The Hollowed Out Tree



It has finally stopped raining.

I’m usually not too bothered by the rain- I understand and embrace the benefits, sometimes look forward to the excuse it gives me to stop, sit down on the couch and slowly sip cups of hot steaming tea. But the rain we have had over the last couple of days has made me feel cooped up and anxious, moody and in a state of angst. There’s an energy in the air that is leaving most people feeling that way these days, I would imagine, but enough.  I just want to get out. I need, if only for a few fleeting moments, to feel free.

So grateful, I was this morning, to see the sun peeking out of the thick overcast sky. I laced up my running shoes, and took off, grateful that the only thing I had to think about for the next 45 minutes was breathing in and breathing out.

I ran my usual route; through the trees, up the hill, onto a quiet back street. I was thankful to see my half way point in the near distance, and as I dragged in long strains of cold air, I made a U-turn and started back around. For many reasons, this is my favorite part of the path, not only because I’m half way done, but mainly because I am running next to a wooded area that is teaming with wildlife and vegetation, even in the middle of winter, and if I can get my breathing really quiet, I can hear the trickle of a small creek, just a few yards down into the leveled bottom of the woods. Most soothing to my soul is the sound of a running stream.

I’ve run and walked this path hundreds of times; it’s familiar, comforting somehow. I’ve pushed my kids to sleep in the middle of frustrating afternoons next to these woods, I’ve memorized every tree, every leaf, each thicket, or so I thought, until this morning, as I was trying to motivate myself to keep moving, I noticed for the first time, a tall and very weathered looking hollowed out old tree. It was stately, despite having lost all of its branches, it looked ancient, as if it had some stories to tell- tales of flooding and clearing, maybe a bit of heartache and loss mixed in as well. As I slowly approached it, I chuckled as I saw two squirrels play a game of hide and seek, winding their way in and out of the cavern of the once magnificent tree. I could see tufts of green and yellow poking out of various parts of the piece of wood, and although it looked exposed and weary-maybe BECAUSE of exactly that-I felt some sort of solidarity with it. Here was this tree, who had obviously been through a lot, hollowed out, yet it was still standing, roots tightly gripping the solid ground, regardless of being so weathered, gnarled, and aged.

“That’s what I feel like”, I thought to myself, as I kept moving forward, running down the street.

Weathered, a bit gnarly, still standing, but hollowed out, just the same.

My first reaction to that thought was chastising- how sad. I’ve been through so much in the last five years, and this year, while it’s been tough, has not been my hardest. How could I call myself hollowed out right now? My life is full, bursting at the seams, if I were a tree, I SHOULD see myself as vibrant and budding, about ready to head into full blown Spring.

But then I started reflecting on all the times I’ve been out with my kids on various hikes, rambling through hardwood forests, wandering old and new trails. Whenever we find a tree or a log that has been hollowed out by the seasonal elements, insects or other wild life, it’s like we’ve hit Nature’s jackpot. When they come upon a cavernous type of place found in the middle of these trees, they immediately drop to their knees, check out who might be living in there, pondering on what more this tree has become. They can spend the better part of an hour hiding inside it’s shelter, climbing to new heights, as they dream up stories of trolls and bug cities and reflect on the possibility of taking refuge inside, during the inevitable thunderstorm.

To them, the tree is anything but hollow, it’s just an opening, an opportunity for new life to begin, epic adventures to be had, discovery of a different world than they have ever encountered before.

I always thought when we were playing in these hollows, that the tree had died a slow death by some unfortunate natural cause. I’ve come to learn that these trees are actually very much still alive, and although they are old and gnarly, experienced in the ways of harsh and unforgiving elements, they are still very much thriving, as their cells actually continue breathing, right beneath the surface of their bark, regardless of their lack of leaves or green, giving the appearance that there is no life left in them.

They have been opened up by Nature, virtually emptied out, but the purpose in it is to allow room for new things, new life. They are incredibly important to the natural world around them, just in a different way than they were before.

Imagining, as I got closer to home, all the animals and insects that have now claimed this particular tree, I couldn’t help but think of all the experiences over the last five years that have hollowed me out, leaving space for new things, the opportunity for a fresh, new start.

Today marks the five- year anniversary of freedom for me and my family. And while at the beginning of it all, I thought it was the actual captivity that was doing the hollowing, I’ve finally understood that it’s surviving the survival part- figuring out how to be a mother to two babies in the midst of recovering from trauma- working hard to be a wife to a man who thought he had lost everything, and in instant, had gotten it all back again- how to tell the story in a way that brings respect to those who put their lives on the line every day, and leaves people feeling inspired rather than afraid. These things, they have taken all my resources; but they have left an opening for my heart to expand in areas of compassion and empathy for those who are struggling right alongside me, standing strong, rooted to the Earth, all while being hollowed out for a variety of reasons beyond their control.

They have inspired me to plant myself deep and surrender to all that has become, because this is good, this is natural, this is necessary.

Every day we all wake up and stretch our limbs, raising our faces to the warm rising sun. Disillusionment, tragedy and loss, exhaustion and crisis thrash us about like this tree, being battered by the wind and rain. We go through our days- giving, hurting, loving-often, with nothing in return.

I’ve come to believe that the hollowness we sometimes may feel is actually one of the most essential parts of this natural thing we call life; it’s creating a better ecosystem for all that inhabit the space within and around us, above and below us.

I’m grateful today. For the process of hollowing, for those who have helped me dig deeper, rooting down, just a little more. For my children that fill my cavern with wonder, so infinite and deep, it cannot be contained inside this old tree. For my husband, my best friend, helping me lean in when I get so tired of surviving survival-for my best friend, my sister, my brother, my dad, who together, have rooted themselves alongside me, committing themselves to carrying on, weathering all of life’s storms.

Look up, sweet friends, the sun is shining. It’s a glorious, beautiful day.


This Won’t Last Forever


This won’t last forever.

That was my thought as I drifted back into a fitful sleep, a few nights ago.

How many times have I breathed this mantra in and exhaled it out throughout my lifetime? Not only to find a way through the hard things, but in gratitude for the beautiful things in life, as well.

I find myself whispering these four words when I’m out for a run- gulping for air, legs aching, sweat pouring down my face- my God, it’s HARD. That’s why it took me almost 38 years to even try it. I get to my half-way mark and feel relief. Relief to have made it this far, relief for the gratitude that my lungs are still working, my heart is still pumping, my legs are getting stronger every day. Just a regular day, out by the woods, the sun working her way in and out of the clouds; in this moment I appreciate it for everything it is. The sun finds shelter and rests behind a cloud, the moment is over- it was fleeting, it didn’t last.

Painful memories of lying semi-paralyzed in the center of my yoga mat on a cold tile floor, lost in grief of the death of my mother, the only person who knew me the way only a mother can; ragged breaths caught between my words.  Immovable, on my back, the loss so heavy on my chest, I can barely sit up. Locking myself behind closed doors, because my world has ended, and another one, a world without my mother, has begun.

It can’t feel like this forever- I moan repeatedly into the rubber of my mat. It’s not humanly possible to feel this way for too long; I feel like I am going to die.

My ears, waking up in a cold hard space by the chirping and twirling of desert swallows, warbling me back to my reality- All this before I can find the courage to even open my eyes. Staring up at the clear and infinite blue above me, and when I finally feel strong enough, whispering to myself, “This can’t last forever-it just can’t”- before lifting my head to meet the day. The day that would bring me release, the night that would bring me a miracle of the most intrepid kind.

Gunfire, breathing, endings that can’t be described.Oh, God, this can’t last forever.

It took some time to understand, in fact it’s still going on, but forever still hasn’t come.

Cold and lonely winter nights, broken hearts and cracked promises, fear of the unknown, fear of the all too well known. Financial burdens causing hours of exhausting work away from the loves of our lives, the mystery of physical pain, the suffering that comes along with misunderstandings, the grief of saying good-bye too soon- It’s like a brick in our pocket. When we first find it there, it is all we can think about, the heaviness, the presence of it, throwing us out of balance as we try to make it through the day. But after some time, we grow used to the weight, and absentmindedly, we repeatedly slide our hand inside our pocket in order to make sure that it hasn’t gone away, because it’s ours to carry, no one can take it from us, and even if they could, we wouldn’t let them anyway.

The load will not go away, but the heaviness of it does not last always. Does the actual physical weight of it change? No, but our perception of it’s burden does. And maybe that is why things don’t last forever. Perhaps it’s not the circumstances that change, it’s just us that does the changing, our understanding of the pain, our belief laying the foundation of our own suffering.

With that change comes the yin and the yang- the good with the bad, the constant with the fluidity.

We must hurt in order to appreciate how beautiful it really is to feel good.

We must grieve in order to understand the depth of a love that was even possible to be called ours.

We must struggle so that we CAN’T pass up the gift to help.

We must break, so that we can understand it is not all ours to carry.

We must go without so that we appreciate the times when we won’t have to anymore.

We must fight so that we can understand what peace really is.

We must suffer in order to understand we are not truly  suffering in the first place.

Ursula K. Le Guin wrote:

“Light is the left hand of darkness…how did it go?

Light, dark.

Fear, courage.

Cold, warmth.

Female, male.

It is yourself…both and one.

A shadow on snow.”

 How long will the shadow on snow last? How long will it be for the snow?

And while it was just the pitter patter of 4 year old little feet in the middle of the night and then the inevitable little boy body crawling over me to find a pillow and a safe spot to rest, that brought this into my mind, I couldn’t help but feel the yin and the yang, as I lay there with his ever growing hand, lightly clasping mine.

The sleep deprived side of me asked into the darkness: ‘How long is this going to last?’

As we both fell back into that beautiful space of sleep, my aching heart answered back:

Enjoy it for what it is, because nothing, not even this, will last forever.