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Debbi Burch
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An Instinct to Return


I am often very moved by clients’ telling of their journeys with all the associated joy and pain. I am also often amazed by the unerring direction these journeys take to return us to where we started and bring us back to our beautiful broken hearts which we then realize have only been broken open.

The following is one such moving example. Names have been changed and permissions given.

Clara was nine when four-year-old Michael came to live with her family. Her brother Stephen was six. Clara and Stephen welcomed Michael and set about adoring him, beckoned by the beacon of his hunger like sailors heading for fire on a beach.

They were old enough to know that he’d come from somewhere troubled but not old enough to know he wasn’t robust.

One Sunday afternoon as they played on the stairs, Stephen held Michael tight from behind.
“I’ve got you. I’ve got you. Clara, I’ve got him.”
Clara rushed into the kitchen and grabbed an implement.

It was something she described as a cross between a knife and a potato peeler, maybe one of those things you core and peel apples with.

She ran back to the stairs, flushed with blood-crazed joy.
“Now you’re in for it!” she cried, raising her arm high as if to stab,
“Now you’re really in for it!”

Michael crumpled, folding himself into his terror like a building detonated from the inside, skin meeting skin as the core implodes.

His fear went far beyond any territory charted by these innocent pirates.
They rushed to his broken, sobbing body and tried to fit the boy back into it, stroking, coaxing and calling his name through the rubble.

Slowly he saw through the dust and snot of his panic, steering first his eyes and then his face towards their care, then his hands and finally his whole body as he allowed himself to be held and rebuilt.

Three heroic musketeers, rocked, plundered and reunited by love.

But in Clara’s horrified mind, she could only see the girl with the weapon in her hand.
Without even knowing, she too cored the vestibule of her self. She papered over the the hollow of her derelict heart. Like a benign, inoffensive shopfront advertising everyday things that people buy without even knowing to want them.

Michael went to school with Stephen and got into trouble. Stephen clambered into trouble with him, loving fists raised to defend Michael.

Clara and Stephen’s mother decided Michael’s trouble was too much trouble, so he went to another family and another school. She decided it would be too painful for Stephen and Clara to say good-bye, so one day they came home to find Michael gone.

But Michael wasn’t gone. Michael lived in Clara’s heart like a tree that bears fruit every forty years.

I met Clara forty years later. Of course it was not immediately obvious, but eventually she unearthed the truth of her own terror of being free. In that freedom what if she might relax and reveal this murderous impulse hidden among the apple peelers and toilet brushes?

Stricken with the guilt that had gored her heart like a smart bomb, she saw she had learned to hang back. A wallflower she said: a mediator, a frustrated but brilliant artist. She realised she was scared of growing or even of just being, since the relaxed truth of innocence had proved itself untrustworthy.

She had welcomed a baby herself, the most perfect little girl and had found blood-crazed joy again. She sang that little one into being; she stroked and coaxed and called her name until it was time to hold her in her arms. But at the very last minute, the little one turned back, skin meeting skin as the core implodes.

Clara crumpled, folding herself into her derelict emptiness like a building detonated from the inside.
Her loss went far beyond any territory charted by this innocent pirate.

There was no-one to rush to her broken, sobbing body to try and fit the woman back into it. To stroke, coax and call her name through the rubble.

So slowly she built herself again from the inside out. She learned to steer her heart through the dust and snot of her panic towards an instinct to return she didn’t know she had.

She rebuilt her form around the vitality of this love for Michael and her baby and calibrated herself to return and return until instinct and love were one.

She remembered the blood-crazed joy of fearlessly conducting this rush of life in its ceaseless coming and going. In bringing her heart to her loss, she found the love she’d been so afraid of. She felt her love for Michael and knew her innocence anew.

The power of her heartfelt care illuminated her being and informed her choices and she came back to life. She blossomed.

One heroic musketeer, rocked, plundered and reunited by love.