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, white, wispy 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, our parting gifts on the morning that I took the train to Heathrow to fly home.)

Most of my classmates 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 there); but not a word was spoken; and Sister Norrie saw that everything was 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. 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 still the 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 unanswered.

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 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. “Sure,” I said, smiling, as they continued into the library with decorations in hand.

As I put my hand on the banister, 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 (because I had had two abortions at 16) 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.

 

 

Life After Getting Drunk~a St. Paddy’s Day Tribute

The last time I was drunk was St. Paddy’s Day, 1986.

And no, I’m not an alcoholic. Or a teetotaler.

I still like my Chardonnay and my Margaritas…

But I used to like to get smashed.

What changed?

I grew up, I guess. I crossed the line a few too many times in my early twenties, and drunkenness started to feel ugly and sad instead of fun.

That partying lifestyle is a hard one to sustain. Especially when you’re happy. Being hungover feels like crap.

Leaving the bar & restaurant world made it easier to let it go. So did becoming a teacher and a mother. Neither of those roles is very compatible with drunkenness.

Do I miss it?

Sometimes I do. But mostly I’m surprised that it’s still going on. (Without me  🙂

I guess there’s a lot of pain to medicate. At least that’s what I was doing. I drank to wash away feelings of not being enough. I drowned out anger and confusion. I hid from disillusionment.

When I was drinking, all that pain disappeared; and I got to catch my breath. Only the break never lasted; but the mistakes did.

Both my grandmothers and mother were alcoholics, and somehow I didn’t inherit their propensity for that disheartening disease; but I gave it a good effort–with nearly a decade of dedication.

I still got good grades, had goals, and met them; But I missed out on a lot. Like the day after St. Paddy’s Day, 1986, when my sweetheart and I were meant to be in Wyoming. It was a dream of his to see that great state, and it was the first time that the two of us had the opportunity to get out of town together. We were living in Steamboat Springs then, Colorado, working our butts off at the Mountain, and we were thrilled to have 3 days off in a row, together, to finally explore more of the West (before we headed back to the Atlantic.)

Instead, we spent that big adventure in bed, with one of the worst hangovers either of us has ever had. We fought over the last Ibuprofen and shook our heads at the pile of our mud-laden clothes on the floor. Later friends told us that we had been seen wrestling up the hill on our way home from the bar.

We still laugh at that story, and I tell it too much–maybe to point out that there is life after drinking–even though it seems like the most fun in the world when you don’t know what else you’re missing.

Now I define fun differently. Now it’s about creating more of what I want in my life, instead of running from what I’m afraid of.

And when I have pain, I like to “check IN” instead of “check OUT.” Well, that’s not entirely true.  Sometimes, I’d rather watch Netflix or check Facebook; but what I’ve learned, again and again, is that there’s gold to be mined in my discomfort if I just show up: Pain is transformed. Memories heal. Disillusionment is replaced with new, vibrant visions. Dreams come true. And I begin to like myself just the way I am. I cut myself a goddamn break; and I don’t even have to be drunk to do it.

Kelly Salasin, March 2012

Note: Lately, I’ve been accused of being “High & Mighty.” If that’s what you’re looking for, read this one about drinking: Drunk for the Holidays; or this: Father Who Used FB to Teach His Daughter A Lesson: A Human Rights Issue.

The Fire of Love

Hero's Journey, Kelly Salasin, 2003 (visual journaling)
Say your prayers, be they literal or metaphorical. Let today be the day you say yes to the light within & lay down your sorry attempts to stay small. Yes, I will serve & allow my invincible love to blaze past every limit. And so it is.
~Tama Kieves

This week I’ve walked through fires.

Brush fires and infernos and the 5 Alarm kind.

I’m covered in ashes…

and smouldering still…

I can’t get enough of the shower,

and the bath,

and the flannel covers.

This is what we do for Love.

This is how we claim our lives.

This is where the world is made new.

Kelly Salasin, January 2012

(That was bullshit. Here’s why: Just Say No )

Ragged and the Beauty

Day 3 of a Migraine and I am worn ragged. My thoughts turn to all those in chronic pain, and I can’t imagine how they make it through each day.

When I creep down the stairs in my sunglasses, I discover that the ants are feasting on the watermelon that my husband left out, and I am livid. It doesn’t matter that he’s graciously picked up all the slack since my headache came on.

I’m really not fit for human company, and that makes me wonder how those with ongoing pain manage… relationship.

I am fair-weather human. I’m at my best when I feel well.  Kindness and gentility are my nature. But take away a night’s sleep or a day’s productivity, and I sour.

The simplest tasks overwhelm me. The little inconvenience. The noise of campers across the pond.

Yet in this soured state, I open to beauty. Perhaps not inside me, but all around me–in the hummingbirds and dragonflies busy in the garden, in the sweet call of the thrush from the dark woods, in the glistening of the moon on these wonderfully clear nights.

What discourages me most is the inability to rise to the glory that is all around me. There is no Carpe Diem in my step. And I feel like I’m missing out.

This is particularly true in a Vermont summer–because it is so short-lived! Miss a series of sunny days, and you may not see another stretch like this for weeks; or at all.

I’m old enough to have learned that seizing a day or basking in glory is not always about action. I know that when I surrender to the couch, I discover the beauty in the ordinary–which otherwise I miss.  And I know that my resistance causes more pain. But it’s hard to resist feeling miserable when the world is so contrastingly wonder-FULL outside.

I’m willing to try.

Kelly Salasin, July 2011

For more on Pain as a Teacher, click here.

The Revolution (Inside)

One week ago, I interviewed for a job–and a revolution began–inside. (Either that or I ate some bad chicken wings.)

revolution |ˌrevəˈloō sh ən|
noun
1 a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system; uprising.
• a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized or in people’s ideas about it

Finally, the long-held tyranny of a demanding dictator was toppled–inside.

tyranny |ˈtirənē|
noun
cruel and oppressive government or rule:  the removal of the regime may be the end of a tyranny.
•rule by one who has absolute power without legal right.

It was a bloody and painful revolution–inside.

I wish that it were enacted more peaceably, but alas, the tyranny was so much a part of the system that it was numb–until it could no longer bear to be. Unfortunately, this sudden coup left a vacuum of power, making the system more susceptible to another takeover.

Had it been intentionally carried out, plans would have been made for transition. A new governing body would have been installed–one which represented the best intentions of the whole–enacted with compassion and courage.

courage |ˈkərij|
noun
the ability to do something that frightens one;
• strength in the face of pain or grief.

PHRASES
have the courage of one’s convictions; act on one’s beliefs despite danger or disapproval.

The word Courage comes from the Latin “cor” meaning “heart.”  Despite the tyranny of the mind and its troubled past, “heart” had always been nurtured within this system.  “Heart” is what made it possible to endure the dictator and to imagine something else was possible–inside.

imagination |iˌmajəˈnā sh ən|
noun
the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses;
• the ability of the mind to be creative or resourceful;

The word imagination comes  from the Latin “imaginari” which means “picture to oneself.”

I have long “pictured myself” in softer, more colorful hues; and I have learned that this is not a state of doing, but one of being–in alignment with body, mind and soul.

Given the current revolution, I have an opportunity to allow the old way to decay, to fall from the vine, providing room for the new way to flourish-inside.

flourish |ˈfləri sh |
verb
1 grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, esp. as the result of a particularly favorable environment : wild plants flourish on the banks of the lake.
• develop rapidly and successfully : the organization has continued to flourish.
• to be working or at the height of one’s career during a specified period;
2 to attract the attention of others.

The verb flourish comes from the Latin “flor” meaning flower; and at one time. flourish meant to adorn, as with flowers, in order to attract the attention of others.  That meaning has become obsolete, replaced by the idea of flowering from the–inside.

This brings some new thought to mind: Rather than replace the old tyrant with a new ruler, perhaps I could employ another use of the word revolution– from the Latin, “revolvere,” meaning to “roll back.”

revolution |ˌrevəˈloō sh ən|
noun
2 an instance of revolving;
• motion in orbit or a circular course or around an axis or center.

The truest revolutionary act may be to “revolve” around my own center, living my life more fully from the–inside.

Kelly Salasin, 2010

(To read the previous post on the Life Purpose Path, click this link:  Great Expectations. Or the ensuing post:Sweet Surrender.  To find out more about the path, click here.)