Last night, I woke, as I often do these days,
no longer drenched, but misted,
with a fine release–of attachment, I suppose.
Behind my knees and under my
shoulders and also between my breasts;
and lately even, in the crook of my
arms, as if I’ve been carrying too much;
and just this week, tiny beads of sweat, dripping.
down. my. spine.
Refining, I suppose,
Only this night,
I remain awake, and feel something
more–a lightening inside–so very light–
my bones–that i think to myself…
“The ice was here, the ice was there, The ice was all around: It cracked and growled, and roared and howled, Like noises in a swound!”
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge
She stepped onto the ice just as the sun dipped behind the mountain. It was a cold night, and for that she was grateful. The lake was certain to be solid. She skated her way into the vast expanse of frozen water, and waited expectantly for the moon to rise, but it hid behind the mountain and then was covered by clouds.
In the South, Venus beckoned high in the sky, and drew her closer, toward what little light remained in the day as the puck was passed from person to person.
She didn’t play. It was enough to be on the water–instead of in it. Up until this moment, falling through the ice had been her worst fear. The truth was that it still terrified her; only now, she was equally enamored by daring to stand upon it.
Tonight’s skate held none of the distractions of her first time–just the week before–when the light was golden and the ice was covered with fresh snow–kindly hiding the cracks and ridges, not to mention those small, circular, dark… holes?
(Were they holes? Had there been several fisherman? Dozens? Her young son made this claim each time they came upon one; but she knew it couldn’t be so. Hardly a soul had been out on the lake this year. Yesterday it had been in the forties.)
On that afternoon a week ago, her blades etched designs in the fresh snow and delighted her with each stroke and curl. First she skated out her name, and then those of others–the children, and the other mother–the one who skated in her skirt and woolens, way out into No Man’s Land, past the beach where they summered, and all the way toward the reeds where the kayakers would paddle.
She continued writing, carefully crafting a “C”, and kept her eye on Carol; and on each of the children, holding them not only in her view, but in the protection of her expanded awareness.
This night was too dark to do the same, and so she endeavored to remain near them, in the middle of their game and around it; not only to keep them safe, but to feel safer herself. Often one or two of them would make proximity impossible–disappearing in the dark, toward the landing, a quarter mile away.
A half-hour later, she made the journey there herself, to share some dinner in the company of her son, but once he was handed a hockey stick, he darted back into the dark night, leaving her… alone.
She rushed to pack up her basket and slip on her mittens, but just as she began to skate into the night toward them, she heard it. A rumbling so loud it shook the sky and echoed on every bank, and in every curve and crevice–west and east and north and south–until they all came racing toward her–just as moon lit up the ice.
“We felt that,” the other mother cried.
“The ice cracked in a circle around me,” her son added.
She smiled and laughed with relief, turning with them toward the landing, and then paused–lingering a moment with the moon.
She was relieved to have missed it–the feeling of it underneath her, the uncertainty, the great vastness of something bigger than herself; but she was equally riveted by being so close to something so consuming.
Nights later, it stirs her still. She does research about ice and discovers that frozen water moans and groans like this with each shift in temperature.
“...In that hazarding, you take a step onto surfaces that
you’re not sure will hold your weight…
keeping the depth of your attention on what calls you…
this is the kind of courage it takes to claim
your happiness in life.”
(Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, David Whyte)
On Saturday mornings, my husband and I tip toe out of the house while the kids sleep and head into town for some Hits the Spot Yoga. On the way home, we stop at the farmers market for a chair massage with Ra, a hot cup of Neil’s chai and a brunch of Thai or West African cuisine (or wood-fired pizza.)
This morning the yoga room at Solar Hill is packed, forcing Casey to set up his mat right beside mine at my favorite spot beside the window at the back of the room. I don’t mind. We hold hands, make jokes and whisper. Actually, that’s all me, but Casey indulges it, which makes me feel naughty, and gives me flashbacks to high school when Sister Patricia gave me a detention: “Kelly is a constant source of disruption.”
Despite my disruption, Casey returns his focus to whatever posture is being led, reminding me that he is a yogini himself, even if I was the one who originally dragged him to yoga.
Two summers ago, he spent an entire month at a retreat center and returned with his teaching certification. This is so incongruent with the guy that I fell for 25 years ago–under a tree with a spiked watermelon in his lap–that it still makes me blink.
Occasionally, I turn to Casey during a particularly challenging posture to whisper, “Is this right?” and I smile when he says “yes;” but then roll my eyes if he offers a suggestion.
As we bend forward in wide-angle pose, I consider poking Casey in the butt, but restrain myself out of respect for the woman whose mat is behind mine.
Given how crowded we are, Casey turns to say, “Move your blocks to the left and I’ll move mine to the right so that we can flank each other.”
“You’re not the boss of me,” I say, feeling smugly satisfied.
Casey flirtatiously shoots back, “Yes, I am.”
I leave my blocks right where they are.
As we shift our hips to the right and deepen into the pose, I realize that ‘You’re not the boss of me’ has been the unconscious mantra of my recent “writing week” (and probably my entire life.)
On my first night off from work, I watch unlimited television on Netflix so that the week I’ve reserved for writing is clear that it’s not the boss of me.
I do the same with email, ignoring every message from work and private clients and relatives and friends; “I’ll get back to you in a week,” my automated reply says… You’re not the boss of me.
Despite having ample time in the house this week like I did back in the days when I was an at home mom, I disregard the messes I could easily address. I tell the laundry, and the dishes and the clutter, You’re not the boss of me. And then I spend an entire afternoon in the kitchen, cooking up a storm like I used to, in equal rebellion against the life I’ve created outside the home.
What is it that makes me want to rebel against the very things I’ve created, I wonder. Like when I resent the pitter-patter of my eleven-year old’s feet outside my bedroom door this morning before I’ve finished this post. Wasn’t he the very thing I longed for a dozen years ago?
Perhaps I’m like the mythological snake, the Ouroboros, who eats his own tail in an effort to renew himself? Or maybe I’m just immature.
This time last year, I experienced a revolution inside. I overthrew an exacting dictator in favor of a more representational body. Perhaps this is part two of that transition; and the new government is still evolving.
The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.
I don’t care if you walk into the “same” office or scenario you’ve been in a thousand times before. You are dreaming this dream. How do you want to play it? Look for the angels & observe the coyote tricksters. Pay attention to how everyone serves you. After all, they’re in your movie at your re…quest. Can you smell the popcorn?
~Tama J. Kieves
If I chose to look at my life as a dream, what would it be telling me about my imagination?
In particular, what is it telling me with regard to how I imagine work?
Here’s what I conclude:
Work is hard.
Work is overwhelming.
Work drains my vital energies.
Work keeps me from what I love.
Work makes me choose between success and family.
Are these my dreams? Or did I borrow them?
Certainly some of these stale dreams comes from my culture, from the origins of my country, and from the struggles of my gender over time; but others are clearly personal.
“Why do you always have hard jobs, Kel?” my old highschool buddy remarks when she asks about the new position.
And I wonder, why?
Is it the jobs or is it how I orient myself toward them?
Certainly, I took on leadership roles at a younger age than the majority of my peers, but now many of them have much more demanding roles than I. Why do I continue to struggle with work when I claim to love it so.
Not too long ago I realized that “work” was MY place for growth. Other people are more challenged by relationships or by health or by finances.
I’ve had plenty of discomfort around work, but I have to give myself credit. When it comes to imagining my work in the world, not only have I cleaned up my act (and my father’s act), I’ve dreamed up some pretty amazing stuff all on my own.
Here’s my ever-expanding creation list:
flexible, part-time roles which allow me to shape my work around my family life and interests
a mission aligned with my values
the ability to meet my personal needs as they arise
a variety of tasks to which to apply myself
layers of responsibility so that I stay flexible
new and invigorating opportunities to learn
a beautiful airy, work place with character and natural light
the ability to get outside during my work day
the opportunity to connect with people around the world
the chance to travel again
When I really stop to think about it, I am amazed that I created work in my little part of the world–one which allows me to work part-time–and travel abroad. I didn’t even know that I could imagine such a job, particularly one with a mission so aligned with my own life’s purpose.
But there are still many rough edges, inside and out; so it’s time to go back to the dreaming board…
I no longer want to support the dream: that work is hard, that it is overwhelming, that it makes me chose between success and family, or between money and passion.
I don’t want to dream an entirely new dream either. I’m tired of that “drama.” I want to be like the wise man who grows what he wants right under his own feet…
My childhood was steeped in religion which I borrowed from neighbors and friends because my own family had given up on faith.
With each of our moves around the country, I soaked up what I could find, including a broad swath of the Christian variety: from Catholicism to Mormonism, Protestantism to Evangelicism, Episcopalian to Baptist.
What remains of this steeping in Christianity is a deep affinity for Palm Sunday. I’m uncertain why. Perhaps it was the takeaway. What child could resist having a palm placed in her hand for keeping, especially in a climate where none can be found.
Which may explain my delight at finding myself in a predominantly Catholic country last Sunday where palms abound.
By mistake, I wandered into an evangelical gathering which eschewed palms so as not to be associated with the “Catolica’s” of the country who apparently missed the mark when it came to Jesus.
I so warmly welcomed, however, that I coudn’t turn around so I stayed long enough to enjoy the music, and then went in search of some lunch, giving up on palms.
At the corner of Siemptember 11th and Pedro de Valdivia, however, I was lured a few steps further by the ringing of church bells.
Without a thought, I stepped into small stone chapel, and eagerly set down 750 pesos for one of the last of the beautiful bouquets of palm, accented by rosemary.
I entered just before the parishioners lifted their palms over head in a singing processional out the side door.
I too followed the golden-garbed priests outside, humming along, but then crossed the street with my palm, and headed toward Los Dominicos for the much lauded Chilean mid-day meal.
As I exited the subway at the edge of town, I turned west to the Andes and climbed a hill toward the artisanal market.
There, I stumbled upon another Palm Sunday celebration, in the open air, coming to a close with a chorus of “Hosanna, Hosanna” and “Amen, amen, amen, amen, amen.”
I joined in, and remembered what it is I loved about the feeling of this day… how Jesus arrived on a donkey, and how palms were placed on the ground to soften his way.
It’s not nearly as dramatic as Good Friday, or as exalted as Easter, but I love how it was steeped in peace and gentility, making it my kind of holiday.
Once considered a “world” traveler, I’ve been homebound for close to twenty years now–rooted on a dirt road in rural Vermont with two boys and a husband.
Imagine my surprise when I found a family-friendly, part-time job with an “international” organization in the small town just down the road.
Within months, this new position extracted me from snow and mud and motherhood, and transported me over the Andes into the vivid metropolis of Santiago, Chile–on the opposite side of the globe–where south is cold and spring is fall.
Within days of immersing myself in work and a foreign culture, I was completely taken aback by the appearance of a 10 year old boy on SKYPE who called me: “Mom.”
Behind this child stood a kitchen sink and an entire household which once had been my familiar.
My new life was made up of twin beds, a simple desk, a closet safe, and my own bathroom–in addition to 40 new friends from around the world, and extended lunches with bottles of local wine.
Like the tectonic activity of Chile, a week later, my reality shifted once again, as I abandoned the 4 star hotel, the 5 course meals, and the 16 hour work days to explore Santiago on my own.
I slept on a futon, ate on the street, and walked until I had blisters–even on the bottoms of my feet.
Each morning as I closed the gate on the small apartment lent to me by a new friend, I turned toward the Andes and made the mile-long walk out of this quiet neighborhood to Santiago’s safe and speedy subway.
Often cloaked by fog, and other times obscured by the tunneled vision of a traveler with map in hand, I was caught by surprise by the reappearance of looming mountainous beasts, who soon became my friends.
At night, in the cool mountain air, I drifted into sleep, alone, comforted by the full moon rising in the East, just as it would over my bed in Vermont–5,000 miles away.
Each day I was treated to new delights of sight and taste and texture…
It would be in poor taste to mention the dogs first; but I must. They were everywhere. On their own. Not bothering a soul.
I envied their independence when I thought about their fellow stateside “pets,” stuck behind fences, harnessed by leashes, and eating out of a bowl.
These friendly freedom lovers howled late into the night and slept through the mornings, just like the people of Chile.
It was pointless for an early riser like me to venture out before 11 am to find something to eat, just as it was pointless to try to fall asleep before midnight when Chileans were just finishing their evening meal.
However, if it’s something sweet I wanted, I need not try at all. Treats, of all kinds, abound in Santiago. From pastries and candies, cakes and cookies, chocolates and caramel fillings, the Chileans love confection–even in their drinks.
One classic (and confounding) every-day beverage was Mote con Huesillo: a drink of dehydrated peaches with stewed barley served in palm syrup. This glass of floating debris, did not tempt me, but I did succumb to another infamous beverage of Santiago–the TERREMOTO.
This fermented wine based “cocktail” is accompanied by pineapple ice-cream served in a one-litre cup. It may be the strongest drink I’ve ever had (and I came of age at the Jersey shore.)
Terremoto literally translates as ‘Earthquake’ since you are left “with the ground (and legs) feeling very shaky,” before you’ve finished your first. From the looks of the bar where it was served, many had indulged in even more.
Indulgence seems to be a Chilean characteristic; and I, for one, will miss the grand meals served with plenty of wine. I will also miss the warm greetings and single kiss on a cheek shared by all. I’ve had to restrain myself from continuing both of these traditions now that I’m back home.
Though I departed on the 18th, I didn’t arrive home until the next day. My husband met me outside of customs, and we made the drive from New York to Vermont alone so that we could enjoy the renewed awareness of each other–without children.
Paradoxically, Casey and I shared another significant journey on this same date, 18 years earlier. That ride home was from a birthing center, an hour and a half away, where I miscarried our first child at the three month mark.
A gorgeously sunny spring morning mocked that unbearable loss in April, while a gloomy overcast day belied the joy we felt in today’s sweet reunion, following two weeks and an equator apart.
On the long drive home from the airport, we stopped along the coast and shared a mid-day meal complete with wine. Over coffee and dessert, my husband wondered if I felt different from being abroad again. I checked inside, and Whitman’s words came to mind…
I am large. I contain multitudes.
At 47 years old (and young), my alternately expanding and contracting sense of self now includes… three backpacking trips to Europe, the love of two men, the loss of two pregnancies, the gift of two sons, a house to call home, and an enamoring trip to yet another side of the globe.
How all these pieces belong in the same story is as curious to me, as how Whitman’s words emerge from time spent in Neruda country–that is, until I discover that Pablo kept a photo of Walt on his desk; and how I, in my last hours of wandering the streets of Santiago, found myself standing in front of Neruda’s house…
I am in AWE of how ANGELS abound–like the head nurse and the Episcopalian minister–who made a plan so that my boss could leave her husband’s side and come to work yesterday.
Then there was Elaine–who used to have my job (and did it much more efficiently.) She tossed aside her life and showed up for two days straight so that everything might be ready for my solo departure.
The tech guy next door pitched in too, giving me an hour, instead of the moments he said he had, so that I’d have the technology I needed to pinch hit for my boss.
To say that this week has been grueling, does not do it justice. It has challenged me on every level, including my ability to develop a wardrobe. But I am in AWE, because at the end of all the preparations (whether or not they were done), I scheduled a massage. I made a plan to leave work at 4:45, the day before the trip, and I went and lied down for an hour, an entire hour, despite all that faced me.
I wanted to tell that massage therapist that she was contributing to world peace–not only inside of my body–but in the lives of the 40 others around the globe who would be meeting me for the first time: People whose line of work is to foster world peace by promoting “The Experiment”, a radical program which began in the 1930s develop understanding and peace through educational travel, cultural experiences and homestays.
Instead, I drooled on her table.
I’m in AWE that I set the intention to be in AWE this week; that I took the time (even after my boss called to tell me the news about her cancelled trip) to sit down with my husband among the suitcases and do our weekly page from the Life Organizer where we decide how the days will be shaped in our minds, and hearts, and souls.
What will I let go of: learning Spanish
What could I do: Yoga
What do I have to do: breathe deeply
There’s so much more to mine from the weekly planning page than this, but the intention setting is priceless to me. Each time I’m faced with a decision...Should I go to yoga when I have so much to do? I check it against the intention I have set.
Should I walk my son to the bus and take a stroll up the road when I have to get to the office? Yes. Can I appreciate all the people who are helping me when my to do list is still unbearably long? Yes. Will I allow myself to be in AWE when the work that lies ahead is unfathomable? Yes.