2009, oh its hard to believe you are coming to a close. Feels like just yesterday that you were dawning. You have been a year of quiet shifts and changes. Nothing big happened this year, and yet, so much happened. And its all been big.
This was the year that I learned, really learned that no one knew what I should do better than my own sweet self. This was the year that I learned that no one will love me quite the way that I could love myself. This was the year, that I learned to embrace stillness and to sit, however uncomfortably in the quiet. This was the year that I learned to retreat. And to trust that it would all be OK in the end.
This is the year that I lost so many of my illusions about fairy tale endings. This is the year I learned to let go. I grieved so many friendships this year. Friends who died, friends who moved, friends who simply left or stopped showing up. This is the year that I stopped resisting Grief and finally accepted that nothing I would do would ever hold her permanently at bay. No amount of tap dancing, no amount of good girl work ethic would keep her away. She would exist always, along with her twin sister Joy. One could not be without the other. Welcome teacher, come have tea.
This is the year that I finally decided to accept my big old heart. I stopped telling myself the story that she was too much and decided to go ahead and let her feel, spill out and be overflow. I let her love. Even when that love was messy. Even when, especially when, that love went unreturned.
This is the year I learned again that life doesn’t have to be perfect or smooth or unblemished to be beautiful.
This is the year I returned again to the dance studio. And I realized that nothing makes me happier, and I wondered why I ever dare stay away.
This is the year I started to ask for what I needed and found that miraculously, mysteriously it always arrives, in completely unexpected packages. I relearned the delight of a childhood Christmas morning again and again and again. This is the year I became awake to all the signs in my life, the signs that point me home, the signs that remind me I am loved, the signs that I really know what to do.
This is the year that I jumped into an abyss, not knowing where it would all lead. This is the year that I never found out, but learned to ride the not knowing. Learned to accept I might not ever know. This is the year that I learned to accept the out of control feeling that comes with mystery and adventure. This is the year I sank into my insecurity, financial and otherwise. This is the year that the reality of all I had experienced the last 40 years hit.
I forgive myself for all those days this year that I lost faith. I forgive myself for all those days I curled up into a ball and gave up, too exhausted to give a hoot. I forgive myself for letting myself be held back by fear, for making excuses, for going back to sleep. I forgive myself for not writing, not playing my guitar, not creating, not trying. I forgive myself for not being inspired, for being blase, for disconnecting. It happens.
Yes, 2009, you were quite a year. You held many gifts. You brought many lessons. You were difficult and wintery. You were small and quiet but powerful and transformative and one day I will be like you.
And now, dear 2009, with all the love and gratitude in my heart, I declare you complete.
Welcome 2010, you round, yummy year you–here I come!
Inspired by this superhero, my soul sister Kaiya, the icey glaze on my lawn this morning and one really good plate of pancakes.
While things have been quiet on the blog-front, while things have been quiet on the work front, I have spent my days unearthing closets. My house has, over the last several years, slowly fallen into a state of chaos. There is so much active energy here, so much coming and going. We host our babysitting share here and so on any given day the house is full of neighborhood children. Max and I dash in and out. Our friends come and go. Its beautiful. But it also takes it’s toll.
For so long I have been tackling things from the outside in. Desperately trying to make the place appear calm, even if the space is ready to have a nervous breakdown. So this week, I have devoted myself to the task of tenderly, lovingly, taking care of this home from the inside out. I am starting with the closets.
Its practical. The closets have become so unorganized and cluttered that nothing fits in anymore. Everything is left out because there is no place left to put it. It dawned on me that most of stuff that is buried in the drawers and closets, we don’t need anymore. Old wedding pictures that I put away, not quite ready to pack them away in the basement for Max’s memories. Its time to move them away to storage. Tiny mittens so cute I couldn’t bear the fact that they don’t fit Max anymore. Its time to let them hold someone else’s hand. Checks from old accounts, no longer active. Holding onto them does not make me richer. The story goes on and on.
But its also a meditation. The truth is that if you were to walk into my house right now, you might not notice much of a change. On the outside it looks like the same nutty, full, overflowing home. Taking care of something though with no outward results feels revolutionary to me–but is strangely satisfying. Only I know how those closets used to be. Only I know now how they are.
Its also a metaphor. A metaphor about 2009 and the journey I have taken. This year, there has been so little change on the outside of me, I look exactly the same as I did on this day in 2008. Same job. Same home. Same friends. Same hobbies. Same lack of ability to play guitar. Same obsession with hockey. I weigh exactly the same and if I am correct, my hair is the same length. I am wearing the same boots, same coat, same gloves even. My black jeans are still my favorite pants.
But inside, inside, a revolution, quiet and still has occurred. And that changes everything.
Two weeks ago, in the very moments that one dear friend lay dying, the most extraordinary thing occurred.
My phone rang. And I said hello.
On the end, from an airport city very far away, was an old friend, an old love, the one who had held my hand as I passed from innocence to knowing. It had been over 20 years since I last heard his voice which now sounded both familiar and strange. We talked light heartedly as I drove toward home, catching up on the basics of life, until his flight was called, until I pulled up at a neighbors to pick up Max. We would talk again we promised. I felt a circle drawn complete in the sweetest of ways.
I picked up Max. I talked to Jackie. I went to the grocery store. I came home and checked email. And then, only then, I learned that my friend Jenni had died, ending at long last her long painful struggle with cancer. As I wrote down time she had passed away for my journal, I did the math and realized that as I was saying a hello to one I thought I would never talk to again, another I held dear was saying goodbye forever.
And I held that simple fact in my heart. For days, I held it.
This fall I have been learning about letting go. I have been mourning my friend Jen for so long, but I have been working through other changes as well. I have been letting go of old habits, letting go of my favorite defenses, letting go of my most cherished stories. Our foundation has been wobbly as the cornerstones of our life have been, one by one, shifting, transitioning, creating space. Its been hard, scary, at times heartbreaking to see things I loved so much dismantled. As we have managed the bumps and the inevitable fear, I have carried around a mustard seed, convincing myself that I only needed a tiny bit of faith. Stumble forward onward onward–a path would appear that would make it all make sense.
One day, I asked my soulsister Kaiya, “What ever happened to the burning bush? It would be very convenient to see one, you know, with a booming voice and everything. It would be lovely for that voice to let us in on the plan. I am all about the small and subtle, don’t get me wrong, but these days I am feeling so dense and tired and lacking in faith that I would like someone to please let me know what this is all about through something as concrete as a burning bush. It would be a great comfort.”
I don’t think that phone call was a burning bush. But I do think it was a bell. A bell telling me that there is no such thing as goodbye. No such thing as forever.
Nothing is ever really lost. No matter how far away, no matter how long past, no matter how faded-it is there, tranformed perhaps, but accessible in some way, at the end of a ring, a simple as saying hello.
We have been snowed in all weekend. A blizzard hit DC. Big snows don’t come very often here, but when they do everything shifts and changes and the world transforms. Suddenly all the details become lost in blankets of white that spread and cover and hide and shift and bury everything we thought we once knew. The world is full and empty and new again.
The snow arrived on Saturday. I spent my morning shoveling, only to find that the steps were covered as soon as I stopped. I spent my afternoon walking Max back and forth to his friend’s house. The 10 minute walk across the park became a 30 minute hike through wind and blowing snow, growing deeper around our legs each time we ventured out. We made 5 trips back and forth. When Max would collapse dramatically in the snowbanks, telling me he was too exhausted to complete this quest, I would simply urge him to just keep moving. He called me “Hermes”, the god of travelers. He held my hand. He counted on the fact I would carry him through, even though he had to walk the whole way himself.
I spent the evening curled up listening to friends play their guitars by a fire, thinking that it was a postcard scene of winter. I spent the entire next day digging out and still my steps turned to ice. As I shoveled for hours on end I alternated between feeling proud and strong (what other woman did I know who was shoveling her driveway?) and bitter and alone (what other woman did I know who was shoveling her driveway?). But mostly I just shoveled because it needed to be done and I was the only one to do it, no matter what story I would tell about it.
And now today, despite the clear roads we all have a day off. I am not sure what to make of this unexpected bounty. I lit a fire in the morning and made banana bread. I will wrap presents and listen to new music.
But mostly, what I crave, more than anything is to be alone. Its the solstice and I feel the yin, dark, quietness and want to stay here. Some journeys are to be taken alone. I will continue my never ending quest to empty my life of clutter, of the unnecessary, and hope that maybe the magic of the winter solstice will make this clearing easier. I want to empty, empty my brain of thoughts, empty my closets of junk, empty my life of what is no longer needed. Maybe the clearing is the way through the darkness.
The ancients believed this is that day that requires the most faith. Before modern astronomy taught us about predictable orbits, only the most unshakable real trust would do. I wonder what it takes to touch that faith.
Tomorrow, there will be a little more light and we will begin slow climb toward summer’s fullness. But now I will choose empty and see what happens.
The other night when we returned from our Sunday family dinner, Max was undone. It a full weekend of lights and latkes, hockey and treehouses, Grinches and pancakes and too much sparkling apple cider. He was tired. But it was more than that too.
This time of year seems to stir it up–the sense of what we don’t have. Is it the Christmas list making? Or is it the darkness that descends way too early and lasts way too long? What is it that brings up the greatest longings? The biggest needs and wants?
He sobbed in the kitchen trying to explain. “I hate that you guys divorced. I hate that Papi doesn’t live here. I hate that I don’t get to see my dad except for a few hours a week.” (I know baby, I hate it all too). “I hate that I have no brothers and sisters. I hate that I feel so left out. I hate that I am the only one without a dad at these things.”
It all started when Max got his feelings hurt by someone he adores. When he was literally shoved into a corner. It happens, the shoving, life is full of unintended bumps and pushes. They in and of themselves may be no big deal but they can bring up the deepest of wounds, can stir up dragon and gremlins.
Long after he had fallen asleep, cried out and complete, I too grieved all that we have grieved over and over again and wondered how in the world to stent a broken heart? This unhealed wound, this sense of being not quite whole, makes him so vulnerable. And nothing undoes me like this, his pain exposed.
There is something about the holidays that make it worse. The endless Christmas specials with their perfect families. Just recently, we saw not one, but two stories with a magic happy ending when mom and dad got back together and families reunited just in time to open gifts.
I have spent much of the last few years knitting us a tribe, patching together our broken hearts with a community, filling the empty places with laughter and food. Inviting ourselves in to other people’s families and claiming them as our own. We have created something beautiful out of something that was broken and that is a miracle. But it can’t replace that that bright shiny big family Max always wanted, or dare I say it, that I always wanted too. I need to keep reminding myself not to attach labels or expectations to this that we built. For while this community is many things, it is also not many things. I can lose the joy of it while I point out everything that it isn’t.
Tonight I curled up under covers in Max’s red bed and together we talked about the pros and cons of being an only child in a house with a single mom. There is no one to play with when Mom does her chores, her work, the cleaning and laundry. There is no one to pinch hit when mama is busy which makes him feel lonely and a little bit unsure. The house can feel big and empty and life can seem like too much with just us chickens. There is noone to interrupt us while we read for hours on end together–books out loud, one more chapter, why not? There is no one to take away his mama when he is sick or sad or simply just needing the attention. This bed can feel just the right size for a boy and his mom and two favorite books. Truth is, nothing is all one thing and every family can feel broken and whole all at the same time.
Our family at the holidays is a meditation. About seeing. Not what is missing but what is really there, right at this moment–ugly, beautiful, broken but real, and shiny and full of goodness. Our life is a meditation about not comparing what we have against check-lists that promise unending happiness but always disappoint. As I lay in bed long after little eyes had closed, I wondered about how to move him from longing and grief to gratitude and appreciation. I know that it starts with me and my practice. Somehow it always does. He learned to speak by emulating me. Maybe he can learn to let go of wanting by watching me too. And yet, tonight, I light a little candle on my altar, say a prayer to the universe, to make it a tiny bit easier, a little bit smoother to let go and want nothing for Christmas but what I have so that he too can learn just how whole he already is.
Before I post again, I needed to stop to offer a huge thank you to the many people who have stopped by this blog, emailed, called, or facebooked in the last few days. Your kind, loving, beautiful words are a gift.
The overwhelming emotion for this week has been great gratitude for the gift of Jenni that we all shared, that indeed we all continue to share. Jenni lives on in all us, whenever we reach out to stranger, whenever we are courageous enough to be raw, and real, when we speak truth to power, when we find humor, grace and beauty in the most difficult of situations. Jenni lives on when we hug our children, when sing at the top of our lungs, when we make our art (whether it is with paper, dance, music, paint, fabric, clay or words). Jenni is with us when we cry at night, when we worry about our babies, when we contemplate the suffering in our homes, our communities, the world. Jenni is with us when we giggle with our girlfriends, when we pour “a cuppa” and sit for tea with our sisters, when we tell our stories over and over again in the hopes that we will find healing there. If we follow our stories, we will find as that in the end, there is only love–love so big and messy and wide and deep. That was the lesson of Jenni.
I have been holding a small moment of silence over here for Jen, until she be laid to rest. But now it is time to keep doing what Jenni and I enjoyed doing together–writing, connecting, watching, witnessing, living and growing.
I will. I will. I will. Everyday I will.
Several years, or maybe it was a lifetime ago, I was sitting at my desk checking email. I got a comment on my old blog, from a woman named Jennifer Ballantyne. She had been reading me for a while and had finally decided to comment, because the post I had written was so similar to one she herself had just penned. It was as though we both moving out from the same heart writing about our sons, about the experience of single motherhood from one perspective. That night I read her blog from start to finish and walked away thinking, she is me-or I am she…or maybe we were soul sisters cut from the same cloth.
Slowly, very slowly we started talking off blog, by email about writing, about creating. She had ideas for my blog, thoughts about my writing. Most of her opinions were strong and most of them were exactly what I needed to hear–my platform was awkward, my writing was better than I thought it was, I needed to showcase myself better, have more confidence. She told me I should write a book. I was touched by support, I found her easy to “talk” to, she could call me out on my writing insecurities without any of my gremlins joining in the party.
One day, while responding to an email where she was helping me with a tough piece, I mentioned to her, “shhh….don’t tell anyone but I am going on a date. My first date since Juan left”. “Tell me all about it, dear girl” she responded. At that moment the floodgates opened, and our friendship really began.
Within weeks and for a long long time after that, not a day went by that we didn’t talk. By email, by phone, by skype. We talked about our kids, about what we loved about our towns, about what we were making for dinner, what we would give our kids for Christmas. We talked about being single moms, our ex-husbands, our relationships with our siblings. I felt that she got me. She understood when well-meaning but thoughtless comments were made about how I was trying to parent Max. She understood when no one else did. She understood all the ways we single mamas struggle–all the guilt and sadness and worry we carry that sometimes feels heavier than those of our partnered up sisters. She was like a mama bear and defended me fiercely when someone hurt my feelings.
She was my confidant on the ins-and-outs of my heart. My crushes, my heartbreaks. My joys. I told her all my old love stories and she told me hers too. I was baffled by the fact that someone I had never met face to face could know me so well. She was taken back too. After awhile we stopped being baffled and would laugh about the day when we would meet, wrap our arms around each other and sit on the beach laughing…remember back then, when we were penpals and emailed long emails every night–pouring out our hearts to a stranger who would become a sister. What a crazy leap! Aren’t we glad we did it? Look how wonderful it has all turned out!
The reality was Jenni was so far away, she could see me clearly.
One spring night, when loneliness covered me like a heavy blanket, I called Jenni and we talked for 4 hours. One summer night, when she was feeling blue, my friend Jeff, some other musician friends and I and I called her and played music for her loud –giving her her own private concert via speaker phone.
Jenni’s cancer was something we talked about. Alot. But it wasn’t the basis of our connection. Almost two years ago, Jenni’s cancer came roaring back after a brief respite. We promised each other we would live each day as though it was our last.
I have been losing Jenni slowly, over the last half a year or so. Her pain has required a full-time move to hospice. She was writing less and less. At various points, we have said our goodbyes–never quite final–but making sure we knew the important stuff. That it never went unsaid. One night, on the phone, we came to a peace that we might never make it to that beach, to that moment when we would wrap our arms around each other and whisper our secrets in person. “We found each other from halfway across the world” we said. “We will find each other again. Next time. I promise.”
Tonight my friend Jeff came over for a guitar lesson. He walked in the door. He asked me how I was.
“Jenni died tonight”. I told him.
He put down his guitar. He put Max to bed. He then settled down on my couch and he said, “tell me”. I began to re-tell him all the stories he already knew–how Jenni and I first met, how we laughed and chatted and skyped and stayed up late talking on the phone. He listened as I told him about her opinions, her Jack, her dream to come to the US, her blog. He listened as I told him how Jenni understood things no one else could truly understand. I told him all I had learned from Jenni. How I learned to tell my friends that I love them, no matter how crazy or silly or odd it sounded. How I learned to listen to strangers. How I learned to push back when people hurt me. Telling stories was the only way I knew to keep Jenni alive. Telling stories was what Jenni and I did. So I told him my love stories, all the old ones I had told Jenni. And I ended with the love story about the about two soul sisters who would never meet.
Jenni is a gift to me. The lessons she taught me are rich and deep. She is with me, even if she isn’t. She always has been with me, even though she never actually was, and so, I suppose in that way nothing has changed. We have talked so much, I can hear her voice, know exactly what she would say, what she is saying. I will have it to carry with me, as I did each time we ended.
“Good night gorgeous girl. I have so much more to say to you, but for now it is late. And it is time to let each other sleep”
Good night dear Jenni. I love you. Good night.
December is a holy month. Maybe it is the dark silky silence that descends so early, that speaks to me of reverence. Maybe it is the promise that December holds–that no matter how dark, how cold, how empty it can get, the light is coming back. Something always shifts in me when December arrives–I embrace the darkness and am eager for the coming solstice when the whole world is still and holds its breath, waiting to be reborn again. December whispers to me of midnight mass, of ancient choirs, of stained glass windows turned into gems by candle light.
Ever since I was a little girl, I had a deep strong sense that holy meant whole. Not whole like perfect, but whole like, magically complete–like a disaster averted, like a shattered jar repaired. Whole- like those stained glass windows. Broken, jagged, sharp pieces of glass held together magically, transformed into one perfect design not by gold or silver but by something as mundane as lead.
Well, I can’t speak for you, but damn….When I am falling apart, I feel like a pile of colored glass: fragile, broken, uncoordinated When I am at my most whole–when I am feeling my most holy I feel a lot like a stained glass window. I am still a pile of broken, jagged bits of sparkly glass but somehow all those pieces have been suspended by love and suddenly they are arranged and held together, woven into something greater. If you look up close you can see all the sharp edges, the odd shapes, the rippled colors that aren’t quite clear–but the love, the love has given it shape, created meaning from the madness.
My compass, my true north, the thing that makes me whole it is love. Love of my son, love of my community, love of humanity. Not fancy sparkly love but make soup, make lunches, make up, make beds mundane kind of everyday love.
Some people think that love flows from perfection. I think it flows from brokenness. Love is a survival skill that allows us to heal our wounds. Love is the transformative power that turns our brokenness into something beautiful. Our ability to love is what makes us holy. Our ability to love is what allows us to heal. Our ability to love is ultimately what makes us whole.