By Jackie Shea
I had been well enough to engage with life for about eight months when I went to Sequoia National Park. Prior to that, I spent the better part of two years in bed, crying and baffled. I wondered how any good could possibly come from the destructive force of illness I was swept away in. I questioned my belief in "everything happens for a reason," and I worried I was growing cynical and faithless. I couldn't imagine a world in which my battle with Lyme disease complicated by common variable immune deficiency would be "worth it" in any way. And, then, one day, seemingly out of nowhere, I realized I was wrong. The great storm of illness - the storm of a lifetime - broke me down into ash and provided me with a new, fertile bedrock to grow from. I jumped on the opportunity to start anew, and I grew into something more beautiful than I could have ever pictured for myself. When I visited Sequoia National Park, I saw on a hugely inspiring scale how this process is simply a part of nature: Destruction breeds creation.
Sequoias are magic. Yes, there are the obvious things like their size and girth. The sequoia named "General Sherman" is the largest living thing on planet Earth today. And, while that should probably be enough to produce wild appreciation, it wasn't what held my attention. What grabbed me were the substantial wounds sequoias have to endure and heal from to thrive to such rich heights, reaching their full potential.
Sequoias need fire to grow. Flames burn down surrounding, inferior trees taking in sunlight and water that sequoias desperately need. The fire blazes and burns up sequoias, scorching the lower branches, consequently sending down pods full of seeds (seeds that would not come down otherwise). The fire clears the brush of leaves and dried-up pines atop the dirt, leaving a rich ash soil for sequoia seeds to grow in. It's this ash that makes the most hospitable womb for these sacred seeds. (Familiarly, the mother is scarred).
Mature sequoias have visible burns on their bark, but the trees are terrifically built to withstand fire. The bark of sequoias is made to be spongy, soft and fire-resistant. There is a protective layer just beneath the outer bark that heals burn wounds. Some trees have been able to live through upwards of 80 fires, healing the wounds every time, becoming all the more magical because of what they had to endure to survive with such dignity and triumph (ahem: without - even - trying). The trees know they already have all they need.
Do you see where I'm going with this my wounded and healing friends?
I thought about my grandfather. He was the sole survivor of a deadly amusement park fire on Aug. 13, 1944. His scars made him all the more a hero in my eyes. The fire opened his heart the way I imagine seeds fall from the trees.
I thought about how I have everything I need to heal and transform the wounds.
I thought about illness, grief, heartbreak, joy, death, injury and celebration, and I thought about the endless ability we have to heal. I thought about how if we were opened up and put on display (like scientists and medical professionals often do), then you would know we are equally as magical and awe-inspiring as these trees; we, too, survive fires. And, all/many/some of us heal and thrive. In fact, if you're like me (and the sequoia species), then you need the fire to grow to your greatest potential; the fire is your greatest blessing. Can you consider this option today? Can you just for a moment believe this trauma you're enduring could end up your greatest asset? I believe if you let go and let nature happen, that is the most likely outcome.
Jackie Shea is a wellness coach, writer and host of the podcast Healing Out Loud.