As the end of the year has been pressing itself into my mind, I have started to reflect upon its girth, as well as years’ past. Earlier in my life, end of year reflections would direct my attention to only one place – somewhere far off in the horizon. Never really rooted in the present, I always wished to be somewhere different than where I was. I filled journals with lists of goals for myself, intentions that spoke to my feelings of inadequacies and perceived failures. Too lofty for attainment, they were quickly abandoned and discarded almost as soon as the ink dried. So, it was this week, that I found myself walking the ridge of my family’s land in east Tennessee.
My parent’s home is situated at the base of a modest mountain. Just below their house, the land transitions to pasture, home to the Black Angus cows that my parents raise. The sun takes a while to reach their house, as it has to overcome the ridge that towers behind it. Two years ago, brushfires marched down this mountain, a single line of orange, eerily beautiful even as it threatened more than trees. As I made my way up the steep frosty slopes on this post-holiday morning, I found myself in a familiar landscape of my own life. There where the charred remnants of trees, some still standing branchless, rough sketches of their former selves. Scorched and crackled black innards, encased in bleached white outer shells, all a reminder that the biggest blunders of my life have their own beauty when given enough time to mature. Frost covered leaves formed deep beds that cushioned my feet as I continued to maneuver up the side of the mountain, absent of any marked trails. I never can remember the exact place where the trail begins, so it has become my custom to just head up, knowing that I will find the path eventually. There was a time that I needed the safety of certainty, of knowing where each step would take me. This kind of fear often rendered me immobile, incapable of any movement, forward or backward. I am learning that sometimes in my life, I just have to point myself in a good direction and start walking. I have finally come to believe that I can be trusted to make the most important decisions in my life, knowing that each unexpected turn weaves yet another thread into an ever growing tapestry.
Sometimes, a complete reversal in direction is in order. Once I intersected the trail, I headed north, up the spine of the ridge, above the fire line. My destination was only one slope, a small dip, and a final gentle rise from where I stood. But the trail, as well as the entire landscape surrounding me, was soon cluttered with purple thickets of tangled brambles, downed shrubs and small trees, making further travel quite impossible. Disappointed for a moment, I headed back down the mountain, reflecting even more on how my life is so completely mirrored by the natural world around me.
I am learning not to be afraid of the fire lines in my own life. How can we become familiar with the core of who we are if our cores are never exposed? The moments that at the time seem utterly unbearable and unending – those are the moments that have served to strip me down to the very essence of who I am, revealing surprising truths about myself. Some I happily embrace, and others I must breathe deeply into with quiet acceptance, the most powerful invitation for change. I’ve learned the importance of trimming back the things in my life that inhibit movement – as I continue to age, I am finding that less really is more. And, I have learned that periodically, such as the passing of a season or a year, it is a good idea to stop and take a look around. Not just to the horizon, but back from where I have come. I have never fully appreciated where I am until I view my position relative to the entire scope of my journey.
So, for me, as the arrow of time continues to move forward, as only it can, I will move with it. I know I’m on the right mountain, at least for now. If that changes in the future, I trust that I will be able to find my way again. I am learning to more quickly identify the thickets of brambles and brush that need thinning, the limiting beliefs and behaviors that keep me stuck. But, more than anything, I continue to strive to be content in my life. It is, after all, a good life indeed.