The Journey

Some five years ago, I sat before a counselor urging me to separate from my husband. I was caught in a whirling toxic mess, where only one person was showing up and the other was intent upon destruction. This perceptive counselor realized that, and all the implications of such a situation, much quicker than I did. He knew I was slowly and systematically being destroyed. In fact, he described my interactions with my husband like I was being handed bombs. All day, every day. He was wise enough to subtly hint at this dynamic over time, so that I could ingest the pain and reality of it without being overcome.

It took some time to peel back the layers of lies and fear that kept me bound to that person and that life. One of those lies, based in fear, was that starting over was impossible or would be the end of my fragile physical, emotional, and spiritual health. It would serve to sever and kill any remaining hope I had for the future, any fulfillment, love, support, and motivation. I would lose what little I had and gain absolutely nothing in return. From small things, like leaving my flourishing garden and the dirt I’d made into soil, to the substantial, like the security of a large, dependable income, I could only see loss.

His advice, which I have come to see as one part in an avalanche of life change, wasn’t something I could fully entertain as an option at that time. I was too worn down, having recently given birth to my second child after another pregnancy suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum (constant vomiting for 9 months straight, among other symptoms). I was waking up multiple times a night with my younger daughter and generally only received respite from my husband when I was too exhausted to stand upright. I admit my heart still aches and my eyes fill up over the agony of that period of my life. It was brutal. I didn’t have the energy or vision for a future, the strength to take my life into my own hands. I ended up in a cycle of illness that lasted most of a year. The days melted into each other and I was consumed by the prison of my circumstances.

But, without even realizing it, I progressively gained ground from within, reclaiming my identity and dignity. The small, but meaningful ways I reached for truth and clarity began to congregate. These gains were almost imperceptible, like translucent layers of truth that, over time, stained my reality for the better. By the time I left some two and a half years later, I had no doubts about the necessity and rightness of my actions. I was willing to leave the paltry and the significant behind and gain back my mind, body, and soul. These I could not replace. I never looked back.

I rediscovered Mary Oliver in the last couple years. I had connected with her writing while completing my undergraduate degree. One of the professors I studied under encouraged me to read more of her works, while prompting me to continue developing my own. I found a kindred spirit in her, though we never spoke a word to each other, and our lives probably couldn’t be more different. Her love and awe of the natural world and insistent vulnerability have comforted, humored, and held my weary heart time after time.

I came to trust my intuition again, to value my perspective, to honor my body and its needs. I came to realize that there was no savior riding out of the sunset to me; I was the voice crying out and the only one who could give the final answer.  With what little strength I had, I defied everything that demanded my loyalty at the expense of my humanity.

Let me fade, for Mary has said it all before, and much better…

The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice—

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do—

determined to save

the only life you could save.*

For anyone facing the insurmountable, the difficult, the dark: Don’t look back. You have one “wild and precious life”, and tomorrow your heart may encounter, face-to-face, what it could not even imagine, today.

*Oliver, Mary. Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver. 2017: Penguin Press.

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