Friday, March 22, 2013

Hashtag Trigger Warning

I heard rumors that they were back, that tufts of bluebonnets had been spotted around town at such-and-such intersection or over in that vacant lot by the new shopping center.  But they weren't back in my field, not yet anyway.

In my field, the one I run past several times a week, the old husks of last year's wildflowers had gone pale and silvery, and they shimmied eerily like ghosts in the winter wind.  The dark underbrush beneath those pale wisps gave the field an otherworldly quality, and I would always get a haunting,  empty feeling as I jogged past.


When I ran toward my field this week, I could tell from several houses away that it was still barren and restless.  I saw those silvery strands from far off, tops undulating like ocean waves over that dark underbrush.  The backs of near-identical suburban houses keep watch over this little section of undeveloped land, hemming in this field I have never stepped foot in but have peered deep into, watching the silvery stalks as if waiting for revelation to materialize there.  Just wishing for a crystal ball, I suppose.  Or a burning bush, an angel, anything concrete to make sense of all the mess in my head.

Just one house away from the field, the broken body of a single bluebonnet lay freshly trampled on the sidewalk.  But my field was just a grey graveyard beneath the fading blue of a pre-dusk sky and so the bluebonnet must have made its trek from one of those other rumored spots only to be left here to die under the heels of those of us who pass this field on foot.

And it felt like one of those illustrations that get used in sermons, the barren field still grey and lifeless when its cousins were alight with spring.  Death where there could be life.  But I wasn't interested in any clever illustration because I knew which side I was on in this story.  There's a reason I call this place my field.

Usually my best prayers are breathed while I'm out there flirting with an asthma attack on the  sidewalks of my neighborhood.  But that day I was as empty as that field, heavy with the weight of violence done in the world, violence reported everywhere you look, violence hashtagged on Twitter and posted on Facebook and talked about on NPR and filmed on all the worthless news stations.

That day I was numb from the violence done in Steubensville, in India, in everywhere all at once.  I was numb from seeing the word r-a-p-e everywhere I looked because even all these years later, I cannot read the word that describes what was done to those girls without feeling like the wind has been kicked out of me. For those of us who have lived that word, it can never just be a news story.  It is always about us, too, somehow, and it can plunge us back into the abyss of our memories so fast that we don't even remember how we got there.

I ran past that field half blinded with tears of exhaustion and frustration and anger, thinking that I was like that field, that on some level I would always feel like a barren husk of a thing. I ran past wishing for a day when we could all stop seeing that word, when we could stop aching for Jane Does, when we would no longer find ourselves writing things with trigger warnings at the top.

And then I hit my halfway point, and I turned around to head for home. That's my routine most days: run half the distance I want to hit and then turn around and double back on my path.

The first thing I noticed when I turned was one of those unbelievable, flamboyant, red and purple sunsets that fills the sky.  It had been building behind me, swelling quietly to overtake the western horizon.  The clouds were like swirling tufts of fire, and I laughed a little to myself that maybe this was as close to a burning bush as I was going to get. 

But I was wrong.

Because as I ran back by my field, my feet came to an abrupt full stop.  From this direction, the wind hit the field from a different angle and revealed more about the dark underbrush growing beneath the tall, silver stalks.  The head of a bluebonnet appeared and then disappeared.  No, not one, dozens.  No, hundreds or perhaps thousands.  Beneath the pale winter grass, an army of bluebonnets was already in full bloom, reaching up, ready any day to take back that field.

Look, I don't want to make this over simplistic.  Life where it seemed there was only death and all that.  I don't want to imply that once I was hurt and now I've been fixed. That a sunset and some unexpected flowers took away my ache for what I've experienced and what too many others have experienced and the casual way we all talk about this stuff like it's news and not the scattered pieces of someone's mangled life.

This is not simple.  I am not a barren field, left to lie fallow while all the other fields are lit up with spring.

But there is something there, in this analogy.  Because how much more do those bluebonnets mean when they are the last thing you expect to see?  Because just when I want to give up on myself and all of humanity, too, while I'm at it, I see how we are both.  The broken and the healed, the dead of winter and the bright warmth of spring.  The walking wounded.

Just when I am ready to stop believing, always, every single time, the top of some impossible bloom pokes its head up and reminds me of the endless hope of our condition. 

I knew there was a reason I call this place my field.





Second image credit, used under Creative Commons license.  Image one courtesy of my iPhone.




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