hearth fires

I realized today that I haven’t written here in a few days.  Yes, there have been distractions — like my husband’s ankle surgery last Friday, and that addictive vocabulary-building (geek) game on the internet, and, well, Christmas IS coming  —  but mostly it is because I have felt something within me shift.  

I have continued picking up the “All Creation Waits” advent book, sometimes reading several essays in one day, but sometimes letting it go altogether in order to simply be. I suspect that the gift it was to me has already been received, as it repeatedly affirmed for me that my instinctual self knows what she needs, and that I can trust her. I haven’t always listened to that.

In the wake of all that this autumn stripped bare, the whole of my being needed rest, inwardness, loving attention, and solitude, and I took hold of that root, helping myself to its nurture. Yes, there was a moment, during the greatest intensity of my pain, when I was ready to scream out from that place for help, but instead for some reason, listening to my body, I continually, instinctively, returned to the intuition to simply be still. 

Perhaps it is something like the healing of my husband’s bones. Being still when it is time to be still. Moving when it is time to move.

Another realization that has been swirling up into my awareness — like the soft scent of wood smoke, reminding me of the warming fire that burns within my own hearth, even when the outside world is cold– is that I really am fine – all the time.  Yes, there are harsh elements that swirl, reminding me of days when I truly was alone in the cold, wounded, without shelter or nurture or warmth, and sometimes current experiences can make that one inside of me recall the pain of that time as if it is occurring here and now. 

But the truth is, though I will always carry those formative experiences within me, like a tree bears at its core the heartwood that grew strong in being battered by harsh winter winds, I have long since grown strong around , within, and because of those battered places in me. They are my gifts now. My beauty. I am not wounded, I am whole.

I am no longer the Stone Child in need of warming, I am the Dangerous Old Woman, Wild and Wise, knowing what she needs and where/how to find it. I know how to warm her, how to feed her, how to soothe her. How to re-mind her that the story did not end there, nor is it over, but is rich and full and vibrant and intricately layered and blessed. Perhaps I have grown into my “far-sighted” eyes.

Picking up my pen is one way I have learned to attend to her. It is also a way I have learned to listen to my wisdom. Writing is the place where these two in me meet, tend the fire, break bread, have tea. 

Still, today’s chapter in “All Creation Waits” spoke of honey bees, a sisterhood that keeps its members warm throughout the long cold winter by huddling and continually circulating bees from the outside edges of the hive, where they are near to freezing, toward the center, where the beating of wings brings the temperature near the queen to a lusty 92 degrees. 

I have sisters like that too. Sisters whose warmth helps me remember the”strong, delicate, and fierce queen’ that I am. Sisters who remind me of my own inner fire, and who trust that I am capable of tending it. Sisters who also come bearing the tinder they’ve found while tending their own. 

One of them shared this scrap of birchbark today.

which felt like just the warming validation I needed on a day such as this.

So, no, this is not a fierce self-sufficiency or stubborn individuality into which i have retreated and buried my head, but a much softer place than that, one that welcomes not only myself but others who share this terrible-beautiful place we call life, with all of it’s pain and wonder. Many years ago, I dreamt such a place in the woods, next to a stream, my babushka wearing self tending the fire, recieving the weary and sharing tea from my garden.

And now, for you, here is a bundle of tinder, for which I left the hearth, where I sat writing, a minute ago.  See how that works, recirculating this warmth to each other?

One Day When I Was Old
by CP Estés

I remember one day when I was young,
forty-five years or so old,
I woke up an old woman that morning.
Not quite in body all the way, but close.
And also in mind.

And I thought, “This is good.”
For also, in the face I was changed,
a little bark-chipped and creased,
like a tree long-lived enough
after having been planted so long ago
by some winged bird
accidentally letting fall a semi-sacred seed
into some almost impossible place,
precisely the way most of us came to earth–
unplanned, and yet sticking to the place
where we were dropped,
growing, growing flowers and fruits
set into our DNA–
and this too was good.

I leaned through the window
of my bathroom mirror,
and touched her old, cracked face…
I soothed back her black hair
with fire opals
in its strands of white.

And I saw as I leaned in,
There were permanent diamonds
in her tear ducts,
those gotten from years of use
and pressure in dark places.

And I gazed at the body
she and I share,
and I saw that rubies
had grown into all my cuts
and that tiny mirrors shone
in all my widders and spalls…

and I saw that I was old
and strong
and delicate
and fierce, like a queen
who has ruled the lands within her reach,
not perfectly, but despite brutal winters,
she was still alive,
the heartwood hardened off just enough,
the tender capillaries still able to carry
the juice and the warmth.

And then, twenty-some years later,
I crossed the crone line,
wearing the tissue-paper crown
with the sacred words “Still here,
still standing…”
engraved upon it.

These words of triumph for all of us elders,
these words “Still here… Still standing,”
they’re the ultimate royal “Ha!”,
the ultimate para la vida “Ha!”,
to life, with life, all of life, filled with life.
Us, crossed now, the crone line,
para la vida, filled with life.

I remember one day when I was young,
forty-five years old or so,
I woke up an old woman that morning.
Not in body quite all the way, but close.
Also in mind, and this was good.
And also in the face I was changed
with all the marks of rings like a tree,
and this too was good.

I looked at my body
and saw that rubies had grown
in all my cuts,
and mirrors shone in all the widders and spalls.
And I saw I was old and strong,
like a queen who had ruled herself
not perfectly, but well.

And I leaned in and touched her old, cracked face,
and I saw the permanent diamonds in her tear ducts
that were gotten from years of hard use
and pressure in dark places.

I remember one day when I was young,
forty-five years old or so,
I woke up an old woman.
And I have been more and more free
ever since.

And so may it be for you.
And so may it be for me.
And so may it be for all of us.


And as my grandmother used to say,
“Amen… and a little woman.”

“One Day When I Was Old,” a blessing-poem by CP Estés, Copyright ©1990, 2010, All Rights Reserved, including but not limited to electronic, performance, theatrical, musical, graphic, film, commercial, derivitive. Uses: You are welcome to use this blessing poem in non-commercial ways without adding to nor deleting any part, just using the work in its entirety along with author’s name and this copyright notice attached. Thank you. Other permissions: Ngandelman@aol.com

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