“I’ve lived long enough to know,” an elderly friend once told me, “that bad times sometimes last a long time. They’re not over in a few days or months, or even a few years. But eventually, bad times do come to an end.”
I’ve been thinking about that long-ago conversation with LuNan as Tom and I position ourselves for this last boiling cataract of transition we have to navigate. And, as the first harvest festival approaches, I find myself examining the seeds that have been gestating in me in these past nine months.
We’ve had a rough year. It. Has. Sucked. Personal loss. Professional loss. Betrayal of covenants. Loss of trust. Broken relationships. Subterfuge that has caused both of us to second-guess our perceptions. Self-doubt.
And, on my part, so much rage.
Before this past year, I had generally thought of spring planting in terms of the intangibles I would choose to plant in my heart and habits, and come autumn I would check in with myself to see how the seeds I had internally sown were coming along. I’ve always been the CEO of my little virtual farm. I decide which goals or learnings to work toward; I choose how I will go about expanding my landscapes or understandings.
I don’t do this in a vacuum, thinking I am the be-all and end-all of all worthwhile knowledge—far from it. Opening space in my heart and mind entails risk, a willingness to try and fail, and try again. It means opening myself to the possibility of the occasional mortifyingly public head thump by an utter stranger or, in one case, a mentally ill once-upon-a-time friend from my distant past. But throughout, I was contentedly in charge of what I would clear away and the seeds I would nurture in the furrows.
I didn’t get to be the farmer this year. Other people pillaged through my fields, breaking some stalks here, tearing out some vines there, and generally leaving the place in absolute shambles in their wake. A rutted field broken up for new seeds that I was too gob-smacked to carefully select, and so the field was sown with the poisonous pits of my fury.
For some months, a lacuna. A gap. You know the kind. You wake up and think, oh, it’s daytime; I need to get up. You lose yourself in routines so you don’t have to think. You don’t talk much. “Yes, I brought my own bags.” “Could you get some stamps, please.” “No, you go ahead; I’d rather stay home.” You try to support each other, each knowing the wounds are going to have to run their course. But you try anyway because the only people you feel like you can trust are each other.
Not too long ago I was at last able to look across my internal landscape and examine what had taken root. I didn’t recognize much of what I saw. It’s a field of brittleness—of bitterness—thorny and hunkered down around itself, a field of quills and barbs and prickly, prickly hedges.
How do I reap a crop from that?
In Circe, which is a terrific read, Madeline Miller writes:
“[… T]he world is filled with more than breezes: diseases and disasters, monsters and pain in a thousand variations. I do not forget either my father and his kind hanging over us, bright and sharp as swords, aimed at our tearing flesh. If they do not fall on us in spite and malice, then they will fall by accident or whim. My breath fights in my throat. How can I live on beneath such a burden of doom? I rise then and go to my herbs. I create something, I transform something. My witchcraft is as strong as ever, stronger. This too is good fortune. How many have such power and leisure and defense as I do?”
I’m harvesting brambles this year, taking up my imaginary pruning shears and wading into the shiny, sharp thorns of my corrosive rage, and carefully cutting them away before I become even more enthralled by their aggressive gorgeousness. And they are toweringly glorious, bristling spearheads radiating menace, protecting a still-healing heart, or at least the parts of it that can heal.
This too, as it turns out, is good fortune. Berries in the brambles, buried in the brambles. I’m usually very quick—many times too quick—to glean meanings. I’m more cautious these days to allow new learnings to unfurl a little bit before boxing them up for storage.
I’ve become newly aware of how I’ve allowed slippage to negatively affect my interactions with folks who have no idea how much my faith in the inherent goodness of people has been damaged. It’s not their job to fix that newborn distrust in me; that’s my job. It’s my internal field and I’m wrestling back my ownership of it.
I create something, I transform something. This is the witch’s way. Trained up from childhood to swallow my anger and be the Good Little Girl (“don’t you SASS me, young lady!”) and then the stay-the-course, steady-as-she-goes matron, I’ve discovered I like the taste of tartness on my tongue. Careful for so long as The Minister’s Wife, I’m finding I like telling folks exactly how the cow ate the cabbage . . . and it turns out I’m pretty good at it.
Miller also writes: “I thought: I cannot bear this world a moment longer. Then, child, make another.” I won’t lie, to you or myself: I loved the world I was in a year ago. A world where my sister still lived and there was yet hope that she would find true peace. A world where my husband’s career was serenely secure. A world where the people we were in community with sought to build bridges through differences instead of tossing us to the curb like a jacket with an off-track zipper. Certainly not indispensable but not so utterly disposable.
I’m no Circe; I cannot make another world. I am a Witch; I can create something from the world I will soon be inhabiting. I can transform my thorny crop into something that serves me well. For this, too, is the way of the Witch: to see the world as it is, unvarnished. To seek understanding, and fearlessly follow wherever those learnings lead. To own your truest self no matter what (or, as Mat Auryn writes, Witch, You Do You).
And so, away I go on my ersatz broom, which in two days will take the form of a commercial moving van and two Priuses—and a wee small black cat and a neurotic rescue Papihuahua—trekking across the country to a new-to-us world where I fully intend to be as sassy as I damn well please. More or less politely . . . most of the time. (Well, OK, more often than not.)