Once upon a time, a mere woman — a mother, alone — looked out upon the horizon where she saw storm clouds gathering. They were fierce, black and profoundly threatening. Where she sat, she could only feel a mild, warm breeze on her skin and hair, while damp tropical air entered her nostrils and lungs. She breathed deeply. It was comforting and intoxicating, in a strange way.
She stood alone, wearing a cool, white cotton shift. Her bare toes reveled in the sand that enveloped them. She had spent the past year alone in the desert after a long, hard many years in training, and battling creatures at war with her, in another land, while she tried to feed and protect her family. Her children were grown and flourishing somewhere. She was all but forgotten. She smiled, knowing they were living their young lives happily and productively. Even as she stood, the sound of the wind blowing in nearby palms soothed her tired joints. Her fingers ached, and she could feel the effects of the coming storm in her shoulders, knees and feet.
This tempest had long been prophesied. She had known for years it would come, but she had no means to flee or build a shelter sufficient to withstand it. She felt the other desert creatures in her care were also at risk. She had done her best to build, but she was only one person, and it seemed anything she’d constructed only fell to bits before her with even the slightest breeze. She’d almost given up building, planting, harvesting. She was tired and she had lost hope – well, it was more like she had accepted “what was” and was not sure she had it in her to fight anymore.
Everything within her wanted to just feel the warm, wet air upon her skin and breathe in her freedom here, where no one pursued her – to let the storm come and ravish her. It felt like the warm, damp breath of the Creator Himself. There were no fences here. She lived simply, gathering old driftwood that scattered the sandy landscape. Sand, rocks and driftwood had long ago replaced the shores of oceans, lakes and rivers that, like spirits, had drifted up as mist into the sky. Driftwood warmed her, sheltered her, and cooked her food. It was enough. Her life was full enough. It was quiet.
She wanted only peace, but it was time for the desert ghosts and creatures to gather. They were concerned for her well-being, though it seemed some sought her demise. They’d brought comfort to her, but had also tormented her here in her solitude.
Since her wanderings in the desert had begun, they had, one by one, attempted to address the obvious looming problem with her, all in their own ways. While she gathered her food, walked along the way, sought water, attempted to sleep, sat by the fire, they each took their turn. As she stood, enjoying the moment, she knew they waited for her in her cave, and so she paused in the dim light, the damp air and the warmth. The beauty of the black clouds, pierced by shards of electricity seemed to glow with the same warmth that emanated from the flaming driftwood contained by the fire pit in her camp.
The ghosts of her Past and Future each tapped one of her shoulders and tears filled her eyes. “Fresh air, for just a moment more. Please. I cannot.” “You must” said Future.
She swallowed hard through her spasming throat as her breathing narrowed. The air chilled. She could barely feel one tiny droplet on her face… and then another. They were right. It was time to enter the cave. She could no longer avoid the confrontation.
The three of them walked back to her cave slowly. It was odd to notice that even as she turned her back to the looming storm, the dark sky was filled with color. She had lost track of time. Was it dawn or dusk? Either way, the blood red melting into royal purple hovered above the hilly silhouettes and it was breathtakingly beautiful. She needed to enjoy the last moments of the desert, before it was destroyed. What happens in a prophesied storm, anyway? Will it hurt? Will she drown? Will she be carried away by wind and torn to bits? Will she fall, hit her head on the earth and wake up somewhere else? Or will fire and smoke overtake her? Earth, water, wind and fire – the four elements. Will they consult together and take her at once? Where would she go? Her thoughts wandered and became a muddle.
At once she realized the three had entered a deep blackness. It was a familiar blackness, so she reached to her right, where she could feel the cool, dusty rock wall of her familiar dwelling. The fresh, warm air was immediately replaced with a stale, smoky ash and coolness. It always smelled this way before the fire was lit. She could hear a large drop of water hit a pool and echo. She knew they were not alone. She could hear them breathing and muttering. She was the one who came late to the meeting.
They waited silently out of respect. This respect was not something that she could ever get used to. Oh, they could speak out of turn, and often did, but only because she had allowed it. They were silent when she demanded it. It took her many years to understand this, and still, she struggled with it. Today, though, they waited. In some ways, this silence was worse. She could silence them when she remembered her power – at least for a bit, but getting any of them to speak when she needed, was another matter. When they chose silence, there was no cajoling, bribery, begging, or crying that would move them out of their brooding muteness. She was worried this would be the case today. She did not have the patience for another demand that she meet with them and still be left with unanswered questions and loneliness in the midst of chaos and crowds.
She noticed that her apprehension had quickly been replaced by impatience. She didn’t want these conversations to be like all of the others and end with her storming out with unanswered questions, or worse, lulled into the calm, trancelike state the desert brought her. The musty cave was reviving her and this, she found was entirely uncomfortable.
She reached toward the familiar table for a match to light the pile of kindling and driftwood she had prepared in anticipation of this meeting. She was fully awake and slightly annoyed at the creatures in the room — often ready to provide opinions and criticisms, but very little else. The storm, though beautiful, was indeed looming, and she had grown tired of pointless meetings and this unsolved question. She wasn’t sure whether she should walk out and accept the storm, or sit through yet another unproductive meeting.
The fire was kindled, and there were many faces before her. Each of them held an unlit torch, which, in turn, they each ignited and then entered the Great Room through the small opening behind them. She took a deep breath, lit the familiar torch that had been left for her by the entryway and entered behind all of them. She took her seat in an unpresumptuous place so she could listen quietly. She wanted to hide, unnoticed. They accepted her pretense, even though the meeting had been all about her “problem”. Future insisted on this meeting and Past had conspired with him/her, as it always did. Future had sent the squirrel, “Chatterer” to gather them all, for Future never spoke. None of us knew what Future was because “he/she” was covered in a long, brown cloak with a great hood covering a misty face. None of us could decide whether it was friend or foe. We only knew there was no escaping it. At times, it loomed as a giant, seeming to block every inch of sky, and at others, it was nowhere to be found – so tiny had it become. Today, it chose the size of a human so as not to paralyze us with fear, and it took a spot high on a rock, overlooking the scene.
The woman became restless, so she left the cave for several days. She was never alone, however. Several of her friends followed her, encouraging her to return.
When she finally reappeared weeks later, she found Past and Future waiting at the entrance. She’d always felt pulled between them. Past seemed stronger lately, so it’s pull felt more like a weight, holding her back. Future appeared to be only a cloud, and was constantly changing shape and size, sometimes disappearing completely, but always pulling as if it had its own, strong gravity. The woman knew she stood there in the middle between them, like a hinge in a doorway – swinging open and closed, depending on which of them was pulling harder. Hinges, she remembered, are actually stationary. She felt that no matter how far she had traveled, and what she had done, she was still just a hinge in a door frame at any given time. She also felt that everything “hinged” on the now – that whenever she was, Past and Future were all part of things. They would always be there where she was, pulling her one way or the other. She may as well cooperate.
In the midst of this, she realized they all stood as before, silent, with illuminated torches around a small lake inside of an immense cave. She could not see their faces. Now and again, a great drop would fall into the pond and echo throughout the chambers. Future took his place on his perch, looming above the crowd.
Rabbit spoke first, which was odd. She was always afraid. She was so small, you see, and had been hunted all of her life. The woman loved her soft fur, and tended to want to reach down to hold and comfort her in the midst of the oncoming storm. She felt a certain motherly care for her, and so she hesitated to leave her behind. Rabbit spoke in a halting voice, which was incredibly brave for such a small creature in the midst of so many gathered here in the darkness. She climbed up into the woman’s lap, put her paws on the woman’s chest, and with her ears cocked forward, and her great, tear-filled eyes looking right through her, she said, “Mama, we here are all worried about you. You have taken care of us, and of your children, but now, it’s time for you to be safe… to find a refuge… to have a life of your own.” She cupped her tiny little palms and placed one on each cheek. “We need you to stay and listen. It’s time for you to take our help, because now you are in danger.”
The woman could never resist rabbit’s tears. She took a deep breath. “Alright little one. I’m listening. Let the meeting begin. I will sit silently here on this rock.” Rabbit curled up in her lap, letting her run her fingers through her soft fur. Mama’s faithful dog laid down, placing her head on her lap next to rabbit, to give comfort and prevent her from leaving. The woman stroked their soft ears and settled in.
Bear cleared his throat. In his deep voice, which emanated from his large belly, he muttered, “Well, then. Let the meeting come to order. Mama is finally here, and it appears she’s decided to stay until we have finished speaking. Thank you, Mama. We know this has not been easy for you. This desert has been a refuge for you, and you’ve learned to endure it. It has transformed you into a child of the desert, but it is not meant to be a place for you to remain. You have work to do. The storm has been sent as a sign for you to begin a new journey.”
Scarecrow spoke up, flailing his staw arms at the crows flying over his head. They enjoyed mocking him, by tossing his straw hat onto the ground whenever he spoke. It was distracting, watching him attempt to speak over the crows as they yelled, “You’re doomed… caw!… Life is over! You will soon die!!!” Simultaneously, they grabbed at his hat so that he was constantly bending over to retrieve it. Poor old fellow. He stuttered as it was. He tried to be brave. He really did, but they were so distracting! It was so hard to hear him. It appeared he was trying to tell Mama that she needed to “take a stand”. She needed to find a platform on which to stand and to find her voice. It was really difficult to take him seriously, though she knew he did his best to do that very thing. Before she realized it, her maternal instinct kicked in and she bellowed, “Stop it, you crows!! Let him speak!! Sit down right now, or leave this room. Be silent! We have had enough of your nagging and bullying! We are fully aware of the situation and if we die, we die, but we are not going to simply roll over and give up. We still have breath in our lungs, and so the Good Father, the King, must still have some work for us to do. Now stop and be silent!” And they did!
Scarecrow took a breath, blinking his eyes. He wasn’t quite sure what to say now that the battle with the noisy crows was over. He pulled his hat from his head and held it with both hands in front of his chest, respectfully, as though pleading. “My lady. We here, know you have work to do and we know you believe you have not found your voice.” He spoke clearly now. The caricature of what he had been, chasing off crows from his head had been transformed – at least temporarily. His stutter was gone. “But you do have a voice. You just used it. Thank you.”
Everyone was silent for a moment, letting the words seep into her. She spoke up. “I… I don’t know where to go. I don’t know what to say.”
In the corner, in the shadows next to her, she heard a scratching noise. She looked, and it appeared there was a rock, moving. Out popped little legs, a tail, a pointy head and ears. She smiled. “Little Armadillo! You came out of hiding! How are you and what is it you’d like to say?” She reached out to him, wanting to touch him and bring him close, but he spoke quickly, “Mama! No! You know that I do not want to be touched! I will curl up into a little ball and be silent!”
She apologized, urging him, “Little one, I’m sorry I startled you! I should have been more careful. Please do not hide. I want to hear what you have to say.” Taking his time, he stretched out to his full length, from the tip of his tail even down through his toes and nose, while everyone waited. Then he crawled up her arm and spoke into her ear: “Mama, like Bear says, it’s time for you to come out of hiding. It’s my place to hide, but not yours. It’s time for you to stretch out. Pick me up and rub my soft belly.”
Mama gladly obliged while she saw the group open up in several places with some commotion. In marched Porcupine and Skunk. These two were perfectly happy inside of their own fir and quills, but no one wanted to be anywhere near them. They could both be quite playful with their own kind, but they left pain and stink in their paths. It was their nature. Mama felt no inclination to have them crawl upon her lap! She knew they often caused great pain in her life, but they were also very useful protection. Whenever she felt threatened, they encircled her. “Why are you here, my friends?”
“We are here to remind you that we have been useful at times, but perhaps you no longer need us. Perhaps you need a softer, more compassionate, less stinky companion.”
“But I have no companion. It seems you are all leaving me. I do not know where to go, what to do, who to be, where to live.”
The rocks began to speak in voices that rumbled beneath our feet, causing the waters to vibrate and tremble, “We… I AM … your companion. I am always beneath you, guiding and supporting you wherever you go. I am your ground. You say you do not know who to be, but you came from Me. I am your source. Wherever you are, I am, and I bring new friends, companions and loved ones for your journey. Wherever you rest, there is a great cavern for you to enter and receive guidance and shelter. I am your dwelling place. You bring your driftwood and light a fire and find warmth in me.”
Then I heard the waters’ vibrating voices speaking as though part of a symphony or choir together with the deep bass voice of the rock. Their voices were also as One, like a whisper, “Look into our depth, my child. What do you see?”
Mama said, “I see a bottomless depth, so dark.” She/they giggled, “What else do you see?” “I see my reflection, and the reflection of all those gathered here, and their lights. I see the rock in your depths holding you in place, but also the rock around me reflected on your surface. I see Future way up high, looking down upon me. I see a great hole in the ceiling and above it, great clouds.” The waters replied, “And Who do you see in the clouds, my child?” Mama’s heart leapt and her breath halted a moment. She whispered, “I see You in the clouds. I see You in the storm.”
The breeze slid down the rock through the opening above their heads. It smelled cool and fresh. It joined the song of the water and rock, whistling, “My child, what do you see in me?” Mama spoke, “I cannot see you at all. I can only feel you, smell you, hear you in the trees and upon the waters and whistling in the cavernous rooms of this cave.” The breeze did not reply, and Mama knew. She knew that the wind, too, was there to guide her, but she needed to pay attention in a different way. She could not rely only on her sight.
Her presence moved the fire on each torch. They danced in unison, arrayed in red, yellow, blue and white. They twirled and threw their bodies around, laughing, throwing sparks through the air. Some embers hit the rocks, others fell slowly until they touched the water and hissed, “We travel with you, as well. Wherever there is darkness and cold, we bring light and warmth.” A sudden flash of light briefly filled the cavern from above. It was lightening – fire in the clouds.
Mama suddenly remembered her earlier thoughts before entering the cave when she had considered allowing the storm to ravish her. She’d expected the four elements: earth, wind, fire and water were consulting together as enemies to take her. That was only the noise of the crows flying around Scarecrow’s head. Now that they had been silenced, she realized she was only half right. The four elements had consulted together to take her — someWHERE. The water, wind and fire danced upon the rock, to bring the storm to guide her. Bear was right. It was time for a journey. Past and Present had also been consulting together to turn the hinge of “Now” so that important doors can open and close. Mama needs to go through them. It’s time for hope, not despair.