Author: Sue S

Lost in the Woods – Part 3

My time at the camp was different now.  Instead of running away, I was exploring where I stood.  Anger often rose to the surface and swirled in a whirlpool of confusion, sometimes releasing into a gentle wave and other times diving back into the depths.  I spent time in my kayak, exploring the river outside my door, looking for answers that sometimes appeared with the repetitive motion of my paddle.  I felt the pull of the current beneath me, felt connected to the river, to something bigger than myself.  My car stood mute, like me, with only the need for work or food strong enough to pull us into motion.  But this silence and solitude were by choice.  Surprisingly, safety was not a concern.  The only threat was of being alone, but I was alone, with no judgments coming from anywhere but my own head.  My journal became my best friend.  My words absorbed into its fibers, then reflected back at me, sometimes bringing new light and meaning.

Ron and I began to talk more often.  I stopped weighing my words when we talked and simply stated what was on my mind.   There was nothing to lose since we were already apart.  Ron also gradually became more expressive of his thoughts.  Some of them hurt.  Instead of denying my own participation in the downward flow of our relationship, blaming it all on him, I started to examine my responses in my journal.  Anger took the lead.  I was the victim!   I was the one who had given up so much to keep our lives together, whose pain and stress were pumping blood pressure beyond control.  He was the one who walked out each night, who drank to oblivion, who didn’t carry his share of the load, who put us in debt.   Eventually the anger eased towards questions.  Why couldn’t he stop?  Why did he recklessly endanger the family he wanted so badly?  Why had I stayed?   Why did I willingly take on so much responsibility?  Where did the belief that my love could fix everything come from?  Why did it never work?  What would I do now?   The answers would take time to evolve.   But I knew the knowledge I needed had been accumulating for a few years now.  I had worked through intense fear as I jumped from trees in Project Adventure, and increased my trust in others as well as in myself.  Hiking had taken me into the woods that had haunted me my whole life, and I had found peacefulness waiting there.   Yoga teacher training had helped me gain acceptance of my body and hidden emotions, and introduced me to my true voice through chanting.  Kayaking had launched me into the wonders of the water, and paddling had become my meditation in motion.  Walking the Labyrinth had awakened an inner voice and opened a connection to a universal voice of wisdom. And journaling had revealed a major tool for self-exploration and discovery.  A tool I needed to put to use.

 I wrote about the family I had been born into.   Surrounding my resentment, anger, and fear I found perseverance, protection, love, and fear of another sort – my parents’ fear for my safety and well being.  I wrote about pain from past relationships.  Surrounding my resentment, anger and fear I found my own need to feel worthy of love by fixing someone else’s pain, and my need to feel loved at any the cost.  I also caught glimpses of a face that vacillated between my mother’s and my own – the face of a desperate need for love?   I wrote about my relationship with Ron.  Surrounding resentment, anger and fear I found – once again – the need to feel worthy of love by fixing someone else’s pain.  But something else accompanied the fixing this time, and it smelled of control.  I also began to recognize my use of anger to control – the practice I had condemned in my father.  But here too was perseverance, protection, and love in the complicated mix.  Very old wounds bled onto the paper, but, as my mother had taught me, bleeding can cleanse the wound and fresh air can aid the healing.  Growing understanding cleared space for that air.  And the ointment of growing forgiveness – towards my parents, towards Ron, and towards myself, started to calm infectious fears.

To be continued…..

Lost in the Woods – Part 2

I called home the following day, worried that Ron would find an end to his misery by way of the alcohol.  He answered, said he was OK, that he had to think about things.  The surprise of his sober voice was a relief – sort of.  He could sober up now that I was gone?  There were things I needed to think about too. 

We didn’t talk for over two weeks – other than brief calls to schedule times I could pick up some of my things when he wouldn’t be home.  Our daughter returned from school on a break.  She stayed with her father, but came to make me dinner one night.  Her embrace released tears I thought had been drained.  I told her I didn’t think her father and I could ever be together again.  She said she knew, had understood the struggle for a long time, had heard more than I imagined through the years.  “What do you mean?” I asked.  Her simple reply: “You didn’t think I could hear you fighting?” sliced through my own fog like a laser.   The pain had not been neatly contained behind closed doors.  It had seeped into her corner of the house, through the entire house.   My own denial and illusions had provided the veil on reality I needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Another bear lumbered out of the shadows.    

Several days of sick leave buffered reentering the real world.  It was time to return to work, ready or not.  Fortunately, students could be seen at their preschool program.  There was no need to go into an office and face casual chit chat or sideway glances at my swollen face.  I made it to the preschool’s parking lot but then froze in my seat.  I feared the tears that now lived on the brink of my eyelids would start flowing during the treatment sessions and upset the children. 

My gaze lifted toward the sky and I spoke to an entity I had never fully acknowledged or asked for favors,  “I give up.  I don’t know what to do.  If you’re there I could use some help.”  I took a long breath, grabbed my therapy bag, and opened the door.  The children brought an unexpected smile to my face.  It was hard to believe there was room for the uncomplicated joy of a child’s eager face in the same heart that held such compound sadness.  Thankfully, tears did not drip into their innocence. 

Returning to my car I sat in the driver’s seat and closed the door.  Within moments a cloak of knowing settled over me, as real as if it were woven from wool.  I was his wife.  It was my duty, my promise, my desire, to help him in any way I could – even if we could not be together.   A long slow breath left my body, taking with it the heaviness that had invaded every corner of my being.  Anger and disappointment receded like an outgoing tide and a fresh wash of hope slid back in its place.   A different kind of hope – not for us, but for him, and for me.  I drove home, not yet knowing how to begin, but knowing I had received the guidance I had requested. 

After a few weeks Ron and I met for dinner to discuss what to do next.  Ron looked good.  A finger of fret poked at a sore spot.  He could be OK on his own, didn’t need me to survive.  We talked about the reunion.  He described the pain that had pervaded the event, always there, even under the laughter.  Many of the men were broken, some more vividly than others.  He had not been alone.  The memories and stories they shared in hope of relief had instead brought them back to life.   He met with the two daughters of his Sergeant.  The Sergeant he had seen only moments before he and the men with him were killed.   The Sergeant that had sent him back to their defensive position to guard against attack, and in doing so had saved his life.  He needed to tell his daughters that he was the last person to see their father alive, and that he was alive today only because of the orders their father had given.   And, that deep inside he believed their father had known he was saving him.  That conversation, and the tears and memories it evoked, were as difficult for Ron as any battle in the war.  He worked hard to drown them the only way he knew how.  He hit bottom. 

I told Ron I could no longer live with the drinking, and expected the same old promises to stop.  But instead he quietly responded:  “I don‘t know, I don’t know if I can stop.”  Finally.  The truth.  No promises to wrap my hope around.  The truth cut much deeper than the lies.  Lies planted like seedlings in the soil of desperation, but deprived of sun and water.   Now the ground was left fallow.  I hit bottom.

To be continued….

Lost in the Woods – Part 1

Escalating protests against the conflict in Vietnam entered our living room each evening on the nightly news in the mid 1960’s.  Young people, only a few years older than me, carried signs, shouted profanities and burned draft cards.  I was old enough to feel the outrage but too young to fully understand the hatred behind the hostility.  Fifteen years later I married a man that had unsuccessfully evaded the draft – despite multiple attempts – and been forced to participate in the most hotly protested war in history.  He had quietly returned to the U.S.  No one talked about serving in Vietnam.  There were protests – not parades; vile condemnation – not thanks for his service.  Another wife waited for his return, greeted with the demons and addictions that accompanied him home.  He was sleeping on a friends couch, waiting for time to elapse for an uncontested divorce, when we met.  He rarely spoke of his experiences in the army, but nighttime thrashing and shouts in his sleep were enough to paint a picture.  He eventually took a cocktail of medications to reduce anxiety and help him sleep.  He also added his own elixir to the mix. 

Ron and I had been married for 25 years.  An amazing length of time considering wagers had been placed on how long our marriage would last at the reception.  Also an amazing length of time considering the roller coaster ride of his alcohol abuse we had shared.  My one foot seemed permanently out the door, ready to bolt.  When things headed down hill, my other foot joined it, but our two children kept me from closing the door behind me.  When I really asked myself why I stayed, the bottom line was actually not the children.  It was the fact that despite the pain indirectly inflicted on others due to his need to dull his own suffering, he didn’t have a mean bone in his body.  I had grown up with meanness and was familiar with that other kind of pain.   

Thirty years after that quiet return home Ron received an email containing an invitation to a reunion for the company he had served with.  He was hesitant to attend, but also drawn to reunite with the men he had known so briefly, yet whose lives had depended on each other.  He was gone for a few days.  We talked twice, briefly.  His subdued voice told me how tough it was, but he was reluctant to say more.   He remained quiet and aloof on his return home.  Questions were answered with a shrug, if at all.  He left the house in the daylight and returned in the darkness of early morning.  He missed work, slept all day and then got up and left again.  No amount of talking, reasoning or threatening could cut through the fog that surrounded him.  I couldn’t sleep, cried on and on, begged, yelled, and finally had no choice but to admit that I could not help him through this. 

The whispering, sometime rumbling, fears that accompanied me into any uncharted territory were deeply rooted in habit.   My ax of inborn stubbornness could fell them temporarily, but they always grew back.  Now, a new one sprouted in the shadows – fear that no hope remained for my marriage.  In the past, hope had tugged my feet forward and my heart past hurt.    But left with the choice of sinking into the quicksand with the man I had tried to rescue for 25 years, or fleeing the swamp, I reluctantly chose to leave.  The door closed tightly behind both of my feet.

I moved into our small camp on the Mohawk River, my escape when stress at home became more than I could bear.  This time it was not a temporary visit.  I closed all the windows and curtains, didn’t want the neighbors privy to my pathetic state.  Sobs rose as I collapsed onto the bed.  Years, maybe a whole lifetime, of heartbreak tore from my chest.  I forced my mouth to stay open, didn’t care about the drooling mess that accompanied sounds I usually denied release, sounds that had only vibrated in my heart and my soul.  The urge to run for a drink or food to help swallow them down, back to the safety of silence, threatened to overwhelm me.  But I wanted to be free of the heaviness that had held me down for so long.  I wanted to dump the beliefs I had willingly accepted: that my worth was dependent on my ability to ‘fix’ someone else’s pain, and that love needed to be earned.  Hours passed, and finally, even the ability to whimper succumbed to sleep.

 Sometime before dawn I woke.  Stiff aching muscles resisted as I sat up.  Dry lips and swollen eyes stared back at me in the small mirror above the bathroom sink.  Who is that?  Oh, it’s me, alone, broken.  I held a warm cloth to my face, felt the crust of agony soften just a little, made some tea and stepped out onto the small wobbly deck.  The indigo sky sparkled with starlight.  The long open lawn sloped down to the blackness of the river.  The trees on the far shore stood faintly outlined in the predawn glow.  The realization that I would move into this day, and those that followed, alone, crept in with the light.  The stars began to fade, along with the image of what I had come to know as my life.  I watched the sun rise, hoping hope would rise with it.  It didn’t.  How could a new day dawn, the same as it had millions of times before, when my days would never dawn the same again?  I felt lost in my own river of thoughts, struggling to stay afloat, waiting to sink.  I had never learned to swim, had been a forest dweller with no nearby body of water.  Maybe that was where I was supposed to head now, back to the woods, into the shadows, with no path to guide me.  I sensed the menace that hid in those woods, waiting for me, easy prey.  The bears that had stalked me in my dreams were alive, and hungry.

To be continued…

A brief diversion in honor of Thanksgiving

Purse, keys, glasses, grocery bags, mask, hand sanitizer.   Out the door ready to meet a different world.  Do I need gas for the car?  Better take some protective gloves. 

I need to call and put in my wine order so they can meet me curbside. 

I wish that curbside pick up at Price Chopper had worked, but I still need to see and  touch the produce and skim the aisles for things I haven’t thought about, not to mention items to replace the ones that aren’t available.  Canned goods are getting scarce again.  Is the toilet paper aisle looking bare?  Trying not to hoard but experience has set the tone for grabbing now or risk going without.

I wonder if frozen spinach is back – better stock up if it is.

Another masked person with nose totally uncovered – really?  Do I comment or just pass by quickly? Maybe raising my eyebrows in that exaggerated questioning look will work.

Oh shit, I’m going down the aisle the wrong way, but I’m only a few feet from what I need, do I keep going or turn around?  Raised questioning eyebrows from person going the right way.  I just need to grab that tomato sauce right over there.

The price of beef is beyond belief, but I am so sick of poultry.  Beans, I need some beans to make meatless chili and maybe some of that black bean soup.

I am trying not to join the COVID weight gain gang so as attractive as pasta and rice are, especially in the cold weather, I don’t want to overdo it. 

Cheese – lots of animal fat for my low cholesterol diet.

What AM I supposed to eat – low sodium for BP, low fat for high cholesterol, low carb for weight management, can’t eat a lot of raw vegetables because of the diverticulitis, no nuts or seeds.  Roasted veggies are great – but every day? 

Eggs – not too many because of cholesterol and egg whites only get me so far.

Not fair, I exercise every day, do yoga and meditate, watch what I eat, and cholesterol and blood pressure are still a problem – even with meds.   And now even my glucose levels are rising.  Thanks family for the compromised genes!

But wait.  I am racing full steam down that negative track.  Finding fault with everything.  Feeling sorry for myself.   It’s Thanksgiving in a few days.  Where is my gratitude?  For what…..

I am standing here in a store filled with choices and quantity beyond imagination in much of the world.

I am walking on my own two feet with relative ease, able to reach up or down to retrieve items from shelves – except that highest one because my 4 feet 11 inches doesn’t get me there!

I am breathing clean air despite the mask, and have unlimited clean water available at a seconds notice. 

My warm coat and boots were selected from several in my closet. 

A long hot shower eased my stiff muscles and cleansed my body this morning in one of our two bathrooms. 

I am well rested from a night’s sleep in a warm bed in the solid shelter of my heated home – with my husband and dog snuggled next to me.

I am free to leave my home to walk my dog on neighborhood streets or in the well kept park without fear for my safety. 

 I drive a one year old car that demands no more than a tank of gas to get me anywhere I’d like to go – and have the ability to purchase that gas without counting my pennies or worrying whether the pump will provide an ample supply.

My cell phone is ready to not only connect with friends and family in the blink of an eye, but also to look up the ingredients for a recipe, see if I need my umbrella today, or find the words to that tune that keeps going through my head.

Medicine is available to assist in managing my health and I have insurance to help with costs. 

The number of choices available around every corner – color, style, flavor, cost, purpose etc. – sometimes makes me feel like not getting the exact item I want is a major problem – even when there are 20 other options available!  Just having a choice is a privilege, one I can easily lose sight of!

I am grateful for the big things like family, friends, health and shelter.  But I am also grateful for the small things that I often take for granted.  I am grateful to live in relative wealth, not just in dollars and cents, but in opportunities and possibilities offered within each day.

The sky brightens as clouds of worry and woe clear, revealing the reality of the state of my wondrous world.  

Happy Thanksgiving to all!  May your day be filled with wonders, big and small.

**Happy Anniversary**

It will be one year this week since starting this blog! It has been delightful and demanding all at the same time. I want to thank everyone for their support through my attempt to face another one of the many bears that hide in my personal woods – going public! Every read and comment has been greatly appreciated. There is more to come! Thank-you, Sue

The Beat

I had played the trombone in the school band and carried the bass beat in more than one song.  Om  pa pa……  Playing music had ended with my decision to quit band in the eleventh grade.  The absence was minor in the scheme of things as life moved on in different directions.  My children had taken up saxophone and violin in elementary school for a while, but set them aside as the tune of other things in their lives struck stronger chords.  Music was relegated to the listening mode, in the privacy of our individual spaces or headphones.  Then a friend invited me to an African drumming class.  The timing fit into my efforts to find escape routes away from home. 

The initial ease of learning just three basic striking methods – base, tone, slap – was appealing.  But it was the way the vibrations and rhythms shook my body that hooked my heart!  Each strike traveled through my hands, up my arms, to my core – shaking loose knotted threads of tension.  Simple combination were taught, then combined into increasing complex patterns.  There was no sense of familiar melody to help me organize the patterns for memory. I closed my eyes.  My ears searched for the rhythm until they caught it – then relayed it directly to my hands.  After repetition after repetition my body began to pulse, not just to the beat, but as part of the beat. Two hours passed in what felt like less than one.  Worry and woes flew out the window on the wings of the notes.  My breath flowed in and out like a deep soft whisper.  My palms were tender, and so was my heart, as if anger and resentment had been beaten out of it.  The rhythms coursed through my head for days as I discreetly tapped on any solid surface that came into reach.  This was serious.  The teacher had a good source for purchasing traditionally made wooden drums with goatskin heads and I couldn’t resist the pull to have my own, to feel the vibration seep into the depths of my body and soul. 

I went to more classes and drum circles and the feeling never changed – but I did.  My tense shoulders released as the beat spread like a virus through my body, elevating the heat in places frozen in resistance, and burning through the heavy doors that blocked the way to feeling joy.  I attended classes whenever I could, but sporadically at best.  I never went to one without the friend that had introduced me, but did not attend all that she did.  She was enthralled with the drumming and the connections she made – and with the dancing.  I watched the liquid flow of bodies in response to the music.  I tried to join in once, but soon retreated to the sidelines as the instructor urged us to move in ways my robotic body couldn’t even believe was possible– no matter how much I consciously tried to relax.  I wanted to dance, I needed to dance, but dance was absent from my current vocabulary. 

Despite the delight drumming drove into the deep corners of my being, I always felt like an outsider.  I never felt ‘cool’ enough or at ease enough, and reverted back to that silly smile I had used for so long as a limited tool for connection. We ended up moving to a different location, putting my friend and classes further away.  I let the drift grow. Not because I wanted to, but because added distance made it easier to avoid the discomfort interlaced with the desire. And because I was still attached to the turmoil at home, could not leave it behind, could not allow myself the release and pleasure of this distraction regularly.  My drum waited in the corner, silent for months at a time. Habit, fear, and constraint tried to smother the notes that had temporarily left them behind.  But the rhythm of the music had been brought to life and refused to be erased.  Drumming was more than a convenient escape.  It was a discovery of the place inside where ease pulsed to a primal beat.

Nostalgiaville

On the last day of the Nashville trip we drove to Springfield in search of yet another labyrinth.  After the past few brick and grass structures we were in for a surprise.  Arriving at the address we were greeted by a giant rocking chair over 20 feet tall!  We entered what appeared to be a small rustic village with a sign that read ‘Nostalgiaville’.  A long covered plank sidewalk was lined with worn storefronts.  An enclosed wooden tower three stories high, with windows on all 4 sides of the top floor, overlooked the grounds.  We looked for someone to direct us but saw no sign of life, so we started exploring.  There was a lattice and vine covered walkway that played Dorothy’s Yellow Brick Road as we walked through.  It opened onto what at first appeared to be a large garden.  We soon realized it was a gigantic labyrinth.  It was 60 feet from side to side with a path over 4 feet wide.  Outlining the twists and turns was a strip about 18 inches wide outlined with landscape timbers and filled with small trees, bushes, flowers, benches, bird baths, rock piles and ornaments of all types and configurations.  The strip was divided into sections for each state and filled with memorabilia deposited by visitors.  It was magnificent!

The size allowed us to walk side by side, but as we explored the treasures along the way we each found our own pace.  During this walk I contemplated a past relationship that had ended badly, and felt the pain I had held on to for so many years disintegrate.  I realized the ending had freed me to move on, to discover neglected areas.  I recognized my own responsibility for suffering, and the way I so easily aimed the blame at others.  The behavior felt familiar, and a pattern came sharply into focus.  I was there again, thinking if I loved hard enough I could fix someone else’s broken pieces; then feeling disappointed, resentful and angry when it didn’t work.  Who was really broken here?  Where did this fixing idea come from anyways?

Along the way I noticed there were no weeds on the path or the divider, items were thoughtfully placed, and numerous flowers were healthy and blooming despite the heat that had marked the last few days.  I felt honored to be able to walk in a place that meant so much to whoever cared for it.  We later met Cheri.  She alluded to her obvious poor health but spoke with energy and excitement as she described her ideas and plans for this odd place – her passion.  Listening to her made me wonder about my own passion.  Did I have one?  The room we were in was covered with 12” by 12” sections of assorted assembled puzzles, placed next to each other like quilt squares, full of color and interest.  Brewer, the St Bernard, strolled around us with an easy attitude that fit the place.  Cheri showed us some rooms she rented out with decks that overhung a running creek.   She explained:  “I ask people to pay what they feel is right, or what they can afford.”  One room was enclosed in the limbs of a large tree.  I pictured myself staying there, hidden in my own tree house.  As we walked with her I felt a powerful connection different from anything I had ever felt so soon after meeting someone. 

We stayed a bit and explored some more.   We met Arnie, who led us to a building that housed a museum of every kind of soda can imaginable – many that I had never heard of – stacked neatly on specially built shelves – obviously his passion.   Then we walked to the creek and removed our sandals.  I tried to follow my sure footed friend into the creek, but the rocks hurt my feet and I could not go far – a true tenderfoot!  Yet as I climbed up the steep bank I noticed feeling exactly where my feet were on the rocks, grabbing with my toes, using them to guide me to more solid footholds when the soil was loose, as if they had just awakened from a long nap. 

Before I left I gave Cheri my favorite green beaded bracelet that I had made and worn almost constantly for months.  I don’t know why I needed to do this, but I did, it felt right.  I wanted to come back and stay sometime, help do something here, maybe hold a labyrinth walk.  But I never did.

My friend continued on towards her place in Louisiana and dropped me at the airport on her way.  Nashville had offered me the comfort of its ‘countryness’ and a new awareness of the joy in the music I had rejected for so long, along with a growing acceptance of my roots.  A last minute trip that I imagined would be about escaping and spending time with a friend had turned into a quest full of discoveries and the opening of parts of myself buried long ago.

Nostalgiaville, TN
Gaitlinburg TN
Fiddlehead Grove, NY
Annapolis, MD

**Exciting News**

#CSSAgeisjustanumber

I am thrilled to have had a story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul – Age is Just a Number! This edition of CSS has 101 stories selected from over 5000 submissions. My story is titled ‘ Bears in the Woods’ (how appropriate!) and is about spending a night on the Appalachian Trail with my son for my 60th birthday. If you have read my blog you know about my intense fear of bears and of the woods! I wanted to face the fear of the woods in the darkness and was ‘lucky’ enough to meet a giant black bear along the way to challenge that fear also! The book hit the stores on November third. There are many wonderful stories about life and discoveries after 60!

Country Side

Nashville had never been on my ‘must visit’ list.  But an invite to join a close friend (and fellow labyrinth enthusiast) on a trip there opened an escape route – away from the atmosphere of anxiety at home and towards the refreshment of exploration and discovery.  We had no specific plans, but did have a list from the Labyrinth Locator for stops along the way.  One stop was in Gatlinburg TN at the Buckhorn Inn.  Flat jagged rocks, perched on their narrow edges and pointing toward the sky, outlined a path of wood chips in a field enclosed by trees.  My breath caught in my chest at first sight.   This was a structure like none I had never seen.  I entered the Labyrinth with a question – “How do I balance family needs with personal needs?” – then slowly began the journey.  The intense July sun radiated through dead still air and halted my steps twice, but both times a sudden breeze arose and I was able to continue on.  Words to a song started to spin in my head: “you’ve got to wake up every morning with a smile on your face and show the world all the love in your heart, then people gonna treat you better, you’re gonna find, yes you will, that you’re beautiful, as you feel.”  I wasn’t aware that I even knew those words, but they kept repeating, over and over.  I knew it was a Carol King song, but didn’t know the title. The words accompanied me through the labyrinth.  It was not the kind of answer I had expected, but I had no doubt it was the answer to my question.  My smiles had been overshadowed by a furrowed brow and the love in my heart seemed to have gone into hibernation.

 Following the walk I found a hammock hung in a shady spot nearby.  I swung there to cool down, the words still streaming by. We moved on to Nashville and welcomed our air conditioned timeshare accommodations.  I looked up the song title –“Beautiful”- and it seemed appropriate to start our exploration of the famous city of music as a song tumbled through my head.  It became my personal ‘theme song’ – and remains so many years later.

Music rarely found its way into my childhood home – except once a week when the TV was tuned to The Grand Ole Opry.  My parents, especially my father, loved it.  Sometimes I tried to find another place to be – not easy in a small house.  Sometimes I stayed but diverted my attention to a magazine or other distraction – anything to avoid listening to boring old people music.  Limited exposure led to limited appreciation of music of any kind – until the Beatles arrived on Ed Sullivan!  But even then, we only had our small childhood record player, and buying records was not an option easily available – not to mention that spending what little money I had on records was not my first choice.  Our family radio was tuned to the news and only used by my parents, and the transistor radio I requested for Christmas had such poor reception it was of little use.

 The Ryman Theatre was unknown to me, but we went on the tour at my friend’s suggestion.  As we moved from room to room, the guide’s vivid description of the rich history and evolution of the music and musicians that had passed through these hallways began to unfold.  I  looked more closely at the photos, became intrigued by the stories about famous musicians I had barely been aware of.  I became curious about what it must be like to love something so much you devote all your time and energy – your life – to creating it.   My excitement built as the tour continued – and did not end when the tour ended.   After, we explored the downtown. I left one of the many western gear stores with an unplanned, and surprising, purchase – a pair of cowboy boots! We had lunch at the Wild Horse Saloon and returned that evening for the entertainment advertised.  The music took me back to the living room in our small house in the country.  I wished my parents were there to experience it in person with me.   My foot tapped and my ears captured the stories behind the notes, breeding a new appreciation for my parents’ joy, as they listened to that weekly broadcast long ago.

Next day: more labyrinths, the first in Antioch.  It was a poor cousin to the one in Gatlinburg, consisting of a barely discernible brick outline in the grass.  But the sun was shining and a gentle breeze moderated the temperature. The morning dew dampened my bare feet. There were no questions looking for answers on today’s walk.  I moved slowly, noticing that the green portion of the path was mostly crabgrass, that stubborn enemy to my own suburban yard.  Then I laughed to myself, almost out loud, maybe a little out loud, as it occurred to me that the roots of the crabgrass felt like my own – strong, resilient, deep – while the surface appearance reflected my own self image – unrefined, coarse, not acceptable in a well groomed surroundings.  Tears erupted, then slowed and stopped – not fully released for fear that once they fell without restraint they would never cease.  A few steps further brought patches of softer grass, and the final turn into the center was carpeted in clover.  The center stone was made from bright blue shards of clay and glass embedded in concrete.  The strong urge to do a yoga sun salutation won out over my resistance to putting myself on display.  The sun’s rays melted my shoulders away from my neck and released my lips into a smile.  On the return trip my feet landed with a lighter touch – but I resisted their twitch towards dancing.  

Near the end of the path I watched a large beetle crawl up and down blades of grass, then tumble, right itself and keep going, over and over, blade after blade.  It was iridescent green, gold and purple – I thought beetles were black!  My journey ended as the beetle’s continued, on its own course of discovery. Thoughts of my Aunt ‘Ninnie’ flickered in – she would have loved Nashville – was she ever here?  Was she here with me now?  A steady intense noise buzzed from the trees nearby – Cicadas? Birds?  Not sure, but it was a wild song composed by nature.  I sat to write in a small copse of evergreens and the powerful scent of hemlock stopped my hand briefly as I basked in the flood of sensations.  I began to wonder how often I missed these experiences as I rushed from task to task at home.

We continued on to a second Labyrinth at the Calvary Methodist Church, located just down the road from the iconic Bluebird Café -famous for its reputation as a place for singer/songwriters, both famous and up-and-coming, to shares their songs and the stories behind them.  More bricks hid in overgrown grass.  I confidently headed towards the center – until I found myself at the entrance again without ever reaching the middle!  I chuckled and realized we can even lose our way on what appears to be a familiar route.   It was time to eat, rest, and leave the serious thoughts behind for the day.  And time to prepare for an evening show at the Grand Ole Opry.

We drove through a downpour to the ‘Opry’- in its large modern home, following the move from the Ryman Theatre in 1974.  We could see it in the distance but struggled finding our way through the unfamiliar maze of highways, bridges and exits to get there.  Once inside we found our seats near the front of the nearly full auditorium.   The traditional Opry show was not on tonight.   We were here to see the Oakridge Boys band.  But visions of Minnie Pearl and her hat with the price tag hanging off, along with singers Roy Acuff, Patsy Cline, and Tex Ritter crept in, perhaps refuting the diversion of my attention in the living room over 40 years ago!

To be continued…..

Journey Back

I was in a state of disbelief.  I had somehow found my way to this weekend women’s retreat at Fiddlehead Grove – located in the same tiny town I was born in!  Five decades earlier my father had raced towards the local Dr’s office in his new Plymouth while my mother and grandmother tended to my birth in the back seat.  I was just a few miles from the home I grew up in.  I stopped in to see my parents the evening before, but used the excuse of a ‘professional conference’ to explain my absence for the day – there was no way I was going to try to explain the retreat and labyrinth that had really brought me here.  I had found this labyrinth only two days earlier, through a general search on the website for the World Wide Labyrinth Locator.  And there just happened to be a retreat this weekend with an opening still available.  My brain struggled to remove the wall between this ‘new age’ approach to healing and the rigid isolated environment I fled from so long ago. In my flight away from one and now towards the other I ended up creating my own circle of twists and turns that did not appear to form any purposeful pattern, until maybe now.

Rocks, varying in size from grapefruits to small watermelons, outlined the now familiar pattern located in a small semi-cleared area in the woods.  Nine of us walked at the same time, some on the inward journey towards the center and others returning on the same 18 inch wide path.  Sometimes I stepped aside to allow another to pass and sometimes others stepped aside to allow my passage.  Sometimes we both stopped and hugged briefly before we continued on our ways in a dance choreographed only by the unspoken flow between us.  Half way into the Labyrinth I noticed we were surrounded by trees of small girth, suggesting this was an old field returning to its natural state, a new growth forest.  I realized I too was in a ‘new growth’ phase.  Parts of me had lain fallow through the business of marriage, family and career in a field shadowed with alcohol, anger and anxiety.  I felt ready to topple; desperate to establish roots deep enough to hold me steady as I swayed with the winds that blew my way.

Following the labyrinth walk, Cathy – the retreat leader and owner of this property – provided directions through the woods to the creek.  I hesitated, but then joined a small group, gradually falling behind, enjoying the peace and wonder surrounding me.  Why had I always been so afraid of the woods?  There was so much life there, often sprouting from death.  Tiny saplings sprang from the upturned roots of blow downs, moss and mushrooms proliferated on dead stumps – the perfect recycling of nature.  Herbal tea and chatter waited on the lawn upon returning to the small home.  Cathy was open and welcoming to everyone, and easily shared her stories, hopes and plans to build and expand.  It was obvious many of the participants were regulars here, but I did not feel left out the way I often did in unfamiliar groups.  Was it the group?  The sense of familiarity with the surroundings?  Or my own opening towards them, towards myself, that made the difference?   

Following an afternoon yoga class Reiki treatments were offered.  I had never had one before but felt open to trying anything.  I had no idea what to expect.  A few minutes into the session I could feel emotions creeping upward, from deep inside.  I tried to hold unexpected tears back without success, apologizing as I wept.  The practitioner softly uttered it was OK, and to allow whatever feelings arose to come out.  A few minutes later an intense tingling moved from the tips of my fingers, up my arms and through my entire body – electrifying, unlike anything I had ever experienced.  I was frightened and told the practitioner about the sensation.  Once again she calmly stated it was not unusual and everything was OK, to breathe and relax as much as I could.  My desire to relax fought against my usual resistance to self-care, until my mind and muscles finally began to soften.  Following the treatment the practitioner stated that my heart had been too open, that I was taking in all the pain and anger of those around me.  She had worked to reduce the opening and now taught me techniques to brush away the emotions that I absorbed from others.  I had difficulty at first understanding that an open heart was a bad thing – contrary to the lore of love.   But understanding grew as I sifted through all the pain and anger that had surrounded me for most of my life; and how it had evolved into the need to ‘fix’ that pain and anger in others – often at the cost of my own well being.

I returned to my parent’s home to spend the night.  I felt confused yet calm.  The house felt familiar yet foreign.  The future felt foggy, but fingers of possibilities poked holes through the mist, letting in brief sparks of light.

To be continued…