I am standing in the house that’s been in my family for these three decades and some change, in the town that formed my formative years. We’ve traveled here to sell the house, to say goodbye. This will be the last time we will stay here. The last time I will sip coffee while standing at the window, looking out on the neighborhood where my small feet passed daily, where I learned to ride my bike, where I pulled a rusty red wagon and played tag and scraped my knees. The last time I will have something firm and tangible to tie me to the town I called home.
The little house nestled on a quiet, tree-lined street represents so much more to me than real-estate. It’s the last tie to my childhood, the one thing still standing that bears any resemblance to how things used to be. Mine was a tumultuous childhood that ultimately ended in the destruction of our family as a unit. Some families crack and drift apart like icebergs, ours ended more like a dying star…first imploding on itself, then exploding to send far-flung pieces in all directions. Scrubbing the floors and walls of the little house in the sleepy, college town, I find myself picking through shards of memories. Cradling some, crying over others, quietly burying the shattered pieces of the past.
The work finished, we re-pack the car. I walk through each empty room, my footsteps echoing off waxed wood and lath-and-plaster walls. I run my fingers over the window sill one last time, pull the door closed, let my head rest against the cool solidness of the wood for a moment longer. We pull out of the driveway, past the quiet old neighborhoods and I fight a growing emptiness echoing in my own heart. I pray for God to show me how to say goodbye, how to use the pieces of the past to build something better for the future.
The answer comes not far down the road, as we drive through Yellowstone National Park. We pass through an area that burned in a terrible forest fire the year I was sixteen, the year before my family went supernova. “What happened here?’ gasps my youngest daughter as we pass through mile after mile of burned trees, their bleached shells pointing heavenward like boney fingers. I tell of that summer, the thick smoke that blew over us and the red glow that radiated on the horizon each night. I tell of beautiful sunsets brought on by a holocaust, the sky that burned red-gold-crimson along with the forest.
It was then that she said it. “It’s so amazing, Mommy!” I start to agree, amazing that so much devastation could occur in so short a time…but that’s not what she meant. “No, Mommy…it’s amazing that so much has grown already! Look at all the new trees, and so many different kinds!” And I look. There, under the skeleton of the old forest, grows a new and different forest. A better forest. The forest that God had planned, the one that required the destruction of the original woods in order to seed the new with better, stronger roots.
It is there, in the car, surrounded by the beauty of a young forest growing from the ruins of the old, that I make a promise. I tell God I will try, when the emptiness seems too painful, to sit still and listen for the growing of seeds, for the new thing He is making with the ashes of the old.
By Erica Hale, These Three Remain