The shadow life

Today is my birthday. I am now the age my mother was when she had me. This feels significant, as though the major epochs of my life are framed by the major epochs of hers. I feel as though I have moved from the on-deck circle to the plate (note: I believe this is the first time I have ever used a sports metaphor. I hope it works.) and I’ve got a few chances to do things right before retiring to the coaching staff and gaining forty pounds of beer weight (unless I never lose my baby weight, in which case I’m already halfway there). Some of the basics are in place — part of my life will involve medicine, another will be centered on my partner and my child(ren). Life is pretty good, which is a worrisome state for a writer — not a lot of successful books out there called “Life Is Pretty Good” — but a happy state for a person. An age of anxiety is over and one of steady building has begun. Still, some things still feel mysterious — my creative life, my spirituality, which has gone through many iterations, my role in the larger community (e.g. the world is so beautiful and so broken! How can I add to the former and repair the latter?)

This gets me to thinking about a quote I read in a book once about how there is a shadow life apart from the visible life of jobs and family, a shadow life of dreams, impressions, sensory experiences, inner visions, desires, and unspoken aspirations, a life whose successes or failures can be totally separate from those of the visible life and can be even more important to the happiness of the individual. I am beginning to think that this is where the fire is, what you run from, but hopefully eventually run towards. This is not to say that the visible life isn’t full of deep satisfaction, delight, comfort, and insight — it is! It is where the purpose and structure can be found. But the shadow life is the one you come in with and leave with, the life that belongs to only you. It is the life that no one can take away, even in the midst of tragedy and brutality. In this life there are no value judgments, only experiences. This life can intervene in the visible life for ill — desire that leads to infidelity, obsessions that interfere with work, addictions that drain resources and energy — but it can also be the catalyst for all the most meaningful things — love, creative production, innovation, resistance in the face of injustice.

As this new year begins, a year in which my visible life will be very crowded and demanding, I feel ever more drawn to the shadow life, to the life of experience and the experience of life. The assumption is usually that increasing age brings less and less engagement with the shadow life, but for me the opposite will have to be true, since my younger years were full of worries and exams and practical reasons for not doing many things. With every year I am more fearless, and thus ready to run straight into my own being with curiosity and without judgment. What will happen? I can’t wait to find out. Growing up is so suspenseful….

I used to write poems. I used to write a poem every year on my birthday. Ok, I only did that twice, but it was a good idea. So here goes. It’s 11:33pm, so I have 27 minutes. I haven’t written a poem in over three years, so it seems like a good idea to write one quickly, right now. After I write it, I’ll want to erase it and this paragraph but I won’t.

vanishing point

I looked over a candle
at you                         nothing an opera glass couldn’t see
could be seen                             except you
looking back at me                                     and finding
a point of orientation
in the space between a flame and the sky

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