I’m trying not to be broken by life’s unwanted things. I’m trying to accept what too often feels unacceptable, to surrender to what feels too excruciating to bear. And hoping, trusting really, that in my acceptance, in my surrender, I’ll not be lost. A favorite author, Linda Hogan, says that, “In real life hearts break, and sometimes remain that way. Things and people close and never open again.” I know this is true. I’ve seen it happen to others and on more than a few occasions, I’ve been to that edge myself… I used to pray to be well again, to be free from the illness that has ravaged so much of my life, laying waste to everything except what’s most essential. Sometimes I still pray for that, for it all to just go away; to steal off into the night and leave just as unannounced as it came. But mostly now I pray simply not to be undone by it. I pray that if there is something to be learned from this, perhaps even something to be gained, that I be granted the foresight and the wisdom to discern and live these lessons; these gifts? I also can’t help but wonder if I didn’t somehow, someway call this terrible experience, this illness, into my life? I worry that perhaps I would have been too weak or maybe even too reckless to look deeply into the way things are, to really see and live what’s authentic without it? That I somehow needed the suffering and limitations to get to this terrible, beautiful place where I would learn with such a profound intensity to have faith, to trust, and most importantly to love.
There’s a tree that grows just outside my bedroom window. I spend hours looking at her, measuring the change in seasons by her. Spring is glorious. The tree grows nubby with promise, until I wake one day to see her covered in lace – the first signs of new leaves. With summer comes the berries, and I watch the robins and waxwings squabble for every morsel. I’ve even seen our local chipmunk brave the heights, ignoring the birds, for his fair share of the bounty. Fall is my favorite season. The leaves are on fire, orange and gold, one last hurrah before she sleeps. Then winter. The leaves have all gone now and the tree offers up her bones to me, her very soul on display. Every season seems to teach me something, to offer me something, but it’s in winter that I noticed the tree’s branches, how they reach out into the world, growing thinner and more vulnerable the deeper she stretches. I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t a metaphor, a life lesson, for how we too should reach out into the world?
Maybe I did need this darkness to realize the light. Maybe without it, I wouldn’t have found the courage to live from my heart, to follow the example of the tree, and make myself thin so that the mystery of life might enter in, and how in return, I now touch everything with a tenderness before not possessed. There’s risk involved to be sure, to be this vulnerable, to live this essentially, but I’ve come to see that I no longer have the will to live any other way.