I woke up beckoned. But to what? At the time I knew not “what” and yet there was a stirring within me—a desire to succumb to my unquestioning, absurd obedience to a feeling I could barely comprehend. Full of desire, I hopped in my car with no object or direction or plan. It was as if my past was before me, behind me, and under me while I tried to find a place where I could be alone in the most solitary sense that alone could be.
I picked up a few items at the store and drank back a coffee while feeling the stirring within me intensifying into a thought. And then, quite spontaneously, I “knew” where I had to be. There was a place from my past—a happy place full of memories—that I had not visited in years, and its very quality was its remoteness. And so my obedience to a “yet-to-be-revealed purpose” brought me along unpaved roads with old farmhouses, fields of wheat, silos and wooden bridges under a sky stretching itself thin with wispy clouds fading in the distance.
When I arrived at the shadowy edge of the woods I began to doubt. As I remembered it, the road was supposed to branch to the right and yet I pressed on. Just when my faith was about to fail, the road forked, leaving me little doubt as to what direction I would take and I began to feel my apprehension dissipate. I parked my car in a little clearing by the riverside and when I got out of the car I could hear the sound of running water below a tiny, rickety bridge that let me know I found the right place. At first I thought I was being called to fish, so I rummaged in the back of my car for my rod. I then put my headphones on and allowed myself to enjoy my singularity while the sounds of nature merged with my choice of music.
“What’s to become of me?” was the prevailing thought that penetrated even the golden satisfaction I was taking from the golden sunlight that bathed everything: the tall grass, the shrubs, the reeds, the lilypads, the dark waters concentrated with vegetation and the small fish just below the surface. It was a dark thought that seemed strangely appropriate given my proximity to living poetry itself.
I walked along the shore until I found an appropriate spot to fish, and with every step I felt the tall grass rubbing against my exposed legs, leaving me itchy. With a snap of my rod, I flung my lure to a spot vacated by weeds and began to reel it in. The sun caught every bit of silver during the lure’s descent, from the splash of its landing to its retrieve past weeds and gnarly old roots protruding above the surface. In all honesty, it was quite difficult to avoid getting a snag and there were no signs of hungry fish. Since it was apparent that I was not meant to hook on to a literal symbol of my childhood past, I walked back to the car and put my rod away.
With my headphones still on, I went and sat on the bridge while trying to come to terms with that part of me that wanted me here, for whatever reason. I looked down into a portrait of life in the water framed by the weeds swaying in the current. Little fish swam back and forth, each with their own personality. Several catfish would swim through the picture, two of them almost affectionately swimming together, like lovers. There were potential meals all around these fish and yet it was not time to feed. There was no fear between them, like an unspoken truce, an unspoken understanding. My understanding was unspoken, too. It was felt. I was beckoned. But I certainly wasn’t beckoned to sit on an old bridge from my past and contemplate fish.
“What’s to become of me?”
While I sat there completely obedient to a sense of somehow belonging to this picture, I hummed to my music in full acceptance of the patience required of me. I watched a dragonfly repeatedly dipping itself into the water, a rhythm totally unto itself. I truly had no idea what this creature was trying to accomplish. I watched a bird in the distance stop helicopter-like, scanning the surface for potential prey. And yet it never dove. Every image around me contributed to this overall sense of life and fecundity, as opposed to the normal reality one experiences where life and death are present as unified opposites. It was a remarkable moment.
And then I felt beckoned again. But to where? I had been here countless times and had never known another path other than the one I took along the waterside. My eyes were opened, though, and a sandy trail leading back into the forest suddenly revealed itself, summoning me to my feet. I walked again, not necessarily expectant of anything profound or meaningful. The forest quickly gave way to a clearing and once again it forked, leaving me with a choice. I decided to follow the path that ran closest to the water, and I felt my spirit soar when I completely exited the forest and came upon a bird sanctuary so vibrant that it’s beyond my talent to describe.
The emotions in me swelled, and as I walked I tried to come to terms with my happiness and delight in contrast to my melancholy and malaise. I wanted to sing, and yet I wanted to be sick. “It’s f—ing beautiful,” I said aloud to myself in awe. I wanted to be alone with its beauty and yet I wanted to share it with her, too. I wanted her to see it with her own eyes, and I imagined bringing her here during the autumn when the colors would be even more intense. The whole thing was too much for me to process. Grandeur is infinite and yet I felt so limited in what I could understand, in what I could allow my spirit to feel. It was overwhelming.
As I walked further into the sanctuary, I began to feel the “stirrings” within me starting to calm and the emotional extremes finding resolution. The water glistened and birds were everywhere. Each step I took resulted in frogs leaping and grasshoppers taking flight. The wind was mild and the osprey hovering effortlessly in its current of air seemed mindless of my presence. Eventually I came across a tower for watching birds and without hesitation I climbed the steps to the top. I imagined what it would be like to take her here and have her in the moment. It seemed that her presence was everywhere. It started within me and radiated outwards, illuminating the hills in the distance, the water shining before me and the water fowl dipping their beaks below the surface. I swear I could smell her in the breeze, in the fragrance of grass and vegetation at the height of summer.
I climbed down from the tower renewed, and yet I pressed on. I found myself singing to my music again and I felt peaceful. It was as if my soul had spoken to me. I imagined a bench in the beyond and I knew if I pressed on she would be waiting for me. I just knew that she would. It became hot as I walked along and since I brought nothing to drink I yearned for even a sip of the stagnant water that was worthy of mirroring the sky and yet undoubtedly unfit for quenching human thirst. It was at this time that I came across a Canadian goose that was killed in the middle of the path. All that remained were a few feathers scattered in memorial. Undeterred that death’s signature had etched its place in the pristine sanctuary, I walked on, as if into the haze of a long forgotten memory just about to surface.
Once I could see that the path came to a “T” in the distance, I knew I was upon my destination. As I approached, a wooden bench sat poised for a breathtaking view of the marsh, with a pastoral portrait of farmland in the distance and blue herons all around. I sat on the bench and spoke to her like I was expecting her to be truly there all along.
“I knew you would be here,” I found myself saying.
I could feel her response.
“I knew you would come,” she replied.
“It’s so beautiful here, we were meant to share it,” I said with excitement.
“Let’s enjoy this moment together, but understand that you’re to walk back without me.”
“I’m to return to alone?” I asked, feeling sadness creep in.
“I don’t know what’s to become of me?” I said. “I still don’t know why I’ve been beckoned?”
She had compassion in her eyes. “So that you can leave me behind.”
“I don’t know how to,” I confessed. “I see you in everything, I feel you in everything.”
“It’s time you get going.”
“But what’s to become of me?”
“You’re to become stronger, more loving, less controlled with your emotions. Most of all, you’re to allow God to enter your solitude while you reinterpret every image of every step you took here. You will not think of me.”
At that moment, for the first time all day, I felt my solitude wash over me and I felt no resistance. I retraced my steps, from the herons past the memorial of feathers. I continued along the waterside path until I got back to the tower. An old man now stood in the tower and I felt fear and apprehension as I approached him, believing that it was important that my aloneness remained undisturbed.
“It’s a great day to be out here,” I said.
He looked down on me, shirtless, aged from the sun, and replied: “Have you made the full circle?”
“I only walked to the end of the path,” I confessed.
“A tip for you,” he said. “Use a bike.”
Sure enough, leaning against the tower was a rusty, old bicycle that he used to circle the marsh.
I continued back to my car with this sense of being profoundly disturbed into health. It felt like I was departing with the knowledge that I had been pursuing my idea of her all along.
In the end, I was beckoned deep within the sanctuary so that I could surrender my love to an ideal more beautiful than my memories.