Waterbead, Red X

And I will learn to love the skies I’m under….. ~ Mumford & Sons

There are skies that I know intimately. Illinois-cornfield-sunset skies are the ones I know best. They are wide-open and spacious, revealing horizons several hours away, flecked with V’s of geese heading home. They wrap around lone farmsteads and the islands of trees scattered in the fields; they lay over cities like a blanket. On bright days, they soften our fields and homes, but on stormy ones, they turn green and angry, lashing out against us.

I dream of the Minnesota skies I used to live beneath, touched by sweeping bluffs and redecorating the landscape every moment with new patterns of shadows and light. Each hue flirts with the lakes and rivers and ponds, reflecting off their glassy mirrors, bringing sky to earth. I know Colorado-mountain-blue skies and California skies of sun and salt. I close my eyes and return to Ireland’s skies, remembering the smell of the air and the sea, observing the skies’ moods and graces, acutely aware of my place. Those skies call to me every day.

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The skies I have not seen are the ones that haunt me, like ethereal ghosts in my peripheral vision. There, but not substantial. I wonder about them, wonder if I will ever find myself under them. Equal parts anticipation of all there is yet to see and despair that I will never see it fills me as I ponder the future.

But today. I struggle with the skies I’m under today, the season I’m in right now. Not because I don’t love it, but because a small piece of myself won’t let me relax into it. I write this with a burlap placemat on the table, decorated with only a single red “X.” My best friend made it for me to remind me of one my favorite quotes and concepts, from Barbara Taylor Bradford’s book, An Altar in the World.

“No one longs for what he or she already has, and yet the accumulated insight of those wise about the spiritual life suggests that the reason so many of us cannot see the red X that marks the spot is because we are standing on it. The treasure we seek requires no lengthy expedition, no expensive equipment, no superior aptitude or special company. All we lack is the willingness to imagine that we already have everything we need. The only thing missing is our consent to be where we are.” 

Sometimes I want to deny my red X. I vacillate back and forth, one day my diary full of love and satisfaction for this place, my now, for the discoveries right by my door. On other days, I am tormented by thoughts of the skies I’m missing out on, frantic that my life is already written out for me, straight and featureless as an Illinois cornfield. Because I often turn to Rumi at times like these for nuggets of Persian wisdom, I found this today: “You’ve been fearful of being absorbed in the ground, or drawn up by the air. Now, your waterbead lets go and drops into the ocean, where it came from. It no longer has the form it had, but it’s still water. The essence is the same. This giving up is not a repenting. It’s a deep honoring of yourself.” The words mean different things to me each time I read them. Sometimes I find deep meaning there. Sometimes the words make me cringe.

I feel like I am in the process of being reborn. Like all children, I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up and I spent my life working toward that vague, undefined moment. Now I realize that the moment never comes; I may be an adult, but I’m not done growing up. I never want to be, because then I fear all of my opportunities will come to a juddering halt. Sometimes, I fear they already have and that I will spend years treading water, one waterbead among many.

This morning, I took the trash and recycling out to the curb before the sun had even risen. The early morning air was chilly on my bare skin and I hurried across the lawn. As I set everything down, I glanced up to see the sky and the river swathed in deep purples and reds. The sun still lay below the horizon, still tucked into bed, but light was seeping over the cloud-cover, illuminating the foggy mist floating above the water. The sky was silent and strong, and I felt like it was there for me alone. I stood for a few minutes, hugging myself against the chill, before turning back to the house and my own warm bed.

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