This is a love story. My story of continuously falling in love with the world.
Today, Amos went into surgery for a triple bypass. He is in California, where he lives, and I am in Indiana, where I live. It has been a difficult month of waiting; the roller coaster of emotions, the feeling like everyday was a week…or a month, and it was finally over. I wanted to honor the hours of his surgery with a ceremony, or at least with some change of pace. This man has been my friend, my mentor, my travel-buddy, and the facilitator of incredible change in my life. One of those changes has been my capacity to hold love; love for people, but more than that, love for the whole world. This has been beautiful. Strangely, it has also been the way I could step into the decision to divorce my husband of 26 years. I love my husband. I love him enough to want happiness for him, even if that happiness is not me.
So, rewinding a bit…A few days ago while I was at work at the YMCA, our friendly volunteer at the front desk- Randy-(a retired Illinois State Park service worker and friend) offered something precious to me. Over the past years, Randy and I have had many talks with topics ranging from our love for the natural world to how men do a great job of avoiding difficult and challenging conversations. He is not one of those men. The past three years, I have been in school and he has listened to my exhausted complaining and has also been the one who wants to see pictures from my travels. He is a great friend. This month, he has been listening to me. I did not know how well he had been listening until he offered his woods to me. He offered to make a fire, help tend it and create a space for me to be; to be quiet and write, or just be, for the duration of Amos’s surgery. I was so surprised. This was just the way I needed to spend my day. How did he know?
I instantly accepted. I had thought about going to the local State park and hiking or just finding place for sit or both. But, as many of you women know, being alone in a public a wooded place for a long time, quietly can be triggering. It is for me. But a private woods, large enough for all kinds of native wildlife and a large diversity in plant life… that was an easy choice to make.
I showed up today at 10, we built a fire, we talked a bit and he left me alone and went up to the house. The sun was peaking out for the first time in the month...no joke…and snow was falling lightly. It was perfect. The smell of the pine smoke was comforting. The sound of the forest was muffled by the snow. The sun peaked around the trunks of the sycamores and beeches.
The fire lasted about two hours without being tended too much. I decided to walk up the hill. I left the fire, skipped across the creek, and started up the hill. On the knoll, there were several grandmother beeches. I went to each of them, leaning on them, feeling the smooth bark, noticing the energy of these massive allies and soaked in the sun, the warmth coming from the bark from behind me as well as the yellow glow in front. A familiar sound suddenly filled the air. There were red-bellied woodpeckers in the woods. There were three of them all together. I watched them dart from tree to tree, wings flapping. One left the others and went north. The others, stayed, dancing around one trunk of tree, flying to another, pecking at each other. Then they flew to another large tree, only to continue the ritual. It was wonderful. I moved down the hill and leaned on a tree to watch. They were right above me for over a half an hour. Walking back up the hill, I was greeted by another pair of woodpeckers, this time they were the downy. They were much quieter and so sweet to watch. The sun continued to shine.
As I slid/walked down the hill toward the creek, I noticed a small beech. A beech just like this one changed my life just about four years ago. My mind and heart were instantly taken back to the first walk on my forest therapy training, guided by Amos. We were in Massachusetts, in the Berkshires. The leaves of a tiny beech tree quivered in the breeze. I could hear them. One was scratching the bark of a neighboring hemlock. The sound of the leaf was the perfect mirror for years and years of anxiety that had been stored in my body. I took the leaf in my hands, held it between my gloves and continued my slow walk up the hill. At the top of the hill, the wind picked up. Something in me said to raise my hands above my head and to allow the leaf to fly away. I did not hesitate. The leaf flew away. I watched it. And something changed in me. I have no idea how, but this…this is the gift of relationship. I didn’t have to know how. It just happened. The anxiety in my body left with the leaf. I was changed.
Rabia, the mystic has said what I could not say with words:
I was born when all I once
I was born. At least a part of me was born that day that had been sleeping, or had not yet even taken that first breath. That walk went on to provide one shift after another. I never expected it, nor had been told that it was even a “thing” that happened on forest therapy walks. It was a testimony to the power of this work and it lives to this day in my body. How could I help but fall in love with the powerful beech, the delicate hemlock, the sparkly creek and the dancing woodpeckers, and see past the pain of humans, into their beautiful hearts?
The gift of this love came from the man who went into surgery today to have work done on his heart; the heart that has birthed a healing balm for so many people across the world. I am forever grateful for today’s gift of quiet space from a friend, for the memories that got me there, and for the love that fuels the work I am privileged to do in the world.
There is a fire in the forest. I am laying in a cold room tended by gowned and masked Buddhas who open me up, stop my heart, repair it, and start it again. Far away there is a fire in the forest. It is a burning of the heart of my friend, a light of the gift of a great love. My sternum is closed and wired together, my skin is sutured so healing may begin. The fire burns in the snow until it is done. The heat and light of love continue unextinguished, unabated. I am grateful my friend, my companion, for your vigil and your witness. There is something here, something that pervades the entire universe, that burns and snows and dies and is reborn and born anew. I am so deeply honored, so deeply grateful.