When a tree falls in the forest, is it heard...or only happened upon by a wandering onlooker, a seeker, especially tuned to its collapse? Is it felt in the hearts of the forest creatures? Do we feel its violent effects in our hearts out in the world? Where does the rippling of its falling end? When did I stop watching?
When the awful destruction of December 14th found its way into my life, I moved forward, storing its reverberations within my deepest memory cells. Not now, I told myself, not now. There was too much ahead of me, I couldn't drop to the floor, crack open and fall apart. I was surrounded by the faces of children, whose innocence, so evident in the previous days in laughter and stories, had now faded to black in the wake of this horrific storm. Sent to a crowded corner, hidden away under a sink, they waited for three hours on that day. We told our stories of bears tromping through the woods, being hunted down to keep us all safe. Kids remembered a lockdown when a bank in town was robbed of a small sum of money. Others were knowing, keeping us safe. We had to allay our fears.
But then, news arrived, and the tree fell hard upon us. Our hearts were shattered and so was that system of innocent thinking we'd all subscribed to...them, because they were young, they'd had no experience with anything of this magnitude, and me, because I was, yes, more life-experienced...but had no capacity for it. I mean, let's face it, I chose Newtown...to raise my family, to live out my career life, to immerse myself in what some call the bucolic, what others call the idyllic, what I think of as a lifestyle of country retreat. The beauty of nature was itself a type of protection. But in that thinking there was something very disturbingly naive. Magical thinking. Could I dare think the sudden and violent fall of a tree such as this would not land in my own back yard, and could not touch me here?
Hidden away in suburbia, I feasted on the spoils of a quiet, picturesque existence. Stars shone bright in the night sky, birds celebrated the waking of each day. The magnitude of the beauty spoke volumes, erasing any personal tragedy I'd experienced in life, like an Etch-a-sketch, the loss and the depth of feelings attached to it all was somehow suddenly erased. Or so I thought. Grief grows tentacles, it cannot be denied. It ripples in still waters, sometimes unseen, but never forgotten. Age creates opportunity...a chance to revisit, to re-experience the loss. But the heart has to open in order to allow it in.
I could...go forward, not look back, dare to dream of what's to come. I could deny the fall of the tree, re-envision the future. After all, physically it all looks the same. But then, I look in the mirror, and eyes stare back at me. "Be a soldier," my dad had said...so many years ago. Do soldiers have no feelings? When I was three, my mom died. I remember that hand holding mine. He could not handle my truest feelings, my mommy-lessness. As a child, I had no understanding of it, so I followed his lead. We moved forward, him crying in the night...and me seeing, but not letting him know what I saw. His tree had fallen, his world, the one he'd so carefully created...a new country, a family, a destiny--his dreams of perfection, shattered. Don't cry, don't think about it. Move on. And. So I did.
And then he died. I was told by my siblings to honor him...move forward, not back. Loss, pile it on, shove it in, pack it away. I moved to Newtown. I started teaching kindergarten. My beautiful sister, one of the strongest advocates of 'block it out', was diagnosed with a cancer that had completely progressed. She cleared her closet, passing on her favorite dresses to me. Her eyes spoke of nostalgia...and in the very end, she allowed a few, just a few, memories to escape.
Loss is a permanent feature in all our lives. Yesterday a song...the easiest access to the past for me, began to play on Pandora...I Am A Rock, by Simon and Garfunkel played at a time when memories were seeping up, creeping in from below the forest floor. "A rock feels no pain...and an island never cries." Well, by definition, that is what I've been taught. But, as with so many other beliefs I've been taught, I've learned from a very careful group of intimate friends, that perhaps I've been mis-programmed. I am, in reality, not a soldier. I am a seeker. I have the courage and a bit of the wisdom now, that was so sorely lacking before. I know that feeling leads to healing. And so I seek.
I trek back, writing and journalling, talking through my feelings. I don't linger for so long that I lose sight of where I am now. For there is tremendous beauty in front of me right now at this moment. I fear none of it, because the events of the past are mere bogeymen...they have happened. I am meant to live, and enjoy, and celebrate life. When memories are shut out, a deep darkness coats that forest. When they are brought forward, they allow light and air to come in as well. Love and the chance of it, are in front of me again, and so...hope is too. I wear my green bracelets, my Ben's bells. I have my ribbon, magnetted to the back of my car. So what? I am fearless. I can honor my friend Anne Marie. I can honor my own past and the loss that all this has brought up.
I can see the light in the forest too. It has a rippling effect too...in fact, my life is dappled in light and dark, just like everyone else's. There is not just one thing, ever. That in itself is naive thinking. Yesterday, I heard another song...ironically, it immediately followed the first; All You Need is Love, by the Beatles, of course. It is the antidote to all. And today, I open the paper to this..."Nostalgia makes us a bit more human." Permission is a powerful thing. By linking back to my past, digging up those reverberations, which are...in truth, still there waiting for me, I can actually be more generous, more kind, more available to others who also feel the same. Grief has tentacles...yes. But the action of grieving, cracking open and feeling the deepest part of the pain, has its rewards.
This tragedy has reached for those memory cells. I feel them in the deep loss of today. I cannot deny the tree that has fallen, but I can realize the light that dapples this day, and the darkness too, for it will never permanently blacken what lies ahead; it could never block out the rays of the sun. What lies before me has an infinite array of possibilities...both light and dark, but always there is the hope of a baby's laugh, the soft touch of a rose's petal, the fond wrinkled face of a grandma, the sudden smile of the person sitting across from me. That, and the depth of feelings I now choose to employ, sweetens the pot, and allows me to live a very full life with others, not in a void by myself.