Heart in Hand by Michelle Katz
I sat down in the arroyo sand. Before I knew what I was doing, I brushed the sand flat to make a canvas, on which I drew a heart in the sand, just to the right of where I sat. When I realized what I had done, I began to wonder about the symbolism of the heart, so often related to love, emotions, connection, the human heart functions as an organ that moves blood and is a necessary function for life. I began to perfect the image in the sand when I hit something hard, a rock lay at the center of my heart, I picked it up, examined its gray and white color un-patterned, its abstract shape, and its smooth, jagged texture. Then, I looked down at the heart and saw that the removal of this rock left quiet a hole in the shape of the heart.
It occurred me, long ago, that every moment in nature is a medicine walk. I took myself to the mountains last weekend, to explore a new trail. I walked the path up, at my own pace, observing myself and my surroundings. Noticing the burden of the steep climbs and the leisure of the flater terrain. The trail I had picked, included some bushwhacking, some getting off trail and navigating with a different marking of the land. Once off the trail, the way was steep and unclear. I began to question everything: Was this the path? Could this be right? Should I go back to familiar territory? Should I climb up these large rocky outstretches of boulders? What if I get hurt? What if there was a bear or cougar? I was reminded of solo nights in the high alpine desert terrains. There is something about being uncertain, on a life and death level, that can help us tap into our humanness. Something that helps us know that, at the essence, we are just small living creatures in a world so wild and unknown to us, and that so much can change in just an instant.
I was lost, I admit. The trail was unclear, the terrain was rough and I did not know where I was going. I sought high ground. My dog alongside me every step of the way, her loyalty and love a constant ally. We came across beautiful meadows, stunning vista views of surrounding mountains, we crawled through boulder fields and trampled through fields of dead slumbering trees, trying not to disturb them. Some spots had a false familiarity, and other spots were strange to me. Without a path, we continued on, in hopes that we would meet our planned destination. At high ground, I knew this would not be the case. I saw a memorable trail below, which I knew to be far from the intended spot. But the day was growing long, and my body grew weary. I knew the best way would be to meet that trail. The trouble was that the way down was treacherous. A steep cliff. I stood on the edge, as without, so within. I evaluated some potential routes and they all felt daunting.
I took my bets on one and began to descend. I noticed my shakiness, no footing felt sure, I scrambled and grabbed for rocks that instantly fell loose. I was a creator of much erosion that day. I looked to my dog, also noticeably frightened as rocks fell with every movement, many in her direction. She spoke to me of instinct, of love, and constant connection through witnessing. She and I moved down the cliff as best we could. Step by step every thoughtful foot placement crumbling and falling. Much of the descent was my body rolling down. We reached the familiar trail and began to walk with ease again. We even made a couple friends along the way. They had no idea what our day was like, but it was sweet to share in stories and community after such an ordeal.
In the midst of my grief process, this medicine walk was one of importance. One of great knowing about letting go of anything certain, about paths that take us away and toward people, and that risk and feeling the edge of our existence is part of love and life. Life has us often feeling we have nothing to hold on to at times. Feeling we are off our path and scrambling down the cliff that we so crazily and exhaustedly climbed just moments before. Feeling absolutely lost in grief, breathless and somehow tirelessly navigating any way we can, back to something familiar and sweet to land on. It was important to know that grief is the part of the journey that has us utterly uncertain and questioning life and choices. Somehow, we live through this, be on our own accord or through some form of search and rescue. Though no one can know with any certainty about what we have been through, we still need people to see us and join us back on the trail in order to understanding what the grief has offered us.
As I looked at my heart drawing in the sand, I realized I could have easily covered the hole and perfected the heart shape again without a second thought, but something had me pause this instinct. Something about this heart with a hole in it, truly mirrored me and my experience at the moment, there was a resonance, a feeling known. I looked to the left of me and there was my handprint in the sand, which must have helped me land on the earth, just moments ago. I placed this rock, once in center of the heart, into the center of this palm print. Giving myself the permission to hold the pain in my heart for as long as needed. I let the hole, from what once was present and now is absent, remain a hole. This way the heart felt more real and beautiful to me.