This post is 2 years in the making. I put it here, on this last day of March in remembrance of three things: 1. My mama's birthday is in March. 2. My life changed for good and forever in March 2020. 3. The actions and attitudes of the March sisters have always been a source of solace and inspiration for me.
In the prelude to a scene that shifts everything in the 1994 film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Jo March greets her older sister Meg. Jo's been away for some time and returned home to be with younger sister Beth who's languishing from the long-term effects of rheumatic fever.
Jo presents Meg with a warm hug and a pressing question. "How is Beth?"
Meg's response is a touchstone phrase, "You will find her much altered."
Indeed. As Jo approaches Beth's bedside, she finds her surrounded by candles, healing tools, and small items of nurture and nourishment: dolls, flowers, tea, broth. Beth is not only altered, forever changed, by her circumstances, but she is also ALTARED (note the spelling change), a focal point of hope and devotion.
Anytime I feel circumstances shift life in a new direction, I think of this exchange between the March sisters and that phrase: Much ALTERED. I line those words up with the image of Beth MUCH ALTARED and wonder how I might fare in my altered state if I added a few more touchstone pieces to the sacred spaces around me.
I stand in my first shop, an antique-filled front room with an apartment behind.
"How did you come to get this shop?" A curious customer asks.
"I made three wishes in the mirror and this is what came to me."
"What were your wishes?"
"To belong to myself. To know thriving, flowing, abiding love. And to have a witchy shop."
"That's it? You made a wish and you got this space?"
"Well, that and I burned my life down."
Mid-March 2020, I joined many of you in the chaos of quarantine. From the liminal space of shelter-in-place, I moved beyond the faith of my forebearers, separated from my husband of 28 years, and left the house my children were finishing their growing-up in. I flew to my mother and walked the desert in her shoes. I called my dad daily and counseled with him. I drove to the fairy forests of the Pacific Northwest where siblings and Spirit nourished me. I sat beside the ocean, stripped down to a few pieces of cloth, and let icy waves wash over me. On my return, I moved into a garden-level apartment in a hundred-and-twelve-year-old building named The Elise, a half-mile from my family home. I spent more time on the floor in a sobbing heap of tears than any grown-ass woman should. Maybe all that crying was an attempt to drown the wildfires that nearly consumed everything I had. Whatever the actual purpose of that place, I built physical altars to my pain and found devotion there.
Sometimes you are weirded out by the word altar. You think of patriarchal priests in long robes performing curious rituals to strange gods. You wonder if having an altar in your home makes you some sort of heretic or heathen. It may. But only in the best of ways. Really what I say is this: An altar is nothing more, or less, than a focal point of your attention in a given space. Do you have a centerpiece on your kitchen table? A floral arrangement in your bedroom? A trinket-tray in your bathroom? Altars ALL.
The first altar I created with intention was in that garden-level apartment at the Elise. I situated it on top of a space heater that wanted to be a fireplace; an $80 special from Amazon with a light-up log, a flicker of a fake flame, and a blower motor that made all the wires in the apartment buzz when it was running. I adorned it with a doily from my grandma, candles I made, notes from loved ones, stones, talisman. I accidentally burned a hole on the top with the tiniest bottle-cap candle. A story for another day. Sometimes, small flames escape you.
"This place was the first space I ever lived on my own," I tell the customer. "I was 46. But I was also separated from people I love. The pain was almost unbearable. I don't recommend it. It was part of learning how to belong to myself, to love unconditionally. I don't know if I've ever taken a costlier risk. Cosmic rent control isn't a thing and I paid a high price."
Curiosity pushes the final question.
"And what happened. How are you now?"
Without tying too pretty a bow on what I experienced in finally coming home, “Much altered,” is all I can say.