The nights are growing longer. The winds are picking up. This is the time of the year when hearts turn inward, when inner demons, the little gremlins who have been hiding in the shadows whispering their sweet nothings show themselves, when the things that go bump in the night get extra noisy.
I am always surprised and rather amazed at the fact that no matter how much I grow, no matter how much I breathe, no matter how many minutes I stay present, I keep coming back to the same lessons over and over, challenged again and again. No matter how much I think I have mastered, there is so much more I don’t know, so much to learn over and over again. That no sooner do I think I have grown out of an old way of being, do I find myself being tested in big and small ways yet again.
In these moments of vulnerability I realize that for all my learning it simply boils down to this: I am scared to death, that I don’t know the way, and that I never really did. And when I can let myself stew in that reality long enough I find myself knowing this one true thing: courage is really simply about feeling the fear and wading through anyway, one step, one breath at a time.
I love these late autumn holidays. They allow us to recognize our fears and call us to sink into them or at least to stop using them as an excuse. They challenge us to see what we can learn from walking with them, to light up a lantern and boldly face-down those gremlins, the ones who go bump in the night to realize that the only way forward is to breathe and take another step.
Happy Halloween. May your journeys through the dark be illuminating!
It is raining now. A steady cold autumn rain. The kind that spoils camping trips and calls for hot tea and warm blankets and stacks of movies. Max is sick and has a sinus infection on top of an ear infection on top of something dreary and medieval sounding called Hand Food and Mouth disease. We are burrowing in.
A few weeks ago I had a dream. I don’t remember much about it. It was fuzzy, almost impressionistic–blurry and not clear. The only thing I remember from this dream is staring out a window watching the rain, remarking “The women who have loved me are dying…” At the time I had the dream, I viewed it as a Jungian metaphor. I thought that at this time of great transition, I was letting go of all the various parts of me who had served me before, who had done their best to protect my tender heart but who now had seen their time end: The me who was afraid to love too deeply, the me who felt she had to do everything perfectly and be perfectly nice so that she would be adored, the me who felt she needed to plan out and control her life. Yes…I thought. These versions of me, they are dying and from their ashes a strong, secure, adventurous woman who is not afraid to love fearlessly is starting to rise.
Our dear housemate Odette has been in the hospital for almost 3 weeks now. She is not dying but she is struggling to heal from a life changing surgery. She has been in and out of the hospital and holed up in her bed since labor day. I realize how much of our day-to-day life, functioning and running smoothly, has been made possible because of Odette’s quiet presence. In my efforts to keep our life together with her gone I am running at double speed, flailing around and unable to go and visit. I miss her and feel her slipping away. I feel a hole in my heart where her lilting African singing used to be.
My dear friend Jenni is so ill and in so much pain. She had pinned her hopes on a surgery that was not successful. I am angry and sad because I don’t know how to get halfway across the world to hold her hand. I want to sit on a beach with her and wrap my arms around her and I feel that if I could something just might shift for both of us. I am not sure what I can do anymore that will make a difference.
This week I learned that my dear Jill, a friend who held me through the early days of my divorce with Juan, has cancer. We don’t know any details yet. There are tests, there are possibilities, there is lots of unknowing. I am sitting on the edge of her wide circle and wondering what if anything I can do to help. Thursday I learned that Antonieta, Max’s babysitter and third grandmother, my second mother, the woman who has been my steady day to day presence for four years through the worst of our separation, the one who wiped so many tears, the one who put cold cloths on my migraine ravaged head, the one who took my child when I needed to cry, I learned that she has an aggressive form of cancer. She has no health insurance. We don’t know what is next.
“The women who have loved me are dying.” Suddenly this dream I had takes on a new scary meaning and as I stare out the window and watch the world turn impressionistic and blurry through the rain I wonder what it means.
I am bowing to life exactly as it is. Its a minute by minute– no, more like breath to breath– exercise, this not wishing it was otherwise. Not wishing that it wasn’t raining…not wishing that we were camping…not wishing that Max felt well…not wishing we could be with other people…not wishing that Odette, Jenni, Jill, and Antonieta were well and sitting around my kitchen table sharing a bottle of wine and laughing with me right now…not wishing that I didn’t just eat an entire box of chocolates to dull the sting around my heart…not wishing that I was already an acupuncturist so that I could do something to help…why can’t I do anything to help?
It is raining, we aren’t camping, Max feels crummy and we can’t be around people lest we pass along the horrible virus that has left him with sores on his hands, feet and mouth. Most importantly many of the women who have loved me so well are sick and I don’t know what to do about it except eat a box of chocolate–so much so that now I can’t sleep. I don’t have needles to help them and I am years off from being able to and I feel so damn helpless in the face of this all. Wishing wouldn’t change any of this.
I frantically text my community and beg them to bring movies so I can distract myself this night. As though they are all in cahoots with the universe, they have set their phones aside so late, forcing me to sit here on the front steps, watching the rain and breathing through my grief.
This is life, as it is.
This is the rain, cold and wet.
These are my tears warm and salty.
This is life.
I just heard the perfect song. It was the first time this particular song saw the light of day and I feel so honored, so privileged, to watch its birth. I want to sit and cradle this new song and the friend who was so brave to let its authenticity live. I want to light a candle and whisper a prayer of thanksgiving and sit anew in the world which is just a tiny bit more sane with this song born, a tiny bit more real, more clear because of the illumination these notes brought. In Spanish, the term for giving birth is ‘dar luz‘–to give light. I think nothing is more appropriate than this. I say these words over and over again as I hum…
There are moments, blissful moments, when if we are still enough we can bear witness to life giving birth to itself over and over again. Its not a theory or a concept people but real real stuff, happening every day all around with every breath, and we…well I…miss so much of it. It is the child digging deep into his pocket to feed a hungry woman, it is the writer whose words explode across the page and leap and crack open walls around hearts and set the world upright again, it is the potter who makes a cup that fits perfectly into my hand, fitting into the curve of my palm like the hand of a beloved, it is the kiss of the old friend who has made a bed because it is the only things she knows to do in the face of suffering.
It happens every day, all around and frankly at this moment at 2:23 am, awake to the splendor, there is nothing I can do but lay my head on this pillow and weep from the joy of it: life, unfolding perfectly, with its pain and its grief and its unfolded laundry and its dirty dishes and unexpected heartbreaks and its perfect perfect songs.
I have a friend who is in a lot of pain. He doesn’t want to admit it. I think that he believes that if he slows down to see it that something awful will catch up with him, that he might have to face it, that he might even have to bear it.
I see the grimaces that he tries to pass off as his everyday smiles but I know the difference and can feel the chilly winds settle in now in this autumnal time of grief. I feel the shift the way a farmer knows the snow is coming. His impatience is palpable. He shrugs off my hugs, my soft offers of care with the clang bang clang of a blacksmith forging a shield, protection I suppose, though from this angle is is hard to see what is so big that it needs to be kept outside our circle.
When I call him on the grief that appears to be leaking through the cracks in the wall he has so carefully constructed around his heart, he turns to leave. I am his bell calling his attention to the pain he so desperately wants to ignore. He would rather not see me, hear me, even know me now. He leaves me standing there with my empty arms, the ones that meant to shelter him, held open. He rejects all that is good about me when he turns to go. To accept the gift I offer, the balm that could soothe the sting, means opening to the very wound that he fears will slay him. I am dangerous.
Sometimes I’d like to leave him out there, in the valley of despair all by himself if that is what he wishes. I long to wave goodbye to him and get on with my day, escaping the ugly icky feeling of being rejected.
But long ago I made a promise. I made it even though he doesn’t remember. The fact he doesn’t remember does not release me from its solemn vow. I whispered it in childhood to him lifetimes ago when we were small. I told him I would not leave, no matter what.
And so I take those empty arms of mine and stay as he runs, and he throws himself into this and that, as he distracts his throbbing heart as convinces himself the throb is just his heartbeat, that it does not exist, that it is all just fine. And I stand, quietly, not too far away, hoping that when he is tired he will allow himself a rest at last and there I will be with a shoulder. Maybe he will see me then. And maybe he will let me kiss his pain and release it.
Or maybe not. Perhaps he will continue to pretend not to see me with my gentle, healer’s hands. Nevertheless I will not abandon him. I will stay. Even when he hates me, I will stay.
I will not leave him all alone, for he is me, and I am him and the healer and the hurt are the same.
For my sweet, wise vibrant healer woman who dwells inside. The ancient part of my soul who never leaves me even when I have run far away, even though I have ignored her love for years. An ode to her voice and her patience. An answer to her call.
Golden light under bright blue skies, caramel apples sticky and slightly burnt, a baby boy cow named Elmo that nudged and licked Max so much he thought he might just eat him for lunch, finding apples in the far end of the orchard that everyone thought was overpicked: beautiful pink lady apples, crisp and slightly sour in their sweetness, stopping for hot chocolate on the way home and reading the funny papers with Max at the coffee shop, roasted sweet potatoes and a relish of carmelized onions alongside my roast chicken, watching hockey with my boy snuggled on my lap.
Savoring the day for all the magic that it brought. How about you? What gifts have you uncovered?
I took a two day class at Tai Sophia this past weekend. It meant leaving the house by 8 am each day and not returning home until after well after 5:30. The class was thought provoking and heart softenting. It was a restful, restorative way for me to spend my 48 hours away from work. And it had real consequences for Max, the only child of a single mother.
Max, precious Max, spent his weekend being traded like a card, being passed off, being neither here nor there in the middle of everyone’s very busy schedule.
Sunday morning found Max at his friend Jake’s house. He was picked up by his dad who shepherded him to his swimming class and then took him for lunch. Juan dropped him off with my friend Michelle who took him with her kids to the park for a couple of hours. Michelle then dropped him off with his favorite teenage babysitter Katherine. By the time I reached him it was almost dinner time and he had been in the care of no fewer than four different families.
One of my friends was worried about Max’s day. She thought Max would feel fractured and discombobulated. Insecure and unrooted. At loose ends and a little unloved. She had me a little concerned too.
Yet, something interesting happened. When I picked Max up he was glowing. It was clear that Sunday had been one of his favoritest days ever. As he recounted his day it was clear that he had experienced it not as an orphan being shuffled around but rather as beloved child being passed gently from one set of waiting arms to another. He had experienced it as one big epic adventure. His conclusion was that our community was wide and deep–that he was well loved–that there were many experiences to be lived–that he could trust many.
It amazes me how the very same set of facts could elicit such different interpretations. It reminds me that our lives are really just stories, and while we have little control over many of the events in our lives we do have the power to write our own stories about what happened as those events unfolded. Max could have written a story about being left by his mother and schleped about no one having more than a few hours to give him. Instead he chose to write a story about adventure, deep love and a community who cherishes him and shares him. I would like to think he wrote a bigger story, a story that was wide and deep enough to protect him versus one that was shallow and left him feeling vulnerable.
Children are such brilliant storytellers. They find a way to breathe magic and good into any set of events–that is until we teach them otherwise when we pass on our own tiny stories. When we teach them that their stories are fantastical and dare I say wrong.
Too often I find myself living in my smallish little stories. I go about believing them for no other reason than its because I always have. They are convenient, automatic and don’t take much brainpower. But oh…when I look under the hood of my tender sweet soul and I see how these stories drain my heart of its power.
One of our favorite games here at work, when Stephen, and I are bored and distracted, is to imagine what Winne the Pooh characters we might be that day. So often he is Tigger with boundless energy. I used to frequently be Piglet, often fretting but buzzy too, sometime I am Kanga nurturing and sweet. At times I have been Rabbit, with his schemes and his plans and his bossy nature but lately I have felt that I am Christopher Robin. Does he even really count as a character? He has cool boots but is pretty much on the sidelines of the story, unimportant and relatively uninvolved. That’s me, I tell myself over and over again. The one that doesn’t matter, who is doing so little to keep this ship afloat, the one who is sitting on the sidelines. It wasn’t until one of my favorite colleagues said to me yesterday that she was Christopher Robin that I could see how to breathe into a different story. Suddenly I saw my own “Christopher Robin-hood” in a new light. For Christopher is the one who carries all the animals of the Hundred Acre Woods as beloveds. He holds the space. Without his love there would be no story. He is quiet and still but his love breathes life into those woods. Just, dare I say it, like me.
I have to admit, I have stopped and started this post, wondering where on earth this is going, how on earth I can conclude. With a call to action? With yet another reminder to myself to be more like my son, with yet another set of words that sneakily tell me that I am something less than perfect exactly as I am.
It gives me pause, this dilemma, this koan, this questioning, this holding of stories that expand not contract. Is there any way to end at story about stories? Is there any other way than this….
And she lived happily ever after.
the lesson of the falling leaves
the leaves believe
such letting go is love
such love is faith
such faith is grace
such grace is god.
i agree with the leaves.
It is autumn. The leaves are painted, and even though they are more muted and muddy here so close to the city they are nevertheless dazzling me with their red and gold. And even now they are starting to drift down gently and rest upon the lawn. A man just knocked on my door and asked if I needed someone to rake my leaves. From now until December they will come, the leaf rakers, and I will break down and hire them, one after another, to clear my lawn, the one that had been so well shaded by the huge oaks that surround my property. But today I say, “No thank you”. Perhaps the trees are ready to let go of their leaves, but me I am still not ready.
In Chinese medicine, autumn is considered the season of grief and letting go. It is the season of pruning away all that is not needed, so as to better prepare the way for the deep dark winter of unknowing. It is the season that we, I, must admit that as the bounty of the late summer goes into storage the full, ripe time is done.
I have been reflecting on all the ways I hold on, to the joyful summer, to my attachments, to my expectations. I realize now that the trees are calling to me to join them. Life is now calling me into a place of letting go.
I am also realizing that I am not well practiced at the art of letting go. When I am faced with a goodbye or a retreat, I fight it. And, of course I lose that fight every time. The autumn comes. The leaves go. People move on. Life changes, always changes. The trees grow dormant and rest, preparing to be brilliant again in the spring. It happens whether I like it or not. It happens.
Letting go brings such grief for me. And this grief is my bell.
This month I am embracing the lesson taught to me by the trees–the trees who let their leaves go. Here are just a few things I am doing to practice this letting go:
1. I will end my guitar lessons early, not begging Jeff to stay and play just one more song for me. I will let my favorite evenings pass without holding onto the sweetness of them. I will do it consciously.
2. I am continuing on my quest to declutter the house. Every day I am making sure to find one thing I no longer use or need and will donate it.
3. I will breathe and concentrate of letting go of the breath that just brought me life. I will focus on the out breath.
4. I will bow to life as it is. When I find myself forming expectations about how I want it to go or how I think it should go I will stop and thank life for appearing just as it is.
5. I will wear a bell and every time it rings I will use it as a wake up call to detach from whatever it is that I am attached to at that moment.
What about you? What ways do you practice letting go?
We are a broken people. We are a messy, crazy, lot. Tired and weary and often forgetful. Sick and a little slow on the uptake. We make mistakes and stumble a lot. We hurt. But we keep going, always going, and usually its in the direction of love. And that is what brings me great joy and enables me to laugh, even on days where death dances on the doorstep and grief stops in for a visit and the journey feels a bit harder than usual.
Its nice to know that every year there is a time, to recognize these things–at the start of spring, at the start of a new year. That there is a time to take stock, to let go, to start anew. To hold our brokenness and recognize it. To whisper our regret and let it go where it cannot torment us anymore.
Tomorrow I am joining my Jewish friends in fasting. I am sitting in meditation and prayer. I will cook for the break fast at Stephen’s. I will cut apples for hundreds and I will do what is needed here in the house because it needs to be done. I will be still and quiet and hold my broke down, weary self close and let her rest without judgment. I will nurse the new self that is emerging, that is startled and overwhelmed at the big wide world and whisper shushing noises and let her be still. I will sit. I will be.
I am not sure if that is the kind of thing that will get my name written in the Book of Life…what do I know about Jewish theology really…but I like the idea that it might. I like the idea that it just might.
Fragile and quiet and still. Like crisp morning air. Like the grass after a frost. Like a full moon reflecting off the fresh fallen snow. It could all be perfect. It could all fall apart. It is perfect and falling apart and perfectly falling apart again even as we breathe, now.
This is hallowed ground, this space. This is peace wrought. This is something other than the chatter and the noise. It is empty but not hollow. It is full but it is not filled.
The beat of an angel’s wings stirs the air and and the world has started spinning again. But I hold you here.
No matter what.
My dear friend Jenni is going into surgery this week. It is surgery she has dreamed about. It is surgery that may help her. It is surgery that may take her. I do not know how it will turn out but both of us trust that it will happen as it should as it needs to happen. My heart is so full this week. It is leaking and dripping and making quite a mess but a lovely mess as I reflect on the love that I learned from Jen. Send prayers.