Soaring and Grounding

As a child, I looked to the towering clouds, capped with billows, and imagined walking atop them like I’d watched the Care Bears do. I imagined that’s what heaven would be like when I got there someday. As a teen, Jonathan Livingston Seagull brought me such joy, such heights to which to aspire, the tips of his wings touched with light as he soared to such transcendent levels. As an adult, I watched birds glide on the wind, effortlessly floating above the rest of the world and its worries. I dreamed my own body could fly and always felt great disappointment when my legs started to drift back toward the ground. I gathered images and ideas for tattoos with silhouettes of birds, wings spread, to serve as a physical reminder of opening up, letting go, and ascending.

There is a line, though, where metaphysical musings turn into depression and anxiety.

I began to feel a great sadness watching birds wheel through the sky, their wide open wings and swooping motions a freedom I would never have. Watching the clouds edged with light filled me with a longing that I would never have the peace I imagined lived among their water crystals. No amount or configuration of ink etched on my skin would seep that sense of freedom into my soul.

And then as I sat on a shaded deck this morning, forcing myself to focus on a wisp of cloud and nothing else, staring into the middle distance, forcing all thoughts from my head or repeating a prayed mantra – a pair of birds streaked across, running a parallel line with the shore in front of me. Their pointed wings reminded me of the swallows with which I’ve been obsessed. They darted and swooped and disappeared behind a house a few doors down.

It occurred to me then that I can continue to stay focused on the peace and quiet in front of me while noticing the promise of freedom. I can long to be truly free, but that doesn’t stop me from embracing the joys in the here and now while I wait. I will not be free until my soul flies up to heaven, but I can open my heart now to accept what this life has to offer. I can use this time between now and then to wait and lament and be miserable or live in each moment mindfully soaking up what is there instead of not seeing it because I’m so fixated on what I don’t have.

Photo by Jennifer Butler Basile

A Lilac Reflected

The smell of lilacs brings me back.

To times when I awaited its coming bloom as the harbinger of spring; the pregnant buds popping with possibility.

The full bush that marked the property line at my parents’ house, silhouetted by the setting sun, a gorgeous reminder of breaking bonds as it arched toward the ground in riotous bloom.

The fragrance itself traditional and old-fashioned, yet fresh with new life.

Its smell transports me to an airy evening when I wore a gown of the same color and played princess for the night, full of promise and youthful oblivion.

Now it makes me sad.  Longing for the childhood home I left and the life I left behind.

While the memories may be sweet, they make me long for a simpler time and mourn what I’ve lost in attaining this more difficult one.  There are most certainly huge gains I’ve made in this new life; experiences and people I wouldn’t trade for the world.

But I feel fractured.

I don’t know where the split occurred, at what exact point, or if it’s something that can be stitched together.  It boggles me how I can be one thing and another at the same time.

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The medicine cabinet above our sink has three mirrored doors, that open in segments, but close to make one “continuous” mirror – except it doesn’t work.  The seams are clearly visible, a disturbance of the image, a change of light seeping through.  If the doors are even slightly ajar, the image is distorted.  My shape changes, my countenance warped.

Is depression not such a mirror?

I can no longer see myself except through this lens.  It filters everything in my life.  The longing for carefree days.  The resentment of the daily obligations of today.  The beauty and joy of life in its many forms.

In some ways, depression has given me a clarity of view I never had.  In others, it has clouded my perception like the fog on a bathroom mirror after a scalding hot shower.

Perhaps one day, I will be able to enjoy the smell of lilacs without a wistful feeling.                            Perhaps one day, I can look in the mirror and see a cohesive image reflected.

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