“Each life must find its true threshold, that edge where
the individual gift fits the outer hunger and where
the outer gift fits the inner hunger.”
John O’Donohue in Angeles Arrien’s The Second Half of Life
When we are on the cusp of a threshold, making a commitment, finding a new way, it’s helpful practice to reflect on and pay tribute to our allies. These are the beings – human and non human, animate and inanimate, living or passed – whose shoulders we stand on, whose backs shore up ours, whose energy, image and guidance we call upon, who walk beside us to remind and help us call forth our resiliency, talents, and wisdom.
In December when I participated in my first ever writers’ retreat hosted by StoryCatcher Christina Baldwin and TravelPoet Kristie McLean, at Aldermarsh on Whidbey Island, one of our first acts of creative expression was to create a visual collage in tribute to, and then write about our allies for this endeavor.
I love collage, particularly when I’m not fixed in my ideas of what I want to create, what images and words I need to find to make the “right” representation. So that evening, as the heavy grey day gave way unnoticeably to night, with no particular ally in mind, I skimmed through a few magazines, borrowed scissors and glue, tore and cut to create a circle of images and words that I would then fold and keep in my writing journal. Here is what I wrote, inspired by the words I found:
The Prayer to a Changing Woman
Sifting through ashes of the lightning struck tree
the long trail of water…
A work of art – an intolerable beauty.
By that I mean a beauty that does not, will not tolerate.
A beauty that claims the secret canyon of a woman’s body, of my body
In and down
Through and beyond
Into the ground
Up through the sky.
Where the true meaning of the sacred and mundane
are captured in the dog’s kiss upon my own lips.
Her solemn eyes gazing at me, into me
beseeching me to understand and appreciate
animal and people together and that everyone (and every being) is
the age of their hearts.
And at the centre of this circle
spiralling out, weaving words and images
The Garden of Divinity,
a place of solace and strength and surrender.
What surprised me – ahhhh, the gift of emergence – was that our Annie dog appeared as my ally. She came to us four years ago during a summer of deep upheaval. I had returned from three months’ travelling to learn my position at the school board, the work I had created and in which I thrived, had been abolished, and that my new “no choice” assignment would become the catalyst for my departure a year later. Our Lady dog, who for a week was on death’s door during my last trip to Italy, and for whom I prayed at a sacred pilgrimage site of Santuario Santa Rosalia Monte Pellegrino in the mountains of Palermo, Sicily, rallied until my return and then passed mid summer. Just a few weeks later we received the urgent call, “If you want another dog, you need to get her now,” as his wife’s health was being seriously challenged. I didn’t want another dog. I wasn’t ready for a kennel dog who wasn’t house trained. I didn’t know how our aging Peggy dog would cope. But we did – ahhhh, the gift of resiliency – and Annie proved to be an attuned, respectful companion to the elder, small but sovereign alpha Peggy until she passed last spring, probably giving her more life and years. Today, sovereign in her own way, Annie has become my companion, laying beside me as I work in our office, or when I sit in the sanctuary of our living room, reminding me to take time to play and walk with her.
In a month’s time, I will be co-hosting Soul Spark, an intimate retreat for ten men and women, who know this is the time to reflect on and discern wise action to creating a work-life aligned with intention and their heart’s desire. A time to discover their life’s “true threshold.” There, I will be an ally for each of them in the space and time we are together, by virtue of creating a safe and respectful space for solitude and companioning, and designing a process that gently invites and inquires into what really matters for them, now.
While we must each walk the path of our own life, it’s good to have allies to walk by our side. And too, as David Whyte reminds us in his essay on Friendship, it’s good to be an ally, to “have accompanied another for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.”