All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
‘ Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, no breath no motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge from Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner
So what happens when you are stuck in the proverbial doldrums? Just like I feel this day, as many a day. No wind about to allow the moments of stuckness to move from one to the next – work, relational, self – tiring of all the internal gyrations and contortions that try and have it be any other way than how it is. No forcing of a wind to blow through the doldrums.
The doldrums, though, are not always becalmed. At times they are visited by great, tumultuous storms, which can whip up at a moments notice. I remember sailing through such a storm the year we sailed with friends around the Whitsunday Islands. Setting off in beautiful clear weather, four couples on a 40-foot, four berth, sailboat. Our friend insistent he could sail and had a captain’s license, my husband with experience of sailing small lasers, as backup. Having passed the brief skipper’s test on the initially calm waters, we set off across the straight to the islands. Traversing the islands on the south side we suddenly ran into a massive storm. Whipping up the seas, pushing the waves over the sides of the boat, and tossing us about. Most of us, land lubbers all, instantly succumbed to seasickness, including our intrepid skipper. My husband took over, and having no one else to boss about I was it. “Fetch” the life jackets in the hull. Everybody safe. “Crawl” to the front of the boat to deal with all the sheets (ropes), the cleats (locking clamps for the sheets), “pull” here, “strap” there, “unhook” the sheet that got caught so the jib (smaller mobile sail) could swing across. With not a clue about sailing, I could, however, perform under pressure, and was grateful for a childhood of climbing trees, scrabbling through drain pipes, and sliding down gravel hills. The fear of water, falling overboard, drowning, relegated to the background behind what needed to be done. Eventually we worked our way around the southern face of the island and into some protection on the eastern side. The stormy weather was not repeated but I learnt much about letting go of fear, making sure I didn’t slip in the wet, and just doing what was needed. Of appreciating the calm once the wind died down. But the doldrums, becalmed, demand a different kind of presence.
Many things are awaited in the doldrums. We at times wait for a child to die. Knowing that death’s door will usher in many other unwanted gifts – relief, grief, loss, confusion, pain, and more waiting for life’s raw intimate touch to lessen somewhat. We wait for a father to accept his child as his own, for melanin over time to darken the skin to assure him and his family that it is indeed so. We wait for a meningitis to settle, to see how badly the brain has been affected, for an awakening that may never come. We wait for a last breath of a baby expected not to survive at birth, confounding all expectations, despite a barely present brain. We wait for anxiety to settle around taking a severely affected baby home, for a getting used to a new normal of sorts. We wait for acceptance, for loss, for grief, for relief, for rest. We realise eventually these doldrums are the calm within the eye of storm, that the relief of getting out of the wind is a momentary breathing space, to gather our spirits for the journey ahead, for gathering of energy to endure more moments of storms and winds to come, that the waiting and gathering is a part of every moment of every day.
In the waiting we may come to realise that the one thing we need not wait for is love, or the unfolding of this life, that in each moment, love and life, is present, if at times unrecognised. That love is offered by our nearest, and by those we may only momentarily pass by during our day. That love is offered in every glance of acknowledgment by another human being. That our day is filled with love, and with life, and all we need do is tap into its well. As ever present as the more easily recognised well of grief, or even the waiting space of the doldrums. So while we wait in these doldrums for the breeze to blow, with hope and faith that we can weather the storm that is to come, may we all know that we are love, we have life, and are loved.
For the Raindrop
For the raindrop, joy is in entering the river –
Unbearable pain becomes its own cure.
Travel far enough into sorrow, tears turn to sighing;
In this way we learn how water can die into air.
When, after heavy rain, the storm clouds disperse,
Is it not that they’ve wept themselves clear to the end?
If you want to know the miracle, how wind can polish a mirror,
Look: the shining glass grows green in spring.
It’s the rose’s unfolding, Ghalib, that creates the desire to see –
In every color and circumstance, may the eyes be open for what comes.
Translated by Jane Hirshfield