“We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to.”—Brené Brown

*This is the 3rd installation in a series of posts. If you missed the first, you can find it here and the second can be found here.

The drive from Dallas to Houston on I-45 is long with stretches of road in ill-repair—narrow where under-construction—and lined with ranches as evidenced by sprawling pastures and tall, drying grass that seems to go on for miles.

My mother held herself gingerly in the back seat while my sister and I attempted levity in response to the grueling situation with comments about the cowboy church we passed and the git er’ done sticker on the back of the pick-up truck window—beneath the gun rack.

I looked through the messages on my phone hoping for something new to pop up and take my mind off my desire to skip over the drive and get to the treatment. My heart seemed to beat at a quickened tempo in response to my thoughts.

Residents of just about every state relish their unique slice of sky. Texas could win a prize for most-opulent setting sun—golden and radiating in the drawn-out center, all-wrapped-in-red-at-the-end like a pair of shiny boots.

We switched drivers just before the glow dropped below the horizon and later when I pulled into a rural gas station, it was dark. My sister returned from the bathroom and I got out of the car—stretching—watching through a window from outside the building as three men—traveling together—walked toward a long hallway inside where the restrooms were located.

I contemplated whether it was safe to enter the narrow hallway—outnumbered. I ended up waiting, slowing my pace and slipping in to the women’s room when they were out of site.

The likelihood they were predators was slim, I’m sure.

In the hotel room my mother got into bed wearing her clothing—something she would never have done when well. I curled up next to her and my sister joked that I just didn’t want to sleep next to her.

Humor soothed the anguish of our mother’s suffering—so-on-display. Our shared sense of irony was a private language between us, our closeness a shroud of protection.

I waited—more than slept— and checked for the time when the alarm would sound and the neurologist would meet us at the hospital.

He had called me earlier to find out when we would be arriving—too late for admittance that evening. His tone was grandfatherly and when we met, his wide smile and straight, bright-white teeth were familiar.

His accent evoked his heritage and a way of treating people that seemed of another time.

Weeks later—on a day in which my mother was improving—we shared with him about how our father had flown regularly as an airline captain to a neighboring country near where he was from. As a young child, it was a mystery to me where my father was much of the time, although the souvenirs were good clues when he returned home—colorful, velvet sombreros that were hung on a wall, miniature stone castles for the tops of our dressers and endless sets of plastic wings to wear on our shirts.

When I was a teenager and the news was bad—like when a Boeing 757 crashed into the side of a mountain in the country where my father flew most often, or a hijacking was underway—I would go scrambling to find out where he was and whether or not he was safe.

Airports and airplanes were familiar places to me in the way that a school might be for a teacher’s offspring.

Chicago O’Hare had the tall, red, popcorn machines and three-letter airport-abbreviations lived in me like a part of my genetic code—BUF, DFW, LAX. A plethora of old-school ticket-stubs hung around our house piling up and finding alternate uses as bookmarks and scrap paper.

Marilyn—the pilots’ secretary—filled toilet paper rolls with candy and wrapped them in tissue paper with ribbons on the end. Whenever we passed through, she would open the drawer to her metal desk and hand one to me and my sisters.

In all of those hours of sitting and waiting and traveling, I fell-in-love-with reading and have rarely-since left home bookless.

For this trip I had packed in my carry-on the first of the three books I had recently purchased, having already read the second.

I still hadn’t connected with the fact that the author of the current book—Brené Brown—was from Houston. At that point, I didn’t even know for certain that I would be going to Houston. I only thought it convenient that at such a difficult time, I happened to have the perfect book-in-tow.

We entered the hospital-admittance waiting room just after dawn—beginning our lengthy wait for a bed. We stood in front of the art display cases lining the wall filled with delicate sculptures of birds and other nature scenes, encouraging our mother to rest in a reclining chair covered with a blanket.

It was noon before we finally had her settled in a shared-room with revolving roommates at the end of the hallway. It would be days before we would move into a private room where we set-up camp.

We read on the nurse’s board how some of the patients had been there for many weeks, even months.

As the days passed, I did whatever I could to help the nurses help my mother all-the-while composing letters in my head thanking them.

Donna with her braided hair and upright posture, the way she thought things through and answered yes whenever she could—her dad re-married and moved to London, she living at home with her mom to save money.

Kara with her stamina and return-to-kindness again and again, her rapid response to a rapid drop in blood pressure— saying she was prayin’ for us and telling about her grandfather with Alzheimer’s.

Montoya—a nurse’s aide and possibly part-angel with an unflappable—yet palatable— positivity and willingness to help in any way she could.

I thought about the privilege of having access to attentive, 24-hour-care in juxtaposition with the bedraggled man I had been noticing each day when I came and went from the hospital—stationed in a wheelchair out front—his leg propped up, his head drooped down, his body curved in the shape of the letter C.

One nurse—the exception—demonstrated for me the power of our being there, of our witness.

I watched as she inserted a new IV—the third or fourth in an already battered arm. When she accidentally moved the needle and catheter backward—forcefully in the wrong direction, under skin—I nearly jumped out of my own skin and my mother gasped, crying out in pain.

The nurse’s comment about what she had done was dismissive and unapologetic. In that (however brief) moment she seemed to have lost touch with her patient as a human being.

I validated my mom’s anguish at her situation as a whole and held her hand and did anything I could to comfort her in those weeks—regardless of the futility I felt—and when there was a quiet moment, I would drop-my-own-head-down and read a little from the book in my lap.

In many ways I was already living out the author’s suggestions for meeting challenges with the courage of curiosity and a keen eye for erroneous inner-storytelling as a means of dodging growth and personal responsibility.

I was right there with her and while there were certainly things for me to learn or experience more deeply, it was having the book with me—and the act of reading it there in Houston Methodist Hospital—that became relevant to me, flipping time around on its head and revealing the inherently, circular nature of life, once again.

My sister and I offered each other breaks from the intensity of our experience by encouraging the other to go down to the lobby of the hospital and sometimes we would go there together.

It was a beautiful and peaceful place with an arching atrium where light poured in on sunny days.

Lines of trees and plants surrounded tables where hospital staff had lunch alongside visitors and patients and even the building grounds crew took up a table occasionally.

There was a fountain in the middle with a life-sized sculpture of a turquoise-God-I-couldn’t-name riding a dolphin. Water cascaded over the rounded edges of the pool and seemed at the same time to be both flowing and static—like plastic wrap had been pulled taught in a curved and striated position and filled up with liquid.

There was a grand piano near the entrance with two large vases set beside thick columns—none of which would have seemed out of place in a museum.

Occasionally an individual would approach the piano and play—a concert musician’s serenade to a somewhat weary crowd.

At first, I kept to myself what I had read from the book there in my lap—the magnitude and gravity of my mother’s care overwhelming the impact of the coincidence I had consumed and for which I had felt a deep sense of awe.

But then, one afternoon, my sister and I were in the lobby about to sit down to a three o’clock lunch we had finally gotten to. With only two restaurants to choose from in walking distance—and nearly a dozen days of needing to eat —it might be fair to say that I have finally had my fill of Chipotle, another bowl of which we were about to consume.

We were standing by our table, setting our things down—when a couple approached us. It took me a moment to process the fact that they were homeless or nearly so—and they were requesting our help.

They led by sharing about their embarrassment in approaching us—it was a Sunday and the lobby was nearly empty, they had likely snuck in.

Given the subject-matter I had been reading about in my book and the fact that I was where I was, everything around me, suddenly came into clear focus.

I knew—without a doubt—it was no accident these individuals were approaching me now.

I brought my whole attention to them—specifically making a point to look directly into their eyes while internally asking myself the question, can I look openly at the pain and need before me and hold space for it, not diverting my gaze or rushing to end the interaction?

The man’s bright blue eyes contrasted with his dirty jacket and need for a shower. I was glad they had each other. I told them I understood what they were going through and immediately felt a little sorry for saying that—knowing how little I actually knew about what it would mean to be in their situation.

What I meant was, I see you—I see my own need in you—and I do not judge you for where you’ve found yourself.

I gave them money and when my sister and I sat down, I flooded her with the story of what had been happening between the pages of my book and how profoundly aligned it was with our experience.

I explained that Brené Brown had written a story in the book I just happened to have with me about her own experience in the lobby of Houston Methodist Hospital—when her mother had become suddenly ill.

I bought the book in South Portland, Maine—near where I live— at a time when I imagined I would be spending the fall admiring the colorful transformation of leaves, sending my children off to school and returning to my work.

I described to my sister how the parallels did not stop there with our presence in Houston.

Brené Brown had also described the way her curiosity around a characteristic she had noticed about herself in her interactions with homeless people had culminated into deeper understanding through an experience with a homeless man she had witnessed playing the grand piano a few feet from where we stood.

Her quest for understanding was prompted by the question of why she was able to give readily to a homeless person in her presence and yet, she could only do so hastily and without looking into the person’s eyes nor lingering in their presence—an uncharacteristic manner for a seasoned social worker and compared with her normal way of being with people.

After she had encountered a homeless man at a restaurant across from the hospital (perhaps Chipotle) where he was being shoved out of the place and then witnessing him the following day in the lobby playing the piano, she had also come to attention—knowing life was speaking to her.

She entered into a conversation with her mother about the history of need and self-reliance in the story of her family eventually coming to terms with the fact that her reticence was rooted in an avoidance of facing the presence of  her very own need residing in her being.

In some ways my sister and I were blown-away by the seeming coincidences of the book and the way it was lining up with our own experience.

It also felt like of course this was happening—we knew we were exactly where we were supposed to be.

Later when another person—clearly in need—approached us on the street, I asked him if he was the one who liked to play the piano in the lobby—I had to try— and he said, no.

I know that guy though! he’d said.

A few days later, toward the end of our time at the hospital and after a particularly stressful experience, I decided to walk outside around the medical center—something I hadn’t done much of.

There was an abundance of concrete and almost no-green to be found in the area.

I walked past the children’s section of the hospital where large, colorful letters lined the walkway and found the door to the playground area with benches and fountains locked.

I looped around through cancer centers and other specialty clinics and after not-too-long I was back where I started. In the distance I saw the man who I had been noticing all throughout my time there stationed in his wheelchair with a towel draped like a triangle over his head and his leg propped out in front of him.

He had been moved or someone had moved him away from being right-out-front in plain view. Now he was under an overhang and out of the regular flow of traffic in-and-out of the hospital.

I began walking back up the ramp toward the entrance and suddenly something stopped me. I turned around and walked back down, looking into my purse to see what I might be able to give him.

I walked slowly toward him and finally stood directly in-front of him. His head was drooping down and when he sensed my presence he looked up at me, raising his head just slightly.

I looked into his eyes watching as they widened in surprise at someone standing there before him. I observed his rounded spine, drooping skin and ragged clothing. He was really thin.

Our eyes continued to be locked and I somehow managed to say, I’m so sorry you are suffering.

His eyes widened, again, and I saw tears spring up into their corners—emphasizing the already liquid nature of their rich, chocolately color.

A flood emotion came washing over me—my mother, the suffering, the inequity, this world—and I held it all back like you might hold a door closed with your whole body against a powerful wind.

Tucking money down by his hand, I told him I hoped someone could help him get some food or help or whatever he needed.

It was clear he couldn’t speak but he stayed intently in my gaze. It felt like we both knew this interaction was not about the money or at least that is what I told myself.

I didn’t know what else to say or what I could do so I said again, I’m so sorry you are suffering and walked away down the street and away from the hospital where I could breathe.

I finished the last few pages of my book in the final days my sister and I were together and handed it over to her for her flight home.

The third of the books I had recently purchased was sitting in my lap on the runway as we began barreling forward into the morning sun and lifting smoothly into the air. I opened its hard cover and began reading as I listened for the wheels being drawn up and tucked away, and headed for home.

 

*Due to the lengthy nature of this story, I decided to break it up into a few installments. This was the 3rd. Thank you for staying with me! I do not intend to regularly create such lengthy posts. If you missed the other two posts, you can find them here and here. I hope you will enjoy my journey through three books that spoke-to and supported me during a difficult time caring for my mother who is now recovering.  

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“There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.”—George Sand

Given my record of a too-full inbox and a seemingly ravenous spam folder, it feels like a small miracle that I received the message at all.

I had missed the CNN story that had gone viral and so the title of the message, Cards for Jacob, might have come across as unimportant or like more noise from a world so filled with communication.

I had recently approached the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine about a collaboration having to do with the Free-to-Play Project—a collection of my work meant to draw attention to the inherent value—and birthright—of children’s access to and freedom to play in childhood.

We had engaged in promising conversations about sharing my work—ultimately thwarted by my lack of status as a non-profit entity.

It didn’t matter that my mission and desire were to donate funding to their programming.

They were bound by rules and as disappointed as I was.

Despite my frustration with the red tape, I decided to donate half of the profits from a recent commission to the museum scholarship program anyway. The contribution would support seven families offering unlimited access to engaging play for one year.

It felt like the right thing to do in the moment and later I realized it was instrumental in connecting me to Jacob.

When we are open to it—and maybe even when we are not—it seems there is an invisible web of connection that extends beyond the known parameters of this life safeguarding our path to evolution and our purpose in being here.

I like to think Jacob somehow ensured I got the message because he knew this work was for me.

Imagine the power of a small and earnest request invoking a ripple across the globe—from New York to Australia to Dubai—causing hundreds of thousands of people to be stopped in their tracks and to respond.

This was the power of a small, 9-year-old boy whose nose wrinkled at its ridge when he smiled.

His name was Jacob Thompson and his request was simple and from the heart.

In the last weeks of his life—rendered short by terminal neuroblastoma that he had been fighting for four years—he shared from his bed at Maine Medical Center that he would like to receive Christmas cards from anyone who might like to send them his way.

His wish was to celebrate early a holiday he would likely never experience again.

As an aside, he noted how much he loved penguins.

The response took everyone by surprise and was so overwhelming the Portland Postmaster General became involved and began keeping track of the number of cards that were pouring in like an overflow of winnings from a slot machine.

A storage facility was rented to house the incredible influx of mail and Jacob’s family found a purpose—opening and reading cards with and eventually for Jacob—during an extremely painful time.

A few weeks after receiving the e-mail, I found myself driving to a part of a nearby town I had never been to.

It was a cold and sparkling morning just after the New Year and a heavy downfall of snow.

Surrounded by beautiful forests, I could have been driving across the scene of a quintessential Christmas card which seemed remarkable, given the circumstances.

I had been invited to view some of the hundreds-of-thousands of cards Jacob had received before he passed away and to consider whether I might be able to create a work of art with them given my experience working with repurposed materials.

Jacob’s family had been referred to me by an administrator at the children’s museum—the purpose of my experience there clear to me now.

As I drove to the meeting it felt as if I was following a thread connecting me to the next, relevant point in a geometric pin and thread art formation that constructs the pattern of a life.

A cousin of Jacob’s mother came outside into the brisk air and bright morning to meet me.

She wanted to ensure that I entered a certain door in the house so as not to have to navigate the snowier pathway.

She had put her dogs away so they wouldn’t bother me.

I could hear them barking and bouncing around on the wood floors—they sounded big.

Having just said goodbye to my own beloved cat, Autumn, I was eager to meet them and said so.

Sarah and I had an instant connection. There was an ease between us that went beyond our few moments of knowing one another.

It was clear we spoke the same language about life and loss from the start.

She brought out several long, plastic, post-office containers filled with piles of cards that had been sent to Jacob.

She told me about him, too— who he had been, his family and their incredible strength.

Together we poured through the cards—stopping occasionally together in awe of the idea that so many individuals had hearts to hear a young child’s request; to set aside the concerns of their own lives and find the time to reach out to him.

In these hurried and divisive times this occurrence seems miraculous.

At first, I was unsure how I would work with the materials—many of the cards were hand-made out of construction paper.

The current medium I work in—repurposed wall-calendars—provides glossier paper of a heavier weight.

Later I would have the opportunity to see and bring home many—thousands—of store-bought cards and begin to envision a work that would in some way honor Jacob’s life and the profound expression of love that was born out of his being.

Might we all have such an impact in such a short time.

On a Sunday morning, I brought several of the mail trays into my living room and began sorting them.

I was in search of swaths of color—interesting textures—that could be torn and set aside into the creation of a palette that would later become the material for a collage depicting Jacob hand-in-hand with a penguin and perhaps other children who had also endured neuroblastoma.

Jonah and Adrian were intrigued with the cards—with this life—like theirs but unfairly cut short.

“Why didn’t we send a card to Jacob?” Jonah asked me sadly as he sifted through the trays examining intently the words and images.

I explained that if we had known about Jacob, we would certainly have sent him a card.

Like an analyst, Adrian set about gathering the duplicate cards. He created rows and rows of singing Santas and penguins with twirling, ribboned hats, googly-eyed snowman and Rudolfs.

There were twenty-two identical cards that when opened produced a penguin wearing a pink and grey snow hat with green gloves singing Deck the Halls.

 I listened to those songs again and again as I absorbed the cards and their messages, tears occasionally springing to my eyes in response to the many examples of what it means to truly witness another’s suffering and to respond.

Periodically Jonah came to me to show me a card—having read the inscription and wanting to share it.

He was moved by the kindness expressed and I observed his sensitivity as he tried to process the life and loss of a boy his very same age.

It seemed like no coincidence that Jacob’s mother and I shared sons born in the same year.

I was halted again and again by the words written within the cards.

I felt privileged to have access to such profound outpourings of love.

People wrote about how much they cared about Jacob—the hero they had never met. They wished that they could be a fraction as strong as he.

Some encouraged him to fight—that he could beat this. Fight Jacob, fight.

Others assured him of the presence of God in his struggle. They knew he was not alone.

With all of these people showering him with their love—he was most certainly not alone.

They told about their own lives and challenges and about the way cancer had affected their families—their children, even.

The kids who wrote shared all manner of beautiful words and expressed how much they loved the same things that Jacob loved—Christmas and penguins, Minecraft and Legos.

The heartfelt outpourings in the cards came from individuals from all social, political and socio-economic backgrounds.

There in the cards were signs of every possible way of life—all humans responding to the same thing, the experience of another.

It makes me wonder how we can do more of this—more of seeing each other, more of recognizing the many ways in which we are the same. More of living in the way that Jacob would want us to.

 

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“And now we welcome the New Year. Full of things that have never been.”— Rilke

The temperatures have dipped into the negative teens these last few days in Maine. With wet hair, I walked briefly outside this morning and within moments felt my hair stiffen into frozen, wavy strands. I ran my fingers along the rigid tresses, grabbing little sections into my still-warm palm, melting the ice crystals and making it soft again.

Before that I had been sweaty and warm practicing eagle pose in a heated yoga studio. It is a paradoxical posture that requires a twisting of both arms and legs around each other within a balancing framework and somehow has the affect of unwinding the mind. All wound up like that—gazing intently at the striped towel on the mat in front of me and arriving in a steady stance—an unexpected sense of freedom came over me. I wanted to stay right there in that tangled place.

It was as if I had been transported within myself to a precipice, ready to fly.

The roads are dusty with the disintegrating sand and salt leftover from the recent storm. The wind gusts and ribbons of snow are whisked from the drifts and cast thinly through the air—like ghosts. Back windshields of cars are hard to see through this time of year but I glimpse in one the outline of a dog frolicking about. I can see his silhouette jumping—joyful. I wish I could gather him up into my arms in an embrace.

On a dresser in our front hallway there is a stack of feathers that we’ve collected at beaches and in fields, state parks and along dirt roads. I often take them in as I pass by to go upstairs. There is one particular feather that I am most drawn to that was spotted and picked up last summer by my younger son, Adrian. Lagging behind he discovered it and just afterward fell into the mud.

The feather is long with a sturdy quill and distinct black and white markings. When I walk by, I sometimes realign it into its prettiest position.

I noticed it wasn’t on the dresser and asked if anyone had seen it. Adrian said he had been playing with it because it was his and recounted the story of how he had discovered it on his own and then ended up holding it above him in the air, safe from the mud.

I later found it among the copious Legos on the ledge by the fireplace. Our living room is strewn with these genius, rectangular modules that have my children in their grasp. The dining table is covered as well in torn papers and colorful palettes, my own obsession underway. It’s like a storm has blown through our house leaving a slew of multicolored design materials cast about in its wake.

It is an exquisite looking feather—one that might have been used as a quill pen in another era. I wanted to preserve it and saw that Adrian had been running this fingers up and down it creating greater space between the barbs. He liked the feel of it and I tried to imagine how he had managed to take it from the dresser. He must have been high up on his toes or maybe he climbed up on a chair to reach it.

We had never thought to study its markings and learn where it came from. Its size suggested that it belonged to a large bird—perhaps a bird of prey. Adrian’s original guess was that it had belonged to an osprey. We began researching various feathers and initially it seemed like it could have belonged to any of a group of larger birds; osprey, peregrine falcon, eagle or even a turkey.

Upon deeper inspection, we began to recognize the subtleties of its makeup. My older son Jonah insisted quickly that the feather belonged to an eagle based on what he saw. Adrian was more studied in his approach and wanted to take his time with deciding.

I was reminded of my own natural tendency to rely heavily on instinct and inner-knowing as the compass that guides me and also how making space for deeper observation and contemplation has confirmed what I know to be true.

The first time we saw the bald eagle out back it was a barefoot day—vastly different from today’s bitter chill. Jonah spotted it first and called out with elation as it swooped over the tallest pines and we caught intermittent glimpses of the wide wingspan through the branches.

We ran down to the dock—breathless in our excitement—as it swooped majestically through the clear, summer sky over the water. It seemed so near. We could fully make out its yellow beak and the distinctive white feathers of its head. After that we began cutting out the images of bald eagles from magazines and wildlife calendars and adopting them as significant to us.

In the years since, a large nest has appeared in a distant, mighty pine that sits on a point of land that juts out into the water at a diagonal from our dock. I often gaze out to that spot at dawn in meditation.

Though clearly having settled near us, we only rarely get a chance to experience the ravishing display of these stunning beasts. Their presence has grown more common in this area once again, yet their impression remains momentous.

My alarm chimes before the sun has risen. It is still dark out, the bed cozy. I don’t always want to get up. I always do. I pull on my layers and drift down the hallway noticing the moon spreading a glow across the yard, enhanced in these months by the reflection of snow.

Jonah and Adrian’s room is right at the top of the stairway where we still have a baby gate installed. I lock the gate at night as a precaution because of my own experience as a sleepwalking child. I once awakened alone in the garage of my childhood home and fear that Adrian has the same tendency. Once I found him sitting at the top of the stairs with his eyes open—but clearly asleep.

Sometimes I open the gate quietly to pass through in these dawn hours. Other times—feeling nimble—I silently climb over it like a robber in wool socks. As I pass by their room and navigate the gate, I am careful not to think of them—especially Adrian. If I do—our hearts so intertwined—they will awaken.

I have roughly one hour before their door will crack open and the stairs will creak and they will sleepily make their way down in their striped pajama bottoms.

I soak in the quiet like an elixir. I allow the parts of me that are not associated with my identity to expand like a vast wave wiping out the various contractions that this world—and I—have placed upon myself.

I nudge judgment out and wrap myself up instead in the tender arms of acceptance.

Their entrance is a signal for the practice to end and the application to begin. In their purity in these peaceful moments, they make it easy. I might forget throughout the day but I always come back to seeing them for what they are in their somnolent innocence.

They approach me in such different ways.

Adrian—the earlier riser—climbs and cuddles into my lap, still half-asleep, pushing my journal away. Despite his desire to keep resting, he can’t help himself and begins talking, peeling his eyes open and blinking away the sleep. He has a distinct smell when he’s just awakened—like cookies. I breathe deeply taking him in and smile at his rapid speech—like his words are running to keep up with his thoughts.

Jonah approaches more quietly and tucks himself in next to me. I take in his cherubic face trying not to break the silence. There is much to be said between us in the quiet.

Often our collective gaze turns outward toward the wall of windowed doors that look out at our tucked away cove revealing a constant state of change. We might comment on what we see—glimpses of color in the morning sky, a glow lining the tops of trees in the distance, a boat or swimmer or clammer.

In the fall we were nested together in this way on the couch when suddenly—like a scene from a nature program— a bald eagle swooped down across the water and dove for an unassuming duck floating on the still water. We all jumped to attention entranced by the unexpected scene. Adrian ran and got his little chair and pulled it up by the glass doors.

Frantic, the duck managed to completely submerge itself and dodge the eagle’s grasp.

The eagle retreated up into the sky for a moment and as soon as the duck reemerged, it dove down again fiercely. It was another near miss for the duck. We watched as the eagle flew back to its nest wondering whether it was lying in wait or had given up.

We sat for a long time in anticipation of the continuation of the saga. We hadn’t chosen sides. We only wanted to see what would happen.

The duck disappeared for a little while and finally we saw it pop up in another spot entirely. The eagle had seen it too—immediately—and came lunging toward it.

Amazingly the duck got away once again and the eagle retreated back up to its nest. We stared out into the bay for another long stretch wondering what might happen next but the drama never did resume.

I was sitting by the fire when Adrian came up behind me and tucked the feather into the back of my ponytail. I reached my hand around to feel it and make sure it was secure. I ran my fingers gently along the barbs.

A little while later, I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror and noticed it poking out like a simple headdress.

I removed it and placed it on another table—now upstairs— along with a collection of other precious finds—smooth oval stones and large, powder pink ribbed seashells.

I arranged it out in front of the other treasures—in that pretty way again—and headed back downstairs where the rooms are full of so many things yet to be made.

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“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”—Albert Einstein

Early this morning I caught a glimpse of the pumpkins on the steps of our front porch, a thin layer of snow covering one side of them—the contrast of colors, striking. Coastal Maine leapt brazenly this past week from an extended aura of summer into the arms of winter’s chill.

I look around noticing the people now bundled up in defense of the cold. Some are lamenting the rapid change in weather along with the clocks turned back—driving home from work daunting in the evening shadows, looking out for the nocturnal creatures venturing out earlier than before.

For others, the shift ushers in a deeper inhalation of brisk air, a feeling of aliveness rising up in them. There is an invitation in the ethers this time of year toward a more inward journey—enhanced by the element of fire burning hotly in woodstoves and fireplaces.

This is the season of candle lighting and a time for absorbing the few remaining bursts of color present in the foliage hanging—just barely—onto the branches of deciduous trees.

I missed the brief flurry of snow yesterday, tucked into a hospital bed and then under my own down comforter at home for much of the day. Even in minor surgery, there is a seriousness—an almost reverence—presented by the various players. It got me thinking about how in some ways our culture reflects an immense value on the preservation of and care for life. In some ways, it clearly does not.

One by one various medical staff came and talked with me.

Their mantra, “We are going to take good care of you.”

The surgeon took and squeezed my hand gently after explaining again the procedure then leaving to prepare herself. I wondered if this was her way or something she had been taught to do. It translated to me, “I care.”

I was in the prep-room for quite some time and found myself thinking about the idea of calling protection to my body. I imagined the people who I have loved—though now departed—surrounding me.

It is typical for me to linger one-part in the tangible aspects of the world while another part of me interlaces with the vast landscape of the unseen. Perhaps it is my Gemini— twins—nature that compels me in this way. Perhaps it is the distinct impression I have that nothing ever truly ends or dies—we just go on in a different way, in a different realm.

At first, I saw them in the forms they inhabited here on earth.

My grandmother on my mother’s side held her purse under her arm—there was sure to be a little bag filled with mints inside it if I needed one. I could see the steel blue eyes and grin of my paternal grandfather. My father once said of him that he left everything he touched better than he found it. I count this as one of the ways I aspire to be.

There were others, too. I imagined who they all were beyond their physical bodies— releasing them in my mind from that which had been so defining when they had lived.

Throughout my childhood, a wooden, adorned, mantel clock chimed throughout the day in my maternal grandparent’s home calling out the hours and marking the steady rhythm in which they lived. Its song warm and cheerful, like them.

It was the ubiquitous Westminster Chime that rang out in my presence for so many years of my life. I remember sleeping near it in the living room as a young girl on a pullout couch and waking in the night to the coppery tone of twelve gentle beats.

It took three tries to get an IV into my arm. I have tiny veins that want to roll away when poked. The anesthesiologist intervened and finally got it himself. I noticed a difference in the way he approached it. It seemed there was no way he wasn’t going to get it done. It made me think about the times when I have been sure that there was no way I wasn’t going to get it—something—done.

Taping the IV down tightly, he’d said, “You’ve earned this, I don’t want there to be any chance that it will come loose.”

“I’m going to take good care of you.”

There were two heated blankets covering me while I waited. I had no idea what time it was. I was hungry from fasting. I was growing tired of waiting.

Suddenly, I heard the chiming of a clock—a sound you would find in a home—not in a surgical hospital. It rang out a song that was warm and cheerful and familiar. It was the Westminster Chime announcing itself there in the medical building.

I asked the nurse about the clock and she said it had been moved there from another facility. It had lived for many years on different parts of the campus and now it was there, just outside my little room—one of the few places close enough to experience its calming, exquisite song.

 

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“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” —Anais Nin

I was wearing a favorite dress the day we closed on our house in Maine— the front beginning to fill out with my rounded, stretching, pregnant belly. This was our second attempt at ushering in a new life, the first lost just a few days before the departure for an intricately planned trip back to Spain—a place I had lived and studied in my final year of college.

I somehow blamed myself for the pregnancy ending. It was my body I had no control of and I couldn’t seem to will the hormones in the right direction. My skin crawled when people minimized the loss with their relentless insistence that it happens all of the time. They seemed not to understand my attachment to the dream—a vision that had died along with the tiny beating—I had briefly seen it beating—heart.

While I was living in Spain—with my youthful rounded face, platinum dyed blond hair—I had joined a group of students traveling and together we had boarded a ferry out of Le Havre, France heading to Ireland and spent a spooky Halloween night crossing the Celtic Channel. We played cards, smoked Fortunas and never slept.

We were greeted at dawn in Cork by a white sliver of light glimmering off the water and the rocky coastline—much like the Maine landscape. Eventually we made our way to Galway where we were met at the train station by a woman offering her home as a hostel. Boats rocked gently in the bay painting the horizon in vibrant pastels enhanced by the sun—pink, mauve and baby blue.

We slept in twos lined up together in feathered beds and woke to an Irish breakfast like that of my childhood, the table filled with fluffy eggs and buttered toast, pancakes and tea. I felt at home in a way that seemed woven within my DNA, tracing back to my Irish heritage. I thought that I could have lived there or had been there before.

We found a second hand store and bought old, woolen sweaters to keep off the chill and made our way to a bar where we mixed with the locals. I met a young man—a fellow student—who asked me what I thought about “the troubles” and the recent strides toward peace. I could hardly make out what he was saying through his thick brogue and the hum of the packed pub but I knew he was referencing the years of conflict in Northern Ireland that has spilled over into his and other parts of the world.

Later we huddled together by an enormous ventilation system of a warehouse building, trying to stay warm with the rush of air from the fans. I saw him once again a few years later, this time on the other side of the pond. We took a night-time carriage ride together through Central Park, his friend was our driver. We flipped through a copy of LIFE Magazine—where I worked at the time—marveling at the image of a giant sea creature that was featured within its pages. Only now do I fully understand how much the peace—the glorious end to the troubles—had mattered to him.

My dress on the day of the closing was argyle and matched the colors of the season with its golden yellow and pumpkin orange diamond design. I remember stopping to buy an additional layer—a grey sweater—the weekend we drove up from New York City to contemplate a move one last time. There was a chill in the air that had a way of working itself right into your bones. It was familiar and met the hover of fog and dense sea air in the perfect dance of climate and mood.

Keys in hand we drove to our new home, the route winding and long. We didn’t yet anticipate every steep hill and sharp turn, we didn’t yet know intimately the trees, the places where friends lived, the spots where cell service could be lost or found.

I had lived out a pattern of moving—either across the country or across town—every seven years for much of my life and this move fell precisely into the timing of yet another shift. Still, on that seemingly long drive from the nearest town onto the peninsula where our house sits perched on a tidal cove, I wondered whether we had made a decision that would nourish the tender nature of my soul.

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“Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” –William Wordsworth

It’s another temperate October afternoon—still damp from the night’s rain and Halloween is in the air. A flock of crows swoop back and forth high above the tallest pines cawing loudly—announcing the coming storm or some other alarm that only those within their clan can decipher. I’ve yet to bond with one of these dark and intelligent creatures—so frequently in my midst—although I did once place a shiny, silver carabiner on the top of a hedge in a gesture of friendship.

The hammock has been taken down and packed away in the shed safe now from the winds, the pollen scrubbed from the pair of white Adirondack chairs that sit in welcome throughout the seasons. I’ve placed a pot of lemon balm on a table between them—a gift from a soul sister, dug from her garden and offered as a tonic with antiseptic properties. Later I will snip some of its leaves and pour steaming water over them for tea.

We have more pumpkins than we need—two are enormous—larger than we’ve ever picked out before. There are six in total, the pair of smaller ones already tucked in the car ready for carving in the classroom tomorrow.

The bees are telling their story again. They have had to find a substitute for the few remaining flowers that I pruned this morning in the front bed and four or five or six of them have landed on the jagged mouth of a jack-o-lantern, nibbling away at the remaining pulp from yesterday’s carving. One lone bee makes its way across the stone walkway, tipping over to its side and falling and then gathering itself upright again to keep moving forward toward some unknown destination.

He must have been brave—or looking for a way back to his den— to come so near, the boys playing loudly in the front yard. I suddenly felt compelled to look behind me. I must have heard something. As I was turning and peering down the pathway on the side of our house I caught a glimpse of a fluffy, grey tail leaping away from us. I took a few steps forward and at once realized we had been just a few long strides from a large grey fox diverted with my turn toward him and now running for the shoreline.

Inside a few days later, the boys and I were gathering our things to leave for an appointment. I was talking with them and facing our front door—large and outlined in windows. My eyes were suddenly drawn beyond them through the window where I came in contact with a pair of large, black eyes peering at me and attached to a wide and round body.

At first I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing. The raccoon was so large and walking up our pathway with such confidence, it seemed he might stroll right up the steps and ring the doorbell. I composed myself and quietly alerted Jonah and Adrian and they turned slowly to face the door. With just that amount of movement our visitor scampered to hide in the line of bushes along our porch, Jonah heading quickly outside to catch one final glimpse before he scurried under the porch.

Dawn’s first light was only just beginning to reveal itself, a gentle fog hovering in the distance around a tiny island offering ambiance to the season. The house was completely still and silent except for the gentle movement of my pen across the page. I was perched in the spot I return to before the sun comes up morning after morning opening to connection and preparing myself to meet the vast energies that cross our paths in living.

In an instant I felt a presence to my right where a wall of windows looks out into our yard and the water beyond. I turned slowly—unsure of what I might find. My mind had to acclimate itself to an unusual scene once again—the presence of four majestic deer lingering within a stone’s throw of my seat. It was as if they had been looking in at me.

I looked back at them in awe—feeling my heart expand—and zeroing in on the mother’s perked tail, white on the underside. Her head turned toward me in a steady gaze, her ears at attention. In my mind I immediately felt compelled to send her a message of safety—of love, even. I thanked her for being there in a way that I hadn’t had a chance to do with the other wild creatures that seem to be circling our home coming more and more near.

I began to rise up—I don’t know why. There were two little deer along with the adults and as soon as I rose, they all began quickening their pace—moving gracefully— across the landscape away from me. The mother—in the rear of the group—looked back at me for just a moment longer than the rest. I took in the softness of her tender gaze and then watched as she caught up with the rest of the herd, wondering what other visitors I might be welcoming next.

 

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“You are here. The moon tides are here. And that’s all that matters.” —Sanober Khan

As the Winter Solstice comes more near, I have been thinking about the way in which we on this earth are bound to the sun and to the moon. I have been thinking about the big picture of our lives. I am taken with the push and pull of gravitational force that is necessary to sustain this delicate balance of the earth’s light and liquid and the way in which we are suspended—at an angle—in space just spinning and spinning. Like a sailer immersed in the rise and fall of the tides, I notice my own inner comings and goings. I imagine the rivers of my being engaged in a whimsical dance with my lunar partner—ebbing and flowing and then back again with a twirl. The more vast the scope of inner spaciousness I am able to cultivate, the greater my ability to witness this rhythmic cycle within me. I remember recently standing in front of a mirror. Emotion was coming over me like a cresting wave. I remember looking into my reflection, into my eyes. It seemed I could see all the way to the moon. I remember finally settling within myself and recognizing—this is just a tide. This is just a tide, I thought, as I so slowly and so gratefully made my way back to shore.

A friend recently shared an article  with me about the impact of very gentle micromovements in yogic practice and the potential for this subtle and nuanced work to impact healing. Apparently these very slight and attentive movements allow for the brain to track what is happening and create new neural pathways that support restoration of the places in which the body has gone off-course. I found this to be such a profound metaphor for the ways that healing and transformation have worked in my own life. I have never benefited from seeking gurus or grand interventions to make me well. Instead, I have found a steadiness of spirit in the clearing out of a too-full closet, in shoveling wood chips, in getting up with my children deep in the night when they’ve needed me. I notice that with each small act of creativity, of seeing things through, of working, of waiting, of inner-noticing, of accessing my breath, an inner-musculature has taken form and allowed me to grow more sturdy.

It gets dark at around 4:30 in this season here in Southern Maine— not long after we arrive home from school and just about when I start preparing food for dinner. We’ve turned on the music—as we often do—a few favorite 1960’s classics have me singing along as I begin sautéing our supper. Adrian has fallen deep into puzzle play and Jonah is playing around with a  ball we received as a gift when he was so little still. It looks like a small beach ball but it is actually a balloon blown up within a cloth cover. I catch Jonah’s eye while I am singing, his face lights up with a smile and I come out from behind the stove. We begin playing a game in which we each do our own set of dance moves while holding the ball and then toss the ball back to the other person while sticking our “move.” After doing one fancy turn and tossing him the ball he shouts out, “do you do ballet?” It makes me laugh. And then we are both laughing as we get sillier and sillier trying to hold our poses and the ball and balance all that we are made of as the moon makes its way higher and higher into the vast evening sky.

 

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“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” —Joseph Campbell

I am sitting at a rustic picnic bench under a sturdy wooden shelter. My legs are stretched out before me. A breeze lifts the hairs from the back of my neck brushing them across my bare shoulders, cooling me. There is a well-worn path to my right leading toward a hilly, lush trail into the woods. The sounds of birds chirping in conversation and the distant rumble of a truck delivering are surrounding me. My boys are filling jars with treasures at a morning day camp a few miles from here.

I recently meandered with a dear friend around the yard of her new home— taking in the various attributes of the land. There was a perfectly rounded sledding hill out front, a brood of chickens in the back and a home in the middle filled with windows and wonder. Surrounding us was a ring of sprawling trees. A breeze moved through these varied and magnificent beauties encompassing us as if in their embrace. Each sprawling limb was doing its part—sending the rushing air along between them. Even the tall deadened trunks—stripped of all their green for a long while now—stood in the distance holding their place in this rounded, breathing space. We wondered whether an owl might find their home in one of these stunning sculptures of nature’s unfolding. I’m taken with the power and the possibility of a circle. My breath seems to move about my body in this same circular direction—the air making its way in and expanding my abdomen, then my chest, up along my spine into the top of my head and then back down again finally settling into my sacrum. All of the spaces inside of me are transformed into a single expansive globe as my breath moves through me before finding its way out again. 

My son Jonah has become enthralled with bugs this summer. He searches for them, creating homes and sometimes bringing them to and fro in our car, around our house—like visitors. He names them and even loves some of them. Sometimes he squishes them, accidentally. Sometimes he squishes them because he is just so curious to see what happens. Moving through his fifth year, I notice him bringing more authority to his way of being. His thoughts are deepening. I observe him as closely as ever—maybe even closer—although from a greater distance. Even as he grows I notice the part of him that remains constant. There is a place in him that I recognize from when he was nestled in my arms in those very first moments—still wet from the womb. I remember that same essence from when he was a wee-toddler, my family cheering for him as he begins running for the first time down a hallway. There it is again—that dear Jonah quality—as a boisterous three year-old resisting sleep one million times over. And here  it is now—as clear as ever—as he unfolds into a school-age boy. He likes the idea of becoming a “gentleman” and he points out the “gentlemen” that we come in contact with. He notices the way they speak politely and offer to help. He notices these things ahead of me. He refers to me as a “gentle-lady” and has pointed out other gentle-ladies as we make our way through the world. He teaches me to slow down and every day—if only through this essence— he reminds me of his worth.

 I take him in—this beautiful gift-of-a-boy—and create a circular space around him in which he may expand. I try not to make the mistakes that I made when he was three years old, transitioning out of regular napping so many moons ago. Then, I tried to hold him there. I resisted and resisted and resisted. Now, I try to look ahead. I try to look ahead and I make room. I lay down my resistance to the pain that sometimes tags along with seeing your child grow. I try to lay down anything in me that might inadvertently take him away from his original essence. Like the trees, I surround him with my energy and with my love in a gentle, circular caress.