“There is love enough in this world for everybody, if people will just look.”—Kurt Vonnegut

Meet the BRCA1 gene in her 1950’s, chartreuse housedress. She adjusts her eye glasses on either side, like a prim librarian. She seems smug and maybe a little intrusive as she moves through my social media feed, intent on reprimanding any loud or loitering patrons. She might, very well, find a few of those among my friends. The BRC2 character seems more jovial, dressed in sky blue and pictured only from the waist-up—as if her expressive face holds more weight than the rest of her. She wears a striped tie around her neck, a seeming flight attendant directing attention to the card tucked in the seat in front of you.  

It’s hard to know whether it was my spinning head or the idea of someone personifying cancer genes (as advertising strategy) that creates my aversion toward all things technological. Lying in my bed, wrapped in sweaty sheets—the summer sun streaming in—I imagine a time when the ubiquity of smart-phones and all that accompany them becomes obsolete. 

Across the globe, as if choreographed in a dance, all of humanity will raise their heads in unison. Billions of hearts will swell at the depth and breadth of what has been missed. An expanse of electromagnetic energy will fall away and sink down into the earth where we are free of it, even as our breath recovers its rhythm with the rise and fall of the tides. 

I lay my head down on the reclaimed-wood, dining room table.

A decade ago, when we discovered this handcrafted piece was created from the remains of an old boathouse from our new town, we made what felt like an exorbitant purchase. The sales woman reached her hand into her pocket and threw a set of keys on the table top to demonstrate its ability to withstand scratching. This seemingly decorative piece has been the epicenter of our home ever since. We’ve shared countless pots of soup here and wrestled with weighty decisions well into the night. I’ve begged my children to use their manners between these four, sturdy legs. We’ve expressed gratitude before eating, all while Jonah and Adrian sneak spaghetti noodles, their heads tossed back, grinning like Cheshire cats. For one long stretch, Adrian seemed capable only of sitting on top of the table instead of on the bench that accompanies it. We’ve shared this table with games and crafts and puzzles that have at times come very close to inching us out completely.

My friend leaves me there and rushes home. I imagine her driving along steep and winding roads at a fast clip, intent on relieving my suffering. She returns with a tall, orange container filled with pills wrapped in silver packaging. I separate a couple capsules at the perforated edges and think about how despite our shared place in the same ditch, here she is shoveling me out. Later, the on-call doctor encourages me to take her medicine, and I marvel at the malleability of rules when compassion and desperation are at play.

In the morning when the ground is damp and while my husband still sleeps, I rise slowly out of bed, collecting my pillow as I walk to our balcony door. Outside, my bare feet get wet on the wooden surface. I hold my pillow over the side of the railing and carefully dust-off the large collection of hairs that have fallen in the night. Remembering my mother—brushing our childhood dog and releasing blond fur into the air—I imagine what she used to suggest, that birds might build a nest with my hair. 

At first, the strands are long. Eventually, as if going on a date, my husband and I drive to a barber shop in a neighboring town. I explain my situation and tears come springing to my eyes as I describe the sudden urgency I feel. The owner of the shop envelops me in a hug, skips me ahead in the line and walks me straight over to a chair. I collect my emotions as a stylist with rainbow-dyed hair and a pregnant belly turns me away from the mirror and begins removing what has become a burden. 

In the end they insist no charge, and we all wipe at our damp eyes. In a world replete with division, real-life, human connection evokes a deepened sense of what is means to see and to be seen—a reminder that all of us exist with some struggle or another.

These moments are arresting to my sense of self and they mean something. To stroll around with your current-life-challenges so readily available for others to witness evokes immense vulnerability. To navigate a road back to health in a world brimming with information—yet absent of absolutes—is humbling. 

When so much is at stake, who do you listen to?

At home, I joke with Jonah and Adrian about my resemblance to G.I. Jane. I’m not sure they understand the reference, but they assure me that in their eyes, my beauty remains intact. My buzz-cut eases them into a time when even those littler hairs will fall away and Adrian’s eyes will grow wide and dilate when I take off my hat in the evening and he looks intently at my ivory scalp. In the mornings, I dust off those little hairs on the balcony, too. I dry my feet on the thick, powder-blue rug beside the bed, hoping not to cause a stain.

When my fever sneaks up to the place where even the doctors are rattled, I surrender my children to sleep under the stars with friends. Their care is (perhaps, for the very first time) beyond my capability. I’ve lost what seems like all authority over my own well-being (much less theirs) and have been told I must go to a place brimming with germs. 

It is unimaginable to me that I can leave my bed, much less our home. 

They keep us in a pediatric room in the ER overnight with a glass door painted with storybook characters. Winnie-the-Pooh or Eeeyore were there, or maybe those were painted on the doors across the hall. 

A few days later, in my room on the 5thfloor, there is a knock at the door. I am out of bed and sitting by a window across the room. The large frame of glass allows swaths of light to come pouring in and provides a long view of an old, red-brick tower. The expanse of sky is as good a medicine as the fluids dripping through my veins. 

The man at the door is dressed like a professor with an unexpected, colorful tie hinting at something more. Somewhere in my paperwork I am listed as a Catholic and the visitor has come from the Catholic Diocese of Portland, Maine to offer his support. In a gentle voice he explains how for twenty years he was a lapsed Catholic, returned to the church through service work. With eyes that hint at both humor and pain, he assures me that my current, religious status is irrelevant to his visit. 

There is space in the way he is speaking to me, in the way he is listening. He allows room for my experience, whatever it might be.  

It is rare for me to accept this sort of offering. So often, I choose to serve as my own council. I turn inward, not in collapse, but toward an expansive world I count on for guidance and support. I turn to those who have gone before me, sinking my hand into the soft palm of my Grandfather who called me Meghan Baby and taught me to Waltz. I whisper a request for help to my Aunt Peggy who wrote You be You in a card to me when I was ten.

Maybe I reached a point in which I needed more than I’ve needed before. Maybe it was the unique nature of the space we inhabited. Or, maybe he was someone special. Whatever the reason, I began sharing with him about what it feels like to listen to the hollow sound of a basketball rebounding on pavement outside my window as I lay in bed on another beautiful, summer’s day. I relay the painful story I have been telling myself about Jonah bouncing a ball, outside alone, in juxtaposition with our endless beach days shared in summers past.

Along with my story of surrender, I release a slew of tears. His objectivity is enhanced by the absence of knowing me. I could be any mother. I could be any woman. He expresses his belief that my experience is an opportunity for Jonah and Adrian to deepen their capacity for compassion. I tell him how much I have not wanted them to worry and he insists there is good to be found in their service of me. 

On one of the darker of the sunny days, when discomfort had become like second skin, I remember contemplating the nature of suffering as a means of coping. I thought about the people—the children, especially—within this vast world who are trapped in experiences of relentless anguish. Their lives inextricably linked at birth with poverty, violence and inequity with no viable escape and no end in sight. I felt fortunate when considering the differences between our fates as well as sorrow for the injustice that allows anyone to be left to a life of pain. 

Witnessing suffering can leave us feeling powerless—as if our efforts to make an impact are only tiny drops of water in an enormous bucket in need of filling.  

My sister asked, where are the greater forces of good in all of this? She followed up with her hope—one that I share. The power greater than us reveals itself in the way it moves through us. It is present in us, as individuals, in the way we decide to engage the world. It is the witnesses who travels to the border and reports back. It is the zucchini and lentils brought by the angel friend up North—her most nourishing of foods. The healer who shows you how to open up your heart, just a little more. 

It is you and me getting to choose on any, single day who we want to be.

In the last few weeks I’ve rediscovered my equilibrium and found my footing again. I’ve   awakened early and walked outside in bare feet through damp grass to cut kale from my garden. I’ve bundled up in a yellow, rain jacket and traipsed through the woods with my friend. We compare notes about our skepticism that we might need to succumb to a supposed new and lesser normal. I assure us both—we do not have to subscribe to this notion.

Jonah and Adrian have gone back to a school where most children spent the summer at nourishing camps and exploring our gorgeous state. Instead of running back to my work I have been obsessing about food—pea shoots and arugula and home-grown tomatoes that thrived despite the plentiful weeds surrounding them. It seems as if I’ve returned from a difficult dive into the dark and murky depths of the ocean’s floor and I am rising once again to the surface, where oxygen is plentiful and my heart is ready to live.

“We are continually shaped by the forces of coincidence.” —Paul Auster

A nurse with a tidy, silver bun introduces herself and leads me into a little, curtained room. She drops a plastic bag on the bed where I will place my clothing after I’ve changed into the soft, hospital gown with the pastel pattern and the ties in the back. She is wearing a snug-fitting, lavender nursing outfit with pink, Puma sneakers. Her top has a band that snaps at the neck and leaves a little opening of skin in the front above her chest. 

Her necklace lies in the bare space and its shape reminds me of another piece of jewelry I recently noticed. It was worn by a woman who I sat next to in meditation on the day leading up to my surgery. She placed a large, rose quartz wand on the table in the center of the group pointing it toward me and when we were finished she offered me a piece of dark chocolate in a shiny wrapper for grounding purposes. She explained how the circular, bronze-toned pendant hanging from her neck was filled with intricate, geometric figures. The patterns within were each meant to correspond with the body’s own unique, inner geometry. 

Afterward, I sunk into a fluffy chair, holding a warm cup of tea. My friend who invited me there, sat across from me under a giant image of a white bird painted on a wooden board with words written across its wingspan. This sky. This sky where we live is no place to lose your wings. So love, love, love. 

Among the many things we talked about, there was one image that stayed with me. It was the vision of what happens to a caterpillar when it transforms within its cocoon into a butterfly and how first it must become within its container, like soup. The caterpillar then completes its metamorphosis into the colorful, flapping magnificence for which it is known. Even beyond its opulent contribution of beauty, the butterfly goes on and works diligently in its vital role in our ecosystem. 

The nurse’s unusual name, Sabrina, her presence and the details of her life seem strangely familiar. The story of her seven brothers and two sisters and the family compound on Mt. Desert Isle. A former life as a heart-transplant nurse. Her ex-husband, an anesthesiologist, who she said would have approved of the team caring for me. 

There is an overlapping texture to the details about her when I recount them now, as if something has happened twice. It might just be a remnant from all of the drugs. Or maybe there has been a blip in my experience of time, an inexplicable glimpse beyond the usual, linear way of seeing things. Or, I may just be coming late to the realization that Sabrina was possibly the same nurse who helped me a year and a half ago when all of this began—with the removal of a bleeding, milk-duct.  

I have a small scar where Jonah’s first tooth landed repeatedly when he nursed. He never bit me, but his tooth would rest in the same place again and again until after endless hours of nourishment, he finally wore through my skin creating a small hole. It was painful and brought on more than one bout with mastitis. I imagined it would be something I would remember intensely. And yet, it only rose to the surface of my mind with the appearance of blood in my bra.

If I compressed my breast in just the right place—in the way I used to in order to begin a flow of milk—a single, crimson droplet of blood appeared. It wasn’t clear where it was coming from which seemed to be a good thing, the absence of a sinister source. Keeping an eye on the area seemed reasonable. 

I did not worry. I withdrew my mind from this part of my body. I considered the experience evidence that most alarming symptoms amount to nothing. I was resolute in living with as few visits to sterile rooms as possible.

A radiologist slips through the curtained entrance and shares her plan to inject dye into my breast. I assumed all of the painful things would happen while I was already under and in the operating room. Sabrina had already injected anesthetic into my hand, so she could be rough with my tiny veins and, we could still be friends. Now more bee-stings.

The hot surge of fluid enters and then dissipates three times and then on the fourth the needle seems to stretch out long and pierce all the way into my chest cavity. When I flinch, the radiologist comments about how inexplicably one of the shots always seems to be more painful than the rest. She just never knows which one it will be. I’m not sure what to say. I just release Sabrina’s poor, flattened hand, which she’d offered to me and I’d taken.

Operating rooms do not appear in reality in the way they seem on television. They are more crowded, overflowing with equipment, and at the same time kind-of bare, like a very clean garage. Besides the acquiescent posture of lying on your back while everyone else is bustling around you under bright lights, your perceptions are skewed further by the quick absorption of drugs, drunk up by your veins as you are wheeled in. 

A see-through green mask is placed over my nose and mouth. I am invited into the brown eyes of the anesthesiologist as he leans over me. The picture on his ID reflects a much younger version of himself. The horseshoe necklace my surgeon wore when she came in to see me earlier is nowhere to be found. I remember considering the paradox of her chosen pendant, knowing how little reliance on luck exists in her profession. I can’t see her, but I might hear her. I’m inhaling deeply now a breath of vapors that will transport me to another realm. 

My first awareness of a return to consciousness is a swell of nausea coupled with big, wet tears pouring down my cheeks and a small sob caught in my throat. Like the rebound from a hard, double-bounce on a ping-pong ball I reenter the world, slammed back in like a rag doll. My eyes resist opening, and I am perplexed as I swim around an odd interior, spinning with darkness and the presence of this unexpected, emotional release. One of the nurses says to another, they did a lot in there, as an explanation for my blubbering. I can’t quite put my finger on what I’m feeling. If I had to name it, I’d call it grief.

The nausea has its grip on me as I travel home along dizzying, country roads. The sky is grey and overcast but all the variant shades of green have finally blended together into one vibrant line of emerald, like velvet, soft along the horizon. I’ve got my head propped on my arm, so I might escape my terrible predicament through sleep. Every time I begin to drift off, I jolt awake, my arm collapses, my head spins and my stomach threatens to empty. I think I might need to lean forward and grab the tubular, vomit bag in my purse that the nurse gave me along with my refilled, Styrofoam cup of ginger ale. 

The front garden is wet, fuchsia azaleas and lavender petals brightened by droplets of rain, the Buddha statue like a fresh, clay sculpture. I make my way into the house through the garage and open the freezer, grabbing a beaded, ice pack prepared in advance. I place my purse on a bar stool and bee-line for my bed upstairs.  

I stop in the laundry room to retrieve the freshly-washed, floral pajamas gifted from my friend. She knows, from her own experience, I will need the button-up top. I try to fit the petite sleeve over the mammoth, hospital bra strapped around my bandages. I give up, trying to imagine how they got me into the velcro contraption without my participation. 

The ice fits nicely into my throbbing armpit and rests across the front of my chest. I’ve poured myself into bed, feeling nearly liquid, like the caterpillar in the thrusts of transformation. I fall into a deep and resounding sleep.

The window in our bedroom is cracked open, its evening. Except for a soothing, drizzle of rain everything feels so still and quiet. I hear the click of a car door through the window and suddenly downstairs the doorbell rings repeatedly in the way only a child can announce their arrival.

The hum of parents talking softly travels upstairs along with a few notes on a wooden flute. I’m surprised no one stops the impromptu tune. It’s a sweet sound and I think about how Adrian’s teacher recommended this particular model instrument because of its gentleness on the ears.

Jonah crawls slowly into the bed with me, creating a wide circle to avoid any tender parts, ending with his face near mine and his legs sprawled out behind him. Adrian stands, balancing on the wooden edge of the bed frame hovering over me. We put our faces together. I tell them how well I am. They share their delight at having experienced many of their favorite things, all in one day. They smell ripe from food and fun and earth, leaving me as abruptly as they came to be cleansed and to collapse into their own, bed nests.

I sleep for much of the next day, sinking into the splendor of rest without qualification. I only get up to eat raisin bread delivered by a friend and to change-out my ice pack. Around mid-day, in a dreamy haze, I vaguely hear the doorbell ring, but ignore it. When I come downstairs a few hours later I see a vase of flowers wrapped in plastic sitting on the porch. I’m careful to open the door without knocking the delivery over and also not to stretch the underside of my arm. I use scissors to slice through the plastic and reveal a colorful display of flowers, so well-arranged they could be artificial.

Upstairs again, I venture to start a very small and light load of laundry and look at a few papers on my desk. The doorbell rings again. I walk slowly down the stairs, careful to maintain my balance and notice a woman through the glass in the door who is unfamiliar and holding something bright in her hands. I wonder if she might be selling something, although it is so rare to receive unsolicited visitors at our house, down at the end of a peninsula. 

I open the door in my mismatched outfit with the new floral pajama bottoms and still with the same top from the previous day. The woman standing there reaches her hand out and shows me a bright, orange, silk butterfly perched on the end of a metal stick. She explains how it was supposed to be included in the original, flower delivery. She has driven all the way back out to our house to make sure I received it. I tell her it really means something to me that she made the extra effort and that the butterfly arrived. I especially liked that it arrived, separately. 

I close the door, walk over to the counter and place the ornament in the vase, noticing the way the butterfly matches the lilies. I go back upstairs and climb back into my cocoon, wondering what it all means.

“Every individual soul chooses the significant people in that life.”—Brian Weiss, MD

There are very few shopping malls or large-chain book stores in the state of Maine. I prefer it this way—for the forests where I yearn to wander to remain sprawling, and the shops less-plentiful. I tend to do my acquiring locally where the parking is limited and the offerings distilled. The one exception being LL Bean’s super-sized, 24-hr campus where I once purchased a new pump for an inflatable air-mattress at midnight—the starry sky filled with moonlight and autumn’s chill, my pregnant belly loath to sleep on a deflating, rectangular balloon in our new and yet-to-be-furnished home.

Despite my preference for the quaint, I sometimes find myself in South Portland in a more heavily-populated, shopping nucleus with a few minutes to spare. Jonah, Adrian and I venture into the massive bookstore across from Macy’s with its rows of bargain books, colorful display of calendars and the latest works to top the New York Times Best Seller list.

My boys beeline for the children’s section of the discount isle where the books are immense and overflowing with colorful photos and plentiful information. They pounce on the materials about wild animals or superheroes and sprawl out on the tightly-woven, carpeted floor as if they are lounging on the wool rug at home between their two twin beds.

I hang around for a moment assessing their safety—wondering whether their bodies draped across the aisle will bother anyone—and then wander to a nearby magazine display filled with glossy art & design and travel covers. I take in the exquisite images—minimalist living rooms with flourishing, lavender orchids, photo ops of celebrities at art openings and fashion week, rugged, backpacking getaways to faraway places—take only what you’ll need.

I imagine purchasing a few, tearing out the most appealing photos and creating a collage of what I hope is yet to come—acknowledging the paradoxical desire I possess for both a deepening-connection with my fellow humans and a simultaneous extraction from the relentless connectivity of modern life.

Recently Jonah was exploring the webpage Google Earth. We were having a discussion about the Dalai Lama and we opened the program because I wanted to show him where Tibet was located on a map. He took the little, yellow-person icon from the right corner of the screen and dropped it into the mountainous region to the northeast of India. When the frame opened-up to a satellite view we saw the image of two backpacks lying on a mountain peak—the shadows of two hikers hovering over the packs as captured by a lens in space.

It illustrated so succinctly a symbolic form for the places and manner in which I would still like to go. It captured the dream of unplugged connection.

Walking away from the magazine isle empty-handed and toward a display table, I thought about the deceptive-promise of a polished life. I thought about how so-much of what I value and what has made life meaningful to me could be interpreted as too-ordinary—too-messy, or even too-traumatic—to be depicted as something to aspire to as a benchmark on the pathway to greater contentment.

I also contemplated what it means to weigh the desire-for-more against a backward-trust-fall-into-the-moment—brothers lying on the floor-of-a-store turning pages on a September afternoon between appointments tipping the scales heavily.

I like to believe that we have the opportunity in life to grow through joyful expressions and experiences—that we might remember our divinity without having to pass through a doorway of pain. And yet, some of the most challenging experiences of my life have propelled me infinitely farther into my capacity for compassion than any of the chapters graced with ease.

It is unusual for me to buy three books for myself at once, especially when they each explore—from diverse perspectives—the topic of personal-evolution, although I am almost always reading something in this genre.

I was sucked-in by the circular sticker on the front cover promising that if I bought two, I would receive a third book for free—a bibliophile’s extra donut in the baker’s dozen.

Deciding to purchase the one with the sticker was an obvious choice. I had read one of Brené Brown’s other works and was a believer in her stepping-into-the-arena message.

Her research and the book I had read were inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s thoughts on celebrating the brave few who expose themselves to vulnerability through expressions of their most daring, truest works—regardless of outcome—while unmasking the critics who cast judgement from the sidelines.

Reading Daring Greatly helped me to begin telling the truth of my experiences and showed me how-to-know who could be entrusted with those personal discoveries. This book invited me to live and create at a level that was measured by my own criteria and not by the model of the masses.

I had never connected with the fact that Brené Brown was from Texas—a place for which I have complex feelings—and I-for-certain had no-idea I would be in the Lone Star State anytime soon and specifically in her city, Houston.

The second book I chose was sitting in clearly the wrong spot in front of Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth—one of the most transformative reads of my life. Someone had obviously picked the book up, decided against it and put it back incorrectly on the wrong shelf.

I followed-suit, picking it up and placing it back down again several times—in hesitation— wondering why Eckhart Tolle hadn’t written anything new, anyway.

One of his brilliant books would have been an easier selection.

I was both weary of the subject matter—wanting so much to sink-into this lifetime—and somehow feeling like the book wouldn’t let me leave without its presence in my hand. I had read another title more than fifteen years ago by the same author—a psychiatrist who utilizes past-life-regression to assist people in overcoming obstacles in their lives. He was a Columbia University and Yale Medical School graduate who had risked his credibility in order to explore an esoteric path that lead to his blossoming life and the healing of many people.

Some explain away the idea of experiences from past-lifetimes impacting our current lives as illusions created by the subconscious mind. Even so, I found this author’s first book compelling—especially relating to the feeling of having a deeper knowledge of some people beyond our current, shared life-experiences.

I remember once meeting someone for the first time and the thought immediately coming to my mind—Oh, there you are.

I succumbed and added the book to my pile.

The third choice was a less-complicated selection—recommended by a woman whom I admire and who recently lost her dearest friend to cancer. She has been utilizing the wisdom of the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu in their Book of Joy to wade through her grief.

I stumbled upon a talk given by the Dalai Lama in Central Park in New York City in the summer of 1999. Although I was on the very outside of the many rows encasing him, his simple message of compassion and impermanence—his gentle presence and wisdom—has stayed with me.

I was eager to learn from him again.

At the check-out there was a plentiful display of candy and tchotchkes and the news that my particular book choices did not qualify for the sale mentioned on the sticker.

I felt like I was playing a game of whac-a-mole with Jonah and Adrian—keeping their hands away from the many tempting treats and toys as I chatted with the cashier about the confusion over the sale.

I shrugged off the full-price status of my purchase and gathered my books along with a stack I had bought for the boys.

The expansive parking lot and the inside of my car radiated heat as we climbed back in—Jonah and Adrian finding a good spot for their books in the seat between them while I tucked mine on the floor beside me.

Labor Day Weekend and one-final, end-of-summer getaway were on the horizon.

All was well.

 

** Due to the lengthy nature of this story and the desire to do justice to the nuances, I’ve decided to break it up into a few installments. I hope you will enjoy my journey through these three books and the way they spoke-to and supported me during a difficult time caring for my mother who is struggling with a sudden illness. Thank you for any good thoughts of healing you might send her way.

 

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“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”—Loren Eiseley

The sky is rumbling—ever-so-slightly and then boorishly—a steady, sonorous rain falling placidly, spread thin through lush, velvety-green, pine branches, landing upon lavender flower petals then making its way to the ground—drunk up by a thirsty earth grown parched from endless days of summer’s swelter.

The resting Buddha’s chalky-white surface transforms in the garden—gradually revealing itself as the wet, clay sculpture of its inception. I am reminded of a recent attempt to position Jonah and Adrian there next to the Buddha for a photograph marking their first day of school—to include the statue as one of my own, between the two of them.

They insisted on hiding her from the sight of the lens and sitting on her head and teasing me while I begged them to move to either side of her, laughing and finally giving up.

They love nothing more than to turn my attempts at keeping them in some-sort-of-order into bubbling amusement—sometimes my eyes will change from serious to lit-up, along with the hint of a smile, in response to their innocent preference for fun and antics. Jonah—especially—revels in pointing out this shift.

It makes me smile, now, thinking about them. Remembering all of the many ways they challenge me—the way they still need me and yet covet their burgeoning independence like a shiny, precious jewel nestled in a little pouch within their heart-space—pulsing out the colors and rhythms of their lives—Jonah in his graceful, cerulean dance with destiny, Adrian marching forth, staff in hand, grounded and golden.

Seagull feathers from countless days of beach-combing are scattered about the front porch—wide spaces flare outward between the curling, silvery barbs. I admire their gnarly appeal—textured and engrossing in their imperfection and think about the stark contrast of these castaways with the delicate plume that I keep in my car with its smooth surface and intricate design.

I rubbed it across my cheek recently in comparison, experiencing its softness and considering how-on-earth the thick and sturdy quill could ever have been attached to an actual bird.

I used to have a rule for myself that I must submerge my being in any body of water I came across. With the exception of New York Harbor and the East River—when I lived near these two heavily-trafficked and perhaps less-than-cleanly waterways—this held true for nearly a decade.

It didn’t matter the season or the temperature or the circumstances, although, I was no member of a Polar Bear Club.

I viewed the presence of water—of rivers and ponds and lakes and especially the ocean—as evidence of the miraculous. I thought of them as sacred spaces infused with a higher energy that could only be manifested by an intelligent, creative consciousness.

I especially felt drawn to saltwater and while a dip-in-a-lake could feel nice there was nothing that could quite compare to the presence of salt left-gritty on the surface of my skin—the stickiness of its residence in my hair, the remnants of its grounding force upon my heart.

It felt like a violation of my soul to pass up the opportunity to make contact with something that felt so holy. I rarely articulated anything like this to anyone around me. I was just a free-spirit—a wild child—with a rose-colored, magic bag and an extra set of clothes wherever I went.

I didn’t always swim but I always got in—at least up to my knees or thighs if I could hike a skirt up. Living in the northeast, it meant many experiences diving into frigid liquid and then quickly reemerging—breathless from the cold.

I especially loved the way icy water would make my heart race—like I’d just run a marathon but without all of the effort. It always felt worthwhile, as if I had stroked a wild animal across the forehead.

I cannot remember the exact moment in which I allowed this self-imposed directive to fall away, although I do know it at least in-part had to do with the discomfort of changing diapers, cold and shivering, in a wet bathing suit. To be clear, I did still go into water—especially warm water—but I had become more timid, more motherly about it.

I imagine it must have been a gradual release to have let-go-of something so intrinsic to who I was in those years.

That usually is the way of change—over time, slowly, the manner in which we proceed through life, transforms us.

We become something new—without even knowing it.

In Maine, the beaches vary greatly in their qualities and substance. If you’ve seen one, you have not seen them all.

There is one beach I’ve long considered a favorite that appears like a desert in its breadth of sand. I ventured there often when Jonah and Adrian were pre-school age—this was before I discovered the closer path to the shoreline. I would layer-up with a backpack and our lunches and blankets and buckets—and sometimes even Adrian up on my hip—and trudge like a camel slowly across the football-field length of sand shouting out encouragement to Jonah who lagged behind me with his wave board on a string.

We’re almost there!

The destination tide pool appeared like a mirage in the distance.

The beauty there is vast and will take your breath away in the late afternoon when the sun dips down and the water mirrors light—like glass—and your child walks silhouetted back to the car.

Another beach—across the bridge where enormous Navy ships are constructed—has large rolling waves, long stretches of soft, white sand lined with sun-bleached driftwood and a frigid lagoon with a current running through it. It seems like you might be able to ride the current like a water-slide but it’s an illusion and just beneath the surface are a path of jagged rocks.

There are beaches with large collections of shells and some with extremely shiny, vibrant stones. There are even beaches that feel like lakes with higher water temperatures and only the slightest sound of lapping-water on the shore.

In the last weeks before the start of school it was tempting to begin counting down—to get organized—to shop and re-establish a bedtime routine. I decided to forgo almost all of that. I recognized the call of my spirit to instead prepare for the coming, colder months and the more in-breath existence with one last monumental outbreath and the application of a thick layer of salt and warmth on the many sheaths of me.

I decided that Jonah and Adrian would benefit from the same.

We managed to traverse one beach or another for a long stretch of days in a row—doing the work of packing and driving and loading and unloading the car and piling sandy towels and bathing suits into the washing machine late into the night only to rise and do just the same the following day.

On the first of those days—ears all-filled-up with the long-summer sounds of bantering brothers—I strolled alone down a nearly empty stretch of sand re-discovering my breath and sweeping away the debris that had been building in my body and mind.

As I walked, I noticed the spaces within me—especially within my chest—expanding and my tanned, bare feet sinking more deeply into the soft, warm sand.

I stopped occasionally to notice where I was exactly—in a magnificent place on an incredible planet.

I watched Jonah and Adrian in the distance—marionettes leaping along the water’s edge. Strolling back, I bent down every now-and-then to collect a feather—this beach particularly full of them.

Finally reaching Jonah and Adrian, I told them I was coming in.

The water couldn’t have been more that 50-something degrees as is common in some parts of Maine. I inched my way in—icy cold waves meeting me at the shins, then the waist. My sons beckoned me to jump in more quickly—balking at my trepidation. I lifted my ribcage up long and away from the waves, stood on my tippy-toes trying to put off the inevitable chill and then suddenly—realizing the futility of my efforts—I dove into the crest of a large wave. The powerful swirl of water curled over me, pulling at my bathing suit and elevating my heart rate fast. Emerging, I could taste salt on my lips as I struggled to stand up—readjusting my suit and looking to make sure my boys were safe.

I was both incredibly aware of the frigid water and in some ways not experiencing it at all.

I was in it but not fully succumbing to its numbing potential. The shivers would come later.

Sometimes at night, I will put my hand on Jonah’s chest and ask him how his heart is. It’s my way of inquiring whether he feels the need to close-himself-off to this sometimes-harsh world.

I massage my hand quickly back and forth across his chest as if I could vibrate away any pain he might be experiencing in living.

Being tossed about in the waves felt like someone had done that to me—like they had shaken my heart free from all that was gripping it.

Driving home the car was quiet—Jonah engrossed in a book, Adrian gazing out the window.

I didn’t know then that I would be drawn into the sea again-and-again in a series of saltwater baptisms at each of the many beach-outings we made in the coming days. I am less inclined at this point in my life to make hard-and-fast rules for myself and so in that moment I was only aware of that single, nourishing communion with the waves and it, alone, was enough.

The fields of goldenrod lining the seagrass marshes on the road home seemed to glow in the path of diminishing light and the occasional tall bursts of ironweed splashed their vibrant-purple hues across the landscape like an end-of-summer firework finale.

 

 

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“O Joy! that in our embers is something that doth live.” —William Wordsworth

Driven from the woods by a well-meaning park ranger warning of the brown tail moths shedding their meddlesome hairs along the coast of Maine this season, I find myself now at a picnic bench in a farm field.

I’m looking out at a fenced pasture, peppered with yellow flowers—buttercups, I think—contained, yet empty except for a light blue tractor in the distance making its way back and forth across the landscape in some seasonal chore. The Casco Bay stretches out behind me just beyond a thick row of trees so that I cannot view this favorite, rocky spot where I sometimes come with my boys to skip rocks and take them in as they test their courage and agility.

The air is warm and thick—welcoming to the black flies that bother my face every now and then. The birds are deep in boisterous conversation and suddenly they quiet all at once as if in acknowledgement of some other presence listening on. One particular bird—a Yellow-headed Blackbird, I think—has the most to say and sounds almost robotic in his delivery. I could sit all day trying to decipher their messages, the individual meaning of these numinous sounds in my midst.

A few weeks back my friend was grieving. A group gathered at her home. It was a day most unlike this one. It was quite cool and drizzling rain. Maine can be so changing like that—most places can be. When I arrived, there was a small bonfire being tended out back. There was plentiful food in the kitchen, people speaking in lower tones than they normally would in our friend’s home. I spent some time inside and then gradually found my way out to the blazing fire.

The yard sits on the cusp of a wooded area surrounded by sprawling trees—some are alive and thriving—mostly Pines. Others are long dead and remain like towering sculptures—like art—stretching up into the sky. There was a pile of twigs and branches, bark and weathered logs just beyond the edge of the yard being drawn from and placed onto the bonfire keeping it going and the heavy moisture in the air at bay.

I joined in readily, finding my place in tending to the heat—the heart— of this place that remains within each of us even in our suffering. With each piece of wood that I added, each ember I stoked, I began tending to the spirit of my friend and to her home and family. Some of the children were barefooted despite the cool temperatures. I took in the nature of their soiled feet, the freedom they had in this company to just be. Many of them had found a stick to do their very own tending and roasting, unaware of the matter at hand.

The rain came down more strongly at times and then dissipated again, resting in a mist. I wasn’t particularly well-clothed for the conditions but I felt very, very warm and at peace. I had a hood, but kept it down, wanting to feel the dampness on my hair and face. It felt just right to be there keeping the fire going. I could have stood there well into the night.

A few years ago, my husband decided to have a large, old stump ground out of our yard. He made the arrangements without my knowing. He had no idea how much I loved that old stump! I mourned its departure, my heart sinking when I looked at the empty space where it had been. To me, it had been breathing. It had been a memory of something from long ago. It was just beautiful.

My husband was so sorry when he realized. A large circle of sawdust remained in our yard where it had been, never filling in with grass—as if in protest, the tree still grasping to be a part of this life.

A few days after the gathering at my friend’s home, and on the last day of school for my children, I began lining the circle of dust where the stump had been with rocks, creating an impromptu fire pit suited for the blustery day. I felt a little anxious about starting a fire with the gusts that were coming across the shoreline and through our yard.

Jonah and Adrian were deep in play out front. Occasionally they would run in their bare feet into the back checking in on me and noting my progress. When I was finally ready to start the fire, I asked Jonah what he thought—whether he thought it was safe to light a fire in the wind. He is still so young—only, seven—and yet, I trust his instincts about so many things. He thought it would be ok and so did I, ultimately, so I set forth in creating a tiny, slowly burning blaze and tending to it so that it was just big enough so we could roast marshmallows.

I ended up sitting by that simmering fire for hours and hours, gazing at the orange and crimson embers. At times it would get a little scary with the wind kicking up. I would pile a few small logs on to keep the ashes down.

I sat and I contemplated the tending of my own inner fire, of my own heart and all that I hold within me as sacred. There are so many dreams, so many sorrows, so much joy and love resting right in there in the center of me to be kept tenderly in a steady glow.

Strangely—or not strangely at all—it has begun raining here in this field as I have been writing and I have moved into the back of my car with only the hatchback covering me. The climate of my life—of all of our lives—is always changing. Whatever the weather, I plan to keep tending, to keep nourishing that which is golden and glowing within me. I plan to keep stoking the fire so that I might always stay good and warm.

 

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“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.” —Louisa May Alcott

I’ve just come off of another breathtaking weekend with the brave and beautiful souls in my yoga teacher training. I’m still in my pjs curled up in a blanket on the couch though it is nearing noon. My kitty Autumn is sprawled out on our ottoman giving herself a bath with my legs stretched out beside her. Every few moments if I glance at her, she will stop her bathing and stare back at me with her sparkly green eyes—like a human. A drizzly, foggy landscape is to my right through our glass doors—our back porch seeming as if it were just painted with a thin coat of water glazing the grey, wooden boards. Chip Hartranft’s nuanced translation of The Yoga Sutra is sitting next to me, and my day calendar, too—nearly overflowing with the many activities and commitments to come in the weeks before summer’s arrival. My energy is still buzzing inside from the flood of information I received both from Chip himself as our guest teacher this weekend as well as from my very own inner teacher who showed up ready to witness as well. Sometimes I feel that I have come so far in my inner unfolding. Other times it seems that I have only just begun. I looked on with curiosity at what Chip decided to write in my book when he offered to sign my copy. “To Meghan, A new friend on this pathless path,” he wrote. At first, I couldn’t quite make out the word “pathless” in his inscription—the “a” only very lightly recorded, almost skipped over. When I did finally connect with what he had shared, his words resonated deeply with this sensation of having traveled far and having just begun—like the paradox of pure-awareness with its description of having no qualities at all.

Although I feel deeply joyful and immensely grateful this morning, I have been thinking about grief. On Sunday, there was a yoga class offered before our training would begin. Knowing that we would be sitting for many hours I felt compelled to attend the class, to interact with the soreness in my body that I felt from the previous day and clear my mind—making room for more input of the dense information in our studies. Leading the class was a teacher I had never met. He had trained with one of my teachers and so his way was somewhat familiar and very precise. He was warm and kind but very much offered a blank slate in his teaching. I was able to fall deeply into a meditative experience of my practice dropping my eyes closed and nearly forgetting there were others in the room—my breath became long and far reaching, the gripping I felt around my heart for leaving my boys on a Sunday began uncurling. It was a strenuous practice with a focus on hip and heart openings. Our hips being the primary home of historical pain, the heart the place where we retract when love feels withheld, I might have known what was to come.

We were nearing the end of our practice, my mind was still. Lying on our backs, the lights were dimmed. I noticed a space in the back of my throat begin to soften and tears slowly heating up and coming to the corner of my eyes, my face felt very full and warm. My heart seemed to grow larger and larger like a belt buckle was being undone from having been tightened around it. Waves of energy passed through me and I allowed them to arrive like a gushing river through a dam being opened knowing its way straight to the sea. I wasn’t thinking about anything or feeling sad, I was just allowing these ancient energies that I no longer needed to hold to come through me like a storm—though it wasn’t violent at all. I was perfectly quiet in all of this. It was incredibly freeing to let go and in the end there was one image that came before me. In my mind’s eye, I experienced a thin layer of glittery dusty rain falling away from my body and there grounded on the yoga mat in the silent studio, I could feel the dust settle around me and be absorbed right up by the earth beneath me in its infinite wisdom.