My father hates me…

jen_norton_797_FathersDayIn my dream, my mother slaps me.

My father hates me.

I feel his volatility bubbling under the surface, ready to explode,
joining the mythology of the ages–Fathers taking the lives of children;
Sons killing mothers.

I must write to my father so that he understands.
How he has misunderstood his mother.

How she failed to differentiate her role from her love…

A mother doesn’t kick a child out, she puts the necessary wind beneath his wings.

She fought with him, cursed him, demeaned him; because she could not face the excruciating loss of him.

No doubt the anger she felt toward her own husband (in the absence of fidelity)
and toward her own father (in the absence of affection)
were played out with her first born–
the one whose love was most pure and absolute, but never meant to last,
in form.

My father hates me.

Every look of kindness from a stranger or friend melts my anguish, threatening a flood of tears.

My father hates me.

When I warn my teenager not to put product in his hair and then try to floss, like I did, with slippery hands,
He says, “You’re adorable.”

and with that simple douse of affection,
I am healed.

My father hates me.

All my life I’ve worked to maintain his attention…
Beauty. Thin-ness. Intelligence. Performance. Success.
Illness. Urgency. Neediness. Audacity. Disinterest.
Nothing. Works.

My father hates me.

He has never been a mother, never known what it is to love self so deeply for the life you are carrying.
Never known what it is to love self so deeply for the life you are birthing.
Never known what it is to love self so deeply for the life you are nurturing,
through your own body,
in unity,
with the One.

Never allowed himself to feel the tearing dissolution of that Union.

Because I have,
felt it all,
it is unfathomable to me
that he feel anything but
love.

Anything
but devotion.

Anything
but protection
and provision
and pain
for the life he brought into this world.

My life has been blessed by men.
Loved by them. Adored. Sought after.
Appreciated. Looked toward.

They in turn have abused me, mocked me,
objectified me, dismissed me, coddled me,
patronized me, sexualized me, abandoned me,
denied me.

The absence of my father’s love has kept me tender.

Tenderness is how I stay alive.

Tenderness is how I love

and Tenderness
is why
I write.

Love Never Ends (a tribute to a friend)

utils_files30 years ago I spent a semester in London, or to be more specific, in Hampstead, in a home filled with American students and just as many (retired) Jesuit priests. Maybe 50 in all. Maybe a bit less. There was also a Director (of the house); a Professor (from our Jesuit university); a cook, named Eric, with a fetish for toes; and someone else, unexplained: a single extraneous woman.

Sister Norrie.

I pulled out my address book this morning in search of her last name and her last place of residence and only then did I realize, as I paged through, how infrequently I relied on physical addresses of friends for communications anymore. Yet, once upon a time, Sister Norrie and I were pen pals; and before that, house mates.

Southwell House was cold and damp and dark, and to me this fully explained the British habit of afternoon tea; and London itself was dark and dreary and bitter which illuminated the addition of sweets. Thursday was my favorite. Eric baked scones. Despite the careful directions he sent me via post years later, I was unable to duplicate them.

Tea and sweets and beer kept me warm that winter, as did the occasional hot shower stolen from the priests when I was brave enough to infiltrate their wing. Sister Norrie lived above them, at the tail end of the students’ wing, where she kept me company in her tiny room.

Norrie must have been 70 at the time, maybe older, but I was only 20, so she could have been 60. I remember long, wispy, white hair. Thin bones. Ruddy cheeks. A steady and gentle presence.

She once confided that her only regret at becoming a nun was not having children of her own. I gave her a grapevine heart sent to me by a dear friend, and she gave me a small brown earthen mug, handcrafted by beloved students. These were our parting gifts on the morning that I took the train to Heathrow to fly home.

Most of my classmates had left the second the semester ended, but I stayed on, stashed my belongings in an empty room off the foyer, and took a journey to Ireland, to the roots that Norrie and I shared, and to further delay my return to the world of pain that had become my family as it silently imploded.

Those belongings of mine, including a stuffed dog and two blankies, had been mistakenly donated to a charity while I was traveling. I was desperate to get them back, and embarrassed to think that the priests had opened my things, and perhaps seen my diaphragm and spermicidal jelly (which I never did use); but not a word was spoken; and Sister Norrie saw everything returned to me in time for my departure.

Years later I would return to Southwell House with my new husband, a lifetime after I had lived there; though in regular time, only 6 years had passed. And yet, the life of Southwell House had been dramatically altered too.

What had once been a quite serious, period home was now egregiously festooned in primary colors. The retired priests were replaced by residential youth. Eric was their cook. He made us scones. Sister Norrie had already returned to Ireland; but even after she entered a nursing home, we continued to write to each other, until one letter was left unreplied.

It was Norrie, that winter morning at Southwell House, thirty years ago, who saw me put the receiver back in its holder, and must have seen me slump into the corner chair beside the house phone there.

I saw her standing there across the foyer in the doorway of the diningroom so I stood and smiled too.

“Is everything okay, Kelly?” she asked, as I turned to head past her up the stairs to my room.

“Yes Sister.” I lied, convincingly.

She was not convinced.

Just then a group of students went by, inviting me to a impromptu Valentine’s celebration that evening. “Sure,” I said, smiling, as they entered the library with decorations in hand.

I continued to move on, but Sister Norrie placed her hand on my forearm: “You’ve just gotten some bad news, haven’t you, Kelly?”

“No,” I said, “Everything is fine, Sister. Really.” (I was an expert at hiding pain.)

Norrie turned me toward her by my shoulders, looked in my eyes, and then took my hand in hers, leading me down the hall past the priests’ guest rooms into a tiny Chapel that I hadn’t known was there.

It was only then, in that sacred space, where I did not belong, that I spoke the truth of my grandmother’s passing.

The altar shook as a subway passed in the tunnel beneath us, and I almost told Norrie that I couldn’t be there; couldn’t receive her love, didn’t deserve it, or the light shining through the stain glass above us, but instead I remained frozen, in pain, in a small pew, beside her, as she prayed.

This tender moment between an elder and a child, between two women, between two countries and two kindred souls was something I could not feel; did not want to feel; and I so I slipped away as soon as Sister Norrie finished, refusing any further affection or attention.

il_340x270.602291411_hdx4And yet, she loved me still.

That evening I found flowers and a card in my room.

The calligraphy read: Love Never Ends.

 

 

winging it…

Winging-It-Text
“I expect you to have a lesson plan for every day,” Steve says following his first observation. We’re sitting across from each other at children’s desks in an elementary classroom.

I find Steve attractive, both in face and form, particularly on Fridays when he wears jeans, and often when he is arrogant.

“I mean, if you get home, and your husband insists on taking you out to dinner, then of course you might miss a day’s planning, but don’t let that become a habit.”

I take in the dimples on Steve’s face, the snug fit of his pants, and consider whether I want to tell him that I have never arrived (and never would arrive) unprepared, and that this has nothing to do with his expectations (or my husband’s.)

If I had been older at the time, I would have understood that Steve liked his teachers subservient. Female. Uncertain.

I leave at the end of the year.

I am a planner. In fact, I still have the index card onto which I penciled a timeline of my life: wedding, relocation, house, baby.

It didn’t work out that way.

And lucky for me, I burnt out working for Steve. Burnt right through my masculine approach to life which allowed the feminine to finally force her way through.

Twenty years later, as I instruct Let Your Yoga Dance instead of fractions, I begin to notice that when I leave space in my plans, spirit collaborates in delightful ways.

With this growing awareness, I explore new rhythms of preparation and release; and each time I am rewarded with greater inspiration and an unfolding, effortless ease.

Back when I worked for Steve, I expected myself to know everything and to do everything well, and I drove myself to physical, mental and emotional exhaustion in this pursuit; but at 50, I’m drawn to endeavors that I’m unable to master, knowing that I will be forced to bask in imperfection and to seek the alliance of spirit to see me through.

This past week, at the last minute, both a class and a retreat had to be relocated to spaces that wouldn’t accommodate what I had carefully envisioned.

I had a choice to make.

I could reinvest time and energy, nose to the grindstone, in fairly unpredictable directions, or I could release my tension and show up, open-handed, letting spirit lead the way…

Hobby Lobby Hocus Pokus

scotusI lifted this from a friend on Facebook for how she SO deftly illustrates WHY this SCOTUS ruling matters to WOMEN, no matter their party, religion or stance:

So, this guy sits down next to me at the bar and falls into conversation with some friends about his dentist and his crown and some decisions he has to make and then the C word appears and he realizes there’s a female in earshot and he turns to me and says, “You didn’t hear that, of course,” kind of nice-like, and I say, “I most certainly did,” and he starts to apologize and I say, “And, by the way, I’m a dentist.”

So, now he’s totally fucked and takes a second to consider his options. Choosing badly, he goes with, “You’re . . . a . . .den . . tist? . . .dental something?” and gets the death stare but marshalls on relentlessly, “I mean, you’re a dentist? Not like the office manager? Or . . .?”

And I had to ask him: “Why would I say I am a dentist if I were not a dentist?”

I mean, for the sake of humor, I’ve dropped some untrue punchlines, but I always clarify quickly that I was making a joke. Or, at least eventually I do.

But it is 2014, and I am knocking on the door of 50 years old, and some dick in a local bar still feels totally at home throwing the C word around and acting as if there’s no way a “girl” is a dentist.

And you wonder why some people watch SCOTUS rulings like the old country read tea leaves.

Dr. Patricia Gibbons, DMD.
(with permission)

2014: Mid-Year Review (more weeding/less planting)

cropped-cropped-cropped-v1_at_800.jpgIt’s the last day of June. Time to reflect back and imagine forward…

My desk calendar, The Sacred Journey, invites a listing of highlights and insights for the month. Among mine is time at Kripalu where I cultivated an understanding of devotion, and brought that forward as a lens into my life’s work including the memoir I began in 2012.

Next, the calendar invites a listing of opportunities and goals for the new month.  In this process, I realize that one of the main goals that I have for July is not having a goal.

I can feel something new emerging, and I want to be sure to leave space for it to grow. More weeding. Less planting.

July 1st also marks the turning point of the year, and as so, the calendar devotes 5 (FIVE!) blank pages for a mid-year review…

I feel daunted by this space, and consider calling a friend to help fill it, but the kids will be home from camp in less than an hour, and I haven’t showered yet, so I’m on my own.

2014…

When I look back, I see my oldest returning for the second semester of his freshman year. I see myself setting off for a  winter writing week at a friend’s home. I see an unexpected family trip to the shore for a funeral.  I see new opportunities growing and the bittersweet ending of another, capped by a journey to the city to participate in a women’s global event at the United Nations.

In this stretch of time from January to June, I have guided 9 women on a writing journey. I have led dance most every week. I have practiced yoga. I have embarked on 3 unimaginable returns to Kripalu, exploring health and devotion, and loosening the dense weight (mind, body and soul) of 50 years of life.

I’m not sure what to do with all that. What do make of it. How to assign meaning to the first half of 2014 in order to help shape the second.

I sense an undefinable restlessness inside. A need to fly. To break loose. To recreate. To heighten.

I feel how easy it would be to avoid those complex urges, and to stay with what I know. Nose down. Focused. Moving forward. Repeating. Patterning my days after that which has already come.

It’s been a hearty half-of-a-year; isn’t that enough?

Why must I always seek something more?

And how do I find it?

(And what about you? What has the first-half of 2014 brought your way? And what does the second-half beckon?)

The heart of devotion

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My life purpose journey brought me here. Though it took me months to place it. To name it.

It seemed to happen whenever a student expressed her appreciation for how our time together touched her, particularly as she revealed gifts that I couldn’t have imagined or planned, let alone take credit for.

In response, an excruciating tenderness welled up inside of me, doused with so much humility that I found it almost unbearable.

I was back at Kripalu (the yoga center in Lenox, Massachusetts) when an understanding of this profound sensation began to take shape. I was among a large group of trainees as they were invited to come into a circle and speak their intentions for the week, allowing these to be expressed through the body as well.

I was there for the first time, as an assistant, but I took a turn too, and stepped inside…

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My head bowed. My spine bent like a flower kissing the earth; and a word came forth that I hadn’t expected:

Devotion.

What did this mean?

To whom was I to be devoted?

To what?

I pondered this all week. I had a sense that serving at Kripalu had something to do with the understanding.

When I arrived back home, my exploration of devotion was buried by life, until I prepared to return again for the second half of the training several weeks later.

This time, I was relieved to hold none of the angst or anxiety that accompanied the unknowns of my first experience assisting, and yet my body didn’t seem to agree.

In the days leading up to my departure, blisters swelled at the corner of my mouth and before the end of the first evening of the training, I had a full blown migraine, that was still there when I woke before dawn, and was soon accompanied by a large pimple on my chin and welt on my cheek. Days later, I hurt my back in the simplest of yoga postures.

SOMETHING was going on…

10308250_461359630662896_569786176148467051_nBy the end of a vigorous week together, I was swept up in a current of sensation that left much of my mind behind. We gathered as a staff on the night before graduation and shared our appreciations for each other.

When it was my turn to acknowledge the instructor, I found myself with nothing much to say.

How was it possible that I had nothing to offer to this woman whose work I had so long admired?

Megha Nancy Buttenheim, Founder: Let Your Yoga Dance
Megha Nancy Buttenheim,
Founder: Let Your Yoga Dance

I searched my mind and caught a glimpse of her earlier that morning, sitting across from a student, in rapt attention, while the rest of us dashed off to lunch after our intense session of dance.

She had looked like a child in that moment, and I recognized what I witnessed, and spoke this word in appreciation of her work:

Devotion.

The next morning, I stood beside a rose-petaled path that she had created on her hands and knees for the graduates. While she ushered them across the threshold of the room one last time, I silently greeted them along the path.

I felt so graced to bear witness to the enormity of this moment, and so honored to help steward the journey, that tears, typically frozen inside, flowed freely down my face.

When we took our seats and the diplomas were bestowed, my delight was so great that I tasted pure joy.

And as the ceremony ended, the graduates asked the staff to sit before them, I was unprepared for what came next…

10309510_10152520651623746_3264191283948952743_n 2Music began to play and they formed a semi-circle in front of us, while others left the room and re-entered in a procession down the winding rose-petaled path, each bearing a basket in front of her heart.

When they arrived to the front of the room, they delivered a basket into each of our laps, bowing at our feet, and placing their hands there as the others called out appreciations for each one of us in stereophonic bliss.

My hands remained at my heart, unable to move, as tears of recognition washed my face.

Healing the heart of the past

Many ancient impressions live on in the genes we inherited from our parents and ancestors. These, too, need to be made conscious, lest they manifest as disease or as seemingly inexplicable urges to behave in certain ways or to pursue certain ideas.
(The Path of Practice: A Woman’s Book of Healing with Food, Breath, and Sound;
Maya Tiwari)

My Aunt Trish, in her twenties, just after her mother died of heart disease.
My Aunt Trish, in her twenties, just after her mother died of heart disease.

50 is a plateau from which I survey my past and future, following which I enter my “fifties”–the decade (or shortly thereafter) that took a chunk of my relatives–including my mother, her parents, her brother, and just this past week: one of her baby sisters.

Given the overlapping of generations common to large Irish Catholic families, my Aunt Trish and I were teenagers together. When I was in Junior High, we traveled to Disney World and to the Keys. Trish shared the driving with my grandmother, while my Aunt Col and I dozed in the back seat.

I can see Trish in a phone booth on the strip in Key West. It’s raining. She’s crying. Her boyfriend is on the other end of the line. (I can’t remember if she married that one.)

Trish moved to Florida for permanently decades ago, and I haven’t seen much of her since; which makes it even more unfathomable that she’s old enough to die from heart disease.

The heart.

It took her mother and her brother; and brought an older sister to the brink.

Cigarettes and alcohol and weight complicated the matter for at least some; but what else is hidden there? What family burden is buried in the heart, and is there a part for me to play in freeing it?

In the book, Path of Practice, author/teacher Maya Tiwari writes about the necessity of healing the past, even the past that took place long before us.

This concept has been beyond my understanding until recently when I stumbled upon it again and again–in conversation with a friend or a health practitioner, or in in Tiwari’s book.

And yet, the prospect of uncovering what came before (let alone healing it) is daunting, particularly since my mother’s people have always seemed somewhat guarded. Protected. Fearful.

The heart.

I’m not sure that I want to know what is buried there, but I also don’t want another generation to begin dying in their fifties. I have 7 siblings too; and alcohol and cigarettes continue to play a leading role in some of their lives.

I’ve decided upon a few simple steps that I formed based on suggestions by Tiwari in her book. These are practices with which I’m already familiar and perhaps they’ll gently lead the way to the more complex.

I’ll share those steps below and maybe others will make suggestions or share their own stories to help light the way… past, present & future.

Ancestral Practices:

1. Create an altar for the ancestors with photos, momentos and touchstones.

2. Share stories among family members about our people.

3. Read about the legacy of the Irish.

4. See what comes…

(And you?)