Now the Immense Loneliness Begins: An Exploration of Rainer Maria Rilke.
Summer was like your house: you knew
where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.
Book of Hours, II 1 ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
You are not surprised at the force of the storm — you have seen it growing. This morning brought nothing more than a dampness that clung even to sound. The air, though, carried a chill so out of place in a southern September that it all felt strange, like a reckoning. And you knew: it will most certainly get worse than this.
Frantic weathermen called this hurricane a record breaker — 185 mile-per-hour winds for nearly 40 hours. But county upon county of creosote telephone poles, ancient cypress trees, rusty mailboxes, and tin can mobile homes soaked up her fury before she had dervished your way.
You’re ready though, at least. A little smug even. Your bottles filled with water, your lamps with paraffin. You hadn’t always known how. You too had grown numb in the opulent poverty of taps and switches; you didn’t remember the name of the nearest stream or where on the horizon the moon rose.
But you knew: this machine is broken, the center will not hold. So you sought to become right-sized again, to live within the seasons.
The tree’s blood rose. You tucked away the sweet tang of soil and sunshine in jam jars like dusty jewels. You learned the effortless poetry of plants: calendula, lobelia, vervain. You spent moments — sometimes whole mornings — in the sleek fur of your animal body, rippling the slanted light with every quick breath. You knew the interior of summer’s house, took the stairs in twos. You wore its warmth like a talisman.
And now you’re at the window, watching the world you knew blown sideways and streaming in the wind. Your fruit trees are torn from the earth, their roots like claws against a roiling sky. The jars rattle in the pantry. Now the immense loneliness begins. The parched clay cistern of your heart welcomed summer’s gregarious rains; this deluge overflows the brim and threads cracks like lightning across its surface.
And you know: this too is an invitation.
The window swells with the damp. You wedge your shoulder against the peeling frame to thrust it open. A gust eddies through the room, scattering papers to the floor. You watch the weather churn, terrible and lovely, for hours. And when the slate sky darkens with oncoming evening and the tired wind shuffles aimlessly, you feel the water lapping against your ankles.
You look down, searching along the seam between the wall and the floor for a leak. There isn’t one. Your foundation has held. You cup your hand and bring the water to your face like a sacrament. It’s not silt-strewn storm runoff, but clean, drinkable water.
You thought it would feel different, having your heart break. The ache of it, full to bursting, pressed against your ribs and stole your breath. Its shattering was a birth, a relief. And now, it whispers, you can hold it all in your empty hands. It beseeches you: Be still. Be modest now, like a thing ripened until it is real.
Tomorrow you’ll sweep the fallen branches and cut firewood for winter.
Kimberly Coburn is a Georgia native living in Atlanta, but scurries off to the Appalachian foothills as often as possible. She is a proud ginger, jack of all trades, master of a few random ones, expert catch-and-release lightning bug hunter, writer, organizer, and educator. She founded and runs The Homestead Atlanta, a small nonprofit dedicated to kindling regenerative community, reversing skills amnesia, and providing resource availability. She was honored in 2015 as a National Arts Strategies Creative Community fellow. She prizes curiosity and kindness above all else.