Finding The Sun

Sunflowers. Photos by Sandy Robison

In darkness, we seek light. The light sustains us. So many things illuminate us — the love of family and a special beloved, the host of friends we hold dear who by their very presence uplift us, the family of animals we keep, who daily bring us joy.

This Memorial Day weekend, the weather of Western New York was kind and illuminated us too with fine, warm weather and sunlight. We bask in it after the long winter and delayed spring. Many spent a day or more outside in the fresh air, enjoying this respite, picnicking, walking our dogs, riding bikes, sailing boats, walking a forest glen. It’s a good time to soak up the sun, relax and recoup.

My cats — 19-year-old Zoe and the kittens Bitsy and Odin — seek the sun wherever they can find it — a windowsill, a spot on the bedspread, an open door where they can sprawl in the light and listen to birds outside. Instinctually, cats find the sun and bask in its rays a while. My old cat Zoe still asks to go out on the back deck on sunny days even in winter to sit in the sunshine. She will groom herself and close her eyes, the light engulfing her. She looks like a Buddha in her tranquility. Cats know something important, the value of finding the sun on any given day. It’s a skill humans need too.

Or maybe we do understand it, instinctively, but we have no name for it. When tragedy calls, our hearts call out to friends, to loved ones, for prayers and hugs. When we are sore hearted, broken and grieving, sometimes we cry out, but sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we simply take to our quiet corner and hide away. Usually, such a behavior does not last. Usually, we have enough of our poisonous grief after a while, so we clamber out in search of better nourishment.

Sometimes we’re lucky, and people come looking for us, asking what’s up? What is going on? Can I help? Those who do that — who ferret us out from our hiding places when we most need it — are the great blessings of our lives, aren’t they? They stroke our hair. They hold our hand. Ultimately, they lead us out of the shadows into the light again. And that’s the point.

Simcha in sunlight. Pictured at right: Odin finding the sun.

I’m one of those people who lives in the past, present and future all intermingled, interwoven in extravagant threads light and dark, swirled with colors from the palest filament to the deepest purples. I’m sure there are people who find that ridiculous. But no matter. And so when I arise every day, I arise as I am now, a woman nearing old age, but as little Sandy too, that lithe young girl full of hope and power. Inside us are all the in-betweens.The person who was once lost in despair and confusion. The person whose muddled heart could find no clear road. I am still the young mother surprised by parenthood and a hardy middle aged teacher raising sons, rising before dawn. I awake in the morning all these women because they were me. This house of self is a vast one full of many rooms, some with closed and some with open doors and windows.

Once in a moment of despair, I found myself stumbling through days. I prayed to God. I asked for help but did not find it. I looked for windows but found them locked.

On such a day, I sat on a screen porch in Florida. It was a cold day yet the sun poured in and layered itself across me. My cat Simcha leapt to a high spot, the sunniest and highest spot in the room, and sat there, staring out, looking majestic, bathing in the light. I looked at the gardens beyond and witnessed something remarkable. The faces of the giant sunflowers were all turned towards the light.

This phenomenon is termed tropism, most specifically phototropism as in this case the plants turn towards a source of light. I recalled a poem by the strange and gifted poet Christopher Smart, whose works I had read in college, where he celebrated his cat Jeoffrey: “For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him…”

It was enough, this marvel, this insight, to make me sit aright.

Later, I dug out a volume of poetry to find the complete poem and read it as I never had before. I found it sustaining. I saw all of mankind in this cat, Jeoffrey. I understood what Smart was after. “For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him. For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way…For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire, for the electrical fire is the spiritual substance which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies of man and beast…”

Cats. Bless them. They are singular and beautiful. They are cunning and disdainful, fussy and independent. They do not come when called. They do not bark gleefully and lick our faces. We have our dear dogs for that. But when cats saunter up to allow us a pat, we are grateful. When they sit basking in the sun, they are gorgeous creatures, smart and resilient. My vet said recently of old Zoe, who had a serious eye infection, “Cats have remarkable powers of healing and recovery. They handle suffering well. They know how to abide pain. They can endure so much. I wouldn’t be surprised,” she added, “if your old cat makes it through.” And my cat did.

On that day, I put on the old Beatles’ song, of course, Here Comes the Sun. I lingered on the patio bathed in light. Little darlin’, the smiles are returning to the faces. Little darlin’, seems like a year since they’ve been here. Today I am out on the back deck here in upstate New York, letting the sunlight bless me. The old cat saunters across the porch and finds the best slant of light. She turns her face to it.

I’ve learned to find the sun, too, to turn my face to it. It takes practice. It learned it from sunflowers. I learned from my cats. I learned from a crazy old 18th century poet. I learned from the Beatles, from Buddha, from the Holy Spirit. I learned from all the selves I am, all those wounded and weary parts, and all those warrior women.

Here comes the sun. Here comes the sun. And it’s all right.