His heart was made for the open road, a testament to a time when brave folks crossed vast wildernesses with no promise of refuge on the other side. I often passed him on some forgotten highway or other, the black tarmac stretching toward the horizon in either direction. Empty countryside all around. He’d be cruising along on his steel horse, throwing a wave my way with dark exhaust marking his progress against the open sky. Or he’d be parked up on the shoulder a ways from the road, campfire blazing beneath a night full of stars, companions all around. Like one of those cowboys back in the day, he was prepared to go great distances pursuing the journey of knowing himself and God’s purpose for him. Well-traveled and the wiser for the wandering.
You could say she was the glue that held things together, because she had a way of seeing which folks belonged where and setting them in their rightful places. Which was to say, connecting them to each other and keeping them that way. But glue can dissolve and hers was a more permanent effect than that. She had the deft finesse of a needle and thread, stitching along the jagged edges of torn up bits of fabric. When she was done piecing the disparate qualities of her friends together, I could see her vision in the whole—a smooth, harmonious quilt, ragged sides lined up with their uneven matches. The only distraction was the stitches, gone every which way in the quest to sew up the most wayward of tears. But this resulted in a marvelous, complex design, unique in its lack of repeating patterns. That essence, her creativity and her commitment, was what made the entire cloth beautiful.
Just as a skeleton supports the human frame, she was the scaffolding upon which her life was built. All steel and all bone. If she could believe in nothing else, she could put faith in herself, for she was made with the strength to withstand the northern sea. An island, upon which she grew a family and a community, an economy of ambition and love. Storms crashed over her, but she stood fast. Waves broke upon her shores, to no avail. She sheltered her loved ones behind her indestructible ribcage, in the place where her heart beat. Under her protection, they could come to no harm.
She was a song I had heard long ago, one to which I remembered the tune, but not the words. A hazy recollection of sharp afternoon sunlight slanting across the stage where she sat cross-legged, body wrapped around an acoustic guitar. Fingers strumming the strings, gaze directed inward. We the audience might have been watching her, but she attended to the music the way she did everything: fiercely. She had a way of carving out space for herself, not waiting for permission, demanding the right to exist freely. Sometimes, when I felt hollow and uncertain myself, I hummed that tune and the notes would tether me to reality again. I think that song must have been a spell and she a bard, imparting a bit of her magic to her listeners.
She forever had her arms stretched upward toward the clouds overhead, eyes on the sky and questions on her lips. It was clear she was meant to be born with wings, because were it not for gravity, she would have taken flight and never landed again, soaring through storm and sunshine. An outline surrounded her ground-bound form, one of a mythical, multi-hued bird that you could only see through a magical lens. This bird swooped and circled the top of the highest snowclad peak, bright eyes watching you watching her.
If you could flap about a bit yourself, you might travel to her mountaintop to take a crack at her riddles. Fear not, there were no penalties for answering wrong. Her pleasure was in the asking, not the knowing—for seeking is like flying, finding like landing. But if you provided satisfactory answers, she rewarded you with a gust of wind all to yourself.
Because, you see, she wanted everyone else to fly, too.
A mysterious figure walked a wild forest path ahead of me; she had for as long as I could remember. Sedate patience was in her step, quiet, so quiet upon soft dirt. She did not forge her way forward so much as request safe passage; before her feet, the foliage shifted aside to let her through. As she passed fragile plants and skittish creatures, she disturbed neither. When she found things that did not belong—garbage, traps, pollution—her delicate touch righted the wrong and restored life to the earth. She whispered kind words to flowers and whistled to the twittering birds above.
I walked the path she had already created, admiring her handiwork in her wake. How brave she was to traverse this deep wilderness alone. Sometimes darkness loomed in the shadows all around us, but as I groped along in the night, the green light of a lantern bobbing ahead kept my feet from straying into danger. At times, she became so distant that I could no longer see her. But when I began to endanger the forest around with my clumsy ways, I recalled her serenity. She may not have known I was back there, following her footsteps, but she was my reminder: to be gentle and brave, just like her.
This is a true story of an almost-assassination: mine. When I was just setting out on my journey, I apprenticed myself to a professional king-killer. For someone purported to move unseen in the shadows, she had a glamorous air about her. But since she used the same black ink for a weapon that I did, we got along rather well and I learned much about the trade from her.
Early on in my apprenticeship, I (perhaps foolishly) revealed to her my weakness: a nut allergy. I’m not sure if it was before or after that when she regaled me with a story of how she had impersonated a king’s wife—hired because the queen in question wanted to be freed of her dreadful husband. He too had a nut allergy and the assassin proceeded to poison him with airline peanuts in his chocolate cake.
It was a clever execution, I thought, and a fate which I took steps to avoid.
But time passed after I completed my training with her. Many years later, she invited me back to her home kingdom, to attend her second wedding to the only king who could ever hold her heart (and remain alive). I was standing right next to her as I munched on the wedding cake after the ceremony and it was only when my teeth crunched down on a tree nut that I realized my mistake.
I spluttered and choked in surprise. With a single raised eyebrow, she slipped me the antidote to her poison, one she had taught me how to make. One I should have been carrying with me all along.
As I took a swallow of the life-saving liquid, I asked, “Was this a test?”
Smiling, she leaned close to me and whispered, “You still have a lot to learn.