“I ache in the places that I used to play” – Leonard Cohen, “Tower of Song”
My muscles are sore. My mind feels shifted and splayed, like a pencil refracted in ice water. I wear the weariness of this harsh winter like a tattered coat, the wind both blowing in and being pushed out. I shiver with the anticipation of what is to come, and yet, I embrace the soon-to-be tepid breezes hinted at recently. I am racing at turtle-neck speed. I am breathing deeper and longer. I am caught up in yet another cycle of life.
It’s the first day of spring. You wouldn’t know it by the near-frigid temperatures here in the icy, muddy city. But you can smell it. The fetid leaves, the damp earth, the reek of unearthed dog droppings. You can sense the impending budding of the trees. You can hear the squeaking of the swing sets in the park as children shake the grime of winter off and test the seats. It’s spring and I look forward to experiencing it in practical terms, rather than in theoretical lurches.
I have felt a kinship to the weather these last few weeks. The flurries that have fallen down around me as I run reflect those that have swirled rampantly in my mind as I attempt to compose words, ideas and forms onto paper. There have been heavy days, foggy days, days where it felt the sun would never shine. And there have been days where there was promise and hope in the air, where the grass peeked out from under the cracked ice, where hope and renewal were resplendent without.
Both kinds of days have been important to me. They both challenge me and allow me to grow. It’s in the difficult that I get to bloom harder, later. It’s in the trudging that I grind a path that keeps me on course. It’s in the fear, tears and hurt that I flip over and find the peace, joy and compassion that fulfils me.
I was running the other day – my longest and hardest run to date. I had traversed mud, slush, ice and rain. I was up and down forest floors and on trails. It was a rush, a groove of pain and pleasure. Like life itself. My energy was starting to wane a bit, when I saw a young man being dropped off from school. He was smiling, chatting with his mother, who was on the veranda, cooking towel draped over her shoulder, hands wiping her worn apron. He saw me jogging past. He threw me a wide smile. He was in a wheelchair. I could feel the joy vibrate from him, and the gratitude immediately starting to coat me like sweat. Could he possibly hold a resentment that I could run and he couldn’t? I thought to myself. If so, it wasn’t apparent. He chose joy over self-pity.
About five minutes later, I was running on a bridge and up ahead, I could see something yellow, fluttering in the wind. As I approached the middle of that bridge, I saw the shredded police tap, and two bouquets of imitation flowers tied to the rails. I stopped briefly and said a prayer for the person who felt that jumping onto the railroad tracks and barren trees very far below was a much better solution that continuing living the way they were living. Returning to the mulch. Bringer of life. Renewal in the pain.
I continued to run home, the cold wind whipping up further, the rain coming down harder. I thought of my life as a gardener would think of her tended plants, of the seasons, of the cycles, of the now-ness, and yet dreaming of perhaps of what was to come. What was to bloom. What may not bloom. I don’t know where my own path will take me these days. I run because I am training for a half-marathon. But I also run because I am nudged to run. I know that it helps to push me into new and different places. It helps me focus. It also helps me to daydream. It tears at my muscles, my psyche, my old ideas of me, but rebuilds them too. Breaking down and being bred anew.
I thought of my novel writing. The crushing weight of the unknown bearing down, of impatience, of failure, and yet the skies opening up to reveal what I didn’t know or expect to be there. Not knowing what is to bloom. The mulch. My past few weeks have been in that mulch, that loam. Struggling, breaking forth; holding fort, walking on a tight wire. A seesaw between safety and unbridled fear. Springing forward, holding nothing back.
You see, that grunt work we do, that pervasive drive to tussle with our own concepts of who we are or who we think we are, that plodding that we do with no immediate payoff is the foundation for what is to come. There is nobility in honest work. As long as I’m honest. My past, as drunken and selfish as it was, has brought me to this place I am in the here and now. And what I do today, this hour, this moment in time, will bring me to yet another “here and now”. My old seasons have passed, and they will pass again. What I offer to the future is what I plant in the present. Even if the ground is frozen. Because it will thaw. It always thaws. I just need patience.
Our lives sometimes seem out of context, as if we aren’t living it. Sometimes it’s hard. I’ve recently heard of some people’s relatives dying, pets passing on, people being pulled back into their addictions, people barely making it through the days. I have also heard people celebrating happy milestones – sober birthdays or landmarks, anniversaries, new jobs, or new additions to families. Life as we know it. Cycles. Seasons. Burials and births. Start line, finish line. Prologue, Chapters, Epilogue. Repeat.
There seems to be a certain spiritual certainty that things continue to be revealed as we seek. I am seeking right now, I continue to. I have no choice, frankly. I am not sure of what I seek, to be honest, but I follow the spirit within. I can’t say I always do it successfully or with great élan. But I do it. Or try to. And often, when I put myself on the line, on the icy path, on the rain soaked trail, I find the reward comes later on. I may not see it right away, but it comes. It comes whenever we move when asked to move.
Spring is here. Newness is budding. Your journey, whatever it may be, is in front of you. You may feel that the trail is sinking like quicksand, but it’s still beneath the soles of your feet. Skin to soil. Putting one foot in front of the other ensures that I am moving forward, however slow that may be. Move forward, even if it’s an inch. Hold nothing back. Be brave and resolute in where you’re guided. Muscles rebuild. Minds rest. Spirits rejuvenate. It’s a cycle of surrender, pain and then…healing. I push forward because that’s where the light shines from. That’s where I’m needed. A higher purpose becomes a crisper crease along my time line.
It’s a new season.
Put your shoes on, open the door, breathe in the soft air and get going. We need you.