The wild always needs a guardian at the gate, or it will be misused.
-Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves
My dad was in the hospital.
A no-big-deal knee replacement turned into a post-op infection. Plus 8 days in a row of hiccups. Yes, EIGHT days, 24 hours a day. He was hooked up to IV antibiotics, unable to sleep with the hiccups, devoid of privacy. Stuck. Vulnerable.
We were assured that he was going to be fine. The situation was uncomfortable, but temporary. And indeed, now he is home, healing, getting physical therapy and being his usual cantankerous, hilarious self. Watching the World Series and bothering my stepmom.
But I am not over it at all.
My dad is a tough guy. Or, maybe more accurately, a Tough Guy. He is an ex-Marine, an alpha male, always the loudest person in the room. Generous and open and opinionated and incapable of being embarrassed. When I decided that 2014 would be my year of exploring wildness, I had an advantage out of the starting gate just by being his daughter. I've thought of him often this year, using his example to bolster my comfort with being seen and heard and not apologizing for myself.
But current role model aside, he is also my DAD. My original protector. And witnessing him asleep in a hospital bed called up some primal reaction in me to scurry for safety as fast as I could.
Extra eyeliner and a glass of wine with lunch... traipsing off to retreats in Maine and declaring yourself a unicorn... skinny dipping in the daytime and renting motorcycles in Hawaii... these things are all well and good when the person who has protected you from bad guys and nightmares since you took your first breath is healthy and strong, with fists at the ready. All alone, though, and your wildness doesn't quite provide the brave shield you thought it did. All alone with your wildness is awfully alone.
A couple of weeks ago, I would have told you I was my own protector, thank you very much. I would've said my husband Chris was my back up, and that I was his. But as it turns out, a good portion of my adult independence is built on a foundation called "John Marra is alive and kicking ass," and when that underlying structure is threatened, the world feels scary. I feel small. Chris, as amazingly competent and tough as he is, seems just as small as me. We are like tiny children, holding each other's sticky hands for warmth against the cold and howling wind. I do not feel wild. I do not feel safe.
So I write this, trying to make sense of it, feeling incredibly exposed and not at all sure I'll press post. I sit here the way Misty advises, with thick socks and messy hair, a bar of dark chocolate and roasted dandelion tea. I write, and think of my friends who have already lost their dads, or those who never felt protected by them. I know I am lucky.
I write, and think perhaps wildness is not best pursued by giving up safety, as I have been trying to do, but by grounding in safety and being launched by it. Perhaps safety and wildness are two sides of a coin, each needing the other. Perhaps my mistake was simply in treating them as separate, assuming my wildness could come from within myself while my safety was dependent on someone else.
Maybe the guardian at the gate is sometimes my dad. Sometimes Chris. Sometimes my mom or my brother or my friends. But most of the time, I'm starting to realize, the guardian at the gate who protects my wildness is me.