Sometimes in the most unlikely of places, you will find a tiny treasure that represents a world of potential. Look carefully! Pay attention! It is not always in plain sight. But there right under your nose you will find something that holds promise of sweetness and goodness. Something that promises that this sweetness, this goodness, it is yours for the taking.
Maybe you have been hunting for a long long time. Maybe you just stumbled upon it. Maybe the bright colors caught your eye and made you stop and look again.
You hold it in your hand, turn it over, can’t believe your luck. Even before you open it, even before you you know that its biggest promise is that the cold dark days have passed–at least for now. The sun is shining again and there is work to be done!
Happy (belated) Easter.
Seven years ago this weekend, Juan and I stayed up all night and he told me he was leaving. It took him another year to leave and several more for the divorce to become final. Its taken 3 years for other details to be laid to rest, property to transfer, documents to be signed. Years later we are still navigating and negotiating–consulting about rides to karate and child care back ups and sick days. Nothing is ever gained or lost–it is just transformed and so too it is with the kind of commitments one makes to our children. But something feels big about crossing over the threshhold of seven.
Even as I write I am crossing a big milestone. I am putting stamps on the final document I need to send in–at least what I think is the final document to lay to rest another detail, the final big one.
One last big step away from an us that ceased to exist that night 7 years ago and one more step deeper into the magical and marvelous life that I am building–step by step, breath by breath, glorious morning by morning.
Seven years is a very long time. When things take that long to fully dissolve it can create a kind of inertia. The documents that needed to be mailed sat on my desk all week. In a timeline that has unfolded this slowly, a week is but a blink of an eye.
Sometimes I can get so frustrated with myself and the slow pace with which my life has seemed to unfold lately. Even the simplest of tasks seem to take longer some days. And yet, the landscape of my life has not changed by earthquakes but has instead been shaped by a slow steady rain, years and years of patient life giving rain that has worn new paths, shaped stones, grown trees and moss. Looking out at my garden I am in awe of the beauty that has resulted. Yes it is transformed, quietly, slowly. When I look at the results, who am I to curse the pace?
Some things take longer. Lifetimes or centuries. Millennia even. In the scheme of things, what is seven years? Seven years to finally put to rest something I thought would last a lifetime doesn’t seem that long, even as it feels like an eternity.
And yet there is something about the passing of seven years that makes me stand and take notice. Springing out of bed, as though an alarm has sounded. Enough already. Lets get moving.
Seven feels like a complete number, magical and round. Time now to dust off my hands and whatever inertia is left and move up and out and all around. Shake the earth and move the boulders. Its time. Its time.
There comes a time when it is abundantly clear that compassion not ambition is what is needed. There are moments when we gather in small and big numbers to pledge that nurture trumps success and kindness trumps victory. When we realize that giving up and giving in or simply giving, with loving arms open, is the only way forward.
These moments go best with coffee, good coffee, although they are also perfectly paired with tea, or wine or chocolate chip cookies or for that matter water too. Anything that can be shared, given freely, an offering of sorts to seal the deal we make, the promise to be a healing presence in the world. In this space we ask (perhaps for the thousandth time), “What would shift if I adopted love (not defensiveness, or pride or jealousy or fear) as my mantle?” We ask, “How would it be if we recognized the sameness in our humanity? How would everything change? What would it mean?
When we are awake to these moments, when we are conscious about what they mean for the world, if we keep our eyes open, we are often rewarded by a little sign, a sweet treat that tells us that the Universe conspires with us. An inside joke or perhaps a burning bush, a reminder that yes…Love is the only way forward.
A couple of weeks ago now (it feels like a lifetime), Max and I were stuck in a terrible snowstorm. It was the kind of snowstorm that brings down trees and turns DC roads into a mess. Like everyone else, we left the office early, but it wasn’t early enough. By the time we hit the roads, traffic was at a virtual standstill. My normal 25 minute commute lasted almost 6 hours.
But the point at which we arrived home is the end of the story. What is more fascinating is what happened in between.
For the first hour it felt like an adventure. We were moving along at a snail’s pace but we were certain we would make it home for dinner time. I dreamt of what I would cook and was comforted by the fire I would start, the cup of tea I would make within minutes of our arrival.
In the second hour, we started to get a bit itchy, but were certain that we would make it home for the Caps game on TV. The cup of tea turned into a glass of wine. I would need it after all this stop and go.
In the third hour it was clear that we would miss the start of the game, and that dinner would in fact be a long ways away. All the dreaming of tea and wine had made me thirsty. Max had fallen asleep in the car and everything on the radio began to feel old. We had moved barely 10 feet. I began to think we would be there all night. It was then that irritation and restlessness started to set in. Suddenly I was flooded with visions of being home in front of a warm cozy fire, a smooth glass of wine in my hand, the Caps game on the big TV and I wanted to scream and lay on my horn as though that would make the seas part. As I sat uncomfortably, munching on a donut that Max had earlier scavenged from the crevices of the back seat, misery snuck into the passenger seat and taunted me. “You’re not home” it whined. “This is miserable.”
And then something happened that saved me. I learned that the power was out at home.
Transformers had blown and the entire neighborhood was out. The house was cold and dark. There would be no tea, no Caps game, no warm dinner. All my visions of what could have been went up in smoke and I suddenly saw my situation much more clearly.
I was warm. There was an interesting story on the radio. Max was dozing in and out, but relatively content snuggled up in a sleeping back in the back seat. When he woke up from his naps we chatted about things we rarely had time to talk about. While we didn’t have a full tank, we had plenty of gas. The woman in the car in front of me was chatty and kind and together we were moving the branches that fell in our path. The man in the car crawling along in the right hand lane was patient and funny and compassionate, checking in on Max. We could melt snow for water. The stale donuts in the back of the car had filled us up. There was in fact, nothing truly miserable about our situation.
Somewhere in between hour four and five, I had one of those epiphanies that make me feel so naive, like a too-smart schoolgirl, stung by the simplest of lessons she had missed. Rarely does my suffering arise from my life’s circumstances. It is not what my life is that causes me pain. More often than not, when I suffer, it it caused by my disappointment about what my life is not. After all these years, that teaching had never sunk in so profoundly, but rather it had floated about on the surface of my intellect. But suddenly, in the midst of that thick wet snow that promised to hold us hostage, a switch was flipped and I could no longer deny it.
As I turned off the traffic filled road and onto a snow choked side street, I breathed into the reality that we were Ok, more than OK in fact. And while I had no idea of what would happen next I was certain that everything seems to change, even if its slowly.
With the newness of my understanding settling, I felt a bit sheepish and even a bit childish in my complete lack of understanding. All these years, even as I had talked the talk about non-attachment, I find I wound the tendrils of my happiness firmly around visions of some false future and then whine when its somehow different.
Its a habit, a very hard one to break.
I am being gentle with myself now. It takes a lot of courage to admit that most of my pain and misery is truly just an illusion. I have nursed my suffering so for so many years. As I tended my own wounds I felt, I don’t know…. Complete. Worldly. Complex. Deep.
Thats not to say that my pain wasn’t real. Just that not all of it was necessary. And while there is grief that will be unavoidable, real sorrows and feelings of loss, I can save myself from a whole lot of manufactured hurt if I dare. I’d like to think there is infinite value in being able to see behind the veil of my own disappointment into the richness of my own magnificent life.
This season I have traded in the great rush for something quieter. I decided to try my hand at really living with the season, to do what all of nature (except for us crazy western humans) do when the sunlight becomes scant. I decided to slow down and dive into deep rest.
There have been stretches this holiday season where I wore my pajamas for days on end. Days when I chose to read with Max by the fire instead of doing the thousands of chores that had piled up. Days when I put the endless to do lists to rest, fully trusting that one day the important stuff would find a way to get done. My phone has barely worked these days and that has been good because it kept me from taking calls. (I am sorry if you have been trying to reach me).
There is something magical about winter that I fear has gotten lost. Winter gives us permission to reboot and restore but the holiday season modern style instead leaves us feeling run round, ragged. Its not simply a matter of commercialism but rather a matter of hectic, rushing that runs completely counter to what our bodies know we need to do.
I am starting to surface now. Something about the new year turning is causing the sap to rise and pulling me out of my cocoon. Eventually I will return to the written word. I am sure of that. But until then wanted to break through the quiet to wish those who come by hear a New Year full of love and peace.
Its hard to describe what it feels like to be driving to Connecticut with the three of them in the backseat–Max sandwiched in between Grace and Mutoni. I look back in the rear-view mirror and see the three of them huddled over the Harry Potter movie on the computer. They are arguing over Justin Bieber (dreamy or ridiculous?–the sides are drawn) and sharing music on the ipod and sharing the box of cookies I snuck into the backsheet. It feels…well…it feels normal. A normal extended family fighting the traffic on I-95, two sisters in the front seat catching up, three cousins being silly as they sing the latest pop songs. And its that normal-ness that makes my heart swell with gratitude.
Three years ago my friend and housemate Odette made her first trip with me to Connecticut for Thanksgiving. At that time everything seemed impossible and stuck. We had no idea if she would be able to stay here in this country and the possibility of bringing her daughters from Africa seemed bleak–at best. After facing a horrible civil war and genocide in her native Rwanda, after losing her husband, after following her heart to cooking school and becoming a chef and after years of supporting her mother and children and nieces and nephews with her amazing cooking, she took a leap and came to the US. When things didn’t go as planned she ended up with me, thousands and thousands of miles away from her children, on a journey to Connecticut.
The thing I remember most about that trip is the hours we stole away dreaming about what it would be like IF she got to stay AND IF she got to bring her girls here. How amazing it would be. I also remember seeing absolutely no path to this dream. It was a far off destination through a wild jungle and a stark desert without a road (or even a path) leading there. I couldn’t see how she would get there but I loved her dreams. They were beautiful, even though they felt ridiculous and completely unreasonable. And I resisted every temptation to try and talk her out of them in order to protect her heart. And with that decision, I started to learn about dreaming, not wishing and praying but the active art about making dreams come true.
If there is anything I learned from my dear friend Odette, it is that we make the road by walking. Looking back over the highs and lows of the last three years, I am not sure anyone would ever have started out on that road if they knew how complicated, hard and impossible it would be. Huge unmoveable boulders would present themselves. Big pits of quick sand. And lions and tigers and bears. And yet, obstacles were faced one at a time. There always was a way around them, even if it took months, and heavy lifting, and impossible stretching. Just when I couldn’t imagine how she would continue or where the answer would appear, countless strangers came out of the woodwork to brick by brick built a path to that dream, chipping in how and when they could. Courage and hope was the only map. They guided everything–and always led the way home.
And then after four years of separation, we were making another journey up north, this time to an airport to pick them up because amazingly they were here. (Side note: for a bit of Thanksgiving inspiration, click over here to see Stephanie Roberts amazing photos and stories of their reunion!)
Having been a witness to this amazing story, knowing full well that when she started she had no idea what to do but it didn’t let her stop her, I don’t dismiss her advice when we are talking about my dreams, especially the ones that I can’t imagine the path towards.
JUST START, she tells me. She says it firmly. The next step will appear once you begin. I know, from the giggling I hear in the back seat, that she is right. She had no idea how she would ever bring her girls here but even though she had no plan, she threw herself into it and did the one thing in front of her. And then, the next thing…and the next one and the path appeared and outlandish, impossible and amazing dreams came true.
If there is anything I have learned from my sister Odette, from witnessing her journey, it is this. Just start. Hope and Courage are found in the doing.
I am sitting here at the end of what can only be described as a truly nutty week. It was full of disappointment and pain, especially for Max. In less than 6 days time he suffered: a surprise root canal, a puck shot at the back of his leg, an unexpected upper cut to the jaw from an angry kid he didn’t know, a pencil to the eye at school, and a hand slammed in the door and a trip to the emergency room. And that was just the physical stuff. For me too this week has been a wild ride with surprise announcements at work that tore my heart apart.
Tonight I have been hiding away in my newly constructed art room and playing with paper and glue, somehow pasting my own wounds back together.
Early today I took a walk with a friend and told her that despite the week’s misadventures, and rocky twists and turns I was feeling solid and safe and at peace. I have my health. My son is safe–if battered and bruised somewhat. I have good friends, a full fridge, and a car that still insists on working despite the way I have treated her. Joy and silliness are only a corny joke away. We are so blessed.
Tonight, as I clean up the house, putting dishes away and shoes in their place, picking up after the hurricane that is my son and his friends, I am counting my blessings, feeling my heart swell with gratitude for so much. Our life is, in the truest sense so very full, even now–especially now–when it is bumpy and uncertain.
The fall is a natural time of acknowledgement and gratitude, only fitting for me to list out here what is in my head and heart:
Why My Heart is Overflowing:
1. Max is having a sleep over with one of his oldest and dearest friends–a boy who literally knew him from birth.
2. The manager of Max’s hockey team sent a note to us all reminding us to set our clocks back.
3. I have an extra hour of sleep tomorrow morning.
4. I have enough apples to make apple sauce and apple crisp and apple torte tomorrow when I do wake up.
5. My house is peaceful and clear thanks to my dear sister Odette and my darling friend John who came over last weekend and spent their Saturday night with me, clearing out, moving furniture, making trips to the attic and basement, nailing up things and mopping the floor.
6. Max and I went to see our beloved Caps last night and I got to scream my head off with joy when they beat the Boston Bruins 5-3 after an exciting dramatic game.
7. Max is strong and resilient and was climbing trees within hours of the emergency room, waving at me with his ace-bandaged hand. I had to fuss at him to come down and sit still.
8. I have an art room where my home office used to be.
9. Juan brought me over a beautiful new glass table that a client of his was giving away for free. It replaces an old and broken table that we had once settled for but never truly loved.
10. Max and Rosie and Tabitha and I have each other. We have you too.
11. My old gray cat Rosie is alive and warm and cozy and sitting on my lap, talking to me, chattering away in meows and squeaks. She almost died 6 years ago. Yet here she is.
Here we all are. And that is everything.
Every now and then a possibility shows up that seems almost magical in its design. A perfect situation that seems to be constructed just for me (and Max), even as it sends us spinning in a new direction. I have learned to leap at those opportunities and to follow the string of it where ever it leads me. To wholeheartedly and excitedly say yes to these possibilities when they show up. In big or small ways, they always lead somewhere essential and unexpected.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes, when those opportunities appear and I have said my yes, I am suddenly awash in hopes and expectations. I find myself day dreaming about how amazing or fun or challenging or thrilling it will be. If I am not careful, I can suddenly in my excitement leap ahead imagining how it will look or feel, and what is going to be great and what is going to be hard and what is going to be different than we ever imagined it would be. I fantasize about lessons I will learn. I can get carried away.
Funny thing is, it never turns out exactly that way, and sometimes the possibilities dissolve as quickly as they materialize — like a mirage shimmering in the sun.
It could be an opportunity to host an foreign exchange student who doesn’t come, or a new job dangled in front of me only to be retracted. It could be a chance to partner on a cool creative project or to visit a place I have always wanted to go. It disappointing when that happens and I can find myself suddenly grieving something I never had, something that I didn’t even know I wanted until it sparkled in front of me like a fairy dust.
In the past, when the exciting opportunity slipped through my fingers like that, I could feel something like such a chump for daring to get excited about this unmanifested adventure. Who was I to believe that this exciting opportunity was meant for me? Who was I to believe that I that saying “yes” might carry me somewhere new? Who was I to get so–AHEAD of myself?
Truth is, in those moments I was so focused on the fact that I didn’t land where I thought I would, that I ignored the fact that the adventure had in fact already carried me somewhere–usually somewhere good, challenging or thought provoking. Someplace important. But instead of continuing to follow the string, I would drop it, not realizing that it hadn’t come to a bitter end. And I would get stuck.
But now, I am practicing the art of genuinely, excitedly, openly saying yes without attaching to the outcome. Because I am learning that often, its not the end result that matters, but what gets put in motion when I say yes that matters most.
Offering to host the student who is not coming may have inspired me to finally clean out the guest room, creating space for newness unimagined. The new job that falls through may have inspired me to view my talents in a new light or step into a new role in my current job. The work of readying myself for a project with a mentor may have set in motion a creative process that doesn’t need a partner. The cancelled trip to a dream location may be the thing that gets my travel itch going, readying me to say yes to a future journey that might have otherwise seemed daunting or undoable.
Truth is, every time we open ourselves up to adventure we are indeed swept a little further along the path leading to our dreams, even if we don’t end up where we thought we would. I am learning that sometimes these wonderful possibilities that never materialize may indeed be mirages–wonderful tricks the Universe may use to entice us out somewhere we might never have dared journey otherwise–somewhere uncomfortable or scary or exhausting or just simply counter-intuitive.
Once upon a time, past disappointment may have been thing that gave me pause next time an exciting adventure presented itself.
But now, I am beginning to peer beneath the surface of that disappointment and am finding that actually, really, the disappointment is the mirage. All it takes is a closer look to see what treasures actually were delivered.
Truth is, as a teacher I admire has said, I am (we all are) arriving, exactly where I need to, right on time.
And instead of throwing down the string that led me here in despair or annoyance, I am instead holding on lightly, following it centimeter by centimeter around blind corners and down dark alleys, learning as I go to trust the crazy places it may lead, squeezing the goodness out of every step.
When I arrived home from Boston after my birthday trip to the Mother’s Plunge, it was late. We pulled into the driveway and the automatic security lights came on. Like a spotlight they shone directly onto something new.
In my front garden where there had been nothing before, a tree stood. A beautiful tree with a cluster of slender trunks all reaching up to the sky, like a yogi greeting the sun. It was new but it looked as though it had always been there.
A half hour later I stood in front of it with my friend Edamarie, a garden designer who had placed it there, a gift for my birthday. She told me it was a witch hazel. Every healer needed a native healing tree in her front garden.
I have come to believe that everyone who shows up in my life is a teacher, and this tree, no less has much to teach me.
Witch hazel, so strong and flexible that its wood is used to construct bows: teach me to bow to life as it is, to bend not break.
Witch hazel, used to calm inflammation and wounds: teach me to gently take the sting out of life, to soothe those I come in contact with.
Witch hazel, which is so connected to the earth and magical. Witch hazel with your branches used to make divining rods and to discover underground water and energy: teach me to pay attention to the treasure underfoot.
Witch hazel, winter bloom, which only blooms after letting go of its leaves: teach me faith and to bravely let go so I might blossom.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
is a field. I will meet you there.
I spent my birthday being born again. Learning again the wisdom that I knew as a 3 year old running barefoot in the grass, but forgot. Learning again the wisdom that I knew as 6 year old lying on her back staring up at the clouds, watching them shape shift and drift by in the breeze.
This moment. This moment is all we have. And attention to it, that is love.
I discovered many of the principles of what some call “mindfulness” and others might call “Zen” in the immediate raw days, weeks and months right after my marriage blew apart. They rose up like ancient wisdom I once knew, as though an angel whispered them in my ear, a miracle. I didn’t really know where I learned it but I clung to that wisdom like a life raft.
The only way I knew how to get by during those awful weeks and months was literally minute by minute, breath by breath. The only way I could keep moving forward, mothering my child, doing my work was by placing my attention — every last ounce of my attention–on exactly what I was doing right there and then in that moment. The only way I knew how to quiet the voice in my head that screamed “Failure!” was to focus on exactly what was in front of me–what was unfolding immediately and literally in front of my eyes. The fluttering of the pages of the book, the smell of the old car, the pile of dishes, the sweetness of the breeze, the voice of my boss asking me a question. Paying attention to what was immediately in front of me saved me from my self. Paying attention gave me my life.
As life evened out, became normal and no longer raw and fierce, I retreated into old habits and started to live my life back in my head. I would lay awake dissecting the day that had past. I would stumble through my morning my head on dreams and hopes and aspirations that were so very far away that I started my day full of yearning and sadness, mourning the “not yet-ness”.
And then, life would kick me in the butt, leave me flayed wide open and I would remember — just one more breath. I only need to stay here for one more breath. With each exhale the world shifts. Every inhalation is a beginning. I moved through my crises that way.
I have been on a pendulum swinging from being awake to my life as it unfolds breath by breath to sleeping through it while my mind ruminated on a future that might never come to pass. The swings have been exhausting and some might say unnecessary, even if the circumstances were inevitable. I was tired–and even more so tired of being tired.
For my birthday I went to Boston, to the Mother’s Plunge to go home to what I have always known and never stop forgetting, and always keep remembering, to return to the magic of my breath, to the loving embrace available when we offer our full attention. It was there that Maezen reminded me that we always arrive at where we need to be right on time, and that no matter how far off course, no matter how wobbly I may feel, each breath is an opportunity to move out beyond my head with its ideas of right and wrong and into the field where I live my life–where I wrap my mama’s arms around my boy, where I hold a grieving friend’s hand, where I bury my nose in the kitten’s soft fur, where I cook dinner, where I brush my teeth, where I make my bed, where I lift the clean laundry to my face and smell, where I dance like a wild woman, where I pull out the weeds, where I make the powerpoint slide, where I board the plane, where I live my life, exactly as it is. There is no other way.
And most of all, I learned that I don’t need to fall apart to remember. I can practice, every day, several times a day, just by sitting. For a few moments or more, I can practice. Its that simple. It won’t stop the wild winds of life from blowing, but it will keep me anchored like a kite and allow me to dance.
I have been silent for some time, taking in the sweetness of all the wisdom I remembered. Distilling it along with the gifts offered to me on my birthday. Like the opportunity to finally wrap my arms around a sister I had only known here, or the gift of a teacher who showed up right on time, or the peace of sitting outside and eating cupcakes with an old dear friend and a new dear one too.
My teacher hugged me and wished me Happy Birthday. Everyday is your birthday she told me. Every day we get born again. Every breathe a new beginning.
Happy Birthday to you. To all of you.