12: The Practice of Time

December is made for bad music and big feelings.

Just kidding. I don’t think the music is bad. And my feelings aren’t big, they’re deep. I love Christmas music and I love thinking about an entire year in retrospect. Lucky for me, December allows for plenty of both.

This year, I think I’ve grown the most I’ve ever grown. My interiority has always been a place important to me, to rest or think or remember, but this year, where it’s been a dense, strange forest, now it’s become a clearing. I’ve finally stopped somewhere and decided to make a space for myself in the emotional overgrowth I call a heart and mind. I choose what I keep and what I leave behind, what I grow and what I cull. What’s left? Enough room for me to breathe.

On a walk with my friend Jo, I said, “I feel nothing but it’s a good nothing.” He asked , “Like emotional regulation?” And the answer was, “Yeah, Jo, like emotional regulation.”

Like peace. And quiet. And In my peace and quiet, the person I am feels strangely hidden from the person I’ve been. The distance between them shrinks and expands, like a step backwards and forwards at once. A step up? A chasm, a portal, a loop. The thing is, when you change, the whole world changes with you. Around you. There are people I used to talk to everyday who I haven’t spoken to in months. People I love now, consistently and carefully, who came into my life out of nowhere. Places I lived, now I visit. The place I live now, which is still fraying in their familiarity, coming loose from newness like the ice at the edge of the river, like the continents from one another. The street I cross to get my coffee, the church bells I come to expect at 9, 3 and noon, that white dog I see out on a walk every Sunday.

What do I need to be happy? I ask myself that now. Frequently. And I trust the world—this world—might be a place where that is possible.

So early it’s still almost dark out.

I’m near the window with coffee,

and the usual early morning stuff

that passes for thought.

When I see the boy and his friend

walking up the road

to deliver the newspaper.

They wear caps and sweaters,

and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.

They are so happy

they aren’t saying anything, these boys.

I think if they could, they would take

each other’s arm.

It’s early in the morning,

and they are doing this thing together.

They come on, slowly.

The sky is taking on light,

though the moon still hangs pale over the water.

Such beauty that for a minute

death and ambition, even love,

doesn’t enter into this.

Happiness. It comes on

unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,

any early morning talk about it.

“Happiness” by Raymond Carver

On the winter solstice, I was up north with my family. A few chickadees followed us on a winter hike. My mom was being silly. She said, “Look, it’s my dad and his friends, joining us on a walk!” Brown moms love to remind you that animals are ancestors. Next year, or tomorrow, it will be ten years since he’s been gone and she still finds him like this, in the birds and the trees and in her habit of drinking too much tea.

My mom is one of my favourite people in the world, when we’re not arguing about things that don’t matter, like religion. I know, I know. Two years ago, I would have gasped at that sentence. But I’ve put meaning in places outside of inherited traditions lately and with freedom, resentment fades, so I’ve learned to love my mom again. Anew.

“Do you ever stop loving someone?” I asked the friend I don’t talk to anymore. They said, Never. I said, Sometimes. Arundhati Roy’s, “That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less.” Love as practice versus love as memory. What do I think now?

It’s been two years since we had that conversation. When our friendship fell apart, there was nothing to do but say goodbye on a cold November bench. We watched the sky darken and the trees shed the last of their summer skin.

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;

Lengthen night and shorten day;

Every leaf speaks bliss to me

Fluttering from the autumn tree.

I shall smile when wreaths of snow

Blossom where the rose should grow;

I shall sing when night’s decay

Ushers in a drearier day.

“Fall, leaves, fall” by emily Brontë

It’s been exactly a year since I started this newsletter.

When I began, my dog had just died and I started with grief, like I always do. I ended up writing about my family, as I usually do, because I try to write about love. It was a welcome respite from poetry, which had already begun quarrelling with me, and from the idea of trying to write a novel, which terrified me.

When I sat down to write this twelfth letter, my friend’s beloved cat passed away. I found myself thinking of them both a lot. I found myself pacing the parallels of time, tracing the continuities of grief. What visits us once will visit us again. I put off going to see him because I know we’ll both cry. I search endlessly for the perfect housewarming gift, which is now also a bereavement gift, which I know I’ll never find, which is probably just a hug.

The number twelve is significant in a lot of cultures. Twelve Olympians, twelve tribes, twelve apostles, twelve imams. Twelve hours in a day, twelve days before Christmas, twelve months in a year, twelve years for Jupiter to circle the sun.

If there was a twelfth hour to follow the eleventh, would it mean the time that is already too late or the time to start again? New time can feel like pressure or relief. This year, I feel neither. I feel pretty content in the middle, in the regularity, which is almost the absence, of time. What gets so close to us it becomes invisible. What gets so close to us it becomes us. A tomorrow that is the new year, a new year that is tomorrow, that is just another Sunday. I think this is a way I’ve come to understand happiness: an evenness in time, a function of its flow, a harmony with its tide. Not a natural consistency, but a practiced one. A learned one.

“Time is my friend,” I wrote a few years ago. Tomorrow is a place, and we’re still coming together. “Together, from Proto-Germanic *gaduri- ‘in a body,’ from Proto-Indo-European *ghedh- ‘to unite, join, fit’ (see good, and compare gather).”

I am gathering goodness. I am always becoming whole again.

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