The Underworld

It might have been the incessant rain or the murder of crows gathering in the dead oak outside my window. It might have been the dying flowers in their pretty vase or even the candles—flickering their last at the ends of their wicks. Whatever it was, I found myself at the gate. Unlike Heaven, there’s no keeper. This gate is unlocked and you can come whenever you please, though it pleases no one to come here.

I tuck my heart close, lest I lose it, and set my shield down; having been here before, I know there will be no protecting myself from what I find. Next, I tuck my shoes and soul beneath it’s weight, comforted that they’ll have some shelter from the elements while I’m away. Whatever else you do, never bring your soul here—this is no place for the divine.

When all is as it should be, I step through and begin my descent. Down, down over eons of rot that squelch between my toes. Down, down through hallways of bones and teeth where I somehow know which belong to those I’ve loved. Down, down where moonlight can’t go. Down, down where the rain is full of salt and never stops. Down, down until the path levels out and turns to the broken dreams of the living. Only then do I know I have arrived in the Underworld.

It isn’t Hell, if such a place exists. Hell is for souls and there are no souls here. Just the end. The end of whoever it was you were in the middle of loving. The end of yourself as you were when they lived. The end of all you knew and all you didn’t. The end–where all that holds physical form loses it to water and worms.

Now that I’m here, I crinkle my brow the same way I do when I’ve just entered a room and already forgotten why. After all, I already gathered up the remains of my loves and left them here months ago. I stand at the exact place I stopped then and try to remember to no avail. Finally turning with a shrug to retrace my steps to the gate which leads right back to my life as I left it . . . it’s only then I realize my mistake.

I left the wrong way last time–returning to life as I left it—surrounded by empty spaces where love used to be. I let go of their bodies but held on tight to the emptiness they left behind. Turning back toward the dark unknown, I shudder. I want to go back to the gate: back to my shoes and my soul and my shield, back to familiar, if empty, spaces.

But I don’t.

I know I came for this—the sixth stage of grief. The one that comes after you find your way through your worst nightmares to acceptance. It took me a while. Acceptance cost me and I had to gather up fresh courage for this:

There’s new love, new adventure, new wisdom that await on the other side of all you go through when you grieve. More than enough to fill the empty spaces to overflowing. But if you want it, you can’t go back the way you know.

To reach the sixth stage is to set down your shield. It’s all heart. It’s running barefoot through the Underworld, soaked in the tears of everyone ever, in a darkness too deep for moonlight. It’s feeling the sickening squelch of eons of rot between your toes and pushing forward, knowing that if you keep going, you’ll love again and get hurt again . . . and again and again until your teeth and bones join the others here.

And it’s worth it.

Every time.

It’s worth it.

So I run. Heart wide open through all I’ve loved and lost before. I run barefoot through darkness as deep black as a crow’s feather with nothing but hope to guide me forward. Until I’m falling down, down into a deep, slow river. Cool, fresh water rinses the tears of everyone ever from my hair and washes the rot of eons from my feet. I close my eyes and float on my back, not warm or cold, not happy or sad, and not marking the moment moonlight creeps in–slowly turning blackest black into gray and gray into silver, until the sun rises–shifting silver into the pale gold of a new day.

Keep Going

It hit yesterday. I’ve been waiting because it always does, I just never know when. It started when I woke up and went to write. I’ve been getting up around 5am to write in the mornings because it’s the only quiet time I have until after the kids are in bed for the night. And, by then, my brain might as well be scrambled eggs.

I was sitting on the couch trying to get a thought out just the way I wanted it and I was really struggling. I kept thinking no one is going to like this and I’m doing such a poor job getting it down that they probably won’t even understand it. Then these words whispered through my brain,

“Just quit. You can’t do it.”

Sounds cliche but its the absolute truth. I ignored that voice and kept going. Posted what I’d written even though I didn’t like it very much because my dislikes can’t be trusted when that voice is in my head.

It reminded me of my life before kids when I accepted a director level position with the county. It was the biggest and toughest job I’d ever taken on and while I had incredible support from my bosses and an amazing staff, lots of doubts and fears were expressed from all sides, especially in my first six months. One particularly tough day after work I was telling my husband about it and he said,

“Quit worrying about what other people think and do your job.”

Such a short and simple phrase but it was earth-shaking for me. He got right to the heart of it in just 11 words. I had the knowledge and experience to do what needed to be done, but when others around me got scared or upset I’d begin to question every little thing, put off decisions I knew were right, and generally freeze up in fear.

I wrote those words on a post it note and stuck it to the bottom of my computer monitor where I could see them every day and recite them in my mind like a mantra whenever I needed them.

I’ve started to take my own writing seriously then quit almost immediately more times than I can count over the past decade. But yesterday, when those doubts and fears rose up in my mind, I did exactly what I promised myself I would do this time–I kept going.

Just like that director job, this one is going to be tough some days. I’ll have doubts, I’ll make mistakes, not everything I put out there is going to be well-received, and my worst critic is always going to be that part of myself that just isn’t sure. So, I rewrote my husband’s words on a new note to keep handy, pressed onward, and made it through my first day of almost, but not quite, crippling self-doubt.

Whatever it is you truly want to do or be in this life, odds are good you’re going to run into obstacles along the way, odds are even better that the biggest, most challenging obstacle to overcome is going to be yourself. Quit worrying about what other people think and do your job. And if you can’t quit worrying about what other people think, do your job anyway. There’s only one way to get where you want to be: keep going.

She was Born

She was born in the usual way–between a man and a woman.  There was blood, pain, and screaming. It was, as it always is, a brutal cleaving of soul from soul, flesh from flesh. Her father was a crime, her mother a child, and there was no one to catch her when, after years of slow, uncomfortable gestation, she finally fell into damp leaves on a darkened forest floor.

Her mother lays there still, not one minute past the memory.

She didn’t realize her birth was a death. She never grieved; how do you miss someone you never knew? But She felt the weight of grief all around her from the moment she was born in such a way that it was like gravity or some other universally accepted law of physics– binding her to earth, limiting her ability to move, and at the time, intensifying her need to dream.