Midnight. Imbolc.


I was 18 when I began keeping vigil with all that was lost; which is to say, I began writing.

My youngest is 18 now.

His older brother was home this afternoon for a quick half-hour, just in time to hop in the car with his father and head south to my husband’s family home 300 miles away.

I waved from the mudroom as they pulled down the driveway and then Aidan and I turned to empty the dishwasher. As I was bent over the silverware it hit me. “All three of you share something I don’t,” I said.

Home.

Turns out, it’s hard to give your kids something you never had, and not for the obvious reasons.

While it’s been healing to offer the kind of upbringing I needed, it’s also surprisingly painful, especially now that they’re the age I was when there was hardly a home or parents to turn toward.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about moving. Far away. By myself. Like the time I lived in London or the time I backpacked through Europe or the time I went out to the Rockies. At 18 and 23, my boys are like bookends of the age I was then. It must be time.

Integrity is one of several paths. It distinguishes itself from the others because it is the right path, and the only one upon which you will never get lost.

I came across this passage in a framed print at the second-hand store years ago, and slowly it wove itself into our family fabric, especially as my boys entered adolecence and I asked them to recite it again and again.

I leaned into that instruction myself, intuitively, 30 years earlier, after a miscarriage, as I prepared to leave my first teaching position. A colleague remarked on my diligence with the end of the year paperwork. “Why bother,” she said. “You’re leaving for Vermont.”

It was something I would hear echoed, again and again, each time I left a job, a rental, a relationship.

Integrity.

Ending well.

Tonight I looked for jobs across the ocean.

What must it be like to have a home to which you can return? I wondered this as my older son sat beside me on the stairs before he left with his father. “I’ll be leaving right away when we get back on Sunday,” he said.

I marveled at how he could “drop-in” to the familiar sights and sounds and smells of a lifetime, and then be on his way again, securely rooted and released, without any need to grasp or hold on or catalogue the memories before they vanished.

The restlessness I feel inside is almost unbearable.
UPROOT, it says, UPROOT!

I don’t want a house or a husband or a community.

But I’ve cultivated a lifetime of tools that enable me to stay with what hurts and what is uncomfortable and what makes me want to run.

Writing. Breath. Music. Dance. Meditation. Spiritual texts. Self-compassion.

“Observing desire without acting on it enlarges our freedom to choose,” writes Tara Brach, in Radical Acceptance.

Freedom is on the horizon.
Especially with January behind us.

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Epiphany

 

Without a single resolution or plan, I find some surprising changes afoot for 2019:

1. After 7 years, I’ve changed daybooks.

2. After storing the same old wrinkled & ragged sheets in a large bin, I splurged on a handful of new packs of tissue paper for next year’s holiday wrapping.

3. After putting so many things on the diagonal when our nest emptied this past August–bookshelves, cabinets and even the kitchen island–I’ve reoriented the house back to perpendicular lines while simultaneously opening up the entryway.

4. After asking my husband to sleep elsewhere for the first time in 30+ years, perhaps to better fill the empty nest throughout the fall, I haven’t asked in weeks. (Of course, the house has been full for the holidays.)

5. After an absence of several years that boded badly for our finances, I’ve re-engaged in household budgeting.

6. After serving as the chief travel-lover/cheerleader/insistent-persistor in our partnership, my husband has signed on to chaperone a highschool trip to ITALY entirely of his own accord.

7. After suffering through the fall with Giardia (and the ensuing recovery), dropping an entire clothes size, I feel weary, but also born again.

Christmas Heartbreak

If not the sobriety of Menopause (2 years this past Thanksgiving), then the house guest for whom the holiday was a foreigner, or perhaps the alchemy of both together accounted for the way Christmas was tilted, like a snow globe, and shook loose of all of its accoutrements–gifts & food & music & ritual–until it was seen, if not for the first time, then at least anew.

The build-up.
The expectations.
The arbitrariness.
The absurdity.
The excess.
The holy?

One could say, as many do, that it’s the absence of the Christ Child that hollows out the holiday like a cheap, chocolate Easter Bunny.

But what of our rich personal traditions, steeped in soul and meaning?

Each Christmas Eve we read aloud the Nativity story, and each Christmas Morning, we read this stunning excerpt from Little Women:

Jo was the first to wake in the gray dawn of Christmas morning. No stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a moment she felt as much disappointed as she did long ago, when her little sock fell down because it was crammed so full of goodies. Then she remembered her mother’s promise and, slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a little crimson-covered book. She knew it very well, for it was that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived, and Jo felt that it was a true guidebook for any pilgrim going on a long journey. She woke Meg with a Merry Christmas, and bade her see what was under her pillow. A green-covered book appeared, with the same picture inside, and a few words written by their mother, which made their one present very precious in their eyes. Presently Beth and Amy woke to rummage and find their little books also, one dove-colored, the other blue, and all sat looking at and talking about them, while the east grew rosy with the coming day.

“While the east grew rosy with the coming day!” Gush!!! And each and every Day in December we read from the National WIldlife Treasury…

December may be the last page on our calendar, but it belongs to no single year… ruled less by time than by age-old traditions…

But is reading meaning?
What of the heart?

My late mother’s birthday is Christmas Day, as was my great Aunt Doll’s.
Certainly, that’s enough heart for a single day.

Let your heart be light…

My youngest, and his maternal and paternal grandfathers before him, dismiss the traditions of faith as if religion is a personal affront to their God-given, white-male sovereignty, and at least in my son’s defense, this is accompanied by an abiding passion for all things scientific.

Lesser beings, like myself, of smaller minds and opportunity, oftentimes rely upon magic and soul. Alas, my capacity for the former, carefully attended since childhood, is almost extinguished, for which I can barely muster concern which in itself is alarming.

At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them…(Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express) 

First thing Christmas morning, my youngest led his older brother in a brief yoga practice, sounding through the chakras, the two of them flanking me on my mat in front of my bedroom balcony doors as the sun rose above the trees in the East–their Warrior Threes on each side of my Balanced Tree–a morning practice to better prepare ourselves for the extraordinary self-connection required of the day’s togetherness; which on sons’ part was no doubt an effort to humor their mother so that the gift-giving could commence sooner.

Having sped through the chakras with a pose for each one, they left the room, encouraging me along, while moments later my youngest returned with his old, golden & gem clad, Egyptology book in hand.

“Eylem pulled this off the shelf,” he explained, “Look at this,” he said, pointing to an excerpt from the Book of the Dead, beneath an illustration of Horus which read:

My heart, my mother, my heart, my mother, my heart, my coming into being! May there be nothing to resist me at my judgment… may there be no parting of thee from me in the presence of him who keeps the scales!

He went on to explain that at death the heart is weighed. And only if it is lighter than a feather may the dead pass on to “heaven.”

Let your heart be light…

It’s not just the heartbreak of my mother’s absence, or the Christmas Eve fire that destroyed a neighbor’s home, or the tsunami on the Sundra Straits of Indonesia sweeping away a pop band while it performed for concert goers on the beach, or even the impending separation between two lovers in my livingroom, star-crossed by timing and culture and place of birth (not to mention visas) or the heartbreak of disappointing yourself, like my youngest, in your first semester away at school, it was the revelation that came with the lightening of my own heart as we sat around the fire on Christmas Eve, while the Gospel of Luke was read aloud with a Turkish accent, followed by the spontaneous singing of carols, giving rise to bouts of laughter, particularly my own, which led my oldest to posit that his mother must be very, very tired, or the moment earlier in the day just before we left to skate on the Retreat Meadows when I stepped toward my husband’s in an embrace, not weary, but full of love, which is how I realized how very tight and parsimonious I’ve let my heart become.

ps: best ever illustrated book of the Gospel of Luke/nativity story, Julie Vivas (of Australia):

Christmas at the sea


You know how a certain cup of caffeine can provide just the right buzz?

It’s the same with yoga, though the feeling is different.

Sometimes, however, the right cup of tea or espresso can leave me edgy or angsty, wondering, “Maybe I need another?”

This is how it was yesterday after my Saturday morning time on the mat.

The discrepancy was further pronounced at breakfast, seated as I was, between my husband and our son, both of who received the effects that I had intended.

“It’s as if we’re all high,” Lloyd said, as we waited for our eggs after the morning class.

“Not me,” I countered. “I’m even crankier.”

I’ve practiced long enough to know that this is how it goes.

After the blush of my first few classes way back in 1994, something else began to emerge.

When I explained the tightness and irritability (and anger), my yoga teacher suggested someone who provided something called “bodywork.”

My healing journey began then or picked up speed. But alas, it wasn’t as I expected, ie. a journey with a beginning and an end.

“Healing” simply meant that I “met” myself in my body, as is, without abandoning it. Sometimes sweet, sometimes sour. Sometimes blissed, sometimes pissed.

“Damn yoga,” my younger sister says, and I feel that now, even if she was referring to the way yoga continues to maintain that eighth of an inch height in my favor, leaving her forever the shortest among our 8 siblings, while she continues to wait on the age differential of almost a decade to shrink me.

I keep thinking of the ocean. Of how nice it would be to spend Christmas beside it.

Alone.

Maybe I could take the drive today to fulfill that urge.

But what explains it?

My boys just arrived home on Friday night, and today is the first day that everyone is free from work.

Plus leaving today would pile up the to-do list on Christmas Eve.

Still…

I woke often through the night, wondering if the boys had arrived back home from their late shifts and their stop at the tail end of my shorter sister’s Solstice Party, her 14th in a row.

Or maybe it was the Moon, already waning, but ever-bright above the snow.

Or it could be my Mother, celebrating her 76th Christmas birthday, these 19 years from the grave.

There’s a star in the East on Christmas morn…

Do you know that spiritual?

I meditated on that unfathomably bright star this morning, shimmering through the trees, thinking it a plane or a satellite.

And then I got up and fixed myself some tea. Without caffeine. And sipped it in the ocean of dark.

Pulling ahead of the Patriarchy


I was fourteen, ”14 and a half,” to be precise, at the cusp of everything—body, mind, emotion, soul—coming together—in full expression.

I aced each of my Regents exams, had friends from the Rockies to the Hudson to the Atlantic, cultivated a deep connection to not only my “personal savior” but to nature, and self (all of which I now call Spirit); and to top it off–as I walked by the deep end of Delafield Pond in my bikini on my way to the high dive (which I’d done countless times the previous summer)–the cadets, face down on their beach towels, lifted their heads.

Cue: Tragedy.

Not mine, Silly. I was only heading for the 10-foot dive (to jump no less.) The 30-foot dive isn’t even there anymore which is something I discovered two summers ago when I returned to the base for a visit. (And let me tell you, returning to the place where you used to live isn’t easy in post 9/11, USMA.)

But back to Tragedy.

Enter: Stage left.

Have you ever noticed how Mack Trucks dominate the road? They’re either going too fast or too slow, or they’re crossing the line or coming too hard into a steep curve that’s icy with snow; or they’re tearing up the backroads because the highway is closed after another one tipped itself on its side; or maybe, it’s simply a gorgeous summer day, like the very one when I was at Delafield Pond with the cadets lifting their heads, and 150 miles south a Mack Truck is climbing a bridge while the sun is high in the sky, and the visibility is prime, and still, the Mack Truck, being a Mack Truck, doesn’t even notice a broken down car up ahead with 4 women inside.

Come to think of it a Mack Truck is a good metaphor for something else that oppresses and destroys.

To this day, I grip the steering wheel or I hold onto the handle above the passenger seat or I press my feet up against the dashboard.

This was especially true in those first years, and exponentially so when crossing over a bridge; and then again, in the past handful of years once I began time traveling to rescue that 14-
& a half year old girl whose soul was left behind in the debris spread the length of a football field across a multi-lane bridge outside the city of Philadelphia.

Come to think of it, those guys from my highschool days, the ones who have been trolling my Facebook wall with their support of #45, are a lot like Mack Trucks.

Spreaders, is that what they’re called on public transportation?

“What? What’s the big deal?” says the Patriarchy, “This is how it’s always been. It’s never been a problem before.” or  “I was just joking. Don’t be so serious.”

What the Patriarchy fails to understand, doesn’t even begin to understand, and is apparently uninterested in understanding is that it’s always been a problem for the rest of us. We’ve just been too afraid to say too much or to say it too loud or too often, because. Mac Trucks.

I stayed up too late on the night of the Mid-Terms. I over-used my eyes and my heart and my brain and my patience, but surprisingly I fell to sleep with ease.

Still, I must not have slept well or enough because I dozed off on the mat this morning, and each time the teacher spoke into the savasana meditation of air and bliss, I stirred, wondering where I was, only to fall back to sleep again before I fully came to, until she said those dreaded words:

“Make small movements with your wrists and ankles before coming up to a seated position.”

I could hardly move off my mat but I had to move because the class was over and my mat was partially in the doorway because the class was unexpectedly relocated to the basement where there wasn’t enough room for so many women, all of which I took personally on behalf of women, given the election.

I mean the whole reason I drove an hour south into the Berkshires for this series of 4 elemental yoga classes (earth-water-fire-air) at the Clark Art Institute was the glass room upstair with the stunning view. Still, last week the water pool had been emptied and filled with rocks so that was already depressing.

But the basement? Relocating a group of aging women to the basement for the “Air” element on the morning after the election is hugely symbolic but I’m too tired to figure that out right now.

I got off my mat and dragged myself to the bathroom, where I noticed that my eyes were exceedingly small and puffy. They’ve been this way for days. (This happened once before, didn’t it? When was that?)

My mind flashes to something my therapist wrote to me last winter. We were talking about #metoo and the report I was making about a man who rubbed his hands across my ass in a public setting. She noticed my eyes that day right away, and I received this email from her when I got home:

These processes of going public with violating men ask you to be so reasonable and reasoned. Where do the anger and vigorous pushback go? Is it expressed in a safe place for you? Is it getting stuck in the windows of your soul, around your eyes? Such dilemmas–wanting to be of service to move consciousness along but… where does our vigor go? STOP to the violators or stopped up in us?

I postponed my post-yoga working lunch in the Clark café, and dragged my weary eyes outside into the woods and up the hillside.

Mack Trucks.

I left home for the Berkshires early this morning so that I wouldn’t get caught up in election news (particularly Texas or Florida or Georgia) or be distracted by volleys with the Jersey boys from highschool who were gung ho about their guy Trump.

The drive through the Green Mountains was surprisingly trafficky for Vermont, but then I remembered that my earlier departure meant I was traveling during the morning commute.

Just after I passed a utility truck and returned to the right lane to prepare to climb one last hill before turning south into the Berkshires, I saw a Mack Truck in my rear view mirror.

Crap, I thought to myself, and then I sped up a little, wanting to avoid any proximity, particularly with the high winds we were experiencing as the morning temperatures rose.

The Mack Truck sped up too.

I looked in my rearview mirror once more, prepared to let the Mack Truck pass me, but then I noticed that it was losing ground in the climb.

My small car, so low to the earth was less buffeted by the winds, and my engine remained steady and strong.

I watched in the mirror as the Mack Truck lagged further and further behind, and for the very first time in the 40 years since my grandmother and my aunties and their golf clubs were crushed under 18 wheels, I felt something else instead of consumed by fear.

More than 123 women were elected to Congress last week.

Parasites & Politics


Like Trump & the body politic, I want to thank these parasites for taking up residence in my belly over the course of the summer.

They brought into stark relief the deep imbalance already present in my system and highlighted the places that function well.

Despite this helpfulness, it would be detrimental to continue to host these organisms who daily damage the systems upon which my vitality depends.

And yet, even in this way, they have been useful–forcing me out of the habit of complacency to seek out new healers.

These are the thoughts I scribbled down this morning from the mat.

As class began, I sat tall, suddenly understanding the intersection of body-mind-spirit as three sovereign triangles, while simultaneously Senators of the United States of America gathered in our nation’s capital to disregard my humanity.

E Pluribus Unum.

Fears unrealized, metastasize, leading to the election of a man like Trump, emboldening those who disregard the many to protect the one.

Giardia. Blastocystis. Entamoeba. Until something is named we suffer in the dark. But once identified, the path to equilibrium is revealed.

Misogyny. Oppression. Patriarchy.

Even sick and assaulted, the body is our greatest ally—insists on being heard; serves as our faithful companion—there when we incarnate in our mother’s womb and there when we leave this world.

How so might we recognize and respond to the the body politic?

The doctor tells me that I must treat this infestation for at least 6 months, without letting up, and after that, the underlying issues that made possible such a vicious attack must be addressed.

I am heeding her counsel, just as I am turning toward the voices of women, particularly those further marginalized by race, as the path to a more perfect union.

Whose dream? (College Drop off, Part II.)


Friday is the day of detachment. Today we tell our children: Enjoy the journey.

I spoke those words to my youngest just before we took him to college last Friday (and every Friday before that for most of his life.)

But the body doesn’t care.
The body is unapologetically attached.
The age of the “child” irrelevant.

“He’s seeing someone from Istanbul,” I tell another mother about my oldest. “I’m afraid he’ll move there.”

“My daughter lives abroad,” she says. “We have such interesting conversations. Isn’t that what we wanted? To raise interesting children?”

“I want close children,” I say with a smile, before pushing my shopping cart in the opposite direction.

My oldest and I share a passion for conversation. He studies philosophy and economics. When he visited home in the first months away or after his return from a semester abroad or a winter living on a horse farm in Spain, he liked to engage in our well-worn dance of the mind.

I wanted to put my nose to his skin and keep it there, wishing I was a cat and he a kitten so that I could lift him by the soft folds at the back of his neck.

But back to my second born, our baby. The engineer. No matter how “interesting” he is, it’s irrelevant. I’m incapable of understanding so many of the thoughts in his head.

Both boys are brilliant and more importantly kind. “Why don’t you get better grades,” I often asked them.

“I had a stable childhood,” my oldest said, “I don’t need to overachieve like you.”

I applied the same pressure on myself as a parent which for me meant giving up a career.

“Aren’t your worried that he won’t get into a good school?” the other mothers asked after I announced that I’d settled on a play-centered preschool in the next town.

“I just want him to be happy,” I said. “To be kind. To like learning. To stay curious.”

I may have gone too far.
Both boys are comfortable going too far.

“My dream is California,” my youngest says.

My mind reproaches this resistance: This is normal. This is good. This is even welcome. (Or at the very least: This is how it goes.)

But the body… my body is horrified, trapped in a nightmare, looking for signs that she is not the only one that recognizes the tragedy being enacted on campuses across the country.

A family passes me in the parking lot of Vermont Tech. The mother didn’t think to wear sunglasses. (I wore mine inside which is a good thing because I cried as soon as the President of the college said, Hello, and pointed us to the coffee table.) The mother without sunglasses wipes her eyes with the side of her hand while her other arm embraces the shoulder of a younger teen as they head to their car without a body part.

“THIS IS WRONG!” I want to scream right there in the middle of the campus. (Where is the bell tower!)

But this is how it goes. It must be normal. Everyone is doing it. All around the world. Every day another post. Another drop-off.

Entire families accompanied freshman to their dorm rooms at Vermont Tech last Friday. I hadn’t seen that before. And I don’t mean both parents and all the siblings. I mean grandparents and aunts and uncles and exes and new spouses.

“We should have brought more people,” I said. “I didn’t know.”

(I made my father drop me off on the road outside the campus after he took me grocery shopping.)

“Don’t forget to drink water and eat vegetables,” I told my son.

It’s not that that I want something else. I miss my own rhythms of sleep and focus and food. I’m eager to place myself at the center of my life again. I may need to leave home to do that. Sell the house. Take a job abroad.

I’m reminded of the old adage about not cutting your hair right after… delivery? a breakup? I can’t remember. I tell myself to wait before doing anything radical. I cringe when I think back to dropping off my firstborn. Right away, I posted to my friends: Is it too soon to make his room my office?

I wasn’t getting on with my life. I was protecting myself from the gaping hole in the fuselage.

“I’m signed up to volunteer at the shelter,” another mother tells me. Her youngest and mine were at the same preschool. “What else will I do with this extra time?”

SOMETHING FOR YOURSELF!! I want to holler at this self-sacrificing mother, but we’re all just trying to cope.

I’m more inclined to empty than fill. “I want less!” I holler at my husband who wants to raise a pole barn this fall. “I want less house. Less responsibility. Less community.”

Divorce?

I think the greater risk is going on as if nothing has changed. As if laying down your life for decades is something tidily completed. “Well done, Me. What’s next?”

I want to feel into all the space, even if it means more fighting.

There’s so much space for fighting now. And movies.

The newly released film “Puzzle” is as subtle as early lung cancer, no signs of any impact until you’re too far gone.

There was a moment when the main character was alone, at the table, dying several dozen eggs for the annual family Easter Party, when it hit him.

“I’m so sorry I left you alone to do all that… all the holidays, everything,” my husband whispered, as I ate popcorn.

I couldn’t reply.

“That’s not me, that’s my mother,” I wanted to say.

I had been so sure I’d avoided her footsteps.

I wasn’t surprised when those a generation older than me, all women, laughed heartily at the scene where the wife intentionally leaves behind the item her husband expects from the store.

“Where is my Manchego cheese?” he asks. “Did you forget it again?”

I cringed as they laughed, knowing that they had spent too long in a supportive role.

The preview for “Puzzle” was “The Wife,” and it wasn’t like lung cancer at all.

Think: Glenn Close “Fatal Attraction,” but instead of a woman scorned, see the fierce, post-menopausal spouse who has revolved around your life for too long.

We drove home in the dark.

“I think we’re going to see a lot more films made like these,” I said. “Thanks to the Great Awakener in the White House.”

In the morning, I said what I couldn’t say aloud the night before, the cancer realized:

“I think I’ve been living all this time inside your dream instead of mine.”

~

(Demeter, College Drop-off, Part II.)

(The Edge of Now, College Drop-off, Prequel.)