I drove north today, leaving the island and solitude of my green house, to visit a young friend whom I had not seen in years. I was her teacher for a very brief time; our paths crossed when she was on a journey from darkness to darkness. Since that time, she has made friends with the darkness and can hold her own when they encounter one another. My friend, who is an artist—the occasion of our meeting was to celebrate her first show of a series of wood canvases with shimmering, flowing, watery resins gleaming against the brick wall of the cafe—tells me she was “born with a past.” It is almost as if she had not finished living out the life before this one and had to do that difficult work as a child. When she was 17 years old, a series of events, including our meeting and choices she made, took her on a transformative descent. She said, “I feel like, in many ways, I was born only 8 years ago.” It is as if this young woman’s lives do not begin with the birth canal and end with the death rattle, but that her birthing and dying overlap in the midst of lifetimes.
I left the cafe feeling warm and glowy inside, like I was filled up with all of life's important things. I made my way to the Italian restaurant I always go to when I'm in this part of the Pacific Northwest—which is seldom. The man who owns the restaurant lived on the island many years ago, and his establishment was not far from the green house. We would go out to dinner and savor the chicken parmigiana and sigh with delight. Since he left the island, his life, too, has taken some dark turns—two loved ones tragically lost to suicide.
Tonight I texted my husband a photo of the chicken parmigiana on my plate, and he responded, "I feel sad." I felt sad, too. We both have fond memories of this man when he was part of our community. There was something about the sadness that deepened the flavors of the food—the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, the garlic and tomatoes, the fruity complexities of the Sardinian Arigolas Costamolino Vermentino that I sipped.
A triskelion, the odd three legged Medusa ubiquitous in Sicily, hung on the wall across the room. The ceramic face of Bacchus with a wreath of grapes and leaves beamed down at me just above my table; I raised my glass in a toast to his jolly countenance.
I watched the people—A couple, dressed more than casually, she in a sweatshirt and he in a tee shirt, how he fed her a bite of his food and how they smiled at each other. Two women, both looking sharp in black pants and white designer tee shirts, though one wore a pair of spectacular red ankle boots with 4" heels and earrings that dangled down to her shoulders, and I thought, "I really need a wardrobe update." The young waterboy who towered above the table, his legs and hair long and a bit unruly, his smile dangerously charming. Outside, through the windows and doors that led to the patio by the marina, I watched one tall hoodie-clad boy after another come soaring by on skateboards, unaware (or maybe keenly aware) of their audience.
It was the boys on the skateboards: their incongruity. My vision cleared. Suddenly, I stepped into the moment, into the day, and into my life more fully as the boys sailed by. Everything sharpened. The wine and the sadness became yet more complex. The couple in their "hanging around the house" garb suddenly seemed so poignant in their companionship that I wanted to weep. I became keenly aware that I sat between an archetypal symbol—the triskelion and an archetype—Bacchus, Roman god of wine and other things wild and wonderful.
I wanted pen and paper and to begin writing then and there about the day. About pain, suffering, redemption, how we have the power to save ourselves, and that we carry both Light and Darkness side by side within us. I wanted to write about all of these things—about love and injustice, wine and bread, and the journey of olives from a branch in Italy to the oil on my table in the Pacific Northwest. I wanted to write all of it.
I made a few notes in my little notebook, paid my bill, and began the long drive in darkness toward home, to the green house on the island.