When you’ve learned
To endure pain
As silently as the earth,
A soft act of rebellion.
It seems a lifetime ago now that I first came across this beautiful poem and felt it so deeply within myself that I wrote about it in Soft Rebellion and the Lovely Dead. I felt the life I was living dying around me and I knew nothing about what my future would hold except that I knew it would not be that… not any longer.
It was a cool, wet autumn and the October breezes brought a frosty chill that could only be warmed from out of my weary bones sitting by a fire. I’d been an amputee for only 5 months and most of that time had been locked in my own home, connected to an oxygen condenser, and at times sporting a wound vac and ports dangling from a tunneling subclavian PICC line hanging out of my chest near my collarbone for easy access to administer IV antibiotics from the comfort of my own couch. Even had I had my car instead of the keys living in someone else’s pocket, I still would have been limited to leaving the home only for doctor appointments, not that those physical manifestations of restriction were the essence of the situation.
I was a prisoner in the place that should have been my castle and safe haven and I was utterly unable to impact my situation in the least except in accepting it and learning to be patient enough to wait out the storm.
show me your worst
the earth said to the storm
and i will blossom anyway
If nothing else, I lived everyday fighting antibiotic resistant infections in the hope that at best I wouldn’t lose more of my left leg than I already had and at worst I wouldn’t lose my life or spread those resistant strains to others. But there was more than just that keeping me chained in the darkness. There was no sunshine in my life and there was very little hope. I was isolated and the only escape I had from the hell of my everyday were the rare occasions when I had a reason to leave the house for a doctor’s appointment or simply sitting in front of my computer writing. The darkness didn’t just live in my home, it ruled it and I was helpless to escape the oppression of my circumstance.
Oppression is such a tricky thing. We often think of oppression as something terrible living in far away places where a lack of religious or political freedom keeps others from the pursuit of their own happiness but its much more innocuous and pervasive than we would like to believe. Oppression lives behind the closed doors and dead eyed, plastic smiles of the people we see everyday. It takes many forms and all too often we accept its yolk with clever justifications and excuses spoken by ourselves or others that are disguised as integrity and honor, compassion and understanding, all while breeding codependence, toxicity, and a heaviness that we cannot seem to escape from because we fail to address the root of oppression each springs from.
While I know some reading this may balk at the idea that oppression can thrive so easily in our free society or that I could deign to compare the oppression of others elsewhere to that which I have seen and experienced, I’d like to point out that the difference between physical abuse and emotional abuse is only in whether the wounds left behind are visible or not. The amygdala does not differentiate between the source of trauma or pain nor whether they are physical or emotional in nature. This is to say:
Regardless of the source and regardless of the degree, oppression is oppression.
The true sadness in a society as ours is that we ignore the oppression happening all around us. How very hypocritical we are that we will seek to save everyone else when we cannot and will not even address the heinous crimes taking place at home, that the world is worthy of our time and attention when our own neighbors and even we ourselves fail to address our own misery. I am not saying that we should not seek to help others but that we cannot help others and fail to help ourselves as well.
The blanket of oppression was brought to me from I’m not entirely sure where, and I willingly accepted it because I thought it was honorable to be the woman I was striving to be while I was utterly blind to the reality of the nightmare I lived. I could feel the coldness creeping farther into my world with each passing day as the vines that ensnared me slowly choked my life from my body and soul. Invasive plant species are very rarely accidentally introduced into an ecosystem. They’re brought in purposefully in order to fulfill some aesthetic role and it is only after they begin to choke out the native species do we begin to see the foolishness of the choice to bring those plants with us. So too are the toxic individuals we introduce into our own lives. We love the way they make us feel, how they look on our arms, the elitism we feel when we are with them because of their accomplishments, the excitement we have from having someone so different from the kind of person we see ourselves with, and we give them a plot of land in the garden of our soul thinking that they will only enhance the peace of our inner being. It is only after the damage has been done that we realize they’ve overgrown the boundaries we had intended for them and taken over everything within our worlds until it they have spread so pervasively that nothing of what was seems to remain any longer.
That was where I was when I realized there was nothing left of the me I had been. Everything I was had been overgrown and robbed of resources by what I’d willingly bought into my world and there was nothing left of me visible anywhere. Those who knew me could see the ruins beneath the blanket of creeping vines and some who had only just begun to know me saw that there was much more that I had been but there was nothing more than phantom figures hidden under layers of oppression, so when those same vines began to die back themselves as the cold, dark winter approached, I found this quote and thought not, “Winter has come,” but, “Ah, yes. This is me.”
I was right but I was also so very wrong.
There was a hopefulness I felt as my living prison slowly faded away and the leaves that carefully hid died away until there were no more lies that could be used to explain away the ugly truth of my existence. As everything around me slowly withered and everything within me was cut back slowly, a lifetime’s worth of creeping and suffocating false hopes and unhealthy thoughts, broken promises and unrealized dreams, fell like so many autumn leaves dying and falling to piles of dross on the ground as each slender stem that held me in thrall grew hard and brittle as the life blood left their stems and the roots began to die back. All was death.
you are not your roots.
you are a flower
grown from them.
As a garden in winter, when all green plants die back, so was my living prison dying back bit by bit, but the death of my prison was not enough on its own because there was nothing left of me. There is no blossom in winter except those which we force and while we love the amaryllis, in the darkness we never remember that a forced bloom is no match for springtime.
I felt like there was nothing left of me to bloom but I yearned for life nevertheless and I forced a bloom, here. I could carefully cultivate my hothouse flower while my garden lay in ravages but it was not until someone else wandered in and dislodged something that had long before been covered by a stepping stone, locating one untouched and unsullied sliver of life there was left, that hope was found again. From that came a shoot of winter green.
Slowly throughout my long winter, a few faithful friends, like dependable gardeners, would wander through clipping and cutting away at the remnants of that invasive weed a little bit at a time. Each found a different chore to focus their attention on and each focused without faltering. One uncovering the truths hidden by the dead and dying leaves, another taking hedge clippers to the heavy stalks, and yet another still pulling the curtains of death down as tirelessly as a sailor strips the sails. The one who dislodged that stone to uncover the single sprout that spoke of what once was would wander through at times finding where the roots still wound deeply and pulling them from their dark holes to be piled high with every other form of toxic rubbing. Every thick vine and stem, every curling wisp and tendril that had woven itself into every surface it could reach, from every corner and every surface piling the detritus high to be burned.
But it was not enough to just to burn the visible remnants like the destruction of some counterfeit wicker man. Everything, the whole space, needed to be burned, scorched, and cleansed with fire to destroy every stray seed and greenling.
I endured unspeakable pain for years and had been taught to keep my tongue in check and suffer in silence to be worthy of praise and affection for being Stepford in the flesh. The creeping bramble of my world was such that even its death felt like life was returning but… Not yet. Life follows death but never immediately. Coldness and dark days needed to follow death in order to allow me time to recover from the overgrowth that had choked out the proof of my existence and rest from the time I struggled to survive beneath it all. And follow they did. All through the winter, I toiled with the help of those faithful few to uncover the ruins and prepare for spring and a new season of life, knowing that only after the pervasive weed was destroyed was there any way to feasibly regrow and bring life to the garden within my soul. The sprouts of true life discovered along the way were carefully preserved and cultivated for planting when warmth returned to the world. After the clearing and after the thrushes had been burned, the ground was ready to hold life again. I was ready for life again. And so the seedlings have been planted, the sunlight is returning, and the rains have come.
when there’s nothing left to burn,
be the rain
who brings everything good
back to life.
As the sunlight is returning and the cleared earth is peppered with new growth the likes of which have not been seen here in an age, as the soft drops of golden sunshine come, bringing with them warmth, washing through the nourishment left by the destruction of that which had sought to choke out my existence, I grow.
green life pushing through
the charred ashes of what burned
proof that life goes on
I can still see the ghosts and shadows left by that toxic weed but I would not part with them for the world because they are a part of the story now. I am no longer withered by the suffocating mass that had choked out my essence and although I know it still exists somewhere, it is enough to know it is no longer here. It is enough to know that I survived. But it is not enough for me to be silent because silence keeps the life hidden away and although I was nearly destroyed by letting others into my world, I cannot keep the life I have in me once more for just myself.
Why have I survived if not to tell the story?
⁂ ⁂ ⁂
In the garden of your soul, have you granted access to too many, to those who do not water your heart and nourish your soul, to those who do not respect your rules, who trample on your flowerbeds and make paths when they should follow your stepping stones?
I did. Had I been more judicious with my choices and had I learned to revoke entry to those whose presence sucked the joy from my soul, I may never have found myself in such utter darkness as I lived in when I first found this quote. But all hope was not lost then nor is it lost for any one of us who chooses to look up and search out the sun.
Sunshine comes in short spurts bringing warmth to a cold and weary soul, bringing life like so many small beats of a heart coming back to life and waves from the depths of the ocean… If you only learn to seek it out. When the life-force of springtime is not yet present, the darkness marches on as death leads to isolation and the necessary clearing away of all the bracken. But as the long winter ends, there is warmth and a glow.
Somewhere in all my darkness someone said that I should never underestimate the power of small acts of rebellion against that which oppresses. He could not have been more right.
My first small act of rebellion was surviving long enough to find that sprout of green hidden away. There have been many small acts since then as I mindfully, purposefully cleared the death that sought to control and destroy me. I’ve cultivated relationships with those who continue to quietly visit my garden from time to time, helping me keep any remnants that survived the fires from taking root and destroying my soul once more.
I see in myself the beginnings of green coming to places I once thought were hopelessly ruined and dead as well as little buds of pink growing among the tufts of new growth.
What else could be more offensive to the oppressor but to see the formerly oppressed free to blossom once more?
I stayed silent for so long, enduring pain and darkness, watching as others endured the same, and while I understand why I did, I will no longer.
i have silences
buried so deeply,
i weep when they blossom.
I will be forward,
I will be honest,
and I will be kind…
but I will not be silent.
⁂ ⁂ ⁂
To the Wizard ~ ABsolutely shouldn’t be surprised that your powerful words, though few at times, stick with me. It is surprising to see when and how they will spring to the surface like so many little seeds unwittingly planted. Ta for that…
To all my devoted gardeners who have helped me get to the bottom of the rubbish and have without judgment helped me find every root, twig, stem, and stalk, who know exactly when to call or write, who hear that still small voice and answer it ~ All the things…
To Nutella ~ You were right. I was missing the gardeners and the sunshine. I hope I did it justice.
Originally published 14 May 2019 at 2:46 PM.