Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Gate Swings Both Ways

A few weeks ago, I was taking a shortcut through a subdivision I'd never entered before when something interesting caught my eye. There, in an overgrown garden at the side of an overgrown house, was a gate.

Not a fence and a gate. Not a barn gate, or a corral gate. Just a gate.

A gate that served no apparent purpose. It didn't lead to a path of any sort. It wasn't the entrance to anything observable, or the exit either. It just stood there in the middle of the yard. Calling my name.

Now I wouldn't have ever believed a simple gate could be so compelling, but as I slowed to take a better look, I could hardly contain myself. I just had to walk through that gate.

Of course the idea was silly. Why in the world would I trespass in a stranger's yard to walk through a gate to nowhere? But I'll be darned if I didn't want to. Badly.

Instead of following my irrational whim, like the law-abiding, sensible, grown-up, mature woman that I am, I pressed the gas pedal and pressed on to my appointment, for which I was already late.

I thought about that gate again this morning, and wondered what would have motivated me to want to jump out of my car, race across the lawn, swing it open and step through the threshold. Oddly enough, the moment I pictured that gate in my mind's eye, I felt my countenance lift and my heartbeat quicken. I felt ... what do you call this sensation? Excited. Yes, that's it. I felt excited.

Has it been that long since I've felt that emotion to recognize what excitement feels like?

And then suddenly I had my answer. THAT's why the gate compelled me so. It was the mystery, the fun, the adventure that the gate represented. Visions of other exciting gates in my past swirled in the periphery of my subconscious - gateways to other worlds like Narnia, visiting Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which in A Wrinkle In Time, and cavorting through old stone London gates with the Artful Dodger in Oliver.

The gate in that yard wasn't just a gate to me. It was an opening for the imagination. A place I've always loved to go, a place that always refreshed my spirit and renewed my zeal for living. A place that I just haven't had the time to visit lately with the responsibilities and drudgery of adult life.

I realize now that I need that gate. Well, maybe not that gate, but a gate. My spirit yearns to be set free in the glorious freedom and frolic of imagination symbolized by stepping through the gate.

So maybe I'll do it. Maybe I'll rig up my own gate ... in my mind. It'll look just like the gate Dorothy stepped through into the Emerald City. And maybe I'll make it a point to step through my gate now and again. Then maybe the responsibilities of adulthood won't seem like drudgery.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Heartbreaking Destiny

As I pedaled my bike down the quiet country road on my regular Sunday afternoon exercise jaunt, something I saw on the side of the road made me hit my brakes.

I hadn't noticed it in a very long time, and on this particular day, its image of stark loneliness struck me as morosely sad.

It was a mighty oak tree, several feet in diameter and as tall as a three-story building. The oak had matured in the twenty years since I first laid eyes on it, back when it was a mere impressionable teenager, and so terribly in love.

Yep. Completely, totally, in love. Smitten. And not afraid to show the world.

For the oak had sprouted right beside a young palm tree, and the two had grown together, intertwined as it seemed, for all eternity. The oak had grown around the base of the palm, so that the palm seemed to spring from its very center. And the oak had wrapped two small branches around the palm, with digit-like twigs that strongly resembled fingers extending from the ends of those winding, clinging branches, exactly like arms embracing a lover.

It was remarkable, really. You couldn't pass by without an AWWW escaping your lips and feeling a warm fuzzy feeling somewhere deep in your innards. Love was their destiny and it was a beautiful, beautiful thing.

I always intended to take a picture of the tree-lovers, but I somehow never did.

And then one day, it was too late. The palm tree was gone. Severed from the arms that surrounded it with such passion. The new owners of the property must have thought the palm would eventually threaten the health of the oak, so they'd chain-sawed it away. Boy was I angry. No, more like livid. How could they be so cruel to ruthlessly separate the lovers like that?  

The poor pathetic oak stood there with its arms frozen in an empty embrace, encircling, loving, protecting ... nothing. I felt like my heart was ripped in half every time I saw it from then on, so in the passing years, I'd disciplined myself from looking in that direction.

Until this particular day. And would you believe it? After all this time, that oak tree still had it's arms locked in the same empty embrace? The hole in its center had never filled in, leaving the imprint of the long-gone palm tree as if it were still there. Loved. Protected.

I couldn't help but think of the funeral I had just attended that week. Married over three decades, *Justine and Mark had been high school sweethearts who never dated anyone but each other. They were both my classmates, and there was never any doubt that they were meant for each other. They clung to each other through the bad times and drew strength from each other during the good.

It was their destiny to be together.

Until Mark suddenly fell over with a heart attack at age 56.

Justine appeared to be in shock at the funeral. She was surrounded by her children and the brand new grand-baby that Mark had absolutely doted over. She hugged them over and over, she hugged her friends, she hugged everyone who came to offer their condolences. But I knew her embrace was empty, like the empty embrace of this mighty oak, left to live alone without its lover.

And twenty years from now, I'll bet the imprint of Justine's own palm tree will still be in her center as clearly as this brokenhearted oak tree. It's their destiny.

*Names changed for privacy.