The Time is Now
I suppose it’s a fortunate thing that no one ever told me how hard it would be. Growing up was difficult enough on its own and the belief that there was always something better is what kept me going, what kept the dreams alive inside my painful little world. In the words of the great Frank Sinatra, I always believed the best is yet to come. I suppose this is the true definition of hope.
But no one told me it was going to be this hard.
At the risk of sounding like a whiner, the reality is that I have experienced more loss in the past four years than any human should ever have to endure and significant loss is one area of pain in which I hadn’t yet earned my stripes. I was severely unprepared for the gut-wrenching grief and massive life changes that have shaken my foundation to its very core.
Most of us move forward with the illusion that time is tangible, that it’s something we own. When I look into my son’s eyes, it’s almost as though I can see it slipping away second-by-second. I hold him in my arms and squeeze him (perhaps a bit too tightly) pretending for just a moment that it’s time I’m holding; and, if I try hard enough - it will stop moving, stay within my grasp, safe in the warmth of my arms.
The greatest lies are the ones we tell ourselves.
We do so many things to try and manipulate it, to take us back or move us forward, to anywhere other than where we are at this very moment. It is in this precise moment that it slips through our fingers the way a photograph fades - not all at once but just enough that years go by before we look back and see all that is gone.
The racing thoughts and fears in my mind often allow little space for the savoring of these precious moments and at times, self-imposed exhaustion sneaks up on me. When it does, I go in search of peace. This time, I decide on a cabin in the woods, a place made solely for the purpose of peace-finding. A place made for writers, for dreamers, for worriers and for seekers.
At just a little over an hour’s drive from home, it feels like another world with wide-open spaces, stunning changing colors of fall and the just-crisp-enough air at your face. I intentionally breathe in the beauty along winding roads before I come across a small town with run-down stores and houses with bars on their windows. I find it difficult to reconcile the stark contrast between the stunning beauty of nature and palpable pain of circumstance living this close to one another.
I pass a house so dilapidated that it appears as a real-life haunted house where a boy, about the age of my son, sits blank-faced on the steps outside. I wonder about his life, his family, whether he is happy. I wonder if he’s hopeful or if he spends his days feeling as though this is as good as it gets.
I want to rescue him, to tell him that life is hard - really damn hard - but he is resilient and although he may not feel it, he has choices to make. I want to tell him to never run away from who he is and, as I drive away from him to find myself, hope instead that he believes the best is yet to come.
I continue on before stopping at a local restored and fully-operational mill where they make cornmeal, whole wheat, and buckwheat flour. I pay $2.00 to enter so I can get up-close and personal with the machinery while an older gentleman spends 45 minutes telling me about the history of the mill. He schools me on all things flour and the amazing architecture of the building. The simplicity of its strength is admirable. I take it all in as I realize - he’s about the age my father would be.
I leave to enter a trail that winds around through a covered bridge, over the water and into the woods where I come upon a black squirrel. He plays games with me as I try to get his photo before I walk just a few steps further and see his friends. The forest is filled with frolicking black squirrels!
The rush of the water in my ears is enough to drown out my own thoughts for just a bit. I take a deep breath to smell the fallen leaves and feel myself gently smile. It already feels like coming home.
I can’t check in to the cabin for a bit longer so I decide to stop at a winery along the way. The entrance is lined with grapevines marked with each variety: Merlot, Frontenac, St. Croix. The driveway winds through trees popping with color along a sparkling river, a perfect contrast against the clear blue sky. I stop and sample some local wine before enough time has passed to continue on.
I eventually arrive to a place where the smokey campfire wind blows nostalgia my way - where I will wake among the trees and time moves slowly enough that it feels, if even for a just second, as though there is enough of it.
“Catherine” as my cabin is called, welcomes me with open arms: a fire pit stocked with all the fixings, a package of s’mores ingredients, a tiny kitchen with exactly all the amenities you would find to be just enough. It feels good to be wrapped in her arms, free of not only the daily bustle, but the material things that often weigh us down.
I feel a strange excitement - almost giddiness - as I unpack my things before heading outside to start a fire where I grill asparagus and zucchini over an open flame and sit down for a feast. I take the time to feel each slightly-smokey but delicious crunch of asparagus in my mouth and imagine it nourishing my body. I can’t remember the last time I took the time to enjoy food this much.
On the table is a booklet of things to do to encourage relaxation during my stay. I open it to the first page where I am supposed to write down things to remember when I get back to civilization. The directions state to write them down and then throw the paper into the fire and for some reason, this is supposed to help them stick with me.
I’m skeptical, but pull out one of my favorite pens and begin:
“Remember to slow down and breathe. Be grateful for all you have been given, for your resilience and strength. Remember to keep fighting the fight. Never give up on being you.”
“Love fully, with an open heart that has no room for fear.”
“Forgive. Understand that holding on to the past hurts you.”
I hold the words in my hand for a bit before tossing them into the fire and I watch them quickly disintegrate, wondering if I will even remember them in the morning.
The fire becomes my closest companion for the night and I enjoy my time watching it alternate between roaring flames and simmering embers - somehow an appropriate metaphor for my life. After some time, I head inside and crawl into bed.
I wake early in the morning and use a tea kettle to brew green tea and eat a little breakfast at my nook. I find it to be so peaceful that I can almost hear my ears trying to hear. It’s in this moment when I realize that the internal dialogue has calmed. Silence away from the bustling city, silence from my racing mind, silence loud enough to hear - this is the most beautiful sound.
I leave just after sunrise and drive to a local trail. It’s an easy one that’s clearly maintained and winds for several miles through open fields and forest. I enter and realize I am completely alone with the birds in the stillness of morning. I take my time soaking in the fresh air and sounds of nature.
As I leave the trail to begin the drive home, I find myself not wanting it to end just yet so I decide to stop at a nature center with year-round outdoor gardens. It’s an interesting walk around the grounds with equal parts beauty and history.
There are remnants of summer flowers still just barely holding on as if they too sense the unfortunate passing of time. There are stunning views of a lake framed in autumn’s color, a rock quarry garden and rows of still-blooming yellow roses, but it’s the forest art exhibit that captures my attention the most. My favorite piece is a heart crafted out of sticks.
“Love fully, with an open heart that has no room for fear,” I am reminded.
The words I thought disintegrated in the fire immediately come back to me.
Love fully. I’m not entirely sure I knew what those words meant when I wrote them. What does it mean to love fully, to love with an open heart, to love without fear?
There is something inherently welcoming about the visibly open heart as I stand in front of it searching for an answer.
Is our capacity to love greater than the heart’s ability to break?
With the racing thoughts and fears in my mind, I’ve been living as though one more break will destroy me when, in fact, those breaks have come together to make me stronger.
Perhaps I just needed to see it for my own eyes to fully open my heart.
I leave the forest and begin my journey back with far more peace than I had been searching and a renewed belief that the best is - most certainly - yet to come.