Desolation, Consolation and Rising From the Ashes

Aug 1 2014

I’ve been thinking a lot about two concepts lately. What they mean to me. And what they mean for our ability to create community. They are:

Desolation and Consolation

Desolation, of course, is sadness, loss, grief, devastation. Consolation: comfort, solace… hope.

For example:

Desolation: An exhausting day with 5 kids. Pfffftt.
Consolation: BEDTIME! (And a big glass of wine.)
Desolation: And then, of course, the preschooler wakes up with a nightmare. 🙁
Consolation: But he goes right back to sleep. 
Desolation: In my bed.
Desolation: Which he wets.
Consolation: On my husband’s side of the bed. 😀

Or, after trying to convince my kids for YEARS that I’m a truly gifted living-room dancer, and they shouldn’t be embarrassed anymore when I bust a move in front of their friends or challenge them to a dance-off:

Consolation: My kid, watching me dance, says, “You know, Mom? You really are a pretty good dancer…” followed by
Desolation: A look of dawning horror, and, “…unless you weren’t dancing and you just have to go potty, Mom. Sorry, but sometimes it’s hard to tell.” 

And then, of course, there are the desolations and consolations that aren’t as fun. The desolations and consolations that are part of this very human life. 

Like the desolation of infertility and miscarriage and waiting, waiting, waiting to become a mama.

The consolation of a precious child.

The desolation of discovering a world that is lonelier and more isolating – more full of dark nights and dirty diapers and relentless crying, both your baby’s and yours – than you ever imagined.

And the long road to the consolation of birthing a new YOU who is stronger and more resilient than you knew.

Desolation and consolation. In sometimes quick and sometimes agonizingly slow succession. 

The desolation of discovering my son has special needs. The consolation of discovering his sweet heart. The desolation of learning I’m terribly self-centered. The consolation of learning to love others more than myself. And so many more desolations and consolations of the heart.

I think about the mythical phoenix sometimes, who goes through trial by fire… and doesn’t survive it. It’s not like it’s not that bad for the bird. I mean, the phoenix dies in the fire, you know? 

But which of us does survive the trial by fire, really?

None of us. Not one. Not in our entirety, anyway.

Not the same as we were before the desolation.

And I wonder if the phoenix knows, while she’s sitting in the ashes – just done in, dead – that she will rise from them?

I wonder if she knows it’s written in her very DNA, like the redwood seed that’s only primed for new life and growth after it’s given itself to the death of the forest, that she will triumph over the devastation?

I wonder if she knows she’s a creature of resilience? Or if the phoenix is convinced it’s done for?

Does the phoenix know what she is until she rises?

Does she know that dying to herself doesn’t confirm her weakness but is the path to a new life?

Does she know that desolation comes before consolation? 

Does she know that comfort and solace, hope and the ability to breathe anew, is on its way?

This idea of desolation and consolation is something we all understand because it’s so common to the human experience. And we who are the child raisers and the farmers and the community leaders, we understand especially, because we gamble every day on the potential of a child, the generosity of the Earth, and the bounty of our community. If there’s anyone who understands resilience – whose heart is with the phoenix – it’s us, because we know what it is to sow and then wait to see what we’ll reap. We toil and labor because it’s a worthy risk. 

But not everybody knows yet that they’re made of the stuff of the phoenix. And it’s our job to show them, because the remedy for fragmentation and isolation, for loneliness and despair, is, of course, each other. Community. And loving each other well. It’s rising as the phoenix and then reaching back into the ashes to give a hand to someone who doesn’t yet have enough ways out. To create a community of the reborn. To deliver hope. And to whisper, life is on the way


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This post is a revision of my remarks at an event last night for A Family Place as they raise funds for another relief nursery in Yamhill County, Oregon. A Family Place is dedicated to reducing the number of families needing to place children in foster care by providing at-risk families with targeted support, respite care for children ages 0-5, parent education, and free at-home visits.

You can donate to their efforts here.

P.S. This post was not sponsored or solicited by A Family Place. I just felt that this community, of all people, would understand the tremendous need for respite and relief nurseries, the challenges specific to raising young kids, and the need to develop supportive communities for families in need.