Letter to a friend
Life breaks free. Life expands to new territories. Painfully, perhaps even dangerously. But life finds a way.
Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park
Have you ever been to Mount St Helens? I lived in Seattle for a long time, and one year we drove out to Mount St Helens National Park with my sister and all of our littles. As you are approaching the mountain, you drive through miles and miles and miles of trees all flattened in the same direction. It is staggering, and powerful, and devastating. It looks, from a distance, like a wasteland.
When you are in the visitor center, there is plenty of footage of the eruption. The damage was unfathomable. Nearly 230 square miles, incinerated, flattened, ruined. Miles of what had once been pristine Pacific Northwest forest, lush and green, was destroyed. Blackened, charred. Barren.
Except it isn’t. Because life WILL OUT. Life will find a way, even when things look dire. Even when, to the naked eye, all hope is lost.
The day I was there, we were standing on the viewing deck, and all of a sudden smoke came out of the jagged top of the mountain. It was, in a word, unsettling. The volcano had been experiencing, as it turned out, a fair amount of seismic activity. There’d been a small earthquake, and the falling rubble sent up a plume of dust. Nothing to worry about, they said, because the mountain is so wired up now- and they monitor it all the time. They better recognize the signs of impending disaster, and are prepared for it.
There was also a lot of footage of how the area is coming back. Slowly. Painfully. But re-growth is happening all the time.
Life. Will. Out.
Even from the ruins, even from the charred wreckage left behind in the wake of an overwhelming, destructive event. Those green shoots of hope will return, amidst the devastation. Eventually, on the branches of those fallen trees, will alight a butterfly. Birdsong will be heard on the seemingly barren plains. Life finds a way. Our souls find their way.
I received this comment on the post I put up earlier today. It is from a reader with whom I’ve gone back and forth many times.
“You’re right, you know. The more you stuff it down, hide it, keep it in the secret recesses of your heart, the more it blots out everything.
I’ve been watching the show Once Upon a Time — you know, one of those delicious Netflix binges because you haven’t watched it all along, so you have three seasons to explore in a couple months. (It’s a good show, by the way, I’m enjoying it).
Without giving any spoilers, there’s a character who is normally good who does a horrible, despicable thing. Completely contrary to her nature. And when she views her heart (if you haven’t seen the show ever, just roll with that), it’s got a blackened center. And another character tells her that’s how it begins, and the black will spread and spread until her heart is completely dark.
There’s talk of redemption and second chances, etc. And you root for her, right? You don’t want the good guy to have a black heart.
I feel that way. Outside, to anyone’s view, I’m this normal girl who is successful, capable, competent, loved.
But my center is blackened. Charred. No room for green growth — long since burned to cinders and the ground salted. What everyone sees is such a huge fraud, a fake, and if they only knew — then they would know, right?
Every once in a while, I feel a little tendril of green try to grow — but then I think it’s me that ruthlessly crushes it underfoot, stomps it out, says, “No — you don’t belong here. She’s not good enough.”
I don’t know what I’m trying to say, other than…… you have a lot of green growing, and you share it, and that does value in the world. So don’t let anyone stop you, because from a “Me, too” person — it matters. If there’s ever a chance for some of us, it’s because you share your sunlight in our perpetual darkness.”
Here is my response. Well, this whole post is my response.
Listen, my dear, tenacious friend.
You look at the scorched earth that surrounds you, and proclaim it dead. The ashes are scars left behind by your abuse. Remember, though- as Chris Cleave said- “a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.”
The salt you sprinkle is your insurance against healing. Trying to prevent that new growth before it starts, because hope is TERRIFYING. Hope is so risky when all you know is cinders. They might be dead, but they are familiar.
But you survived. Not everyone does, you know. Is there lasting damage? Yes. Do you need to keep yourself wired, and pay attention for setbacks or explosions? Sure. But you are HERE.
The volcano of your past is not to be underestimated. It’s true. It is powerful and the damage can be severe, and profound. But do not underestimate that little green tendril, either. Do not underestimate the bugs, and deer, and birds that wend their way back through the seemingly annihilated valleys of our souls. Do not disregard the wildflower, pushing its way through the blackened earth, stubbornly insisting on its own existence.
Life is persistent, and so is the human spirit. So, Moth2Flame, when you are telling me there is no hope for you- even when you emphatically proclaim that you are too badly damaged to heal, and that you do not deserve the peace that telling your story shamelessly might bring you, your comments themselves are electric green tendrils of hope, reaching out to me. They seem fragile, but that is so misleading.
They are the very stuff of survival.
The simple fact that you still engage is a green shoot pushing its way skyward. Every time you argue with me that you are different than I am, and I push back that NO YOU ARE NOT, SISTER- you are the sinuous, green vine that looks delicate but is surprisingly strong and resilient. People diss weeds, while they tend to their delicate annuals. Give me a dandelion any day of the week. They grow where they are. So. Do. You.
You are not a moth, drawn to the flickering flame that could destroy it. You are a sunflower, turning its face to the light.
You are not a wasteland, friend. You just don’t believe you deserve the re-growth. YET.
I get that. I spent a long time looking at the smoking rubble around me and thinking that was it. I was wrong.
So, sweet friend, you keep commenting, I’ll keep arguing. And the next time you feel that little tendril nudge its way upward, entertain the thought that maybe it deserves to be there. Maybe it has earned its right to reach upward. Just like you. Just like me.