There was an ‘Ask Polly’ advice column I read on The Cut last year about one woman’s experience with shame and loneliness that has since really stuck with me. The woman who wrote for advice was 35 years-old and identified herself as ‘Haunted’. She once viewed her life as adventurous and original, but now she feels its left her with nothing to show — she hasn’t accumulated any wealth or notable career milestones, feels she lacks deep roots in her friendships since she’s moved around so much, and lives in a bubble of shame she can't figure out how to emerge from. I pictured her going through the motions each day, feeling like nothing more than a ghost of her former self.
As a 25 year-old now, it’s easy to absorb this story as a cautionary tale. Reading through her mistakes, we tell ourselves we’ll be extra vigilant and we won't make the same ones. We’ll invest in our friendships. We’ll hustle, work hard, and we have faith we'll be recognized for our work. But even now at 25, I know I’ve spent far too many nights thinking about what I could have done differently. I’ve felt consumed with regret and even grief over a vision for the future I’ve felt I should’ve had by now.
Reading her story, I was reminded of two of the most memorable lines from Spike Jonze’s Her that centred around a longing for the past; “The past is just a story we tell ourselves,” and, “Sometimes I think I've felt everything I'm ever gonna feel and from here on out I'm not going to feel anything new — just lesser versions of what I've already felt.” Young audiences were obsessed with these lines from the film. As human beings, we have a tendency to romanticize the most painful parts of our shame. We can drown ourselves in an obsession over analyzing all the cups we’ve spilled, forgetting about the ones that still stand upright and full beside us. This is the imagery we find on the Five of Cups.
In Polly’s advice column, she writes back to Haunted,
FIVE OF CUPS
You are 95 years old, looking back at your 35-year-old self, and this is what you see: a young woman, so young, so disappointed, even though everything is about to get really good. She doesn’t see how much she’s accomplished, how much she’s learned, how many new joys await her. She doesn’t know how strong she is. She is blindfolded, sitting on a mountain of glittering gems. She is beautiful, but she feels ugly. She has a rich imagination and a colorful past, but she feels poor. She thinks she deserves to be berated because she has nothing. She has everything she needs.
The Five of Cups tells us the spilled cups are the blindfold, and the two upright cups beside us are the glittering gems. The blindfold is mourning, depression, and isolation. The spilled contents of the cups are blood and water, or life and spirit. The metaphorical death they represent can be resurrected by confronting our shame, our fear, and our disappointment. Following this confrontation, we can lift our heads up and see the upright cups start to make their way into our field of vision. We can reach out to them and grasp them.