I stumbled. My lungs were on fire. My legs just two heavy logs I had to drag along with me. One arm hanging loosely, the other trying desperately to keep the large sack slung over my shoulder in place. My jaw hung open, as if that would somehow let enough air in for one more step. I fell.
My chest heaved. I landed on my useless arm, pinning it to the ground. The sack on my back feeling like it weighed tons. I spit some grass and a chunk of mud out of my mouth, pinned there when my face slid in the muck. I almost gave in to the temptation to just lay there. I did my best. Let me rest.
My mind wouldn’t let me.
“Get up. GET UP! You are almost there. A few more steps and you can throw the sack back into Life. Get up.”
I don’t remember pulling my legs under me, or pushing with my one good arm, but I did. First into a doggie position, then a kneeling position, finally, upright. I wobbled a bit but stayed upright. I lifted a log like leg…took a step…then another…and with what was left of my will and strength…pushed on. The Sack seemed to have gained another ton while I lay on the ground in the luxury of rest.
Still…I was up and moving. One step. Another. Another. Each one like pulling myself out of sucking mud- a mud so thick and deep that each pull tore at my thighs. If I had any boots or shoes on…well the would have been sacrificed to the mud long ago. Still, I kept on.
Up ahead on what would be (if I hadn’t been exhausted and desperate) a gentle rise, there it was. The Well of Life. I could see the bubbling rainbow of experiences popping and twisting out of the well. I could hear the laughter, feel the tears, smell the good times and bad times. It was the Well of Life.
I found new strength. I pushed muscles so far past their limits that I could hear tendons popping like harp strings. I didn’t let that stop me. It changed my gate from a staggering run to a limp waddled walk, but I still kept my legs pumping. I swung my useless arm like a pendulum - trying to wring at least a little momentum out of its forward swings.
The Sack over my shoulder banging off my hips, reminded me to keep moving. No matter what.
The Well of Life was only a few feet away. I was going to make it.
I never saw her. I don’t know how she got there. But there she was standing between me and the Well of Life. She looked slender, tall, calm. She was blue, everything about her was blue. Her skin, her hair, her face, her eyes…her clothes. But not a blue like a clear day, or a Robin’s Egg, where you think good thoughts. No, not at all. She spewed blue out of every pore like she was leaking melancholy, sadness, disappointment, forlorn hope, and broken hearts.
In fact…she was.
Her eyes were kind, even though they were filled with sadness. She held up one slender blue hand, bringing me to a swaying halt, just a few feet from the Well of Life.
I thought for a moment that if I could just dart around her…I could throw my sack into the Well of Life and be free. The look in her eyes, combined with my body struggling just to stay upright, made me realize that darting was out.
I fell to my knees. She had to be the Guardian I had heard about. I managed to burble out with what little air I had left…and the words came out covered with spittle and white gobs of lactic acid clinging to them.
“Please. Please have mercy. I made it this far. That has to be worth something…doesn’t it.”
Her smile was kind, and sad- with not an ounce of either malice or give in it. She shook her head slowly. It was a no.
“If you had worked this hard in Life, you wouldn’t have a sack to sacrifice. You wouldn’t have had to try to change the past. But there is hope…for you. (turning and pointing to the Well of Life) Just not there. What you did in Life is done. How much you regret things you did while living- that is apparent to us all.
You can leave the sack here. That is the best we can do for you. At least you won’t have to carry it anymore. Believe me, not many get to this point even after having discovered what Life could have been, maybe even should have been, when they were living it. You have shown true remorse. You seek forgiveness. You even earned it. Which is why you can leave the sack.
But (and her voice grew cold and distant, both beautiful and determined- like ancient glacier ice- the deep blue heart ice from inside a glacier) you can’t throw your words back into the Well of Life. You spoke them all while living, and there they stay. You can’t take them back.
Her look softened. Her tone did too. Both took on that look you get when bittersweet memories bump up against gentle blues licks. She sang to me.
"Put the sack down. Open the top, let the words fall here (waving both her hands on the green grass surrounding the Well of Life) empty them all out.“
I did as she said. It was difficult. My one arm was useless, my other arm was cramping, my legs wanted to just lay down…forever. I untied the twine, unfurled the sack, and lifted it up to spill out.
Words flew out in a tidal wave of ugly stacks or combinations: “I hate you…you're stupid, you’re worthless…" the words got uglier and meaner: “I don’t love you anymore. Good, I hope you die! You aren’t my Mother!” Some words were harder than stone…grudges cemented over time into walls so thick love couldn’t pound them down. No longer letting anyone in, and trapping my real feelings from getting out.
I hated those words. So many of them. So unkind. Taunting my sister, telling my children how bad they were. Ignoring my wife words (and yes, ignoring the words of others is a strange silent sentence that you also carry with you), being brutally honest- but not with myself.
A lifetime of words I wish I had never spoken. A lifetime of words I should have never said. A lifetime of Words I should have heard. A lifetime of words that could have helped, healed, forgiven, or lifted up - left laying whimpering in the bottom of a sack of guilt, shame, and regret.
Finally, all the words were out. They soaked into the grass around the Well of Life. As they did, the Lady in Blue changed colors. As the words sank out of sight, she became clearer, more crystal like. A light blue still shone through her, but it was colored now with brighter companion lights. Yellows, reds, oranges, greens: colors that filled in all the gaps of Life to make it whole, not selective.
“You may go now.”
I stood up. Surprised I almost fell. For I must have leaped four feet into the air. My legs were like steel springs, both my arms felt light and supple, my lungs filled with enough air to make me float. When I landed back on the balls of my feet like some kind of super ballet dancer- I looked at my body. It was perfect. Not a sign of imperfection anywhere. Oh I didn’t turn into a model, or some kind of Athenian God…but for me, it was perfect.
I spread my arms in both question and supplication.
She smiled a rainbow smile. One that glittered rays of goodness right through my heart.
“You can’t throw your words back into the Well of Life. That life is over. But you can walk the path to your new life…here. (She pointed off to a path that seemed to welcome me, not welcoming to all, but to me.)
“You earned it. Leave the sack. I have a feeling you won’t be filling it anymore with words that shouldn’t have been said, or should have and were not. Or with words you will live to regret.”
This time it was I who nodded back. I turned, taking long loping strides towards my path. I would live this life well. I knew it.
I left the sack. The Guardian. And what might have been, but can’t be changed behind.
There was a new Well of Life to be found. I shall find it, drink from it, and keep it clear and flowing.
I started to whistle.
I heard her laugh.
I lengthened my stride.
I wasn’t carrying anything but me…and moving fast.
She was right.
Carrying all those words was the worst burden of all.