I had an interesting image come to me last week that I wanted to share. It was the image of an old barn. If my life was a plot of land, this barn was way in the back, run down, weeds and tall grass were in front of it and it looked like the doors had not been opened in years.
I approached the old barn, nervous to see what was inside. I pushed the heavy doors open and looked around. There were stacks of old boxes and papers everywhere. There were trunks crammed in the rafters and shelves full of books and binders coated with dust. I approached a box on the dirt floor with reluctance, nervous to see what was inside. I opened the lid and pulled out a yellowed paper.
The paper was full of words. There were insults written on it and a name or physical description of the person who said it next to the scorn. These were familiar insults and cut downs. These were words that were said to me years ago in elementary school. I picked up another paper, it was front and back typed description of all the times I was told my idea was a bad one, or words from a well meaning teacher about how my art project was incorrect. One paragraph was simply red marks through misspelled words in a creative writing story from 2nd grade.
I went to another box. It was every shame and embarrassment I suffered in middle school. Well, the first year of middle school. The rest of my adolescence was in several large file folders. The shelves held heartbreaks and disappointments and there were a few engraved plaques that I don't remember receiving, but in gold letters, one said "Did Not Win a Single Award This Year."
It did not take me long to realize this barn was full to the brim of words and sentiments of other's people's opinions of me and mistakes and worry and regret and cutting remarks and so many other things that have hurt me that I didn't even know I was holding on to.
The barn was completely full of harmful things that I took in, because at the time, who knows why I let it stick? But it was all here, piled high. It was then I knew it was time to burn it all down. I lit a match to the stack of short stories I wrote that were full of other's people's suggestions on how to improve them and I watched the stack ignite.
From there it quickly spread to the next stack of papers and I felt the warmth on my face as another box next to that went up in flames. Soon, I had to step toward the door because now the trunks in the rafters that held all the times I didn't fit into someone else's vision of who I am. These trunks were already hot from the rising flames and nearly burst like grenades when the fire reached them.
I stepped outside and watched my barn of dark secrets burn to the ground. Nothing could be spared. It all had to go. The smoke swirled around me and left me feeling strangely calm and clean. The barn burned and became consumed until there was nothing left but ash.
When the cinders died down, I went to witness the end of my burning shame, regret and pain. I kicked a large pile of ash where a metal file box had stored a broken heart. But something gold glinted from under the pile. What was that? I watched it all burn. How could something survive that? I bent down and picked up a large, golden orb. It was empathy and a greater capacity to love others. A gift. The burned box that held so many criticisms from well meaning teachers in my youth, now ash and cinders had a huge blank canvas and a bright new set of paints, a new, colorful future I could create however I wanted. A gift.
Under nearly every pile of ash was a new treasure for me and my life, transformed by the heat and flame. Pain alchemized into something beautiful and precious. But I never would have received these wonders if I never went in the barn to see what was there in the first place. I had look around and know what I was storing so I knew what I was torching.
Where are you storing all your old pain and heartache? Because it feels the perfect time to find it, check the shelves and boxes, and then burn it all down.