[Pic is not of our Yellowstone trip but I’ll have to dig for those photos; they’re on some computer somewhere. Ugh. This is Julia and Livy, I’m guessing at ages 6 and 3, with a backdrop that is very similar to the sights we saw on our Yellowstone trip]
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 our asses off, we were whipped into submission by the frigid ocean wind, and—guided by no plan— moved east, north, then back toward the coast in a zig zag of unrepentant spontaneity. Landing once in a campground a few miles off I-5 that was so dusty it’s dirt never heard the rain and still yet was such a small fare to pay Life in order to feel free and unencumbered.
And the original Yellowstone vacation had to be scrapped because of a June blizzard, but somehow the girls, mom and I are there and it’s morning—June 15 2008 (Fathers Day)—when we’re stopped at the side of the road watching the grizzly bear eat the baby elk. The snow had melted into the pasture and the bears grey fur blew in a breeze imperceptible to normal kinetics, and as the tiny carcass (that was certainly still warm) became the backdrop for our first trip after daddy moved, Livy cried softly—“I bet the mommy elk is looking for her baby right now!”—in the tender knowing way that would become her trademark.
Because on that day, my daughters and I were the mother elk, living into the lament of unresolved grief where daddy had moved away last year to live with his new family and inside pain bound to archetypal torment, we’d walked the years path together—Julia, 9, Livy, 6—where nothing felt safe. The path where truths we dared not voice had to be spoken, about rejection that cuts to the soul and about how little hope there seems to be in this world for the sweet and the vulnerable.
And my little girls and I were rooted to those now-spoken truths as if walking beside the ghost shadow of ourselves and so on that day—on that slight hill, next to at least a hundred other spectators—I briefly joined Livy in wondering about that mama elk.
How will she find the strength to go on?
Because as her baby’s blood and muscle and sinew nourished a guiltless beast, I felt like I stood together with her in timeless solidarity. That we shared that knowing of the inherent unfairness of it all, where we can’t run from our losses but are instead the ones tasked with carrying on in spite of the extreme emotional burdens of the living.
And on that day, I didn’t know how it was possible she could avoid the temptation to give up. Why is it that we all don’t lay down and stop trying? How do we all find the strength to survive this world?
And as if Time purposely withheld for a reason, the years passed with the questions unanswered. The bears fur kept floating in the air. And as ages 9 and 6 became 16 and 13, the dead baby was emblem of the million little deaths that trauma leaves, where each of us in turn over 7 years, comes to say “I can’t do this. It’s too much” and we mean it. And the edge…the edge is so close that Julia hides under the covers and Livy is breaking her skin, and unsafety is our new normal, and there was that night—that random nothing night–when Livy was a danger to her self and the world had more, my Mom calling to remind me I wasn’t a good enough person and I’m broken, and my babies feel like they’re dying right in front of me, and I’m on the stairs in the back of our house, unsure I could go on. And suddenly Time seemed to pivot and catch.
Like standing still on one point, Time pulled aside atoms and cosmos and in the grace of a single second all the unimportant things seemed to give up and fall away.
And I cannot answer it from thought. For there are yet mysteries in this world destined always to be unknown. Mysteries where we find ourselves alone, on nights and days that break us until the questions of the deep griefs suddenly rest into the stars. Mysteries that are Unsolved by mind; that maneuver towards survival in pastures of soggy grass under a sun pulling planets towards her with the exact force as those same planets are falling from their own weight.
For from overwhelmed children with broken skin, mama elks and poignant losses also resides the embedded safety of our love for those things. Where we metaphorically cradle our babies, and that mama (and even her baby) and in our caring Time does not stop at loss but marches us on into the grace of Understanding. Where the dark bloody times—under covers, holding blades, wherein life as we know it weeps in misery—empties us into the mysteries that whisper to the tears how to find boundless joy. Where welcoming us home to our deepest safety is our own selves and the knowing that nothing has a stopping point, merely that we bear witness to pain as an infinite-love constantly seeking the comfort of itself.
And so it thus came to pass that 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, Time taught me the patience we all must have to find that comfort.
Because not every second of our lives will reveal the wisdom of hardship. But Time releases us all to a lifetime of teaching, anchoring us to our Earth as it eternally balances, falling always into the sun but forever missing.
[This bothers me for some reason so I’m going to add that I know grizzly hair is not grey but in my memory of that day, what we could see was a little wisp of its hair, and in the the sun, it looked gray. Full authenticity as I saw it, flaws in sight and all :)]