Question of the week: What if we can choose the ending?

You mustn’t wait for someone to rescue you. A girl expecting rescue never learns to save herself.                                                                          

Kate Morton The Forgotten Garden

Maybe it was the Cadillac. Matt insisted its features would be wasted on me. Aside from being disappointed that it wasn’t pink, I think I made good use of it. I used it as my own personal time machine. And I thoroughly enjoyed the smooth, quiet ride as a I cruised solo down route 91 toward my childhood and the year 1993.

I was headed to my high school reunion. An event I’ve gladly blown off every five years since the 5th. Simply because it hurt too freakin’ much to go back. And every time I went into town, I felt small. Less than. Messed up. And pitiable. Far easier to avoid those emotions than confront them.

But this year was different. I was ready. I was excited. It had been a quarter of a century since I graduated and I wanted to revisit the ghosts of Christmas past. As I drove my big, black Caddy south, I welled up with tears of gratitude. Because I realized that my way of thinking has completely transformed itself.

For, I have finally learned to see beyond the losses to the blessings of what was and what remains. I have learned to hold the love I’ve received in my 43 years close to my heart. Right up close. So close that it bubbles out of me.

It doesn’t really matter what part of my life those who have loved me are from or where they are today, I feel them. And I am grateful for their love. It was always there. Buried under my insistence on feeling robbed, angry, isolated, “special and different” because of the losses I endured.

The losses keep coming. But love contains me like a riverbank. It won’t let me spillover into pity, sorrow, and victimhood. We know that I did years (decades really) without those retaining walls. And I looked (and felt) like mud plains after a vicious flood. I was flattened. Joyless. Dark. Messy. And littered with the garbage of my losses. But adept at faking it.

I knew without a shadow of a doubt that something big had changed in me when I heard of the loss of my summer cottage. Not only did I have to face the loss of the only home that still allowed me to pretend myself a girl, but I had to deal with the way it went down. To say it wasn’t pretty is an understatement. It was an outright slap across a cold, wind-chapped cheek. My brothers and I were informed of its loss with a centerfold advertisement in the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror. Stating it was in foreclosure. And that is how I was welcomed home from nearly three years in Australia.

The old me thought about booking immediate passage back Down Under. The new me had trained for this exact scenario by spending hours practicing yoga asanas. Asanas are postures. And while you perform them with the body, they train the brain. To live in the present. To see the good. To deal with the difficult. Yoga, as BKS Iyengar says in Light on Life provides one with “the firmness to live with equanimity in the vicissitudes of the world’s hurly burly.”

It was the fact that I was able to throw one more piece of my childhood away with equanimity that tipped me off to the fact that I’d made it through the desert to The Promised Land. And I beat The Jews by 20 years. Because I only wandered from ages 19 to 39. And, yes, there were blessings in my desert. A marriage. Children. Dogs. But the background was dry. Brittle. And I was desperately thirsty. For equanimity. For love of self.

Was The Jews wandering literal? Or was it metaphorical? I haven’t yet figured out how to take my rented Caddy back to the preChrist Middle East. And much of the bible seems poetic and metaphorical to me as opposed to literal. As with my posts, I see a question in their wandering. It seems to ask each of us, How long will you wander?

How long will you kvetch, whine, pity yourself, and obsess on all that is wrong with your life? Because that’s exactly how long you’ll stay lost. Lonely. Stuck. And thirsty. It is only when we open our eyes and our hearts to the beauty before us that we are able to enter The Promised Land.

What if that’s it? What if The Promised Land is a state of mind? A state of abundance. Positivity. Joy. And gratitude. What if it’s there for each of us to grab hold of? What if we’re the only ones who can ensure we leave the darkness of operating as a single person who has had their heart broken? What if it’s when we see that each and every one of us has been Jesus? In the sense that we’ve been hurt. Misunderstood. Betrayed. And turned over to those who would do us harm.

What if in that realization we begin to see the courage in each of us? The spirit? The light that won’t go out? The mystery of it all? What if by choosing to see that eternal flame in everyone we begin to heal ourselves? What if we begin to heal those who have harmed us by seeing beyond their transgressions and the wounded human who committed them to the light that glows within?

Then there’s Cinderella. She is abandoned. First, by her mother who up and dies on her in the first scene. And then by her father. She is left to live with crumbs. And cruelty. In a cold, drafty attic. But Cinderella experiences magic. The Promised Land if you will.

And I have come to believe it’s because she looks for the good. She holds the love of her mother and father close to her. So close that it bubbles out of her. She loves her mice and she receives their love. She loves her dusty, cold, garret of a room. She loves her gardens. She loves making her own dress and singing her sweet songs. She sees the best of what’s around her. She never allows herself to slip the riverbanks into full blown depression.

Or maybe she did and they cut that scene. The point is, it is because she retains her joy in the midst of darkness that she is visited by magic. That she experiences her fairy God mother. And a happy ending. She doesn’t get the fairytale ending and then find her joy. She finds her joy and then gets the fairytale ending.

It’s as if the Spirit World tests us. Then watches to see how we will do. Do we wallow? Weep? Wring our hands and gnash our teeth? Maybe. And, for a time, I think that’s okay. But, we must pick ourselves up and look for the beauty that surrounds us. We must open our hearts and take that beauty in and let it transform us. We must hold the love we have received within us. Even if those who gave it are long gone. Because their love isn’t. It lives on. Inside us. Like a balm, it will soothe us, calm us, and remind us we are, indeed, enough.

At 17, I had a dream. A dark, scary, vivid, color dream. It was so bad that I had to reenact it. Play it out to try and get it out of my system. I’ve never forgotten it and I never will. I didn’t know it at the time but I think it was a warning.

Here’s what happened. I was in my hometown. Driving my old Jeep to the church where I attended Sunday School, was confirmed, and played Mary in a living nativity. The church was hosting an open house for homeless men. And my older brother was volunteering there. I needed to drop something off. I don’t remember what it was. I pulled up by the side doors, ran in, dropped the “thing” off, and hustled back out to my running car.

I hopped in, chucked a u-ey, and started back down Longmeadow Street toward home. A block or so away, in front of the town library, I was hit with a smell. The smell of an unwashed, unclean, person. And, intuitively, I knew this person meant me harm. In the next instant, I see a dark figure in my rearview mirror. The person is coming for me from the backseat. And as they lean in a heavy, dreadlock falls across my cheek.

That’s it. That’s the dream. There was no fairytale ending in the dream. There was no ending at all. There was a sense of foreboding. A feeling of fear. A dread in the pit of my stomach about things to come. Older and wiser, I believe the message came from beyond as a warning. A hint that something dark and dreadful was going to come up from behind me and scare the bejeezus out of me. After I reenacted the dream with a girlfriend and scared the pants off a guy friend, I let it go.

But it wouldn’t let me go. I’ve never forgotten it. And I believe some dreams have power. They carry messages. From the future. From The Spirit World. From our body. From somewhere. This one came to warn me. The spell was broken. My cushy, easy, charmed life was over.

Less than two years later my parents split. Abruptly. Five years later, my mom was diagnosed. And, just like that, I went from the magic of a well-to-do life to a black cloud I couldn’t get out from under. I let it swallow me for a long time.

Until I thought I might actually lose my spark. Or extinguish it myself. And that is when I begged for help. My fairy God mother showed up in the form of a time out in Australia. Or maybe my mom picked me up like a chess piece and set me down as far from home as she could in a warm, sunny country. So I could get my head on straight. Practice yoga. Open my heart. And rediscover all the love that was already in me.

There’s power in love. Enough power to contain you. Enough power to help you choose your ending. I don’t know what my ending looks like but I’ve had dreams that give me clues. In the meantime, I practice seeing what is right. Good. And true. Around me. And in those who surround me. There’s magic and power in that too.

As for the 25th, how comforting to realize you weren’t “special and different” after all. You just got hit earlier. Harder. More regularly. As my hostess drove me around town, she regaled me with countless stories of heartache and heartbreak. Black clouds. And sorrow. And while I can’t do the work of those still in pain, I can point out that maybe, just maybe, we get a say in how it all ends. Maybe by choosing love, giving love, being love, we will get it back. We will cross with Cinderella and the wandering Jews to The Promised Land.

Advertisements

Question of the week: Who am I now?

Be content with what you have;

Rejoice in the way things are.

Lao-Tzu

Before delving into a new story, I want to circle back to my last post. And let you know that I feel blessed to have known the kind of childhood I knew. Granted, it went to hell in a hand-basket round about 19 but prior to that, it was mostly stable. Loving. Nurturing. And grounding.

I grew up in a home where we spent large chunks of time together. On the beach. On the boat. On the ski slopes. I grew up in a home visited regularly by grandparents and great grandparents. I grew up in a home where a prepared meal was shared every night of the week. I grew up in a home where people cared about my grades, my friends, and my behavior. I grew up in a home where often both parents were present at my games. It was not a perfect home. But it was a good home.

When things went south, they went south fast. And they kept going south for many years. One divorce. One terminal illness. One remarriage (I do not recommend this – if you’ve split once, for Pete’s sake stay split – but try telling that to my self-centered, hurting, 20-something self who wanted her parents together – if only for how it benefited her). One separation. One long, drawn out, second divorce. One death. One dismantling of a home. And epic, unprocessed grief housed in all reeling, left-behind, family members.

Naturally, in the wake of all that, I did what women have done for eons. What women are hard wired to do. I nurtured them (my dad and my brothers). I loved them. The way she would have. I tried to support them and be there for them. By way of cards, recipes, meals, and telephone calls. In short, I tried to be her. But I couldn’t be. Obviously.

I nearly drown trying to save other lives. Which puts me square in the middle of the gigantic mess we find our country in. I’m here not by choice. Not because I want to be. But because this is where my life has put me. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: surrender.

Surrender to your life. Surrender to the places It takes you and surrender to the work It wants to do through you. I fought my life so hard for so long because it didn’t look like how I wanted it to look. How I thought it was supposed to look. How I felt entitled to having it look. Because, somehow, my fairly neat, upper middle class life with all the creature comforts and a tropical vacation in February to boot, had devolved into an after school special.

However, there are lessons to be gleaned from after school specials. The only thing I can figure about my after-school-special life is that it’s meant to be shared. What else is all the pain for if not to try to make some sense of it and share with others? In the event it may help them with their after-school-special, messy, brutiful life.

And so I have surrendered. To the currents that are my life. I am done fighting. I accept it all. The sadness. The terror. The mess. The beauty. The memories. The love. For I believe there is something holding this big old rock, her people, her planets, her sun, her moon, her seasons in place. And if that’s so, then why bother fighting?

That is not to say I don’t pine for the power to save lives. To heal the hurts of those still grieving. I do. It’s just that I can no longer allow myself to drown while attempting a rescue effort. And so I love. From afar. With boundaries. I surrender those hurting up to the big, old sky. And I ask that they be healed. But I know that might not be their current in this lifetime.

You see, the men left behind are hurting. Badly. And I can’t save them. I’ve already tried. So when I watch this administration behave in its archaic, despotic, entitled, bordering on evil ways, I can’t help but feel called to report on what I know.

And what I know is, women matter. Our opinions. Our love. And our nurturing. Moreover, our connection to the moon and tides and our life giving abilities endow us with a wisdom uniquely ours. A wisdom desperately needed today. A wisdom that will keep the planet functioning as its supposed to. As our life giving home.

How do I know all this? I know because my family of origin misses its quiet matriarch. It aches for her counsel. Guidance. And love. We have devolved without her. She held us together. She helped us function well. She calibrated us. She provided us with calm equanimity which helped us feel stable. Her love kept members from acting out in destructive ways. Her laughter kept us coming back for more. Her meals were healing like medicine made by her hands.

And so it is that I believe wholeheartedly that women are to be heard. Believed. Honored. Respected. Included. Nominated. Elected. Turned to. Consulted. And promoted. We need them. The planet needs them. Men, as it turns out, need them.

With all of those wonderful options, I sometimes struggle with who I am supposed to be. Because I have chosen to run my home. It happened accidentally when I surrendered to the current that took us to Australia. That’s when I discovered that I loved it. That I sincerely enjoy this temporary job of homemaker. And the family I was born into reminds me how big this unpaid job truly is.

However, the fierce feminist in me is humored by all of this domesticity. So rather than call myself a homemaker, I think I’ll call myself a domestic feminist. This domestic feminist is tasked with keeping her people orbiting. Functioning. Fed. And loved. For now, this is the work the universe is doing through me. And when I panic that I may get left behind, that I may not have a job when I’ve put myself out of this one, I remember that I simply have to float.

The current will take me where It wants me. To do the work It wants me to do.

Question of the week: How did my mom die?

And from the Other Side I feel an urging. An insistence. A demand that I plunk my bottom in a seat and type until the story comes out. Until the truth is told in such a way as to shed light on the issues of the day. Because if not now, then when? If not me, then who? Because I have a son. And a daughter. Because this sh*t is rampant. And it’s gotta stop.

I am full up this week. With memories. My own. My mother’s. My girlfriends. I can even conjure ones for my girl. Visions of what may come to pass. How someone may harm her or take advantage of her trusting heart and her innate desire to be of service.

I will do my best to tell this story in a way that allows me to take my place beside Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Because she needs us. Because our girls need us. Because our boys need us. Because our country needs us. We are in a time of upheaval. And we must use our collective voices to push through what the universe is trying to birth.

Once, there was a little girl who idolized her dad. She thought he was strong. And brave. Handsome. And good. He may, indeed, have been all those things. But he was also dark and angry. Controlling and childish. The girl vividly remembers seeing her mother dragged down a hallway of their home one night by an arm, a leg, or a clump of hair. The details don’t matter. The image is seared into the girl’s memory and the sight of it terrified her. Most certainly it terrified the girl’s mom.

The girl never witnessed another episode of physical abuse. But, they say emotional abuse is as destructive (if not worse) as physical abuse. It erodes a person’s psyche, spirit, confidence, and sense of self. That, and average, old run-of-the-mill bullying, the girl did observe. And she rebelled against it. Stubbornly. Loudly. Defiantly. She stood up against her father as much as an adolescent girl child can when under the roof of a powerful man.

But, the girl thought things had changed for her generation. She was certain her life would never look like her mother’s. Because as far as she could assess things were equal. Girls played sports. Boys played sports. Her friends were smart. She was smart. Her girlfriends would go to college. She would go to college. Maybe she’d even get a graduate degree. The girl felt sorry for her mom; but grateful for herself. Because the world had changed. And inequality was surely a thing of the past.

The home was unequivocally unequal. As many homes are. The man was educated. A professional. Who earned a good living as an attorney with his own practice. And that living entitled him to having things his way because, obviously…

The mom was gentle. Soft spoken. Steady. And devoted to her children. She was also stuck. As stuck as a beef cow on the day the slaughterhouse truck arrives. Because she had no formal education. Three children. And a few, measly secretarial skills.

The girl endured her own verbal tirade one night. Because she dared to kiss a boy. In his dorm room. Rather than trust the girl or query her gently, her father lit into her with wrath. He utilized words no man should ever use to describe his daughter. The girl cried. She felt ashamed of herself. And her burgeoning sexuality.

Later, the girl traveled to Costa Rica for a summer. A man named Milo took an interest in her. And wanted to take her on a date. The girl’s host family surely grilled him to the nth degree. He must have answered all the questions satisfactorily because she was allowed to go out with him.

She recalls a red Land Rover. Or maybe a Jeep. Maybe it wasn’t red after all. The exact details are vague and fuzzy. She remembers driving out of the town and up, up, up into the tropical mountains. To a rotisserie chicken joint. It was dark. And the road felt deserted. No one owned cell phones back then. Chicken was consumed. Then Milo brought her safely home. He didn’t harm her. She doesn’t even know if he kissed her. Nothing remarkable happened. But, somehow, the story still terrifies the girl’s older self. Because she knows how the headlines would have read.

How many girls have been lost since that night 26 years ago? How many have been raped since then? How many more will be? How lucky that her date’s intentions were pure. Innocent. She knows she is one of the lucky ones. And her heart aches for the ones who weren’t.

Then the girl went on a date she’ll never forget. A date that ended poorly. But not lethally. A date in which heated words were exchanged. In a flash, the girl (athletic and wiry by build) was overpowered. She found herself on a bed with two strong, raging hands around her neck. She struggled to breathe.

In addition to being scared, she was embarrassed. Ashamed. Confused. And sad. She was uncertain how she’d gotten there. She’d been so sure no man would ever harm her. She was too smart for that. Too athletic for that. Too disciplined for that. Too selective for that. Too sober for that. But there she was. In a tangle she couldn’t get out of. Thankfully, the man relented. And she was released.

Safe. But with new sight. Nothing had changed after all. Men were still overpowering women. Still taking their bottled up rage out on women. Still threatening women. Still harming women. Title nine had done nothing but make her naive to the ways of the world.

She thought of her mother. Of the years she endured. Of the steady love she provided. While getting very little in the way of true companionship back. She thought of the belittling. The power plays. The way it always had to be “his” way. She ached for her mom.

The girl began to understand that her mom had died a little every day before the diagnosis. She had died a little the moment the man she loved began to denigrate and harm her. She had died a little every time he bullied her. Talked over her. Changed her parenting decisions. Or became angry with her.

Officially, it looks like terminal illness took my mother’s life. But I know better. And I think it was despair that led her to the forbidden fruit. Like Eve so long ago, my mom was tempted. By kindness. And respect. In a moment of weakness, fatigue, stupidity, or driven by the sheer desire to have something of her own, she sought temporary solace in another man’s arms.

I do not believe my mom had any intention of breaking up our family. Nor did she want to prematurely abandon us in death. She merely enjoyed the attention of someone kind.  Someone who seemed to truly see her and appreciate her for who she was. A beautiful, stable, mellow, giving woman who loved creating a home, making delicious meals, and raising her kids.

I do not condone my mother’s actions. But I recognize that she felt trapped. And lonely.  She felt tremendous shame and guilt for what happened to our family. So much so that it ate her up. From the inside. I forgive her 100 times over. And I know she would want me to tell this story.

For the love of all that is good, may we teach our boys how to love. How to deal effectively with sadness, anxiety, anger, and frustration. May we teach them to respect the women in their lives. The women who ushered them forth. The women who will carry the next generation.

I stand with Christine Blasey Ford. And with all the brave women who have tolerated so much for so long.

Question of the week: WWMD?

Good friends I have and better friends I’ll not be knowing, but there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take, no matter where it’s going.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

It’s official. I’m home. Whilst the calendar says we’ve been home for 9 1/2 months, my body knows it’s finally home by the following indicators: 1) I can, once again, follow a recipe 2) I no longer need a glass of wine every single night of the week and 3) I was able to locate and write a check to church. These may seem small but they are huge accomplishments and they tell me that there is finally some extra room in my brain. One wouldn’t think it would have taken this long but I assure you, it did.

Intuitively, I knew back in ‘Straya that reentry would take months. And I said to myself, “Lindsey, remember it’s going to take at least 6 months from the time your feet hit the ground in the States.” The thing is, everyone wants to speed you up. It’s the M.O. of our times. Go faster. Forget the past. Move along. Hurry up now. No time to waste. I looked like I was here. Indeed, physically, I was. I managed the big things like school registration, sports team sign ups, and drop offs and pick ups. It was the smaller things that overwhelmed me. Thereby requiring a little tipple at the end of each day.

Ironically, I just re-read Piero Ferruci’s lovely little book, The Power of Kindness. To assist with his argument for embracing kindness as a way of life, he utilizes all sorts of stories from various traditions and backgrounds. One, in particular, stood out. He describes an old sage who doesn’t believe in air travel because of the obscenely fast way it carries us from one climate, hemisphere, time zone, culture, and language to another. And so, when he travels, he travels by ship. Obviously, this wouldn’t cut it for your average business person with miles, but it made me think.

Then I had to calculate how long it took the First Fleet to get from England to Botany Bay or what we now know as Sydney. The First Fleet was the first group of ships carrying convicts and British Officers to Australia. From one of our travel books, I had the time frame lodged in my memory as approximately 9 months. Which always galled me because 30 hours leaves you feeling fairly wrecked. In any event, the first web site I clicked on reported that it took them 252 days. Which breaks down to about 8 1/2 months. Right about the time I started following recipes again. It’s as if it took that long for my soul to catch up, and reintegrate with, my body.

It’s also important to note that it’s taken me this long to truly comprehend what happened to me over there. What happened to us. What we did. And how it intimately links us to our history and to the goings on in the world today. For all intents and purposes we were immigrants. Temporary, with a general sense that if all went according to plan (which it most certainly didn’t as life rarely does) that we would get the opportunity to return home. Though I must tell you several people regaled us with horror stories about ex pats stranded sans jobs or enough money to get back home. One has to wonder about the human proclivity to scare the pants off people with horror stories…But, that is a question for another time.

When I hugged my dad goodbye Stateside, I felt his heaviness. The energy between us was palpable. I wanted to ease his hurting heart. So I said the only thing that came to my mind at the time.  I informed him that our people had once stood on ship-decks waving goodbye to all they’d ever known in England, Scotland, and Ireland. With no plan to return home. Ever. And no technology with which to communicate. Their goodbyes were final. Ours would be temporary.

I carried those people with me through all that I did over there. The women especially. I thought of them countless times as I tried to adjust to life in a strange, new land. As I weighed the size of my job as a stay at home mom. I knew that my family’s health and success rested heavily on my shoulders. I had to stay upbeat, positive, grounded, and make friends as quickly as I could. In short, I had to channel my inner chameleon to fit in while not losing sight of home.

And I think of them still as I study our culture with fresh eyes. I think the reason we Americans are so “big” and “loud” and “busy” and “innovative” is because it’s in our DNA. All of us non-indigenous muts are descendants of people who waved goodbye to those in lands far away. People who had to push to stay afloat. Or they would have sunk. The little bit I know about epigenetics leads me to believe that pushing and striving and producing are genes we turned on when we entered new lands. Because we had to. And those genes have been passed down to each and every one of us. Giving us our “big, loud, pushy, inventive, productive” fairly accurate, but certainly a generalization, cultural stereotype.

I knew going through it that it took courage and hutzpah for us to do what we did. We had to push and keep going or we would have drowned. Failed. Uncoupled. Sunk into depression. We had to go so very hard to make it all work. To keep our kids grounded and healthy. And everything was a challenge. Everything. Nevertheless we persisted. Which brings me to one of today’s crises. The way I see it we have two big ones and they are related. Because everything is interrelated and codependent. Our environment. And the 30 million or so people on the move due to war or environmental degradation.

I can’t help but think of those people. Those women. The ones who are trying with all their might to keep it together so they can keep their family together. We had the benefit of the language. Of four degrees between the two of us. Of a country that feels like a first cousin culturally. And the backing of a Maine-based, global, American corporation. And it still kicked the snot out of us. When asked about it, I often quoted Dickens and his famous line, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” It was only the best because we chose to focus on the adventure. The opportunity. The travel. The family bonding. It was also lonesome. And hard. So very hard.

What of our refugees today? People who don’t want to leave home and all that they know. People who are forced to. People who never sought an adventure and don’t possess the language of their refuge country? I don’t have the answers. I just had to point out that our story links us to the white people from away who first inhabited America and Australia. And it connects us to the people of color all over the world who are looking for a safe place to call home. Further, it reminds me of the unsung work of women who have not been written about in the white-washed pages of male history.

And now for the question of the week. WWMD? What. Would. Mom. Do? I asked myself that hundreds of times in the wake of her loss. She was a gypsy. Easy to move at a moment’s notice and a lover of all sights new. And I used the above St. Vincent Millay quote when I eulogized her. Because it was how I felt about what she had to do. She had to leave us. She had to journey out ahead of all of us. To cross over. Death. The last great frontier.

When Matt first brought the Australia opportunity to my attention a little over four years ago, I was terrified. I wanted him to make it go away. To take back the text that offered a new land. A fresh start. To never, ever bring it up again. You see, I was just emerging from yet another period of blackness. And I could hardly imagine starting over far from all that tethered me to this world. Far from friends, a job, and therapists. And I let those “what ifs” get in my head. What if I can’t handle it? What if I go crazy? What if, what if, what if…

Deep down though there was a soul recognition. A flutter of possibility, of hope. A promise of what could be if I could just be brave enough to let go. To let go of all I knew and all I thought I knew. To loosen my grip on the steering wheel and let life, God, the universe, fate, destiny, what have you, move into the driver’s seat instead. Lord knows I was weary from trying to drive myself.

I knew without a shadow of a doubt what Mom would do. She would hastily book passage to Sydney, Australia. And fling herself into living there. In my eulogy, which was really an intimate letter that I had penned to her and shared, I publicly proclaimed that I would continue to speak of her and that I would try with all my heart to live like her for the remainder of my days.

Because she lived well. She loved well. And, paradoxically, her illness brought her to life. She smiled big, toothy grins she’d always been too shy to smile because of her un-braced teeth. She got braver. She traveled more. She loved harder. She recognized things as things. She lived in the present. She got goofier. YES. Terminal illness made all those positive things happen and I got to witness it. She was my guru. And I desperately wanted to emulate her new way of living.

But all I seemed to do was bounce from one anxiety to the next. I faked it well. Nobody save the closest of the close knew what a hot mess I was. I presented well. Better than well. I looked like I had my shit together. Like I knew what I was doing. Inside, I was hollow and I wondered if I’d ever again feel like the brave girl who marched herself off to Costa Rica at 17.  Given the ride I’d had with depression and anxiety since age 19 when my parents split (the first time), I wasn’t sure I would. I was 38. The fear and the sadness had held me in their grips on and off for the better part of 20 years. It didn’t seem possible.

Knowing what Mom would do, I began to look for celestial signs about where I belonged. And everywhere I turned, Australia was staring me in the face. I couldn’t have gotten away from it if I’d tried. From the guy at Sunglasses Hut who spontaneously discussed Aussie eyewear regulations, to the antique stuffed kangaroo at the door to Keeley’s day care, to children’s t-shirts, to book choices in book club, to the map which Finn had taped to our fridge because it accompanied his latest music curriculum. Of course the song he was learning was Waltzing Matilda. Australia called to me. Her ancient hymn beckoned.

What follows is the story of a girl who finally learned to live from her heart. A girl who gave it all up for a chance to start anew. A girl who desperately missed her mother and her comfortable youth. A girl sick of struggling with depression, anxiety, and all its myriad terrible feelings. A girl whose pain was so deep that she was withering away. Losing herself bit by bit. A girl who had forgotten how to live.

A girl who leaped. Into the unknown. To chase hope. Because her heart beat quicker when she thought about it. A girl whose heartbeat drown out the million and one reasons it was a bad idea. A girl who, like Rilke advises, lived the questions.

I think our pain has to be witnessed, has to be acknowledged in order for us to move past it. Somebody has to hear you say, scream, cry, or write: “These things happened to me. Don’t you see? Don’t you see how sad and mad and scared I am?” And when it’s been witnessed, acknowledged, seen, held, or read…we can let it go. And we can begin to live again.

In that land far away, I learned to do two things my mom really wanted me to do. Round shouldered since the onset of puberty, and the recipient of constant “Roll your shoulders back” comments from Mom, I finally did. Through a disciplined yoga practice, I now know how to roll my shoulders: up, back, and down. As a result I walk a good half an inch taller. For real. A type A personality from birth with a mom who repeatedly, but respectfully, urged me to take myself less seriously, I finally do. Like my spiritual awakening, they happened gradually, accidentally. Positive side effects of living from the heart.

The stories that follow are the ones I would have shared with my mom. My first reader. My guru. My guide. Key by key, I typed my tale. Each key a stitch. Each story a square of fabric. The finished product, a modern day quilt. Held together with the threads of loss, love, humor, the adventure of living abroad, the thrill of rediscovering my mom, and the awe of learning to lean on the divine. Key by key, I stitched myself whole.

Now I will close with a quote by Jung:

Whatever you do, if you do it sincerely, will eventually become a bridge to your wholeness, a good ship that carries you through the darkness.

Thank you for being a part of my journey. You, who witnessed my pain, played an enormous role in my recovery. In my healing. You are forever, with gratitude, in my heart.

 PEACE.

Question of the week: Did I just call heaven?

There is nothing stronger and nobler than when man and wife are of one heart and mind in a house, a grief to their foes, and to their friends great joy, but their own hearts know it best.

Homer

Last week, in an effort to process my grief regarding the impending loss of a friend and fellow mama, I perjured myself on Facebook. While I didn’t have my hand on a bible at the time, I knew what I was doing when I did it and I did it anyway. That’s right. I wrote about flat tires, bickering children, and a naughty puppy. I actually complained about those things. But those things are the stuff of life.

What I neglected to say, because it wasn’t mine to say, was that a friend up the road would never, ever get the privilege to complain about such minor, first-world problems again. Because she had begun her walk home. To wherever that is. I felt the journey viscerally as I know it well. 12 years ago my mama was making a similar journey. And I was right there with her.

On the night of the perjury I was grieving for my friend’s cubs. Robbed at a young age of a vital ingredient in their lives. Their mom. A mom is so many things. She is our first home. All our initial growth takes place in the cocoon and safety of her warm womb. She is our source of nourishment. Both literally and metaphorically. She is our first teacher. She is our first nurse. She is our cheerleader. She is our first counselor. She may, in fact, be our first true love.

On a recent walk, a friend and I discussed the trials and tribulations of family life. I continue to maintain that it’s the ultimate Endurance Test. Forget the Ironman. Forget the Spartan. Forget marathons. Those all end. Family life is a commitment one makes and the commitment NEVER ends. It just keeps going day after challenging day. In any event, she revealed that a family consultant they’d called in for some tips, who also happened to be male, informed her that a mom is the sun in a family.

In an effort to avoid perjuring myself again, I have just refreshed my knowledge of the sun. And darn if I don’t agree with that unknown male consultant. According to coolcosmos.com, “the gravity of the Sun keeps the planets in their orbits.” And that is who we mamas are. And that is what we do. We create. We nurture. And we keep the people in our family unit orbiting in their proper place. That’s a big job. And one whose sacredness and size seems to have been trivialized in our culture.

Having lost my own mom, and watching certain planets spin out of control without her, I take the job seriously. Sacredly. And that is why I perjured myself on Facebook. I was gutted. At the loss of a friend. The loss of a fellow mom. But, I want to celebrate something here. And that is an incredible love story.

A love story I got to be privileged enough to watch and be part of. It is the love story of my friend and her husband. You see, in a world where so much goes wrong, where countless people don’t do what’s right, where marriage vows are taken lightly and broken with regularity, theirs is a story of triumph and teamwork.

First, I got to hear about her. The artist from the Midwest brave enough to drive East and start over in Maine. The job she got at Starbucks. The way he found numerous reasons to visit that particular Starbucks. The ensuing friendship and dating. The engagement. The wedding, 15 years ago this coming May. Baby number one. Baby number two. Bike rides, barbecues, and sail boat rides.

The illness. The dignity. The courage. The grace. The unwillingness to slip into victim mode. The determination to stay the course with chins up. The teamwork till the very moment when her soul slipped its human clothing and crossed over. They did it all. Together. With smiles. With tears. And with love.

And so while I hurt today for the hard work that lies ahead, I am so proud of them. And I wanted to get this down so that I can share it with their cubs. So that they know that there is still good. There is still love. There is still such a thing as commitment with a capital C.

It’s my belief that broken hearts are here to remind us to have reverence for the ordinary. And to see the divine in the mundane. For the days when you get a flat tire. Are instructed you must buy 4 new ones. Break up bickering barnacles. Chase naughty puppies. Watch helplessly as your puppy terrifies the neighbor’s brood of chickens. And apologize wearily to the same neighbor as you survey the scene of feathers. Reverence. Because it’s a gift. All of it. It’s on loan from the great beyond.

And now for the question of the week. Did I just call heaven? The youngest of the uncles called my Gramma’s apartment one day when I was there. I answered the phone and, as happens from time to time, my mom’s voice came right out of me. There was a pause on the other end of the line. Nothing was said. And then he asked me the question of the week.

It made me smile. To think that as I age, I am taking on some of the beautiful qualities of the Sun I miss so much. I see her in certain photos of me. I hear her in my voice. I witness her in my mothering. I see her in the way I dress. I see her in every nook and cranny of the way I’ve put our home together. I feel her in the way I do friendship. Beyond that, I see her in the barnacles. I hear her in their laughter. I see her in a sunset. I feel her in a fresh snow. I see her in antique stores. And I sense her when I bebop around my kitchen, free and happy, the taste of a yummy wine fresh on my palate.

While my heart hurts for my friends up the road, and the days, weeks, months, and years they have ahead of them…I know their Sun is with them still. She’ll continue to shine a light for them. For the duration of their walk here. And her light will lead them home when the time comes.

Now I will close with a quote that helps me to understand.

Tagaran was invisible now, but she was a part of everything he could see, like the faintest, most distant star, sending its steady light out toward him across space. 

Kate Grenville The Lieutenant

Peace and Love be with you.

 

 

Question of the week: How is life like skiing in New England?

I long to put the experience of fifty years at once into your young lives, to give you the key to that treasure chamber…every gem of which has cost me tears and struggles and prayers, but you must work for these inward treasures yourself.

 Harriet Beecher Stowe

I don’t have a real plan for this morning’s writing. All I know is that, emotionally, I am full. Busting. Like the buckets which have been collecting sap in our yard over the past week. And, as with the buckets, I must be emptied. So that I can go on containing whatever life pours into me. Therefore, I will tip myself out here, and we’ll see what we get. Hopefully, some of it will cohere and we’ll end up with a grade B syrup of sorts.

There is a crumbly, old rock wall that borders the back of our property. It is not much to look at because I’d only just begun to expose and reclaim it before we left for Australia. There are years worth of leaf detritus mounded over parts of it. And rocks have come loose all over the place. It requires hours more of dedicated attention. I love it nonetheless. And I wonder about it. Who built it? I want the story of their hands, their dreams, their land, and their people. Alas, I am left to my imagination.

In any event, there is a narrow gap in the rock wall that leads to a path in the woods. Said path connects to a trail utilized by the local animals and other outdoor enthusiasts. Although I rarely, if ever, bump into another person when I’m out there. The trail passes through pines, birches, and shrubs. And it crosses a babbling brook before opening to a series of fields that are, most certainly, not ours. However, I call them the “back forty.” And I pretend they are mine.

I enjoy the trail most during late fall and winter. As spring and summer mark tick season around these parts. And although an animal, nature, and environment lover to my core, I have yet to find a reason to love ticks. Beyond that, they frighten me. For real. They scare me more than the bats I have encountered in our home. More than the snakes that have made their way from our basement up through the unfinished electrical outlets by the fridge. Truth be known, they frighten me more than lice.

In any event, I have logged a lot of hours in the back forty since returning home. It’s a great place to walk with the pup because she can be herself as I am fairly well guaranteed there’ll be no high octane human muggings out there. Her greetings are enthusiastic to say the least. And need some behavioral modification. They usually involve some form of canine parkour. Her favorite method is to run straight at a “greetee” and bounce off their chest or, less desirably, their nether region with all four paws.

Two months or so ago as I crested the final hill that opens into the fields, I sensed a change. Sure enough. Much to my horror a full court logging effort had begun. My thoughts raced as I imagined the worst. A development full of cookie cutter houses with some ironic name like: Field’s Way. I almost cried. For myself. For the pup. And, most especially, for the land and critters who inhabit it.

I continued to walk there anyway. Or snowshoe as the case may be. One day, I met a woman out in the fields. She also wore snowshoes and she carried ribbons. She introduced herself as a forester. I pumped her for as much information as she was willing to provide. Turns out the owners are merely harvesting the wood with the hope of opening up a little more land for haying purposes. And she assured me her foresting efforts were environmentally friendly.

The wooded borders of the fields have now been methodically harvested. However, the heavy equipment has left scars upon the land leaving it less than pristine. During our last thaw, it was a rutted, muddy mess out there. But as I trudged through the scarring, I couldn’t help but note the sweet scent of evergreen. Which continues to perfume the air. In fact, the entire area smells like a Christmas Tree Farm. And eventually, the scarring will heal as nature will reclaim herself. With time, she will regenerate and push forth new growth and the scarring will be but a memory in the minds of those who walk the fields.

Which has offered me significant hope for multiple reasons. And reminded me of the Aboriginals who utilized fire for the same purposes for thousands of years. That purpose being new growth. And so it is with destruction. Things can look awful. They can seem desperate. But, if one pays attention there may exist some sweet scent in the air that points to the hope of what will come in the wake of the devastation.

There was a time not so very long ago that I felt like those fields. I felt naked. Worked over. Scarred. Vulnerable. And ugly. I thought life had beaten me up so badly that I could never, ever come back from it. I thought wrong. But, it took time. And patience. Grace. And steady slogging. The grace I stumbled upon. Though the trees do it naturally.

Here in snow country, one can observe that the trees that bow under the weight of a heavy snow don’t break. They may stay bent for a while, but in time they spring back into place. If only I’d paid attention to the trees earlier. You see, I didn’t bow to the Almighty until I was so low, so frustrated, so frightened by the load that I carried that I finally bowed in a last ditch effort at self preservation. Speaking of ditches, they say there are no atheists in a foxhole. I get it now. I’ve spent time in a foxhole of sorts.

And so as we watch the blatant disrespect for and apparent dismantling of our democracy, I hold out hope for what will rise in its stead. And I have faith in what is growing in the hearts of those dedicated to preserving the great experiment that is our country. And I believe even now that I can smell the sweetness of hard work, dedication, openness, and desire. The desire to preserve and improve upon what we’ve known to be our country.

I feel the same when I think of a family I love. A family facing the scariest of times. A family whose story I desperately wish I could rewrite. Through my tears, my inability to comprehend, and my supplications to the universe I know there is grace. I know that no matter what…the scars, in time, will be replaced with fresh growth. And I know from experience that devastation can produce beauty, strength, and softness. Moreover, destruction can remind us we are loved. That we are here for each other. And that it STILL takes a village.

Which brings me to the question of the week. How is life like skiing in New England? Skiing in New England is rarely perfect. Often it is cold. Often it is cold and gray. Often it is cold and gray and icy. Sometimes there is slush. Sometimes it’s viciously windy. Sometimes it is bare. Sometimes there is fresh snow but it is wet and dense and heavy and hard to cut through. Nevertheless we persist. We persist because we love skiing. And we persist because occasionally there are days that mimic the west. Days where the sun shines and the snow is light and fluffy and plentiful. Days where the chair lift rides urge you to sit back, soak in the rays, and meditate upon spring. We chase those days. And we celebrate them. Knowing they are rare.

And so it is with life. It is rarely perfect. It is often hard. Sometimes we feel like we’re sliding out of control. It can be gray for days, or weeks, at a time. And it can feel cold. It can be heavy and hard to cut through. Still, other times you may be cruising along smoothly jolted off kilter suddenly by a hidden patch of slush that you failed to detect. You are certain you will crash hard. But, miraculously you stay upright and resume cruising albeit a little shakily. Nevertheless we persist. We persist because occasionally we have a day that feels perfect. Heavenly. And we chase those days. And we cherish those days. And we know they are made sweeter because of their scarcity.

Like Harriet Beecher Stowe I think we must learn about life by living it. But, if there is one thing I would share with a graduating class, if ever asked to speak to a graduating class, it would be this: Don’t wait to speak your love, your gratitude, or your appreciation. Here in the upper middle class of the White Western World, our emotional lives lay as bundled as a toddler on a cold winter’s day. My mom’s illness stripped me of those layers. I learned to say what needed to be said, what I felt in my heart, when I felt it.

And so while some people take pictures and label them with #no filter, I live my life, my emotions with #no filter. Because I know that life is risky. That there are no guarantees. That if I wait for the perfect time, it may never come around. Which brings me to a quote that reminds me of me. It will close today’s syrup making efforts:

When he speaks, it is not to impress others, but because his heart would burst if he did not find an outlet for the thoughts which burst in his soul. 

Helen Keller The Story of My Life

May you have grace, peace, and love if for today only.

Question of the week: How would our fellow female mammals respond to this threat?

It is hard to explain why many times when you want to scream, you cannot find your voice, you are frozen like when you fight to wake up from a nightmare. On the other hand, suddenly one day, with great ease, without even trying, without any noticeable change, your voice manages to speak as if it were passing through an open faucet and soaking everything…then you see how easy it was.

LCF translated from Carmen Martin Gaite’s  A Day of Freedom

I thought I could kill the counselor in me. I thought if I ceased to practice she would go away and I could forget the trauma that job inflicted on me at a vulnerable, tender time in my life. But, that would mean forgetting people. Their stories. And my love for them. Further, it would mean letting go of my desire to help. And no matter how I try, that part of me will not die. And, in some ways, it seems to be getting stronger. So, I am left with two options: 1) fight who I am or 2) embrace it wholeheartedly.

Given that Gaga just gave a stellar performance at the Superbowl of the decade, I am going with her. And I am embracing myself wholeheartedly because “baby, I was born this way.” However, it would seem that I have moved my office hours to Facebook. Where I derive meaning from sharing things that may inspire, normalize, amuse, or cause one to question things or see them from a different perspective. Which is precisely what I aimed to do when sitting with someone in my office. In short, I wanted them to know I cared. That I was approachable, human, imperfect, silly, and dedicated to doing my best to help them overcome or address whatever it was they wanted to overcome or address.

But, I always believed it was in my client’s (or student’s as that’s who I worked with) hands to do with our session as they saw fit. For, each person must walk their own path. I could do nothing more than be someone who met them with unconditional, positive regard, listening, and a few ideas. The rest was up to them.

So even though my posts may seem vacuous or empty, they fulfill a need within me. They amuse me. And they are there for you to do with as you please. In many ways, it’s not all that different to the work I was doing before. Except that I am spared intimate details of trauma, grief, suffering, loss, and the various moods that can accompany such things. But, with a background in counseling, an eye on the world, and a belief that we only come in so many flavors, I can intuit that most of us suffer at some point or another. It’s just the specifics that vary.

I wasn’t always as vocal and big as I am now. No sirree. There were many meek, timid, quiet years where I struggled to find my voice. Let alone share it. After Keeley was born, I was taken out with strep throat so many times it was ridiculous. In all seriousness, I probably had it no fewer than 8 times in one year. That’s a lot of antibiotics. I was hugely frustrated at the time as I hadn’t normally been a person to succumb to illnesses. But, I was also up to my eyeballs in the day to day drudgery of being a stay at home mom to a cranky infant and a newly sibling-ed 4-year-old. In other words, there wasn’t much time to sit back and analyze how I had gotten to the point I had gotten to.

In that first year of Keeley’s life, Finn needed surgery and Keeley grew two hemangiomas. On her face. She also managed to contract MRSA. In fairness, I probably directly contributed to giving her MRSA by daring to wear her in an Ergo while I cooked for her in order to keep her quiet. Naturally curious, the lassie reached one little finger out and touched the scorching hot pan. I believe the MRSA bacteria got into her system vis-a-vis the second degree burn that she endured. Thereby adding guilt to my already anxious state of being.

Back then, things were not calm, peaceful, easy, or relaxing. And I had no mother with whom to kvetch or share my worries, frustration, or sorrow. Let alone off load any of my domestic or maternal workload. I was isolated. And under the naive impression that everyone else with babies was doing it fine. Because we don’t speak our truth. Interestingly, I recently read in one of my holistic books (I’ll never be able to cite which one – I should have written it down) that strep throat can be a symptom that one is not using one’s voice or speaking one’s truth.

Which brings me to Senator Warren. Her silencing on the senate floor is something I reckon most of us women can relate to. And it’s all we need to keep us fired up and fighting against the tyrannical reign of Mr. T. I won’t even call him president because I am not so sure a man who lost the popular vote, had help from Russia, refuses to turn over his taxes or divest himself of businesses, readily degrades women, lies, brags about sexual assault, and angrily Tweets is deserving of the title, President.

Back to Senator Warren and the question of the week. Increasingly, when I have a problem or dilemma to solve I look to nature for my answer. Which is why I ask: How would our fellow female mammals respond to this threat? The threat of Mr. T’s administration and all for which it stands. Well, I believe they would fight to the death. For real. Ever watch one of those mama moose videos? What about a lioness? Or how about a polar bear? A grizzly? I wouldn’t mess with any of them. And so I say to Mr. T and his assembling cabinet: Watch Out! Because we are so much more than pussies. We are lionesses and we see your regime as a threat to our children, their future, their environment, and their opportunities. And we will not quit fighting you. Ever. You have awoken the primal that lay dormant within us. And it’s not going away.

We will not stand for your hatred. Your tyranny. Your bigotry. Your sexism. Your belittling. Your thieving. Your raping ways. And we will not be silenced. Because we’re sick of being silenced. We’re sick of it for ourselves and we want more for our daughters. We know that the survival of the planet is at stake and we know that our femininity is here to balance your masculinity. We’ve watched while you’ve had your turn. And things don’t look so very good. We want our boys to know that their sisters, their girlfriends, their mothers, their wives, and their daughters have thoughts that matter. Thoughts that count. Points that contribute. And different ways of thinking. But those feminine ways of thinking are no less relevant simply because they are different.

I have recently voiced my tremendous faith in the supernatural on Facebook. And as such I feel I must add that I believe in science and I believe in evolution. BUT, I also believe in a divine influence. A veil, behind which there are forces we’ve forgotten to look for. They are there regardless of whether you choose to look or not. And I believe we, this planet, and the flora and fauna are all divinely influenced as well. If not downright endowed with divinity. And I do not believe The Creator (whomever or whatever he, she, it may be) makes mistakes. And if I believe that, then I believe there is nothing mistaken about a woman utilizing her voice to speak for that which she believes down deep in her soul. And I believe in a day when a woman won’t have to fight for that right. Or be shamed for daring to persist.

Incidentally, since beginning to write Walkabout, I have not had one bout with my old Achilles heel, strep throat. So maybe it was my body’s way of saying: Speak, Speak, Speak! Finally, it seems that we (post title 9 women) have ridden for long enough on the coat tails of brave women who dared to speak their truth long before it was easy. Women like Susan B. Anthony (whose birth date I share). And I say it’s time for us to make some noise. Because WE are making our granddaughters’ history right now. So channel your inner moose, grizzly, polar bear or lioness and use that brilliant, creator-given voice to make them* hear you. And always remember,

Well behaved women seldom make history.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

*Them: senators, representatives, bosses, newspaper editors, other women, children, husbands…