A Thing Of Beauty: A Healing Story
Poised on the edged of a forest framed by an indigo sky, she entered a clearing. There was a gathering ahead and as she drew closer, she saw a circle of people banded together around a bonfire, then fanning out in a spiral. Each person carried a tin lantern that swayed in their grasp and on each one: star, moon, sun, and flower shapes were illuminated through the small pinpricks of light flowing out.
At first it was difficult to see the people’s faces, but the more closely she looked, she began to recognize them. There was Mrs. K., her fourth grade teacher, whose kindness had flowed to every child in the classroom, but was remembered with the greatest clarity by those most hungry. And there was Ms. B., her high school English teacher, who had taught her about racism, sexism, and feminism and a world beyond rural Vermont. She recognized the dark, wiry hair of Marty and Jim’s strawberry-brown head and wry smile, friends from her 20’s whom she hadn’t seen in years. The inner circle held those she loved most dearly: Jason, her husband; Lesley, her best friend from college; Joe, her forever friend; and her soul sisters: Jo D., Kathy, Valerie, Dina, Jennifer, and Lorelei; as well as her beloved daughters, dressed in lavender and rose capes.
While she was still uncertain what was unfolding, her breath caught when she recognized herself, dressed in a long, flowing, white gown, with a crown of yellow spray roses and blue forget-me-nots. From a tar black pit, objects were being extracted, acknowledged and then thrown into the bonfire. Each was linked to some experience in her life that had evoked suffering, had required healing. Here at long last was the public acknowledgment. What was horrific, unspeakable, or seemingly too far in the past, and yet at times still achingly painful, could finally be laid to rest.
The next object removed from the pit was a black onyx ring, mounted in gold, with an engraved knight on the stone. It was his ring. The one who had pulled her out of bed in the middle of the night by the head of her hair and a handful of nightgown when she was approximately eight-years old. He had screamed at her how terrible she was, the alcohol on his breath spewing out with each hateful word. Then he had shoved her toward her mother, telling her to explain what was wrong, “or else” he would do it.
Her mother had pathetically, drunkenly, shown her the small scratches on the aluminum runners of the sliding shower doors. Her mistake was that she had been standing up on the runners to see herself in the mirror over the sink, because she was too little to do it without a stool and there wasn’t one. She was told to apologize to him and when she did, he struck her across the face, her body flinging backwards toward the bed. His words to her mother afterwards, “I could have killed her,” hung dangerously in the air, as her body shook underneath the covers.
She couldn’t say in retrospect if sleep ever came again that night, but she did remember the next two to three days of torturous punishment, the demeaning comments and criticisms at every turn, the remarks that were meant to wound and isolate, make her feel small and dirty and unlovable. Which they did. It was one horrible memory; just one of many that she had learned to hold and live with.
The ring was passed around the inner circle and then raised to the heavens. The vision of herself in the circle was asked if she wished to hold it and when she declined, her oldest friend, Joe, came forward to throw it into the fire. When the ring disappeared, the light grew brighter and a small star emerged from the flames heading for the sky, while stardust filtered gently down to the ground, lighting a patch of earth.
This was a ceremony of transformation; she understood it fully now, and she sat on the ground to watch. But no sooner had her body settled upon the dew-soaked grasses, then she too had been transformed, no longer the onlooker, but the participant, the folds of her white dress whispering softly as she moved, cleansing her with their beauty and elegance.
It had never been about her she realized. It had been about so many other things: unresolved World War II trauma, child abuse, inadequate parenting, and unquenchable rage. But it had felt like it was about her. Like somehow if she could have done things differently or right, somehow could have been more lovable, it never would have happened. She would have been loved and safe. Her mother wouldn’t have neglected and abandoned her in such devastating ways. This is what the child had told herself, because this is all children know. But now she could see it with other eyes, freeing eyes. It was never about me.
And so she went to the pit and withdrew a chalkboard. She wrote these words upon it in large print and showed it to all that were present. There was a great silence, as people turned toward her, moving their heads in quiet acknowledgement, while lifting their lanterns skyward. A murmur grew in the crowd, tears flowed freely down peoples’ faces, an acknowledgement of the place where everyone’s suffering intersects. A slow chant began, “It was never about you and your essential goodness. Remember this always.” She flung the chalkboard into the fire, to which another star was given birth, and stardust filtered down, a gift of healing remembrance and grace.
The ceremony continued until the ground was covered with white-gold stardust and the sky glowed with the breath of newly forged stars. And her healing was complete. A thing of beauty mined from the darkness.