“I pin my hopes to quiet processes and small circles, in which vital and transforming events take place.”

—Rufus Jones

Last year in August, I wrote about my own pattern of getting sick each July and 67552265_2390846147794260_5776927048312291328_othe steps I have been taking over the last three years to change that pattern for myself. This year in a surprisingly literal twist, I fell and hurt my ankle in June, and now, eight weeks later, in August I was still recovering from that fall, thus inadvertently continuing my pattern of spending July of every year “out of commission.”

There is no dramatic story associated with my fall, I was quite literally just standing still on the front porch, waiting for my kids to open the front door after getting home from a Girl Scout meeting, when my foot slipped off the short front step and I came down hard on my ankle, twisting it beneath me at a 90 degree angle inward, as if I stepped down onto the end of my leg bone instead of my foot. I knew immediately that this was not a “normal” misstep or simple twist of the ankle, my leg hurt in a different and deeper way than I’ve ever experienced before, the swelling instantaneous and visible through my sock before I could even crawl inside. My husband Mark came running to help me and all I could say was, I think I’ve really, really hurt myself.

I have, in fact, really hurt myself. I tore ligaments in my ankle and fractured at least one small bone in the top of my foot. The bruises bloom immediately, deep purple and blue, along the entire edge of my foot, the top of my foot into two toes, and on my ankle itself, above the swollen, stiff lump where my normal ankle bone used to be.

My mom comes to bring me crutches, arnica tablets, and arnica gel and I tell her that I feel like I have one day of this in me and that’s it.

Then, I cry.

I know that this isn’t it.

In fact, I have much more than one day in me. I have eight weeks and counting.

When my dad who is a former EMT comes to look at my ankle, he accidentally makes me laugh by saying he thinks I will heal completely since I am “relatively young.” I decide it is a parenting up-level to have reached a point in which you can accurately now describe your own daughter as relatively young.

As someone whose life has been shaped by wings and walks this year, this is a hard sunflowerscircumstance to swallow. I feel like I have lost my joy, the twin bookends of delight that frame each day for me: my visits to the woods in the morning and my two mile walks every evening with my husband. I usually move swiftly through my days, capable, certain, strong. It is strange to have gone from fully mobile and strong, to tender and vulnerable, in the space of only a single step. Of course, I wonder if this is a “sign,” an enforced mandate to slow down and to rest, to be forced to take a break by being literally broken. But, then I remember a promise I made to myself two years ago when I developed a nasty sinus infection after caring for my sick kids. If I would never look my sick toddler in the eye and asked him what he had done to “deserve” being so sick, I would never visit that cruelty and needless blame-casting upon myself.

I see why animals who hurt their legs often die, I tell Mark.

I fall on a Tuesday and on that Saturday, my mom comes to pick me up for our Red Tent retreat at the river. I am shocked by how unstable and unsteady I feel outside on the 67428812_2386242924921249_5138805701103058944_ouneven terrain. I am barely capable of standing, let alone hoisting myself along the ground. I feel vulnerable and small, invalid and weak. My friend and my mom work setting up the simple ritual site and I watch, seated on the pavilion’s porch, swinging my other leg and marveling at their adept and fluid movements, their bodily capacities, their sure feet on uncertain ground. The blankets are spread beneath swaying green trees on the point of land overlooking the confluence of two creeks and the river. We can hear the breeze and the gentle flow of the water. Women start to arrive, full of hugs and smiles and words of connection. I hobble to the blanket and sit down, where I can show my bruising and receive the tender balm of sympathy and exclamation. My chiropractor friend has traveled all the way from Kansas for our circle and she examines my ankle with care and a light touch, telling me though it may take six weeks, I will get better.

We gather in circle and I guide them briefly through a breath and grounding. A light breeze rolls around us, caressing our faces and our closed eyes as we rest our hands on one another’s lower backs and hum together, surrounded by green trees, under a wide blue and white sky. A chorus of bugs and birdsong joins with our voices, the gentle drift of the never-ending river current hums, the ground is warm and whole beneath our feet. I have asked four of my friends to offer an elemental blessing with some herbs of the summer solstice and they circle us, speaking their carefully chosen words, scattered herbs to encircle our working. We sit and sing together, words of welcome and affirmation, love and wonder. Tears begin to fall from several women as the songs soak into our bones. I’m not sure what brings the tears, the circle, the song, the container, the sunshine on our shoulders. I look up to see four vultures cresting the bluffs and circling our circle with their own. We are here, we are alive, we are whole, we are well.

After passing the rattle and witnessing one another’s journeys, we break for snacks and conversation and begin our projects, stamping designs on muslin tarot bags and doing batik dyeing. My mom drives me to the river cabin to use the bathroom and I tell her I think I’m overdoing it, I feel frayed, ebbing, and weak. I know it is because I’m expending too much energy supporting the circle energetically, holding the space, the energy, the safety of our container. She suggests I put my foot up and rest for a spell, and I do, letting the women bring me strawberries, chocolate, and crackers, and refilling my water, respecting my space, while they work on their projects without me.

After recharging with food and rest we move to our next item, an experimental, body-based concept I’m not sure will fly with our group, as it feels very intimate and personal. We divide into groups of four and take turns lying down on the blanket in the center of our smaller circles. The women around us gently lift up parts of our bodies and lay hands upon us offering the wish, the hope, the promise, the vow, the blessing: let go. While we occasionally laugh and part of us initially feels silly, we quickly relax into the power of what we are experiencing together. This sun, this wind, this grass, these trees, this river, it all bears witness to the gentle care with which we treat each other. We touch each other so gently, so tenderly. It is surprisingly personal and intimate to be handled so kindly by our friends. I am surprised by the tender feelings I experience both when being the recipient of touch and in giving it to others, we are rarely so close to one another, leaning in, close to one another’s eyebrows, toes, and weary shoulders. I place my hands on both sides of a friend’s face and see the tears well up and spill over beneath her closed lashes. We re-gather in our larger circle, feeling connected and supported in a new way, and sing together two songs of letting go.

They go to the river now, for a ritual immersion and cleansing after our letting go. I can’t accompany them, so I wait on my blanket, singing another song: let it in, let it go, round and round we flow, weaving the web of women. I sing for a long time, high and quiet into the gentle air. As I sit alone above the riverbank, waiting and singing, listening to the hoots and laughter of my friends below me in the water, a red-shouldered hawk leaves the tree and glides away into the air where a vulture turns lazily above the river.

I am sad to miss out on everything I could be noticing and experiencing with the rest of the group, but grateful for what I have seen.

The gift in this setback over the last eight weeks proves to be to recognize, as perspective65545822_2361430074069201_6941929741872005120_o often demonstrates, how much I have. I have spent any number of hours this year fretting over not getting to do something and feeling resentful of being impeded in my progress and now, thrown into a situation of actually being unable to do something and actually impeded, it brings into sharp relief the freedom and influence I have truly enjoyed the rest of the year—it is much clearer to me now how often I don’t do something for a multitude of reasons that are usually fully within my own control and choice, not because I “can’t” or I am somehow not being “allowed to.”

Movement is magical and I miss it, I think, sitting on the deck the next week in the cool air, watching the mulberry leaves and feeling the breeze bump against my heart. May I remember that watching and witnessing is one of my most precious and powerful gifts.

May I soften into limitation, relax my striving, ease my straining, and relax into resting.

My leg aches, but I am swept with gratitude for the new temple of the ordinary that I find has been formed by and on the weathered deck beneath my feet, and I am struck with gratitude that it is only this. Only my ankle. Only a normal, run of the mill fall. No lifelong trauma or catastrophic diagnosis. No permanent lifestyle change or disability, just a few weeks of hobbling and looking at the world from a deck instead of a rock.

A mockingbird flies onto the porch and lands briefly on the windchimes. An orange butterfly opens its wings gently as it rests on the outer wall of the house. The lilies are full and gorgeous in the sun and a new rose has opened on my rosebush by the deck.

I lie down on my back with my eyes closed and breathe.

Goddess of the sacred pause
68240955_2389262577952617_3176103769653903360_oplease grant me the courage
to lay aside swiftness
and take up slowness,
to embrace limitations as learning,
silence as stabilizing,
waiting as worthy,
and sitting as divine.
Goddess of the sacred pause
help me to know stillness as strength,
patience as powerful,
and healing time
as holy necessity.

Originally posted at Feminism and Religion.

This essay is excerpted from my book in progress, The Magic of Place: Rebuilding the Soul Where and How You Are.