imageWith orange variations sweeping into hues of rich plum, the expansive sky heralds encroaching nightfall. She does not notice. She rarely does when her tumultuous mind allows for no calm – succumbing to the incessant internal chatter and all-consuming hiss of options, lists, reminders, responsibilities, commitments, desires, hopes and yes – regrets. There is no escape. Not alone. Not in a crowd. Not awake and definitely not in the sheet-twisting joyless hours of the night. Not even her beloved can help her now.

No one notices her pull on heavy footwear, wrap an oversized scarf around her almond face and slip both arms underneath a long, rough tartan cape. Noiselessly she eases the door, releasing her to the fading light on the country estate. Her lungs recoil sharply at the air she slowly sucks in, stinging her forehead, as if from an ice cold drink sipped hastily through a straw too wide.

Once no longer visible from the gleaming golden portals – all-knowing eyes within the ancient edifice – her muscles relax and pace slows. Her feet move toward the brooding pine forest just beyond the perimeter of the remote property. She takes no note of imminent nightfall, hastening its steps after the unmercifully short days of winter.

The gentle sway of pine tree arms embraces her as she succumbs to the mystical stirrings of this holy place. Surrounded by wordless giants, she feels no further need to twist and turn, agonize and brutalize her mind into forms that make her thoughts somehow appear appropriate. Understandable. Rational. To others, of course. This sacred space gives the gift of ultimate acceptance.

She walks, but keeps no record of where nor for how long. Nothing matters except this moment of respite. Time ceases to exist in the company of friends.

An unfamiliar shape to her left, half hidden by a spindly juniper, causes her head to turn. How was it that she had never noticed this rugged, wooden bench before? Instinctively she stops, peers at the structure, recognizing it as an invitation for silence. She nestles into it as some would curl into an overstuffed chair before a blazing fire. Her lips turn up slightly, musing that what one may consider cold and bleak, another receives as an intimate caress.

As moments pass, her immobile frame loses its rigidity; her face radiates peace into the crisp, welcoming stillness. Her closed eyes refuse to register the waning daylight, waiting rather for the twinkling radiance of the troupe of stars, appearing as silent dancers against inked velvet.

She does not see the Presence approach, but she feels it. It does not frighten, coerce or question. Without murmur or movement, she acknowledges the vibrancy of companionship. A glowing warmth begins to trickle from the back of her head down her spine, enveloping her ribs, soaking into her lungs, filling the crevices of her heart and seeping into each extremity.

The rhythm of her breath, causing the imperceptible rise and fall of her breast, offers music for the glistening dancers of the sky. The chaos of her mind is soothed and smoothed in the Presence of Love. Grace. Embrace. Without greetings extended, words exchanged, or dilemmas examined.

Solitude marks no passage of time; indeed it is inconsequential. She allows healing Wisdom to permeate the recesses of her heart unhurried. Secluded. Transforming.

The Sanctuary has offered its best: stillness, confidence, strength. She opens her eyes to all she has seen within her soul. Great horned owls – sentinels, witnesses – nod in reverent benediction. She gathers her wraps around her, rises – stately and poised – and moves toward the familiar scene she had left behind. She now leaves warmth, communion, music and beauty to rejoin those who have settled for its faint reflections.

© Julia Penner-Zook, 2016
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