Winter was relatively quiet on the farm where I grew up. We spent more time with neighbors and relatives in the long, dark evenings, after dads and uncles had spent the day repairing farm equipment or logging.
In my memory, a lot of this wintry time takes place at my uncle’s comfortably ramshackle, two-story farmhouse. This house had a big potbelly stove in a spacious living room, where my aunt used to put me down for naps in a cupboard drawer and where we watched her “stories” with her in the afternoons. It had a huge kitchen, dominated by an enormous, legendarily cluttered table. I remember the smell of fried potatoes, and the sink filled with dishes, and—am I remembering this right? —an old, mangle washing machine in the corner.
But mostly, I remember the voices. On a given winter evening there might have been a dozen of us clustered around that table, perhaps with a kid or two perched on the countertops, balancing plates on their knees. Dinnertime was a sort of performance; speaking up was a big deal because it meant people would listen to you. If you didn’t have something worth saying, or better yet, worth laughing at, the conversational gods would quickly pass over you. There was a lot of pressure to be compelling.
Much more enjoyable was the after-dinner talk. Technically, this was a grownups-only zone. Kids had mostly scattered to the cousins’ attic bedroom or in front of the TV, leaving the adults to talk among themselves in a pleasant, low rumble, punctuated by laughter.
I was the kind of kid who is drawn to the delicious drone of voices like a bee to the sweetest nectar. So I was usually lurking around the edges of that big conversation, tucked under the table or burrowed into someone’s lap. In the same way I can hum certain songs from my youth without recalling more than a snippet of the lyrics, I could not tell you what the adults at that table spoke about. It didn’t matter to me in the least. It just mattered that the voices I loved were swirling around me like a protective cloud. It meant that the grownups were on the scene, and I was safe.
Now that I’m one of the grownup voices at these sorts of gatherings, I think I have a better sense about what it might have been like for the adults at the table. There would have been simmering disagreements, stories shared, ideas debated; gossip about other folks not present; infectious, uncontrollable laughter triggered by memories of ancient, shared history.
My house has been filled with gatherings of voices over these past few weeks. They have been warm and funny and convivial, and I’m grateful for the sense of fellowship they’ve given me. But for the grownups at the table, conversation isn’t the comforting background noise that lulls a child to sleep. It’s vital and sometimes contentious, and the effort of it connects us more deeply to our fellow humans. Grownup conversation is not designed to make us feel safe.
We’re at the last Full Moon before the Winter Solstice; here in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s cold and darkness falls early, and lord knows we want to be warmed and comforted. The Full Moon in Gemini symbolizes revelatory conversations that reveal the full color of the Sun in Sagittarius’ beliefs. Around the grownups’ table, even the old stories warmly told, reminiscing about childhood and those who are gone, reveal the ideologies and creeds that have been passed down to us. But Gemini is the voice of the child on auntie’s lap, the emissary from the next generation, asking the innocent, embarrassing question that challenges the inherited narrative.
This Full Moon is opposed by Jupiter in Sagittarius and square Mars. It’s time for important conversations, challenging ones, that we don’t necessarily want the children to overhear. There is for some the sorry sense that language is useless because talking doesn’t solve anything and information can’t be trusted. I don’t know if talking solves anything, but it absolutely matters. Language is the currency of understanding. And the cost of sitting at the grownups’ table is the loss of bright innocence and the comforting drone of older voices.
The Gemini Full Moon challenge is to reveal ourselves through our words, and to talk about the things that matter. This doesn’t mean we can’t use magical language; the older I get, the more I resort to indirect and magical means to create forward motion that isn’t possible any other way. But every now and then, the magic wand is replaced with a sharper weapon.
Over the years, I’ve made a conscious effort to keep my essays as inclusive as possible, which mostly means avoiding politics (and that isn’t easy in an age when not even the weather is a neutral topic of conversation). But grownups at the table must sometimes have difficult conversations. Ideally they should be constructive ones, but I’m no saint, and I get angry sometimes. And I stand by that, because anger is the right reaction to ugly rhetoric or bullying.
But it’s sobering to be a grownup at the table, to feel no comforting generational buffer between me and a world that seems cold and mean and threatening. I imagine that those who disagree with me about other things can relate to that, at least. I’d like to be one of those comforting, droning, far-away, Charlie Brown-adult voices. But it’s a Gemini Full Moon, square Mars, and we’re the grownups at the table. So we have to have the hard conversations. We have to tell our truths and take our lumps. Most of all, I suppose we just have to keep talking.