One of Many
Being one of many can make life everlasting.
Always chaos and wrestling,
As your sister's scream is blasting.
Never getting the bathroom
With four rooms one bath.
All trying to eat and catch the bus before your first class.
In school the children seem to be dressed better than you. No money for lunch, so a free lunch will do.
Home from school in the evening, chores need to be done. Do your homework and chores before you have fun.
Same routine until you're grown.
Now it's time to be on your own.
Get an apartment and pay your bills. Find a job that enhance your skills. A career is built on dreams and know-how.
Once you land it,
You will survive some how.
I have always assured people that if I am running you had better run with me because something is most certainly chasing us. The chuckle at this memory sticks to my lungs which are too busy sucking in oxygen to deal with something as frivolous as a laugh. The statement is still true though I am being chased. Memories of choices made and those made for me snap at my heels. A string of looming mountains observe my attempt at exercise and mental escape in silent judgement to one side. An endless expanse of mini sand rivers dotted with sharp bushes spread out on the opposite side to form a welcome mat at the foot of those great wise mountains. A mat to wipe the dirt from our proverbial shoes, to leave behind the filth of our journey. In a few weeks, I will meet someone who explains with the purest sincerity that all mountains were dragons who became stone upon death and their spirits remain to guide us. Had I been aware of this theory I would have tried talking to the dragon.
Playing a clumsy game of frogger I hop around the sharp tentacles of hungry bushes. A trail of dust fades in the breeze behind me. The sun is low in the sky on this chilly May morning working hard to warm the air. My breath rises in little puffs to sail above my head as I keep pushing despite the pain in my lungs. If I were the sun I would be annoyed at such obvious signs that my efforts to heat the area are ineffective thus far, but it is comforting to know the sun will not give up either.
I stop abruptly and the dust trail circles my feet like an excited puppy while I consider the possibility of running forever in this wild land. Would the welcome mat remove these heavy bits of regret that cling to me like parasites? Maybe even sweep away the crumpled little dreams floating along the tide of my subconscious? I look down at my feet, my running shoes have gone from gray to tan, and the snow from early morning has left without a trace. The sand rivers have marked me, I think to myself, and that’s when I notice it. The Labyrinth of Life my sister told me about now sits before me. It is bigger than I expected at about 15 feet in diameter. A low round labyrinth with no dead ends built into this wild river of sand and bush. A memory of the Mayan calendar is pulled from a rusty old vault somewhere in the depths of my mind looking very much like the design of this labyrinth. Rocks the size of my foot or smaller have been painstakingly placed by an unknown friend to create a beautiful labyrinth, a path of meaning meant to be experienced. Its location has been carefully chosen, well placed between the mountains and the welcome mat of razor bushes. An excellent place of contemplation nestled between dirt mounds whilst hidden from human view but not from the towering ancient mountains who preside with encouraging silence.
A cold breeze moves across my face pushing its way under my sunglasses like a familiar friend. For a second, I see figures in the distance dancing amongst the bushes. I shake my head and they retreat to my imagination. I think of the thousands of humans who walked this land before me to use the hot mineral waters for healing of mind, body, and spirit. Mother Earth's nourishing elixir, fed from deep underground and filled with the energy of life. Summer Lake, Oregon has been a peaceful meeting place for tribes going back over 14,000 years. In my brief time here, I have found the desert to be full of character and color with a fourth dimension to it that requires a sense I have not yet fully developed. I am told the oldest record of humans in North and South America was discovered in caves near here, but I don’t need archaeologists to tell me that. I know it to be true, not just because books tell me so or even because science has proven it but because I can feel it, the collective energy left behind. I can almost hear them in the wind whispering in a language I do not know but with the universal energy of love. They encourage me to take the journey.
The sounds of other early risers making their way to the bathhouse ride the wind to enter my cold ears. My sister will be waiting for my return to join her for breakfast, but I want to listen to the ancestors and take the labyrinth journey before more travelers wake. For once I want to put my own desires above those of others. I want to walk it alone with only the mountains and ancestors as company. How many have had the honor of standing in this very spot and asked spirit to guide them? To answer their questions of woe, of life, of a deep need to discuss the existential musings we must all face at some point in our timeline.
Toward the end of this summer journey, I will meet a lady who claims she speaks to her own Native American spirit guides. I will find myself jealous of her and wishing that I could speak directly to my own guides. I will picture tall, stately men wearing glorious feather headdresses standing over her, protecting her. I will wonder if mine look like hers or if they abandoned me long ago when I was an innocent three-year-old girl begging for love. But for now, on the precipice of my journey, standing at the opening of this Labyrinth of Life, I do not know that this trip will last longer than the original three weeks I had planned and stretch into three months. Oblivious to my fate, I ask those that came before to guide me on a healing journey through this maze and fill me with their wisdom. But then again, maybe those who came before me stood in this very spot just as perplexed and they’ve no more wisdom to offer than any other being.
The way you go into the labyrinth is the exact same way you come out. The path is only the width of my small feet placed side by side and my eyes follow along to find it narrower in some places than in others with the occasional bush or rock making it harder to walk. I wish I hadn’t left my windbreaker at the cabin as the inquisitive desert wind inserts itself with ease through fabric designed to wick away moisture and encourage ventilation. I take a tentative step forward, surprised when my foot does not fumble. I’ve grown used to expecting awkwardness from this out of shape body I’ve forged. The dust settles quickly, unable to meet the wind’s embrace. Bending down close to the river of sand, I find a small stone, a memento of this experience. I clutch it in my right hand like a divining rod that will offer my chaotic thoughts focus then take another step. The stone does not speak but it does offer an unexpected calm. Quickening my pace, I move along the twists and curves until the path becomes so narrow that I worry I will disturb a rock with my dusty sneakers. I choose to walk with more precision, placing one foot carefully in front of the other like I’m on a balance beam while my thoughts wander to the life I’ve left on the East coast.
I marvel at the fact that two months ago I was lying on a couch mid-fight with a novel virus and now I’m in this desert painting. To survive I became a caterpillar and wove a cocoon tightly around myself while my body worked overtime to save me from Covid. My bones were shards of ice and my skin a ring of fire. My parts became fluid contained only by the outer shell without which I would break down into the most basic elements of our earth to slowly seep into the couch cushions. Nothing but liquid stardust left behind to mark my existence. The process of survival was excruciating. When I finally emerged, I was no longer me. My face was mine, but my being was hollow waiting for my soul to return. With this vital piece missing I felt lost, empty, incomplete. Then my biological half-sister, whom I’d only recently discovered through a DNA test meant for fun, invited me and my newly acquired antibodies to the West coast to finally meet the tribe I shared genetics with. I heard myself answer, “Yes” with these newly formed ears of mine. I do not recall my emotions at the time other than a deep desire to finish becoming and this awful feeling that I had been wearing my skin too tight for nearly a decade.
I wish that future me could tell my current self that this Labyrinth of Life lesson is real. That this journey I am on the precipice of is just as transformative as my instincts have been telling me. That the diet and exercise will pay off, but the journey will take more from me than my excess fat. That it will break my heart. That my dog, my baby girl, will die unexpectedly before I return home when cancer takes her in a matter of weeks. That the rushed moment before leaving for the airport when I pressed my forehead to Lola’s and said my usual, “Mama’s baby girl” then gave her a kiss between her big brown eyes on her soft black fur where a delicate white line marked her third eye, as I had done thousands of times before, was the very last time. That I would never again hear her respond with her own version of love. Her “Woo-woo-woo" that I thought was a growl the first time I heard it, but turned out to be her way of saying, “Lola loves Mama.” That my entire being will shatter into a thousand pieces when I break up with my partner of 13 years and I will swear I can feel the molecules of my body vibrate with the pain. That I will fall into the arms of yet another damaged soul as punishment for myself until I finally learn the lesson of what draws me to them and how to let that part of me go. That it will strip everything from me and leave nothing but insight in return. But that isn’t how time works. The lessons must be endured until we manage to learn from them.
Time has its own plan, and we must move with the flow of it. Maybe I hear myself after all (time is relative according to Einstein) because I feel something as I continue through the labyrinth. Winding around many times before reaching the center that I am forced to pass by frequently. I can see the goal and I can also see the long path ahead which makes me think I should stop and go back but then I realize that is the entire point. That we all have a choice to continue our life path no matter how difficult it becomes, how often we come so close to the goal that we can see it but not reach it or how many times the path takes us further from it. Sure, I could choose to step over the lines and go straight to it but then I would miss the journey. I stop at this revelation and take a deep breath of desert air. It is heavy with the scent of sand, reminding me once again that the ancestors are with me. For we all become dust. They whisper to me that the journey is about the little bits of colorful art tucked into the stones, the imperfect heart not yet faded by the elements that someone has sketched on a large rock, the tiny stone tower stacked by human hands and balanced with precision, the rough patch that requires a carefully placed foot, the break in the ring upon finding a stone missing.
I am no longer worried about keeping my sister waiting or the cold that fills my bones. The cold will be evicted with a soak in the healing hot spring soon enough. I proved this yesterday by soaking in the springs for the entire day and well into the early morning hours. I moved to the outdoor spring when night came and shed my bathing suit. With the sun away I could be outside without fear, able to enjoy the sensation of light snow landing on my exposed skin and watch the shifting clouds for occasional patches of starlight or a glimpse of the full moon. But it wasn’t just the healing waters that kept me all day, it was the people. People are fascinating gifts waiting to be opened and appreciated. So many came and went that I could not tear myself away for fear of missing the next mystery gift. Eventually things quieted down, and people went off to their cabins or tents. I sat with my thoughts in peace before making the trip back to the cabin at 2 am wearing nothing but boots and a thin towel wrapped around my naked form. Even the frigid wind and swirling snow could not penetrate my bones after an entire day of soaking up the warmth of our earth. Steam rose from my skin making me feel like a ghost, impervious to the elements. It was glorious.
I am pulled from my thoughts of being a ghost when my leggings snag on a bush and with that message reality beckons me back to the current journey. Its hungry branches trap me just as a small rock throws me off balance, or is it my thoughts that did that? My stomach seizes the moment to speak, reminding me that this new obsession with exercise and healthy eating comes with a price. The girl who used to joke that her Vampire DNA kept her from wanting solid food before noon now has an active, very human metabolism that has been kicked back into gear and her stomach is just as outspoken as she. I remind it that only vegetarian dishes await since that’s all they serve for this hippie gathering. It quiets for the moment.
The sun is higher now and I squint despite the protection of dark sunglasses. I have no idea how long I’ve been here (my sister doesn’t like watches), but I am starting to worry about my delicate skin. That sneaky Vampire DNA makes day walking without portable shade difficult for me. I finish making my way to the center of the labyrinth and sit for a moment in front of the tiny altar. The wind swirls in a circle around me and feels very much like a hug. I stand and begin my walk back. The only way out is the way I came but it is easier now that I’ve experienced the journey. Once again, I could skip the return, but I want to revisit the highlights which include the difficult spots. As soon as I am free from the labyrinth, I give it my thanks and jog back to the cabin as fast as I can to find my sister waiting on the porch.
“What took you so long?” she asks, pulling knots from dark curls nearly identical to my own but with more fluff, one side of her hair cut to barely half an inch. She and I shaved some of our hair in support of her mother, my stepmother, whom I had just met for the first time a few days ago and who recently survived a brain tumor. I shaved the left and she shaved the right.
I watch her work and mentally compare my sensible ponytail to her loose, wild hair waving back at me. I wish my curls had such life to them. My mind wanders to the intricacies of nature vs nurture given that we have many similarities but were raised without having known each other.
“I decided to walk the Labyrinth of Life,” I explain.
She stops playing with her hair and sits up straight. There is nothing a hippie wants to talk about more than messages from spirit.
“What did you learn?!”
I open my mouth to speak.
What I mean to say is that I learned I want to stand on Mars, the only occupant and look up to the red night sky pregnant with cosmic beauty. Behold our universe, naked in the absence of human-made light, a splendid masterpiece of twinkling diamonds.
I want to watch a black hole feast on a star and fly too close to the Sun.
See dust swirl and float as I skip across the moon.
I want to view with my own eyes the magnificence of life on another planet and discover
the infinite possibilities of our universe.
White dwarf, dark matter, red giant...I want to behold wonders unseen!
To witness a supernova unleash its awesome power and glide through a nebula.
That I want to finally sit with the source and have every question answered. To ask if science is yet another religion. Is it simply our way of filling a desperate need for answers with all the logic we can muster, of trying to comprehend mysteries never meant to be decoded in this reality? Truths heavily encrypted to purposefully avoid mental consumption, forcing us to focus on the journey more than the goal. I want to ask why I was given such an inquisitive mind then shackled to the paperweights of others? I want to say that, so far, my life has been more like an afterschool special or Oprah Book Club favorite; the kind people want to read about but never want to live. It is painful to think this much, a dreadful never-ending ache. I am certain ignorance really can be bliss, but fear even the thought of not craving knowledge. Knowledge is my addiction. Devouring books and the knowing of others, like a greedy black hole gobbles an innocent star. Inciting the poetic chaos of my thoughts to birth their own galaxy of mysteries.
I want to say that I realize, in the end, we will only have the journey to revisit through our memories as we exit this world...
But how do you say that to someone you barely know?
Instead, the words that come out are...
“Life is all about the journey.”