Heart & Soul

I was a girl. There was a party. My grandfather sat down at the piano, already our hero. Who knew he could play! Who knew Heart & Soul had two parts! I sat down beside him on the bench and he showed me how. We played together, grandfather and granddaughter.

Didn’t this song stream over the radio just as I was writing about him today.

“Hi, Poppop!” I call out.

Those twinkling eyes. His height. His kindness. The way everybody loved him. EVERYBODY, except perhaps my grandmother at times. How he’d hurt her. How being female hurt her. How his life and light blossomed. How hers dimmed. How I adored them both. But saw in her, despite the increasing slurring, and the absence of societal mark, the greater power, the indomitable strength, the wind, the water, the earth, beneath his feet, our feet, as he smiled and wooed and flipped our pancakes into silver dollars, while she, who once held so much promise–French & Chinese at Rutgers–grew bitter with neglect.

A leading role came at 55, a tragedy, her dramatic exit.

And although his eyes did twinkle from time to time, he never stood as tall.

With her, half the man was gone.

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TRANS-GENESIS

I’d like to go back in time and talk to myself about longevity. About the gift of organs, for instance, like the liver and the skin.

“A hangover doesn’t just steal a day,” I’d say, “There’s a hidden surcharge, like an insurance hike after a speeding ticket.”

And what of the adrenals.

Sure, I could burn the candle at both ends in my youth, but what if I knew then these overextensions came with a cost—tapping my immune system and reaching into the future to compromise resiliency.

And what of emotions. I was praised for not letting them get in the way of productivity and responsibilities then, but now I sit across from the therapist processing all that pain because encrusted, it blocks the flow of joy today.

Shouldn’t our early Ed & elementary & high school & college curricula be infused with the study of Anatomy & Physiology, Psychology & Consciousness so that the systems of our bodies might be revered, protected and nourished rather than neglected and abused?

Because neither the Earth or ourselves are commodities to be spent, but gifts to be treasured.

Imagine if, each life, like each body of water, flourished with respect.

~

What if we prayed not just Mother-Father God, but child God, Sister-Brother, Daughter-Son God and even great-great grandbaby God?

What if we prayed Water-Sun-Air-Fire God, Soil God, firefly-mosquito-tick God, traffic-shooting-gardener God, immigrant-racist-misogynist God?

What if Our Father wasn’t in the sky but in Everything, 360 multi-dimensional degrees of Creation–Dear Mother/Father/Daughter/Son/Great-great grandbaby…

How would we love? How would we care? What would we ignore? Who would we hate?

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.

The Little House & the New Hymn

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I used to joke that I had as many blogs as my mother had children, and I’ve since surpassed her, and yet a Google search comes up empty. Perhaps it’s always been too fragile a thing to share. Perhaps what I felt then is what I feel now–that and telling would be unworthy.

The incident, if that’s what it’s called, or the miracle, took place before I’d begun writing publically, and maybe that explains it, and yet I’ve scanned my journals from that time and there’s nothing there either. It’s as if it was all a dream. It would make more sense as a dream.

Source of all we hope or dread
Sheepdog, jackal, rattler, swan…

Even the verse out of which the miracle sprung was more like a dream than a song.

We hunt your face and long to trust
That your hid mouth will say again, let there be light…

I guess I’ll have to start from scratch.

A clear new day…

We lived in The Little House at the time, of that I’m sure, and the incident or miracle would have taken place sometime during the publication of James Redfield’s Celestine series but sometime after the release of James Taylor’s two-disc live cd.

My mother and I read The Celestine Prophecy together, albeit 300 miles apart. We’d begun reading the same books during the summers when I was in highschool and college–everything from the classics to historical fiction to works centered around consciousness, particularly after she entered recovery, which was just after she needed two escorts to walk down the aisle at my wedding.

I left my home at the sea permanently after the first miscarriage, settling in at the foot of the Green Mountain National Forest beside a brook in an 1800’s Cape that the landlord called, “The Little House.”

By the time the snow began to fly, I miscarried a second time.

But when we thirst in this dry night…

The winter of ‘93-94 was one of the longest, coldest, whitest winters of the twenty-five years since. There were still patches of snow on the school playground where I taught well into May.

“Why bother doing what nature will do herself?” the old-timer would say to my husband, in his thick Vermont accent, as Casey shoveled off the back porch again and again. Howard often lumbered past our backyard in his rickety jeep, living as he did behind our place, a good mile or so up in the woods, off of what I suppose was an old logging road which passed by his hunting cabin.

In the softer seasons, and sometimes in the winter (on snowshoes that we’d purchased our first Christmas in Vermont), Casey and I’d hike the road up, stopping at a little bridge under which the same brook that sat beside our house passed, a good half a mile away, deep into the woods.

Everyone loved visiting us at The Little House, all those friends and relatives we’d left behind at the shore, and we all still reminisce about it despite its family of mice traipsing across the hearth and the squirrels in the ceiling and its dirt foundation and the astounding hatching of black flies from the brook each June.

We arrived at The Little House in our twenties and by the time we’d outgrew it–7 years later–I’d lived there longer than I’d lived anywhere, and we’d become a family–with two boys–a five-year-old who called the landlords (as we still do) Uncle Lenny and Aunt Diane, and a newborn who of course doesn’t recall being born in the tiny bathroom upstairs.

I can still feel the embrace of the mountains around The Little House in Autumn , and the sound of the brook when the door to the small balcony off our bedroom was open on summer nights.

Once at dusk, I approached a deer in the field until afraid, I turned away. Once I fell to my knees in the garden during a rainstorm, overcome with a sense of release I hadn’t known possible. Once I ran up the woods road behind the house, blinded by grief, and when I arrived at the small bridge, too out of breath to cry, I found an inexplicable communion with the water and the light as if everything would always be alright.

Just before we left The Little House, we returned to the sea. My mother and I were in the middle of the most recent Celestine book which I would finish without her. I took a seat beside her bay window on that visit, my youngest, barely a month old, at my breast, as she took her last breaths.

I returned to Vermont motherless with a lease that was about to expire and a new rental not quite ready in the next town over where the first weeks of kindergarten had passed without my older son. The friends we’d made as new parents helped us pack up the home I’d lived in the longest while the world and my very self and even the new baby felt like a stranger.

We drink from hot wells poisoned with the blood of children…

It was that line, from track 15, on the first cd of the 2-disc, live collection that once reverberated through The Little House, for months or years, like a haunting.

“Are you sure you don’t have the receipt?” I asked, again and again. My husband had splurged on the collection as a birthday gift for me at a time when we couldn’t afford it.

He had tried wiping down the cd, cleaning the player, skipping past the song and returning to it, but track 15 continued to pause and repeat in the same chilling place.

We drink from hot wells poisoned with the blood of children…

“It doesn’t even sound like a James Taylor song!” I said. “I wish it wasn’t even on the cd.”

Eventually, we remembered that after Shower the People (a song which was sung at our wedding as we brought a rose to each of our mothers) came How Sweet It Is (a song which played on our recessional track) and after these two songs came the jackal and the rattler and the poison.

Once to rid the house of squirrels, Casey placed poison in the crawl space above our bedroom only to later find the blue pellets in the drawer in the tiny bathroom and under the small pillow in our son’s crib.

“Quick, stop the cd!” we’d holler to whoever was closest to the cabinet that stood at the top of the stairs on the landing.

Sometimes we’d make it just in time.

I loved that landing. I did so many firsts there. I practiced yoga and fashioned an “altar.” I read books about things that made no sense but which beckoned me still—women’s circles and journeys and talking pieces. I labored on that landing at the top of the stairs with both boys. I stood outside the guest room where we placed our son’s big-boy bed. “It’s okay,” I said. “I’m right here.”

At night, Casey and I would sit at the top of those stairs and look across at the built-in shelving that we filled with framed photographs of our extended family—his siblings and mine, grandparents and aunts and uncles, a couple nephews, our first niece. We’d lean on each other’s shoulder and talk about whatever needed talking about. Finances. New jobs. Is the house getting too small? Should we move to the town where we want Lloyd to go to kindergarten? Will he ever get to be a big brother? What if my mother has cancer?

Once I cried there by myself after I’d put the baby to bed, and when Casey arrived home to his wife weeping at the top of the stairs, I said, “I can’t remember what it was like to earn a real paycheck, a real job, a real life.”

There was a small window at the top of those stairs, small because The Little House didn’t have a full second story, so the window and its deep sill were right at floor level and seated at the top of the stairs, I could pivot and look out the window to the stonewall and our first flower garden, the big evergreen and the swing, and beyond that the brook as it arrived from the mountain in our backyard. One early morning while practicing meditation at my window sill altar, I saw a black bear lumber past.

But I was seated at the bottom of that narrow staircase when it happened. It was the only place in The Little House that was carpeted, with a sturdy woolen-white fabric. It’s only now in this telling that I realize that the carpet was reminiscent of the one on my grandmother’s stairs, just as rugged, but in light shades of green, a favorite stilling place since I was a girl.

My memory is that I was alone in The Little House that day, which would have been rarity, and my guess is that it was summertime and the front door was open so that the breeze caressed my bare shins as I sat on the bottom stair with my feet on the floor.

It was in this moment, in this place, that the Celestine book that I had been reading with my mother met track 15 of the 2-disc James Taylor collection given to me on my birthday.

Like the book instructed, I meditated on my experiences of “transcendent love” even though I barely knew what meditation or transcendence meant, and then needing someplace to direct the love gathered in a visualization at the crown of my head, I sent it up the stairs behind me, to the cabinet with the stereo, and in particular to the cd player, and specifically to disc one of the two-disc live collection, targeting track 15.

Source of all we hope or dread
Sheepdog, jackal, rattler, swan
We hunt your face and long to trust
That your hid mouth will say again, let there be light

A clear new day…

Inside this meditation of love may have been the time I knelt in the garden in the rain finally knowing in my bones that I had loved my young son well enough that even if I died now he would be okay.

But when we thirst in this dry night
We drink from hot wells poisoned with the blood of children…

What I’m certain was gathered in the folds of that meditation of love as it unfurled to the top of the stairs was my experience in the woods behind The Little House on the day that I ran sobbing up the mountain until I was out of breath, grieving for a loved one who had been betrayed, and bending over the small bridge that crossed the brook, my hands on my sides, I suddenly found myself in a transcendent communion with the water and the light

And when we strain to hear a steady homing bee
Our ears are balked by stifled moans
And howls of desolation from the throats of sisters, brothers, wild men
Clawing at the gates for bread…

I gave everything I had to that meditation, and I sent it swirling up the stairs.

Even our own feeble hands
Aim to seize the crown you wear
And work our private havoc through
The known and unknown lands of space…

When I finished the visualization, I stood up and felt certain that everything changed.

Absolute in flame beyond us
Seed and source of Dark and Day
Maker whom we beg to be
Our mother father comrade mate…

And still, when I climbed the stairs and pushed play, I expected to hear what I had always heard, the haunting stutter of pain.

Til our few atoms blow to dust
Or form again in wiser lives
Or find your face and hear our name
In your calm voice the end of night…

Even after I’d heard the New Hymn play all the way through more times than I’d heard it skip and sputter, each time was a surprise. Even now, when I think of it, I feel the echo of the haunting in my bones.

If dark may end…

On the early September morning at the sea, my husband turned 35, and my mother took her last breaths, as my youngest nursed at my breast. That summer had been the hardest, rainiest, darkest ever  of our years in The Little House, and I didn’t mind because that was how I felt inside.

Wellspring gold of Dark and day…

In the intertwining of their two lives, my mother’s and my son’s, I understood that there was no way to avoid loss or heartache or brokenness, there was only the avoidance of bliss.

Be here, be Now.

~

(quoted lyrics from James Taylor, New Hymn)

The Multi-Colored Womb

A Thousand Voices – Donald Saaf – 2011

Winter brings the return of the dream state, or maybe it’s too much or not enough or my broken-up sleep that explains the day to day watery-immersion of otherworldliness.

Last week, I dreamt of a womb-like container, belonging to another. She placed it on the shelf beside my single bed and then she turned to leave the dormitory-like space as it began to fill with others claiming beds and counters.

I never saw her face, but I continued to marvel at what she left behind–a multi-colored, beautifully-beaded container which served as a water bottle.

Each time I left my bed, however, I was consumed with frustration, because yet another new arrival made claims on the bed that was already mine.

One man, in fact, went so far as to lift my mattress off the frame and take it to the other side of the room–the men’s side, I suppose.

I crossed the space between us and protested. “This isn’t how it works,” I explained. “My things were already there.”

Apparently, the unspoken rules of the Kripalu assistant dormitory (of which I was readily practiced) didn’t apply here.

But where was here anyway? I looked around at rows and rows of beds that I hadn’t noticed before as the space approached full occupancy.

Were we some type of refugee?

I retrieved my mattress, but then wondered if perhaps others needed it more, and then I caught sight of the beautiful container again and smiled, making a mental note to find one for myself.

Days later, that beaded womb bled through my waking hours, speaking a language that I couldn’t quite understand.

Waking between the worlds like this, especially in the dark, wintry months, is welcome, even while it is disorienting (or perhaps because it is), leaving me bobbing in a soupy sea–reality flooded with dreams—where the constellation upon which I’ve relied no longer directs the course, forcing me to find new markers, inside and in other realms, obscured from reality’s view.

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):