We Forget to Die

I woke up to frozen pipes this morning. How boring. Then the furnace decided to stop working. A quick call to Scott, the air-conditioning and heating man, solved that problem. (He told me that if it conked out again, I could call him any time of day or night. “Don’t worry, I won’t let you freeze to death,” said Scott.) I have managed to coax a trickle from my spigots all around the house just to keep the lines from freezing over and breaking, but the hot water is gone. Not sure what I am supposed to do about my numb feet. Usually, I sit in a bath of scalding water to thaw out my extremities. That’s not possible this morning. I guess I could boil water on the stove and pour it in the tub with that trickle of frigid tap water . . . maybe I’ll get a little bird bath today.

Poor Lance keeps jumping on the couch (an act he knows full well is strictly verboten) because the floors are too cold and drafty for his little fairy feet. The curtains poof away from the windows with each breeze. Remind me never to adopt a century-old house again. Here we stand on that fine line between camping and living in New Orleans.

I spent the morning in a workshop offered by the Jung Society on the myth of Cupid and Psyche. So much to say about this story, but here is a short-hand review. Psyche shows us the evolution of the feminine aspect. Her name translates as either “soul” or “butterfly”. (Hmmm, just remembered that Mardi Gras is called “the butterfly of winter.”) The quality of Psyche that I most respond to is her relentless curiosity. She can not leave well enough alone. Her curiosity gets her into trouble every time. The fire department is constantly having to come and get Psyche down from the tree she has climbed on her own when no one was looking. And why? Because she had to find out what was up there, and didn’t think, think, think about how she was going to get herself down from the tree. That’s boring, right? Only the prospect of getting up the tree holds Psyche’s attention.

For example, most women would be perfectly content to be married to Cupid. Who cares if he only comes to her under cover of darkness? No relationship is perfect. This is Eros! The embodiment of Love itself, the most beautiful god in the pantheon, so charming he could sell shoes to a guy with no feet. A lot of women would just accept the limits and deal. But no, not Psyche. She has to light the lamp of conscious awareness. She must seek to know. She looks full upon the beautiful face of Love, as he sleeps. And what does Love do? He wakes and flies out the window. Because Love does not want to be seen and known and understood. He likes the dark. Damn him.

While problematic, her curiosity is also the thing that propels Psyche along her journey toward completion. Her curiosity gets her into a lot of trouble with her mother-in-law, Aphrodite. Sheesh! There’s a bitch on wheels, and what an unwholesome relationship with her son. Psyche’s own curiosity so shatters the structure of her world that she arrives at Death itself. Still, the fact remains—there is no story without her curiosity.

And without the story . . . why, there is nothing at all.

Not to leave you hanging. Psyche does turn out all right in the end, but it’s a bumpy ride. One of the tasks her mother-in-law gives her is to go to Hades and bring back a box of beauty from Persephone. Aphrodite doesn’t really need more beauty, but it’s nice to have, just in case. Psyche does as she is told, good girl that she wants to be. She follows all the rules of the underworld and makes it out with the box of beauty but then . . . arghh, it happens again. She can’t leave it alone. Her curiosity, that imp of the perverse, convinces her that she needs to know what’s in the box. Also, Psyche can’t resist a little territorial competition with her mother-in-law, the Goddess. She opens the box to take some of the beauty for herself. Psyche is certainly beautiful enough to make Aphrodite jealous, but she is still about as girly as a girl can be. She wants a little more. What could it hurt? Inside the box, of course, is not Beauty but Death. (Aphrodite tricked her!) Psyche falls into a Stygian sleep.

About this time, Cupid decides he is finished acting like an idiot. He can’t help loving Psyche still because he has stabbed himself with one of his own arrows. Hoisted with his own petard. It wasn’t her fault. She didn’t make him love her. In any case, Cupid pulls his head out of his ass and flies in to save the day, (damn him, damn him) which he can do because he’s a god. He wipes Death from her eyes and restores Psyche to life. Then Cupid, who could charm the wings off an angel, goes to Zeus and says, “Look, I’m crazy about this woman. She’s perfect in every way except that she’s human. What can you do for me?” Zeus, who has plenty of his own issues with women, says, “Okay. Poof! Psyche is immortal. She’ll be less trouble that way.”

The masculine solution to all problems: “It’s cheaper to keep her.”

After a day-long talk of butterflies and death, Emily sends this poem:

#598, c. 1862

Three times — we parted — Breath— and I —
Three times — He would not go —
But strove to stir the lifeless Fan
The waters — strove to stay.

Three Times — the Billows tossed me up —
Then caught me — like a Ball —
Then made Blue Faces in my face —
And pushed away a sail

That crawled Leagues off — I liked to see —
For thinking — while I die —
How pleasant to behold a Thing
Where Human faces — be —

The Waves grew sleepy — Breath — did not —
The Winds — Like Children — lulled —
Then Sunrise kissed my Chrysalis —
And I stood up — and lived —

With this hard freeze, my garden has fallen into a Stygian Sleep. The bougainvillea and hibiscus are sick unto Death. The gardenia, camellia and jasmine are surviving, but the rest of my foliage droops dark and limp. The freezer burn got it. I was fretting over all this loss, and then I remembered: Things are supposed to die in winter. In the rest of the world, this is a normal cycle. Only here in New Orleans do we have this unnatural expectation of continued green and blooming around the calendar. We expect it because we get it for the most part. Until a hard freeze like this descends on us. Then we’re shocked. As if this was not what we signed up for.

This is our reminder. Much needed. We forget to die sometimes. That lapse throws off all the cycles. Cuts the story line.

Right now I am feeling as fragile as a butterfly in winter. My fingertips are made of glass.

This can’t go on forever. Right?

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4 Comments

Filed under Emily Every Day

4 responses to “We Forget to Die

  1. Shaun Hunter

    Okay, you’re right. It is colder this weekend in New Orleans than in Calgary, Alberta. It is so warm here today, the snow is sunburnt and the birds have come out of their hiding places. But I haven’t seen any butterflies… yet.

  2. Constance Adler

    Wow . . . colder here than the great white north? We have stepped through the looking glass, haven’t we. What’s next? Locusts?

  3. Shaun Hunter

    Love the new blog look! Feels like spring.

    • Constance Adler

      Thank you. It’s taken me a while to get around to working with this thing. Still some kinks in the presentation that I have to fix. I am almost embarrassed to say that I know how to write html, but I do. A little bit. Just enough to get myself into trouble. (Right up that tree!) Maybe I’ll solve these kinks. Or maybe I’ll leave them because I am busy with other things. Thanks, C.

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