It’s snowing. Again. I sit upstairs at my desk, staring at my laptop. John emails me a photo he just took from a downstairs window. I instantly delete it. Snow scenes that charmed in December have now lost their charm. Outside, all is white under a gray sky. Inside, I sense a grayness descending. The newspaper says ”Cold and unsettled weather will continue into early next week.” Right. Cold and unsettled. That’s how I feel.
Where’s the lovely calmness I was enjoying just yesterday? The hopefulness of new beginnings that came with January and the new year? Why this disharmony, this feeling out of sorts with myself and with others? And why are moods so inconstant, so shifting, so, well, unsettled? I pour a cup of Yogi tea and read the message on the teabag: “An attitude of gratitude.” Humph.
Readers often ask me which story in my book is my favorite. My answer is always changing. What doesn’t change is which stories come to mind the most on dark days, when I’m down on life and on myself, and see aspects of both that I pray weren’t there. Think, Rivvy, I urge myself, remember the recipes that uplift you, that lead you to a sacred life. So I stumble through the alleys of my mind and sometimes I remember whole stories: “For Days When It’s Hard to Feel Grateful.” Other times it’s enough to recall just a title — “This, Too, Shall Pass” — or an ending quotation: “Come, come, whoever you are … Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times….” Ah yes, I say, reassured. This is life, and I’m only human.
And then I remember a saying I know: “I forgive myself; I’m only human. I forgive them; they’re only human.” I had originally included it in an early draft of my book. But my friend Helen, who was one of my first readers and who is tough, said, “Being human is no excuse.” So I took that saying out. And yet, when I’m feeling edgy, guilty, angry, or down, I often find myself repeating those words, and they help me settle into a better place. Being human is not an excuse — it’s just the truth. And when I say these words of forgiveness, I feel a sense of relief and more compassion — for myself and for us all.
But what does it mean to be human, only human? To accept the winter of our soul along with its spring-like moments and ecstatic summer? I think Rumi, the Persian poet and Sufi mystic who lived in the 13thcentury, answered that well in a poem called “This Guest House.” And since Rumi is a hard act to follow, I’ll end with that and say only this: I just went outside into a world of whiteness and a single black bird flew across the white sky, making me smile … and yes, feel grateful.
This Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
–From The Essential Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks