Yesterday I went with Max’s first grade class to see the play Heidi.
It was a lovely show at a local children’s theater. The characters sang lovely and sweet songs. The goats were puppets. We practically sat on the stage.
And I found myself, sobbing through the whole thing.
Sobbing, not out of sadness but because something about this sweet story resonated deep in my heart. Sobbing, because it spoke to something sweet and tender that has been lurking about under the surface bubbling up from deep inside. Sobbing because it spoke to me in ways that were unexpected and clear and brilliant and bright–as bright as a mountain top meadow on a spring day.
Its such an archetypal story. The orphan girl who finds herself in difficult situation after difficult situation who heals the world just by being herself. The story of the transformative power of love. Told even here in this child-like simplistic way it turned me inside out. Maybe it was because it was portrayed so simply that it hit me so strong. Love, presence, simply being–all these things heal. We work so hard to change the world, but sometimes all we need to do is be still, be us and breath into our love however small and broken it may be.
I am in a funny place these days. My friend Jen would describe it as being a new baby bird fallen out of the nest. The universe is catching me in big wide arms and I feel safe, but I feel so new and the world feels so big and full of wonder. Something magical and ordinary is at work here. It is happening as I do the dishes and clean the house, as I drive endless loops from the rink to karate to home to playdates. It happens as I do my work, make the meals, take my shower. It is happening so quietly.
Its been hard to write about this process, this gradual awakening again and again to the magic in the world. Its been even harder to talk about it. Friends comment on my quiet or my dreamy state and I don’t know what to say. Where can I even begin. Things are shifting and rearranging themselves in my heart in very subtle ways. I can’t pin down a pivotal moment, or turning points where things suddenly became clear, but I am noticing in very small moments where big huge shifts in perspective have occurred. I have jumped into a river here and I am being swept along fiercely, swiftly. I am trusting the movement here and enjoying the ride, gazing at awe at all I see along the way. It is so much and I have no language yet to describe it, nor do I have or even want the distance to describe it.
At times I feel I have hiked up a mountain and am rooted firmly at its summit–my arms stretched out to take in the world below, my head thrown back into the wind, my face to the warmth of the sun. It is beautiful up here. There is not a sound other than the wind. It is quiet, and a little bit lonely, but I feel I am exactly where I need to be.
This blog has grown quiet. I come by now and again to clear out the spammed comments caught in moderation–the ones from Russian and Chinese IP addresses trying to sell us all porn or drugs for impotence. I wonder if anyone else ever comes by here anymore–especially now that I have so little to say. I decide it doesn’t matter. I will show up when I can. You will show up when you can. We can be quiet together or quiet alone.
In the meantime I will hike these mountains and ride these rivers. I will pause every now and again to reflect and I will turn to write then. We will meet perhaps on one of these meadows and talk about it all, about being orphaned and finding home and about the transformative power of love.
The other day I was standing in my friend Maureen’s kitchen. I can’t remember exactly how it came up but I remember distinctly saying this, “You know, these days I find myself mostly doing things that I am not very good at.”
Gone are the days when I filled my spare time with things I had done for years, things I felt naturally talented at, things that made me feel accomplished. Dance, knitting, baking, my work. All these activities left me feeling like an expert, good about myself. Smart. Strong.
Instead I find that I am spending my time exploring things that are new. Things that make me feel wobbly. Things that make me feel a little scared. Things that are hard and that I can’t seem to master no matter how long I work at it, but things I need to do, or things I love to do, or things I simply just want to do.
I may be attempting to make some headway on the disaster that is my house, trying to demystify being organized with a tornado for a son who inherits his habits from me. I could be slogging away at guitar, working my way through muffled notes and sloppy rhythm, trying to loosen up my stiff right hand, while strengthening my weak left one. I find myself wobbling around a skating rink, going round and round, trying to avoid an embarrassing spill. Or singing really rough harmonies that sound slightly flat. I may be trying to bake without wheat flour, or garden in the shade. Or I may be sitting on my cushion desperately trying to quiet my mind or on my mat working my way into a pose.
These days I feel so unpracticed at everything I do, I am such a beginner. And make no mistake, its a role I embrace. For so long I was so scared to try anything that I didn’t think I would be good at. I let a lot of opportunities to try new things pass me by for fear of looking dumb. I thought I wouldn’t be able to enjoy something if I didn’t master it and if I thought there was little chance of mastery…well…I just let it go. But now, I am beginning to love doing things just to try them out without any pressure to succeed. Just to experience them. Its hard and it requires a whole new story of myself to protect my little eager heart, but I am bit by bit embracing it and feeling my life deepen.
I never would have embraced this “beginner’s lifestyle” if motherhood hadn’t forced me.
I plunged into the sea of beginning, when I became a parent. I went from being an accomplished, confident and completely masterful woman to a beginner in every way shape and form. It was all so new. I was so unpracticed, even the simplest things seemed impossible: breastfeeding, changing diapers, getting those little shirts over those big heads, getting out the door on time, taking a shower. In the 36 hours of my labor I transitioned from being an expert to being an outright, brand spankin’ new beginner.
What I came to believe was that even if I didn’t know how do to something, I would and could learn if it really was important enough. After weeks of showing my breasts to complete strangers I finally figured out how to feed my child discreetly even while waiting in line at the grocery. I could dress Max with one hand and sip an iced latte held in the other and could change a diaper in under 10 seconds flat.
But truth be told, the minute I mastered anything in this parenting gig, the minute I thought I had motherhood down and had begun to feel “good” at this new job, I was sunk again, thrown once more into the land of change, and mystery, and exploration without a map. If the last 7 and a half years have taught me anything, it is the inevitability of trading in mastery for mystery.
This has been accentuated by the fact that I am a girly girl mom raising a boy’s boy son. In addition to all the mysteries of child development, I have had to immerse myself into the secret life of boys. Without a partner to turn to to say, “You handle this,” I find I need to delve into topics I never would have imagined that I would need to explore, let alone master
Which leads me to “safety yellow” colored jock straps. Or rather, the choices between yellow mesh gym shorts with built in cups or yellow cycling pants with built in cups.
Max is starting a hockey program on Saturday. He has been counting down the minutes until I finally let him play. While I made him really work to earn the chance to play, truth be told, I was so excited that he was embracing a sport I knew. I thought that maybe, my own wobbly skating aside, I would get a pass on the beginner thing this time. That finally, he would enter a phase where I could skate along on information I had mastered long ago. That I was getting a long deserved mom’s rest in the stands where I could comfortably discuss the icing calls with the veteran hockey moms from game 1 on. Better yet, I could feel an expert again-if not at playing hockey, then well…at watching hockey…and being a proper hockey mom. In fact, I might be able to tell a few of those other moms a thing or two about off-sides and slashing and holding and all that.
I was beginning to get used to the idea that I could finally rest my weary little ego in the land of mastery. That is, I was resting until I got the email. From my darling and helpful good guy friend. The one who keeps me informed about guys stuff I need to know. The email from the friend that knocked me off my high horse and informed just how little I really knew. It was the email where he started to fill me in on jock straps.
Apparently there are all different kinds and I as a parent will have to help Max choose. He needs a special hockey jock strap which is different from the one his karate teacher had ordered him for that sport. Apparently the standard issue hockey jock shorts are safety yellow. Talk about a mystery… Yellow? Safety yellow? Its been hours since I learned this and I am still baffled. Why on earth, do they make them yellow? I mean, they are hidden, beneath black or blue or red hockey pants. Yellow bike helmets, I get it…but yellow underwear? Is it to make sure they don’t get thrown in the wrong pile of the wash? I have no idea and am not sure that I will ever know. But it simply a sign, a little laughable sign from the universe that even in the area I thought I would have down, I just don’t know how much I don’t know. And that there is no way to escape swimming in the land of beginning. There will always be a mystery.
So I am setting off, yet again, on another uncharted adventure. Me, my son, his yellow penis protecting underwear and I. I get to practice all over again, the art of being a beginner, of starting from ground zero, of knowing nothing and plunging in anyway, of just giving it a go and seeing where it leads. We always start right where we are completely new.
As for the whole mastery thing, well, I still would like to believe that one day I will get it all down. But truth be told, the richness of my life these days is coming from embracing the mystery. Parenting has taught me that in ways that are humbling and funny, sweet and torturous. And it will teach me over and over again.
This Friday was extraordinarily beautiful. It was our first taste of spring in full bloom. The air just seemed to lightly hold my skin, trees were bursting in pinks and whites, the sky was cloudless. We had completed a project that had hung over our heads at work. The weekend was coming and stretched out before me with promises for community and music and a chance to dig in the earth.
It was on this nearly perfect day, that I got news that my father in law had passed away. He has been dying for 4 years. So long that Juan had finally begun to believe that the old man would outlive us all. But he didn’t. On this spectacular day, with joy and creativity and new life oozing from the air and the ground, there was great grief too.
The grief was not mine. Pablo was not a kind man and he had been especially cruel to Juan. I never felt close to him. I never wanted his approval or even his company. But in Mexico, in a little village tucked into the mountains, people I once loved were keening.
Juan loved his dad. Loved him deeply. No matter what his father did to hurt him, no matter how flawed and broken his father presented, Juan could not let go of his connection to his dad. It caused him great pain, all that reaching out with little coming back. We would argue about it sometimes but he always came back to the same place. “He is my papa. He is my dad”
On this beautiful and nearly perfect day I was so happy to be alive. I turned my face into the setting sun and let its warmth sink all the way into my bones and blood. I embraced the beauty with the awe of a child, the smell of fresh cut grass bringing me back to memories of this time of year when I was just three. At the same time I held in my heart great sorrow. I was so sorry that Juan was in a taxi by himself headed to the airport. That he would sit with his tear streaked face, rested up against the airplane window alone. I was sorry that he would be met by no one, that he would ride a bus all night and into the day until he got to the place where he could bury his father’s body, though his spirit would haunt him for weeks, months, years to come.
I felt so very light and so very heavy all at once.
As the glory of the day gave way to a velvet darkness I sat on my steps and poured a shot of tequila on the ground.
“This is for you Pablo. You were a bastard but you created Juan who gave me Max and as such you were the root of my greatest joy. You brought great beauty into this world, even as you caused great grief. Through this I guess, you taught me that nothing is ever all one thing and that it is always so much more complicated and yet more simple than we ever think. So take this tequila–its my good stuff. Its for you. For your life. For this day. For this space. For this truth. Nothing is all one thing.”
On the mat I felt so stiff and sore tonight Tight in all the usual places and some surprising ones as well.
“Notice,” my teacher said, “where your mind goes when you feel stiff. Can you stay with the irritation? Can you stay with it long enough to let it teach you? What does it say? Notice without judging where your mind goes…Now bring it back…Stay present if you can and see what you can learn…”
This is a scene that replays a lot in our house these days. Max has done something he knows is wrong or disrespectful. I call him on it and he immediately looks away in discomfort. To look me in the face means having to see my disappointment or perhaps my stern face. As I talk to him I see his brain has moved onto calculating hockey stats or maybe to building legos. “Look at me,” I tell him. “I need to know you are present here with me. I know its uncomfortable but I need to know you are learning here. You can’t learn if you don’t stay with me”
The teacher is the student is the teacher is the student….
Staying with pain, with irritation, with disappointment, with fear. Whether we are 7 or 39 we rush away, rush toward anything that will dull the ache. Dreams of a sweeter tomorrow, ice cream or booze, new toys and new friends and new adventures. We leave the chores and the laundry undone while we search for the things that may soothe our heartache. Its so scary to stay here and keep going when we feel so uncomfortable…
But if we aren’t paying attention, we miss the lesson. At worst I am doomed to live it over and over again…or at very least to have lived through pain for naught.
These days I am finding myself compelled to stay, stuck to the spot like glue, to linger with my discomfort just a little. To stay with the irritation for just one more breath. To hear what it is whispering. To hear it without judgement…If we can clear away the clutter we can tune in to our silent, certain knowing
I am stripping down a lot of the things that used to distract me. I am clearing out the clutter and the things that make noise. And yes I am hearing some things–not just hearing but listening and taking them in. Some things are things I would rather not hear, but they are true and I need to absorb their wisdom. Other things are useful and helpful and I wonder how I could have missed them. And some things, some things I am learning are downright delicious. Like relearning the fact that when I hang upside down with my head cradled in my arms, it may hurt but I can stretch out my spine and relieve compression and tightness that I carry and even misinterpret as stress. Or that nothing is more healing than holding my son and hearing what his heart really needs.
This Christmas was the first Christmas where it happened. Max sat, surrounded by a mountain of carefully picked out gifts and cried. Santa Claus and I, we had failed to deliver him the Christmas he had hoped for–or rather the gifts on his list he had so desperately wanted.
I took a deep breath, and realized that this was a moment to teach. Teach about disappointment and recovering from it. Teach about the bounty of gifts that he had, how lucky he was. Odette told him stories about what children in Rwanda get for Christmas. Slowly but surely his big old tears stopped falling and he started to happily, joyfully play with the gifts he had received, suddenly aware of the magic they represented.
Looking back at our Christmas now, I can’t help but see a powerful lesson beginning to unfold for me too.
Ironically I began my winter by teaching the lesson I would spend all winter learning. About the trickiness of hope and attaching myself to vision of what my future happiness looks like. About the disappointment that comes from yearning and longing and about how I lose sight of the gifts in my life when I am looking for that one elusive cherished desire. And I learned this winter about how while hope can leave me drunk on possibility of how wonderful it might all be one day, the hangover is an empty feeling and the sneaking suspicion that maybe I am not really quite enough.
Yeah, this winter, in very small ways hope kicked my ass. And I saw hope for the sneaky character it is, something that makes me feel warm and fuzzy now and again but something which can turn every day into the Christmas where I sit surrounded by gifts sobbing.
I have to admit, as spring time images of hope come fluttering into view, I have not done a good job receiving them openly. I have wanted to scream at the top of my lungs–OH NO PEOPLE….DON’T YOU DARE COME TALKING TO ME ABOUT HOPE. DON’T YOU SEE HOW TRICKY AND DESTRUCTIVE IT IS? YOU THINK I AM GOING TO GET SUCKED IN AND SET MYSELF UP FOR DISAPPOINTMENT AND MISS ALL THE GIFTS IN MY LIFE? YOU MAY BE A SUCKER…BUT I AM NOT!
And yet, something tugged on me and my grouchy, self-righteous ways. Tugged on me like a little child pulling on my sleeve. The child that does not give up, saying “mom…mom….mom…” over and over again until I listened, maybe a little reluctantly.
What if HOPE isn’t about the future? What if HOPE is not another word for longing? What if HOPE isn’t about holding onto something that hasn’t yet materialized? What if we have been misusing the word all this time? What if we have somehow bent it out of shape? What if all this time that I was “holding onto HOPE” I was clutching something else?
What if HOPE is about the present? What if HOPE is about recognizing the beauty and the joy even in the most mundane and ordinary moment. What if HOPE is about finding love in the midst of horrible pain and just focusing in like a laser on it–not because it predicts a better day coming, but simply because it is beautiful and perfect exactly as it is? What if HOPE is about seeing the possibility in now? The action I can take right now that opens up a whole new way of being, regardless of where it takes me? That makes joy and love present right now–regardless of what happens next? What if HOPE is about savoring every moment of life for the gifts and the joy and even the challenges and lessons that it brings?
What if I had it all wrong all these years? Well…what a wonderful time to start again, I suppose.
These are some of the things that I have been thinking about all winter…that I have been turning over in my head as spring has started to bloom.
Jen Lemen and Stephanie Roberts have this lovely project called Picture Hope. They have a proposal to travel the world looking for images of hope and capture them on film. They have been voted as the number one most popular idea and now they are going with 19 other ideas to a final adjudication. I am so proud of my friend Jen and her soulsister Stephanie. I suppose it would be easy to start hoping that it all comes together and that they win the big prize. Truth is, I know that they may or may not win in the end and I can’t let my little fragile heart go wishing. Instead I will simply sit in the joy that through daring to see the possibility and take a step forward to challenge us all to see hope–not as something abstract and future oriented but something that can be captured with a lens they are already living the dream.
“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.”
Ever since I saw this quote on my friend Kaiya’s refridgerator, I have been rolling it over in my mouth, tasting it, savoring it. I have been sitting with it and looking it in the eye. I have been sipping it like tea, taking it in bit by bit and letting it wash over me. I am still letting it seap into the cracks in my heart.
This requires me to be very still. And not to think. It requires me to walk and put my feet firmly on the ground and throw my head to the sky and breathe in the air, the rainy, misty, cold spring air. It requires me to play a song badly and to hear all the rough, muffled notes without judgment. To laugh heartily. It requires me to gaze into the most beautiful pair of blue eyes I have ever seen and simply see them, to recognize them not as ancient and old and from lifetimes ago, not to wonder about their past or their future, but for what they are now at this moment. Beautiful. Breathtakingly beautiful.
The other day my friend Jen stopped me in the hallway at school. “How are you?” she asked me. She knew the answer. I am working through demons and walking on a tightrope. I am perfectly fine and falling apart all at the same time. I am wrestling with concepts so simple they are revolutionary. Concepts that are both turning my insides out and stunning me with their obvious plain-facedness.
Simply put, I am wrestling with the nature of hope and love. Or rather I am awash in the wonder of these things. Honestly, on most days I am confounded and have stopped thinking I need to have all the answers. To simply sit with the questions seems to be enough, I guess.