Yesterday, my irises bloomed for the first time. They are white. I expected pale purple, but I’m happy they are white instead. One of my yoga teachers gave them to me last year, and couldn’t remember what they would be because she has so many different colors and wasn’t sure which ones she’d dug up to give me. They bloomed yesterday, but I didn’t notice until this morning.
I woke up today still tired, even though I’d slept in a few extra hours. I wasn’t ready to get up yet, but words demanding to be written were insisting–something about these last few years being about misery, mystery, magic, and medicine. And another thing about love unbound by form, grief feeling like your heart is a round plastic orb dropped into a pinball machine, which the Universe feeds with quarters, playing game after game, you and your heart getting smashed and slammed wildly in a pattern that isn’t any kind of pattern at all, that is random, chaos, in a game that you, your heart, as the ball, can never win.
While I was writing, I wanted music, but had turned off the radio in the kitchen because that felt like noise. I considered turning on my computer, but wasn’t yet ready for that. I opened the window over my desk to let in the cool fresh air, and there was my music. A particular kind of music: songbirds singing, dogs barking, pigeons cooing, crows cawing, the robin throwing itself against the window (yes, he’s still at it), and squirrels arguing.
I finished reading Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail the other day, and this morning a friend shared a link to A Hiker’s Guide to Healing about another woman who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail on her own, hoping for healing. And I’ve also been reading The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron, and Julia is a big believer in walking, specifically writers taking long walks alone. So this morning, home alone while Eric and the dogs were away hiking, I decided to take a walk by myself.
This is a bigger deal than it might sound. I don’t ever walk alone. I mean, yes, I often move from point A to point B because I need to get somewhere on campus or in Old Town, and I walk, but not the kind of walking I do with Eric and the dogs, the meandering and moving around that is purely for the pleasure of it. Why don’t I? In part, because I’m hardly ever alone, and if a walk is to be had, there are two dogs happy to go with. But underneath that is: I am afraid to go alone.
I don’t generally feel safe by myself, and less so in “public.” It’s not that my neighborhood or the local park are particularly dangerous, although some bad things have happened here and there, but rather the world feels unsafe to me, and specifically to me as a woman. I am always looking over my shoulder, making sure my keys and cellphone are accessible, looking for the fastest exit, keeping an eye out for anyone acting suspiciously, replaying in my mind stories I’ve heard of the terrible things that can happen, that are possible.
Maybe I shouldn’t be admitting this, but part of my experience of being a female in this culture is a feeling of constant vulnerability. If someone is bigger than me, or armed, they could do anything to me they wanted, could overpower me and it wouldn’t matter what I wanted, I couldn’t stop them if they intended to do me harm. That’s just reality, and it makes me jumpy, anxious, worried. Maybe this is why I fantasize and have dreams about being a master fighter, able to kick anyone’s ass, even if they are significantly bigger and armed. Seriously, if I could have a superpower other than gentleness, it would be the ability to fight anyone and win.
But this morning, I walked out my front door, alone. I left a note for Eric about where I’d be, what route I took, and had my cellphone in my back pocket. At first, it felt a little creepy, even though I was walking through my own neighborhood, where I know almost everyone, at least by sight, and the only people out that early were a few women gardening. I walked by my friend’s old house, mourning again that what used to be her yard is now split in to two lots with two huge new houses. That spot used to be so peaceful, so spacious.
At the edge of that lot is a drainage ditch, and this morning it was full and running. It reminds me of the creek in the field behind the house I grew up in. There was a single tree growing next to it, and I used to walk over there with my journal or a book, and put my bare feet in the cold water. Even as a girl, being alone in nature with the quiet and silence of unspoken words was medicine to me. I didn’t feel so afraid then, yes I was afraid of the dark and of my dad when he was angry and the creepy guy that drove a van and lived around the corner with his mom and of not being perfect or getting in trouble or stung by a bee or drowning in deep water, but not in the town where I lived, not in “public,” not of strangers (there weren’t any), not in the way I am now. There were only 835 people total in Sublimity, and I knew them all, and didn’t, at that time, think a single one of them would ever try to hurt me. I felt safe.
On my walk this morning, once I reached The Farm, I started to relax. This place is known to me. I’ve walked this route hundreds, maybe thousands of times before. I know these cows, these trees, this river, this trail, this ground, and this place. The playground was empty, such a nice Saturday morning and the playground was empty. That’s always seemed so strange to me.
I pass other women, out in groups, with their dogs, or alone. I wonder if they ever feel scared, if they ever think about things like I do. Maybe I’m especially weak or fearful, highly sensitive, maybe I worry too much, am overly anxious, high strung. Maybe it’s just me.
I had just taken this picture, the super green swamp, had turned off my camera and was slipping it back in to my pocket when there was a ruckus behind me. I turned to see a fox run out of the brush, and a few seconds later a black, younger, biggish dog came crashing after it, chasing it through the field on the other side. I tried to get a picture of the fox, but it was running so fast, I only caught a glimpse of it. They have babies right now, and for the hundredth time, I silently cussed people for not keeping their dogs on a leash, or at least under control.
On my favorite part of the whole trail, I realize that walking alone here hasn’t been such a big deal after all. Nothing scary or unfortunate happened. I wasn’t harassed, kidnapped, mugged, or anything else bad. I made it home safe, before Eric even knew I’d been gone.
So this walk alone was okay, although I am happier with the dogs and I found myself wanting to explain to people where they were, why I would be there alone, as if they cared. It’s probably just me who wonders “where’s your dog?” when I see someone out alone. When Eric and the boys made it home half an hour later, I told them about the fox chase and how low the one end of the river was, and they told me about the snow and moose they saw.
And yet, not even eight hours later, and my heart is that plastic orb, loose, unprotected, and being slammed around the machine again. The feeling of safety doesn’t last, because even if I feel protected and secure, there are those I love that I can’t control or keep safe. They make their own decisions, driven by their own confusion, and generate their own suffering which then ripples out to those of us keeping our hearts open, loving them, standing too close.
We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. ~Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times