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Here in the kitchen, a willowy flame is burning my yellow candlestick down to a nub.
It dances on a blackened wick, inside a brass candle holder on the table.
My little cave fire.
It calls forth home within me, this shape-shifting flame, as it reaches and pulses ever higher, its body dissolving into a warm, golden pool. Finally, I blow it out with a breath. But it is perpetually alive inside the cave of me, flickering against the walls.
Radiance and shadow. Joy and grief. Life and death.
This is my sacred flame, and I am its keeper.
We are three days from the Summer Solstice, the day the biggest ball of fire burns the longest of the year. Here, the days are stretched as lanky as my candle flame, before they begin their slow contraction inward.
This is a great turning point.
For six months, the sun has been gathering strength, lengthening its gaze upon us. At Summer Solstice, we stand at the culmination of brightness, the sun’s full stature. We pause to soak in the abundance, generosity, sustenance, and new life spilling over us. We harness this power. And then we, too, begin to shift ever so slowly back to darkness.
We embrace, we surrender. We receive, we give. We expand, we contract. We blaze, we flicker.
We sit in a circle of fire and remember who we are, from where we’ve come, and where we’re going in this great turning.
I saw the sun disappear last night, a flame dissolving in a pool of waxen orange. It looked so familiar, even 3,000 miles east of where I stood last summer. There, everything was recognizable. Here, almost everything is foreign.
But the world at large, no matter where we stand and watch the sun, is not the same as it was four seasons ago.
“I saw it roaring
I felt it clawing at my clothes
like a grieving friend.
There are no new beginnings
until everybody sees that the old ways
need to end.”
~ Kate Tempest, People’s Faces
Fires of all kinds are demanding an end to old ways.
Australia, the Amazon, the Antarctic, the Serengeti—all have been consumed in fire. A virus continues to burn through the countries and people of the world. Capitalism is scorching the Earth in deep gashes of fire. Across the United States, cities have burned in riot flames. Black and brown bodies burn with collective grief within a system of oppression that must be torched to the ground and rebuilt. White bodies are beginning to burn with the fires of complicity, discomfort, and examination.
My small world, too, is not the same as it was under the Solstice sun last year.
My marriage has burned to a smoldering heap. I left my old home, my old life, in a ball of flames and set off for new territory, new love. I struck a match and torched what had long held me captive—fear-based decisions, limiting beliefs, others’ expectations of me—and turned to follow the wise counsel of my heart into the unknown.
For eight years, I lived with grief as an old friend, clawing at my clothes. Walking away from a marriage that never worked for me, even while the love remained, has been an experiment in opening to joy. To a bigger self, a less limited life, a more equal love. It’s also been an invitation to greater depths of uncertainty and discomfort.
I moved into marriage with all the solemnity of vows and forever on my mind. Prior to our wedding day, we’d never been to bed together, let alone shared a home. The me of eight years ago had been brought up to believe that sex was intended for marriage alone and that marriage was for a lifetime. I could never have foreseen that I was committing to a marriage without sex or that, in the end, I wouldn’t want to endure this for a lifetime.
Nor could I have predicted that I’d leave this marriage in a bold leap of faith to embrace another love, with nothing but a pause between chapters.
I can only imagine the shock waves I have caused by being in love with someone else, let alone announcing that I was moving to begin a new life with him on the other side of the country. This is a far cry from how I was raised. You just don’t date someone while you’re still legally married, and you certainly don’t move in with them unless you are, in fact, married.
I’ve taken that rulebook and set it on fire.
But this is not the fire of a rebellious 22-year-old needing to prove herself autonomous.
This is the fire of a 39-year-old woman who has lived enough endings and new beginnings to understand that the rulebook that served her a decade ago was written in a language she no longer speaks.
This is the fire of a woman who is done with rulebooks.
I began the year in mourning, and as the sun has returned to its full strength, have found myself in a peak of joy. I stand, this Solstice, in a tug between the lightness of this joy and the darkness of grief while my old life continues to burn. There is abundance here I’ve never known. And there is death’s familiar rasping breath.
In this pause, there is work to be done. And it takes me to the cemetery.
Near the center of town, a historic burial ground sits on a plot of grass surrounded by a stone wall and an old church. Even as tender shoots are pushing up through the dirt, I sit in this cemetery and empty myself.
There can be no hurrying of this process.
Before I dig a hole and place each fragment of my old life in the ground, marking them with a headstone, I must sit while they take their last, dying breaths.
Death takes its dear, painful time.
Still, there is wonder here, sitting in the rubble of What Was and the fragile new growth of What Is. For the first time, I am fully immersed in the present without needing to throw it under a microscope, dissect and define it, or predict how it will evolve in the future. I am simply showing up each day to what is right here, right now.
As I show up, each day is unpredictable.
I can feel the warmth of this new love, holding me in the golden flecks of his eyes, and five minutes later dissolve in tears upon seeing pictures that remind me of the old. I can wake up with heaviness, the swelling waves of overwhelm, and collapse at the end of the day in a heap of contentment. I can delight in the sighting of someone new and lovely—a chipmunk, a cardinal, a groundhog—and physically ache for the ones I left behind.
It is not death or life, old or new, grief or joy. It is both. But I cannot circumvent the death. As I sit and allow the work to continue, the contractions of grief, only then do I feel my heart expanding to make space for more.
And here, I listen to the steady rhythm of my heart, who has been singing to me all along: trust me, trust me, trust me.
So, I’m sitting here in the cemetery, letting the benevolent sun filter through ancient trees and faded headstones, spilling across my shoulders.
I’ll tend to my own ball of fire while these endings clear space for all that is new to flourish.