burning on the inside

Skeins of geese are weaving wavy v’s across the sky as I unravel below.

There is nothing “unprecedented” about me unraveling in the fall. In fact, it is so predictable I have had trouble putting words into posts because the inner critic keeps telling me, “nobody wants to hear that again.” I have sparred many rounds against the inner critic this year, pummeled into weeks of silence until I finally place a good kick, then I unleash a flurry of posts as I race to get current with my own process while she’s briefly subdued. I catch my breath but then the critic comes back swinging.

There is no end in sight of my son’s self-imposed isolation. His regard and concern for others I will defend with the teeth and claws of a mother bear’s fierce pride, but that does not assuage my grief at this ongoing separation, and all the uncertainties of its duration. Just before school started, Quinn suggested that he and I go backpacking together and spend the night in the woods – separate tents, each carrying our own food and gear, still with masks and no hugging. It has been a long time since I went backpacking, but I got myself geared up, excited to embark on this new shared activity with my son. I sewed a lightweight tent out of fabric I scavenged from broken-zipper tents discarded after a festival years ago, treated myself to a cheap new pack and inflatable sleeping mat. Then the forests caught fire and by the time the smoke cleared, school had started, and backpacking was backburnered.

The rain has returned, and the soggy soil makes it hard to imagine anything was ever on fire, that our whole state was burning, that some places still are. Talking about the mop-up stage of wildfires, Rich explained, “they have to check all the root systems… some of those old trees, like our spruce tree? They could be burning on the inside and you wouldn’t even know. They can look completely fine on the outside…” There are times when I feel like that. When asked, “how are you?” I sometimes say, “fine,” when it isn’t the truest answer. The inner critic burns from the inside, “nobody wants to hear how you really are. Just be polite and tell them what they want to hear.” Of course, there are a few fellow earthlings who take care to check the root system, and I’m grateful.

There have been mercies this year, and because they’ve emerged amid wrecked fields of disappointments and loss, they shine like singular, luminous wildflowers. The nests of baby birds that made it were rivaled by the nests full of baby birds that did not. The longed-for visits with loved ones were stressful or canceled. The rainbow webs have begun illuminating my garden again, but I watched the other day as a dragonfly met its demise in one of them. The sound caught my attention first – sizzling like a pot of water boiling over on the stove. I couldn’t tear my eyes away as it struggled, but the silk thread held strong, and after a long battle, the dragon was defeated.

On the other hand, I have my husband who climbs up on the roof to clean the chimney and gutters, who lights fires in the woodstove for the kitties and I to worship, who brings me popcorn in my Wonder Woman bucket on Sunday night, who waged an ivy-removal campaign on our bayou trail this summer that has made our trail walks even more magical than before. We still have each other, we still have our jobs, we still have our home, we still have our health… we still have so many reasons to be grateful.

During 2020 I have maintained a solid gratitude practice for more of the year than not (unprecedented!), a survival skill in a year such as this. Just when the geese are about to make off with the unraveling thread of my being, gratitude will help me grab hold of it, tie a knot, hang on for dear life.

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