The thing about Mount St. Helen’s is not that it erupted but that it erupted with so much more force than was expected. The mountain was watched for years. There were signals, there were signs. For days, weeks even, the mountain was watched closely. Residents were warned, plans were made. That it erupted was not a surprise.
I went to Mount St. Helen’s last summer. I looked at the photos and read the stories. I thought, in that moment when I was moved to tears that what moved me was my memory of that eruption. I thought that I cried because I remember sitting my classroom at St. Teresa of Avila grade school and hearing about the catastrophe, being moved by it, sad and shocked.
I thought as I watched the video of that day again last summer that this was the place it touched in me but today I wonder if there is something else. I wonder if it’s because I am the volcano.
I have always been described in my best moments as “even keel” or “steady” I have even been called “wise.” These things may all be true of me and yet I know I am the volcano with the face of a mountain. I can feel the heat deep inside me, it resides in the pit of my stomach. I feel it bubble up into my chest where I choke it in my throat. My anger begins as the rumbling in the fire pit, molten lava needing a place to go. I say, “I am angry” because that is how I know to vent it. I am words, it’s my thing. I articulate my anger, express my underlying insecurity and sadness, my hurt and my pain. I can say these things. It is remarkably effective in keeping the volcano contented, for a while. As my life has become more complicated however I find that articulation is often not as effective as it once was. My articulation of my anger is often not enough for me. It’s not enough to speak, I must feel that I’m also heard. So often these days I am overwhelmed, out voiced, unheard.
My articulation of my anger is smoke coming from the mountain, ash rising into the sky. It is the air vent to the furnace below and it needs oxygen, it needs feedback. When it does not get feedback I produce fear and the fear is toxic fume. I don’t know when it shifted in me, this need for call and response. I’m not sure that even the response would be enough, frankly to disrupt the cycle brewing…it could be superstitious wishful thinking, the throwing of a virgin into the pit, hoping to appease the anger gods.
I do know that I will erupt and often when the pressure builds, spewing forth rock and fire. I try to press it down inside me and I cannot. I am beyond that. The tragedy of my eruption is not the loss of beauty in this mountain, though, it’s the loss of life around it. It’s those close to me, those who will not leave because they know me, because they care for me. This great mountain holds a family in its arms, it cannot afford the loss.
And in the end, the thing about Mount St. Helen’s eruption in 1980 is not that it erupted but that it changed forever the face of the mountain and all the life that surrounded it.
I don’t want to be the volcano, I know this about me and as I often tell you (and I mean it) I really am working on that. I want to be better, do better, than I am now. My great hope is that in the meantime, in the wake of the explosions and fires that my life will echo that of Mt St. Helens…that life will spring up again at the foot of the mountain, torn open at the top, pressure relieved and rumbling gone.