Monday, January 16, 2006

The twig-built house

I wrote this in a meeting last week and wanted to send it to my friend K, whose mother was just diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Her lifelong non-smoker mother, I might add.

But K is wrapped up in discussions about palliative care and whether or not her mom can fit in a trip to Hawaii before her meeting with the Great Asshole in the Sky (with apologies to my religious friends; I know that between the two of us, it is likely that I am the bigger asshole).

So I thought she might not want to read about a girl and a house fire. I thought instead she might want to get together for some wine and some cheese and some up-front talk about hard things. So I'll do that for her, and meanwhile I'll give this to you.

There is a twig-built shack in the forest, more bird’s nest than house, that is held up by prayer and gum. It looks abandoned but it has wood smoke coming out the river-rock chimney, and if you look closer, you'll see the herb border all around the walls, planted with hyssop and thyme and herbs that protect, and heal, and strengthen.

The girl who built it was hurt, and renounced the world, and made the house to be a refuge where she could be wild in peace. And as houses do, eventually it settled into her, and then her daughter, and her daughter’s daughter, until finally it worked its magic and this family of girls were no longer hurt, but wanted to rejoin the world.

So they built a shell around the house, a more normal, respectable, society-approved shell, to hide what it was so that it will look like normal, respectable, society-approved people live in it.

But the twig-built shack is still there, part bone, part pain, part quiet heart. It doesn’t hurt anyone, and hardly anyone remembers it any more.

That is, until the day the family is found out, discovered as not normal, not respectable, not society-approved, and the house is burned down.

The girl who lives there runs through the smoke to get out of the house. But she panics, she gets turned around, she loses her way.

As the smoke threatens to overcome her, as the flames beat at the white-painted walls and the perfectly plumb rafters and the kitchen island with its granite countertop, the one that was supposed to make everything OK, she knows this is the end of her life, at least as she knows it.

She drops to the ground and finds herself in the middle of the house, its core. Trapped, she watches the house burn down around her -- all except for the twig-built heart, which glows with the faces of her ancestors, gleaming from the walls, solid like steel but fluid like fog, and best of all, impervious, impervious, outshining the flames. Outlasting them. Protecting the daughter of their daughters. The house still stands, and so does that girl.


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