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GROUND

It was my last day in South Africa. I was already feeling the pain of separation as I spread my body across the rich iron red earth and wept. I made no attempt to hide. I did not venture away from base camp for privacy. I did not want to tempt fate by making myself lion bait. The other volunteers were not embarrassed by my tears. If my crying made any of them uncomfortable that day, they never let on.

When I first arrived, I did the same, but I did so casually. No one looking at me would have suspected the surge I felt beneath me when I refused a chair during our first group meeting, opting to sit on the ground instead. I remember the feeling well: reunion.

This overwhelming feeling of reconnection seemed illogical and made no sense to me at first. I had left my actual home seventeen days before yet as I lay there weeping that last day, leaving Africa felt like leaving my mother’s womb.

I didn’t know I was starving until She fed me. Africa nourished me. With the exception of becoming a mother to my children, Africa fed me and filled me in a way that nothing else ever had before or since.

“I guess I’d have to say that the most exciting place I’ve ever been to is Africa. Because it’s another world there. Not just the cultures and the people. That’s great… but it’s the air… the colors from dawn to dusk, and there’s something tangible about the whole thing. The cohabitation of man and beast, and beast and beast — who’ll survive and who won’t. There’s no judgment about it either you know. There’s no imposed morality. It’s just the way it is. It’s just beautiful really. There’s nothing like it…”

I read this somewhere, printed it out and hung it above my desk a short time after returning home. I wish I could give proper credit to its author, but I have no recollection of who that is. But I do recall how much those words made me ache. They still do.

I have always felt an incredibly strong connection to the earth – to ground. Not just while in Africa but always. I think that’s why I dislike winter so much.

“Ground is what lies beneath our feet. It is the place where we already stand; a state of recognition, the place or circumstances to which we belong whether we wish to or not.” – David Whyte Consolations

When I was a kid, I used to say that if I were ever given one wish to come true, it would be to have the ability to hibernate. My friends and siblings would laugh at this, but I wasn’t joking.

These days, every year on the last day of summer, my husband and I make a point to try and be out on the water to watch the sunset. It seems like a silly ritual, but for me, watching that last summer sunset is my attempt at making sure my battery is fully charged before winter.

Throughout fall, as trees begin to shed their leaves until all but the evergreens are stripped bare skeletons, I also feel that precious energy begin to leak from my body.

The first frost is a warning siren; the first hard freeze pulls the plug on my life support.

When the ground is frozen in many ways so am I.

This loss of connection to ground leaves me numb and resentful. I find myself demanding to know where the rest of the year went. I want answers but am left with deafening silence. The chorus of birds and frogs have left me, only their echoes remain.

The silence in winter is profound, and the frozen ground bears the weight of all my worries accumulated throughout the year. Escape is futile, though at times attempts are made to have my insides match the outside by drinking until I am sufficiently numb.

But there are also times when I’m out walking in the woods on a bitterly cold winter day when the sound of snow squeaking like styrofoam beneath my feet reminds me to come to ground. One minute I’m convinced that I’m all alone in the world, and the next minute I remember that this too shall pass. That the leaves will once again sprout from naked trees and I will sit in their shade on a hot summer day listening to an avian orchestra.

If we are fortunate to have a seventy-degree day or two in February, as we were this past winter, the first thing I do is worry about climate change and the second thing I do is walk on the frozen ground barefoot. Despite the intense cold, I can still feel the tickle of connection which charges just enough of my dead battery to make to March.

By April I am itchy. Itchy to work my fingers through the rich loamy soil again. Itchy to pick fresh chives and plant seeds.

Above all, the ground keeps me grounded. It reminds me to strive to stay in balance and teaches me patience which is a lesson I stubbornly refuse to learn.

In my garden, there are no neat rows or straight borders. I don’t label the plants they label me. The first time I ever planted onions I was completely blown away. The seeds are somewhat larger than carrot seeds which are tiny and also never fail to impress. But something about harvesting those onions, gently tugging them from the ground while feeling their reluctance to yield, almost brought tears to my eyes. Of course, onions always make me cry, but this was different. I was overcome by overwhelming gratitude for the ground.

The same ground that supports we humans in every single thing that we do.

Ground is what supports us and sustains us and is our lifelong medium for growth. Without our connection to ground, we wither and die on the vine.

“To come to ground is to find a home in circumstances and in the very physical body we inhabit in the midst of those circumstances and above all to face the truth, no matter how difficult that truth may be; to come to ground is begin the courageous conversation, to step into difficulty and by taking that first step, begin the movement through all difficulties, to find the support and foundation that has been beneath our feet all along: a place to step onto, a place on which to stand and a place from which to step.” – David Whyte Consolations

And it is ground that welcomes us home. Not just the ground that our physical homes are built on but the body of the earth that we return to when we die.

I witnessed this again just recently during a burial for a young man sadly taken way too soon. It was heartbreaking to watch, and it reminded me of all the loved ones I have lost over the years.

To come to ground is to step into difficulty, literally step by step one foot after another as you leave that loved one behind to face the neverending challenges of being alive. To face the truth that one day it will be us being lowered into that ground and let it make us more determined to find some joy in every day.

As we left the services for this beautiful young soul, my daughter turned to my husband and I and began talking to us about how she envisioned her own funeral to play out. She explained to us how she wanted a party, a cookout or something of the sort, but definitely a celebration of her life filled with lightness and laughter.

I agreed and was about to add more to the conversation, but before I could say another word, she quickly and thoughtfully added, “But you won’t be there.”

I hope with all my heart that she’s right.

 

NEXT WEEK: HAUNTED

About Amy

I am many things to many people. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend. I am a worshiper of nature on a journey inward, rewriting my story one word at a time.

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