Thick trees crowded out my view of beyond. They towered over me. Unintentionally ominous. The pines blocked my ability to see around them. They surrounded me with their smell of of earth, wood, sap and a hint of cinnamon. I felt so small and vulnerable next to their strength. Almost swallowed up by their ability to take up so much space. Their roots expanded towards me and their branches reached above me leaving little room to ground myself.
This past Christmas Scott and Leonard and I visited Tahoe (my first time!) It was beautiful! I was drawn in by all the blues of water and sky but the greens kept my interest for much longer.
I kept thinking about how this past fall was like a dark tunnel through a forest of huge looming trees. Recently Scott came home and said, “I can see it, there is actually a clearing in the trees”
I can’t fully articulate what it’s like to have a clearing in the middle of a dense forest after days and days and weeks and weeks and months of stumbling our way forward. The smallest of space, the smallest percentage of openness and good news makes all the difference.
This past fall, Scott and I found out his mom’s cancer was back. And it was back with vengeance, with tumors gaining more and more ground. Chemo was no longer a question, it was a statement and it was happening as soon as possible. My sister had a scary and sudden emergency surgery over Thanksgiving. Scott and I experience tight finances and not-so-flexible bills. I found out my best friend has a heart condition that is irreversible and puts her at risk. I have not figured out how to talk about this. I think I’ve been holding my breath ever since. Oh and did I mention how my mental health was not committing to stability at this time? I cannot tell you how many times I have re-written this paragraph and if comes across unfeeling or reporter(ish) it's because it's still scary to get down on paper.
I find it’s extremely difficult to talk about the hard stuff, the dense forest when you are walking through it. I mean, it’s great if you get through it. That’s some positive vibes. Does anyone really want to hear about how mirky the in-between is? How anxiety provoking it all is? It seems writing is much better looking back at a hard time or looking ahead, not in the middle though. Being present to it takes so much emotional energy.
So today I’m writing when I am not entirely through it but I have experienced a little clearing in the woods. I have exhaled a fraction. The clearing is giving me enough courage to actually write about it.
My mother-in-law gave me a book of poetry for Christmas and one poem has stuck with me all through the holidays, into the New Year and now into March as I keep walking among the trees of my life.
“If you stand at the edge of the forest, and stare into it, every tree at the edge will blow a little extra oxygen toward you. It has been proven. Leaves have admitted it. The pines I have known have been especially candid. One said that all breath in this world is roped together, that breathing is the most ancient language.” –Hannah Stephenson
This poem reminds me to breathe even when surrounded. I want to befriend these trees and not close my eyes to the present.
I spend my days encouraging my clients to sit with their feelings, hold their feelings and that there is another side to this pain.
But when I stare at my own scary, I want to do anything and everything but feel and be and hold. I will think and analyze and dissect and investigate but please and thank you don’t make me feel this. I will do and run and perform and think some more but giving these trees some real attention is risky. Will they grow even larger as I make eye contact?
I’m afraid the trees will swallow me up. They’re so tall and large and I’m so small and helpless next to them. I’m afraid I will become unhinged.
It’s so unfortunate that our culture has such an aversion to suffering, grief, anxiety and hard feelings. We all want to fix everything and quickly. None of this wait and see crap. We want results now! We all need lessons in distress tolerance.
For now I’m holding on to the relief of a clearing. I’m praying this crack of light can give me the courage to look at all the trees that surround me. And when courage inevitably decides to have an early retirement I will pray for the most ancient of languages, breathing through the in-betweens of life.