Posted in A Day In the Life

Living Out This Idea of Love

It seems to me that the universe is bound together by dancing molecules of love.

I’ve had a couple of rough weeks.  Free floating anxiety. Restless sleep. Self doubt.  It was as if my psyche developed little cracks and all of that seeped in. I didn’t immediately recognize that I was in distress.  Then, this morning, I was awake at 4:00am, swimming in worry and anxiety that wasn’t attached to anything real: would I lose my wallet in the airport when I travel next week?  Is my book any good? Am I any good? Such moments of suffering are wake up calls. There’s no outside solace to heal one’s heart; I have to begin at the core. What do I need?  What do I want? How can I help myself?

From time to time, we all feel like imposters in the world.  We stumble and fall into a hole of despair and then wonder how we got there.  Visiting the wounds of childhood past doesn’t seem to provide anything but an excuse. Finding ways to psychologically and spiritually hug myself, does.  A lifetime of dealing with depression and anxiety has taught me that if I get too angry or too afraid of too many things, I’m bound to fall.

All love must begin with the act of self-love. That’s easy to state and more difficult to do.  What does it mean to love your self? I know that I’m not alone in wondering this. Here are some steps toward self-love that I used this morning. May they be helpful to others. Self-love is like going to the gym.  The best results come from continued and consistent practice. 

Step One: Meditation is a practice that can relax, comfort and soothe the beast of anxiety.  It seems surprising that such a practice can be so easily forgotten in the face of emails, texts, social media, deadlines, and the seduction of creating self-importance through our digital life.  Liberation lies in deliberate breath, deliberate mindfulness, deliberate letting go and surrendering into the vastness and awe of the miracle that we are.

Step Two:  Tears. Holding back the tears of life creates anxiety and strife.  Right now, our world seems likes its come off the rails.  In witnessing the fallout from gun violence, the suffering of children, the divisions that have turned into an “us and them” mentality, then surely there are tears waiting to be set free.  I cried this morning.  I cried for our country. I cried for myself.  I cried for the people I know who are facing struggles.  The act of tears, softened my heart and brought me home to myself a little bit.  The list of too angry and too afraid began to dissolve.

Step Three: I’m a sixty-seven year old woman and one might think that all things from childhood have certainly been worked out and healed forever by now. But the wisdom of age has taught me that the wounds of childhood inform throughout one’s life.  They are part of our spiritual and psychological work.  This morning, I closed my eyes and remembered the child I’d been.  In my imagination, I got down on one knee so that I could meet her face to face, and then I wrapped my arms around her and said, “You are so precious to me. I love you so much.”  More tears and a sweet feeling of release begins to set me free.

Step Four:  Listing the things I’m grateful for. I take a walk every day.  My dog and I went up to the park and along the way, I counted the things that I’m grateful for: legs strong enough to carry me a couple of miles, neighbors that wave hello and call out greetings, a belly that’s full, and cooling temperatures that made today’s walk in the middle of Texas very pleasant.  Practicing gratitude helps me to shift my mind-set and ease the torments of self-doubt.

Step Five:  Give this reclaimed love away.  Wave back at the neighbors.  Call out my own greetings of good morning.  Silently bless the gaggle of teenagers waiting for the school bus — they’re our future. They deserve my goodwill.  Plan to cook a special breakfast for my husband.

Step Six:  Bow my head and say thank you. Thank you for my life. Thank you for this day.  Thank you for jogging my memory and helping me make it to the toolbox, thus bringing relief and a way home. Thank you.

In a perfect world, I would wake up every day and practice all of this. However, I’ve come to see that the imperfection of slipping into the darkness is the invitation and the opportunity to re-engage with my heart. The imperfection and errors that come with being human is the path to humility, appreciation and thankfulness. Today was a reminder to stay the course even though I know that I will stumble and fall again. My heart is all about practice and imperfection. This is the work of living out this idea of love.

Posted in memories

The Size of a Parakeet’s Heart

Budgerigar in the its cage. Budgie

Breakfast happened in a sunny corner of the kitchen on a plastic tablecloth whose flowered print had faded in spots from the sun and the plates that scraped across its surface. The table was pushed against the windows, and looked over a struggling garden in which I had once planted the watermelon seeds saved from a late summer afternoon. When the green shoots found their way up into the light, turning into vines, I imagined opening a watermelon stand and selling pieces of fresh watermelon to all of my neighbors. My enterprise was cut short, however, when something ate the vines, shredding their leaves into skinny, little pieces.

My mother kept a row of potted geraniums on the table. Red flowers bloomed almost year round in a world that was mostly bright colors and sunshine. Part of that brightness was Penny. She was my first true love, my first true friend, a parakeet dressed in exotic green, accented by dark veins of blue feathers. Each morning my mother would open the door to Penny’s cage, and the little bird would fly a couple of times around the room, lighting onto the table in front of my breakfast plate, chirping while she waited for me to feed her bits of unbuttered toast. Sometimes she would hop onto my shoulder as I ate.

Every day when I got home from school, I checked to make sure that she had birdseed and clean water. I wasn’t allowed to let her out unless my mom was there, but I gave her what felt like a lot of my six-year-old attention, crooning, whistling and singing to her. During the times that she was free to fly around, she would always make her way to me, resting upon my hand and hopping up and down the length of my arm. We had our own special way of telling each other: I love you.

One day my mom and I came home to the smell of paint. I knew that the landlord was having all of the kitchens in our row of duplexes painted. We had shopped the week before for new dishtowels and potholders to go with the freshly painted kitchen. I hadn’t realized that the paint would smell so bad though, and I held my nose as I went to check on Penny. But something was wrong. Penny didn’t move. She sat motionless on her perch with her head resting inside of a bell that hung off of the mirror in her cage. “Penny?” I shook the cage and she fell. “NO!”

I heard my mother’s sad voice as she rushed to see what was wrong: “Oh, Penny,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”

“What happened to her?” I asked.

“I think the paint fumes were too much for her,” she said. “The painters didn’t think to put her cage outside and she died.”

No one in my life had ever died before. I knew other children who’d told me that their grandma or grandpa died, or that their dog died, but I didn’t understand what it meant. Something pierced my heart, a feeling of absence so fierce that my whole body hurt.

“I didn’t get to say goodbye.” I said.

I wasn’t sure where Penny had gone, only that she wasn’t in her bird body anymore. My mother helped me to give Penny a funeral, wrapping her in a scarf and burying her in the garden outside the kitchen window. I marked her little grave with rocks that I placed in a careful circle around the newly turned earth.

For days, I tried to cry the ache away, and then one day the loss no longer consumed me. Eventually we put up the new dishtowels and potholders. We moved to another duplex, another apartment, another town. The years between Penny and I grew wide with the passing of time.  Now, as my hands and feet begin to wizen, I recall this story and write it down. I  still have tears left for Penny and the life lesson that she imparted:  Love, even the size of a parakeet’s heart is eternal.

Posted in A Day In the Life

The Transformative Force of Grief

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Is it uniquely American to pick and choose emotional states, as if from a menu? Be happy. Don’t be angry. Choose joy, not sorrow. Aim for bliss. A positive attitude can be a strength in our lives, but what happens when it’s at the expense of authenticity?

There’s A Time and a Place: Ecclesiastes reminds us that to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven… So doesn’t that mean that there is a time to celebrate and a time to grieve?

The Lotus Grows From the Mud: Nature is rich with metaphors. The lotus plant roots itself in dark mud. Beauty and compassion are born from grief. Why then do we seem to hold it back, especially when it shows up as the unfinished business of healing?

Permission to Grieve: No one in this world escapes grief. Yes, it’s present in death, but grief is also the little losses that pile up over time. In these instances grief can reveal itself as melancholy, angst, or unexplainable tears. If we run from what is asking to be felt, is it any wonder why we are a nation preoccupied with psych meds? So, is grief a negative emotion? I don’t think so. Mostly, we turn our face from grief, because we are not well versed with being in its presence. It requires us to sit still with suffering and be its witness.

Winter’s Descent: For me, winter is the great descent. I’m prone toward the disconcerting rumble of low-grade depression this time of year. I’m also more likely to be quiet and reflective, figuring out things about my writing, my life, and myself. It’s the Persephone myth, playing itself out, and each year since I realized that, I weather the assault of the dark a little bit more easily. I’ve come to respect the place where emotions are just under the surface of my skin bringing me closer to the vocabulary of my heart.

Everyone Keeps Secrets: You don’t need a Ph.D. to see that the personas we craft for social media are all rainbows and unicorns. It’s as though the struggles of our lives are shameful and must be kept secret. We need places (probably not social media) to give air to what it means to be human. Too much energy convincing everyone of how positive you are while holding sorrow in abeyance, can turn a person numb.

No Apologies for Grief: The deep psychic dive into what hurts is liberating. We should all take a little more time to cry and wail, allowing tears to baptize us into fresh starts and new beginnings. No apologies for doing your personal work in the dark. Hang a Do Not Disturb sign on your door and know that nurturing a deeper understanding of grief grows us into better, more compassionate human beings.

Advocate for the Authentic: I am more interested in keeping it real than I am in any preconceived notion of what it means to be positive. In fact, I’d like to kick the whole “positive only” movement in its little ass, and shout to the world, that we are connected by our shared experiences of sorrow and longing.

Human beings tend to most deeply bond over shared stories of broken hearts and retrieved pieces. Each time that I sit with my grief, it teaches me something. And that is the transformative force that pushes this messy, awkward, wonderful life toward greater love and fullness.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Holiday Wishes

img_0174Just a dusting of snow, not much at all, but enough to punctuate the date, December 24, 2016. My neighbor’s have all turned on their tree lights and smoke escapes the chimneys mingling in the morning fog.

I am hunkered down with tea and  a laptop, moving forward on a manuscript that has had its hands around my throat for the past year and may finally be loosening its grip. Learning is like that, two steps forward and six steps back.

My husband and I will go to the movies this afternoon. For most of our marriage it has been just the two of us and our holiday rituals are simple. I’m appreciating the quiet that has fallen over our house, the twinkle of tree lights and the promise of roasted duck for two.

My life is blessed beyond measure: a loving husband, fun and kind friends, a beautiful town surrounded by woods and trails, a faithful dog, plenty of food and decent health.

Dear readers, thank you always for stopping by. May your heart be full and your spirit light. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Gratitude

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You simply will not be the same person two months from now after consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life. And you will have set in motion and ancient spiritual law: the more you have and are grateful for, the more will be given you. ~Sarah Ban Breathnach~

Apples are ripening on the tree in the yard. The mornings are cooler. September waits behind the last of the Sweet Williams, peeking into the last of summer’s long days. I am grateful for the coming change.

I’ve pulled this morning close to me, gently placing it my heart. Take the day off. Leave space for God to work in you and through you. Set aside the worry and the angst that you carry as if they were must-have fashion accessories. Take this day to be grateful. This is what I tell myself as I sit tapping the keys on my computer, sitting on the deck and drinking tea.

Jeter, faithful lab is next to my chair. His nose and ears don’t stop moving as he takes in the day. I love that dog. He reminds me not just to be happy, but to be joyful. Grateful for you, buddy. Just saying his name aloud makes him wag.

Dean stretches out on the bed, a day away from the demands and challenges of his work, a day of which he asks nothing except a walk. “Let’s hike up Park,” he says. I am grateful for all of the hiking trails that surround our little valley. Grateful for strong legs and a good heart. Grateful that I walk so much at my age.

There is food in the fridge and in the cupboards. I’m grateful that there is no worry, no insecurity about that, knowing that people in this country, children go hungry every day. I’m grateful for our Ashland Food Bank and that we can contribute and help.

On Friday I did laundry, so my clothes are washed and clean, folded and put away. I am so grateful for clean clothes and clean towels, clean sheets.

I posted the Sarah Ban Breathnach quote on Facebook this morning and a friend from Canada shared it with her friends, translating it first into French. I am grateful for technology that this woman who is so many miles away, read something that inspired me and she was inspired too and the message got shared. What a marvel.

I’m taking a break today. My only tasks are to be grateful and to hike with my husband and my dog. Gratitude fills me. It is a practice that soothes me. It is a path that assures me that there is in this universe, an unfathomable love just waiting for us to surrender. The things that I am grateful for are too many for a list. I think I’ll just rest in the satiation of the practice. May the arms of gratitude surround you.

What are you grateful for today?

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Our Breaking Heart

iStock_000002145962XSmallI turned off the news, but I couldn’t get it to stop playing in my head–the young black mother, her baby girl in the back seat, “I’m right here mama.” Her fiancé dying in the seat next to her while a cop, still pointing a gun screams and shakes. He is so out of balance. Oh my God what have you done what have you done?

My heart won’t stop aching for the cops shot to death while they were trying to protect the protesters. I think about their families and their children and the big gaping wound it has left. Everywhere, the light of life is being snuffed out in our world and no one can see in all this darkness.

And politicians have been greedy and lying for so long that no one remembers the truth. Public service is just a quaint term that doesn’t mean anything, anymore. Only losers serve, isn’t that right? We want winners, isn’t that right? And who wins when we are shooting each other up? Got an axe to grind? Get a gun and go for it. God Bless the NRA. Is this what we have become? In Washington they stand safely behind their podiums and speak their ugly rhetoric. They point fingers and sneer while people around them die.

You know where the love happens? Not at the top, that’s for sure. It happens with old ladies in churches who reach into their pocket books and give up that last crumpled five-dollar bill that they’d been saving, so that someone else can have food. And those at the top who should be humbled by such a strong and noble gesture mumble “loser,” “taker.” It’s all backward, isn’t it?

And I pray “sweet Jesus where are you in all of this?” And damn if he doesn’t keep whispering in my ear, “get up and do something– don’t come running to me– you all made this mess. It’s yours to clean up!”

My heart is sick from watching cops getting shot, gays getting shot, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Blacks, children getting shot to death. When did we become so full of hatred? When did we start believing that guns are what would redeem us?

I keep hearing a truth. It bounces around my head. It is that we are all equally precious in the Creator’s sight.

I cannot sleep. I turn off the news but I cannot sleep and I want to cry because my heart is sick and I think I can’t be the only one. Our whole heart breaking. It creaks and moans from the strain and weight of so much anguish. I do what I know how to do and I sit up late with my keyboard and I write it down because words are my wailing. This is not my pain or your pain this is our pain. And it rushes out through my fingers onto the keys and onto the page.

Give me your hand and let me tell you that I see you, and that you matter before some
asshole on Facebook tells everyone to stop whining and sucking up all the oxygen. That is what our leaders have been modeling for us — ignorance. Just be numb. But I am not that. And you are not that. Look at us. We are all violence weary, suffering from a collective PTSD.

Each one of us is precious in the Creator’s sight. The asshole on Facebook is precious in His sight too. Take my hand. I feel you and you matter, I want to tell him. Stop worshiping “mean.” It won’t help you.

And today I will keep the news off again. I have to look away and catch my breath. Today I will look for the little things that affirm life: squashes ripe in the garden, a pink sunrise, a long walk with the dog. But I can’t stop hearing the unrelenting pain in that black woman’s voice, her baby girl in the back seat, “I’m right here with you mama.” And I can’t stop seeing all the senseless killing. We kill each other instead of loving each other. How did we get here?

I am not alone you are not alone. I see you and you matter. Here take my hand and I will take yours and we’ll walk together. Better, link your arm with mine and with the person next to you and let’s walk together. Love matters. Not the killing. Not the death. Not the news. Not the politics. Love matters. You are God’s precious child and you matter. I am not alone, and you are not alone and we are not alone together. Maybe if we cry together. . . then we can start the healing.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

What The Morning Brings

 

IMG_0576When my mother died, I got her china. I only used it once. The teacups were cracked with thin scars, so that the tea seeped through them onto the saucers, leaving dark stains where the tiny fissures had formed.

I kept the teapot and the sugar and creamer, though I lost the lid to the pot during a move. I displayed them on a shelf. The rest of the set, I gave away. The treasure of one generation often winds up as “so much junk” for the next.

It’s not that I had fond memories of the china, or that it ever held stories from meals shared. It was not the china from when I was growing up. It was something that she bought later in life, when she was creating her world with flowered and delicate things. The woman always had a sense of longing about her, as though she had missed something along the way, and was trying to catch up to make a life that reflected what was just out of her reach.

We all feel that way sometime—that the thing you are aching to hold is just out of reach. The poignancy of life is contained in small chipped cups and unrealized vision.

This is one of those mornings where I’ve hit a default setting: numbness that comes with a creeping depression. I don’t go to my manuscript. That story will have to wait. Instead I sit in the glowing light of a computer screen, trying to capture the tone of this familiar friend and feeling with words and metaphors that will write me alive and back into the world.

No apologies from the dark waters of thought. No struggle to try to make myself happy. Everything that comes to a writer is a gift. Don’t run from anything. Don’t edit. That’s how Stephen King got to be famous. He wrote his darkness with unabashed and disturbing honesty. Authenticity will set you free.

Besides, no one will care if you couldn’t sleep, or that you tossed and turned, gnashing teeth on a million decisions and indecisions in the middle of the night. But a story that recalls the pain of finding love in a small chipped cup–well, that gives purpose to the day.