Cleaning my workspace the other morning a line from a song kept playing on a loop in my inner ear, “Me and my shadow, all alone and feeling blue.” After a bit I began singing the line out loud and a second line came, “Me and my shadow, not a soul to tell our troubles to.”

I consider this type of experience a message to me from a part of me that’s smarter than I am. So, I stopped what I was doing and googled the song. It was written in 1927 which was quite a while before I was born. I did find a children’s version so maybe I did hear the song growing up. Judy Garland sang a “poor me” sorrowful version in a film, while Sinatra with his African American sidekick, Sammie Davis Jr playing his shadow, took an upbeat and raucous approach.

Hum, what’s this have to do with me? According to the calendar, we’re finally coming to the end of this disastrous year. As we lift our glasses to count down our welcome to 2021, we’re imagining together that this new year will be the beginning of the end of our COLLECTIVE grief. Our individual losses have been many–the loss of our personal plans, loss of income or sense of financial security, the loss of social connections– being able to gather in- person safely with family, friends, playmates, and the loss of confidence and trust in organizations we thought we could count on–government, the medical system, even our belief in the enduring strength of our democracy. 

Me and my shadow, all alone and feeling blue The shadow, according to the psychologist, Carl Jung, is the unknown part of a person and of human nature itself. Being alone, particularly in a dreamlike state, (like a song?) can provide the opportunity to meet that side of ourselves. The shadow is sometimes referred to as the” dark side” though facing the shadow also reveals a person’s light. 

Jung suggests that “knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people. Playing with our shadow as the comic strip character Pogo does is the best way to get to know it. “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Me and my shadow, not a soul to tell our troubles to. 

It would be hard to find anyone who hasn’t been experiencing loss though, due to the unrelenting frequency and number of losses, most people have not had time to grieve or process their losses. The isolation of quarantine and sheltering-at-home, and the lack of in-person ceremonies when loved ones have die, have made it harder to companion one another and grieve together. Some of this will be work for after the pandemic when we have the distance and perspective only time can provide. 

The comedy and tragedy of this past year is that, in the midst of mass tragedies–fires, hurricanes, floods, daily reports of lives and livelihoods lost due to the pandemic, demands for racial reckoning long overdue–we have not had leaders that were aware of their own shadows, their own dark side.

A shadow that is not known and accepted is projected on to others, leaving the collective community members feeling even more isolated and alone. In Jung’s system, society itself has a collective shadow he calls the “collective unconscious.” This hidden shadow contains commonly shared fundamental beliefs, norms and values. It is maintained and passed through generations by the stories, myths, and rituals that the society tells and upholds.  

If there is any good news from all the rancor and division we’re been experiencing in the body politic, it’s that the generational collective unconscious agreements are being challenged. As individuals play with their own shadow selves, the songs and the culture change. We and our shadows, not alone though often blue. We and our shadows, facing up to all our troubles true. Wishing you peace, joy and health in 2021.