New years , new beginnings and all that jazz. I am not one for resolutions; I do not wait in line to purchase a ticket for the train of guilt after a season of indulgence. The entire winter season is an introspective pilgrimage for me. As a result, I do a lot of purging of things and people who no longer coincided with my journey or nourish the heart and mind. Many people hit the new year with a jolt of over exuberant enthusiasm which quickly fizzles out. I like to take it more in the style of a lazy Sunday morning, long stretches with my eyes heavy from a cathartic nights sleep, or so I had until now.
The other night, I woke with a deep ache. One of those aches so hollow and so void, you simply gasp in desperate confusion. Sat upright in bed, I could not breathe. It felt as if a tree had been uprooted from the center of my chest. An ancient oak or a bone bare sycamore had been pulled with violent force, each root vehemently dislodged from its home dragging soil and all to regions unknown. There I was, left with a yawning hole in the center of my chest.
Sleep did not meander back into my room that night, instead I wandered in the dark along the marsh. Counting one, two, three, breathe, I reminded myself to slowly inhale. Although my lungs finally cooperated by inflating in unison and my head ceased to swirl about the night sky, my feet were wet and cold and the gaping void was still there, sucking in the night air with the rise and fall of my chest.
A bit muddled and feeling abandoned by something I had no idea was there, I decided to walk it out. To put one foot in front of the other until nature had balm my wound closed. A crisp sunny day and a long walk along the paths of the old rice plantation would be my cure. Fractured leaves in my wake, I walked along one of the narrow tree lined paths, a small rise edged by a levee on one side and the rice fields on the other. The tall grass was ornamented with the bright white heads of egrets, and a parade of drakes floated by with nary a wave.
One, two, three and breathe.
Emerging from the trees onto a small clearing, I paused to look out over the fields. One, two, three, inhale and close my eyes.
Exhaling, I opened my eyes to a flash of blue below. Below my perch, without a concern for my presence was a Great Blue Heron. Just the night before, I had finished reading a 14 night series on Old Crane Woman by Sharon Blackie . Silently, as a woman can possibly be, I walked to the edge of the water and squatted down to get a closer look. Herons are common in the Lowcountry; I see them often on my ambles but this one interested me. Perhaps it was the recent readings or it was the arch of its neck, the sun on its feathers or maybe it was just me fully awake.
Sitting quietly, I watched it preen and holding out one wing at a time for inspection it groomed each with deft care. It looked about. It looked down at its feet as if in deep thought and then raised its head staring straight at me.
It was then I noticed it was standing on a fallen tree in the water and there I was with the roots at my feet. I was the one being inspected, given the once over by Old Crane Woman herself. My tree fell at my feet and sliding down the bank into the murky waters of a long abandoned rice paddy. The wind echoing low howls through the vulnerable cave that it had left in my core.
She just stared at me,
“Ok, I have your attention. Finally!
So, are you brave enough?
Do you have the courage to reach your hands deep inside that hole and dig out the remaining grime?
Will you scoop out every last drop of the putrid stale waters, once and for all?”
It would be foolish to deny the tears which surged over my lids and spilled down my face.
One… Three. I had lost count and forgotten to breathe.
The Old Heron was unremitting in her stare; she was waiting for me to get it out of my system, waiting for me to acknowledge the significance of the roots in my face and the branches sinking into the mire. Mostly she was waiting for me to concede her brilliance in the bright winter sun.
“Now what are you going to do with all that space girl?
Are you going to fill it with alluring distractions and fickle plans and people who vanish moments after conception?
Are you going to take on the responsibility of every vapid, lazy and lost person or cause in your path, just to avoid the reality of yourself?
Or, are you ready for the real work, the Sacred work?
It won’t be short and sure as hell won’t be easy.
Pity is not given to the genuine, and you will get none from me.
The drab frock of smallness never suited you
Life is spinning about you and it is time to acknowledge your legitimacy.”
And with this she turned away and silently took flight. Leaving the tree to slowly sink into the water, I stood and watched her rise above the grass.
Such marvelous inventions, wings.
Soaking in the tub, I placed a hot cloth over the wound. Its edges were clean, the flesh pink and healthy, it was my assignment, my obligation to feed it with nourishing ointments, to protect it from would be infections. If necessary, I would escort myself into exile to gather the strength to protect what was tenderly sprouting inside.
Before bed, I consulted the cards for guidance. I pulled only one card.
There she was.
Content and filling her own cup.
So it began….