This is Not a Test

My life is not much different now, except that I’m not working. I’ve always spent most of my free time in solitude. In Nature. The only true authority over me. The poison broadcasted over the airwaves has no power here. Messages are carried in the wind, in birdsong, in the river’s defiant flow.

The wind. A presence in a perpetual state of wandering. The most faithful messenger, it delivers dispatches from the Otherworld. People are losing their minds. The veil of illusion is dissipating. Collectively and individually. The usual habits of avoidance have been ripped away. Tough love from the Universe. It is time to be still and examine the life one has chosen to create.

I had plans for a voyage to a river, the Mother of all rivers. A date with a shaman and a magic plant. I had prepared myself physically and mentally for months. I was not about to cancel. Half-empty planes! A Machu Picchu without the selfie stick hoards! Let everyone else stay home.

The past few months have been filled with betrayals, violations, disappointments. Utter discouragement consumed me. I’d done everything I was supposed to do. Kept my eyes open for opportunities, followed the signs, let go of attachment to outcomes. The beautiful connection I had to the Divine was brutally unplugged. The sparkle in my eyes vanished. This trip was to be my light in the darkness.

I stagger around my wilderness, overcome with grief. The cold Earth beckons. I fall to my knees. Be still now. Just stop. Let me hold you. The turmoil transforms into dawning light. Suddenly, I understand: no one escapes this. No more running away for me, either.

Even in silent solitude, my mind was always at work. Formulating, organizing, analyzing. Gotta figure it all out! Now, in this enforced inertia, I give myself permission to do nothing at all. I sleep. I stare out the window at the falling rain. Thoughts disintegrate when you pay no attention to them. The peace left behind is exquisite. Why didn’t I do this before? In the stillness, ancient emotions arise like toxic bubbles in a stagnant pond. Sluggish and murky. So old, I can’t even determine their origin. I embrace these lost children of my soul, allow them to speak, and witness their transmutation into love.

I cuddle up in bed under a pile of blankets. An alert on my phone pierces the ear-ringing silence. As of midnight, we are forbidden to leave our homes except for essential reasons. Childhood memories resurface: noon sirens blasting through the streets of my tiny hometown. Sudden static on the radio. The rainbow spectrum on the television. That aloof dystopian voice. This is a test of the emergency broadcast system. This is only a test. Back then, it was a mere annoyance. The sirens made the dogs howl. Entertainment was momentarily interrupted. I always felt a faint undercurrent of apprehension. Someday something was going to happen. I needed to be prepared.

This is not a test. This is it. Maybe not The, but an apocalypse, surely the first of many. It is not fear, but curiosity that fills me. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. And I’m exactly where I need to be.

I am staying in the cottage that Grandpa built, which is next door to my parents and three cottages down from my brother Billy. My own little cabin will be built this summer, just across the street. Maybe. Nothing is sure anymore. My youngest brother Grant owns a hundred acres just a few minutes’ drive away. We all feel as though we were summoned here.

Every day, I go next door to see my parents. They give me the briefest of updates on the virus. Michigan is in bad shape, but it’s centered way down south, in Detroit. My mother wonders if I get lonely. My smile is tinged with sadness. I’ve never been lonely or bored in my life, except when I’m around most other people. There’s no one I’d rather spend time with than myself.

I can feel, in the distance, the invisible radiance that hovers over the cities. A corona of terror. Energetic pollution that spreads over the countryside. A tremor overtakes me. The first panic attack I’ve had in years. I take deep breaths and allow it safe passage. It does not belong to me. Anymore.

I stroll down the dirt road, singing to myself. A Duran Duran song from the eighties. Billy emerges from his place, trailing behind River, his Australian shepherd. I smile at the synchronicity. We meet up at his trail, which cuts through his property. He stops and backs away, his face pinched with irritation.

“Are you afraid that I’m going to infect you?” I snicker. “It’s not like I ever see anyone.”

He shakes his head. “No, I’m afraid I’ll infect you. I’ve had a sore throat for a couple of days. Nancy and I ate at a restaurant where one of the workers was ill with the virus.”

His trail ends at what used to be the railroad tracks. It’s been converted to a bike and snowmobile trail. We walk on opposite sides. I don’t tell him that my body aches to the core. No matter what I do, I am chilled to the bone. I am not sick, however. I am being rearranged.

Instead, I say, “I think I saw wolf poop, yesterday, on the trail just up ahead.”

He perks up and nods. “I saw tracks after the last snowfall. You can tell it’s a wolf by the size of the tracks and the gait.”

We fall silent. I hop off the trail, into the meadow. “See you later.”

His shoulders finally relax. He lifts his skinny hand in farewell and heads for home.

This time of year is the most nostalgic for me. The smell of thawing soil and thickening moss and mushrooms. Earthy, mysterious aromas. My grandparents brought us here every spring break. Billy and I would explore the awakening forest for hours, in almost total silence. This has always been my true home. My own backyard in my hometown downstate became exotic lands in my imagination. But here was always here. Nowhere on the planet do I feel safer.

The ghosts of the Otherworld ask, “How are you going to spend your day?” As if time were currency. Which it is. I’ve always considered my free time as wealth.

The borderland between defeat and surrender is obscure. Twinges of guilt linger. I can at least write something. A leaden weariness fills me. I think I will let that go, too. Does it even matter if I write anything, anymore? I sink into the Earth and stare Heavenward. I am so tired. The clouds part and converge. The spring sun has stage fright. It is not yet ready to shine.

To the ghosts of the dying world, I whisper in reply, “Falling through the sky.”

At the edge of the woods, near the river, I come upon a deer skeleton. It has been savagely ripped apart. Fur carpets the ground below it. Not a shred of flesh remains. The wolf, again. A flicker in my heart. Instead of revulsion, I am overcome with awe. Nature is life, but also death, resurrection, and light. All of it is beauty.

A wave of despair washes over me. Death throes of a life that no longer exists. If only I could vanish, forever, into the embrace of this wilderness. Let my body be consumed by creatures and my bones bleached white by the sun.

I have done almost everything that I set out to do. I did not take the easy route. I did not harden my heart or let the darkness I’ve known poison my soul. Whatever happens in this new Earth, I’ve been as true to myself as a human can be. I have truly lived.

At the riverbank, I come to rest. Sunlight shimmers on the currents, forming ever-changing constellations. Infinity illuminated.  A soft, golden glow infuses my atoms. I merge with the flow and let it carry me onward.

The Island of Truth and Lies

Bali, Indonesia – March 2019

I am in the void. Conscious and floating on my back. A copper shimmer traces infinity in the blackness above me. It spins into two eyes. They lean close and stare into mine. Shiny pennies. I catch my breath. Unfurl, exhale. Okay. Look. I’ve got nothing to hide. The gaze is curious, amused. Familiar.

I move my lips in the softest whisper. “Who are you?” The eyes recede into the murk. The spell is broken. A languid ascent from sleep’s abyss. “You are me. Aren’t you.”

I pull the mosquito net aside and rise from the bed. Step outside into the dawn sunshine. Swim through liquid air. A delicious glow has invaded my atoms since my arrival in Bali. Wicked intoxication. It feels just a little too good. I float into the dining area and lower myself onto a cushion, still unable to speak.

Pebby gives me a knowing look. “I always have the weirdest dreams when I sleep in that room.”

I find my voice and tell her mine. She nods. “Uh huh.”

My little sister Penelope – my “Pebby” – teaches science at an international school for expat kids. She has aged so little in the almost nine years since we were last together. Hers is feral beauty. Deep olive skin. Eyes a rich, earthy green. Hair that changes hue depending on the light.

“I feel so strange since I’ve been here. So good, but apprehensive, too.”

“Bali tests you. They even asked me during the interview if I was mentally strong. So many marriages break up here. So many people fall apart.” She tells me of her longtime on and off boyfriend’s recent visit. After so many years, she saw how ugly he was, on all levels. She can’t stand him anymore.

Her dog, Lala, lies in a patch of sunlight. Mottled hyena fur, bloated body, shrunken head, feet like chicken claws. Her stinky feet stench persists no matter how often she gets washed. The sweetest dogs are so often the most hideous.

Pebby takes me on a tour of the school. On the scooter ride home, a downpour ambushes us. I arch my back and let it wash over me. There’s something so luxurious about being drenched by tropical rain. I wouldn’t trade this for the comfort of a car. Sensations are the most memorable part of a voyage. Warm raindrops on bare skin. The aroma of cooking grease, vehicle exhaust, and incense intertwined in the dense air. The vivid rainbow colors of traditional dress. The percussive thud of my heart beating with exhilaration.

When we get to her house, we sink into the cushions. Into the comfort of reminiscing. The family. Dad. Gone so long now. We have both mellowed so much over the years. We have survived, and, despite the dark times, thrived.

March 30, 1981

Ronald Reagan has been shot. My family gathers around the television. The footage is replayed over and over. Pebby is lying on her stomach, legs bent, chin on her hand. “Watch. Now the Pope’s going to get shot.”

The person who used to be my dad stares at her, eyes ablaze. His lips move. My mom frowns at him and switches off the television. He rises from the La-Z-Boy chair and goes to the basement.

The entity who now inhabits my dad’s body calls himself The Mediator Between God and Man. We are no longer his family, but his disciples. He has a small following at St. Anthony’s church. They like to hear his prophecies. They think he’s special, because he uses big words that they can’t understand. They are so stupid. Nothing he says makes any sense at all.

The Pope is shot just weeks later. “You know things, Penelope. Tell me what you know.” He follows her around the house and the yard. Takes her for long drives. When he was a young boy, he made tapes of his prophecies. A priest stole them. The neighbors across the street are in on the conspiracy. “Where are my tapes, Penelope? Tell me where they are.” When she hears his footsteps coming down the hall, she crawls under the bed. He barges into our room without knocking.

This is me: twelve years old, ninety pounds of freckles, braces, and unruly blonde hair. I clench my fists. “She’s not in here.” I glare into those piercing black holes. What did you do with my dad, you bastard? Bring him back. He leaves. I slam the door behind him and slide the desk in front of it.

I peer under the bed. Fierce eyes stare out of the shadows. A wild animal in the underbrush. “It’s okay. He’s gone,” I whisper. But still she doesn’t come out.

My siblings and I held each others’ hands through early adulthood, keeping watch for signs of incoherence, paranoia, delusion. The voices. It’s said that if none manifest by the age of thirty-five, you’re out of the woods. Other than an eccentricity that we embrace, we have made it. A doctor once told my mother that it’s a miracle that we aren’t all drug addicts or dead. Love is what saved us. Before my father’s schizophrenia spiraled out of control, life was stable. We were taught right from wrong. That there is a reason to persevere.

We have a deep connection to spirit, but an innate aversion to fervor. An impeccable bullshit radar. We are unable sit in congregations and nod our heads in unison. We prostrate ourselves before no one. The voices in our heads are our own. Ego chatter and, with increasing frequency, guidance from the Higher Self.

Our conversation switches to the present. Her work at the school. My work as a bartender this past winter at a dive bar in my village in northern Michigan. Most of the patrons live in the dodgy rooms upstairs and have lost the right to drive. The bar is their universe. I’m so grateful for all of the colorful stories I’ve gathered. But I am exhausted.

Tomorrow we leave for a trip to Komodo National Park, after which I will take off for a few days. To Ubud, a place of pilgrimage for the New Age crowd. Pebby snickers. “We all laugh about the Ubudian Yoga Pants People. So annoying. But it is a pretty area. A good base for day trips.”

I wander to my room, stopping to give Lala a goodnight scratch behind the ears. I tuck my mosquito net firmly under the mattress. A poisonous snake crawled up through Pebby’s shower drain a few weeks ago. One of her friends found a six foot cobra in her bedroom. I take no chances.

My head sinks into the pillow. Eyes close. Fade. To white. The brain flickers. Not a dream. A transmission. A sentient radiance streams through the leaves of a giant oak tree. An eminence, benevolent and awesome, prowling on the periphery. The truth has nowhere to hide under this illumination. It sees me. Are you ready?

I lift my face to the immaculate rays. Deep breath. Yes.

It is my second to last day of work.

“Hey Barbie, how much to show us those beauties under that sweater?” I deliver their cans of Budweiser and walk away. In order for me to be offended, I’d have to give a shit. Which I don’t. “You’re a beautiful woman. What do you expect?” An accusation not a compliment.

A soft-spoken hulk of a man sits in his usual spot next to the kitchen. His name is Randy. “I can’t believe what you ladies put up with.” He shakes his head. “Makes me ashamed to be a man.”

I sigh. “The women are no better.” Such delight taken in deceit and manipulation. The stupid games and fabricated drama. Everyone is cheating on everyone and they’re so proud of it. I’ve had quite the education about modern love these past few months.

Every day after work, Randy drinks a few beers here, not enough to get a DUI. Then he goes home and drinks himself to sleep in the basement, which has become his bedroom. When he tells me the things his wife says to him, my stomach turns. He stays for the kids. And, in spite of her abuse, he still loves her.

I go into the kitchen to fetch a food order. When I turn around, Randy is standing there. He shifts his feet, holds out a calloused paw. “Well, have fun in Bali. I’m really glad I met you.”

I look at him. So humble. So broken. My heart swells. I wrap my arms around his neck and squeeze. “You’ll see me again. I’ll come by.”

When I pull away, he bows his head and hurries out the door. “Take care of yourself.”

But the next evening, he’s sitting in his usual place.

I smile. “Hey! Told you we’d see each other again.”

He lifts his glass. “I’m drinking coke.” He grins. “I quit drinking.”

“Wow. Really?”

“That hug you gave me…did something to me. It made me realize that I’m not a piece of shit. If a nice lady like you thinks I deserve a hug, then I can’t be.” He takes a deep breath. Exhales. “No matter what she says.” He pulls himself up tall. Steely glint of determination in his eyes. “And another thing I did. I made an appointment with a counselor. I’m going to get to the bottom of all my stuff.” He pushes back from the bar. “Gotta go. Just wanted to stop by and tell you.”

I can only manage a whisper. “I gave you the hug, Randy, but you let it in.”

He lifts his hand in farewell and strides out the door.

I retreat to the kitchen and slump against a wall. Head in my hands. Oh, this beautiful, broken world.

There’s a finality to everyone’s goodbyes. A resignation. It’s as if they know they’ll never see me again. Underneath it all, they don’t want to see me again. Not because they don’t like me, but because I come from such a different world. When I told them I was going to Bali, they looked it up on the internet. “You are making a difference, JD. I want to do that, too.”

“I’m just going on vacation.” I laugh and shake my head.

“You are an angel.”

But I’m not.

Too many days too close together. A tiny room on a small boat. Clouds converge, much more ominous than our usual tension. Pressure deepens. Thunder rumbles. Lighting flickers. By the time we get back to Bali, the tempest is in full force. A cloudburst of old, old resentments. My retaliation is unrestrained. Did those words just come out of my mouth? Things that can never be unsaid. And yet, it is possible to feel both profound remorse and unapologetic. It needed to be said. We retreat to opposite corners of the house. When she leaves for work, I emerge.

I lie on the wooden floor next to the garden, weighed down by a leaden heart. Luminous petals of sunlight stream through the frangipani tree. I’ve lost my cool, my bliss. It’s been so long since anything, or anyone, has pushed my buttons. I close my eyes. I’m being too hard on myself. No one ever evolves beyond doing things that require forgiveness. Just chill out.

The click of thick toenails on wood. Grunts of exertion. An odorous cloud wafts around the corner. A daft, bony face appears.

I lift my heavy head and smile through a sigh. “Oh, Lala. You are so beautiful.”

Letters are exchanged. Pebby’s is sweet and funny: Lala will miss you! Mine is more serious: I don’t know what’s come over me. Could it be Bali? We’re old enough to know that we can only spend a few days together before conflict arises, before the inevitable communication breakdown. This hurt is deep, but not fatal. We will meet up again before I leave.

To Ubud I go. My guesthouse is a traditional Balinese house tucked down a long passageway off a main road. Paintings and statues of deities everywhere. A little shrine sits off to the side of the courtyard. Rai is the owner. Tiny, regal, eyes of pure gold.

I drop off my things and make the exploratory lap around town. I wander inside a temple of lotuses. In front of each picturesque statue, flawless princesses line up for photo ops. Identical shrink-wrapped, immobile faces. Flat doll gazes. Long, flowing dresses. A blonde lifts her impeccably manicured hands to her forehead in mock prayer. Her lips are so inflated that they are unable to fully close. After a long moment, she turns away from the statue. Two women lurch forward. They glare at each other, vicious cobras about to strike. I flinch. The boyfriends take the photos, obedient and oblivious.

What of their time alone together? Every move choreographed, every moan practiced, every expression of ecstasy contrived. No risk of communion in those eyes. That which lies beneath the pretty masks is too shallow, even, for the most basic existential angst. There is simply nothing to explore. They were born into a reality where identity is meticulously fabricated in pixels on a screen and worth is determined by likes, follows, and fawning comments by strangers. A two-dimensional wasteland.

I turn away and head out to the street. The sky rips open. I cover my backpack with the rain poncho. Heaven’s tears cascade over me. Washing me clean.

The cacophony of desperation recedes. The tugs on my sleeve, the faces thrust into mine. The voices, beseeching. Taxi! Cheap! Look here! Good price for you!

A sign materializes: Magical Rice Field in Ubud. My soggy footsteps echo in the narrow passageway. There is more to be revealed. Are you ready? I roll my eyes. No. Not really. When I emerge on the other side, the deluge has already finished. Rice ponds shimmer like liquid metal. I step forward and peer into the opaque mirror. Into my iridescent shadow.

I am beautiful. I deserve to be seen and valued. Loved for who I truly am. Randy’s voice echoes through my mind: I’m not a piece of shit. I bow my head and wrap my arms around myself. “I’m not a piece of shit.” Sobs erupt. A relentless flow from deep within, viscous and red-hot. Molten magma of the heart.

The most devastating lies are those that we tell ourselves. And is hope not the most achingly lovely of all? This exquisite bouquet of glimmers that I’ve gathered. Under this light, so merciless and merciful, it withers and dies. Time to loosen my grasp and let it fall. If only I could. A hot wave engulfs me. I hurl it away. If it’s not meant to be, then be gone. I never wanted this in the first place. It boomerangs back.

The responsibility for this heartbreak lies with you. The person is merely a mirror. A perfect mirror reflecting your deepest wounds. Focus on the lesson, the pattern. Deep, slow breaths. There you go. Go easy on yourself. The attachment still serves a purpose. It will dissipate when it’s time.

There is one fundamental lie which culture instills in us from birth: I am not good enough. It keeps us from standing in our power. It keeps us in line. It attacks the source of life itself – our ability to truly love. If you dig deep enough, through all of the layers, you eventually find it. In all of its horrific glory.

I trudge back to the guesthouse. I curl up on the bed and tumble off the precipice into a dreamless sleep.

Nothing is more precious than a heart full of dreams in a world that has turned to stone.

Tendrils of incense snake through the little shrine. I sit on the ground and lean against the rough stone wall. Tremors of pain radiate through the bottomless fissure in my heart. Death throes. Rai performs her morning prayers. Ethereal ballerina movements. Chants of unknown origin float overhead. Vintage bird cages sway from the roofs. Songbirds chirp a melancholy melody. Votives flicker. These strange, smoky orange marigolds. The color of funeral pyres. Ultimate purification. Cheek against cold stone, I let my eyes close. Out of the ashes I will rise.

Watch, now, my insolent sashay into the vegan cafe. Cutoff jean shorts, floppy hat, constellations of mosquito bites on my legs. Disheveled, haggard, bleary-eyed. Past the man buns, dreadlocks, Macbooks. Yoga pants. Looks of condescension and bewilderment follow my haphazard trajectory. That’s right, dudes. Diving into the chasm of the soul isn’t photogenic. I could sneer at them for being hypocrites, but I can longer be bothered. I lower myself on a cushion and order an herbal tonic. Now the convalescence begins.

A somnolent drift through temples and palaces and sacred forests. Cloud-shrouded volcanos in the distance. The shrill symphony of bats. Mischievous monkey hijinks. Demons and deities. Not always easy to tell them apart. Without total annihilation there can be no resurrection.

I have managed to reclaim my worth as worker, family member, friend, and writer. The people in my life now reflect that. But as a woman. I shake my head. The transcendent love you deserve exists. You have cracked your heart open to make space. Now you must let the love in. I come to rest next to a murky pond. Gaze into the eternal parade of koi fish across the waters. My spirit dives in. Surrenders to the flow.

Back in Ubud, I wine and dine myself. Spoil myself rotten. Pretty sundresses. Silver rings on my fingers – turquoise for self-forgiveness, rainbow moonstone for new beginnings. Around my wrist, a bracelet of anyolite to harmonize the mind with the heart. In a humble shack, a gargantuan of a woman tears my body apart and molds it back together again.

Come into your wholeness. Come Home.

For my final two days, I head to the coast. To Kuta, beloved haunt of blue collar Australians. It is the lowest part of low season. The streets are nearly deserted. The pubs and shops are empty.

My last evening, I meet Pebby at a multi-floored labyrinth in Seminyak. I ascend a staircase and glide across a terrace. Bland chillout electronica wafts over the crowd. My floor-length sundress swirls around my legs. The multi-colored beads on my sandals glow like gems in the soft light. Salty air curls fall around my shoulders. Male and female heads turn in appreciation. I look down at the floor and blush. An invisible hand takes my right hand. A grip so warm and unwavering. My queen, there is no other choice but you. I’m so proud to walk by your side. I lift my face and smile.

Pebby waves me over. “This place is kinda trendy,” she grimaces. “Sorry.”

“Oh, whatever. At least the food is probably great.”

Our apologies are encoded in the comfortable conversation. No need to bring it all up again.

A wall of clouds creeps towards shore. A legendary Bali beach sunset is not to be. I’m no longer disappointed by such things. Like every voyage, Bali has given me exactly what I need.

By the time we find our way out of the building, it is pouring. Goodbyes in the rain. Of course.

“I love you, Pebby.”

Her eyes are soft, hesitant. “I love you, too.”

One last dawn stroll on the beach and then it’s off to the airport. With the exception of the surf schools, I am the only foreigner. Fishermen. Runners. Couples holding hands. They all make a point to wish me good morning. I lower myself on the sand and watch Balinese surfer girls frolic in the waves. A mutt trots over and flops down next to me. He presses his body into my side. Territorial, protective. I smile out loud and scratch behind his ears. No place has ever witnessed the truth of my soul and made me feel so welcome. But I’m so ready to go home to my wilderness.

Above the hypnotic waves, on a lingering cloud, the ghost of a rainbow appears. A promise.

Becoming Wild

Meadow12

May 28, 1986

We drive through the night to the Cleveland Clinic. My uncle, my mother, and me. Something about Grandpa, but I know he will be okay. God wouldn’t take him from us. Not after everything else that has happened. I will have to make up final exams, but I don’t care. Next week, I will be out of that hellhole for good. My chest tightens. Mom still hasn’t recovered from her breakdown. Who will watch over the kids when I leave? But I will die if I stay in that town.

We arrive too early for visiting hours. I curl up on the couch in the waiting room. Behind my closed eyes, a dream materializes. I’m in the meadow, sitting under a tree that doesn’t exist in reality. My boyfriend is next to me. Rich green summertime shade. Grandpa runs towards us. He’s wearing a red flannel shirt and blue jeans that are rolled up to his calves. He is barefoot. He smiles down at me. The heaviness of life is gone from his eyes. “Grandpa! What are you doing here? You’re dead.” His eyes twinkle. The sweet smile I know so well. The one he uses when he’s teasing. “I’m not dead. I’m only sleeping.”

My mother’s long fingers grip my shoulders and shake. A voice contorted with sobs. Wake up. It’s time. Down a long gray corridor and into a white room. The click of machines shutting down. Say goodbye to Grandpa. Tell him you love him. A chest under a sheet rises, falls, and is still.

meadow05

I run my hands over the thick, rough bark. It’s called a willow oak, I think. Thirty-two years have passed and here you are. In the same exact place as in the dream. The only tree that has grown in the meadow after all this time. I lean my back against the trunk, its chest. The pulse of a heartbeat. The warmth of life flowing through veins. Awareness. Strong hands on my shoulders. I’ve got you. I sigh and smile. Wow. This feels good. I’ve got you. Three words I’ve never heard. I’ve never had a protector. Dad was submerged in psychosis, and Mom was blinded by despair. Even Grandpa was vague with his support. Be strong was the mantra I inherited. You’re the oldest. Your family needs you.

It was always me: taking care of the family, then myself, then the people in my life. I no longer feel any self-pity or the need to blame. I adapted, as everything thing does to its environment. What began as necessity became the perfect hiding place. It was so easy to take advantage of the fact that most others are too superficial or too focused on their own pain to make the effort to see behind exteriors.

There’s a difference between vulnerability and neediness. Let it all go. I’ve got you.

meadow02

We each have a place on this Earth where our personal story unfolds in symbols. A place that holds our souls. The harmony that would reign, if only everyone knew theirs. Mine is a humble meadow tucked into a forest. It claimed me during early childhood explorations. I found it while wandering down the railroad tracks near the cottage that Grandpa built. Tracks that have long since been torn up and replaced by a bike path. I used to lie here, amid the wildflowers, and let myself fall through the sky. I carried this sacred space with me everywhere I roamed. My mother says she’s always felt my presence so strongly here, even when I was on the other side of the planet. One day, my ashes will sink into this dirt with the rain.

meadow03

May. The borderland between spring and summer. That beautiful time of fresh, green warmth before the mosquitoes have awakened. The divine bleed of the aurora borealis through the night sky. Shooting stars streak through the undulating curtain of green and violet. Celestial fireflies. Heart in my throat. The glow ascends, vanishing into the darkness. Delivering my wish to Heaven.

Meadow14

Let go of who you believed you were. I circumambulate the meadow, scattering the ashes of my former life. The labels. Those devastating weapons of mass division. I pass by patches of daisies and the depressions in the tall grass where the deer bed down for the night. These are my signposts. Now that I’m just a human named Julie. Liminal space is the most unsettling of territories. But it is here, in this emptiness, where I thrive.

meadow07

A solstice sunrise. I lift my face to the gentle rays. Shine your light through me. Show me what you want me to do now. I’m yours.

The time has come to reveal yourself. No more hiding.

meadow11

And now, your eclipse. The brighter the light, the deeper the shadow. No more hiding, anything.

meadow04

When I’m in the realm of schedules and conformity, I fulfill duties with a smile. I’m a good-natured imposter. After work, I slip away, evading invitations. Home, down the trail, and into my sanctuary. In this loving shade, I let my imagination out to play. A tiny white spider crawls up my arm. I smile down at her and lean back against my tree. Notebook on my knees. Namibia, the lions. This is what happened: a safari, a childhood backyard expedition. Bring them together. Words buzz around my head. I catch them in my web. Messy, incoherent scrawls in the notebook. I look down at it and shake my head. Somehow I will decipher and arrange it all. Just like I always do. The sun slips behind the forest. I raise my arm, but Spider has moseyed along. Prismatic strands encircle my arm, casting tiny rainbows in the fading light.

The other world of disharmony and hopelessness fades. The world in which we are systematically led to believe that we are losing. Agitated chatter fizzles into static which dissipates into silence. Then the symphony begins.

Nature speaks in symbol and metaphor. An atavistic communication that transcends words and seeps directly into the subconscious. The sigh of a warm summer breeze through the treetops. The ripple of heat in the distance. The slow drift of clouds across the blue expanse. In this world, we are winning.

That other world can only be healed by rediscovering this one. And it is calling out to us.

It’s the same little haven, but every day is different. The sun’s trajectory, the dance of insects, the wildflowers in various stages of growth and decline. Petals unfurl, bask, and slowly shrivel up. A butterfly pirouettes in the space before me. A purple shimmer in his brown wings. So many iridescent wings this year: butterflies and dragonflies. Symbols of total transformation. I put down my pen and hold out my hand. He comes to rest and lingers while I take a video. Could it be he’s showing off?

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I trail behind the morning mist as it billows into the forest. The sun peers over the treetops. Hundreds of tiny spiderwebs glitter in the dawn light. They are only visible when illuminated from this sharp angle. Spellbound, I lower myself into the grass. Dew soaks into my jeans. Yet another dreamscape I’ve traversed. This one came during my years in Bratislava, I think. A beige fog rolled away, revealing innumerable spiderwebs in various stages of completion. The Presence by my side. These are all of your stories: written, in the process of being written, and those yet to be conceived.

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An annoyed snort jolts me back to the present. A herd of deer have lined up on the periphery. I am in the way. They scamper back and forth for several minutes. The snorts intensify. Then they bound into the forest.

Two mornings later. Same place. A rustle to my left. A fawn. So close that I can see her eyelashes. Our eyes are mirrors of innocent curiosity.

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I am becoming wild, again. Feathers, flowers, stones, bones. Life, death. Resurrection. I tuck the feathers I find along my path into a pocket of bark. Thank you for being here. For existing. Hang my crown of thistles on a branch. When I wander back to the cottage, humming to myself, forget-me-nots woven into my hair, my mother doesn’t greet me with a frown or raised eyebrows or a look of alarm. Instead, a soft smile lights up her gentle face. “You look so pretty.”

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Awe is love on the precipice of fear. With the bones and stones, I construct a wheel in the soil. A dreamcatcher, a spiderweb. The Native Americans call it a medicine wheel. With each piece buried, I reassemble my existence. I begin to understand how the facets of life work together. The very one that seems unimportant and irrelevant often must be fulfilled before others can be aligned. What we don’t think we want is exactly what we need.

From the other world, a bony finger beckons. Grim Reaper of the soul. A job in an East Coast city. An admirable career. Return to the safety of anonymity and isolation. There will be no energy left for spinning words, but I will be too distracted and exhausted to miss it.

The familiar squeeze on my shoulder. How you support yourself is no longer important. It is time to live your passion. I wrap my arms around the trunk. Yes. Only that which sets me aflame can lure me away from this wonderland. Or maybe I’ll just disappear here. No one will notice. A slight pulling away. For my own good. You can’t hide away from that other world forever. It needs you. And I will always be here for you.

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What seems like magic is the most natural thing of all. We have forgotten that we are part of Nature. I’ve simply allowed myself to remember. How to listen and observe, how to ask for answers, how to integrate what I learn. Through this communion, I shed layers of conditioning, unravel patterns, grasp subtle differences in meaning. Sensations seep into my dreams. A raven becomes a wizened old Chippewa guide. The aurora becomes angels heralding a beautiful apocalypse. Celebrating my victory. You’ve had the guts to jump into the void. You deserve nothing less than the miraculous.

The dragonflies disappear, then the butterflies. Even the bumblebees eventually die. Spiderwebs are abandoned. At the very end of summer, after all hope has vanished: rain. Sky blanketed in gray. I lie in the center of the wheel. Deep breath. I think I’m just about ready. Drizzle tickles my face. Excited motion just above. A second batch of dragonflies has hatched. Dozens hover overhead, never touching the Earth.

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“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again” -Joseph Campbell