Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
-Mary Oliver, The Summer Day
I love Mary’s question at the end of this poem. It comforts me and haunts me, reminding me both to slow down and speed up. To drink in the beauty and wonder of the fields and sky, while also striving to reach my goals. This is my everyday dilemma, the push and pull of being alive, aware, and driven.
I want my work and my life to have meaning, I want to live authentically. Most of all, I want to be at peace with myself.
These are not end-goals but everyday challenges. To reach them, I need to know what is true, who I am, and what happened to me. The events that shaped my life, for better and worse.
Until I uncovered the secrets I carried when I was young, I could not begin to heal my wounds. I was not whole and I felt it. I needed and wanted to fix what was wrong but I could not do so until I felt safe and ready.
For me, that meant a loving marriage, a therapist I trusted, and a move away from the town I grew up in. That’s when I first told my secret, what I later came to understand was the fact that I had been sexually abused as a child.
Uncovering this truth allowed me to piece together the shards of my broken self. Without it, I know that I would never be at peace no matter how hard I tried. I’m fortunate that I was in my twenties when my work began, and not yet a parent. But that’s not the norm. In fact, the average age sexual abuse victims disclose is 52.
Living with unresolved trauma hurts. It infects almost all aspects of our lives with a level of fear, anxiety and, often shame that interferes with the enjoyment of our blessings.
The great news is that it’s never too late to begin the work of healing.
I personally know men and women who have tackled their past trauma in their fifties, sixties, and even seventies. It’s usually not a choice survivors make to either bury or uncover these traumatic events in their past. Denial is an unconscious coping mechanism that allows us to endure and survive. Some people get hit with the truth when the denial lifts suddenly in the form of flashbacks, nightmares, and overwhelming emotions. Or it may happen more gradually as we come to terms with memories and a lifelong, deep kind of knowing.
“Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?”, Mary Oliver asks. No matter how old we are when we start to examine and heal from trauma, it is an enormous gift we give ourselves. It opens us up to pay attention To “be idle and blessed”.
Facing past trauma is difficult and painful work, to be sure. But I can tell you from experience that it’s worth the initial suffering and sadness. I would rather walk through fire than live with the constant burning of flames always at my heels.
Running from the truth is no way to live.
Only by knowing our story can we fully know ourselves. Only by feeling all our emotions can we love with abandon, fall down in the grass, and bask in the wonder of the grasshopper. Every day is a new opportunity to answer Mary’s question, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I’m not sure exactly, but I do plan to continue living in the messy truth with all the pain, peace, and authenticity it brings. I hope you do too.