Featured photo: A little girl on a path with her stuffed lion. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
“Each morning, we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” ~ Buddha
“Does the walker choose the path or the path the walker?” ~ Garth Nix
The Tightrope and the Path: A Story
There once was a little girl, who had hopes and dreams that were as high as the sky. Her mind floated loftily in daydreams, the clouds were her friends, and gloriously-white sparkly unicorns lived there, amidst pots of gold, and rainbows. Pastel chalks colored everything in pinks and blues. The little girl spent most of her time up there, happily, as her feet traipsed the Path below. But one day, everything changed. Abuse began in her home, flinging her off the Path as though someone had shaken out the tapestry of the Earth, and she was as light as an ant. She was sent flying through the air, and when she landed, three years later, she was far from the Path and she did not know how to get back.
As the little girl grew into adolescence, and then young-womanhood, she found herself navigating through bogs, sand-traps, and forests full of monsters, but as long as she walked on the Tightrope, she remained alright. The Tightrope was strung between posts that were major turning-points in her life: moving to a new town, living with her grandparents, going into “the system,” and marrying the bad boy – who walked his own frayed Tightrope and fell off it consistently. Other posts her Tightrope was strung along were when she was to have children of her own, losing them when she left her husband and hometown to save herself, making a new marriage, and becoming a grandmother. I would like to say that she never fell off the Tightrope, but sometimes she did – never far – never far enough not to get back up on it and keep walking; but fall, she did, and more than once – usually while running, when she forgot to tread carefully.
The young woman’s walk on the Tightrope was accompanied by piano music, drawings, paintings, and even sculpture; as well as poetry and stories. These were things she could hold onto, helping to keep her balanced on the rope. When she was touching these things, she could not fall; they were her safety while she navigated some of the hardest terrain in her world. More and more frequently, as she got older, the Tightrope was slick with alcohol – saturated with it – and instead of piano music, she often heard party music. Both helped her forget the long journey; the Tightrope itself; and her fading hopes.
Below the Tightrope, dangers threatened; people were always trying to lure her down off her rope to play with them – dangerous games; illegal games – and sometimes, they just wanted to gobble her up. More than once, in her youth, when she had forgotten why she was walking the Tightrope and stepped off it for a moment, their long claws had raked her flesh and left their scars. In the end, she had always picked herself up and got back on the rope. Sobbing, she would put one foot in front of the other, seek out her piano music, art, and writing, and would try to stabilize herself. Looking inside herself for her strength, she would start inching forward again, often while pushing her mind forcefully back into those clouds from childhood, where the unicorns now had grey hair, the gold was fool’s gold, the rainbows were made of mud, and the pastel chalks had turned to dust. But that twisting of her beautiful imaginings would only last a moment before flickering back to what she remembered from childhood, as she forced things back into their proper colors and shapes through sheer, determined will.
There came a time when, as she walked her Tightrope – after having walked it for ever-so-long, and the dawn of her thirties having just arrived – the woman found that someone had come to the side of the rope and was waiting for her. It was a man, and he was walking the Path, and although she could see that there was the Path she had searched her whole life for, she did not consciously recognize it for what it was. She continued to walk on her Tightrope alongside him, as her rope and his Path aligned with each other as far as the eye could see. Subconsciously, of course, she did see the Path and wanted to be on it very much – this was part of what made the man attractive to her. Still, her mind rebelled – she had come to trust her Tightrope and did not dare to leave it. The rope became more saturated with alcohol, and was often still accompanied by party music.
One day, after walking on her Tightrope alongside the man on the Path for six years, she realized that she was painfully unhappy. Not willing to look at the Tightrope she was walking, she looked instead at the man on the Path and thought it was his fault. They were too different, walking two different ways. They were not going to last: the only thing that was consistent in her life, it seemed, was the Tightrope. That’s what would last, not him. She lost faith, and she urged her Tightrope to turn away from him. She could change the course of her Tightrope sometimes, if she willed it hard enough. Her Tightrope left its parallel alignment beside his Path and headed for California, where, away from his Path, the woman found that she was still just as miserable. Even worse, the alcohol-and-party-music-soaked Tightrope was beginning to fray as her Depression and Anxiety ate at it like acid. She knew the rope was going to snap if she kept going in this direction.
She stopped on the Tightrope and looked down closely at the rope. How, she wondered, did I expect myself to be happy when I am doing this to myself? She looked at the shiny alcohol coating the rope; dipping her finger into it, she realized it smelled like hangovers and years of lost time. The party music began to sound like carnival music does after eating too much cotton-candy – sickening. As she stood there, she remembered with vivid imagery, the bright and shiny-white Path she had been walking on as a child, and her heart longed for it anew. I have to do better, she told herself. I cannot be happy if I don’t reach for things I want and risk failure; I should at least try to live up to my potential. I am wasting my life! It dawned on her that just stumbling along the Tightrope without a plan for the future and aiming to forget all about the Path, through alcohol and a party environment, was not enough – and without the dream of the Path and the promise it offered, there was no point in her life. Well, she knew and loved someone who was walking on the Path, didn’t she? Her mind fully and consciously recognized the Path he was walking on, for the first time. She would go back and ask him if he would accept her again. Of course, she knew that she couldn’t just go back and walk the Tightrope next to him, again – she had to cut the rope and get on the Path with him. This meant change, and change was scary, but the condition of her Tightrope and what it indicated about her future was even scarier. She was going to fall for sure if she stayed on her rope.
The woman turned her Tightrope back to the man on the Path – luckily, she had not gone too far or for too long. Still, he had started sawing at the Tightrope post nearest his Path with a Sawzall called Divorce, and she had accepted that, before now. Now, she realized she did not accept it! She aimed her Tightrope right for his Path, and when she reached where the two intersected, he held out his hand to her and she jumped off her rope and onto his Path. She turned around, and cut the rope. Together, the two walked hand in hand down the Path, and the frayed end of her Tightrope, dragging in the dirt, was left behind to wither; to grow gray and decayed, as it was meant to do.
Along the Path, she was surrounded by new things – community college followed by university; lots of art; lots of music created on her own piano; poetry; stories; gardening; and a lot of love. She was happy, and she knew she was lucky – not only that the man had let her join him, accepting her; loving her – but also in the fact that many people, when thrown off the Path, do not find it again. She had been thrown off the path at eight years old. She came back to it at thirty-seven. But oh! How bright her future now was! The white fluffy clouds accompanied her, along with her unicorns, and beautiful dragons, too; her rainbows were there with their pots of gold, and everything was highlighted in pastel chalks. Now, she knew these things were not merely for her own comfort; her imagination was a gift. It had helped her to survive. More than that, it would be the food for the stories she would write.
One day, that woman will write her stories down for others – especially for those who, like herself, have been flung off the Path, and are spending their lives on the Tightrope – especially for the young and innocent who don’t understand how they landed where they are, and who feel fearful or hopeless. To them, most of all, she wants to bring comfort; to tell them it will be okay, they aren’t alone, and that there is often an end to having to walk that Tightrope. While many people don’t find the Path again, many do. Their Path may not look like the woman’s, but it will be bright and beautiful, and will show them the right way. While on the Tightrope, there are many sparkling mirages, and by the time the people walking the rope see the real thing, they may be jaded to all the glitter and pomp of the original idea, and may turn away. That is the thing to beware of most of all, because turning away from the Path, once found again, is what seems to lead to ultimate unhappiness; and to ruin and falling off the Tightrope, entirely. This is why the woman wants to bring hope to those still walking the Tightrope. She is back on the Path and moving into her future, but she remembers that, while on her Tightrope, she was not all alone – there were others walking their Tightropes alongside hers.
Most of all, there were people who tried to help her to the Path along the way, even when she couldn’t see what their aims were, or felt suspicious of them. She stubbornly kept to her own way, so she knows, first-hand, not to push. She still wants to offer a hand to those who are currently walking their ropes, though – to give them hope, to sit alongside them and remind them that there is an end – even when they cannot yet see it for themselves. She wants to remind them of their imaginations, and how imagination helps to sustain us; to keep us alive while we walk, wherever we are walking.
The woman in this story is me, and to all of you who are walking that Tightrope, you are not alone. Do not give up hope; there is an end to it, and I embrace you now, in my heart. Make friends with the clouds in your imagination; find your unicorns; seek those pots of gold; believe in the rainbow; keep your hope alive; and remember to nurture love in your heart, for it will sustain you through all ills, preventing the monsters of Bitterness and Despair from making a home in your core. Love is your armor against Darkness; Love helps to ensure your survival by breathing life into Hope.
© Lorraine Hall 2018
Photos courtesy of Pixabay and Anita Kuhn