The lights went off in the middle of Sadie’s birthday party. I hadn’t been thinking much about our batteries, or how full they were. All summer we had plenty of electricity — for the few things we use it for — and though I’ve been talking and talking about the change of seasons that doesn’t mean I was watching the sun slide so low it doesn’t fall on the solar panels for as many hours of the day.
So there we were, having a birthday dinner, and the lights went out. We lit two tall pillar candles in the middle of the table, just minutes before we lit four tiny candles on a cupcake. It all felt sort of perfect and normal, but the part where we actually ate the cupcakes was kind of dark.
But we went right on, eating cupcakes in the dark the way we do, and also we had ice cream, which Nick had brought from town with dry ice to keep it frozen. This is for us a literally once a year occasion, if that. Probably more rare than that. I only very occasionally have processed dairy and the sugars in commercial ice cream put me right out. I ate my dish of Neapolitan and went to bed.
I woke up restless in the night, to see that Nick had left a headlamp on the table, pointed up to light up the string of balloons hanging from the yurt ceiling. Sadie woke up too and said, “I wish it was still my birthday.” But then she looked at the string of balloons lit up with Nick’s headlamp and smiled and went back to sleep.
These are the gifts of the simple life. I feel like I’m seeing them right now in Kodachrome. I’m so ultra sensitive to everything. In part because of the time of year, as half dark keeps my eyes stretching to see more and better, but also because Sadie’s birthday is a milestone for me and not in all the good ways.
I knew it at the beginning of the year, when I named this year my year of “slow.” I knew this was my year of feeling the hourglass sands running faster, and already feeling that this time is short, of mornings spent fixing one child’s hair while the other child sets the table, and laying a fire in the potbellied woodstove with the company of a frog on the other side of canvas walls.
Nick and I have slept one night up in the cabin. We had family as guests in the yurt for a night, and our kids shared their normal bunkbeds with their cousins while Nick and I went up to the cabin and tried to learn what it will be like to live there. What I learned right away is that it will be quiet. Even rain is quiet on that thickly insulated roof. The crickets are gone. This, I guess, is the whole point of building a house, and builders will congratulate Nick on his success.
But we moved out to the woods to be in the woods. I was ridiculous and immature and I wanted to be childlike like my children and maybe become a wood nymph or a dryad. Now my kids are growing up right in front of my eyes and I’m too old to dance around trees without kids to excuse it. I guess I’d better just settle down in a real house with a real roof.
Sadie’s birthdays are also another kind of milestone. It was the same week that Sadie was born that I started blogging. Nearly every week for four years I’ve shown up to this place, or more recently to YouTube. I showed up for my own selfish reasons — to express myself, to process issues of self-worth and identity and resistance, and to have a little time to myself — but all sorts of wonderful people have met me here.
I have showed up to catch all the moments of beauty and wonder in my life, without also having to keep myself from living them. And mostly it works.
It’s been beautiful. I may be feeling some nostalgia today but I’m also feeling a lot of gratitude.
For our first year or so in the woods we didn’t have a mirror. In that entire year I basically stopped caring what I looked like, and though I did turn quite unkempt by society’s standards (don’t, whatever you do agree with me out loud on that right now!!!), I found an understanding of beauty from the inside. I learned how to express an inner light which I think I had often felt, but had never before been able to transmit. I think I literally became prettier, in the end, after surviving that year without my mirrors. At least I learned what it should feel like, if it was true that I wanted to be sharing beauty. It was not something I would manufacture by sleight of hand, but something I would transmit the way it had been received: in full, by grace.
It still happens to me that I am standing in the middle of my life demanding joy and glory and revelation and the pitch of my cry matches the sound of an overtired toddler. But there are also many moments of really being the overflowing cup, feeling so blessed that the blessings are great enough to share.
These are the moments of chasing beauty without mirrors, going by feel through the dark guided by something inside me, and I’ve had enough of them to know that you get more and more and more of the good stuff, the more you share.
Thanks for hanging out with me these last four years. Thank you to those of you who are personal friends and family. Thank you to those of you who started following me when I was a displaced liberal walking around in Christian culture. And thank you to those of you — the greatest number — who have dropped in since I bloomed in that year without mirrors, who have found me (often accidentally) spreading beauty from the overflowing riches of an ordinary life.
The world isn’t any less terrifying than it was yesterday. It’s really wild out there…isn’t it? And also in here. But I wish you all a day or a year without any mirrors. I wish you a day to feel your glory and beauty flowing freely from the inside out, and overflowing. The world needs your light, and so do I.
With love, from the yurt,