turning over the pile

autume leavesBeginning again. Daily.

There are days, as I write these pages either here or in my journal, when I fear I am exposing too much — making myself too vulnerable to judgment or rejection or exploiting too much a loved one’s vulnerabilities — as I share the terrain of my inner world, revealing its responses to the vistas and the valleys, the laboriously switchbacked uphill trails and downstream currents of its external journey. I do what I can to protect the other, to tread gently, taking off my shoes when entering the sacred ground of another’s story, so as to let the other’s truth be his or hers to tell.  Of course, that truth will always be different than mine, perspective being the blessed nature of human eyes and hearts.

I do my best to tell myself the truth too, to be honest with and about myself. I trust that those who receive these words (whether here or perhaps, after I pass, in the pages of my journal) will understand that they contain the treasures of my heart, gathered along the way, treasures that include heartbreak transformed – like the proverbial grain of sand in the oyster shell – and human strivings to grow and bloom, which necessarily include the stench of muck beneath the water that supports the lotus blossom.

However, I am keenly aware that anything that remains hidden in shame stagnates, and I seek healing here by turning over the compost pile so that fertile soil for new growth might be made. I hope that my words are healing not just to me, but to those who read and receive the occasional affirmation of their own struggle or sense of libration. I have read that ‘good’ writing is always self-revelatory, that after all it is only accessible if it is real.

Nontheless, there is a way in which words can trap a story – and the characters in that story – in time. Unlike actual life in which each moment is a new beginning, with new steps to take and new perspectives to take in. One more leaf fallen from the tree — or a dozen, or a hundred on a particularly blustery morning –  and the view is vastly altered. Twiggy ends of this year’s growth are suddenly visible, or in the case of the diminishing hemlock, one more broken limb has fallen into the waiting arms of lower branches.

How many seasons until it is limbless, until the top, ceasing to push new needles, breaks into a ragged edge, exposing inner flesh? How many years until the bark begins to lose its hold, to slip onto the patient earth, until beetles and other wood borers find new life in her, nourishment for their eggs, until titmice and woodpeckers find their own nourishment in those beetles and eggs, until the woodpecers holes expand to create nesting cavities for other birds, then small mammals? Below the soil, what is feeding on its already softening roots, what cavities are being created there for life to nest?

This morning, as I gaze out over those broken treetops with their countless stories to tell, the sky is misty gray, like a comforter wrapping distant pines in a moist haze. (Do they drink that moisture in through their needles, or let it wash them clean? ) Late lingering leaves let go and tumbly gently through that thick gray space between where I sit writing at my window  and the place where those great pines stand. From towering heights somewhere above my field of vision, they fall. For sixteen beats of the music that accompanies my heart, they tumble before settling on the earth.

Soon, someone will come to rake — or worse, blow — those leaves away. Someone unable to appreciate the value of what has fallen, what has been let go, what has settled. Unable to understand that those leaves might offer warmth to another, or shelter, or nourishment for the soil in which something new might take root.

I judge them too harshly. My mind (and my ears) find it to be a travesty of a humanity disconnected from a more natural way, a culture that has learned to covet neat and tidy surface appearances and to fear what abides in the litter. It seems such a ‘fruitless’ pursuit, especially here, where there are no lawns to mani’cure’, here where the floor is the earth, in these woods where we live, and move and have our being.

Another leaf falls, and another, each one a story and a promise. And I am here to witness it. For this morning, that is all. For this morning I have the space to breathe, to count leaves and heartbeats, to ponder the gifts of leaf litter and compost.

I realize how oxygen deprived these years have been, devoid of pen and paper to turn this compost over, these years where spaciousness has seemed to collapse, leaving me with little time to dig. And I see how quickly life springs forth from this fertile soil, how green it makes me feel, the blossoms already offering their fragrance to the ones I love. Time with them feels less bereft because I am no longer feeling quite so barren. So much beauty has been waiting for me, beneath my awareness, awaiting my presence, awaiting my ear, awaiting my pen and my voice.

Of course, I vacillate even here, because, yes, the writing life also takes up much space. At times I’ve lamented, ‘I just want to ‘live’ without having to think about or analyze it so much’!  And while this is also true, I had forgotten how rich is the world inside of me, how much nourishment is dug up in this space. Author Sherwin Nuland, in an interview, once captured the magic of it for me. I could almost see the twinkle in his eye as he proclaimed the wonder of taking his pencil to the corner of a room to discover what it is that he knows that he doesn’t know he knows!

If my pen is like a garden trowel, scooping up cupfuls of richness at once, could the sharing of them here or there, on these pages or on others, be like spreading them out, feeding life beyond my own in some way? I sit for a moment with that thought, remembering the magic of words, of stories, to connect what feels disconnected – within oneself or between separate selves.

The soles of my feet are propped upon a thick volume of Mythology as I sit here writing, the seat of the chair just a bit too high for the length of my legs. I am surrounded in this room by the stories of so many who have, with pen in hand, dug for nourishment. I sit for a moment feeling the truth of that in my body, from the soles of my feet, which seem to be pulsing with the energy of centuries of storytelling, brought forth and spread out, to the tips of my fingers which dance across the page in some ancient line dance, remembered.

Knowing what I know about the magic of pens, I wonder what was brought forth within the scribes of these ancient tales beneath my feet. How much of their own souls were added to the soup of what had been simmering for generations in oral traditions.?

A story is never dead, a fresh layer of leaf litter is added season by season, what is pushed to the bottom ripening until it is turned over, brought up a fresh teller or receiver. Beginning again, daily.

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M.C. Reardon

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