I’m on a path, with a stream on the right and woods on my left, listening to birdsong as I walk in tree-dappled sunlight. Here is a turtle on a log in the water, there is a butterfly among the flowers on the bank. I am at peace. My serenity increases with each step.
I come to a footbridge which crosses the stream. On the far bank I see a pair of willows, my favorite trees, with an arched opening between them. Curious, I cross the bridge and walk slowly through the arched trellis. Beyond, there is an extensive garden with a pavilion near its center. I wander in the garden, among well-loved flowers: fragrant roses, full peonies, simple daisies, others. I spend some time seated on a bench, listening to garden sounds, rustles and tweets and flutters.
After some time, I move to seek shade under the tented pavilion, pushing the flaps of fabric aside, I enter and pause to allow my vision time to adapt to the dimmer light. From where I stand, I can see a young child, platinum blonde ringlets and a gauzy white dress. I see a teenager, face hidden behind her long hair. There are other girls and women here, gathered in small groups. Some are laughing, some seem upset. They all look like me. My face, my hair, my posture, my voice. Different ages, different life stages. They are all me. I freeze at the entrance to the pavilion, not sure what my place is here, uninvited, in this gathering.
The young child smiles shyly and comes to take my hand. She leads me to a chair, looks at me hopefully. When I smile back at her, she climbs into my lap and puts her head on my shoulder. I wrap my arms around her and weep for her uncertainty, her fear that she wouldn’t be welcome, wouldn’t be safe. She pats my cheek tenderly and whispers, “It’s okay now; you’re here.”
After a while, the child leaves my arms to skip around the tent, stopping to admire and gently touch the flowers in planters on the floor and vases on the tables. I stand and move toward the teenager; she seems to shrink into herself, but meets my eyes and doesn’t look away. I sit beside her and say nothing. She continues to watch me. After a long while, she says, “Are you safe?” I tell her, “I don’t know.” We sit together for a long while, saying nothing more.
Everyone’s attention shifts suddenly to the top of the pavilion. A woman appears there, seeming to float in mid-air. She looks familiar, but not exactly like any face I’ve ever yet worn. I know in my heart that she is also me, and I want to embrace her, talk with her, know how she’s achieved this lightness of being, but I cannot rise and move toward her. She notices me and smiles, and I feel the shadow of a touch, a reassuring hand on my shoulder, though she doesn’t come closer and eventually looks away and returns to talking and laughing with the others.
After another long while, I rise and leave the pavilion, move back down the path among the flowers, butterflies, and birdsong to the willows and the footbridge, and back down the path to my life. The day seems brighter, warmer, more promising, as I find my way home.