I’m gathering a bucket of acorns…I do this every year. I can’t tell you why, but it’s a ritual I’ve completed for as long as I can remember. I love the way they look, all shiny with their rough little caps. As a child I popped the caps and made them into gnome hats. I used to do this with my son, too, when he was younger. We made acorn wreaths, donated acorns to wildlife rehabilitation centers, stored them until mid-winter and then put them out for hungry squirrels. I thought to make Cherokee acorn fritters last year, remembering their sweet taste, but then remembered fritters are deep-fried, and I don’t eat that way these days. And my son, almost eight now, isn’t so keen on gnome hats or making acorn wreaths for our doors anymore. Though he eagerly helped me at first, (ever so discerning, not accepting any acorn with even the most insignificant flaw), he abandoned me immediately when a friend came outside carrying a baseball bat and glove. I watch them only for a moment, thinking – or rather, knowing – this is actually a good thing, and then I resume my task. They practice hitting and pitching while I pick the ground clean and think about the coming seasons. The weather is perfect, just a little cool.
It is because of the evening’s coolness that I am wearing a jacket, the jacket of a man whose words I have both found and lost myself in since our paths crossed years ago. As I move, I catch a whiff of his scent, still lingering on the fabric, and smile. I expected, back in summer, to be picking up acorns from underneath the large oak in my backyard come fall. But I didn’t expect I’d find myself warm in the jacket of a man I once asked to stop communicating with me because it was just too painful to remain friends.
He returned to my world as summer was first beginning to fade, the words “It’s been a long time” catching me off guard as I stepped outside. I had to sit down, there on the curb, in front of my house, and breathe. I was dealing with a loss I hadn’t anticipated; confusion about my profession and pending return to work; and struggling with ideas about what I really wanted to do with the rest of my life. His timing was perfect, because a month earlier, even a week earlier, I might not have responded with, “Yes, too long.” I might not have responded at all.
We don’t analyze this now. Divine timing has its own reasoning. As I load the acorn bucket, I think of a line from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. “If what one finds is made of pure matter, it will never spoil. And one can always come back. If what you had found was only a moment of light, like the explosion of a star, you would find nothing on your return.”
When you leave someone, however, it takes courage to risk a return. Tremendous courage. And what did this man find on his return into my life? We’re not sure yet, and that’s okay. The past few months have brought a slew of talk, words, actions, thoughts, openness and forgiveness, but no promises…we are much wiser now. Things unfold as they are meant to, and there are lessons every step of the way. We hurry nothing. We take time. We see the beauty in moments we wanted to rush through years ago, an impulsive time when we could only see the destination, not the journey. We could only think of immediate gratification, not the whole of what we could become in time.
A heavy silver bracelet circles my wrist, a sparkling star dangling from it. My birthday gift, from a man I thought I’d never speak to (or about) again. It makes me smile when the gems on the star catch the waning sunlight. He knows my love of the night sky; he remembers my enthusiasm over things like super-moons, white rainbows, and meteor showers. It is nice to have the things you love be regarded with wonder instead of disdain. It is nice to be reminded that one is worth pursuing, that you are worth someone else taking a risk for. And it seems surreal, me dancing so lightly before all this magic that is happening. I never expected it, and that’s part of the beauty. And I wonder, can something that was so glorious possibly be even better a second time around? No, don’t think of the future, I remind myself. Be in the moment, in the now. You are friends again, you are close again, and right now, it is enough. Let it unfold. Breathe. Be. I push aside leaves and find fat acorns hidden there. I am in this beautiful fall day, with the sun warm on my face, my child happy and thriving, and my heart healed, full as the bucket of acorns I hold.
I don’t know what I’ll do with them, but we don’t always have an immediate need for what we gather. When I read The Alchemist years ago, it changed my life. Overwhelmed by the power of its content, I looked to Coelho’s words for answers when life posed questions. I used his wisdom to embolden me, and I thought, or hoped, his tale of Santiago’s journey would mirror my own somehow. But I’ve traveled halfway around the world and back, faced storms of sand, became the wind, seen life become lead and this lead again become gold, and finally – finally – learned that I’ve always possessed the wisdom, passion and courage Coelho’s words inspire. I am the Alchemist, I possess the power to transform and be transformed. I just needed to realize it.
And while The Alchemist and Coehlo's other works continue to resonate strongly with me, I don’t think my tale will ever mirror Santiago’s. The treasure dangling from my wrist came from a place that is nowhere close to my backyard. If I choose to pursue it, my journey is just beginning. But I am not one to wade about in indecision; having lived half my life already, I know there is no time for mulling over 'what ifs?' We know whether or not we want a thing the second it presents itself, and 20 seconds of insane courage are all we need to reach out and take it. 20 seconds of insane courage can chart a course of action that will change our lives forever. 20 seconds is all it took for this person to extend an olive branch to me.
And it took less seconds, but possibly more courage, for me to respond.