Beauty For Ashes

Until fairly recently, I referred to 2019 as a dumpster fire. I realized I was wrong. It wasn’t. It might have started as a forest fire, but it wasn’t a dumpster fire. Forest fires are nature’s way of clearing things that are choking out the good in an area of so much potential. They leave behind highly fertilized soil that can allow the good to grow again. To start anew. To strengthen the roots. That was what 2019 really was. Full of so many seeds of laughter, joy, unfurling, and re-connection. The burning away of things that no longer served the growth and goodness of my little dragonfly girl family allowed the sun to shine on us so that we could grow in ways we never dreamed possible. And I realize that the strength and resilience and curiosity and love that I had spent the previous years cultivating are what allowed me to walk away from that fire instead of continue to live in it. It was hardest year I have ever been through. It was more heart-breaking than I ever knew possible. In many ways it was devastating. But it was also beautiful. So incredibly beautiful. And seeing it for all that it was instead of the dumpster fire I originally categorized it as, is allowing me to move forward with the sun on my face and renewed joy in my journey.

I was born in the year of Mt St Helens. Scientists thought nothing would ever grow again. They were wrong. Today the mountain is full of flowers and greenery that is more far reaching than they ever dreamed possible. In places, the new forest has overtaken the burned out trees so much that they are barely noticeable. Yes, there was tremendous loss. And some things are in different places now (I’m looking at you, Spirit Lake!), but there is also growth and beauty again, and a feeling of respect for what was and what could be that hangs in the air.

My first child was born in the year of 9-11. The year I got a phone call that World War 3 had begun as I got ready for work. The year people became afraid of attack on our home soil. Yes, there were jerks and racism and terror. And that is not small. But it was also the year people checked on their neighbors and gave blood and shared so much love. The day that no one will ever forget, the day memorialized by Alan Jackson as the day the world stopped turning. But it didn’t stop. We continued on. And these kids have grown up resilient. Maybe too resilient as these are the same kids that are now missing out on their high school swan songs. Their final sports seasons. Their last high school musical. Their senior prom. Possibly commencement. But they are resilient. And they are fighters and believers in equity and they put their time into their passions. And they will continue to grow and love and connect and care more deeply than we ever could have imagined.

My world came to a screeching halt again in 2008. I had my first panic attack as I faced caring for three small children on my own. As I watched the world I thought would always be around me disappear in an instant due to someone else’s choice, I wondered how on earth to go forward. But I was wrong again. My world didn’t stop. It grew. And as it turned out, I wasn’t alone. The Universe sent me so many people and miracles and I don’t know why, but I am incredibly grateful. They helped me raise my children. They helped me build a life that I am proud of. They encouraged me to do hard things. They taught me resilience and strength and trust and faith and what love really looks like. They were my village. They taught me to rise up and build something from scratch that I never considered I would need to build. To build a world that is more beautiful than the one I lost.

My life was again touched by fire as I watched the Columbia Gorge that I grew up hiking burn. I watched the smoke filled hills out my window, and wondered what would be left when it cleared. As ash fell in my driveway and the fire traveled miles and crossed the river, I wondered if the flames might reach us. And even though the fire burned for months, it did eventually stop. The smoke cleared. The devastation was real. It still breaks my heart to see it. But the new growth is also real. The flowers that have sprung up, the seedlings that are peeking through. Hiking a re-opened trail also taught me an important lesson about invaders as I saw fields of dandelions for the first little while. Those seeds hitchhiked in on unsuspecting shoes and set up camp in that fertile soil like nobody’s business. But a few months later? They’re being replaced with more native and sturdier plants, too. The sturdier replacement doesn’t mean they didn’t serve a purpose, though. Their sunniness brought joy to the blackened trees. Their fallen leaves started to replace the detritus that had burned away. Their roots held the ground together to allow the new plants to take root and grow without being washed away.

Nature’s patterns are always the same. And we humans like to believe we are above them. But we’re not. As we look around at a world we never considered possible, as we have moments where it appears to have quite literally come to a stop, we can trust that Nature is working behind the scenes. This new world is giving birth to creative solutions, to connectedness with those who matter most, to a slowing down that has been sorely needed, to healing. There is no question that there is devastation. There is heartbreak. My heart absolutely breaks for the very real terror that families are currently faced with economically, socially, and physically. As a society, we are looking at the smoke right now with no idea what will remain when it clears. We don’t know how to reach out to help others without making things worse. We don’t know how to help ourselves. We don’t even know what is real. As such, there is fear. So much fear. And when this is over, there will be parts that will break our hearts to look at for years and decades to come. There will be parts that don’t come back, there will be parts that look totally different or are in different places. But one thing I do know is that humanity is resilient. We are strong. We are beautifully made and we will, eventually, rebuild. And what we rebuild might very well be better than we ever could have imagined. If we stand together (virtually for now!), practice compassion, cultivate curiosity and creativity, honor the losses and the devastation, then we will rise. We will grow in this fertile soil, and we will rise together.

(Originally published March 18, 2020 for