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

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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.

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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.

View of Mt. St. Helens from Mt. Margaret, July 27 1980

View of Mt. St. Helens from Mt. Margaret, July 27 1980

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.

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I took this photo from the parking lot at the Visitor’s Center. I was crouched down getting something from my bag, and looked over at the mountain through the patch of wildflowers growing alongside the wall. If you look closely, you can see the plumes of dust rising out of the crater.

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.

29 Comments on “Letter to a friend

  1. Funny that you write this today. This morning, my kids were watching Dinosaur Train to which I was paying no attention. All of a sudden I heard that forest fires can be good; that there is certain vegetation that ONLY grows because of the fires heat. Of course, then I got distracted by a kid or FB or whatever, so that’s all I heard but I loved it…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You are both gifted writers. Your words are something of beauty. I don’t know your experiences, but your words allow me to glimpse into the aftermath of horror done to innocents. It’s important for us to see that.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for including me in your compliment. Writing, words — they matter. As far as letting others see inside me — have spent a lifetime doing my best to avoid that. After all, why share what’s ugly? But, thanks to the Internet and anonymity, I guess I have let that happen. I’m not sure what’s gained by that, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Whenever I am feeling down, I think of the phoenix that rises from the ashes….I remember back to a time when I thought my life was or may as well have been over…wasn’t quite sure why I was allowed to breathe in the air someone else could breathe in instead….now I look back to the circumstances which lead me to that deep dark place and I realize that what happened was the very best thing that could have happened to me, even though it certainly did not feel like that at the time…. but that total devastation, released me to move forward…to find myself, to like myself, and eventually to love myself…..I would not be here, if I hadn’t been there.

    Liked by 3 people

    • What a beautiful response. I feel the same way. Every bit of despair and devastation was necessary for my own regrowth and awakening, although it was even more painful than the original abuse I think. I am so grateful to be where we are now. Thank you for sharing this. 💝

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  4. Very beautifully written and expressed! So much good can and does rise from the ashes. Sad that not many people bother to see that. What we see as horrible and destructive, God uses such things to help us grow to one day help others in similar situations. Thank you for sharing! God bless you for helping others to see through those plumes of ash.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. How do I even begin to respond. You constantly insist there’s something good, worthwhile where there isn’t. Yet, you’re right, I return for more. I let you speak to me and horde your words close to my heart at the same time I decry them as undeserving.

    And funny that you use Washington State. I was 13 when I flew in an airplane over Mount St Helens a year after she blew, and she still had smoke coming from her summit. I was headed for a summer with my grandparents, after having been hospitalized and my parents actually listened when the doctors said get her out of a stressful environment.

    Packed in my suitcase was my bottle of stolen pills — my final answer.

    I walked along the dike beside the Dungeness river, listening to the rushing water and birds and I would slip down into the woods at the near end. It would have been idyllic except my gruff grandfather terrified me, and my young teen period was irregular and I was always terrified — what if I was pregnant.

    Well, I knew what. That’s what the bottle of pills were for.

    It finally started the night before I returned home.

    The next year my parents came back to Washington state, and brought me with them. My uncle and aunt had built their property on the cliff overlooking the Straits of Juan de Fuca. They had a house with a guest house some distance away.

    I was out back, sitting on a giant tree stump (I could have laid across it and not been as long as the diameter.) It was 4 AM and my uncle slipped out and sat next to me, and for the first time in my 14 years, someone held me while I cried. He’d heard the chaos next door despite the separation between the houses and that their bedroom was on the far side.

    I’d never been held before.

    I’ve never really allowed myself to feel held since. Not the same way I did that morning, with all my defenses down.

    Not that he knew much, not really anything at all. And over the years I’ve put up with his version of the players and all, because he’s elderly and there’s no point in disillusioning him.

    Not that anything was different when we returned home. The magic was an illusion, a momentary tease in time. Nothing changed. Except that I knew what it was like to be held, cared for, cherished for a glancing second in time.

    It wasn’t enough. Not to really sustain me.

    By the way, the river and dike are now sadly overgrown with weeds and trees so that you can barely hear, let alone see, the water and the woods are gone and in their place is a second development of homes.

    My family and I visited my aunt and uncle a handful of years ago and I snuck out early one morning and drove there alone — I’m not sure what my plans were but I don’t think they were totally good. It’s fortunate the woods were gone. I had a different bottle of pills in my purse and I like to think I wouldn’t have — but I’m glad the woods weren’t there in any case.

    That was probably the depths of my smoking rubble, and I’ve been trying to poke my way out ever since. Medication, therapy, church — the search for hope, for meaning, for grace, for some kind of life — yeah. Maybe I don’t know how to give that up.

    So yes. I keep coming back for more. And am always grateful when you lay a plate before me, piled high with hope, and freshness, and belief, and simple kindness (which isn’t simple at all, is It?)

    I don’t know where you find your wellspring, but thanks for setting a place for me at your table. Me, and so many others that you touch.

    And yes, you are. Different. Good. Worthy. Decent.

    All the things I’d like to be, but am not.

    I’m too stained.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I disagree. I will always, always disagree. And there will always be a plate for you at this table, friend. Thank you for sharing more of your story with me. I am so grateful you are still here to do so.

      You are a really good writer. Seriously good. Please keep writing and telling your story- even if it’s in pieces.

      Holding you in my heart. Always.

      Laura

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh. My. My Achilles’ heel — writing. And wanting to be good. Aching to be good. Wanting it to be liked.

        Feedback — came up in therapy recently, also. And I found myself saying it’s difficult because it’s either negative, or likely to be false.

        That’s another of those squirrel away words yet disbelieve them at the same time.

        You know how teachers always write cute little notes or smiley faces or encouraging things on papers? [Red ink isn’t always bad.]

        I remember as a little kid always being so excited when I’d get a note like that, praising my work or saying something positive — and I’d take it home and show it to my mother, who would promptly point out all the flaws and reasons why it wasn’t as good as the teacher said, and hey, after all, they’re just being nice.

        So I stopped showing them to her at some point, right? I’d keep it to myself and read the chipper words and hug them to my heart — all the while knowing they could be torn down with a critical eye in an instant; the only reason they weren’t is because I wasn’t showing them to anyone.

        You make me feel that way all over again.

        You have a big heart, you know. And you see good, because you are good, not because it actually exists. It’s more a statement about you, than me.

        I do wish it were otherwise.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I respectfully disagree, but you knew I would. I am not Little Miss Merry Sunshine. How many people have you seen me tell they were good writers based on their comments? Do I say it to everyone? No. I don’t. I said it because you ARE. I take writing seriously. Even though I disagree with a LOT of what you say about yourself, there’s no questioning the eloquence with which you say it.

        I am sorry you weren’t validated at home. What your mother did and said was painful- it clearly stayed with you. That doesn’t make it true, though, just unkind.

        Liked by 1 person

      • LOL — no, I am not falling over in shock. 🙂

        Aww, but now you’ve made me feel bad for all the people whom you haven’t said that to that are now thinking “does that mean she thinks I’m not a good writer? That I’m a BAD writer? That my comments are painful to read?”

        Hah, because that’s the way my mind would spin it, you know.

        Okay. They say you should just accept a compliment gracefully, and I do stink at that. So thank you. That’s me, trying.

        As far as true vs untrue and unkind — well, clearly her motivations (I know now as an adult) were from a place of jealousy — she always was of any scholastic achievement. But were the flaws she found to point out true? Yes, they did exist. So it’s both.

        I can never decide if my heart hurts more or smiles more after an exchange with you like this. Maybe equal parts both. But either way, I hope you always know how much I appreciate your kindness and tolerance and willingness to overlook my churlishness.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Gee, there were flaws in the writing you did as a child??? I just unearthed my creative writing folder from college and died a thousand deaths reading some of the things I wrote- and I was 19. There is a way to be constructive with a child’s creative process that helps them to grow without destroying their desire to do so.

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      • Thank you, Sarah.

        (See, Laura, you will teach me to be a better person yet.)

        Even if I have a hard time with compliments, especially about writing, because it’s so deeply personal.

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    • I could have sworn I replied to this back when, but I’m not seeing it. Is it hiding here in plain sight and I’m making an idiot of myself? If I am, so be it.

      Your writing alone shows the life and light that is still in you, moth2flame. I know you aren’t going to read this and say, “thanks, I believe you.” But please come back and read it (not to mention Laura’s word) as often as you like, and perhaps one day it will seep through one of the cracks you are trying so desperately to plug. Holding space.

      Like

    • You know, my first response when I saw you’d said that this morning was, “but you’re not listening to me! I am so far from beautiful, I am the polar opposite of beautiful…” but I think I’ve worn Laura out enough for one post.

      She is, though. I whole-heartedly agree with you there! And her beauty does reflect off others around her, I suppose.

      Like

      • Oh, oh I’m so sorry. I never saw your reply to my comment. I’m sorry if that caused you pain. I came back here to find the link to this post and ended up reading the comments, which I never do. But I’m glad I did today, even though it’s been a month almost! There’s nothing you could do to convince me that you’re not beautiful and that your WRITING isn’t beautiful. It is, you know. 🙂 It’s bugger all to do with Laura’s writing or her similarly beautiful self (hi Laura). I bet you rock too. I hope you put the comparison ruler away one day, accept that there’s no standard that you need to achieve to have worth and write just for the joy of it, because I’d love to hear what you have to say and how you have to say it. Hugs from afar.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Thank you for sharing this. Washington is such a special, special place to me and was one of the few spots I ran to for safety when I was a teenager. I need to get back there…

    I don’t know what to say. Green tendrils speak of hope and resilience, and I won’t say I’m not resilient – I mean, I’m here – but hope… It is just so elusive. Just when I think I’ve found some, like things may be changing for the better, that all of the work may be paying a small dividend, that my eyes may finally rise to meet the horizon, IT settles in, heavy and dark. The feeling of a four ton lead blanket covering me from head to toe. It is exhaustion and fog and emptiness and pain and sleeplessness and isolation. It always gets worse in the winter when it’s dark and grey and cold, but every year it’s so frustrating and defeating. Despite the fact that I try so hard to curb the sadness and prepare for the exhaustion of what is coming, the hopelessness settles in. An old friend that was never invited but never truly leaves and pays no mind to the no vacancy sign on the door to my soul. I know the signs of impending disaster, just like the volcanologists and seismologists for Miss St. Helens, and I see what is coming, but I cannot lift a hand to drop my fist on the alarm button. Instead, I just lay down on the ground and hope the volcano doesn’t win this round. Because what if life will out, but in its ‘outing,’ mine doesn’t make it through to find the field of flowers in your picture? What if this is the final song of my life – a verse of sorrow on repeat – that can perhaps be used for posterity’s sake? A lesson to learn, progress to be made? It’s in my blood. It’s what I was made from. Look at my people, and it’s all you will find – depression, violation, harm, maladjustment, lies, betrayal, abuse. Intelligence, sure. Resilience, you bet. But the first list seems to overpower the latter. It’s what I was created from.

    You nailed it though. Hope? Hope is terrifying. And hurts so badly because it shines a spotlight on all the damage, all the pain. I am here, yes. But I think a percentage of me is already gone, and I’m left trying to figure out what is scar and what is a pile of ash.

    It has to be maddening to fight the part of the green tendril in the face of the negativity in my words. And for that, I will be eternally sorry. I will also be eternally grateful for those like you – the ones who stand in the dark and hold out a hand with a tiny shining light in it, just waiting for us to grab on and maybe, for once, not let go.

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    • This season you are in, this hard season, is NOT the final song of your life. This lament you feel right now, though overwhelming, does not get the last say. Yes, you may very well come from a family of origin rife with darkness and sickness- you may be OF that, but you are NOT THAT. You’re not. I’m not, either. Don’t you dare let go, honey. Don’t you dare. The world needs you. The world needs EXACTLY you, Necessary Girl. So you can be NOT OKAY, but you must stay, okay? I am here. You know how to reach me.

      Like

  7. Shortly after hitting post, I searched for a way to delete it. It was a moment of unpolished honesty, which I would not normally put out there for people, albeit strangers, to see. I do not want this to be the final song of my life, oh how I do not want that, but it just seems so permanent and vast. It’s a tunnel without the proverbial light at the end. I’m trying to not let go – I promise I am – despite the fact that I’m not sure of how much the world needs exactly me. That question notwithstanding, I am trying. Yes, I am not okay, and it’s taken me quite some time to even admit that, but I’m not. And yes, I am still holding on as I search for a bit more strength and perhaps a sprig of hope. It may just be by a fiber, but I guess it’s something. For now, I’ll add this to my regular reading with the other post…still gambling that something will take seed. And keep watching This is Us. That certainly won’t hurt.

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    • Hi Rachel,

      I just wanted to let you know.. if you searched back in this blog to a year ago, the tone of my replies was so similar to yours. Barely holding on, flirting with dark thoughts all the time — just wanting an end to pain, whatever it took.

      Keep reading here, keep holding on, keep searching for the stray beam of light.

      I chose my user name because of Laura’s blog here — kept coming back and back and burning myself in the flame… because it hurt so much at the same time it offered hope because I felt so hopeless. And if you’re feeling hopeless, the concept of hope hurts through your soul.

      I only say that to let you know you’re not alone, and it’s not without hope.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for your words. I think there is something to not being alone, and yes, an end to the pain sounds like a sigh of relief. I have to say I’m not yet convinced that it’s not without hope. That said, I’m truly happy that you can say that because I know that means you’ve come (or are coming) out of the very dark place.

        For tonight, I’ll keep reading and do my best to keep holding on. Thank you. Truly.

        Like

  8. Pingback: Luna | In Others' Words...

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