. I want to wallow in the darkness, let it wind its way insidiously through and around me. But like most of us, I refuse to give in. Like the Archangel St. Michael, I spend most of my season of darkness trying to slay the dragon.

Every year around this time, I find a new way to avoid giving in. Exercise, sleep well, sign up for a new volunteer project. Get lots of fresh air and practice regular gratitude. I try yoga interspersed with meditation, homeopathic remedies and deep breathing. Still, I am sad. I avoid the news, and then listen to it, hoping a new perspective will help me soldier on. I try drinking less, eating more. Eating less, drinking more. Wine and food provide fleeting happiness.

Being sad – living in the dark even for short periods – isn’t socially acceptable. “What’s wrong?” people ask. My partner is Tigger to my Eeyore. “Just try to be happy,” he encourages. “At least make an effort.” He wants me to feel better, but I gently remind him it’s not that easy. “I need you to listen,” I instruct. “Let me be dark.” The truth is, I don’t want to be cheered up. I don’t want to be told to be happy.

Author Thomas Moore, in his book Dark Nights of the Soul, suggests that we can both fight and embrace our dark periods. We can experience the sadness while tapping into our creativity and imagination. Moore uses examples of famous dark-night embracers, most of whom I don’t mind being lumped with: Glenn Gould, Anne Sexton, Henry David Thoreau, Frida Kahlo and Oscar Wilde, among others. Brilliant artists who learned – not without great struggle – to heal and create, to learn from the experience of their darkness, to use it to connect them ultimately with their humanity and with others. “A dark night of the soul can heal,” Moore writes. In essence, light emerges from the darkness.

There is comfort in the dark, in knowing I can manage it, be with it, and come out somehow transformed. Being in the dark allows me to see the glimpses of light. Cocooning is the prerequisite for moving into a new phase of life – the shedding of a skin in order to be renewed. “To some degree, new life always requires the termination of the old,” Moore writes.

I am learning to embrace my darkness, and I want others to know it’s okay. That it’s my way of living, of connecting with my humanity. It’s how I grapple with mortality – understanding that death is part of the whole process of life, and that, like everyone else, I come complete with both. This season, I invite myself to hunker in, to dwell inside myself and simply surrender. I will take the time to bask in solitude, to feel whatever needs to be felt and to indulge my creativity. No more shame, no wallowing, no grand battle where I emerge a hero.

A season of loss and light, of darkness and hope. Of cold and warmth and joy and suffering. Outside I stomp through a pile of leaves and feel the tingle in my cheeks. I breathe in the musty smell and shiver in anticipation. I know what’s coming.

This year I’m ready. Let the darkness begin.

Nancy de Guerre lives in Hamilton.