The path we walked through the woods felt different from the other paths we had walked. The trees were closer somehow, the underbrush lush and green, as far as the eye could see, full of fruit and flowers.
“What’s different about these woods?” I asked my husband. He had suggested this hike on Labor Day, and our more recent hikes at Gettysburg and through an almost-untouched wood in our county loomed fresh in my mind.
“It’s new growth,” he said, pointing out that the trees hadn’t grown tall enough to block the sun from the ground cover. Suddenly I could see the difference. I am awed by tall trees, the way they stretch to the sky but it was the beauty of the thick low-growing plants that caught my eye this time.
As we walked, we read the information signs. How this land was old and among the first to be settled in this part of the county. How it later became a landfill and now, through careful planning, a beautiful park.
We were literally walking through a garbage dump.
And it was beautiful.
Call it what you want: a dumpster fire, a garbage heap, a hot freaking mess. You don’t have to read or watch or scroll for long before you’re convinced that the world is trash and maybe a good scorching would do everyone good.
Five minutes on Twitter and I’m scared and worried and paranoid. I can’t keep up with all the tragedies, nor am I meant to. My soul can’t hold all the hurt, but sometimes I still want it to.
Even without the earthquakes and the hurricanes and the tragedies, I am spinning into a pit because there’s a hole in our kitchen ceiling, a mouse we can’t catch, bills we can’t pay, and frustrated tears during homework. It is 7:30 at night and I am D-O-N-E with it all. I want to curl up in bed, read a book to take me away from it all, or drink something to dull the pain. Maybe a combination of all three.
My personal vice is to flee, escape, give up when the trouble comes. When the going gets tough, I get going, as far from the tough-going as I can get. (I’ve heard the world might end this weekend. I don’t believe it, but at this exact moment I don’t think I would mind if it did.)
Still, as much as I want to give up on the world, to throw up my hands and scream, “How much longer?” and “What can I do?”, I can’t walk away. I can’t give up.
Because life finds a way to break through even the most trashy of circumstances. This is not naive idealism. It is true.
Did you see the video of the man sacrificing the last generator in Florida before Irma to a woman who needed it for an oxygen tank? I cried. Or if you’re on Twitter, go find Kristen Bell’s posts from that week. She sang songs from Frozen for an elementary school and rubbed shoulders with senior citizens hunkering down in the same hotel she was. It was refreshing.
That’s life breaking through.
Sometimes it’s just harder to find. And it takes time.
But I have to believe it is worth the wait.
Years ago, my life, our marriage, felt like a stinking pile of garbage. We distanced ourselves from all but the closest of friends because we know the human tendency to steer clear of trouble in case it’s contagious. This was not a fair assumption on our part, and eventually, we did start sharing the garbage with people. It still felt like a smelly offering, but we are grateful for those who took it and didn’t run away.
Ours is a compost pile of a story. A continual adding on of dying things, a turning over of the decaying. It’s contained now, like a compost pile, instead of like trash day gone wrong with litter strewn across the street.
And though it sometimes still stinks, it is producing something life-giving. It might not be a fragrant offering, but it is a fertile one, promoting life and growth in ourselves and others.
At least, that is my hope. Sometimes it is still hard to see.
As hard as we try to squash it, life goes on. The earth rattles and shakes. The winds stir the waters into terrifying storms. The nations threaten violence and war. If our goal is to obliterate humanity, we’re seemingly on the right track.
Still, the earth yields beauty. Trees and flowers bud and bloom and thrive. Our garden plants stretch across the lawn, bursting with butternut squash. Our tomato plants tilt under the weight of so much ripe, juicy fruit. Our family is fed from the earth.
Grieving the death of one, we also celebrate a birth. A life lost. A life gained. A circle we have yet to break.
The days are dark, the sunlight growing shorter, so we turn up the music, filling the kitchen with song as we make dinner.
Our daughter is learning to play the flute because music might be what saves us in the end.
I cannot stop thinking of a quote I heard recently: “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution.” (Emma Goldman)
We can dance AND revolt. Sing AND persist. Create AND call out.
We do not have to abandon ourselves to despair. We can find hope in the beauty yet to come when all we can see right now is a garbage heap.
Life stinks sometimes. I’m feeling that way today. The only thing I can think to do is remember the places where life can’t help but break through. The landfill-turned-park. The cemeteries. The birthing rooms.
Life is always breaking through. Even when it looks like it’s not.