My mother sang to the spiders that had the good fortune of coming into our home. No matter their poisons, she cupped them in her hands and carried them outside, placing them in her legendary gardens. Undaunted by my arachnophobia over the years, she called me out to watch a tarantula marching across our patio with five babies behind her.
To me, it was like a Stephen King novel, I couldn’t look, and I couldn’t look away. It was terrifyingly beautiful.
And when I and the neighborhood kids caught and separated the blinking abdomen of fireflies and made necklaces out of them, parading through the neighborhood lit up – my mother wasn’t there, and she wasn’t there when put frogs in boxes and forgot they were in there in the hot sun on pavement, while they suffocated.
When I became a young adult I was attracted to the concrete of city and museums and billboards and neon and exhaust fumes and fashion, and I left the land I grew up on, where the Shawnee Indian tribe once thrived. I dug their arrowheads from the earth and they lined the cracked windowsill of my childhood bedroom.
And as I grew up, I dove into the selfish life, which at first feels like a cool ocean with no riptides, no undertow, just gentle waves. I became an executive, I started my own company, I thrived. I lived in big houses, I collected things. And more things.
Thought I was doing my part by buying a Prius.
Then I became restless for something I couldn’t name, couldn’t call out. Something I couldn’t find in a contract or a bank account, or between the thighs of a man. Something I couldn’t find hiking the Santa Monica canyon on a Saturday afternoon, braving the two-hour drive on the 405 to get to the hike and a longer drive back.
Picking up lattes on the way.
I got sick, so sick. One cancer, another, and then my father died.
That’s when the wrens and the bluebirds from my childhood came back. The robins, the small blue eggs, my mother’s gardens – the petunias, the zinnias, the bulbs she buried deep in the earth that lodged under her orange fingernails.
That’s when I realized the weeping willow tree across from my home saved my life, and the moon and Jupiter and Venus grounded me from the cold crab grass of my front lawn as I travelled up.
That’s when I knew the brown cedar lakes that held my body on hot summer days watching the clouds was still on my skin, I could never wash off those summers.
Somewhere along the way I longed to be near an ocean again, sit on a hot rock, bury my feet, talk with sheep and commune with horses.
I wanted to be on the edge of a night clearing and apologize to the fireflies.
I wanted to tell my story of my mother dropping to her knees and screaming when she saw the construction crew had taken all the trees off our property, despite her direction to save them when building our home.
My mother crying, mourning a forest with her whole body, her tears wetting our new, barren land.
I was standing next to her then – only two. I couldn’t possibly understand her grief, but I’m telling you her grief for those trees lives in my DNA.
And the land my childhood home was built on lives inside me.
It took me years to have my heart fully break, the way it is fully broken now, with the worry that when this nightmare virus ends, when it’s finally over, who knows how long, who knows how many months, how many dead, how many more freezers will be needed… I’m worried we will go back.
To the life we had before.
To the world where I consume, where I over consume, where I must have, the convenience, the wanting, the taking, the stealing.
Will I return to being a bandit of earth again?
When will I stop upgrading my Iphone, needing the latest, the newest, not caring whether the manufacturer hires twelve-year-old children to put the parts together, that there are suicides around Christmas because humans can’t keep up with the production and the consumer demand?
When will I care what WalMart pays its employees so I can have four of something cheaper?
What if we look at Covid as the gift, the savior? What if we said OMG, how can we change, look at our own stories and finally invite earth into our stories and our future?
What if through this destruction we learn who we are again, where we come from?
What if this takes us all the way back?
And what if I spread out my palms and look at my own childhood hands that live inside them and see the destroyer and ask for forgiveness, the young girl who was in the killing fields, who did not respect the dance of the fireflies, the ways of the Indians, the ghosts that lived beside me growing up on what used to be a reservation?
What if I allowed myself to go all the way back…and learn from my ancestors – allow them to show me again, through my breath, through my dreams, through my sacrifices I will now willingly make?
What if the only person who can save me is myself?