Finding Wings in the Darkness


Marielena Zuniga -Finding Wings3By Marielena Zuniga | Blog

I walk to the dunes by tall reeds, taking in the expanse of ocean before me. The beach is bereft in autumn except for a lone fisherman on one of the stone jetties. I inhale, the smell of salt air and fish stinging my lungs.

I breathe again, realizing how staccato and shallow this process of inhalation has been for me lately, how I’ve not been taking life in. Here I am in my elder years, still seeking meaning and purpose.

What am I here to do?

How can I serve using my gifts?

What is my life’s purpose?

My dreams were to be a successful, published author, to share my journey with a kindred spirit, to travel extensively, to teach spiritual truths in written and spoken words.

Not all have come to fruition as I had thought or planned. And I am still waiting, even as time collapses around me and grows shorter. Beyond the externals, however, what is it I really seek? This is the question that reverberates in my mind in the early hours of the morning, that chants like a litany through the still of the night.

What is truly of worth in life?

Perhaps I am in the process of soul-making. “This is not always a happy thing,” writes philosopher and author, Jean Houston. “Crucial parts of it are not,” she writes. “It almost always involves a painful excursion into the pathos wherein the anguish is enormous …”

A friend tells me that I am in “bifurcation.” The word literally means “a fork in the road,” a point where an old life is ending and a new one is beginning. It is the scientific process of the caterpillar–of chrysalis.

Removing my shoes, I slide my feet into the cool sand. Late afternoon shadows bruise the sky as I walk along the shoreline laced with foam. I huddle against the chill. The seagulls, too, brace against the wind. They step on tentative legs toward the waves, waiting for a meal.

A butterfly snags the edge of my vision. Then I see another and another. They flit in and out of the thickets of reeds as if stitching them together.

I take a few more steps along the beach when a movement ahead distracts me. On the bleached sand sits a dab of brown and yellow. It is a butterfly, stranded on its side and dangerously close to the waves. It is injured, lifting one wing, then dropping it.

I sit down and watch it, struggling for flight. The wind pushes against it; the waves move in closer. I pick it up gently between two fingers and move it toward safety, up toward the dunes.

For some time, I wait, wondering what it will do. The butterfly still thrashes, yearning to fly, but it is hurt and needs to be still for it to heal. I want to comfort it, tell it to stop fighting. A sob catches in my throat.

In her book When the Heart Waits, author Sue Monk Kidd writes: “To suffer our darkness is to take the pained and broken parts of ourselves and rock them gently.”

I begin to weep for it, for my own brokenness and pain, for all the suffering in the world, and I rock it gently. We are all in the process of bifurcation, of letting go of what no longer works and finding new wings. We can do nothing but wait until healing unfolds, until life and answers are born.

I am learning, as Jungian analyst James Hillman writes, that our “soul is the patient part of us.” And I must allow myself to go into the unknowing spaces of my life, to live there with their tensions and sorrows.

I must have faith that even though I am mired in the smaller details of “what next,” God views the bigger picture and is comforting me, providing pockets of peace amidst the waiting. God is with me in the darkness and in the birthing process. And I must believe that as mystic Juliana of Norwich assured, “All is well and all manner of things shall be well.”

I finally stand and with one foot, I draw a circle in the sand around the butterfly. I want it to be protected, whether it ever flies again or not. Before I leave, I whisper a prayer for its healing and for all the anguish and hurting on the earth.

I walk a few steps into the wet sand and then stop to look back one last time at the butterfly. But the circle is empty. Somewhere in the wind, my heart is soaring.

About Marielena:
mz head shotI’m an old woman. And to prove it I’ve been writing a long time, for more than 40 years. I’ve worked as a staff writer for newspapers and magazines and earned some impressive journalism and writing awards. For three years (2010-2012) my essays placed in the top 100 of the inspirational category of the annual Writer’s Digest Magazine writing contest. I’d love for you to visit my blog “Stories for the Journey” at


  1. Loretta Dugan says:

    Dearest Marielena,
    Every time I read your writings I feel so enriched. I too ask myself the same questions. What am I here to do? How can I serve using my gifts? What is my life purpose? Sincerely, I believe that to some degree, sharing the gifts of your very deep, and beautifully written insights is not only what you are here to do but also your purpose and how you serve. Thank you always for your heartfelt and thought-provoking writing and willingness to share. The significance of the protective circle that you were directed to create is not a message lost on me. It reminds me that we are all encircled by His protective circle of love and that we need to have courage and faith sometimes to find it. Thank you for the reminder.

    • Marielena says:

      Your words just brought tears to my eyes, dearest Loretta. So beautifully written and expressed. Thank you for sharing such a heartfelt and meaningful response to my essay. With deepest gratitude to you for your ongoing support, encouragement and friendship. I am so blessed.

  2. Linda Wisniewski says:

    I love the image of the butterfly in the sand, and the hopeful ending of this piece. I find, as an old woman too, that I look for these positive signs every day. it seems our world is bifurcated now, too, and it makes a sobering parallel to our own crossroads in life.

    • Marielena says:

      Linda, I love your insight about our world also being “bifurcated” right now and how it is a “sobering parallel” to our own crossroads. This feels so accurate to me. I feel what many of us need right now is hope, whether it’s personal or global, and the ending of my essay gave me hope as I wrote it. Thanks so much for reading my essay and your kind and insightful comments!

  3. Chalcea Malec says:

    Heartfelt thanks for this balmy reminder to ‘just’ wait in the circle of His love. Such a beautiful picture Marielena! Thank you for sharing.

    • Marielena says:

      You’re welcome, Chalcea! And many thanks for your kind words about my essay. I always write to “remind” myself what I need to remember as well. With gratitude for reading my words.

  4. Your work inspires me something deep, Marielena. Thank you so much. My favorite nugget: “We can do nothing but wait until healing unfolds, until life and answers are born.” <3 You are such a grace. Can't wait to read more of your work. #soulmakingtogether

    • Marielena says:

      Gracias and deep thanks, Carolina, for taking time to read my inspirational essay. I feel very graced to be able to share any words that might offer hope, reflection or inspiration. With deep gratitude for reading my work!

  5. Melissa Henderson says:

    The “what if” questions often plague me, even though I know God has a plan for me. There are times when I wish I knew the plan. 🙂 Trusting in God is the only way for me. 🙂

    • Marielena says:

      Ah, I think you hit the heart of what many of us struggle with, Melissa — wanting to know God’s plan for our lives. This is why I write about trust and “letting go” so much because these are lessons I’m still learning. A day at a time. Sometimes, a minute at a time. Handing it over to God, again and again and again. So much gratitude for reading my essay!

  6. Sandy Hay says:

    As I age I find myself more willingly going into the unknowing places. That surprised me because in my youth and early adulthood I always wanted to play it safe. That thought still comes but now I know I’m not alone there.

    • Marielena says:

      I think aging brings us to a new heart space in our lives, Sandy, one where we are, in a way, forced by the process to let go and trust. Even so, at my age, going into the unknowing places still takes courage. And we are definitely not alone. I believe this is a common journey we all share. And I believe God is with us very intimately throughout the journey even though we may not feel God’s presence.Thanks so much for taking time to ready my essay.

  7. We never do seem to outgrow the need to be asking those important questions. My twenty-something self thought that I would eventually arrive at a place where I would have accomplished all (or most of) my goals, but she did not know that the goals would change over the course of three decades.

    Maybe the secret to “soul-making” is staying open to what God sends our way without becoming bitter or disillusioned and rescuing the stranded butterflies that we find along the way. Heading over to check out your blog!

    • Marielena says:

      I love your wise words, Michele. I, too, believe — if we are open to growth and God — we never do stop asking those important questions, no matter our age. And yes, the goals keep shifting and changing as we go through soul growth and the aging process. Thanks so much for reading my essay and for following my blog. I’m on a brief hiatus right now from my blog for summer but plan to get back to it soon. Again, with deep gratitude to you for reading my words!

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