Like most of the nation I was horrified and nearly speechless after the horrific acts of a presumably depraved individual yesterday in Newtown Connecticut. For those who are parents we understand that losing a child is our worst nightmare. To have lost twenty children in one town by a senseless act of violence is unspeakable.
My wife is an elementary school teacher. The terrible news from December 14th was almost too much for me to bear. Perhaps it was too close to home. Perhaps even the passing thought of anything happening to my wife or children was too overwhelming.
I was driving to the Post Office when I heard about this terrible set of events on the news. For some strange reason I yelled as loud as I could “GOD DAMN IT!” and instantly realized that only I could hear my outrage. I felt sick. I wept as I drove. I was overwhelmed with grief in an instant.
There is nothing quite so precious as a child. They hold all of the promise in the world. They laugh. They cry. They bring joy. And if they are your child they are the continuation on you and your partner; in spirit and it flesh. They are, in every sense of the word, your future.
I can’t imagine how the parents of these children who have lost their precious lives will cope. I’m not directly involved and this is still very difficult for me to comprehend and fathom.
This morning I woke well before dawn. The eastern sky was pink as the sun began its modest ascent on the horizon. For a brief moment I forgot about the events of the previous day. As the fog cleared from my brain it all came back to me. And I wondered how anyone could ever recover from this.
While drinking coffee I turned on the news. Candles lit the previous night in Newtown were still burning on temporary altars in parks, on the street, on the window sills of people mourning. Town folk had flocked to church to pray, to reflect, and to try to understand. Perhaps facing this with a familiar group is comforting to some. For me it would be nothing less than disarming.
The thought of seeking solace in a chapel seemed somehow appealing. I thought about going to a church before others arrived and then I realized that this is not who I am. So I put on my coveralls, tucked my long hair under a cap, and, ironically, grabbed my black powder rifle. I knew that I could not really hunt on this day but brought it along any way. Old habits die hard for a hunter.
I have lived my life in the woods. As a child I escaped from sexual abuse in the woods spending long and nearly countless days in the woods hiding. I learned that the woods could provide comfort. I learned that the forest was a life force; rejuvenating my spirit and giving me a place where I was free of everything I could not understand. I went to the woods frequently going deep into swamps where no one could find me.
And the truth is I found myself.
This place, where people find comfort, spirituality, and find the strength to heal is called, in my mind, a chapel. In my life the chapel has been the forest. It breathes life into me. It restores my soul. It brings me joy. I married my wife Maureen in this chapel-our forest-and here we raised our family.
Forests, in any part of the world, can be brutally honest. They hold life and death. They hold joy and sorrow. They hold every emotion known to this world, good and bad. It was this early understanding of the natural cycle that helped me to survive childhood. I made it through the dark days alone. Alone but not without. I had the forest to protect and guide me.
So on this day I head out into the chapel. The air is fresh and still. There is nary a sound and it is about a half hour into the light filled day. I climb to the highest part of our forest filled land and get into a tree stand. I leave my rifle leaning against the tree at the base of the stand. I cry until I can cry no longer.
A chickadee lands, unannounced, on a branch only about three feet from my head. It stares at me and shouts out its little “chickadee-dee-dee”. He seems, somehow, unabashed and honest. It is a simple joy that makes me smile. I have been in the woods for well over an hour and this is the first sound that I have noticed.
The bright voice of this little bird has given me a realization. The world moves on. There will be joy in the forest. The little bird moves from one branch to another; each one further away.
Only now I notice the woods are full of sounds. Lively and joyous sounds. The tapping of a downy woodpecker, caws of crows in the sky, the raucous call of a blue jay in the distance. There is life.
There will always be life as there will always be sorrows.
The forest is my chapel. I shall not want.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in December 2012.