oh the wind
carves the hills and the
trees swirl like clouds
and the grass moves like wind
because all things are one
oh yes – we all are one
…a little poem inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s “Olive Trees in a Mountainous Landscape” (1889). We have a reproduction of this painting in our home and I look at it often. All elements have the same visual feel to them, so, to me, the painting speaks of unity of all things. This painting is said to be a complement to his famous “The Starry Night”. More about his olive tree series here.
It was difficult for months. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t seem to thread the needle. I finally accepted the unhealthiness of the situation into which I had stumbled. I was being routinely and cruelly dissected on the whim of someone who held the one thing I didn’t have (or so I had thought): power.
I didn’t want to win her game, because doing so would have made me be just like her. To persevere with a person who thrives on toxicity, offer them kindness and look for the door.
Kindness, positivity, peacefulness, and self-respect are stronger than the contrary. It may not feel that way in the moment of falling leaves, but it will when the world re-equilibrates the forest.
I had many talks with myself during those months, reminding myself that we own what we put into the world. A person who puts terrible things into the world will continue to own their terrible things unless we accept them. I worked to let much of it slide from me like water from a duck’s back, my resolve like a protective oil. I was proud of how far I had come in coping with bullies. It was amusing to watch frustration build as I did not mirror negativity back as was expected.
Still, when it is clear you don’t belong somewhere, you must accept it and let go. So that’s what I did. I left.
And then wonderful things started happening. I found a publisher for my first book of poetry (to be released within weeks!). About 20 of my poems will be published in poetry journals in 2015. I started doing Bikram (hot yoga) and quickly got rid of back pain that had plagued me for a year-and-a-half. I am helping people who need help. I am reconnecting with that which had fallen away due to misspent energy. I am myself again, fully. Only stronger.
Even during challenging times, we have choices that can reclaim our power. My mantra persists: lean on the fulcrum towards the good side of things and the good things will find you.
My mother has never admitted her mental illness to me, yet the evidence of it is undeniable. It would have made my journey (and hers) easier if she could have discussed her schizophrenia with the ease she discusses her more physical ailments.
Writing has been cathartic during my road to acceptance and finding a new happiness (documented in my poetry book to be released by Peaceful Daily in January 2015!).
There is a larger issue here than my experience. In a sense, we all bear responsibility as a culture (or cultures) for the inability to discuss mental illness. Words like crazy, insane, psycho, schizo, neurotic, mad, nuts, and lunatic are derogatory terms in English. They demonstrate xenophobia towards ailments that affect the mind. While the loathsome words that begin with N and R have thankfully fallen out of use, derogatory terms for mental illness remain a culturally acceptable part of our casual vocabulary.
The ability to talk about my mother’s mental illness openly may not have changed the course of history in my case, but nothing can improve if we cannot name it first, and we cannot openly name things that are highly stigmatized and casually denigrated.
I try to do my small part and talk about my mother’s schizophrenia openly in hopes that my openness will encourage others to be open about mental illness as they experience it in their life and the lives of their loved ones.
According to the U.S. National Institute for Medical Health (NIMH), 20% (1 in 5) Americans have a mental illness. Basically, every family has a mentally ill member. Schizophrenia is found in 1% of the general population.
So, where are they? Where are the 3 million people living with schizophrenia in America? Where are the 30 million mentally ill?
Are they hiding in isolation? Are they hiding in families? Are they your work colleagues? Your neighbor, afraid that something they feel is shameful will be discovered? Can’t we accept these members of the human family so that those who need help can more easily access it, without stigma? As we have unfortunately discovered time and again, that which is kept in the darkness finds its way into the light.
The way to begin healing is to discuss the unspeakable. Here, I’ll start.
If you follow me on twitter, you know I love to muse about the Moon. The Moon can be metaphor or quiet companion. There is comfort in watching the Moon’s monthly cycle slowly unfold. All of my moon-gazing brought questions along with it. I suppose I could have consulted NASA for the answers, but what would be the fun in that? Instead, I looked skyward, right to the source. I call it my Moon Experiment, but don’t worry. The experiment is observational only.
First, a little background, for context:
- The Moon is represented as nocturnal, like all night’s creatures. What would owls and coyotes be without a Moon as a backdrop?
- We forget that the Moon appears in the daytime too. Even as its brightness is lost in the sunlight, the Daytime Moon can be inspiring. Each time I see it, I am reminded not to be limited by expectations.
- Each month, the Moon seems to disappear for about a week or two. More nights are moon-less than can be explained by the New Moon. Where is the Moon during these dark nights?
- The Full Moon is on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun
- The New Moon is on the same side of the Earth as the Sun. We cannot see the New Moon because the dark side of the Moon is facing us. Even so, we would have difficulty looking at the New Moon because it would require looking toward the Sun! A way to think about the New Moon is that it rises and sets with the Sun, and is directly above us at noon!
In my experiment, I sought the answer to two questions.
Question 1: The Moon has incredible periodicity. How can I predict the Moon’s position each night?
To answer this, my thought experiment went as follows:
- A day has 24 hours
- The circumference of the Earth is about 25,000 miles around at the equator
- Therefore, the Earth spins about 1000 miles per hour at the equator
Adding the Moon to our equations:
- The Moon travels around the Earth about once every 27 days (this is the basis of a month, or a moonth!)
- Using the above numbers, we can estimate that the Moon must change its position by about 1000 equator-miles per day in order to make it all the way around the Earth in one lunar month (~25000 equator-miles in 27 days ≈ 1000 equator-miles per day)
- A daily off-set of ~1000 equator-miles is equivalent to a change in the Moon’s peak by about an hour each day
More simply stated, the Moon rises and sets about an hour later each day. To see this for yourself, look up at the evening sky at the same time each day starting at the Half-Moon phase, and notice that the Moon rises later. Look up again an hour later, and the Moon will be in the same place it was the night before.
I empirically tested this hypothesis over the course of the last month, and my thought experiment held up to observation. After I was convinced I was right, I googled and confirmed this is true. Multiple sources state the Moon rises and sets 50 minutes later each day. Now I can look at the sky and know the position of the Moon based on the previous night’s position!
So, we understand the Moon’s patterns a bit more. What about those extra moon-less nights? What about the Daytime Moon?
Question 2: When does the Daytime Moon appear, and why does the Moon seem to disappear for a week or two each month when the New Moon period is much shorter?
My thought experiment for this question went as follows:
- My experience is the smallest Crescent Moon one can see with the unaided eye is about a 9% illuminated Crescent Moon. I think smaller Crescent Moons cannot be easily seen in part because they appear at dawn and dusk. That is, there is too much light in the sky for easy viewing. Further, the Moon must be positioned far enough to the side of Earth that we can view the Moon’s illuminated face askance (hence the crescent shape).
- Therefore, there are more moon-less nights than one would expect from the Night of New Moon and a night or two before and after. The Moon must be positioned and illuminated enough for unaided viewing.
So where is the Moon during “moon-less” nights? Consider:
- The Moon travels completely around the Earth
- The Moon moves in one direction (East to West) around the Earth, and rises/sets about an hour later each day
- Therefore, at some point during the month, the Moon is directly overhead at each point in the day/night cycle.
In other words, the Moon’s arc peaks at midnight one night, then peaks at ~1am the next night, then peaks at ~2am the night after that, and so on. Some of the nights that seem moon-less are just nights when the Moon’s cycle and my waking cycle do not coincide. If I were to forgo sleep for a month and stare at the skies, I could see the Moon for more nights of the month than I currently do.
Okay, then what is the Daytime Moon?
- The unidirectional movement of the Moon around the Earth means that sometimes the Moon is overhead as we are spinning into nighttime (i.e., dusk), and sometimes the Moon is overhead while we are spinning into daytime (i.e., dawn).
- Given the direction of all the spinning, we know the waxing Moon is visible at dusk and early evening, and the waning Moon is visible in dawn!
In other words, the Daytime Moon, which we see in the morning, is waning!
Some parting thoughts:
I leaned so much about the Moon through observation. I have a new appreciation for early astronomers who uncovered the dance of our Solar System long ago, and fully believe this was possible with a dedicated and observant eye.
I leave you with this wonderful movie of the Moon’s movement around the Earth (source: NASA): Orbit of the Moon in 2013.ogv
Sunboy asked what happened to someone we no longer see, and so I explained divorce to him. After a few minutes he said, “Oh yeah, I know what divorce is. There’s lots of kids at school whose parents are divorced.” I don’t know why this surprised me but it did. The longer I think about it, my surprise surprises me.
My parents separated when I was six-years old and divorced when I was eight. I saw my father on Sundays from noon until 8 pm. I didn’t realize it until now, but Sunboy is two years older than I was when my parents parted ways. In many ways, I cannot relate to the life my children have: a house with a yard, a sibling, and married, educated parents. Sunboy added that he is not worried about our family. He nonchalantly commented “you and daddy love each other very much” as he rolled over to sleep.