Like a silent thunderclap
The sun strikes a blade of grass,
— A sharp thrusting blade it is, a defiant green punch
Out of the soil at the sky —
Now struck and smelted with gold leaf,
Humming with new life and power,
Slow and ruminous the photosynthesis.
The Long Hand of Lugh
Has painted it alive.
— Jan 2009

physviolenceThe path to divorce began before I even met my wife; I’d placed my feet on it inevitably, irrevocably, following the stars of my deepest desires and fears. I wanted to be loved; was this wrong? I wanted acceptance, approval, completion; was this wrong? I wanted to care for, and to give affection to, and to love; was this wrong? I sought these, and found these, in her. I loved her, and desired her, and cared for her, and was completed by her, utterly, as I understood love and desire and care and completion. And we loved furiously and ecstatically and laid the beautiful plans that lovers do.

If you are an animal, and not a plant, you are permanently uprooted. By choice or by doom, you must wander the surface of the earth to survive. You commit violence against living creatures to sustain yourself. You are always just a few of these violent meals away from starvation. You are always hunted, or competing against other hunters. You give what you can, perhaps, but your life is most full of taking. Did you choose this life? And if so, why?

Shady Grove, my little love,
Shady Grove, I say,
Shady Grove, my little love,
I’m bound to go away.

So many good times, so many hard times. Our first child — joy and exhaustion beyond anything I’d ever felt. And fear, because of the cyst in her perfect little forehead… And there was screaming and terror in the hospital — why are my parents putting me in this big machine? But it was benign.

Our second child — twice as much joy and twice as much exhaustion. And fear, because the towers burned and fell, and plague arrived in the mail, and I lost my job, and went to work far away, and in the confusion and depression the television turned off her perfect little mind… Invisible siezures, even today; and near-autism, slowly cured with therapy.

Our third child — how could one heart hold so much joy? And fear, because whooping cough can kill one so small, who is still learning to breathe. Two months of sleeplessness, of rocking his lungs back into motion, but he was well.

Our fourth child — if you don’t know this joy, it cannot be told. She was beautiful, sweet, smiling, and never ever cried… because she had been deafened. We still don’t know why, and we still don’t know why she was cured a few months later.

When you go through so much with someone, you think that nothing will ever sunder you.

There is an old crabapple tree – well, I don’t know if it’s actually old, but all crabapple trees seem old to me – standing out behind the house where my children live now, and I used to pass it daily on my way out to the compost heap after dinner. And a few times a week, regardless of the weather, I’d stop on the way back, and just lean up against the tree. It would only take a few seconds for all the worry, pain, weight and detritus of the day to wash away, and I could feel palpably the great Earth under me, and the eternal sky over me, and the tree so very present and alive between them.

One day it occurred to me to wonder how the tree felt about me coming by every few days and absorbing so much positive energy from it. Was it possible that it was angry? Annoyed? Afraid? I went up to it, placed my hands on it, dipping into meditation, and asked the tree to tell me…

In all this time, I didn’t really know fear. I thought I was afraid, but really, as long as she was there to love me and complete me, I didn’t know fear. I learned fear at last when she almost died in an auto accident.  Without the airbags and the seat belt in that used Honda Civic, she would have been smashed. Instead she walked away with just a few scratches and bruises, and we were thankful, and went on with our lives.

But I would wake up shaking; I had attacks of panic, frozen for no reason I could name; and I became terribly afraid of driving — I, who’d inherited the love of the road from my father and his father’s fathers.  I turned back to the Buddhism I’d grown up with, and I dug deep, and I quieted the fear.

I had feared losing her for longer than I had known her; but now the fear was gone. I no longer feared being unloved, unaccepted, disapproved, incomplete. This fear…

This fear was wound and bound into the foundation of the marriage. Without the fear, the marriage waited only for a catalyst to crumble it.

I hid from this knowledge, turned away from it. For years I turned away from it. No one and nothing could tell me, because I ordered them not to. But the more I ran from it, the more I chased it. And the catalyst came…

Climbing a mountain in meditation, a mountain of tumbled stones that cut the fingers and scabbed the knees, I came to a cave with a reflecting pool; and in the deepest chamber the High Priestess drew back the veil and showed me the last mystery; and the mountain crumbled into dust around me and would have crushed me under its immeasurable weight, but I remembered! I remembered I could fly…

And I was amazed at the force of the reply. I could suddenly feel all my worry, pain, weight, and detritus entering the tree, and feel the tree’s delight, and sense the energy flowing down to its roots and up to its leaves, orange and sparkling. It was as if all this negative, heatlike energy, this excess sludge I was dumping, was feeding the tree. Was it an energetic or spiritual reflex of the carbon dioxide / oxygen exchange? I stayed with the tree a long time that night, feeling the energy flow between us gradually ease, bringing us both peace.

The eleventh anniversary of our wedding is coming up next month. Eleven years ago, I thought I knew what joy was. When our first child was born, I realized I was wrong. And with each new child, I learned joy again. I never expected divorce to bring new joys, too, but gods above! The marriage collapsed into a shower of lotus petals. I found a wholly new joys —

The joy of the proper ending one season of life, and beginning another.

The joy of meeting her fiancee, expecting awkwardness and discomfort at best, but instead finding a good friend almost instantly.

The joy of being alone, and finding out that, yes, after a journey of eleven years, each year a thousand years long, Jeff was still there.

And the joy of suddenly, stunningly, no longer being alone…

Each new joy an ocean.

A few weeks ago my girlfriend Ali took me to the Phipps Conservatory of Pittsburgh, a huge complex of greenhouses and gardens right near the middle of the city. Here it was much easier to feel the delight of the plants inside – not only in being carefully tended and cultivated, but in having visitors come and appreciate them and release their negative energy. They fairly radiated their joy, and we walked around in a daze of rapturous blossoms.

There is one room I remember especially, the cactus room. Here my sense of release and exhalation was particularly strong. There was one cactus in particular – a huge fellow, like a bush of long fleshy leaves, each leaf’s edge studded with spikes; and I could almost hear him call out for me to come closer. I did, and it seemed for all the world like he was holding out one long leaf for me to look at. The leaf was broad and trough-like, and held within it a long, shallow pool of precious water. “Look!” he seemed to be saying, delighted as a child. “Look at my treasure!”

It is sometimes cold outside the conservatory, but the sun shines nevertheless, the plants turning their leaves as best they can, following its march to the zenith and back. The plants, like me, follow the sun; for the sun, like me, is an uprooted wanderer.

5 responses to “Uprooted”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this profoundly inspiring story!


  2. Hey Jeff,

    It surprises me how much power and liberation the telling of this story projects. I know these are deeply personal issues for you. Thanks for sharing.


  3. I’ve been gone for so long, but now I’m back and so I decided to wander over here to visit, and I find this post …

    I was sad then happy then sad then happy, all in the span of a few minutes as I read your words.

    😀 (I am relieved the post ended with me smiling.)


  4. My parents divorced about ten years ago. I just want to point out that i don’t like how you compare the joys of having your children, to the joys of you becoming selfish and ripping apart the lives of those same children.

    No matter how well you and your ex handled the divorce, it still affected your children and i hope you thought about that. Being alone was joyous to you. Was it joyous for your children to have less time with there father? Meeting her fiance was joyous for you. Was having another life changer and meeting a step-parent joyous for your children? When you have kids you make a commitment to put there well being before your own. Just some thoughts…


    1. Skeptic, of course I thought about the effect on my children. My parents divorced when I was 6, so I knew exactly what my kids were in for. My mother and father were a rotten match for each other, and if they had stayed together, my life would have been much worse. I know that my children’s lives are better, too. The best thing, I think, is that they now have *four* parents, each of whom is in a happy, deep, committed, monogamous relationship. Ironically enough, I now spend *more* time with them, since I see them three or four weekends a month, one-on-one, instead of just an hour or two in the evenings. (Before the divorce I rarely got to spend much time with them on weekends because of work and other commitments, which I now take care of during the week.)


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