It was time.
She’d seen it coming for months. When she had moved to the area a few years ago and had opened her Practice, she’d had a flurry of new clients and felt sure that soon this Practice would be as successful as the one she’d had to leave behind in her previous city. She’d hung on as long as she could, even subletting a part of her office space to staunch the financial hemorrhaging, but it wasn’t enough. She was going to have to let all of it go.
In the last days of the Final Harvest season she asked me to help her craft a Ritual that would honor the death of her business, and the death of the dreams she had had of making her living by using her training and wisdom to provide healing.
On the afternoon of Samhain, we met at a local Forest Preserve. We walked the paved path from the parking lot to the river’s edge, stopping a few minutes to compose our thoughts. The water, swollen and swift from recent rains, slip-slid past the leafless fingers of branches trailing their tips in the current. I watched the branch-fingers bobbing gently, reminded of human fingers fruitlessly seeking to grasp something before it slips away.
We walked along the river to the bridge that crossed it, and paused at the base of the concrete steps leading to the bridge under a massively monumental bur oak. Jane Giffords writes in The Wisdom of Trees (pub. 2000), “The oak represents courage and endurance and the protective power of faith. […] The oak reminds us that the strength to prevail, come what may, lies in an open mind and a generous spirit.” It was a fitting Guide for the beginning of our journey. We lingered under the deeply grooved, twisted branches far above us, watching the dancing shadows of the leaves upon the ground as sunlight filtered through the canopy, then turned our backs to the oak and focused our attention on crossing the river to gain the higher ground beyond.
The land on our side of the river was significantly lower than the land on the other side, and the steep concrete steps leading to the bridge soared at least ten feet into the air, bookended by four-foot high walls of more concrete that flared out at the bottom of the stairway. Standing at the base of the stairs we were surrounded—half entombed—by smooth, chalk-grey concrete. Our voices took on an echoed, somewhat tinny quality. We could not see the river that we knew we were about to cross; we could not see the bridge that we knew was at the top of the climb; we could not see the meadow that we knew was on the other side of the bridge.
We ascended the stairs slowly, rising closer to the vaulted ceiling of criss-crossed oak branches with each step before reaching the lip of the wooden bridge, stopping again as we reached the center of it. Stopping in mid-transition. She cast her prayers upon the river; I thought about bridges, of crossing into unseen land, of knowing where you’ve come from and focusing on where you’re going, and missing the journey. I thought about living into the tension of balance, so often misperceived as a static state when in truth there is a barely controlled dynamism at work, a teetering, trembling energy of seeking and maintaining a shifting center. I remembered the concrete barriers that had surrounded us at the beginning of our journey, the wall of concrete steps that had loomed before us, and thought about thresholds we barely perceive as we move into the center of boxes that we allow to define us, to contain us.
We poured an offering of pomegranate juice upon the earth, and sat on the hearth. She made a funeral pyre for her hopes and dreams out of torn intake forms, crumpled business flyers, and folded business cards, and lit a match to the pile. We watched in silence as these physical representations of all she had lost were transformed into rising smoke and glowing ash. The breeze returned, kicking the burned paper around the firebox, but she tended her fire, never taking her attention away from the destruction of all she had dreamed of, all she had worked for.
At last, only smoke remained. I took the bittersweet chocolate she handed me and passed it through the sanctifying smoke, chanting a short blessing over it. We sat in silence as we drank the juice of the pomegranate, that ancient symbol of rebirth, and munched chocolate, so bitter and yet so sweet. I opened the Circle and just as I finished, a trio of women—daughter, mother, and grandmother—emerged from the forest trail we were about to explore.
As they walked the perimeter of the meadow to the bridge, we widened our hearts to whatever wisdom might be offered to us; much like e.e. cummings, “[…] the ears of [our] ears [had awakened and […] the eyes of [our] eyes [had] opened.” She led on the trail; I followed, the river several feet below us down the embankment on our left, the forest rustling and whispering before us and on our right.
One hundred yards in, she stopped, picked up something nestled in the moss.
An acorn, split and sprouting a soft, determined tendril of shimmering green, its leaf tightly furled, pulsing with energy. With life. With potential.
In every end, a beginning.