We went up north a few weeks ago with the intention of spending some time alone. Together-alone and alone-alone.
We stayed in a small cabin with no electricity and no heat other than a wood stove. We spent a lot of time talking and reading and contemplating.
Family blending is hard business. Hard business indeed. Eight years ago, we dove off the cliff thinking we were going to land in blue water that shimmered and sparkled, but we discovered during the fall that there were rocks waiting for us.
We’ve managed to stay afloat and to recover from difficulty after difficulty, but we needed time to stop. To assess. To back up and think. To remember and ask what could have been done differently – for the sake of posterity more than anything. To ask what can be mended and what must be released.
After many attempts to break through the untended hardness of my heart that happened to me rather unawares over a summer of unresolved conflict, I finally went off on my own.
Hours of total silence.
If you’ve never done it, you should.
At first, your mind does the dumb stuff your mind does. While trying to commune with the I Am, your mind remembers your grocery list and recites the to-do a mile long. You try to make it be quiet, but quietness, as you discover, is a hidden destination that requires an ardent search.
I walked alone. Forecasting my footfalls with the tree roots that littered my path, for even brief instances on my walk, I closed my eyes. I recognized my infinitesimal smallness. A small bit of human dwarfed by the magnitude of these forest giants.
When I arrived at the cabin, I was alone still. It was the middle of the afternoon. I had some evergreen needles that I’d broken off into my hands as I walked through the wilderness. I breathed them for a while, stunned and full of awe over the fact that something so freely available in nature could have such a powerful effect on my senses. Unlike the smells of the pre-cut trees at Christmas, the intensity of the pine smell was literally overwhelming.
I spent some time thinking about the pine tree. Doing its thing. You know. Just Being. It didn’t fret over the things I fret over. It doesn’t get its feelings all wounded when people break off its needles and carry them away. It just… is.
I did some handstands.
Be quiet, self. Be still. Why is this so hard?
I took off my sweatshirt and jeans and laid on the bed. It was cold except for the bit of warmth coming from the wood stove whose embers were dying fast. I wrapped up in the blanket.
Why must we come back to this so often? When will I be free of this plague? This insufferable burden? Will I ever arrive at a place in life that doesn’t require the work of forgiving someone? Why can’t I fight another war now? I’m so, so weary of this one.
If I can forgive you, you can forgive them.
Yes, it’s true. That’s a good point.
Forgiveness is not your enemy, Heather. It’s work, but it’s freedom. Do you want to live your whole life with your hands clenched shut in self-protection, or are you willing to sustain wounds from living with your hands wide open?
I know, I know. But also, I know that I’m sick of being lied about. I’m sick of all the false guilt I get to wrestle with. I’m weary from trying to navigate something that apparently no one else has thought to write a manual on. I feel like I’m hacking my way through dense woods here. Totally unchartered territory.
Touch it. The pain. Get your hands in it. Move it around. The reason it hurts so much now is that you’ve not touched it for so many months. Massage it. Let me massage it. And let your heart imagine the words of forgiveness. Even if you’re not ready quite yet to do the whole thing, practice it. Let the words sit in your heart. Train yourself to be kind and to give even those who hate you more and more chances. Maybe one of these times, love will prevail and you will break all the way through. And remember, hurt begets hurt. Perhaps the reason they hurt you is that they too are hurting. Isn’t that who you really want to be? A healer of hurts? Not a remember-er of wounds. Let it go. Be still.
My pen doodled in circles and swirls and sketched pine trees and words.
As far as the east is from the west, so may our transgressions toward each other be removed.
Grace be with you, and peace multiplied.
You are free. Your debt is cancelled.
Go and be at peace.
I refuse to hate you.
You are worth fighting for.
I won’t give up.
May love flow between us. Above us and behind and before us and beside us. Let it be so.
I choose to stay soft.
I choose to touch my wounds in order that they might heal. So that my life will touch yours with the healing I’ve found rather than the prickles of my anger and resentment.
God help me. These are hard things.
Later, we found each other again. We walked and talked about how hard it is. Relationships. When someone who isn’t you gets to make decisions that impact you in a terrible way. What do you do then? In some cases, you walk away. But when it’s your child, you don’t. You find a way. You fight the good fight.
Thank God for the gentle warrior who joined arms with me eight years ago and is as committed to seeing this journey through as I am. Our hopeful tragedy.
We wandered more and found a cabin in the woods. It was empty. We sat on the front steps for a while and peeked in the windows. An old iron stove and the sure signs that this cabin was just another out building that belonged to the retreat center where we were staying.
We walked more and found some kayaks. So, we took two and hooked them together. We didn’t really paddle; we just drifted. More and more baring of soul. The sound of water lapping against the sides and the occasional yodel of the loons. The lily pads had already begun their winter decomposition.
We were surrounded by immense non-humanness. We, the only two of our kind. The rest, all grand and majestic. Like two ants roaming in a fairyland.
We return to the topic at hand. Our family. This wilderness and how to make it out. How to bring eight souls together to a place of peace.
The longer I live the more I am aware that real relationship has very little to do with what I get out of the deal. In the grand scheme of things, I’m actually quite small. Relationship does not exist to answer the question of how happy or not it makes me. It’s the opposite really. Real relationship is a long walk in a dense wood. It’s showing up and being there. It’s faithfulness in mundane things. It’s the ability to lay aside the humanity within – the humanity that demands that all ills be atoned for – in order to relieve the distress of the other. It’s finding the courage way down deep to do what goes so against every angry fiber of your being. Which one of us finds it hard to love those who love us. Who treat us well. But what of those who do not. I propose that THAT is the real stuff of relationship. Finding the resolve to fight against the primal urge for revenge and the temptation to become hardened because of the pain.
In the wilderness, there are no supports and assists to make things easy. Being comfortable comes with effort and strain and even with all that, being in the wilderness is still uncomfortable. The fire dies down and you wake up cold. The belly rumbles at the midnight hour and no fridge is near. All the comforts of home that are usually so readily available are gone. And what you are left with is simplicity. A simplicity that is actually so simple that it’s burdensome. Eventually, you simply stop thinking about what you wish was and you notice this big silence around you. The trees and the birds and the evergreen needles and the lakes. All faithful to their job. Their place in nature. Unnoticed. Unseen. Just… being. They forgive the storms that come. They shelter the person who wanders in the woods. They exist for something far different than what my life has come to be busy with. Nothing is quick or simple. All is work and effort. And yet, in that place of effort, there also comes a sort of calm and peace and stillness.
In the wilderness, it’s hard to be petty. It’s hard to get yourself super wrapped up about some dumb blog that someone wrote about you that’s full of stupid nonsense. Because, in the wilderness, who flipping cares. In the wilderness, it’s hard to get bent out of shape over words spoken years ago. Words that sit on my heart like black tar that won’t wash off. Because, in the wilderness, there is too much fresh air for something so stagnant to even have a voice.
In the wilderness, surrounded by so much majesty and grandeur, it’s hard not to want to reflect a bit of that in your own heart. To allow yourself to be stretched and grown and made beautiful. In the wilderness, it’s easier to lay with open hands, half naked and cold, on a hard bed with warm thoughts about a God who wove you in your mother’s womb, who has stayed with you every step of this sometimes-rough/sometimes-wonderful journey. Who has plans that are declared to be good. It’s easier to breathe in. The freshness of the pine and the freshness of forgiveness. It’s easy to want beauty to come from the ashes you have in your pockets.
In the wilderness, when all the things that normally demand attention and keep one busy – so busy that the work of the heart has no time to be done – when they are gone, it’s possible to stop trying so hard. It’s possible to stop doing. It’s possible to simply be.
Help me let go. Help me find peace. Give my hands the art of healing and my heart the art of persistence.
Help me hang on. Help me spread peace. Give me eyes to see what is hidden from me and a heart to be compassionate.
Set me free from the heavy chains of anger for a merry and light heart is good medicine.
Come to my winter and bless me with the white snow of stain removal amidst the bleak landscape and monotone sky.