The Weight of a Man - an Excerpt

And to think I almost forgot...    
August 14, 2022 - I spent the day with Xanthe at a Celtic retreat.  
Today was filled with laughter, tears, poetry, and song. I learned much about the Celts and myself. I never imagined that I would enjoy such an event. It’s been years since I've been out of the house, out of my comfort zone and built-up walls and defenses. Today I told myself to trust myself and to trust the process. I expected a lot of pain. What I didn't expect was freedom.      
After a short discussion on the importance of community, a brief history regarding the impact of the Celts on history, Celtic poetry and song, we were asked to introduce ourselves to the group. There were about twenty-three women in varying age ranges and socioeconomic status. I tried not to think about all of the eyes looking about the room wondering who was going to speak up first. They all seemed to stop and wait a little too long looking in my direction. After a bit of awkward silence, people began to tentatively open up and introduce themselves. My heart was beating wildly, but I knew that I had a fear to conquer. I felt like I had to say part of my story and what I hoped to get out of today. It seemed as if everything held in the balance. All the self-confidence I was trying to muster and believe in, all the self-doubt I was trying to cast aside and all of the negativity that seemed to overshadow the last twenty years. I've come this far; it would be foolish to not continue on my path of self-discovery. What good is liberation if you don't feel free?    
“Hi, my name is Cindy. I was invited to today’s retreat by my wonderful friend, Xanthe, who seems to always know what I need. You spoke about community earlier and I want to say how very fortunate I feel to be here today and part of this small gathering. I lived I social isolation for almost twenty years and two years ago, I made the decision to step out and become part of the world. It hasn't been easy, but it's been the most worthwhile journey of my life. I've met wonderful people along the way, and I've discovered the one person I never really knew much about: me. I hope to learn more about myself and my heritage today and I’m encouraged by the support that seems to be so strong in this room. You (I looked at Colin, one of the facilitators), recited a poem earlier that has stuck with me all morning. When I heard, ‘even the lowest trees have tops,’ I felt like I could breathe easier. Thank you for that and thank you for allowing me to be a part of today.”    
There was silence for a few moments and then a rush of comments: “You have support here; you are in the right place.” “You seem very outgoing. You were the first person to introduce yourself to me.” “You’re very brave.” For the first time in a long time, I felt like I belonged to something larger than myself. I didn't question whether or not I deserved the attention and support, I didn't question whether or not I could handle the perceived scrutiny, I just sat still and enjoyed the moment. Wearing my ever-present smile for the day that for once wasn't fake or half-assed.    
Then, Colin surprised us all. “We’re going for a walk in the woods, a silent walk. Take in all that you can, use all of your senses and listen to yourself. We can talk about what we find when we return.”    
I silently followed the group into the woods. I paid special attention to my surroundings, noting the way the sunlight played off the trees and tall grass and how it warmed my cheeks and arms. I worked at being present and found that it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be. I heard the shuffling of feet on grass and on gravel. The somberness struck me and made me think of my ancestors, the Cree Indians on the Trail of Tears and it prompted me to ponder suffering. Whereas I wasn’t being chased away as my ancestors had, I was being led and I thought about my journey these past twenty months. I realized that I could choose suffering as I had for so long or I could leave it all behind me. At that very instant, we walked into a clearing and the bright sunlight was almost blinding. I smiled because I felt the significance of the moment.    
After about twenty minutes, the walk began to get tiring; my breath was heavy, and I fell behind. Even though I lost a significant amount of weight, one hundred pounds is nothing to sneeze at, I was having trouble breathing. Still somewhat in the middle of the pack, I tried to keep up appearances and not let anybody see how difficult the walk really was. I looked behind me and there were about six people. You don’t have to impress anyone, this walk is for you I thought, and I stopped to pick up a skeleton leaf on the ground. I studied the intricate designs, and I became overwhelmed as I thought about the cycle of my life. So many things have happened. I’ve lived a life most people only read about and I’m still here to tell it. I held the leaf to my chest for a few minutes and then I gingerly carried it when I began to walk again. I let everyone move past me and then I deliberately walked very slowly, listening to the sounds of nature and the now easy breath exhaling from my lungs. I looked to my left and Xanthe was next to me.    
“Are you okay, Cindy?”    
“I’m staying right here. I don’t want to hear footsteps; I want to hear this,” I whispered reverently and I pointed to the trees. I closed my eyes and felt a very cathartic well of tears begin to flow, and I just let it. I opened my eyes and there was a tall beech tree in front of me. I instinctively dropped the skeleton leaf, and my mind told me that I was beginning to let go of my burdens. The large tree in front of me had a branch that seemed to be pointing to the sky and a semi-circle of smaller beech trees surrounding it. “Community,” I whispered, and Xanthe looked at my tear-stained face. She came over to hug me. She always just knows.    
Beech trees grow in clusters, with the older beech trees propagating themselves by spreading out sucker roots. All I could think about was that even the damn trees have a community and I have not for so many long years. There is a community of like-minded individuals at the retreat, there is a community in the huge apartment building I live in, my estranged family is a community, hell, Xanthe and I are our own little community if you really want to get technical, yet I don’t feel a part of any of it just quite yet. I realized that I have to make more of an effort if I want to belong, that things don't fall in your lap and anything worth fighting for is, well just that, worth fighting for. And while part of me wanted to give up and feel sorry for myself, I knew that wasn't going to get me anywhere. I still feel somewhat disconnected and lonely, but things are getting easier, I just have to hold onto that. These last twenty months have proved that I have the strength to persevere. I own that and I made a vow to myself, right there among the trees to continue to push myself and carry on. I felt very honored to be standing there with the trees that I love so much and I silently thanked them for all that they provide and were giving to me at that moment.    
“I’m going to catch up with the group. You going to be okay here?" I heard Xanthe say.      
“Yes, I will. I'll meet you back at the mansion."    
I watched her leave and listened to the faintness of her footsteps as she was walking away. My gaze shifted and I noticed a tree stump that I hadn’t seen before. I slowly walked over to it, sat down, and closed my eyes. I listened to the sounds around me and the thoughts in my head for a few minutes. The quietude was comforting and I felt a peacefulness I didn’t know I was capable of. For a moment I thought the tree stump that I was sitting on looked like the stump in the book ‘The Giving Tree’ and I waited a few seconds for it to speak to me just like the tree in the book did. Today was magical, maybe if I closed my eyes hard enough it would happen, but it did not, and I was left with just myself and my thoughts. The sun began to warm my face and I realized that my head was tilted back. For some reason unbeknownst to me, I began to smile. Then suddenly, the peace I felt was unbounded. There’s no reason to keep feeling sorry for myself. I AM still here. After everything that I’ve been through and still go through, I'm still here. It really is quite amazing when you think about it. I may need to have a lot of reinforcement when it comes to my beliefs and my goals but it’s not anything I should still be ashamed of. I’ve gotten this far, haven’t I?      
I decided I better get up and walk back to the mansion and meet everyone. I began to walk back on what I thought was the same path. Within minutes I realized that I had no idea where I was going. Trust yourself, you will find your way, I said to myself, and I just kept walking. It was hot, my back hurt and my feet hurt. I didn’t know we would be walking, so I didn’t have on the right shoes. That’s okay, because failure is not an option, I said to myself, and I laughed. Oh, this day! What a roller coaster of a day. A damn topsy turvy, twisty roller coaster ride of a day, but I'm so glad I came. Movement is not linear for me; I've come to realize that and I'm beginning to embrace it.      
“Cindy! Cindy! Cindy Jacobs! Stop!” It was Xanthe’s voice. I looked behind me and she was there.      
“I saw your red hair and I knew it was you, but you didn’t hear me calling. Damn girl, you walk fast.”    
Yes, of course she knew I needed help finding my way I couldn’t help but think and I smiled. We began laughing and walked arm in arm. I told her that she always knows what I need, and she looked dumbfounded. I then explained what happened to me in the woods. “That’s so strange because Colin was reciting a poem when I got to the group. I only heard the last line: ‘trust yourself. The forest always knows.’”    
We happened about the mansion, and quietly slithered in. The group was already back and talking. We were to sit with someone we didn’t know and talk about our walk. I spoke with a lovely woman who said that the walk made her think of her mother, and she explained their relationship and its struggle. I understood completely. She listened intently as I told her of my walk, then I said that I was afraid that I wouldn’t remember all that I wanted to of today.    
“You will remember only what you need to. You are okay,” she reassured me as she held my hand and looked into my eyes with the sincerest smile I had seen all day.    
Shortly thereafter the retreat ended. I was wiped out. It had been a long day and truth be told, for as much as I was glad that I attended, I was glad to be going home. On the way out I bought the book of poetry that Colin had written, and I asked him to sign it for me.    
When I got home, I took off my clothes, threw on the AC and got myself an iced tea. I sat on the couch and opened the book of poetry, ready to delve into Colin's words and relive the day. And then I saw it.    
“To Cindy, Even the lowest trees have tops.”    
Written by Her
Author's Note
Excerpt from my novel. I’m still deciding if it’s going to be a memoir. I originally self published on Amazon in 2022, but have since revised and it is currently being edited.
I really did live in social isolation for twenty years. The day I stepped out into the world was 2/2/20. A day I will never forget. Many of us have lives that others could never fathom. Many of us have been through hell and back many times. Writing this novel has helped me put things where they belong. In the rear view.
Thank you for reading.
It's a work in progress, but then again, so am I.
All writing remains the property of the author. Don't use it for any purpose without their permission.
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