Song in Darkness

Does the earthworm feel pain when the robin jabs it apart?

Does the earthworm feel pain when the robin jabs it apart?

By Lynn St. Georges

No light pierces the night sky when the robin first sings. The almost-one-note song interrupts the darkness and finds its way into my mind, nudging me from sleep.

The natural world nourishes me and I smile. Yet I also groan, now forced awake and back to the reality of me. The smile and groan compete with each other to frame my day. I roll over, not yet ready, and the meandering looping thoughts begin.

I think of how the robin eats earthworms, cruelly jabbing them and tearing them apart, and wonder if the earthworm feels pain. Does it suffer as it dies or does the robin leave enough for it to regenerate itself?

I remember watching the great blue heron calmly stride on its long legs across the shallow pond to snatch the duckling from the brood. I imagine the pain the mama duck experienced, hearing her anguished squawks as she flapped wildly around the heron holding the now-limp duckling. I imagined her pain was far worse from what the baby felt.

I think about the cooing sound of the mourning dove, and that I only learned the name was “mourning” and not “morning” after Jim died and how it made me sad. I used to love those soft, mournful coos until I learned it was only the male saying fuckmefuckmefuckmefuckme.

St. Nicholas Ukrainian Church

St. Nicholas Ukrainian Church

A Ukrainian Catholic priest fucked me in his parish home in Hudson, NY, when I was 15 years old. I remember feeling so ashamed that I had harmed this priest. So many years of shame until I buried the memory where it simmered below the surface until the 90s when the stories of pedophile priests broke and returned this memory back to me. Was I like the baby duckling and merely prey?

The counselor my parents sent me to when I was 15 years old thought I would benefit from group therapy. He liked having a member of the clergy sit in and that is how I met Father Ted. He was older and a good guy, always wearing his clergy black attire with the stiff white collar. He quickly befriended me, even meeting my parents several times and having dinner at our home. When he invited me to take a train the few hours north to spend a Saturday night at his parish home, I happily accepted. It gave me a chance to be away from home and my parents readily agreed, undoubtedly relieved to have a break from their troubled teenager.

The train ride north felt very differently from the train ride back home the next day. Father Ted called and said we must never talk about what happened and I swore I would not, a promise I kept. How would I speak of this, anyway? He stopped coming to group and we lost touch. I tucked this wound among the others and the pile of wounds continued to grow over decades.

In 1982 I wrote “Song of Myself (Thanks, Walt)” that began with these words:

in my eyes i see
child – woman – self
tired yet sparkling
eyes that have seen
that show still
a pain
through the brightness
smiles and passion
still pain

wrinkles on the face
not around the eyes
or lips
from smiles
forehead creases
years of asking questions
no answers
i lightly finger
the worn-on lines

I fought and clawed to find my way to be better, in and out of therapy for decades, searching for the person inside me who was going to be OK while trying to understand why she never seemed quite OK.

burl

The burl covers the wound.

When a tree suffers an injury it forms a burl. The burl is ugly and hard but it covers the wound. My body is soft, the burls unseen.

This year I enter my seventh decade of this life, as this person, the majority of the years behind me and the time remaining growing shorter each day. When I look in the mirror now, I see more lines and my eyes are growing smaller as my skin sags. My jowls are becoming more defined and the disturbing neck wattle is in place. I see that I set my mouth like my mother did. My hair is silver and growing thinner and more brittle. The struggle to be OK will continue, but the fight is not so difficult these days.

I can see the light now through my closed eyes and decide to get up and greet this day. I dress and wander through my home to open all the blinds, craving light over darkness. I hear the prettier songs of the other birds joining with the robin’s repetitive note. The coffee tastes good.

I decide to take my walk and linger a moment by the pond. There are just a few bored-looking male mallards there, the females missing for almost a week now, tucked away on their nests.

Lynn St. Georges

Lynn St. Georges

I annoy two Canada geese on the path and they fly off, in turn annoying the few mallards and the nutria swimming beside them. One sole Canada goose remains on the pond, no mate in sight. I feel the familiar sadness creeping inside as I wonder where the mate could be, and continue my walk. I notice flowers instead and listen to more bird songs. Today I will be OK.

Lynn St. Georges recently moved from Beaverton to Rockaway Beach and is thoroughly pleased with living by the amazing Oregon Coast. Sadly, the robin appears to be stalking her as it still awakens her every single morning. In spite of that, life is good these days.

Editor’s note: I met Lynn in the spring of 2009, shortly after she’d written a letter to the editor urging people to cherish their mom. Her mother had died suddenly and unexpectedly in April, a few weeks before Mother’s Day. From a meeting between strangers in the parking lot of a Lucky Lab we have become friends, united by a love of language, liberal values and the VOA community itself.

Tomorrow: “Gift of the three wise men” by Andrea Cano

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15 thoughts on “Song in Darkness

  1. Wow! I’m glad you still see the beauty in life, Lynn. The songs of birds and the morning quiet are all little treasures that bring us into the present, which is where we will all find peace, if we can stay there.

    • Ah, the present. It’s a thing that has always alluded me, always looking backward or forward and missing now … at least so I thought until you raised this point. Noticing things on my walks is being present. Thank you, John, for pointing that out to me.

  2. Dear Lynne, your words convey such empathy – empathy for loss, grief, helplessness – that you perceive not only for yourself but also in other living things – and the empathy (sadness, anger, etc) you stirred in me for all that trauma and awful guilt you suffered as a young teen and held into adult life. May that 15 year old, or 56 year old, or 63 year old Lynne give way at times to the beautiful 70 year old who will recast those birdsongs into new melodies.

    • Thank you, Andrea, for your kindness and your grace. At times I find that I am so empathetic to be a curse. I *feel* everything so much! However, one of the blessings of getting older is acceptance of who I am, warts and all. 🙂

  3. Lynn – I mourned for your traumatic experience as a teen and smiled at your ability to see the flowers in your surroundings. Walk on…

    • Walking on is all we can do, right Al? So I do … every day, and try to be aware of the beauty around me. It’s a good ticket to sanity, however elusive that may be at times.

  4. Dear Lynn,
    Thank you for sharing your story.
    A decade ago I wrote a line in a song titled “they don’t know”. The line read: “have you ever heard a beautiful melody that isn’t sad? My life is a beautiful melody hence sad”.
    A week ago I was leading a workshop for foster children. The youngest of them 5 years shouted “can I play your guitar? I have a song”. As she proceeded and sang her song, it was a melody telling her painful life story.
    If all the students I worked with, I had the most hope for her. Why? Because she knew to sing her pain. That song told her story and breathed hope of healing into everyone who heard it!

    Thanks for singing and writing your pain! It is food and life for the soul of others!
    Be blessed dear!

    • Ah Parfait, a man of such wisdom on the workings of us human beings with our frailties. We must write about our pain! It would never release if we did not and keeping it bottled up is not good. I am glad this young child was able to sing her pain and angry at this world that would cause such a small person this pain. Humanity is not good some times … and among reasons I am sad at times.

  5. Delicately written – with the stark contrast of a terrible incident beautifully woven into gentle story about nature. It must have been hard to live with such scars for many years. I admire the trust with which you share this story. And it’s great that compassion has helped you heal.

    • Nature heals! And I think we all have scars … life can be hard for us. I’m not sure we can get out without getting battered along the way. This marks us all in our own ways and for many, can become a gift that gives us strength.

  6. Wow. Great writing. Hard story.
    I know a man who was sexually abused by a trusted leader in a church, too. He is still dealing with an avalanche of feeling surrounding that years later. I sit and listen and shake my head, wishing I was there all those years ago to make a ruckus and prevent what happened. And I have nothing valuable to say to him, just that I am impressed and glad that he knows he did nothing wrong. I trust you do, too, and I am so grateful.
    Tell me: You write, “The struggle to be OK will continue, but the fight is not so difficult these days.” Why do you think that is, primarily? And what advice would you give others with similar scars?
    And George, I know Lynn is lovely. But I gotta say that meeting people at Lucky Lab is a recipe for success! I think I can be friends with anyone after a good stout and bento bowl!
    Cheers to recovery. Cheers to the wisdom that age brings.

    • Since reading your comment and thinking of a response to your question (a lot!), I find my response changing so I’m not really sure! Perhaps in part because I recalled George saying readers don’t like to be left in a down place but to be lifted. 🙂

      But I also think it’s a combination of just getting older and with age comes wisdom and a tendency to start chucking stuff that’s been carried too many years. I also spent years in and out of therapy, which helped. I find motivational quotes and sayings and tack them to my wall to remind myself of what matters to me. I take long walks.

      I’m not sure what advice I would give to others except perhaps to find a way to forgive yourself. I learned from one therapist the difference between guilt and shame. Much of what I have suffered is under the shame category and not so much the guilt. I am a master at self-flagellation, something I should have chucked a long time ago but cling onto still today. Maybe over the next decade I’ll find a way to let that beast go, too.

      See you in October!

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