Bittersweet-pain and peace

I woke up this morning to a sort of dull haze that had settled into the valleys of this place. It is not a fog, or a mist, just an indescribable thick kind of air that is veiling the bare trees and sharp grasses.

It is a mysterious way to showcase a season that has greeted me every morning from outside the tiny windows of our bedroom with a magnificent sunrise of red and gold and pink and yellow peeking through the snarly, ancient, hibernating oak trees that hug our tiny house.  Every morning this world I live in has taken my breath away. Every morning I have been grateful for this.

But this haze took me by surprise as I ventured out onto the landscape to clear my head and put a flush in my cheeks—the very thing I do every day to ensure myself I am alive, to remind these lungs and these legs and these eyes and ears that I sprung from this dirt somehow and that I belong here under this October sky.

At least that is what I hold on tight to, especially in the hardest times, the times when the unanswerable questions scream at us until we fall to our knees.

I am thinking about those questions today as I march across a landscape that was, just months ago, soft and lush and full of life. The trees stood tall, limbs wide and heavy with leaves, the creek beds flowing and moving with the heartbeat of the green moss that lived out brief lives on its surface; the colors of the wildflowers flashy, fertile and bursting with luxury; the green grasses bending and swaying with the rhythm of a warm wind.

Bountiful, beautiful, enchanting life.

But today, under the same sky, the same sun that helped spring life from the earth has stayed long enough to strip the mesmerizing landscape of its inviting softness, turning it harsh, more brittle, sharp and dry and brown under my feet.

With the blanket of green stripped away, any human with a pumping heart could easily be convinced by looking at the pieces left on this bare landscape that all hope is lost. That this is it. That there is life–glorious, colorful, dramatic, passionate, unforgiving life–but it is fleeting. It is over. The green will never return.

But of course every human with a pumping heart knows that this is no time to lay your head down and give up hope of ever smelling the wildflowers or reaching out your tongue to catch a spring raindrop. Every heart who has lived understands that this is just a change of season, the spinning of the planet and from the deep depths of winter there will always be a thaw followed by a crocus pushing through the mud and reaching its pedals to the sky.

And this purple flower will live a life  full and proud and fragile, until the love of the sun dries out its face and stems and one day it withers away to return to the earth.

Yes, this is fair to us. This is nature, the circle, the seasons defined. And we accept that we must harvest the wheat, breathe in the fall air, appreciate the inevitable nakedness of the trees and bundle up for the winter. We understand and only morn the loss of a season briefly, because it is sure to come back again.

But as humans who possess a warm, beating, passionate heart, we are confused and thrown off balance when other beating, passionate hearts around us cross over to a different season.

We do not accept.

We do not understand.

We grieve, and scream, and hope and look to something, to someone to tell us where this heart went.

“Will I ever see her again?”

“Is she happy?”

“Where is she?”

“Why not me?”

“Why her?”


So I want to offer something here to all of us who are struggling to find peace in a world that challenges our faith every day. I know when faced with insurmountable loss and grief and pain there are no answers, there is no grip that is tight enough, no kiss warm enough, no clock that moves fast enough. But maybe this can help. Maybe it will resonate with someone as it has with me….

See, as a woman who has lost friends too soon, family too young and who has been a mother, although only briefly, to children who never made it outside of my body to breath the air of this world, I have asked these questions inside of church buildings, in books, in doctor’s offices and while holding on tightly to family.

And I have walked the silent trails of tangled brush and bugs buzzing and abandoned nests and broken branches and have screamed to the sky that we trust so much to hold us together, to remain predicable, to provide the nutrients for the cycle of life.

I have asked:

“Why did I fail?”

“What happens to us now? “

“How do we move on without the hope of  an extension of our hearts, taking care and planting feet on this earth?”

And I cried for my loss.

I was angry.

I was scared.

I was aloof and unsure about God.

I was unpredictable.

I was fine.

I wasn’t fine.

And then it started over.

But I kept walking. Because in all of the places I looked, without question, I have found the most comfort under the branches, feet in the mud, face to the sun, hands touching the grasses and lungs sucking in the air.

Because here, I began to understand that nature, under this sky, isn’t as predictable up close as it is from afar. Once I began to come down from  the hills and the trails and into the prickly, dirty parts, I found that if you pay attention you discover there is suffering out here that looks just like ours.

Grass blades get torn and consumed by wild beasts, the tiny mouse doesn’t always outrun the hawk, the water cuts ruthlessly into the hillsides, thorns and burs tangle and take over the land, the greenest and most luscious of crops can poison and even the mighty oak can’t run from the storm.

No, there are no guarantees; there is no certain compassion, no protection for the weak, no sympathy in the dirt and no assured shelter from the sweltering sun. It all could very well be hopeless.

But when I take a step closer I notice among the bare, black, snarl of the brush in the dead of the fall, a vibrant, hearty vine wrapping its way toward the sky, holding out for the season, shining bright against the gloom.  Bittersweet.

And that mighty oak, despite the eminent snowstorm, with blind faith, releases its acorns with the hope that one of her seeds might take root and touch the sky.

And a weight is lifted off of my heavy heart as I take from the crocus, who has been absent from this season for months, the lesson to live this brief life with passion and vulnerability and beauty and color–and be the first to welcome the light.

Then I take from the oak her hope that those we release into this world will come back to life again. Come back to us. Maybe not in a heaven as most have understood it, but back to the earth, through the crisp clean air, on the scent of a rose, the glisten of dew on the grass, in the breath of a horse, the sigh of a newborn child or the sunrise through a bedroom window each morning–a quiet sign that those heartbeats still surround us.

And from the bittersweet that clings tightly to the thorns, wrapping its beauty around the dark, hard limbs of the tangled brush, holding strong to the splendor and hurt of it all, I take from her the understanding that one day our broken human, pumping hearts will make enough room for the pain…

…and the peace.

27 thoughts on “Bittersweet-pain and peace

  1. Jessie, thanks for the lovely blog as usual. This is why Spring is my favorite season because after the long winter, all the plants, trees, ect start to grow back. Fall is ok but in a way, I too grieve because change is inevitable. Just like life itself. Living in the present moment has helped me not feel so anxious and sad because change is inevitable so in some ways we too must adapt or fly south. Thanks for the lovely illistration and pics. Nicole

  2. This is so beautiful. I sent it to my church where the sermon yesterday was “an attitude of gratitude”. This is a phrase I’ve used hundreds of times when counseling disabled veterans and reminded myself of its importance. You put into words what we feel in our hearts and we are grateful for your presence in our lives.

  3. I really liked what you wrote about finding the space in your heart for the pain and the peace. I am fast approaching the one year anniversary of my dad’s death. Looking back it seems impossible that I could have survived such pain and anguish. It liked to have killed me, but our hearts they keep on beating just the same. Now, as nearly a year has passed, I find that I am able to make some room for the peace. It’s a small place, but it’s what I cling to each morning as I get up to face another day of clearing out his house. It’s a strange sort of catharsis, but it works. Pain and Peace. I see them now as two old friends hand in hand.

    • Caroline, I can’t even begin to imagine the anguish and heartache that you are enduring in the face of losing your father. And although a year has passed, I am not sure that the ache will ever truly go away, but I hope that room you have made for peace grows wider and wider and wider, taking over for the pain until only a small part, the important part of the hurt that reminds us to live and remember and love, remains.
      Love from the ranch.

  4. Very poignant and hopeful. I love how the first photos are in sepia tone, conveying sadness and loss, and then the moment of awakening in full color!

  5. Perfect. You spoke right to my heart. Thank you for sharing as this October marks 26 years my mom has been gone and November 3 will be 4 years since my sons passing. Gone but never forgotten. Thank you again for your insight. You are amazing.

    • Thank you for your bravery and positive attitude. It is people like you who inspire me to live really live each day…and it is a bit easier with kindness and a big smile. Hope and healing to you from the ranch. I know your heart if bursting with love for that little blessing of yours

  6. Understanding your pain. Know what you are going through and admire the way you have voiced your feelings. All things pass with time, and the seasons are there so that we never forget this fact. Beautiful photos too. Keep writing the way you do – you certainly have a gift.

  7. Beautiful! I too noticed how you started your photos in sepia but ended with vibrant colors……
    As I sat watching you sing last night in Bismarck, I was thinking how you have come ‘home’ and are healing! I see you healing…….please know that we all walk with you, whether it be in joy or sadness! We are here…..and we love you!
    Keep singing that song in your heart and writing the words that are helping your heart heal! It will all happen for you. I do believe that with all MY heart.

  8. That was stunning! So many variations on that similar photo theme, with the duotones… complemented by moving, poetic words. A truly inspiring post. I like to think of autumn not as a time when the life in the trees is lost, but more that it’s storing up its life until spring comes around again.

  9. You write the words in my heart… as only you could… thank you Jessie for sharing yourself so deeply and vulnerably and wisely.

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