Max and I just got home from Dolores and Morgan’s pack-and-pizza party.  I felt like I was at a modern day barnraising.  All day neighbors floated through to pack some boxes, break-down shelves, and load up the trailer truck while drinking beer and water by the gallon.    They are still going under the street lights.

On Thursday night a group of neighborhood women gathered under a full moon to drink seabreezes and wine while Dolores roamed through her garden packing and weeding and just being there.  While no one talked much about the impending move, we all sat and held the space, sitting together and giggling for just a few hours.

It seems that all these little rituals somehow make the going away easier for all those who are mourning this move.  Perhaps it is easier to let them go knowing they are taking a bit of our hearts (and sweat) with them.  I am saddened that I knew this family for such a short period of time.  But I believe in my heart that it is not the end.  We will continue I hope to keep them close.

Rituals like these that Dolores’ tribe have launched are so important.  They mark endings and beginnings and allow us all to work through our joys and sorrows in community.  We don’t have enough ritual in modern life.  Too often we are too busy to stop and mark the simple every day wonders.  I have thought about this quite a bit and wondering how I can slow down enough to add some ritual to our lives. I think it would be healthy for not only me, but for Max too.  Rituals help us make meaning out of the world.

Late last week I finished a two year assignment to go back to my old job.  I am leaving the office of the organization I have worked at for two years.  And at the end of the week there was the party that I had dreaded.  There was beer and wine,appetizers and cake.  Cards and a gift.  Everyone stood around in a circle awkwardly and said nice things about me.  I felt so funny about it-I hate being in the spotlight and would have just preferred to slip away quietly.  But a wise mentor of mine reminded me how we all need these rituals to mark our milestones.  I needed it and so did all those I was leaving behind. 

I would love to hear about rituals that you have incorporated in your life–I am looking for some good ones to help us bring some order and regularity to our days–to help us mark our endings and our beginnings and mark the time.  Post your favorite rituals here in the comments or send them to me at margaretacasey at yahoo dot com. 

Summer

Summer

My friend Jen, not only a gifted writer but also a doula, recently wrote this post about transition, the birthing kind.. 

I had recently shared with her my long-held dream to become a midwife.  At this point it is just a dream.  Changing careers at this point in my life is really not an option.  I used to be the frustrated secret midwife-wanna-be, borrowing medical textbooks from the library, dreaming of taking workshops on the Farm with Ina May Gaskin, checking out coursework at the University of Maryland and making plans to sign up for biology next semester, watching the Discovery Health Channel long into the night, grumpy when none of these things worked out.

Now, however, I find the midwife in me emerging in different and more comforting ways.  At work, I have become that colleague who will spend hours brainstorming over someone else’s project with them until their best ideas and creative genius pop out.  I hold the space for great ideas, smiling and reassuring struggling friends that they are so so close to finding an answer, …now breathe…breathe…yes push yourself NOW.  Its what I do best really and its what I have come to love about my current job and one of my greatest joys in being a friend. 

Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the birthing of others that I forget that I too am laboring. 

I am laboring to bring forth a new life for us–a life post-Juan where happiness is not simply the mere absence of grief but something greater, new, different, brilliant and sparkly.  I am laboring to bring forth a creative, independent and strong woman who finds happiness in the “now”–and does not seek it in the “if only”  I am laboring to bring forth a new vision for my life, a new way of imagining family, a new way of imagining my future.

I related so to Jen’s post because in my own little birth metaphor these last few months my life has been in this kind of transition.  And as a transition its not been simply transitory but more like the transition phase in a birth — that crazy moment of excitement and chaos and fear and restlessness and doubt.  Being a soul-midwife myself I know that if I can just push through something  beautiful will be born but in the throws of it all it is just easy to scream “GET ME OUT OF HERE”.     Unlike real birth transition, this phase has lasted months and may last even longer.  I can’t say for sure when we will turn the corner.  Thank God for the friends who wipe my forehead and tell me to breathe.

I have much to write about this state of transition.  And in time more stories like this and this will emerge.  I want to record the joyous, scary, crazy place I am in right now, a place where hope and doubt are all tangled up into one space.  I want to remember what it took to get to the next phase of my life, what it took to grow. 

But tonight I will just light and candle, say a little prayer and hold the space.  I am a midwife after all.

Yesterday dear dear Dolores and her cute guitarist hubby Morgan sent me this picture from their party

(Deep sigh)

I am still buzzing from the music.  I have a bit to write tonight but wanted to post this separately.  

Long live Rock and Roll!

Dancing fool

Dancing fool

My beautiful wild boy of summer

My beautiful wild boy of summer

After weeks of feeling needful and restless, I am sitting in a space where I truly can say we are living the good life here in Silver Spring.  This weekend was pure magic, stirring up a little cocktail for my heart:  two parts gratitude, one part joy, shaken with giggles and good conversation and poured over three straight sunny days with no humidity.

I have so much to be thankful for in this little weekend respite. 

Thank you for a community who welcomes us with open arms, for friends who love expansively.

Thank you for a child who wakes up with delight because it is a “Max and Mommy day”.  For cuddles and hugs and a boy who can’t wait to be with me all day.  For giving me the patience to love his games again…

Thank you for little boys who love each other so dearly that they jump in the pool with arms wrapped around each other.  For children so patient and kind that they invite the two year to their picnic.  For freckled face, long legged, wild haired children who feel the freedom of summer soaking in their skin-who laugh with abandon as they sneak away to play magical imaginary games  in the backyard…

Thank you for ice cream trucks and drivers who will come back AFTER supper so we can save our tummies for dinner but not have to say no to opening a popsicle right then and there…

Thank you for friends who don’t want us to go home, even when it seems we have moved in with their family.  For friends who invite us to lounge at their pool and and allow us to help cook dinner.  For friends who will step in and help out with that little boy of mine when it clear he has stopped listening to me… 

Thank you for armfuls of lilies and a friend who is so wise and generous that I want to give the whole bunch to her.  Thank you for the look of delight on her face when I walk in the door….

Thank you for Cold Stone Creamery and for waffle cones and for the magical ability to eat it without getting a drop on my new white shirt….

Thank you for moonbounces and the look of sheer bliss on Max’s face as he spends two hours leaping through the air.  Thank you for the brilliant neighbor who decided to rent one for the blockparty…

Thank you for an ex-husband who cleans out my chimney a second time–just to be sure…

Thank you for spontaneous, homemade music and the sound of a cello floating in through a window.  Thank you for the Yo-Yo Ma CD I just found exactly when I was in the mood for cello.  Thank you for a wild courageous friend who sang in public for the first time, inspiring bravery in my heart..

Thank you for chewy chocolate cookies and cold milk eaten at 3am after a night full of dancing… 

Thank you for Harry Potter and for the fact that noone has told me what happens at the end of book 7.

Thank you for lemonade with fresh crushed mint.  Thank you for mojitos with fresh crushed mint.

Thank you for the dear soul sister who sends me emails full of inspiration and ideas when I am feeling stuck.

Thank you for sleep, so restful and deep with technicolor dreams.  And more mornings that come offering a bit of hope even when it is Monday.

May I be able to touch this feeling of gratitude when work drags me down, or when it starts to rain, or when I am feeling headachey or tired or grouchy.  May my memory of this contentment be with me when my patience is tried tomorrow or when the bills arrive in the mailbox or when sleep alludes my tired self.  My this peace linger when I am cut off in traffic, when rude people say hurtful things or when loneliness comes to visit.  I ask this in the name of all that is good and warm and sparkly. 

AMEN!

Dance Dance Feel it all around you
Dance Dance Dance
Never knew love had a rainbow on it
See the girl dance…
-Neil Young 

Last night, my new friend Dolores and her family brought together their whole tribe for a celebration to kick off their new adventure.  They are picking up and moving west to Colorado.  I am saddened and feel a little robbed–I have only really known Dolores for months not years but from the minute I met her she was nothing but true–the kind of person who elicits a deep sigh and instant relaxation into yourself.   

The party was beautiful.  A huge funky art space, good home cooked food, a tremendous cast of fabulous people.  But more importantly, set up at the end of the studio, a stage full of instruments and an open mic.  All afternoon and into the wee hours of the morning talented people drifted up on stage to play in endless combinations–songs I haven’t heard played live in what feels like a lifetime:  Not Fade Away, the Weight, the Joker, standard after standard by Muddy Waters, CCR, the Beatles.  And me, I was square in the middle of the dance floor, doing what feels at natural as breathing. 

Twirling and grinding to music strummed on a guitar feels to me like being home.  Growing up was punctuated with my mom’s guitar, my brother and a gang of friends banging out “Momma’s Got a Squeezebox” my father singing into a wooden spoon as for a mic.  As a teenager at forbidden parties, we gathered around the kid with the guitar playing Simon and Garfunkel and the Dead and breathed in homemade music along with smoke and beer fumes. In college our liquor soaked nights at the seedy Irish pub were whipped up into a frenzy as the Lapdogz (my friends’ cover band) played and I sang along at the top of my lungs from the floor and danced my heart out.

Homemade music has been the soundtrack to some of the  happiest memories of my youth.  Magical first kisses in a parking lot with the music drifting down from the porch above.   Music soaked lazy spring afternoons in highschool and college those days when possibilities stretched out like an endless highway.

Back in that day, everyone was a rock star in waiting. 

Last night, long after my son had been packed away with my friend Jackie’s dear mother for an impromptu sleepover, there I was in my bright orange shoes, little white Christmas lights a twinkling, dancing from a deep memory of hope, joy and silliness and unadulterated bliss bubbling through my veins.    Touching a place inside me long waiting to be reborn. 

I have been so grumpy lately.  I have been banging-around-the-house grumpy.  I think if only he knew how to spell, Max would be hanging out signs–WANTED: NICE MOM- interviewing for my replacement.

Getting rid of the foul odor in the house helped alot.  Lighting my candle has helped too.  Waking up to find that the couple of flies that had gotten in through the hole in the screen door had had wild nights of love that led to babies did not help.  I am sick of being a nursemaid to the natural world.  I grabbed the vacuum and the Raid.

After vacuuming up the wormy pre-flies and dropping Max off at the babysitter I drove directly to Pat’s.  It was time for an emergency intervention.  I had the morning off.  I hadn’t seen Pat in a long while and had been feeling a need to seek her wisdom, hear about her new projects, soak up some of what she has learned.  She is wise and kind and exudes love and acceptance.  And she is fun to boot!

Tea time

Tea time

There is nothing like being nourished to soothe a grouchy soul.  She made delicious green tea, a juicy fruit salad and homemade lemonade with crushed mint.  We talked for hours about feng shui, Myers Briggs, the Enneagram.  She told me about her latest class with Joey Yap.  We dissected a project I had worked on, talked about science and spirituality, Chinese metaphysics.  We pulled out books and papers and poured over them together.  Compared notes, nodded alot, furrowed our brows and then said “Aha!”.  Sitting with Pat it all seemed to be true and real and of course! and why not?

Pat's yummy fruit salad

Pat’s yummy fruit salad

And then the big OF COURSE hit me.  I am happiest when I am being nourished in community.  A big long table loaded with potluck foods.  A lovely community loaded with ideas and concepts to share.  Working together with someone wise on something mutually loved is nothing short of bliss. 

I left feeling energized.  Something in my soul shifted a little and made room for possibilities and for hope.  I realized what I  been seeking all these days that I have been mopey.  I am in need of the company of wise women & conspirators in creativity.  I have been going at my projects alone these days, trying to figure it out on my own.  Its become a way of life really, proving to myself that I can do it all my own.  I know I can now but I don’t always need to do so.  The self sufficiency and independence I have achieved is rewarding but as Winnie the Pooh says, “Its so much friendlier with two”.   

So much friendlier with two indeed!

Ever since I wrote this post I have been lighting a little candle on my serenity altar.  I have been feeling so restless of late, seeking something I can’t quite put a finger on.  I have been praying for a little clarity…, to understand what my heart is yearning for so that I can make her happy.

A few nights ago, I was leaning over to light the candle and my eyes fell on the picture that my friend Pat had given me for Chinese New Year. 

Serenity Altar.  I have two altars in my house.  I dedicate this one to finding peace.

Serenity Altar. I have two altars in my house. I dedicate this one to finding peace.

It is difficult to tell what it says from the photo here so let me transcribe it here:

Seeing the small is called Clarity

Keeping flexible is called Strength

Using the shining Radiance

you enter the Light

where no harm can home to you

This is called Enlightenment

   – Lao Tsu

Sometimes the universe needs to just hit me over the head.  I have been looking for clarity in the big, wide and sweeping instead of in the tiny.  But isn’t it true that real clarity only comes in little portions, tiny moments when it all seems to make sense?.  Isn’t it true that that we only understand when we explore the intimate, intricate details of any one thing or person or feeling.   

I realized that in my haste to catch up with my life–my life that had felt as though it had galloped away from me while I was so tired– I had stopped noticing the small.  I wasn’t doing my morning pages.  I wasn’t taking photos.  I wasn’t doing yoga or knitting or my mediatation work–all things that help me break down life into the tiniest of bits to appreciate each square inch of beauty.  I was all full steam ahead, big picture, getting lots of stuff done.

So this week I am resolving to think small.  To find my clarity in all the tiny little bits

The racoon family in my chimney moved out.  Its been a week at least , maybe 10 days since my morning was punctuating by their noisy banging.  It was the pinesol that drove them out.  These racoons appeared to be great fans of Jimmy Buffet and Broadway musicals but the smell of pinesol was apparently too much for them to take.   A few nights ago Max and I saw them, a mom with a babe scampering up a big tree where they had apparently made a new home.

But despite their decision to leave, over the last few days the house had really started to smell.  I thought it was the 100 degree heat that made the old racoon droppings especially ripe.  It was not a gagging, foul make me sick smell–just a ripe barnyard odor, unpleasant and ever present.  Like garbage left out on a sunny day somewhere  down the block.  Nothing I go do would remove the smell.   I banged around the house in an increasingly foul mood.  Grumpy, angry, agitated.  Irritated.  Impatient.

Today at work I got a call.  It was Juan

J:  I have good news and bad news.  What do you want first.  The good news is really really good.

M: Give me the bad news.

J:  Don’t you want the good news first? 

M:  Just the bad news hon–if you tell me the good news first the bad news will just bring me down…

J:  One of the baby racoons is dead.  It was left in the chimney.  That was the smell.

A sadness washed over me.  I had really wanted that little family to make it. I wondered about the mother–the loss she must feel. At the same time my own mother instincts went into high gear.  I was revolted thinking about the carcass so close to my son, thinking about the decay.  I wondered:  What the hell do I do now?  How am I going to get a dead racoon out of my chimney?  What a mess!

M:  The good news?

J:  I cleaned out the chimney.  Its all done.  Poop’s gone, hair’s gone, nest is gone.  It was a huge job.  I removed the carcass–had it dealt with.  I knew you couldn’t do it.  It smells better in the house now.

M:  Thanks.  You’re right.  I couldn’t.

And then it hit me.

M:  Juan, Do you think I killed the little guy?  With the pinesol and the musicals and everything?

J:  Oh, I don’t know.  Maybe.  Probably not.  His little foot was caught in the flu.  Probably he just got stuck and couldn’t get out for food and water.  His mom probably left him there when the rest moved on.  Its life, you know, survival of the fittest and all…

I remember the last night when I heard the crying–the night I yelled at the chimney–MOVE ON ALREADY!  Poor little one was alone and dying and I was screaming at him. He must have felt so scared, so betrayed.  My heart broke for him.  I started to weap softly.  I thought no one would have been able to tell but Juan knows me well enough to hear the tears.

J:  This is good news Meg.  The racoons are gone.  The smell is gone.  Its done.

M:  I know.  Thanks.  You are a saint for doing this.  Really.  I really appreciate it.

And its true.  I walked into the house this evening and felt immediately lighter.  My patience with my own imperfect life seemed to flood back, hope washing over me.  My grounchiness subsided.  The relief was palpable.

Was the energy of a death so close so very strong that it hung over the house and colored our moods?  I am certain of it.    The hopelessness of his struggle was what had drifted in and clung to our clothes, our curtains, our rugs. 

I walked over to my altar and lit a candle for a baby abandoned by earthly mothers.  I prayed that he had found a home in the furry bosom of the great mama racoon in the sky.  I also lit a candle in thanksgiving for such an unexpected kindness from the most unlikely of people.  

Calla Lily at Blarney Castle Garden

Calla Lily at Blarney Castle Garden

What is the color of happiness?  What is her shape?  Her texture?  What does happiness look like?  Taste like?  Smell like?

These are the questions that pass through my head while gardening this afternoon, reigning in the glorious explosion that took place in my garden this spring.

I want to know because I want to recognize her here in my life when she makes her appearances.  I want to appreciate her, identify with her, welcome her in.  I am worried that in all my endless restless yearning I am ignoring an old friend who I can’t quite recognize these days.

For so long it seemed as though the absence of crushing grief was enough to make my heart sing.  Happiness came in the moments when it did not all fall apart–when I could put one foot in front of the other and continue on despite all that we were facing.  Happiness looked like survival with a pinch of joy, hope and and wee moments of connection stirred in for good measure.  Happiness was the journey of recovery–a path away from hurt.  Happiness was strength that showed itself as flexibility–the ability to laugh as it all came tumbling down.

But now that recipe for happiness does not seem to be quite enough for this hungry little girl. 

I long to sink into deep contentment with my life, so rich in so many ways.  Indeed we have built so much, been given so much in the last few years.  But there is still so much I want for Max and I, selfish as that sounds.  I want our life to include cooking and eating healthy foods, not box after box of take out pizza and mac and cheese.  I want it to include entertaining friends without apologizing for the house.  I want it to include weekend adventures instead of weekends full of chores and catching up on sleep.   I want it to include love and a family bigger than just the two of us.  All these things seem so far out of reach for so many reasons–so far out of reach that I don’t want to pin the color of happiness on them. 

I can’t quite figure out why I can’t shake the ambivalence and embrace this phase of life that I am in this waiting station, this resting spot.  Its as though I am stuck at the half way mark–not sad, not even blue but not quite satisfied with what passed as happy not that long ago. 

I am not quite sure what will shake me out of this mood. So, I find myself wondering, what does happiness in this next phase of life look like?  Am I doing the right things to cultivate it for myself?  For Max?  Am I focusing on the right things?  What on earth am I missing here?  What is the color of true happiness and how can I get her to move in with me?

Fireworks at our local middle school

Fireworks at our local middle school

Today we celebrated the 4th of July.  I am not a terribly patriotic person–in fact these days I am pretty embarrased by our nation’s behavior around the world.  But I am always up for a party so we do the whole 4th of July thing up pretty big down here.  However, given how grouchy I am feeling about our foreign policy, the failure of the passage of the immigration bill and the death of the Employee Free Choice Act, I was very much hoping that my son wouldn’t ask me questions that would make me have to talk all red, white and blue…or try to explain the complexity of my political positions.  It was a beautiful day and I just wanted to enjoy a nice picnic.  I was hoping that like years past he would just roll with the idea that its a fun day in the middle of the summer–a good reason to sit back with a drink and watch fireworks.

No such luck.  At 11:14 am the questions started:

Green fireworks are always my favorite

Green fireworks are always my favorite

Max:  What is the big deal about the 4th of July? 

Me:  Its a holiday

Max:  Why is it a holiday?

Me:    Ummm…it’s the day we celebrate our country’s birthday.

Max:  What does that mean?

Me:    Its the day that the United States became its own country.

Max:  I don’t get it.

Me:  Well, a long long time ago–more than 200 years ago, a bunch of people came over from England and settled on some land, the land we live in now.  Those people followed the rules of England and the King of England got to set the rules even though he lived far away.  It was like that for awhile.  Then they had this King named George…

Max:  Oh…George Bush’s dad…

Me:   No, another George.  Anyway, they thought he was really mean and he made unfair rules. 

Max:  Like George Bush…

Me:   Right–well kinda…anyway, he took their money and he didn’t give them any say about what to do with it.  They wanted to make their own rules so they decided to make their own country.

Max:  Oh…so the 4th of July is the day that the King gave the people the country to themselves…

Me:  No–it took them a long time and a lot of struggle to get the country but July 4 was the day that the people said:”Enough.  We are fed up with this situation and we want a change.  We declare independence…”

I was beginning to be inspired by my own little speech.  However, Max got bored or perhaps this seemed to be enough for him.  In any case, he looked out the window for a few minutes and then changed the subject. 

But his question got me thinking and a little, I don’t know…pumped up.  I don’t have to dwell in patriotic pride to get into the spirit of Independence Day.  I just have to get in the spirit of “Enough already.  I want a change in this situation…” 

The pie one partygoer described as the next best thing to sex...

The pie one partygoer described as the next best thing to sex…

So tonight, all jazzed up from the fireworks and my friend Cathy’s fabulous peach pie I draft my own declaration of independence.  

Starting tonight I say “Enough” and I will stand up against the inner tyrants who drive me nuts. 

I declare my independence from:

  • Clutter and too much housework
  • My inner critic, that damn perfectionist
  • My own crazy need for outside approval
  • Hateful speech and gossip
  • Consumer culture and wasteful spending
  • Self righteous and judgemental people who say the only way to love your country is to just agree

May you have a lovely and revolutionary night and may your tomorrow bring you one step closer to conquering your own inner tyrants and making all your very own rules.

 PS.  Today is also the 1st birthday of my dear little friend Jamie Potts.  Happy birthday big guy.