December 13 – When We Speak – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

I have only now realized that something endless has broken ground in me, and I have no choice but to live and love until it grows me like a tree.

I met an old man at a gathering, and when everyone went on their way, he leaned into the hushed space between us and talked to me as if we were trees. Scratching his chin, he said, “We start out thin and green, and each time the sky grows dark, we think we will break, but the downpour makes us grow, though never straight, always twisting for the light, and, strangely, the more we reach above the earth, the deeper something in us fingers its way down, and it is this—our unseen fingers reaching for the core—that keeps us from blowing away. Now there is no more running and very little swaying, and up till now, there have been many languages, though none that could be heard, just a creak at dawn and a moan at night, and sooner or later, we are brought down. It doesn’t matter how. We are undone. But stacked we burn, and here the poetry rises from us, leaving wisdom in the ash.”

Then, he left. I wasn’t sure what had happened, but I think his story had to do with humility and with how all that we experience is really kindling for when we truly speak. Somehow we grow through all the things that seem so dark, and with each season, our roots thicken and deepen and spread to bear our weight of living in the world.

But what is the “being brought down,” the “being undone”? Perhaps it is anything—disappointment, loss, unexpected change—that brings us, humbly, closer to the earth. Perhaps any upending of our very personal designs allows usto feel our bond morefully with other living things.

Yet what does it mean for us to be stacked so we can burn? Perhaps this is about being simplified to the point that what has grown within us can rise out of us with a passion for being alive. Perhaps after two marriages and the coming and going of the dearest of friends, I can, when stripped of my bark, utter something hot and clear about what it means to love. Perhaps after losing a rib and gaining my life, I can, when set aflame by the moment at hand, cough up some cinder of what it means to live off truth.

Experience, it seems, wants to burn out of us, and whether what comes out is intelligent or pretty, the purpose of all fire is to light and warm. Perhaps as the farmer on the edge of winter must gather wood to make it to spring, we each must gather our experience and set it ablaze to keep our lifeblood healthy and warm.

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