By many of today’s teen standards, my kids are dorks. They love mythology. No, one might say they are obsessed with mythology. It doesn’t matter the origin, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Norse, Arabian, Indian, etc., if it has the makings of a good tale, they’ll read it, discuss it, debate it, then read it again. Myths are discussed in the car, at the table, through a closed-door, and over whatever might be playing on the TV. I guess that makes me a dork, too, because I’ve long loved mythology and I’m always willing to join the conversation. Aside from being good stories, filled with ample murder and mayhem, there is an abundance of life lessons woven into the myths. From Medusa, we learn about the consequences of disobedience and jealousy, and through Hercules we learn about justice and loyalty to friend. And, it is a story told since ancient times that offers me one of my favorite lessons.
The Roman poet, Ovid, wrote the following:
Most beings spring from other individuals; but there is a certain kind which reproduces itself. The Assyrians call it the Phoenix. It does not live on fruit or flowers, but on frankincense and odoriferous gums. When it has lived five hundred years, it builds itself a nest in the branches of an oak, or on the top of a palm tree. In this it collects cinnamon, and spikenard, and myrrh, and of these materials builds a pile on which it deposits itself, and dying, breathes out its last breath amidst odors. From the body of the parent bird, a young Phoenix issues forth, destined to live as long a life as its predecessor. When this has grown up and gained sufficient strength, it lifts its nest from the tree (its own cradle and its parent’s sepulchre), and carries it to the city of Heliopolis in Egypt, and deposits it in the temple of the Sun.
The beautiful mythical phoenix rises from the ashes to new beauty. It is a tale of fresh opportunity and restored hope.
The other day, I chatted with an old friend, who has become a new friend. She is just over two years out from the end of her twenty year marriage. It took years to build the nest in which her marriage would die. And, after years together, unkindness, impatience, neglect and denial littered her nest; lies and deceit sparked the flames. It was nothing she wanted. Quite the opposite. I was there when she was married in the church and vowed until “death do us part.” A vow she took seriously and believed in with all her heart; she still does. It is a vow she was committed to honoring; a vow that drove her to endure emotional emptiness. It drove her to fight alone for a marriage that had ended long before the divorce was granted. She was forced to surrender her burden when he walked away from their marriage and life together. I can’t count the number of hours she spent in tears and disbelief. I doubt she could either. Yet, out of the darkness, out of the ashes, she rose again.
After I hung up the phone, I realized I had talked with a new friend, a revitalized, re-energized, reborn friend. We have talked often over the years, but yesterday’s call felt different. She had weathered the biggest storm of her life and emerged renewed. She had moved past the disbelief, the bitterness, the anger and was in the process of building a new nest; her own nest filled with her daughters’ love, friendship, laughter and a rediscovered sense of self. She is the epitome of the phoenix bird, rising from the ashes, into new beauty. And, for this, I am so very happy for her.
We have all faced storms in our lives. It may be the loss of a marriage, a friend, family member, job, or lifestyle that brings the rough seas. It may be something far less “permanent” that rocks our stability, but it is change. Change often reduces us to ashes, forcing us to move from our seemingly safe, even if destructive, position into the unknown. However, from the ashes, beauty can emerge. Unseen, unknown, new beauty that has been there all along, waiting for its opportunity to rise. It exists within each of us. In our darkest hours, we don’t see it. We don’t believe we will ever see it. And, just as we begin to lose hope, there it is, hidden in the folds of strength we didn’t know we had before the storm; a fresh, new, beautiful spirit ready to embrace life with a new perspective.
If you read Ovid’s words, you’ll note that the phoenix does not discard its old nest; it carries it with her to the city of Heliopolis. It is a part of her past and worthy of honor; without it there would have been no ashes. Like everyone, I have scars from the storms I have weathered, and though I do not share them with everyone, I carry no shame from them. It wasn’t always that way. However, I have learned that time, patience, and perspective, when glued together with love and support, make all the difference. Today, my scars remind me of the ashes from which I have risen, and there I see beauty.
In my curio cabinet (and in the picture in the upper corner of this post) is a red glass apple my husband gave me more than 20 years ago. It was created using volcanic ashes from the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980. The artist crafted a stand with a light inside upon which the apple sits. It illuminates the bubbles formed by the specs of ash, remnants of Earth’s dramatic change. It is my constant reminder that, from the ashes of dramatic change, beauty can be crafted.
Are you rising from the ashes, or sitting in the fire? Trust there is beauty within, just waiting to emerge.