Years ago I was in a lonely space. I was struggling for answers and life’s direction but receiving little inner guidance. I decided to head to a retreat facility — a rambling Victorian house run by a religious community — by the ocean.
But it was October. Off-season. And the house would be empty.
The retreat director asked if I would mind this. I said it would be fine. I needed the quiet and the space to breathe, to pray, to listen.
When I arrived, the house was everything I had hoped for. My room overlooked the ocean and I was a short walk to the sandy beach. But as evening drew on I discovered that indeed I was alone in this big, rambling house. I stayed only one night and came away with fewer answers than before.
I did learn this, however. I didn’t need to travel to another location to find what I was looking for. Oh, sometimes traveling to a new locale gave me a fresh perspective and was helpful. But more often than not, I found that the answers unfolded no matter where I had planted myself.
And sometimes they didn’t unfold at all, which ironically, was part of the process.
I know. I know. Life can be filled with WTH do I do next? Do I turn right or left? Yes or no? Stay or go?
Burning bushes are not easy to come by, for any of us.
Since I retired and dad had his stroke, my time has been filled with caring for him. But I’m also looking for direction at way past midlife, at what else I might want to do with the years I have left, with the talents and gifts I have. I still have much to contribute.
So today I had some time off from caregiving. Although still Springtime, the weather blazed hot but beautiful like a summer’s day. I went to a nearby park with a lake, and toting a lawn chair, blanket and book sat under a shady tree, soft warm breezes caressing me.
Blessed silence. I hadn’t felt such peace in a long time.
Then a sun-tanned man ambled by, about my age, smiling big and waved his hand in the air in a friendly arc. He had a laid-back vibe about him with his straw hat with a feather, jeans and sandals. He started chatting about the beauty of the day, about how he had cared for his mother who at 88 had still belonged to the women’s bowling league, how he enjoyed music.
And how in his 20s he had traipsed off to Hollywood, following a girlfriend.
“What was I thinking?” he asked with a huge grin. “We got involved in show business a bit. She did makeup and I had some background parts. You know, the guy who drives the bus or stands in the background reading the newspaper.”
Part of me was fascinated by his sharing. Another part wanted my silence back. I decided to allow whatever was happening, to happen. Finally, he said “good-bye” and I watched him walk away, wondering about his life, how he had taken another path long ago and had returned here. As I had.
I had moved to many states, for many jobs, for many reasons. And in the end, I came back to the place I know as home.
We make choices for many reasons. None are good or bad. They simply are. In hindsight, they may feel like mistakes, but if we are open, I feel that all our decisions are for our growth. They eventually lead us to where we’re meant to be.
I rose from the lawn chair and did as poet Mary Oliver wrote in the poem The Summer Day. I fell down on my knees into the deep green grass and inhaled its heady fragrance. I stretched out on the blanket, looking up at the green leaves of the tree silhouetted against a blue-blue sky.
I listened to the birds twittering around me, the hush of the breeze in the branches, and marveled at this unique perspective of seeing the world from the ground up.
I paid attention.
And I heard yet again Oliver’s haunting question: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
But no answers came.
Sometimes I think too deeply. Ask too many questions. They block trust. They are ways of controlling and of not allowing Divine flow to take over. I’m aware of this.
So as I stretched out on the grass, I decided to follow a saying popular when I was a teenager. It would become my mantra — to bloom where I am planted.
Sometimes I am planted in uncertainty. Sometimes in the hard earth of sadness or the rich soil of joy. And sometimes I am planted in meeting a stranger who simply wants to connect.
I sunk deeper into the earth. In the moment. Blooming.
THE SUMMER DAY
by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?