From Circling Faith
She had been drawn to the little sea shack nestled betwixt water and sky with the simple purity of a turtle whose true north is a singular spot of sand on an empty beach. She was happy there. The details of her life – errands into town, cleaning the house, writing her books – were timed in conjunction with the comings and goings of the Gulf because she loved to wander the beach at low tide and marvel over treasures the sea had momentarily left behind. On this sandbar she called home, she felt in touch with the Goddess-spirit, with the eternal circle she viewed as sacred (life feeds death; death feeds life). Troubles seemed less ponderous and joy less threatening in the presence of nature’s rhythms.
But even the beauty and steady honesty of this place could not save her in the aftermath of that soul-wrecking divorce. The absolute anguish she felt over the slow death of her marriage and the venomous tentacles that grew from its corpse forced her into a dark and hopeless internal landscape. Physical proximity to the sea could not assuage the wasteland her heart and its attendant need for well-being suddenly occupied. Old friends could not help. Family could not help. Possible lovers could not help. No one could help. The past and its malignant vestiges poisoned the present, infected the future. With her spirit in exile, she acted on what she viewed as her only reasonable option: she fled. She ran inland, not unlike Nick in Remembering Blue, and immersed herself in the task of becoming whole again, cell-by-cell, moment-by-moment, blind-eye-by-blind-eye.
She decided to teach. It was a good thing, this teaching life. She met eager and brilliant young people, their hearts still untainted. They reminded her, in all their innocent vigor, that hope was still present in the lives of many people. She met women who understood the ways of a brokenhearted sister and they quietly walked with her down paths she was fearful to travel alone.
But there were villains afoot all along this path, and her sisters could not always protect her. Predators smell wounded prey and, as is sometimes the way with life, she arrived in this place far from the sea deeply, deeply wounded. Nonetheless, for a few years, she managed to outwit the villains, but the odds in this urban land of red tooth and claw were stacked against her. She did not heal fast enough. Her wounds and her naiveté were too entrenched, too obvious.
In the early hours of a late summer day as she slept, someone she knew broke into her home and attacked her, body and soul. The police, the counselors, the victim advocate, the state attorney sang in unison, as if a Greek chorus, “Yes, it’s almost always someone you know.”
All the work she had done over all the years to recover from her past (battered children grow into adults who are wracked with self-revulsion and doubt) was undone when her attacker, by word and deed, stripped her of her dignity by violating her bone-by-bone.
Her undoing had just begun. Someone who considered himself a leader among men, a real shaker and maker, a mouthpiece who had loudly proclaimed throughout this landlocked place that he was her staunchest ally, turned out to own a jagged heart made of thistle and stone. In the wake of the attack, when she was at her lowest ebb, he – just for the sport of it – shouted to all who would listen that she had asked for it, that she was lying, that she was unstable, ungrateful, unfit because women who claim they have been assaulted are nothing more than little Eves: beautiful, dangerous, apple-loving liars.
Once more, she found herself relegated to a lightless place, standing dumbly, taking sucker punch after sucker punch, no one hearing her howls for help; she had forgotten that sometimes the only person who can help you is yourself. But she did acquire a stubborn question: How does a person live peaceably with himself when his greatest pleasure is to pummel a woman after she is down?
Our prodigal daughter, it turns out, was stronger than anyone, including she, realized. Fed up with taking the blows, fed up with asking for justice in a place populated with enablers (if this were a traditional fairy tale, written by a wizened old witch in a forest, she would have used the word “twits” instead of the psychobabble inspired E word) who were too fearful to listen or act (hear no evil, see no evil, get no bad press, who among the players on this stage is most likely to sue?), she rose from the blood and gravel her attacker and enemy had tossed her in, and she did so simply by acknowledging her innate goodness. Sometimes the simplest decisions require the greatest courage: She would not, she decided, allow herself to be defined by the violence, cowardice, and cruelty of a few pretty tyrants posing as demigods.
At first, she wasn’t sure if she would survive. Strangers walked up to her on the street and asked if she were okay. Trusted former students who lived hundreds of miles away, not knowing what she was going through but prompted by hidden angels, phoned and told her it was time to move on, to take care of herself.
“Time to ascend, baby!” one of them said.
This fairy tale has many holes in it. . . it’s not a story, really, more of a thumbnail sketch posted in the wind. The books, the oral history, the pen-to-paper art will come later. But rest assured the tale has a happy ending. . . .
Our heroine left the land that two villains had smeared with the blood of her good nature and returned home to the shanty, and the sea, and that big, big sky.
And what about now? How is she in this new moment?
Once more her heart and intellect are tied to the comings and goings of the Gulf. Dolphins glide by as she conjures her next story and the birds, she is sure, are happy to again be getting three square meals a day.
New doors are opening and she increasingly feels strong enough to walk through them. That is how she met the man who would become the great love of her life: she opened a door and, taking small but hopeful steps, reentered the world.
With her heart filled with an abundance she had feared she would never again experience, she wanders through North Florida’s piney woods to be met by old friends with open arms who are surprised, yet not, to see her (we always knew you’d be back); who sweep her up, who tell her they love her, who whisper how happy they are that she is finally home. Home. It is a beautiful word, she thinks. It sounds like the yogi’s ohm – vibrant with the possibilities only peace brings.
She sits on a spit of sand that is, by turns, a turtle crawl and the Gulf’s fine belly, and realizes she is breathing differently. Each inhalation and exhalation bears an ease born of regained happiness and an urgency prompted by a renewed will to live fully. It is an odd juxtaposition of grace and want. She has, by tragedy’s swift, surprising hand been made aware of mortality’s awesome shadow – how quickly it can overtake and obliterate. But the awareness does not suffer her. Everything she learned out there in that vicious yet unbearably tender world serves her well. The lessons – enduring, hard won, and treasured – amplify the core tenets of her nature. In greater measure than before she left this place, she is quiet, strong, determined, loud, contemplative, patient, impatient, wise, stupid, funny curious, and wonder-filled. She is insistent about both carpe deim and laissez les bons temps rouler. She is kinder, slower to judge, but also less tolerant of resident evil.
As she sifts the sand between her fingers, she breaths in the yogi’s tiger breath – is nurtured by it – and hums a homily to sky, sea, dolphins, and her present self, “Home. I am finally, finally home.”