We Begin Again

Mom

The so-called little one. I can hear the anguish in his voice a thousand miles away through the one word text message. It’s a terrible thing to lose a hero, especially when they’re so young. Or we are. Or ever, really.

Whether that hero is an icon or a parent, a son or a daughter. We ground our hopes in their vitality and curiosity and tenacity, and through them find our own. But what to do when they are gone?

Kobe died in a helicopter crash.

We feel the loss keenly, the way it reverberates on the heartstrings of our own losses.

Kobe was 41; my husband was 41 when he died.

He died on January 26th; my dear father-in-law died on the same date a few years ago.

His daughter, too; it’s impossibly sad.

I think about a blue-sky day, not long ago. I was out walking my dog when I saw my neighbor walking their dog. A neighbor, and also a friend. Our families have coordinated carpool, celebrated graduations and bar mitzvahs, shared meals and concert tickets.

I cross the street to greet him, and he looks gaunt and pale, almost gray. My stomach clenches, prepared – not prepared, braced – for imminent bad news. I can almost hear the words “I have cancer” before he says them, but what he says is unimaginable. “My son is dead,” and suddenly I understand that this is not a dad with a terminal illness, it is a father in grief, in shock. There are not enough words for this kind of pain. His son was traveling abroad; he was supposed to return home to begin his junior year in college. Catastrophe is not how the story was supposed to go.

There is no way to make sense of this. I have so many questions I do not ask. It won’t make any difference; no answer will bring the boy back.

I have no words. There are no words. Only palpable pain and silence.

I do not want to offer the platitudes I myself had been served. But I probably offer up different ones. Maybe not. I can only hope.

I give him a hug.

“I have no words,” I say.

“There are no words,” he says. And we look at each other for a long moment, until his dog wags her tail and puts her paws up for attention. He smiles wanly, and says “What is there left to do but walk the dog?”

Indeed. There is nothing to say or do, only that I am glad that he told me himself. There is something about the communal breaking of hearts that softens the suffering, if only slightly. And the walking of dogs.

Almost immediately I think of an overcast day a few months earlier, when I met up with a friend whose teenaged son had fallen to his death in a crazy, tragic accident. As I held her she sobbed and said, “How can people walk their dogs?”

Indeed. Normalcy has no place in a world that has been tilted off its axis by so great a loss.

Take care of yourselves, Tuesday people. Walk the dog. Or not.

Inhale, exhale, repeat.

Notice where it hurts.

Shoot baskets until your arms ache.

Shout, cry or talk. Or don’t.

Write. Write a song. Or a poem. Or gibberish. It all counts.

Pray. Or not. Tell God to take Her own flying leap.

Sit and stare vacantly at silent green stems for however long it takes the daffodils to open.

Feed yourself with something good and spicy or sweet and life sustaining. Or both. You are here. You are loved.

Today begins again the healing process. I leash up the dog, who is an enthusiastic partner for the journey, and we spend an hour moving along in companionable silence. We stop to smell the paperwhites, now open, that we’ve been watching for a week. As we are nearing home, I see a woman up ahead on the road. I’ve only seen her once before — two miles ago when our paths met for a short stretch. She smiles broadly as we cross paths again. “Still going!” she says.

I smile in return, “Yes, we are!”

Yes we are. Still going. 

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. You’re still going.

***

Sometimes people ask me what I’m reading these days. Here you go:

Ask Again, Yes, by Mary Beth Keane

From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home, by Tembi Locke (If possible, and especially if you aren’t fluent in Italian, I recommend listening to the audio version, read by the author herself.)

 

Imagine

“Just as long as I’m in this world, I’ll be a light of this world.”

~ Joan Osborne

 

We have the opportunity – again, today – to bring this world closer in line with our imagination of how it could be. As we envision a place of equal opportunity, fairness in abundance, and vibrant integrity, we draw those ideals closer to our lived experience.

It is not easy. These dreams do not take root without our participation.

Yesterday I heard an audio clip from a sermon delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr. His voice rises and falls with passion and clarity, the telltale static in the background betrays the age of the recording. He speaks of freedom from bondage and discrimination and injustice. He encourages us to “keep on keeping on in order to gain freedom.” He urges persistence and consistency in the pursuit of equality and justice and peace.

The reverend’s voice is not the only one I hear speaking with conviction and purpose. Behind me in the pew sits a child, maybe eight or nine years old, reading along and out loud the printed excerpt of Dr. King’s speech. The young voice is cheerful and confident, an emerging reader describing the world as it could be, a place inhabited by people of purpose and character and led by principled leadership. This little voice is not shushed, and is not discouraged by the sluggishness of progress. As I sit listening, this duet fills me with hope: the voice of experience in synchrony with the voice of optimism. We are already the beloved community, and also, we must create a community where each of us feels our belovedness.

We have work to do.

We start by imagining a more just and peaceful world, and then we take steps – little ones, persistent ones, splashy ones – to bring that world to light.

***

Wishing you light and strength on the path toward your dreams. And the freedom to dream out loud.

Inhale, Exhale, Repeat

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I’ve entered the New Year with a bit more stillness than in years past, which I attribute to the fact that I’ve become more consistent with my meditation practice. Could be the everlasting sticky cold that has planted me on the sofa for days on end.

I suspect it has something to do with the empty nest as well. After decades of raising four boys, the house is oddly quiet now. And the ancient cat, an 18-year-old Siamese mix with his congenitally crooked tail and his sock fetish, is gone. He always had something to say, a morning greeting, opinions about our competence, demands regarding his dining experience, objections to the fact of the dog. The silence of his missing meow practically echoes around here.

The garbage truck beep-beep-beeps down our little cul-de-sac, and I make a mental note to remind the boys to bring in the garbage cans when they come home from school. I look at the clock – it’s almost time for school to release – and I feel the butterfly wings of excitement. I always look forward to the afternoon moment when they walk through the door, strong and vibrant, silly and weird.

And then I remember that they are all now off at school or working or exploring. It’s scary and hard and wonderful and amazing. I am grateful and proud and also just ever so slightly bereft.

The fall was easier to take. One college drop-off, then another. One parent weekend, then another. The honeymoon trip we had delayed for nine years, planned for that exact moment when all the boys were off to the races, and then the holidays arrived.

The winter drought is harder. A slower pace, fewer gatherings to propel the calendar forward. Fewer distractions. More focus on this one moment. Settling into the rhythm of my own life is oddly challenging. But I sit, letting the energy settle and swirl, feeling the opportunity gathering in the quiet moments. It is, if I am completely honest about it, an intriguing time.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the defective hunting dog is proving to be an excellent meditation companion. It will be interesting to see where we go next, but for now, we sit.

***

Wishing you light and strength right where you are. And comfort in the silence.

***

If you are looking for some meditation resources, these ones caught my attention recently:

Tara Brach is offering a Radical Compassion Challenge, January 21-30, 2020. “The medicine our world needs is widening circles of compassion. We need to love ourselves – and each other – into healing.”

Sharon Salzberg is offering her Real Happiness Meditation Challenge for the month of February, 2020. “Each week of the Challenge explores a different type of meditation practice to cultivate greater focus, clarity, kindness and resilience.”

Oprah Winfrey & Deepak Chopra are offering their 21-day meditation program, Perfect Health, which begins February 3, 2020. “Discover the healthiest version of yourself.

Thoughts for the New Year

“Yearly reminder: there is no resolution that, if kept, will make you more worthy of love. You, as your actual self and not as some made up ideal, is already worthy.”

~ Nadia Bolz-Weber

 

My actual self, sniffling and sneezing at the moment, is exceedingly grateful that the desiccated tree sits out on the curb and the Christmas CD’s are tucked away in their cases. Or at least stuffed in a drawer. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the holidays, the scent of pine and cedar, of freshly baked bread and ginger and cinnamon, cheerful lights, hugs from cousins we don’t see nearly often enough. Those seasonal treats do fill me with a confidence in the goodness of life and the steadiness of love, which I really appreciate when the holiday blues hit home.

I love finding the perfect gift. It’s my greatest joy. Even better than the thrill of receiving the perfect gift. Although I love that, too.

But sometimes it feels like I’m holding my breath from the time I queue up the Pandora holiday channel until the day I unplug the tree. Finally, the exhale.

Now I can get back to work. And boy do I have work to do. That’s the good news and the bad news.

Today, I am sequestering myself in a little corner of the house, by a window so I can stare into the treetops from whence inspiration might float down to me, a renegade leaf on a breeze. Wrapped in a blanket with a freshly steeped pot of tea and my favorite writing pen. Plus a box of tissues. Strangely, the defective hunting dog is not at my feet. He is miffed that we are not out walking into this morning, and he is consoling himself by crawling back under the covers with the so-called little one, who is home from college for winter break. It’s a dog’s life.

There is a tension between living in the space where we feel our worthiness – right now, just as we are, loved completely, whole – and moving along, taking the next steps, looking forward. What exactly are we looking for if we are already whole? Why move at all? Where might it be possible to to go in order to add to wholeness? Can we live in the pause? Stillness and movement simultaneously in the moment.

The seed already contains the flower, and all that jazz, but it is true that when I stop to feel the fullness of the moment – a complete breath, a grateful heart, a beautiful soul – then grace carries me into the next moment, woefully broken as it may be. When I allow myself to pause, to feel the sadness and fear, the disappointment in songs unsung, this, too, might be exactly the weight required for the next sacred moment. I won’t know until I get there.

I guess I am just trying to encourage you to take your complete and beautiful if ever-so-slightly-glitchy self into the day, with patience and kindness but also with purpose. I’ll do the same.

So, in the spirit honoring the seed in each of us, I offer you this poem:

In Lieu of Flowers by Shawna Lemay

A few years ago I read a friend’s father’s obituary on Facebook. His father had requested in lieu of flowers, please take a friend or loved one out for lunch.

Although I love flowers very much, I won’t see them when I’m gone. So in lieu of flowers:  Buy a book of poetry written by someone still alive, sit outside with a cup of tea, a glass of wine, and read it out loud, by yourself or to someone, or silently.
Spend some time with a single flower. A rose maybe. Smell it, touch the petals.
Really look at it.
Drink a nice bottle of wine with someone you love.
Or, Champagne. And think of what John Maynard Keynes said, “My only regret in life is that I did not drink more Champagne.” Or what Dom Perignon said when he first tasted the stuff: “Come quickly! I am tasting stars!”
Take out a paint set and lay down some colours.
Watch birds. Common sparrows are fine. Pigeons, too. Geese are nice. Robins.
In lieu of flowers, walk in the trees and watch the light fall into it. Eat an apple, a really nice big one. I hope it’s crisp.
Have a long soak in the bathtub with candles, maybe some rose petals.
Sit on the front stoop and watch the clouds. Have a dish of strawberry ice cream in my name.
If it’s winter, have a cup of hot chocolate outside for me. If it’s summer, a big glass of ice water.
If it’s autumn, collect some leaves and press them in a book you love. I’d like that.
Sit and look out a window and write down what you see. Write some other things down.
In lieu of flowers,
I would wish for you to flower.
I would wish for you to blossom, to open, to be beautiful.

***

Wishing you light and strength as you blossom into this New Year.