“If you want the moon
Do not hide at night.
If you want a rose
Do not run from its thorns.
If you want love
Do not hide from yourself.”
Spring is a time when human spiritual traditions all engage in honoring. In the Christian tradition of my youth, it is Easter, the acknowledgement of the power of resurrection. In the Jewish faith, it is Passover, honoring freedom from oppression. And in the Celtic rites of my ancient ancestors, the people of Bohemia, Beltane fires shone a light on the orenda of the people and the gifts of fertility and abundance.
What caught my heart as I sat with my altar yesterday was the intimate and unbreakable bond between loss and gain, sacrifice and empowerment, that is present in all of these observances.
We live in a time when grief is rarely honored. When change and transition beset our lives, there is often no place to acknowledge what is being relinquished. We prefer transformation without uncertainty, growth without efforting, mastery without fumble.
What if we were to willingly acknowledge, to hold up the knowing, that sacrifice is what makes the new life possible? That to become a mother is to sacrifice the relative freedom and lightness of maidenhood? That the dedicated pursuit of a dream means other dreams must be relinquished? That death and loss can seem so unfair, so ill-timed, and yet we receive gifts that are won no other way?
What if we allowed ourselves to feel how grief is the intimate, shadowy sister of joy? That to give a strong NO empowers us to say YES more profoundly?
In my spring cleaning ritual, I unpacked a handmade bowl. This bowl has traveled with me for nearly 20 years. I bought it for the beautiful interplay of the coarse and earthy qualities that danced alongside the brilliant luminescence, just like an ocean shore. I was 18 years old and in an abusive relationship. I was living deep in the Colorado mountains with a man who had an undiagnosed mental illness, which resulted in his extreme paranoia, drug addiction, self-imposed isolation and emotional and verbal abuse.
At such a tender age, and having never experienced this sort of abuse, I was lacking in the resources to handle my situation. I was often struck by the juxtaposition of the breath-taking beauty of the landscape in which I was living and the absolute terror I felt every time I walked in the door of my home, never knowing what I might find or who I might have to be to survive.
Over time I began to isolate as well. I didn’t utter a word about what was going to my family back home or to the people with whom I worked. I was an easy target for my partner’s manipulation. I began to believe the stories he told me daily about what an awful person I was and how he wouldn’t survive without me.
As I sunk deeper into despair, I tried to locate the courage to leave. I tried to find a place to put the load of guilt I felt for wanting to go.
I sat one day in front of my open patio door and begged the Universe for a sign that I would make it. Just then a brilliant little hummingbird whizzed right to the door and hovered there, looking at me. We gazed at each other, seemingly in mutual amazement. I wept. I didn’t know what it meant, but I believed in that moment that I had what it took to go on. In the spring of that year, still carrying the weight of guilt, I left.
I’m not one to hang on to lots of nostalgic possessions. I’m actually quite committed to clearing my body, mind and living spaces of objects and energy that need to move on. But after that day I went out and got a hummingbird tattooed on my belly over each ovary. And I carry this bowl with me still.
I discovered it when going through some long-sealed boxes and was saddened to find it broken. But then within a moment, tears of happiness, intensity and honoring flowed forth. This bowl is beautiful and broken both. It speaks so genuinely of that moment in my life path when I had to choose to save myself, to believe that I was worth saving.
I built my altar to honor this bowl, to allow it to become the metaphor for my capacity for beauty and brokenness, to forgive myself and to forgive the young man with whom I suffered.
The spring holidays of the Spirit-Easter, Passover, Beltane-each has a way of honoring and acknowledging that rebirth comes only after death, that liberation is only known after we fully experience oppression, that it is the wintertime of the soul and the earth that gives birth to the new life of spring.
As we gather together with family and friends this weekend to celebrate faith, the return of hope, the resurrection, being chosen to live another day of this precious, beautiful and fraught life, I hope you feel empowered to honor light and shadow both.
Let us see the death sacrifice that led to each birth. Let us see that each new birth will eventually dissolve, making space for yet another expression of truth. Let us see and honor all aspects of the wheel of life and the gifts that each one brings.
The day I left my achingly beautiful mountain home so many years ago, I left with a heavy heart. But I also left with a way of valuing my life more fiercely than I ever had. The spring holidays give us the opportunity to see the gifts in loss, uncertainty, faith and promise. They give us the power to hold a light of hope in hearts even in the darkest times.
May you know your capacity for light and shadow both. And may you be blessed by the raw and beautiful abundance of this season.