The White Room

I awaken. Something is different. I blink the sleep from my eyes. Scan my body. Catch my breath. The pain. It’s gone. My eyes flicker to the window. The pine trees are blanketed with fresh snow. A gust of wind seizes the branches and the world is obscured in white. A long, smooth exhale. It is over. 

The lessons I’ve learned over the past year: 

— The difference between signs and wishful thinking. 

— For every demon inside of us there’s an angel. Sometimes they’re the same presence. I’ve identified mine and given them names. We work together now.

— You can pass the test, but feel defeated rather than victorious. 

I’m a profoundly different person than I was a year ago. Am I a better person? I really don’t know. 

I’ve entered a vast, white space. It is utter emptiness, a vacuum of cosmos magnitude, but not desolation. Eerie, but intriguing rather than terrifying. I stand still and listen with innocent curiosity. I have absolutely no idea of what is to come.

There is a recognized form of torture called “white torture”. It’s used by certain organizations and governments, including my own. A prisoner is entombed in a soundproof white cell. Her clothes and even the food she is served is white. All communication with guards must be written down. The only sound is the prisoner’s slippered feet shuffling across the white floor. And her thoughts. Eventually, the prisoner completely loses her personal identity. She will never return to normal.

Is it really amnesia? We are more than just beings who process the sensations of our environment. When the external is stripped away, we are confronted with the blank canvas of the psyche. Out of the white void, something else arises. If we let it. 

I have a new profession. One so alien to me and yet so necessary. I work in a temple of value and worth. Rigid compliance and conformity. The soft rasp of currency gliding through my fingertips. The tinkle of coins. When you touch too much of something it loses its power. It becomes silly.

I close my eyes at night and I’m there again. People have given me money for my work. Stacks and loose bills. Ones, fives, hundreds. Two-thousand and ten-thousand dollar bills. Dreamland denominations. I’m humbled by the generosity. It’s much more than I expected and I wonder if I’ll get into trouble for taking it. I look over at my coworkers, those above me. “Can I take all of this?”

Their smiles are amused and slightly sad. “Of course you can take it. It’s yours. You deserve it.”

I sort through the bills. Some are faded, torn, blood-stained. There is a small stack of twenties with a singed hole through the center, like a gunshot wound. This is all they had to give, but it doesn’t mean it’s all that you’re worth. You are not obligated to accept it. You never have been. I set the soiled bills aside. Mutilated currency is sent back to its origin and it is taken out of circulation. Forever.

The things that I’ve let go. Fundamental facets of my identity and purpose in this life. Who was I? A world traveler. One who will most likely not be welcome in a brave new normal. I refuse to betray my convictions. Even for the road. The vessel that carries my soul is more sacred than an airplane. I have my wilderness, now. I drift amid my trees, gloved hands caressing bark. Eyes lifted to the sky, following a raven’s trajectory. The crunch of my boots in ankle-deep snow. New adventures begin to sprout in my imagination. Whispers fill my mind: permaculture, agroforestry, foraging, herbal medicine. A wonderland surrounds me. 

Who did I wish to be? An author published by a recognized house. Alas, my story is not one that’s sought by the masses. It was not bitterness, but momentary resignation that blossomed into sweet liberation. I never truly wanted to be part of traditional publishing. I am too wild for that world. I have lost the last of my respect for it. Now, only my energy will be within the pages. It won’t be sanitized by outside influences to make it more marketable. I won’t be molded into a Brand®. I have enough faith in my ability as a writer. Those who are destined to read the book will find it. 

What seems like rejection is redirection into new frontiers. I wait and watch and listen. Try to identify this incredible feeling inside. Indifference, effervescence, wonder. Purity. I have passed the test. There are things I will never again allow into my life. If it means that I finish my existence alone, so be it.

Recede. Come home. No one can hurt you here. 

A mischievious smile creeps across my face. I was never really there, anyway.

Years ago, back when I wrote fiction, I wanted to write a story about a woman who believed she was a ghost among the living. There have been so many stories written about phantoms who believe they are still alive, and the story ends when they’ve discovered that they’ve passed on and couldn’t let go of life. The character I envisioned wanders the corridors of her workplace and the various haunts of her daily routine. She no longer bothers to communicate, because no one has ever acknowledged her. Then, one day, a man speaks to her. He peers deep inside of her and smiles. And she realizes she’s alive. She always has been. The others were incapable of seeing her. 

The softest hiss of a paintbrush gliding across bare wood planks. The walls of my little shelter. Just enough white to brighten, but not enough to erase the character. I lift my eyes and brush my hair out of my face with the back of my whitewash-splattered hand. The iridescent glow of snow light through the shiny new window. Snowflakes dance against the pristine window pane. I’ve been writing that story all along. How it ends remains a mystery.

Candles in the Rain

Fatima, Portugal – November 11, 2011 (11/11/11)

As I enter through the back gate, thick raindrops begin to fall from the sky. I glance down at my watch. 11:11 a.m. I freeze, then smile. The raindrops lengthen into streams which become buckets. I duck into a church to wait it out. A half hour passes with no sign of it letting up. I open my umbrella and stride into the deserted courtyard, a vast arena that can hold hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. Rivers of rain flow over my feet, drenching my pant legs. Rain soaks through the umbrella. I slow my steps, so that I don’t get swept away. 

I have come to light a candle for someone. Sadness and worry keep me awake at night. Helplessness. I don’t know what to do anymore. I am so far away. I buy one of the elegant, rustic tapers from the lady in the booth and await my turn. So many candles here, even now. Some of the flames dance, some burn long and steady. The candles at the front are pelted by the rain. They flicker and go dark for a split second, and then they reignite. So defiant. I move forward, light my flame from another, and place it among the others. 

I am an imposter here, and I’m not sure why I have come. I have not been a Catholic since I was a child. My knowledge of Fatima is obscured, probably on purpose. I remember when my little sister Pebby dressed up as one of the shepherd children for a school event. On the day that Ronald Reagan was shot, while my family was gathered in front of the television, she remarked, “Watch. Now the Pope is gonna get shot.” He did, and it was on the anniversary of the first apparition at Fatima. My father, who had slipped away into schizophrenia, saw signs in everything. He never left her in peace after that. 

I abandoned the Catholic faith when my father got sick. I had prayed for him, for my family. Please make him better. Please protect us. But things only got worse. No one would protect us, so it became my job to take care of everyone. I was thirteen years old.

Pilgrimage sites, of every kind, have a palpable electricity. It’s as if the accumulation of the faith and awe of millions has charged the air. Something happened here, all those years ago. A crystalline lady, a “dancing Sun”, three prophecies. It is natural for inexplicable events to be interpreted through the lens of the culture and time period in which they occur. Christian God, extraterrestrial visitation, mass hallucination. Does it matter what the explanation is? 

The Chapel of the Apparitions is a simple glass box. A statue of the Blessed Mother is the only ornamentation. I sit on a bench. Most of the others are solitary or in small groups. The silence is absolute. A dog wanders in and curls up in the middle of the floor. Faces turn to smile and then settle back into meditation. I watch them. One by one, they are overcome. Bodies tense up. Eyes widen, staring into an endless internal horizon. Gentle nods. Faces melt into wonder, humility, gratitude. There are no histrionics. 

My eyes come to rest on the floor. A long sigh of envy, of defeat. I’ve tried for so long to transcend this depression. So many things I’ve tried. Why can’t I get it right? I wish I would have a breakthrough. The air to my right grows heavy. A sound, like a massive wave, fills my mind. As the wave moves through me, I hear, Of all the people who were cruel to you, you are the worst. The wave exits my body to the left. I wrap my arms around myself as the room spins. And then, the light. Flickering, then pure, unwavering illumination. A presence, eminent and kind. A hand on the shoulder. A finger pointing. Look, child. Here. It’s always been right before your eyes. I lean forward, my face in my hands. The hardest person to forgive is yourself. The enormity of it all. The simplicity.

The light. Yes, I remember you from that time, so many years ago. That gloomy winter in Grand Rapids, Michigan, after my father died and I tried to die. Twenty-three years of life, but so very old. I was working in a cavernous old building in downtown. A furniture company, I believe. Alphabetizing invoices. Hundreds and hundreds of invoices. I’d file them in boxes and load them in the creaky wooden service elevator and bring them up to the archives in the attic. I didn’t have to talk to anyone or think of anything but letters on a piece of paper. I didn’t have to think about how I was going to live. And then, the light. There were no words or thoughts, just radiance. And love. And it didn’t matter anymore what I was going to do with my life. Everything was going to be okay.

I sit, now, and listen. To the things I said to myself. My peers shunned me because I am defective. I was sexually assaulted because I wasn’t vigilant enough. People take me for granted, make the least effort possible, and consider me a last choice, because I am not good enough. I deserve every bad thing that ever happened to me. All of it was my own damn fault. I should have known better.

Maybe faith isn’t about how hard you pray, but how deeply you surrender. Of all the people who were cruel to you, you are the worst. Such a simple thought, but it is something I needed to understand. I’ve read similar words in books, heard them from “enlightened” ones, but they beaded up and rolled off. It had to come from within. We hold the keys to our unique prisons. The doors must be unlocked, one by one. Every lock is trickier than the last. 

Back outside, the rain has stopped. Into the basilica I stroll. Disheveled and dazed. I drift past the monochrome altar towards the tombs. The austere décor is a perfect tribute to these humble children. So much love in this place. Gentle, motherly love. I sit, once again, and let it hold me. And time passes.

Nine years have passed. Every year, I celebrate this day. The person for whom I lit the candle overcame the struggle very soon after my visit. There has been no relapse. I’ve never told that person of my visit and I most likely never will. With the exception of those who are closest to me, I’ve kept this story locked up in the vault of my memory. A few mornings ago, upon awakening, it drifted back to me and I knew that it was time to share it. “Illumination” was the word I chose for 2020. For most of the year, I’ve felt the complete opposite. As have so many others. My story is not Earth-shattering. I didn’t regain my sight or the ability to walk or conquer cancer. Even so, someone may need to hear it. No flame is too humble to light another. 

This Sacred Space

I have become an artist of farewells. Of letting go and moving on. I can sense their arrival when they are still far on the horizon. The preparation for separation begins. This is the result of a lifetime of leaving places, people, jobs, virtual communities. Outgrowing toxic mindsets. Shedding the masks hiding my true identity. All of these are losses and worthy of grief.

Over the years, I’ve encountered many kindred souls in the virtual realm. We traveled the road together for a while and then our paths diverged. Our shared journey was finished. We had learned as much as we could from each other. This is growth. This is life. It has always been this way, but in recent years, and especially months, it has accelerated. We are being forced away from certain souls and drawn towards others. The more we resist, the more painful it is. Many of us are discovering our real tribes and our core truths. It is excruciating, but necessary.

No, I’m not deleting this blog. This sacred space will remain. I have left Instagram, the only social network I used. Definitely not an earth-shattering event. I simply felt as though my wilderness photos and little mystical musings didn’t belong there anymore, amid the ever-darkening cacophony.  The posts I saw in my feed confirmed this.

Silence is complicity. You are just as guilty as the perpetrators.

I have been far from silent. They are simply unable to comprehend what I have to say.

And this is my message:

Wish you were here. (June 10, 2020) #sacredspace

It has become an incredible act of courage to remain a sovereign, peaceful presence amid the turmoil.

We each have the right to process our unique realities in the way our souls guide us. To protect our precious energy in any way we can. To share that which we feel compelled to share. I am not a bad person.

World weary. Road weary. Here I lay my self down to rest. One day I will sleep here forever, my ashes seeping into the Earth with the rain. (August 8, 2019) #sacredspace

My work there was finished. And that’s okay. I felt a twinge of sadness as, one by one, I deleted almost four years of posts – the images and thoughts I had so carefully crafted. The travels, both past and present. The wildflowers. The eagle.

The butterflies. The night sky’s dazzling illumination.

The random roadside messages.

And my selfies.

What a peaceful existence I cultivate. What a gentle soul I am. What a shame to delete this beauty.

But as I clicked that final red button – permanently delete my Instagram account – it was not regret that I felt, but relief. I am free, once again.

I left without saying goodbye.

1974

I have always been a wildflower. (August 12, 2019) #indestructible #sacredspace