Two nights ago, I woke in terror as the mechanical screech of a missile...no, a jet...no, just an airplane? jolted me from my sleep. It took me several minutes to calm my racing thoughts, which had, for inexplicable reasons, immediately jumped to running upstairs to grab my oldest child and bring him downstairs to the big bed with the rest of his family to keep him safe. My younger child was still fast asleep next to me. My thoughts raced wildly as I smelled the air floating in from outside. Would nuclear warfare have a certain smell? Would I feel my skin burning first, or would my vision change? I was awake for hours after I finally could believe that my anxiety had seized my awareness in the night.
I was deeply disturbed by my irrational(?) fixation with the fabricated horror. And then, in the same breath, I felt sickeningly, deplorably privileged because I did not actually know what a missile sounded like, and I had never had to so viscerally feel fear for my family's safety. Nevertheless, visions of mass shootings and local murders, disturbing national and global headlines of all kinds - layered with personal fatigue and heavy feelings - brought everything close enough to push me to an edge of terror from which I knew I needed to retreat.
I needed grounding and reminding. I needed to feel the peace of wild things, to touch ancient beings and immortal truths, to open myself to messengers and signs seeking to bring me back to center.
I decided in the darkness that I would go to the forest later that morning with my children.
The drive to Bernheim Forest brought fresh tears at every turn. Dead deer littered the edge of the road; the sight of those majestic, limp bodies tossed aside as cars whizzed by left me aching. Autumn's brilliance was a patchwork quilt of colors covering the rolling hills under morning's gray sky. I choked back sobs at the brilliant show, knowing it was to be brief and would pass as November waned. I cried acknowledging tenacious trees clinging by the roots to rock cliffs, the regal rich green of pines in sturdy rows, the sweet musings of my oldest child from the backseat, the soft and sleepy breathing of my younger child.
We arrived in the forest. My children ran ahead as we began to meander a path in a figure eight around two large, adjacent lakes. I marveled at the water's pristinely still surface, how not one thing seemed able to disturb it, although leaves were falling all around like manna. As twin watery mirrors to the surrounding trees and cloudy atmosphere, I saw in the lakes a rim of light and a central, murky portal to Somewhere Else. Cardinals and blue jays crossed our path, beckoning us forth. I felt myself sinking into that parallel place of attention, lost in the movement of transient color and ancient form and time at a cadence my imagination can barely fathom - a mobius strip of wondrous illuminations of what it can mean to exist, at this very moment, as Human.
Old ones lined our path: Hornbeams, Hollies, Dogwoods, Oaks, Elms. We spoke their names aloud like a prayer litany, Oakie running to each small sign at their roots, begging to know, "What does this one say?" We came to a log of petrified wood more than 350 million years old, and I felt like kneeling to it; Ronin immediately ran his small hands over the bumpy bark, exploring its texture and weight with fingers that formed less than a few, fleeting years ago. We rested our palms side-by-side on it as if it were a relic from some long-gone saint from which we drew essences of holiness and fortitude.
As the day wore on, I began to push the little ones along in a stroller to continue my pilgrimage around the Big Prairie. Above me, regally presiding over the dying grasses and striving saplings for acres and acres, was a sculpture - "Let There Be Light." She raised her arms against the shroud of Fall, amid darkening days, strong and commanding. A pair of crows leapt and danced among her trees, their raucous cries echoing across the fields and into the hills. I something stirring within me as fresh tears brimmed, and I knew I would circle back for a longer visit.
Many times, the movement of the Spirit feels impossible to put into words. Even calling it "Spirit" suggests I am referring to something immaterial and ethereal, otherworldly or ephemeral. But when I say Spirit, I mean this: the clear intuition I had before I began a walk I knew would be too long to a destination I knew would not fulfill its desired intention. I pushed my children to a far end of the forest and we all arrived exhausted, unable to enjoy its beauty. Spirit had told me - or the part of myself I might call Spirit, which is nothing I imagine as separate from any other part of me, had somehow Known - that this was not the ideal path.
I also mean this when I invoke Spirit: that things somehow, in spite of our unwillingness to see the movement, still come to us in infinitely inspiring and mysterious ways we can use. Although there is surely some universal order or cosmic reasonability that could illumine the traceries and trajectories leading to and from any given Moment, I find myself suspended in time with all the waymarks and wisdom right there, inexplicably encapsulated in my small sphere of awareness.
My children forgave my foolish ignorance; they drifted to sleep as I made the long trek back from whence we came; and I made my way back to the Goddess of Light. I parked my children at the foot of the hill and made my own, solitary way to pay homage to her.
I bowed to her, then to the expanse before her, sensing within myself a certain power to speak into Being Something from Nothing.
In that brief, liminal space, I brought the blood and tears of death and destruction the world over; the pains and sufferings of each One longing for sustenance, security, and an abiding sense of belonging; the terrors of every person who ponders the legacy of violence, bigotry, and planetary instability we bequest to our children; the oppressive noise and incessant clamor of distraction from what Life can fully Be; the cry of Earth in distress and the cosmic hymn of forces striving to unite, to create, to birth.
I cannot carry the World's Hurt alone - but, for a moment, I can hold it, and surrender, it and offer it up to all that is beyond me and all of which I am very much a part. I can raise my arms and release what paralyzes me, embrace what empowers me. I can bask in a moment of being alive and awake to the miraculous happening of everything. I can participate in the coming together of what has evolved for aeons to this point AND what is spontaneously emerging from this particular alignment of forces, never before seen, never to be fully understood, never observable or measurable or capturable because, a mere moment later, it is gone.
I looked up. Above me, a hawk slowly circled - one, two, three times - before sailing silently into the trees and out of sight.
This is how the trees feel their eternality, how a human feels as if she could fly.
Light and Dark, Leaf and Wing, Rising and Falling, Power and Surrender, All That Is and All That May Be,
Pray for Us.
I walked back down the hill to my children, and finished our journey back to where we began.
As we crossed the bridge, a family of five geese floated without a sound under our feet.
I thought of my husband, myself, my two children, and the small being in my womb.
We headed home again.
I slept long and hard that night after many, many more tears.
Today, this morning, I drove in the rain through Cherokee Park.
Suddenly, at a stop sign, I looked left and started as I found my eyes meeting the fixed gaze of a young buck. He stood still in the drizzle, staring at me for a few seconds of intensity, then slowly sauntered back into the woods, and was gone.
All that was left was the rapid beating of my heart,
my heavy breathing,
my astonished laugh,
my eyes, closing in gratitude, hanging on to what I know really happened.