Welcome to Day 14 of 31 Days of Kissing the Wounds, a month of posts about the beauty, longing, and soul inherent in our damaged selves; in the world’s brokenness; in the imperfection, incompleteness, and transience of all that we love; in our recognition of each other as the walking wounded; and in the jagged, messy, splintery, deformed, sullied, unhealed parts of me, you, the natural world, our communities, the culture. Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others.
Do you ever consider the major points of interest along the path of human life? Maybe it would include birth, childhood, schooling, adolescence, athletics, first love, moving out, first job, marriage or partnership, first home, children-rearing, working life or age of productivity, middle age, empty nest, retirement, old age/sage, death, after-life? Women might add the menarche, childbirth, menopause or the crone phase. There’s one school of thought that labels the stages of a man’s life as warrior, wounded, and wise.
The path for humans is a bit different from the path of life for other animals perhaps, which might have some different stages like fledging/first flight, finding one’s own territory, first kill (for predators), migration, territory battle, dominance battle, major escape from predators, matriarch or patriarch, and so on.
It’s interesting to think about what we consider the elements of a full life, or of a typical life.
“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.” — Louise Erdrich
I rather like the stages included by the folks who laid out the Path of Life Garden in Windsor, Vermont. See what you think about them, their order, and how they’re represented in sculpture and garden elements. (Photos taken in February, September, and October of the last couple of years.)
We start by walking East through the tunnel of oblivion.
Looks pretty nice out there, doesn’t it?
Birth … We are born:
Adventure! More (find your way through the maze), or Less (walk around the maze):
Even more adventurous on ice!
After we’ve made it to the center, there is a Hint for how to get back out:
The Hill of Learning, with buried granite steps indicating school milestones; or for those not into hills or formal education, there’s an “Easier Way:”
At the top of the Hill of Learning is the (white oak) Tree of Wisdom. It’s slightly concerning that this tree seems not to be in good health (look at its crown).
This gong isn’t really on the path but it’s nearby and fun to play with (is there a metaphor there?); down the slope, you catch a glimpse of Creativity:
Descending the hill, we come to Hope, with a circle of painted prayer wheels:
And nearby, a campfire area and a semicircle of metal and wood musician sculptures symbolising a time of Creativity:
Travelling alongside the Connecticut River, we come to Union, two granite posts around a millstone. But it’s not what you think: “The hole in the millstone represents the mysterious connection that exists between two beings while the mass of the stone creates a sense of separateness.”
First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes … Family, five large flat stones in a circle, where “visitors are welcome to sit in the circle with friends and family to reflect on the loved ones in their lives.” There’s another area just for “nieces and nephews” nearby.
“After creating a family, some find themselves part of a larger Community:”
Sometimes community can become overbearing, and Solitude is needed; here it’s a single stone surrounded by lilac bushes, mostly enclosed but with a “ceiling” open to the sky. I especially like the grassy pathway to it.
I shall begin scouring the sky for signs
as if my whole future were constellated upon it.
I will walk home alone with the deep alone,
a disciple of shadows, in praise of the mysteries.
— from “I Am Going to Start Living Like a Mystic,” by Edward Hirsch
Here is the path to Solitude, with Community just beyond it:.
And honeybees! Not sure what stage of life they represent, but I’m glad they’re here:
Sometimes in midlife, we might experience “a period of Ambition” — again, more or less; if you do climb to the top of the mound, you can look back and reflect on the first half of the journey.
View back to Community, Family, Union, Hope, Creativity, Tree of Wisdom:
“Continuing upriver, mid-life also brings the first taste of Sorrow” (if we’re lucky, it waits this long), which here is depicted by the frame of a Native American teepee that “embodies our collective sense of loss:”
“This is my last message to you: in sorrow, seek happiness.” — Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Joy — a garden of blueberries and raspberries to share — surrounds Forgiveness (bamboo poles reaching for the sky):
You can still see Sorrow from Joy:
We climb a gentle hill to reach Respite, a period of rest, with a hammock and picnic table in the woods near the river.
Next, Contemplation, a time to find enlightenment, with a Buddha overlooking a stone labyrinth:
The sign below says “Yield to the Present Moment.”
Yes, the time has come: A stand of large maple snags and some weeping trees is the grove of Death:
But wait, there’s more! Re-Birth, an enclosed space with birches, and stumps for taking a load off:
Finally, we re-enter the tunnel, towards the West this time, and now it’s the Gateway to Eternity:
Before we leave this unusual garden, a few more photos to give an overview and show some details. It’s the kind of place that, if I lived within a few miles of it, I might visit every every week or at least every month or season. If you get a chance, go, spend an hour or two.
Thanks for checking in. Be sure to see what the other 31 Dayers are writing about.