The man wanders aimlessly in the desert. He crawls and claws for hours, days even, searching for water. His face is cracked and red. His clothes are tattered and falling off his body. And then, off in the distance, he sees a beautiful oasis. He gathers his strength and rushes over. Elated. Yearning for that cool relief. He cups his hands in the pool and lifts them up to his lips.
And eats a mouthful of sand.
It was a mirage. An illusion.
He is not in an oasis. He still is in the middle of the desert. Back on the journey he goes.
The hot desert sun baking on his back. He continues the crawl.
I ate sand the other day.
Not actual sand. But it almost felt like it.
I had been wandering in the desert for awhile, well, crawling actually. Clawing and crawling. Hoping for some relief. Some sign of life. Water.
The months had been long. The answers few. The wait excruciating.
The relief? Nowhere to be found.
And then, there it was. An oasis. A beautiful distraction. A few week solace and suspension of reality.
Life seemed to be normal. My gait returned. So did my laugh. Friends and I did what friends do. I started to take deep breaths.
I put on my old face again.
It still fit.
Until it didn't.
I first started noticing it in larger groups of people.
I was fidgeting. A lot. After a few moments I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Tear out of there. Wherever there was.
Be alone. Not wanting to explain what I couldn’t explain to myself.
I was still crawling in the sand after all.
But I didn’t want this desert. I needed water. So I kept searching.
And I thought I found it. I really did. I could hear the rush of the river in the distance.
And then reality.
It just took one look.
The mirage disappeared.
I was left by myself. Coughing up sand.
For any one of us in a desert season the search for “water” can start off well-intentioned and quickly take a turn.
And since desperate times call for desperate measures, we do what we can to feel relief.
And it is so easy to be seduced by quick fixes, momentary pleasures.
Temptations. Some blatantly obvious and some boring and subtle.
You get giddy. You get sidetracked. You think things are looking up.
And then you look down and see sand.
So the search becomes more desperate.
Now you will do whatever it takes to forget you haven’t had water for days and it is completely hot and you want to scream.
Here out in the middle of nowhere, only familiar phrases seem to stick with you.
“I just want this to be over,” “I just want to know,” “I am just so tired,” “When are things going to get better?,” and the most popular “Get me out of here.”
Wherever here is.
So, you keep crawling. With sand in your eyes and the searing heat in-between your toes.
You start to take some crazy pride in the journey, you might even welcome suffering.
You cling to that “I don’t need help and I am okay” mask for dear life, even though it is becoming harder and harder to stay on.
The sweat makes the adhesive void.
It’s lonely in the desert.
And in our loneliness we convince ourselves we are okay when we are not. We see Vegas and we go for it. Walk right up to the Bellagio fountain, strip down (it is Vegas after all) and jump in.
But the relief doesn’t come. It is another mirage.
You are still in the desert.
Out here walks turn into rambles that turn into drifts that turn into crawls.
Crawling. Trying to escape where you are and get to where you want to go.
When I ate my fist full of sand I was not sure which one I wanted more. To escape or to arrive.
I knew I was ticked off. Angry mirages seemed to be my only friends.
Or were they?
I see colors in the distance. Upon closer inspection I am astonished to find flowers.
No mirages here.
Beautiful, glorious, colorful desert flowers.
And they are everywhere. Well, not EVERYWHERE, but certainly a lot more than I was expecting.
This is what happens in the desert when you stop resisting it.
When you stop cursing and start saying thank you.
When you stop crawling for awhile and take a look around.
And at night, stars. Some of the best skies you have ever seen.
Yes, I want to be out of the desert. Yes, I want answers. But I am beginning to realize that if I rush the process I will miss it.
What is to be missed?
People for one, my favorite kind of flowers.
In the past few months I have been floored, astonished and amazed at my beautiful desert flower friends.
Friends that cry with me. Laugh with me.
They can’t stand masks.
They fail to comprehend my insistence that I am all right.
They hate mirages too. And they call me out of mine.
These amazing people found me out in the desert.
These beautiful wonderful gifts go so far beyond what I could have asked for or imagined.
In their hugs, concerns and conversations I am finding my true oasis.
Turns out, you can’t survive alone in the desert.
You need flowers.
And the ones that bloom out here are the ones to keep.
I love their sweet scent.
And in this season of lose and desolation, there is also gaining. I have discovered new species of flowers. Five actually. Five beautiful souls that if I was still insisting on keeping my head in the sand I would have missed them. (Shout out to S. K. D. E. J.)
Turns out I didn’t need water after all.
There are other surprises out here.
Once I stopped crawling and started surrendering I noticed something else.
They crept up on me as I tried to crawl away from them.
Lessons that can only be learned in the desert.
Endurance, patience, grit, worth, hope.
What better place to learn about hope than the desert?
You know what you are made of out here. You have to decide to survive. You have to decide to show up. You have to decide where your mind goes. You have to decide to give up or keep going. You have to decide if you really believe what you believe or if that is a mirage too.
No pansy flowers out here.
When I look around at all the beauty, I feel like Scherezade for a moment.
The Giver gives what you need not what you want.
For those that are crawling take heart, there is a reason for these lessons.
Desert seasons proceed seasons of purpose. Of meaning. Of life.
Think on it. How many epic quests began in the desert?
And you won’t be able to enjoy it until you learn the lessons that the desert teaches you.
Hope- the kind you need to survive. It’s not an option out here.
Love- the kind that stands by you no matter what.
Grit- the sheer gumption it takes to simply hang on
Trust- The moment you come to the end of yourself because you no longer have energy for yourself. When you collapse on the sand and are so tired you just want to give up. When all you can do is stare at the brilliant sky. You get to finally let go.
Let the stars guide you instead.
And they do.
Right where you need to go.
And the least expected lesson?
I didn’t expect to feel gratitude.
But I do.