If your dreams don’t scare the hell out of you, then they’re not big enough.
— Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, first female president on the African continent (Liberia)
How do you believe when you cannot believe?
When a loved one dies by suicide, we tend to measure time in the before and after … Despite many hardships I’d endured and injustices I’d witnessed, before Jacob died, I believed that anything could happen if you just had enough clarity, vision, and belief–to “manifest” it, as spiritualists would say, or accept a gift from God, as the spiritual would say. I share this with you in the hope that both you and I can once again find the personal power to effect miracles.
Bringing in the Magic
It is during the times in my life when I fully believe in possibility that magical things have happened. Something comes over me, a certainty. It feels like happy arrogance: Nothing can stand in my way, and I absolutely deserve to receive beyond my wildest dreams.
However, right now, faith remains for me as elusive as a butterfly landing in my palm. When in doubt, I reach, grasp, clamor, and cry, desperately wishing to recapture that surefire feeling that all is well, and I am worthy, and all the powers of the divine and Earth are playing a symphony of synchronized steps toward the unfolding of my dream.
I just don’t know how to tap into that power anymore.
Emerging from Ennui
These days, many daily challenges block my access to faith. My immune system has weakened from COVID and I struggle with long-term symptoms. My extended family disintegrates into dysfunction and broken relationships following the recent deaths of our aged parents. The savings I’d scrimped so hard to accumulate has shrunk drastically, as both stocks and bonds plummet. War persists in Europe, starvation in Africa, racial injustice everywhere, and the climate crisis seems irreversible.
I have the blues, and right now I can’t find a source for hope.
So I go back to ritual, to the elements that have sparked my spirit in the past. I set out fresh candles and light them in the softness of dusk. I summon something in me that runs deeper than physical pain and mental ennui, to rise above the collective depression of our society. I mull over all the magic I’ve made in the past, peak experiences rising out of the loneliness and despair in-between, and I believe I must have learned something about how to co-create with the divine what I wish from life.
Something inside me wants to fly free, and go.
Faith–Elusive as a Butterfly
Obviously, clutching is the last way to encounter the butterfly. Rather, I must have enough confidence and calmness to stand still, laughing on the inside and feeling how much the butterfly wishes to alight on my hand.
The knowing and the happening converge in an instant of bliss, and the wings flutter right to me, and the tiny feet alight on my open palm. I stare in awe and appreciation as she folds her wings up and closed, down and open, and I am her lucky host and also her magnet. I have drawn her to me at the same time as she has expressed her free will by coming to me.
This is how miracles happen.
Once upon a time, as I stood on the sand in a dreamy beach town in California, a blue-and-black butterfly literally did pause for a few seconds to sit on my outstretched hand. Maybe the insect came to show me what was coming, for soon afterward, I moved to that town, to a majestic home made of windows and balconies overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and began a new era of freedom and adventures as a woman, mother, and writer.
While I can’t pin it down (any more than I would wish to pin the butterfly), the process seems to go this way: fervent belief in the dream, then confident assurance that I deserve it, followed by a casual tossing it aside to get back to daily life–i.e., letting go.
Getting the job that had my stomach in knots, getting into the graduate program that was my “moonshot,” nabbing editing and writing projects, traveling to exotic places, and maybe most of all, meeting my heartmate in midlife–all have derived from this same process of belief and release, belief and release.
Finding Magic in a Shattered Life
It’s not naivety that we need, in order to believe in miracles. I lost mine as a very young woman who lived through poverty and violence, abandonment and fear.
By sheer faith, I pulled myself out of that cruel existence and into a new, educated, professional, exciting, abundant life.–But it’s not that simple.
Tragedy exists exactly parallel to joy. While I was giving birth to three beautiful sons, they were already suffering from genetic mental illnesses that only festered under their father’s verbal and physical abuse. Even while I worked and saved and helped my kids through college, I lost one to estrangement and another to suicide, and the third moved far away to try and heal himself. Even though I met and married the love of my life, we struggle with challenges that persist right in the midst of that love.
My partner says, there will always be dysfunction, problems, and even trauma, going on; it’s just a matter of how you manage it, and how you work around it to carry on with your chosen life. And our relationship proves his point, because we have been through more happiness than I ever imagined, all while losing our son Jacob to suicide and our four elderly parents to timely yet grieved deaths. We lost that seaside home and a big chunk of our savings. We struggle with various health issues and family fissures along with pandemic anxiety and sociopolitical unrest. ‘Tis life.
When I’m feeling that loss of faith, the last thing I want to hear is good advice about how I ought to try meditating, journaling, talking with a counselor, or doing good deeds for others. All good ideas, true–but not helpful when one is in a slump. Sometimes, we simply need to be slumped, escape into a book or movie, eat comfort food, and coil deep down inside ourselves in order to recreate. Similar to the process of metamorphosis from caterpillar into butterfly, we can hunker down and get quiet, shut out the harmful world, and wait. Because transformation WILL occur. The healing power of nature will prevail.
And then we will emerge, fragile, yet all the more beautiful for having dissolved. And we will be ready to fly.
I walk and listen in the forest, alongside the sea, and on the quiet streets of our neighborhood, and I think, we are all here to make our dreams come true.
I light the “Jacob candle” and think of all he would have wanted for me.
And I wonder if maybe, just by breathing in the possibility of magic, I can bring it back. Maybe even in the midst of my shattered life, I can reassemble what remains into a miracle of what’s next.