On a visit to Cumberland Island, Georgia, I heard that there was a path that would take me directly to the ruins of Dungeness. I had never heard of these ruins before, but I knew that I had to see them. I was on a journey inward. This entire trip was to help me get myself together and reduce my stress. My children were off on a vacation with their father, and this was the perfect time for me to do whatever it is my soul needed so that I wouldn’t spend every single day so stressed that I couldn’t cope. I hadn’t been the mother that I wanted to be in the past couple of months. I had been too busy struggling under the weight of stress. I was impatient with my children and permanently exhausted no matter how early I went to bed each night. This trip was supposed to help me change that.
Without sparing too much time for the details, I had gone through a difficult breakup followed by financial devastation in those months before the trip. I knew that I couldn’t go on at this level of stress so I decided that the best thing for me would be to change my environment, even if only for a couple of days. I needed a change of scenery, an escape. But I didn’t want one positively brimming with people. I didn’t need conversation and events. I needed quiet and nature. I needed to journey inward to make peace with my situation and to see a way forward from it. I needed to forgive and to summon my resourcefulness and figure out how to be the mom that my children deserved even though it would be at least another few months before the situation that had caused the stress would be resolved.
That’s how I ended up on Cumberland Island on a trail leading deep into the wild, primitive forests toward Dungeness. I needed to see her, and I didn’t know exactly why. Yes, I say her because that’s how it felt to me. I decided I would enjoy the trail and find my way to the ruins for the picnic lunch I’d brought along. I walked through miles of thick forest. The palmettos were taller than me, and the ancient live oaks were draped regally in Spanish moss, like so many wealthy dowagers attending a ball. The path was little more than dirt and sand but well worn from the passage of feet and of the hooves of the wild horses that called the island home. When I saw the sign to the ruin, I quickened my pace. The gate and sign above were little more than skeletal remains framing the loveliest ruin I’ve seen in person. Granted, I haven’t seen many. But she was compelling, like all ruins seem to be.
I loved her immediately. Perhaps because I felt as though I knew her, ruined as I feel I’ve become in the wake of personal and financial devastation. I look at her and see myself- stark and strong and resistant to the elements that would see her fall to dust. Enduring. Resilient. Mysterious. Dangerous. Beautiful. Wild now, letting all the light in. She’s a keep out sign with a solid foundation. How could I do anything but love her? And in that love for the ruins, how could I not love myself in mine?
Maybe that’s why ruins attract us. We understand that devastation so well, and we also understand the fortitude it takes to stand against the weather of our lives and hold our ground. We know how easily everything we have can disappear, and yet we invest so much of ourselves into who and what we love. We experience loss, but we keep going. We love and lose and still manage to love again. We are ruined sometimes, but never defeated. We remain. We keep going. We become something more powerful than we’d have been without the challenges we’ve endured.
No, we’re not ruined- much as we feel that we are. We endure. We face whatever devastation is before us with our heads up, proud and strong. We won’t be defeated or made to feel ashamed that we are not what we once were because we know that we’re so much stronger now. We’re as worthy of love as when we stood whole and unchallenged by life.
I went to the ruins for lunch, but I walked away knowing that she will endure- as will I. I spotted wild horses as I left the grounds. Somehow, it felt like a sign that everything would be alright. I don’t know. Perhaps I wanted it to be a sign when it was only wild horses at home in their environment. All I know is that I left Dungeness with my heart intact. I’m not ruined any longer.