There’s this place in life’s wilderness that we sometimes wander into, a deep mire of negativity, doubt, and conviction. The mire of our heart. Few of us would choose to live there, once we understand we don’t have to.

The weather in the mire is a permanent, sullen, bitter gray.

At the edge of the mire is a sunny meadow. The woman who lives in the meadow wears a smile. She has worked hard. She works still. It isn’t about wanting to work so hard, or enjoying the effort, or being without pain and fatigue, but she knows that this is her life, and the enjoyment to be had living in the sunshine, among the meadow flowers, is so much nicer than stagnating in the mire. She knows too well; she used to live deep in the mire, well beyond any place that sunshine could reach. The way out was tedious, the path stony and uncomfortable, the distance was great, and the decision to trudge on down that path one uncomfortable step at a time was its own torment. Her constant companions were doubt and despair, but life in the mire had already made those her companions…so… what was there to lose along the way? She was at least moving.

She slowly exchanged “can’t” for “can”. She began noticing sunrises. She began to consider whether she could feel better, more often, and began choosing to do so, unsure (at least initially) whether it really was a choice. (It is.)

Sunrises came and went and as she reached the edge of the mire, more often “can” than “can’t”, more often saying something uplifting to a passer-by than offering criticism, sarcasm, or a pessimistic observation, and even learning to treat herself more gently. It took years to get to the edge of the mire. It took years to see that indeed there is a meadow beyond the mire, and sunrises for days, and flowers in the garden of her heart. She smelled the flowers, gathered seeds, and began to tend her garden.

She looked back into the mire and saw a friend standing there, mired. Deeply committed to the muck, and the pain, and the disappointment, and the sorrow… only… none of those things were really there. From her vantage point, having stepped into the meadow and looking back into the darkness, it was so clear – there was nothing holding him back from leaving the mire at all. There never had been. Sure, there was a short distance of path to trudge across (how had that felt so infernally long?), and the way never had seemed so clear as looking back across it, but… it was the simplest of journey’s, once the journey had begun.

She called to her friend from the meadow, throwing armloads of flowers into the sunshine, casting their petals and fragrance into the breeze, but the breeze doesn’t reach the mire. “Come this way!” she called to her friend. He stood there, ever so motionless. “Look,” he replied “I can’t.” She sighed. Puzzled. “Oh hey!”, she called back “I thought I couldn’t, too – but I did, so I could, which means you can… if you do.” He looked frustrated, bitter and annoyed. “I said I can’t!” he confirmed rather angrily. “Nothing works for me. I have nothing and no one will help me. No one cares. No one will talk to me. Nothing works out.” She wept to discover she was “no one” and paced awhile back and forth along the edge of the mire, feeling sad in the sunshine.

Another sunrise came. Other sunrises will come. The woman in the meadow lives in the flowers she planted, smiling among the breezes and the birdsong. There is work involved in tending the garden of her heart. There are weeds to pull. There is always work maintaining all the sunshine. It’s not artificial light, and even the work puts a smile on her face. The mire grows more distant, and she plants more flowers hoping to make the path from the mire to the meadow easier to follow. Maybe someday the man in the mire will walk a different path.

She can see him there in the mire, any day she chooses to look back. He swears she has always lived in a meadow, and that her life has always been this flower-filled lovely garden. She shakes her head, frustrated and sad that he doesn’t see her pulling weeds, planting seeds, and laboring to create this beautiful meadow from the edges of the mire where she once lived. He refuses even to come to the edge, to see what she has done. He accuses her of luck, and she does not argue that she hasn’t been lucky, because she has; she got out of the mire, didn’t she?

Every mire can become a meadow. It requires only all of the verbs, most of the time, and incremental change. It requires effort and will, and a willingness to care. It requires walking on, and beginning again. It requires practice. It requires that we plant our own flowers along our own way, and also pause to appreciate them when they bloom.

A man who says “I’ll never amount to anything”, doesn’t. Most particularly if he truly believes that, and practices the practices it takes to hold himself back. We become what we practice. Mire or meadow, we make our choice, and harvest from the garden we plant.