Before I even had the crazy notion of starting a blog, I was obsessed with the idea of my life being in a ruined state. If I were a painter, I could paint the scene of ground zero, of utter desolation, and complete destruction, with very little remains of the life I had and the person I once was. So often we think of ourselves as invincible. We are inclined to believe that bad things happen to others, but never to us, that every conflict will all work out in the end with swelling orchestral music as the credits begin to roll. While it’s easy to blame the media for such lies, without hope, we become truly lost. Balancing realism with optimism is delicate and difficult.
I was an optimist for as long as I can remember. I believed in fairy tale endings and subscribed to the notion that “everything will work out.” I bought real estate in the clouds and built my castles there. This was my reality – this glorious, dazzling kingdom of “love conquers all” and “happily ever after.” To be sure, there were dragons walking about, threatening to rain fire, but I defied them until they eventually went away, my kingdom still relatively intact. Repairs were minor and often cosmetic. Life was good here, safe from all the bad things that happen to others. And although I never considered myself “immune,” or in any way extraordinary than the people who had seen more than their fair share of hard times, more or less I did truly believe everything would be okay.
But life is not a movie or a book. Life is a series of events. Some are tied together, yes. Every action has a reaction, and so on. But then some things just happen without explanation, without warning. Good events we call “blessings.” But the bad events are like atom bombs dropped out of the sky, unforeseen and thus unavoidable. I’m not talking about minor issues, such as a bad day at work or losing your wallet. I’m talking about losing a person, specifically, a child. Really, losing anyone close to us is truly terrible. But there is nothing like losing a child. It is its own special kind of demoralizing, heartbreaking, dreadfully grievous loss that brings years of mental and emotional anguish, and steals innocence away – and that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
The definition of ruins is “the physical destruction or disintegration of something or the state of disintegrating or being destroyed.” When you think of ruins, if you’re like me, you think Ancient Rome or perhaps the ruins of another city buried by sand and time. But ruins are everywhere. They could be an abandoned house on some lonely country road, decaying from neglect. They could be the crumbling buildings and scattered debris after a tornado or earthquake. But most of us have ruins within our hearts that are unseen from human eyes, from a failed relationship, to a broken family, or even the diagnosis of a crippling lifelong disease. Some ruins we can abandon or perhaps rebuild. Others we just have to live with, or even in.
Recently I visited Yosemite National Park for the first time. People said it was “pretty.” No one told me it was breathtakingly beautiful, life-changing, stunning. And yet here I found myself strangely familiar with its story, how the great force of some unavoidable occurrence carved its mountains and terrain, filling its canyons with ice and wiping out an entire ecosystem. The face of the land changed forever, and the evidence remains. These are ruins, too.
Here in its lush valleys, between its steep canyons, and along its mighty waterfalls, I found a home for my thoughts and emotions from my own set of ruins, from a heart so full and broken there seemed not space large enough to hold its contents. But in the yawning majesty and vastness of that park, I found a place for everything, and I could hardly pull myself away. I felt at home in the shadows of its mountains, the scars on which still shine in the sun. They mirrored my own, though mine are still fresh and new. Still, it gave me hope that one day my ruins will not forever be a desolate wasteland, but a place in which love, kindness, and compassion will grow and flourish, and somewhere others need not be afraid to visit, and I will not be afraid to show.
“These stunning ruins” is a line from a song. This particular song wrestles with the feelings in a failed relationship, but the idea of such ruins being “stunning” resonated with me personally. So many of us have our own stunning ruins. Thank you for visiting mine.
The song is called “Bride and Groom” by The Airborne Toxic Event. You can listen to it here: