After the long, arduous sojourn of this past winter, we’re just about there. Daffodils of all sorts, jonquils and paperwhites, are rising from the torpor of their underground bulbs to announce a new spring – some planted along Dunbar Road, and others appearing in our burned-out meadows and woodlands. Daylight savings time finally resumed last Sunday morning, and the Vernal Equinox comes on March 20 at 9:15 a.m. Our religions observe this seasonal rebirth according to their traditions each year, such as with Passover and Easter, and this year in particular our valley is celebrating the recovery already underway from the devastation of last fall’s great firestorms.
So much was lost then, but as that great American philosopher Dr. Seuss once said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” This is not to make light of that disaster; it was horrific. I would simply rephrase this to say: to fully appreciate what we have lost is to be grateful for it having been, not heavyhearted that it no longer is. Grief is that long and difficult but essential digestive process, by which we break down the elements of the loss of something precious – using the enzymes of sadness, anger, forgiveness and gratitude – to find nourishment in what has taken place, while eliminating what is no longer necessary. What remains nourishes, and is what we are now preparing to build upon in the confident celebration of a new spring, in a new year.
Another great loss we are experiencing is taking place at Eldridge. The institution established there in 1891 as The California Home for the Care and Training of Feeble Minded Children is closing at the end of this year, 127 years later, as the Sonoma Developmental Center. The changes in names to Sonoma State Home in 1909, to Sonoma State Hospital in 1953, and to SDC in 1986, all indicate gradual changes in attitudes toward and treatment of the most severely disabled among us. Closure indicates another great change, and a major change for our community as well. Through various local organizations – including the Glen Ellen Forum, the Sonoma Ecology Center, the Sonoma Land Trust, and the Glen Ellen Historical Society – we are working to remember what has taken place there, and to plan what will happen at Eldridge next.
Saturday afternoon, April 21, the Glen Ellen Historical Society will hold a celebration at Madrone Estate Valley of the Moon Winery, on Madrone Road in Glen Ellen. There’ll be ample food and drink, the sort of live local music we are so well known for, and displays about our historic fires and the changes that have taken place and will take place at Eldridge. Because this is a fundraiser for our next steps, there will be an admission charge and (I’m told) a silent auction as well. Our next steps include plans for developing a museum for exhibitions, a library for research, and an historic park reaching from the stone gates on Arnold Drive to the cemetery – which is envisioned as a memorial park, in memory of all the people who ever lived or worked there throughout the past century.
I’ve often said that remembering is the opposite of dismembering – and forgetting is a common way that we cut parts of ourselves off; remembering regains and puts to use whatever we had previously misplaced or ignored. The other day I came back into the house saying I had forgotten my keys, and Maria remarked “not really – you remembered your keys.” Moving forward in life gathers up the experiences and lessons of life, and learning from them, being fed by them, is how we can grow and go on from here.
Another way we dismember ourselves, and discredit ourselves by pretending we are less than we are, is by the unconscious judgments that we form. Our attitude – the stance that we take in life – shapes our perspective, and needs to be without the bias of resentment and regret, sensationalism, suspicion, and contention, all of which only distort our perception of this very human condition. To judge what we or others have done or gone through in the past is patronizing, as though we know better now, and distorts what we see by neglecting our caring and understanding.
Each spring we are given is a new one, and does not indicate a recapitulation of the previous year. As Heraclitus had said, we don’t step into the same river twice – though its varying flow may seem constant. The cycle of the seasons is not a vicious circle, but a compelling spiral that carries us forward into an unknown future. It is best to be curious about what may happen next, rather than fearful of a repeat of last year’s damages.
Living life well honors the past, while preparing for a better future – one based upon a respectful, sensitive appreciation of the things that have happened. As we begin to remember the value of controlled burns to avoid wildfires, and to build our homes according to the realities of the landscape, so let us begin to look more directly – with curiosity and interest, and without bitterness and blame – upon what has happened this past year, and learn how best to take part in what will next take place, as this new year now begins to flower.
Jim Shere is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Glen Ellen. He is also a writer and poet, and a member of the Glen Ellen Historical Society. You are invited to explore his website at jimshere.com.