Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.
~Mary Oliver When I am Among The Trees.
So why are you not letting yourself be filled?
Why are you not yelling from mountaintops who you are?
Climb that mountain. Go on. Get up there. You were born to do this, and the sooner you realize this fact, that you are among the trees, that you were always among the trees, that there wasn’t a day in your life that you were not among the trees, the sooner you send your light out and light up the world. It comes from you.
The thing is, when you send it out, you can literally feel yourself being refueled with all that golden light. Or purple. Or whatever color you imagine the light to be because light isn’t a color. It’s what’s inside you. It is what you are made up of even the times when you felt that you had no light inside of you, that all you had inside of you was a ball of pain and mud and heartache.
Get up there on that mountain. Yell into the wind what you are willing to send out into the world. Send it out in a little vessel. Send it out to anyone who will listen, anyone who needs to be inspired by someone like you. You, who’s willing to get up there on a mountaintop.
I offer you my light.
I send it out to you and hope that you can feel it on your back, or maybe on your head, an energy which if it could speak would say to you: I got you.
It’s right there with you as you are reading this, as you are making eggs for your kids, as you are sitting by your father’s bedside and reading him stories, as you turn off the lamp by your bedside and roll into an emptiness where a body used to be. All of it. It’s yours. Take it. It will never extinguish.
I didn’t trust was any light inside of me for a long time. I will not share my words with the world because there’s nothing worth sharing, I would think as I combed the streets of NYC like some kind of starving warrior. A darkness akin to dying lived inside of me. Light was something woo-woo that yoga teachers and the like spoke of. I had no idea of any such light.
I couldn’t imagine my darkness ever brightening so I succumbed to it like a slave, hackled by my own sludge and shit. The chains I dragged around were heavy and unwieldily but I managed them because to let go would mean I would have to face the fact that there was indeed a light inside of me, that underneath the chains was a small but steady light. I carried around the chains for years and kept myself all to myself. You can have none of me because there is none of me worth having.
When I was in my early twenties I lived in mid-town Manhattan in a hotel next to a fire station. NYU housing was overflowing so they’d stuck me in a weird hotel right out of The Shining. If the red light on top of the fire station was flashing it’d meant there was a fire, growing or dying somewhere between Thirty-first and Seventh and Fortieth and Sixth. Stations were frequent: the trucks had trouble making it through traffic. Taxis never moved out of the way.
Nights I would hear the firemen pass their time. While waiting for fires to ignite they’d play basketball. The dribbling kept me awake, but they only played between fires so games didn’t last very long. And I’d felt safe. If ever there were a fire they’d be there in a flash.
I’d lie in my hotel bed counting dribbles while thinking of poems I could write about them. I never did though. I never got out of bed and grabbed a paper and wrote the poem about the firemen or the basketball or how weird it was to live in a hotel with crusty towels. Instead I laid in bed and wished I had a cheeseburger so I could smell it and pick at the lettuce or pickles. I would have never eaten the actual burger or the bread but the smell of it was enough to finally kill my hunger pains. I’d pass my time dreaming of food while the firemen threw balls to pass theirs. Were we so different? I thought, all of us waiting for something?
Waiting for the fire to change us.
I also lived next to a fire station while I was in high school in New Jersey. The men in my neighborhood, all fire fighters. When that siren went off in the middle of the night I’d imagine of my friend’s fathers slipping out of their mothers and into bulky fireproof suits. And I’d dream that same dream: our house burning and I am on a ladder in the yard. I am seven, saving everyone. I am pulling them all up the rungs, my mother, my father, my sister. I could never save myself. I’d stay at the bottom of the ladder and be eaten by black smoke until I woke.
In New York, I used to watch the firemens’ feet talk to me and ignore their voices. The feet give it all away. Nervous and fidgety. Pressing the earth for ideas as if language can split the pavement, enter their bodies like heat through their feet and make them whole.
As if language was strong enough to crack the earth, as if it could be kept underfoot. As if words could form themselves and penetrate through bone, into the blood, and out the mouth. As if it were as comfortable, as controllable as fire.
What I found out was this: language can crack the earth. It can spilt the pavement. It has! It has opened up and swallowed me. I can’t stop writing now for the life of me. For better or worse, it has cracked my darkness, and I can’t stop sending my light out into the world with a clear knowing that whoever receives it will be just the right person in need.
What I am telling you is that if you climb that mountain, which I am hoping you will choose to do, that your light will spread across a page of the night and no matter how many fireman put down their basketballs to come and put it out, your light can never be extinguished.
It was always there. You may have just been tied to a ladder. You may have been inhaling smoke. You may have been starving yourself or drinking too much or failing out of school. Whatever it is, or was, the light is there inside of you and it is your birthright to send it out. You absolutely cannot hoard it.
Writing might not be your thing. I don’t know what your thing is. It might be that you are a great mother. You are an incredible friend. You are an artist. You cook a mean chili. You are kind.
Whatever it is, you have to let us know. We are here waiting with the rest of the trees.
You have to get up out of the bed and write that poem instead of laying there dreaming of dying and hamburgers. You have to unshackle yourself from the chains around your ankles, because, quite truthfully, you put them there. You have the key. You have to climb the mountain and throw the key from the top as you yell Here I am. This is where I stand.
Sit down on the top up there. After all, you climbed all the way up. You did that. Not me. Not your past. You, here and now. It was a steep climb and you almost fell, but you didn’t. Go on and sit down. And when the trees ask you to stay awhile, tell them: Yes, yes I plan to. In fact, I have always been here. I have always been the light.
Tell them that.
Although its nothing they didn’t already know. Even when you didn’t know it yourself. You have always been there.
You are a beacon of light.