Happy Winter Solstice, everybody in the Northern Hemisphere! As the sun hits the lowest spot on the southern horizon, it seems to stop in a lyric caesura for a moment. Now the earth begins to doe-Si-do around its stellar partner, coyly tilting the top of her head toward him. The night is long, and the dance goes on. Passion builds towards the summer solstice when the sun will caress the earth with daylight for 24 hours at the North Pole. Humans have celebrated these celestial events with festivals for centuries, and we still do. As I write this, Strauss polkas punctuated with small, percussive explosions and various train whistles play in the background. It is riotously fitting. (Steve is cleaning, stacking and re-stacking his books. We are expecting company for the weekend.)
The door marked 21 bangs open, and the gift unveiled is Passion. Enthusiasm! Energy! I contend that this is another Universal endowment. The word ‘enthusiasm’ has at its root the Greek ‘theos’, meaning God. To be enthused is to be filled with God. “In the throes of passion.” See Bernini’s sculpture of “The Ecstasy of St. Theresa” for a marvelous visual example. (We watched a video on this narrated by Simon Schama: “The Power of Art”. Highly recommended!) Is this kind of experience available to all or just the sainted few?
I believe that if you are open to the energy of passion, you will receive it. And I believe this fact scares a lot of people, especially those in authority who are working to gain and maintain control. Do you want to live in a passionless world? Do you want to live in a tempest of energy? Do you seek some Middle Way, a quiet infusion of God? How have you marshaled and channeled energy by your own choices? Have you felt someone else’s hand tempering your energy?
I think I was a pretty enthusiastic kid. I was often told that I was loud. My facial expressions were pretty dramatic. I loved theater and the chance to “act out”. My third grade teacher wrote in her notes to my mother that “the play’s the thing for your youngest daughter”. I did feel that my parents were always asserting a more reasonable response. They were intellectual and Anglican and well-mannered. I wanted to please them, so I didn’t allow myself to be wild. When I began voice lessons in college, one of the first things my teacher said to me was, “You sing as if you’d been told all your life to modulate your voice.” How did she know? So I had become outwardly prim and proper and covertly silly and animated. My passion for my husband was greeted initially by my parents with the same kind of circumspection. After all, I was only 15 when we met and 20 when we became engaged. Gushing about how I “knew” he was the right one for me was unconvincing. I prepared logical and practical reasons why I should marry before I graduated from college and while we were both unemployed. His father was not at all persuaded. My father had seen us courting and knew more intuitively that our determination was real, fueled by much more than reason, and that in a marriage, that is a definite harbinger of success.
I am still hesitant to show emotion and passion. Steve is always delighted to see my enthusiasm about something, and frankly wary because it doesn’t assert itself in important decisions. I was brought up to be very serious about decision-making, and to mistrust my enthusiasms. Steve seems to approach the issues from the opposite direction. He feels that the best reason for doing something is because you REALLY WANT TO! In some ways, that seems like a no-brainer. Problem is, I have esteemed The Brain far too much, I think. So, I am learning to try to listen to those exuberant voices without shushing them so much. And I am learning to be more open to the zeal of others. My children, especially. My parents modeled the “voice of reason”. I can’t deny that I play that role in my parenting, but I want to model the fervent voice of encouragement, too. (This goes along with the ongoing safety/adventure discussion that I have with Danger Mommy.) I keep trying to get away from dualism and embrace the dynamic whole. “Don’t be so worried about ‘supposed to’,” says Judy Dench’s character in the movie “Chocolate”.
Is it possible to be both wise and passionate? Is it possible for me to be both wise and passionate? I’m hoping so.