Morning Metaphor: When it all Burns Down
*Content warning: themes of loss; loss of a pregnancy
There is a trail near my house that loops nearly 6 miles through the wild Florida woods. It is one of my favorite places to run, with the towering trees and well cleared paths. It's a place to get lost in thought, to sweat out a stressful day, or to simply disconnect from the hustle of everyday life.
A few weeks ago, I set off down the trail and noticed a singed smell in the air that grew more and more noticeable the further I ran. About two miles in I saw the source - the charred remnants of the controlled burn of the forest. It was fascinating to see the black, dusty earth juxtaposed with the vibrant green beyond it. There was an occasional leaf peeking out from the top of a burned branch. A sign of life that didn't succumb to the fire. The lingering smell seemed almost like a natural mourning ritual, to honor and remember what had been lost.
I lost a baby last year. Despite two healthy and uncomplicated pregnancies, I had a miscarriage at 9 weeks. I hadn't even considered losing the baby to be a possibility, even though I was older and this time we hadn't been carefully trying. So, I had told nearly everyone I knew. I bought maternity clothes and a bassinet and dreamed so so many dreams. Then, one day near the Christmas holidays, I went for a run on this trail. I have always exercised during my pregnancies, and was in good enough shape so I figured 6 miles was doable. And, I thought, maybe the run could help clear the steady clench of anxiety that had been present for the past few weeks.
About halfway through the run I felt light headed. I slowed to a walk and finished the miles, breathing in the air and dreaming of this future that was less than a year away. The next day, the cramping started. The bleeding followed. Two weeks later, a day after Christmas, the ultrasound showed an empty womb.
It took me over a year to be able to return to the trail. I associated it with so many dreams and hopes. I don't think my run that day caused the miscarriage, but it was also the last time I was blissfully carrying the baby within me. What a long, slow burn of abandoned dreams. What a blaze of grief, engulfing me in flames until it seemed there was little left.
And yet, the fire does meet its edge in time. And there are remnants of hope that remain, and full life just beyond the scorched parts. Loss has a way of creating depths of beauty and authenticity that slowly blossom to reveal new levels of who we are. I look to the areas of destruction and despair in my own life, and I see how these moments painfully expanded my ability to access my center, to connect with others, and to know more of what is true.
We all experience some form of controlled burn in our lives. It is often violent, unwelcome, painful, and singes all that seems beautiful within and around us. It can involve the loss of people we love, the disappointment of unrealized dreams, the fearful waiting of a pandemic, the stain of injustice... and the black, brittle charring left behind can take so long to heal. Yet there is life. There is hope just beyond the perimeter. In nature, these burns must happen so that life can be sustained. And despite - or maybe somehow because of - the pain, the rebirth can be heart-achingly beautiful.
If you are sitting with singed air around and within you, hanging in potent memory of what you have lost, just know that somewhere, maybe very deep down, something else is budding. There is life waiting beneath the ashes. And it will find its way to you in time.