Living through the Storm
From today’s heavy rain, we see that, at least in the Portland area, the change of seasons has arrived. The fall crispness we enjoyed last week has turned to wet skies, soaked skins, and shriveling gardens. In our personal lives, we face change every day as we grow older, as setbacks occur, as loved ones die and children are born. Perhaps, like I do, you find that life buffets you at times like the winds of a storm. You may feel weighed down by news stories and Facebook feeds that catalogue the suffering of strangers from around the world. Perhaps the divisiveness of our country leaves you hopeless.
At such moments, we need a little relief, some hope in our hearts, and peace in our minds. Some of us seek that relief through oblivion, whether with drugs, shopping, television, work, exercise, World of Warcraft, Facebook, or those old-fashioned print books. Not that oblivion is all bad. Buddhist teachings aside, sometimes we need a little distraction.
The Distraction of Stories
When I was a child, I found distraction in fairy tales and myths. One story that gives us some insight into how we can cope in the face of disaster, and how we can find comfort and peace in spite of the frightening pace of change in our world, is the ancient Egyptian myth of Osiris and Isis.
In the beginning of the world, the Geb, earth god, and Nut, the sky goddess, gave birth to Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys. When Geb retired, he gave the leadership of Egypt to his eldest son, Osiris. Together with his wife, Isis, Osiris ruled with compassion and wisdom. They taught the people to grow grain and grapes, and brought them laws, music, and poetry. Because of their competence, the people of Egypt enjoyed prosperity and lived together in peace. Osiris and Isis were content.
Set, on the other hand, was not happy. A storm god associated with chaos and violence, Set resented his brother. Not only did he think he should rule Egypt rather than Osiris, but his infertility disrupted his marriage to his sister Nephthys. Wanting a child, Nephthys tricked Osiris into thinking she was Isis, and thus bore the god Anubis.
Change Wrought by Violence
Enraged at this betrayal, Set conceived a plot to kill his brother. At a party that he threw in his brother’s honor, he tricked Osiris into climbing into a casket. Locking the lid into place, Set tossed the casket into the Nile, where Osiris drowned. Then Set made himself king over Egypt. Impetuous, aggressive, sexually demanding, and selfish, Set impoverished and abused the Egyptian people.
As we can see, aggression, envy, and violence sometimes prevail over order, rationality, and kindness. Right now in our country, we feel that pain. From one day to the next, we never know what insanity will come from our president’s mouth, what laws or decrees will shatter the lives of refugees, people of color, women, the poor and vulnerable, children, the middle class, veterans, and the very Earth on which we live. Although not new, murder, profiling, rape, and intimidation have become accepted, and neo-Nazis have come out of the closet. We might draw parallels between these Egyptian gods and our two most recent presidents, Obama and Trump.
If that makes you despair, you’re not alone. It seems that we’re being ruled by a clan of men and women like Set. Although we began the arduous climb back to a time of prosperity and wholeness during the Obama administration, all our gains are threatened by the turmoil, storms, and rages of this Set-like mob.
Yet this will not be the end of our story any more than Set’s murder of Osiris was the end of the Egyptian myth. Indeed, we can learn something from the optimism, persistence, loyalty, and intelligence that Isis showed. With the help of the other gods, Isis brought life back to her husband and to the Egyptian people.
Persistence Makes a Difference
After a long search, Isis discovered the dead body of her husband. Having brought it back to Egypt, she concealed it in a marsh near the river. Out hunting one day, Set found his brother’s body and, in a rage, tore it into many pieces which he scattered throughout the land.
In response, Isis displayed incredible loyalty and perseverance. Over many months, she traveled the world, gathering all her husband’s body parts, eventually piecing pieces Osiris back together, all except for his phallus which had been eaten by a fish. Fashioning a new phallus out of gold, Isis used magic to bring Osiris back to life just long enough for him to could impregnate her.
But this is not all. Touched by her love and loyalty, the other gods chose to help Isis. Bringing Osiris back to life for good, they established him as the ruler of the underworld. Horus, the son whom Isis bore, battled Set for 80 years before finally winning the right to Egypt’s throne. Like his father, Horus ruled with justice, kindness, and sensitivity. Once again, peace reigned.
Life arises out of death. Fall turns to winter and then to spring. Osiris is the seed planted in the ground, the promise of new growth from out of darkness. Without change, there can be no life, just as nothing can grow unless something else dies to feed and nourish the seedling. Indeed, Osiris was known as the God of Transition or of Resurrection. 
In our country, we are in a time of transition. For me, the last eight years, though full of change and turmoil, seemed relatively calm. Now, as natural disasters strike and human belligerence threatens us, the instability and insecurity around the world can leave us winded and wounded. Yet our own lives are complicated enough. Nearly ever day, I hear stories from patients and clients about divorce, betrayal, illness, consuming addiction, nightmares, and the fear of death.
I take comfort from this Egyptian myth about a people who faced the same challenges we do today, a people who understood that death is only one a part of life. It is not the all of life, nor is it the end of the story. With gentle compassion, Osiris guides the spirits of the dead to their new home, a place where peace reigns.
Chaos Leads to Change
JoAnn Hardesty, who heads the NAACP in Portland, is quoted by Sasha Abramsky in The Nation as saying, “In chaos is when change happens.”  Such change might not be peaceful. The resistance that undoes the violence of leaders like Set and Trump can be taxing, exhausting, and can devolve into a chaos of its own. Yet we have an opportunity. When change overwhelms us, we can remember that Isis prevailed with the help of friends. Love, loyalty, and resilience make a difference.
Perhaps that is a kind of faith, a faith in our better nature, in the power of love. Like the gods, we can make things right again. Pain and suffering will never completely disappear. That is not the way of life. And yet in our faith and optimism, we can find a kind of peace that allows us to keep going. Remember, like Isis, we don’t have to journey alone. We are one, together. Let us learn to live in peace, let us learn to hope, let us learn to love.
In faith and fondness,
- “Osiris,” Wikipedia, accessed October 21, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osiris. See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osiris_myth and http://www.egyptianmyths.net/mythisis.htm.
- Abramsky, Sasha, “When Violence Comes,” The Nation, Volume 305, Number 10, October 23, 2017, 17-20, 19.