And it was a shapeless voyage. Underplanned; underfunded. Like that time in my twenties when my boyfriend and I camped up and down the California coast. Freezing; complaining. Our next step always unknown, and our misery purposeful and a small price to pay to feel free and unencumbered.
And the original Yellowstone plan had been scrapped because of that June blizzard, but somehow we’re there and it’s morning when we’re stopped at the side of the road watching the grizzly bear eat the baby elk. Gray fur blowing in imperceptible breeze, floating and aloft then at rest as gravity and kinetics sooth their differences, the bear hunching over the carcass that was certainly still warm and Livy’s sobbing—“I bet the mommy elk is looking for her baby right now!”—lamenting the cruelty of Nature, and truths that need not be said about how unfair this world is and how little hope there could ever possibly be for the vulnerable.
Because on that day—June 15, 2008, Father’s Day—my daughters and I were the mother elk, living still in a haze of unresolved grief where daddy had left and emotional abandonment stirred archetypal pain, and life had stagnated and become rooted to trauma, continually guiding us to revisit the same point in time as if walking beside the ghost shadow of ourselves.
And I briefly joined Livy in wondering, “How will she find the strength to go on?”
Because as the baby’s blood and muscle and sinew nourished a guiltless beast’s continued domination, we stood together in timeless solidarity with that mother elk who was now tasked with carrying on in spite of the extreme emotional burdens of the living.
And I just didn’t know how it was possible that she could avoid the temptation to give up. Why doesn’t she just lay down and stop trying?
How do we all find the strength to survive this world?
Then 7 years passes.
And the question is not answered but asked, instead, over and over, during a million little deaths and an excess of losses, and I say “I can’t do this. It’s too much” and mean it, and the edge is so close until hardship is the new normal and there was that night—that random nothing night–when Livy was still in danger and mom called to say I wasn’t a good daughter and I’m on the stairs in the dark and it just wasn’t possible to feel more alone and something happened in the deep inner knowing of the atoms I share with that mother elk (and the entire Universe) and somehow I knew that beauty and pain must coexist, and in fact we can’t have one without the other, because daddy left but came back, and Livy’s depression fuels social activism, and her self-inflicted scars are counterbalance to her limitless empathy, and I look at her, alive and wonderful with scars and pain, and I have joy—and it’s a miracle, with love enough for the whole world’s pain—that makes me weep in thanks for the misery that made it all possible, and for the pain that taught me how to let all the unimportant things fall away. That emptied me out only to be refilled again, replaced with a boundless joy and happiness that wells up and bubbles forth simply from seeing her sitting next to me on the stupid fucking couch.
And Time, standing still on one point, pivots and catches. Like the earth with the sun; in a state of perfect be-ing and dynamic balance. Wherein every second, Earth avoids annihilation by the Sun’s gravitational pull because of an equivalent counterforce, forever balancing and afloat, in a constant state of falling and missing.
And on that day in Yellowstone—Father’s Day 2008—with the grief and the bear and the mother and the baby, standing within earshot of strangers, and languages, and motor homes, and tripods, and park rangers directing traffic, and an art project of a world masquerading as a tree-filled meadow of green under our effortlessly-generous sun, Nature showed me the patience we all must have to feel that joy.
Because not every second will reveal the logic of hardship. But Nature erases a lifetime of forgetting, anchoring us to Earth, as it eternally balances, falling into the sun but forever missing.