The 14th leg of the virtual Camino.
May we never forget the crippled, wind-beaten trees, how they, too, bud, green and bloom. May we, too, take courage to bloom where we are planted.
– BR. DAVID STEINDL-RAST
I go through times of not recognizing myself. Sometimes it’s because I feel broken, and starting again takes a kind of acceptance and faith.
When I was sixteen I had to have a molar pulled. A cavity had destroyed the tooth so that a filling wasn’t an option. The dentist said my wisdom tooth would move in and replace the molar so: “no harm done”. But I felt differently. Harm had been done. My neglect – and soda pop, and pixie sticks had rotted a part of me beyond repair.
It felt profound. I remember thinking that I may as well have “lost” my virginity. I’d been careless – and there was no way back. My body was forever changed. At the time I thought I’d disappointed God by being a poor custodian of this flesh. Ungrateful, horrible person.
No doubt I’d experienced self-destructions on a small scale before. I remember cutting my own bangs once (and the disorienting mirror image that looked nothing like me). I was probably 6 or so. I remember the inconsolable weeping that followed. (No doubt as much about my wounded pride as my bared forehead.) But hair grows back. Teeth don’t.
It’s odd now to think how traumatizing it felt to lose a molar, considering all the irreparable damages I have accomplished since. It was a rite of passage, though: the sense of failure, the acceptance of the inevitability of decay, the certainty of such a thing as a point of no return. “Not playing around this time.”
But we learn, don’t we? We learn to let go of that particular perfection and aim at something else. We accept that weakness and search for new strengths. Our sense of self is as resilient as a tree growing around an obstacle, or dropping a branch, and sprouting a new one.
But sometimes I don’t recognize myself because I see myself too clearly. As though – like Dorian Gray – I stumble upon the honest portrait where every ugly thing I have ever done to others is etched on my face.
This takes another kind of acceptance to live with. Another kind of resilience.
This, I haven’t mastered: accepting ugliness without demanding absolution or redemption, and finding the strength to bloom anyway.
I am working on it.