Today the world is silver. A mirror on the water. Rothko's clouds sighing above the light. The Milky Way galaxy in my coffee. The mothering hush of the sea. A chill. A geranium. The day you died, yesterday, the day after Valentine's Day. Seeing your photo, barely recognising you. I couldn't see you through my version of you. I wish I could remove that from then.
The strange murmuring of men on the street below. They sound like a school of bubbling fish, disagreeing about algae. I want to be writing about Life, but my version of life feels like it's in the way.
In this moment, what is my truth? I see myself moving in all directions at once, like something waving its tentacles, going nowhere. But perhaps that is okay. Take the sun, does it have a destination? If you think life is about getting somewhere, mastering something, you could sure feel like a failure. What if your life is like a tree? Each thing you do a branch? Reaching out in a lot of different directions. A place for squirrels. For swings. For birds and shade and maybe even fruit. Or not. Just leaves. Just acorns. Just shade. And swings. Please let there be swings. Let there be picnics. Let there be hiding places when life is hard and the only one you can face is your tree. The only one you will let hold you is the crook of the tree where the big branch comes out, where there is the smooth spot you always lean against.
Listening to Shirley Horn sing, "Here's to Life". When she sings, "...may all your storms be weathered..." it feels like it's not her singing anymore, it's like she's a tree, the spirit of a tree, spreading its branches to shelter us. Not that we shouldn't ever experience storms. What would life be without wind and rain and things that are sometimes hard to get through? But that we weather them, we make it through. Funny, how the hard thing you're going through has the same name as the thing inside you that you need to find to get through it. Now that I think of it, how could it be otherwise? The world really is a mirror of the mind, or God's mind, perhaps. The only mind in town, except for what we lay over it. Our version of it, our feeling that we're separate from it. Like my index finger, right this very second, is me, is part of Christie typing. But who knows, it might feel itself as an individual, and have no idea that there is a liver it is connected to, sharing its world, and its weather. Like me, right now, do I feel connected to the giant octopus that is living somewhere in the depths of the ocean that I am looking at? No. I figure I've got my life and he's got his.
But yes, to weather a storm sometimes we need to find the power of the storm within us. Like the Alaskan wilderness adventure guide I heard on a podcast, a rugged guy responsible for the lives of groups he led up mountains and down rivers on rafts, who was so heartbroken by his wife leaving him that he curled up in the dark of a friend's cabin and just wanted to die. After a few weeks his friend kicked him out, and as he made his way through the woods to his old house, feeling utterly broken, he got lost. The next thing he knew, a massive grizzly bear was standing a few yards in front of him, and it roared its warning, and in that moment, knowing he could never outrun it, because they can run 30 miles an hour, he said he had to find some part of him deep deep down inside himself that was not broken, that could never be broken. And he did. He reached it and he roared back. Never heard that voice. Could not believe it was his voice, but it was, and it stopped that bear in its tracks. Neither of them could believe it. They looked into each other's eyes. The bear came closer, and roared again. And the man, who had spent weeks wanting to die, roared back again, wanting to live. There was so much soul in that roar that the bear backed down. He let out a snort and waddled off into the trees.
But what am I doing, retelling other people's stories? Talking about other people's songs? What am I afraid of? That's what he said, too, when he told the story, at the end, that he had found out that he had it in him to look his fears right in the eye, and that was the only way to start living again.
What is true for me right now, the truth of this moment? Yes, I'm afraid all the things I do will never add up to much of anything. That I'll never finish my books. But the war is over. The battlefield in my soul is quiet at last. While I wait for the rains to wash over it, I sing to all the parts of myself that were killed or wounded there. May a good storm come and drop its healing waters on that ground, and let the bloodied grass grow green again.
I feel like that man walking out of the woods. My grizzly bear is my shame for things I did and things I didn't do. The crimes against the heart I committed – which was always the same crime, of falling in love with another man, in another place, far away – were done out of fear of my life closing in, out of fear of being trapped in the pages of the wrong book. My life was my only true lover, and I was faithful to that, and I only wish it was possible in life to leave when you're called to leave, like migrating geese, without causing pain, to be true to your nature without breaking anyone's heart.
Take me back to the tree. Let me go back to reaching out in many directions, going nowhere. I see you there, my dear. Here, I mean. Inside the house you keep inside this tree of me. I see the way you look at me, askance – what a lovely druid-sounding word, askance – and loving, and bemused. Bemused. Be the muse. Be what the muse has made of you. Now I have to laugh, because you illustrate things so wonderfully: I am holding onto a big lumpy brown sack, even bigger than Santa's and it won't fit through your door. A few bodies could fit inside it. It is the big brown bag of my guilt and sorrow, and it is also full of boxes, music boxes that need repairing, and other boxes, full of faded photographs, and all the manuscripts I am afraid I will never finish. And you are inside your house inside the heart of the tree, with the cozy fire burning, and the dried herbs hanging from the rafters, and the aroma of soup, which smells like love and forgiveness and laughter and snuggles, wafting up from the pot hanging over the fire. But I can't come in as long as I hold onto this bag. It just won't fit through the door, and it's up to me to let it go.
If I leave it outside, the bears will certainly come and tear it apart. But maybe that is okay. The fairies may find the music boxes and fix them, they're probably quite good at that. The squirrels and possums and badgers and skunks may be delighted with all of my papers, shredding them for their bedding, good insulation against their damp earth walls. The cloth of the bag is the same my overalls were made from that I wore on that trip to Alaska when I was 19 thinking I was leaving forever. I would live with my fearless freight-hopping boyfriend and make friends with the bears for company. But the bears were not interested in being my friend. And after a couple of months there I knew I had to come back. There was another wilderness that I could take refuge in, the darkened stage, and the lights the Big Dipper, and the North Star.
The stage was my safe place. Nobody can touch you there. Nobody can call you names. They have to be quiet and watch you dance. It was a healing, holding place for me, where sometimes I could roar my roar from the bottom of my sea, and feel the unbreakable part of me.
Everything is different now. The only refuge I need is you, my dear bemused and patient muse, who has kept the home fire burning in our house inside the tree. It's funny, I don't see your pointed green shoes anywhere tonight. Are they under the bed? Or were they never really here? For you are not an elf, or a fairy, or troubadour, or one of Robin Hood's Merry Men, or anything else I've imagined you to be. You are a very real part of my own soul, even though we are as different as a finger and a liver, one of us on the outside, touching the surfaces of life, and the other on the inside, keeping the fire of life going, devotedly sorting out what is poison from what is nourishment, keeping me alive and safe. I know what I want now. I want to sit by the fire with you, my dear, and make up our stories together. All I need is your sweet soul soup, your why-not wine and your bread made from what is unbreakable.