ben vandgrift · on living the dream


Spring approaches; the searing heat of summer being hinted at in even the morning rays. Stepping outside the door, I can feel myself thawing from the winter, the frost in my soul (if not the frost on my head) melting away with the lower snows of the Smokies.

I said to someone yesterday that I'm basically like some kind of badger-bear during the winter, and it's true. I just want to hibernate, curl up in a ball, sleep until the days are long enough to be useful. Occasionally forage for food. Try not to terrorize the countryside or threaten any other nearby beasties.

Maybe it's a factor of the fire sign under which I was born, my first days being spent in the light of our mother star. Maybe it's my need to be in a pack, the lizard brain telling me that without creatures to lead, to hunt with, to forage alongside I am an outcast. Neglecting that they are also badger-bears curled up in their own caves.

Could be the death surrounding me, the loss of color, the dim, dreary melancholy of mother Earth as she sleeps for a time, awaiting rebirth.

Or the creeping fears that steal upon me in the darkness while the sun hides its eyes.

Regardless of the why, the fact is that Winter is coming to a close, and with it many of my frustrations and the seasonal depression that spins its endless questions into a sticky web of doubt designed to trap my spirit.

Ah, springtime.

For the past year, I've struggled with an injury that's kept me indoors, immobile, limited. While in my cave, I've tended my wounds, taken care not to overtax myself, and the pains of the previous year are thawing with the rest of the world as a result. I am looking forward to getting outside–Outside, it deserves to be capitalized–into the woods, away from the streets and lights and noise. Rivers of clear water cutting through the hillside as they please, as opposed to those with beds of tar and gravel flowing with stinking machines. Strong, rough trunks supporting life, shadowing the ground under them in place of smooth metal construction supporting wires and power, illuminating the world below them with a cold, tremulous light.

I want to be Outside. Not just outside the city, but outside myself. Outside the broken, oversized shell housing my spirit, outside the little square cave filled with the pieces of the past three years, outside of the cage.

The cage.

"Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage;" Though Richard Lovelace goes on to say that those with quiet and innocent minds can take vacations even in that circumstance, I am the opposite. My prison has always been my mind; the structure imposed while I was young shaping the tiny square windows through which I must see, the desire to go as far as fast as I can limiting my movements in any direction but forward, the shackles of my original circumstance chaining me to the ground in a thousand ways.

I make a cage for myself that I take with me. My parents, their parents, my childhood home, my choices, my failures–these have all made a cage without stone walls, iron bars, locks, and all the more inescapable for the lack of a physical form.

I fight to break free with every breath! No, but I wish I did. I wish I had been fighting long enough that my mind no longer thrust itself into hard, tight, painful corners. Instead, I only make my escape when I am intentional about it. When I don't resign myself. When I don't let the cage be this invisible thing that I am unaware of.

It's easiest when I'm outside. When I am not staring down the barrel of a fully-loaded future–a future I am fully unprepared for. When instead of the detritus of a life, a concrete trophy case of my mistakes, I walk among the trees and flowers, the promises of stability and legacy and beauty. And renewal. And the ephemeral, fleeting nature of living things.

It reminds me that I am a living thing, ephemeral and fleeting.

I tell myself all of this every spring, because it remains true year after year. This year I've decided to tell you:

My struggle is the constant siege of my soul by my mind. By my fears. Fear caused my greatest failure. Fear yielding too much caution. Fears I was taught, fears requiring no teacher, fears that still persist; though I have chained those fears to a post in the yard and know its length of that chain to the millimeter, I can still hear its howl in the cold, dark winter.

Ah, springtime.

written: Mar 14 2013