Ana sat crumpled at the foot of the hill, a royal blue stone cupped in her hand. Exhausted in mind and body, she couldn't find the energy to walk up the path as she did everyday. She had lost the impetus to continue. She had lost her way. It simply felt too difficult to carry on with her mission. The meaning of it had slipped out of her grasp.
No matter what the weather, Ana had treked up to the top of the hill to place a stone she had carefully chosen and carried onto the pile which had accumulated over time. This was her lifework. She loved her stones and usually took pleasure in choosing the ones who spoke to her. Over the years, she came to believe stones were a home for spirits. They individually held ancestral stories. They were our collective legend.
Her best days were when Ana discovered a diamond in the rough......a stone which resonated heat from its core when she cupped it in the palm of her hand. She called those ones "touchstones" because they seemed to carry lovewisdom in them, derived from living in the heart of eternity. Touchstones, she believed held the stories from the past......full of ancestral feelings. Through her eyes, the collection she had accumulated was a living piece of art....a choir. Recently, the stones had become silent. Her mission, she questioned.
There were days when she would fill a whole basket full of stones and carry them up the hill. Most days, however, she journeyed with a single solitary one, like the blue gem she was holding onto. All of them were uniquely imperfect and multi-coloured.....some with pink coral bits of quartz that sparkled in the sunshine, some more muted in a rich brown like the cliffs that framed the river below. One at a time, she would place them onto the evergrowing, everchanging pile, and step back to see how her work had shaped a difference. The hill was indeed growing, as was the sculpture of stone spirits. It had felt right. Her sense of purpose filled her with a productive connection to the rest of the world, that this is what she was put on this planet to do.
Today, she had lost her footing. Her shoes were worn, full of sole stabbing pebbles. Sadly, it also seemed silly all of a sudden, and this awareness tripped her own spirit with used up air. So many people had questioned her lifework over the years, had put up boulders along her path but she was always able to overcome whatever the obstacle. Her optimism and focus usually slayed the negativity and doubt. "A ghost just needs a home....." was her reply.
For some reason though, the opponent's words now haunted her thoughts and the more she listened to them replay in her head, the more she felt rejected. She looked at her worn scarred hands dried and cracked from the salty grit, remnants of her labours, her nails chipped and ugly and was overwhelmed by a sense of futility. Misunderstood and unloved, that's how she felt. Her mission rejected. Her person rejected. When did her own self entwine with her mission? When did they become one in the same? She didn't have the answer.
As she sat in a heap afternoon, Ana looked at the last touchstone she had discovered. It was a smooth blue stone with white cracks etched on its surface. Its size fit perfectly in her palm, but it was far from perfect. In fact, it held character.......with chipped edges softened by the tides. This one she had carried with her for a long time. For some reason, she couldn't part with it. Instead, she had kept it tucked in her pocket for company.
So, as she sat questioning whether or not this truly was her legend or whether it was about to change, she found herself clutching onto the blue stone rubbing it's softness., hoping the spirit it held would speak reassurances. She ran her fingers unconciously over its fissures feeling the warmth generated from her touch. It helped her surrender her worries to the air around her. The more she repeated the movement, the more she could feel her muscles relax and her mind clear.
Time stretched on unnoticed as Ana found comfort in her meditation.....so much so that she was startled completely when she looked up and saw a man hiking down the hill close to the path she used everyday. In all of her days working on her mission, she had never seen anyone else on her hill. But, there he was. His steps seemed light and energetic, his arms swinging in purposeful motion. Continuing to stare at him like he was an apparition, Ana stood up to greet him as he reached the bottom of the hill.
"Have you been to the top of the hill?" he asked smiling.
"Oh, yes," Ana replied, "I walk up every morning," her reason kept silently in her pocket cupped in her hand. "And you? Is this your first time hiking in this area? I'm surprised I have never seen you before."
"You've seen the altar then?" he asked boldly.
Before she could overcome her confusion and gather her thoughts he continued...."Our paths probably havent crossed because I always take my walk at this time of day after I've finished my work. I find this is when the angle of the afternoon sun gives the altar a warm welcoming glow. Somehow, the stones someone has placed together comes alive and sings to me...." The look on Ana's face must've made the man realize she didn't know what he was referring to. He continued..."you have seen the altar, right?"
"No, well yes I have," blurted Ana, "it's just that I see it as a piece of artwork and nothing more."
"Oh, it's much more than that. Maybe you've never experienced the feeling because you're usually here in the morning" he reassured her. "Someone has worked very hard to build a beautiful chantry and at this time of day, when the sun warms and reflects its light off the golden touchstones the spirits share their wisdom with me. I hope you don't think I'm crazy, but I have found a place where I can lay my worries, where I can relax. It is where I come to pray everyday. It's where I give thanks."
"The stones speak to you? You pray there and give thanks?" Ana asked a bit dumbfounded. He tentatively nodded, unsure as to how this woman was receiving the informaton he shared with her.
"They speak to me too," she admitted...." which is why I have walked up this hill everyday with a new stone in my pocket to add to my art. I wanted to give the ancestral stories they hold a home."
"You built the altar?"
Ana nodded tentatively. "I never saw it as an altar. I saw it as spirit sculpture."
"Your piece of art is a place of worship. It is beautiful! Oh! I want you to see it with new eyes and in a new light....come with me," he said with the excitement of a young boy who has just discovered an abandoned treefort.
As they walked up the hill, the sun warming their backs, Ana explained why she was there at a different time of day. She also shared with the man how lost she had felt because her sense of purpose seemed futile to her now. She told him she was going to give up on her mission....and was so worried about what she would do next. He listened without judgement and only asked a few questions as a way to help her find her words.
It was a different path than Ana had travelled on every single day so when they reached the summit, she was approaching it from a new angle. So, as soon as the stones came into her sight, Ana stopped abruptly and looked directly at the pile of stones which suddenly had transformed from an abstract piece of art to what the man had described. She saw the altar. Not only that, she heard the choir of spirits reflected from the afternoon sun.
Smiling, she approached her loving stones....the ones she had given a home to....and knelt down in front of them. The man knelt down beside her and quietly whispered...."You may have started your lifework by providing a place where the stories could find a home, but somewhere along the line, your mission changed.....you have built yourself one."
"I see that now......I see that now...."
Ana bowed her head that day and prayed the only two words needed in prayer.
I wrote this piece over a year and a half ago. I was in a very different place and it entailed sitting at the bottom of a hill wondering what the purpose was of my writing and the obsession with it.
We begin projects (ie blogging) with clarity of purpose and so often we lose the thread which ties us to the original reason. Or perhaps the reason for the journey begins to take on a different meaning. For so long, I saw myself as a "collector of stories." The stories others shared had a home within me. They had a voice too when I became a storyteller. I am a counsellor and a writer. My blog is the temporary home I chose to collect my "touchstones..." I set out to create a piece of art through my writing. I now see that I have been building an altar. Today for the first time, I see this.
Amazing grace. How sweet the sound.
Somewhere along the line, as I collected and shared.....the meaning of my work, the direction of my journey began to take on a new shape as I realized the touchstones in my life have been providing me with lessons and have pointed out the direction of a new path. Though it is still a bit blurry.....my vision needs some adjusting, I am finally seeing that perhaps I need to personally find an altar I can call home.
It wont be a traditional one. I ain't a traditional kind of gal. I clearly don't see myself studying to become a Minister working within the walls of a church. I'd rather be out in the forests looking for waterfalls and talking to lost waifs. I see myself facilitating...... up in front of others. My vision however, always begins at the source of my writing. This is what will lead me. This blog is where I found my voice.
I have a long way to go.....and I don't know the way or even how to go about it. But I do see it and my God, I'm blessed with the guidance of many to help me along the way. It is what I want. The spirit in me just needs a home. The foundation is set. I am unstuck walking up that hill, a blue touchstone in my hand. Let the choir sing.