indra’s net

A small spider alights in the strands of hair near my collar bone, meanders its way to my brow,  traces the arch of my eye, my cheekbone, the curve of my ear. I close my eyes, imagine it is a lover, exploring the contours of my beauty. It’s remarkable the way that particular thought transforms my response. Instead of a reflexive jerk and a slap, I experience the gentle caress of miniscule legs, somewhere between a tickle and a whisper.


I wonder how many touches I recoil from reflexively, without pausing to consider that they may intend no harm. I’ve noticed how defensive I’ve become of late, unable to soften like this, to pause, release, and receive.  Rather, I resist, tighten like a spring, react.


This morning I awoke to words in my head, remnants of the dream from which I’d awakened. ‘Let the rain fall soft upon your rooftop’. I rolled over and gazed out the window. The hard rains had ceased overnight.


Quite early, the sun just beginning to peer through the cover of trees on the horizon, I had some time before centering prayer and breakfast, so I lifted from the nightstand a book I’d brought with me. It was a book of prose, essays on nature by a new author I’ve recently appreciated. As I opened the book to the first essay, the words there seemingly leapt into my heart.


The author was pondering the nature of homing instincts    — of wasps to the nest, snakes to ancestral dens, humans to the places they call home. The author’s mother had immigrated to the United States after World War 1 only with the firm assurance that she could return to her homeland, Yorkshire, every 4 years to visit. True to his word for the rest of thier lives, her father scraped and saved every penny for 3 years and then spent their entire savings every fourth year to take her mother back home. The author herself then emigrated with her husband from Cleveland to Oregon, but returned home ‘religiously’ each December to visit the home in which she grew up, to revisit the stories, smell the smells, touch the faces. Now the author’s daughter was preparing to leave the nest, for Greece. Together on a farewell camping trip along the river they have loved, the author wants to imprint upon her daughter one last time the sights and the sounds, the smells and the tastes, the feeling of home.

So she can find it again.

And then came these words on the page, the ones that drew me up short. Mother and daughter are ambling along the edge of the river when they begin singing in harmony, an Irish blessing. ‘May the rain fall softly on your fields’


My god.


All of this searching for home. Where will it be, what will it look like, how will it feel? And I am given the words of an old Irish blessing, blessing my rooftop. Blessing it softly no less.


We are an uprooted clan. I’ve so little sense of connection to ancestral family or homeland before me, I’m like a tree uprooted from the forest, transplanted in the middle of a field. I hold only some old photographs alongside my longing.


My children’s home likewise was uprooted. Divorce dislocates a family, like a shoulder knocked out of joint, which may heal but continues to ache for a lifetime. Particularly when it rains. At best, a tree grows crooked around that particular wound. Other times, it just leaves the family tree ungrounded, separated from a place to call home.


And so this feeling of broken longing. I take note of it each time I enter the woods. The feelings of deep connection I experience there—the profound sense of belonging, of home, of peace—bring up with them intense love for my children. Memories of times spent in the forest with them, camping, hiking, laughing.

We have no building, no rooftop, no hearth to offer shelter for the heart, save those woods and memories of family there.


For several years now, I have tried to recreate home for my grown children, carting them off to a summer vacation in the woods. It has seemed the best I could offer as substitute for holiday gatherings in the home they grew up in. Those imposed trips have not gone exactly as I have hoped; the woods are not home at all to their wives! So, I have released that dream, realizing I was trying to force something to grow, not organically from roots that have grown deep in a place, but as a transplanted species.


A few years ago, my children decided it might be best to start rotating homes for the holidays, for practical reasons. They have so many obligations, with divided families and in-laws to boot.  At the time, I didn’t understand completely the inordinate grief I experienced at that. I suppose I’d hoped that this new home of mine would offer a substitute place for their hearts, but home has shifted for them. They have grown roots in the places they landed. Blessedly so.


Flashing back, memories of sitting across the table from the young couple who purchased our family home wash over me. Before driving to settlement that painful morning, I had walked through the empty rooms one last time listening to the sounds of a lifetime—beautiful and terrible— echo off the bare walls.  Now, I pass the keys over cool, hard surface of the table, with soft words of blessing, hoping she will bring the gardens back to life. Later that morning, sitting in my parked car, up the street, I watch them unload the van, see little boys riding their wagons up and down the side walk, grateful that love has moved in. Weeping, I pull away.


Have my grandchildren come to know this new house of mine as home? How will it be to move to that house in the woods, to the place that feels like belonging, like true home to me? Will I feel uprooted again? Will my children’s hearts ever find their way there?


‘May the rain fall soft upon your rooftop’


Grief is a big piece of finally letting go, perhaps the beginning of it. As I cling to my longing for what has died, what can no longer be, I entomb myself. All those images of being entangled, entrapped, which have created such panic and despair in me, are strands of my grief at what has been lost. Of the five strands of grief, I imagine these particularly tenacious ones are of the guilt and self-blame variety.  They limit my freedom, keep me ensnared. Keep her from rising at last.


I know that new life won’t come until I let the old one finally die, rest in peace. Hanging onto my guilt and self-blame keeps our old life hanging on to me in ugly ways. I must unpeel these strands, this inordinate sense of responsibility for causing a death,  for creating such brokeness in my children’s lives. Recently, I’ve noted invitations opening — for release and redemption, for reclamation. Good memories, unsullied by pain, have been surfacing in the smell of a campfire or the melody of a song.


I gaze to my right as a gust of wind carries hundreds of maple seed helicopters winging through the air. They fly over my head, swirl round me, land in the grass at my feet. One of them drops squarely on this page in my journal. I notice it really is two seeds, joined to make wings.


I love my new husband so dearly, yet for so many months, since his retirement, with the anxiety of ‘what next’ and, more pressingly, ‘where’, I have grown hard. I notice myself recoil at his touch, physically, perhaps, but more pressingly, emotionally. His presence in my space feels constricting. I alternately fear he will hold me down — make me go; force me to stay–or to move. I fear leaving my children without a home. I fear never setting the trapped one inside of me free.


Have I reflexively slapped away a gentle, exploring touch, the touch of a spider, weaving a new story? Have I been flailing at the wrong strands, the ones I perceived were holding me under, entangling me? The strands that confine me are not spun by the persons I love, they are spun of the stories I tell of the burden of responsibility for pain. They are spun of self-blame.


These ones that come connected to me—children and lovers and friends– in this great web of life are a blessing. We hold and reflect one another. Some part of me knows that I am a blessing to them only if I am free to be who I am.  Somehow, they need me to wear the blue dress.  I suspect that only by being me can I hold my place in Indras net like a jeweled knot, radiating light, healing the tear, making our connections healthy and strong. In truth, I do harm when I feed those attached to me love laced with self-blame and fear. Such an ill-tied knot only spreads the disease of self-denial and judgment, codependency and constraint. The last thing I want for any of them is to feel responsible for holding me back.


This seed upon my page, landing so softly, capable of growing a new tree, comes attached to another. The other gives wings for flight.


May the rain fall soft upon it.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Anonymous
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 09:34:19

    Beautifully expressed.



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