“In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in the dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.” – Dante Alighieri
It was with mixed anticipation and trepidation that I moved back into my condominium this past February. I was dreading the specters of so many bad memories I had of the place – and not just from the past year, but also the preceding four that I had lived there since my first divorce. There were some good ones, of course, but even those were painful to recall. On the whole, my history of living there had been one of unending loss, and I practically expected to feel the walls still reverberating with tension from all the loud squabbles that had been fought within them, and dank from the myriad buckets of tears that had been shed – my own, as well as my wife’s. It had become a place of pain and sorrow.
I was anxious to reclaim my own home and space, however, and the fact was that I had nowhere else to go. So I pushed all those painful memories from my mind as I stepped through the doorway, for the first time in many weeks, into my new old home. It was eerily quiet and half empty of furniture, but I had chosen that at the beginning of the year, when I gave away much of what I owned to make room for her stuff.
I had just enough left in savings to purchase a sofa, some chairs, and a new bed. After a few trips to Big Lots and Ikea, I was able to pretend as though I’d moved into a brand new place. Total sobriety still felt new to me also, since it had only been a few weeks since I’d had my last drink. Most of all, and best of all, I had my work desk and computer set up again. I had a place to write, and the hope sprang up in me anew that the time was finally here to turn all my loss and misfortune around, so that I could say it all had happened for a reason. Of course, I wasn’t sure yet exactly what that reason could possibly be for making such a tragic and heartbreaking, albeit well-intentioned, mistake.
The following month, on one of the first days of spring, something possessed me to go for a walk one evening. It was unusually warm out, and I suppose I wanted to get some fresh air and a bit of exercise, but I had no idea where I was going. I just followed the treeline along the back lawn behind my place, until I spotted a narrow footpath that led into the woods. In all the time I had lived there, I was unaware of its existence, and it occurred to me only then that I had never been even slightly curious about what lay hidden behind the dense thicket of woods that I had seen every day looking out from my balcony and bedroom window.
The forest seemed impenetrable, and the tiny trail nearly disappeared beneath fresh growth of vines and shrubs a few times as I followed it through the trees like an unraveled string from a ball of yarn. I was intrigued and curious now. So much timber had fallen in the October blizzard, it was necessary to climb over a few tree trunks that blocked my path. For what seemed like half a mile, the trail weaved back and forth, up and down and around, seeming to take me in all directions until it finally opened up to the bank of a large, marshy pond.
I was stunned as I looked out at the ethereal beauty of this place. It felt as if I’d been transported to the remote wilds of Maine or New Hampshire, and it was only the air traffic in the sky above that reminded me I was not far from home. When the airplanes overhead had passed, a serene quietness returned and set in that allowed me to detect the movements and activity of its denizens.
The first thing I heard was the quiet splash of a turtle who pushed off from the log where he and his mate were sunning, just before she followed suit after him. Looking into the water, I saw several bluegills swimming just below the surface. Then another series of plops and splashes erupted as I drew closer to the water’s edge. A line of frogs had all leaped from the muddy bank into the water for safety as they hear my approach.
I sat down to avoid any further disruption, and the moment I did so, a lone white swan swam silently into the frame of this surreal picture, far out in the center of the pond. I watched it for several minutes, unnoticed until I stood up again to continue my adventure and walk further down along the bank.
I saw more turtles sunning, and more frogs, and I heard their frantic splashes despite my efforts to tread as quietly as possible. I heard a different type of noise then, the sharp report of a slap on the water’s surface. It was only out of the corner of my eye that I saw a plume of water rise straight up in the air, and I was mystified as to what type of creature could have caused such a large splash. My best guess was that it was a large carp, until I walked a little further along the shore and spotted a very old and large beaver dam, whose builder I had apparently startled.
Standing on one leg in the shallow water right next to it was a very large and majestic blue heron. Immediately, it hit me – I knew this old bird. I had seen it fly in both directions over my place dozens of times over the years, and always wondered where it was going, and where was its home.
Since that evening, I have returned to this enchanted place several times. It never ceases to amaze me that it exists and that it is real, and has been there all this time, unspoiled and hidden behind those woods that I am looking out at now through my window. I have quietly observed the antics of the hermit swan as he has angrily defended his corner of the pond against unwelcome geese, and have even managed to sneak up on the beaver once as he was gnawing away on the moist bark of a fallen tree limb. I have seen the heron again only once, but I often see him flying back and forth in the sky overhead.
These past several months, I have felt as though I was living under a curse for having ended my second marriage, and for breaking those vows I had taken “to love, hold, and cherish, for better or worse, until death do us part.” The burden of guilt and disappointment in myself was overwhelming, and I had become resigned to living alone for the rest of my life. Until recently, I could not allow myself to even dream of finding the happiness of being in love again, knowing how bitterly I had disappointed the woman I had promised to spend the rest of my life with. Recently though, to my complete joy, I discovered that there is a happy ending to that story after all. It will need to be told another time, but the relief I felt when I learned that she is doing well, is happy, and has fallen in love again, is beyond measure. Hopefully, she has forgiven me by now. If she hasn’t, I’m sure she eventually will. She has found a good man – a better man for her than me.
My secret pond has served up the perfect metaphor as a reminder that paradise can still be found just on the other side of whatever hell I may think I’m going through. God still wants to pour out His blessings upon me, however unworthy I may be to receive them. First, though, they must be sought out, discovered, and received with open eyes, open hands, and an open heart.
For the first time in a long while, I am now open and ready to receive whatever blessings may come my way. And already they are beginning to fall down like rain…