It is the last, lone leaf on the oak tree that calls to me, that pulls my thoughts away from the all-consuming conundrum that has shadowed me for months
I was born with “Responsibility” tattooed across my shoulders. First—and always, with family. Then with career. And when we moved to Michigan and I learned of the issues plaguing the Great Lakes, restoring their health became my purpose, my passion, my responsibility. The same with protecting the native wildflowers, traveling companions discovered on my solo journey up the coast exactly ten years ago.
But what if “responsibility” has painted such a strong hue across the prism of my soul that none of the other colors gifted me at birth can shine through? What if this role has evolved into a false sense of self-worth? A role that is out of balance with what is healthy for me? or others? What if I am like the oak tree in springtime, holding on when it is time to let go.
Sometimes, it takes an event of cataclysmic proportion to trigger life’s most important questions.
A decision made by a loved one ripped through me six months ago. Like a hurricane roaring through the valley, the decision upended my life, consumed my waking—and then my sleeping hours—with worry. It cast me into a darkness the likes of which I have never experienced before. “The back of the hand to everything,” Mary Oliver says in her poem Hurricane.
The back of the hand to everything.
I just finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions. In it she says, “a crisis is a holy summons to cross a threshold.” Like Dorothy, in the Wizard of Oz, when something turns your world upside down, you have a choice. You can embark on a journey of growth and transformation, or you can continue in your same old patterns.
I have no choice. The old patterns are not serving me well. And so, God sent me a hurricane . . . followed by a plethora of poets and authors whose honesty and willingness to share their own stories are like streaks of light streaming from the blackness.
“We may like to think we’re individuals living out our own truth,” Monk Kidd writes, “but more often we’re scripts written collectively by society, family, church, job, friends, and traditions.”
One of the scripts she describes is that of the Little Red Hen that “did it all.” Efficient. Competent. Ruled by a duty-at-all costs mentality, the Little Red Hen gives unceasingly—even to the point of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion.
My yellow highlighter is all over these pages for I see myself in this childhood story. The only difference is that, unlike the Little Red Hen, I have people who are willing to help. My challenge is learning to let go, to stand aside and let things evolve along a path not of my choosing. For one who likes control, that is a tough lesson. So is learning to love myself enough to establish boundaries, to find a balance between caring for myself and caring for all the people and things I hold dear. And while I know that means allowing uninterrupted “play time”—and lots of it, too often "nurturing me" falls to the bottom of the to-do list.
The trees in Oliver’s Hurricane “push new leaves” despite the late season. Now in my sixty-sixth year, I am determined to do the same. Braving the arctic winds of April, I wander the dunes framing the coast of my beloved Lake Michigan, “playing.” Camera in hand, I photograph the oak leaf. The next time I return, the leaf will be gone, replaced by the unfurling hope of spring.
Monk Kid, Sue. When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life's Sacred Questions. Harper Collins. 2006
Oliver, Mary. "Hurricane." A Thousand Mornings. The Penguin Press. 2012. pg. 21
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