“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”—Socrates

There may be no more-lovely scene than autumn’s golden leaves, lit-up in streams of morning sun. Amber and honey, scarlet and peach, ripen the landscape in a contradictory expression of what it means to brighten into the highest form, even in the midst of imminent surrender.  

Some trees are so radiant in this season they appear like giant lollipops or glowing fountains upon hills and in backyards. They seem to burst into view—gentle fireworks landing in an offering of hope and majesty. It is hard to imagine the way we just move past these displays, as if this revolution of painted glory is somehow made to be normal. It is hard to imagine that we do not stop and gasp in awe. 

When the mail truck drives down the driveway just before I’ve pulled in, I wait at the end in the little cove by the mailbox. As it comes back toward me, the wheels of the truck kick-up fallen leaves, like a boat’s wake, caught in the afternoon sun and returned to the grey pavement like a colorful carpet.

A mother pushes a carriage around a corner, framed by a forest of trees, lush and in various states of metamorphosis. Witnessing her, I am transported in time, observing myself pushing Jonah, in his little blue car, in the very same spot. If only there had been an odometer so I could know the number of miles we traveled, our azure silhouette juxtaposed with the golden backdrop. I could cry at the memory but find myself smiling instead. I move away from the steep sorrow of time’s fast pace toward the level ground of honor for what has been.  

Walking on a country road on a brisk day I notice a tree whose base is surrounded by a blanket of fluffy, dandelion-yellow leaves. They seem to have fallen in a perfect circle, as if they dropped off all at once. I imagine reaching my arms down into them, gathering them up and tossing them into the air, like confetti. Up ahead I see two towering trees that are completely bare, one on either side of the deserted road. I notice how different their forms are from one another. The one on the left side is rounded with upsweeping branches. The other, on the right, is stiffer with arms jutting out at sharp angles and upward. I consider whether I can see who they are more fully without the intensity of color getting in the way.

There have been fall days when the clouds have hung so low it seems as if they are forming a second story, a ceiling, over the tops of the tallest pine trees. These willowy beasts have been wide, too, and mountainous. I have found myself hypnotized by their pace and capacity to bring attention to the vast, cornflower blue sky. 

I am given a little slip of pastel-yellow paper that I scan in front of a computer to announce my arrival. There are a few dressing rooms to choose from with photographs of flowers on the doors. I often enter the room with the lavender pansies and where the rubber wrist band that holds a key to the locker is purple. Whether I am a creature of habit or partial to the design palette, I’m not sure which. I change into two, medical gowns leaving on my floral leggings. One is white with little snowflakes sprinkled all over and the other is pale blue and is worn like a robe. There is a bright light in the tiny, changing room, good for checking in the full-length mirror for the return of my eyelashes and noticing the other ways in which my body is coming back into bloom.  

I sit in the waiting room with a book on my lap. I have a pencil tucked in between the pages and from time to time I put little brackets around passages that make my heart beat a touch faster. I highlight the lines in which the author shares revelations that any one of us might discover if we quiet ourselves long enough to listen. It reminds me of the idea that meditation, at its core, is an opportunity to drop-in to the place within each of us connected to infinite wisdom. When we return, we carry around a remnant of that place informing all of the many ways that we exist in the world. Sometimes we can recognize these fragments of the divine in others.

Later, I will meet with a doctor who I have never met before. I imagine us being introduced in a social context and consider the surreal nature of his request that I take down my gown, so he can examine my breast, within one minute of meeting me. Noticing my book, he asks about it. I wonder if he really wants to know and whether I should try to explain. He listens awkwardly as I tell him about the memoir, a story of a Stanford Medical School doctor and his attempt to integrate Native American healing techniques with western medicine. He flashes a smile at me as if we are speed dating and responds with disinterest. 

The treatment room feels like a planetarium with a wide, circular ceiling that hosts an array of equipment and a long table centered in the middle. I hang my robe on a hook and place my book on a chair, faced down. I am offered a warm blanket and accept it. I have learned just how to place my body on the metal table so that the various wedges land beneath my upper legs and my knees. My arms reach up over my head and grab onto two handles that feel like the tops of ski polls. The technician who ran the half-marathon a few weekends before places a rubber band around my feet to keep them in position and wraps my arms in a warm blanket. 

I never thought my first tattoos would be imprinted by medical staff at a hospital. I have imagined recording the initials of the ones I love on my wrists or ankles, an elegant tree or blossom along the curve of my arm. There are Latin phrases that have resonated so deeply in me, I have considered imprinting them onto my body for emphasis; ways of living I would like to be reminded of whenever I look down upon my skin. Instead I have been marked with three black dots. Two on either side of my ribcage and one around my sternum. Like a period in a sentence, let them represent the end of something, and the beginning.   

The lights go out momentarily and I gaze up at a ceiling that has been lit from behind with six panels creating an illuminated, spring scene. There are hints of trees along the edges with bright, green leaves and a cheery sky with languid clouds. I imagine the display coming to life—the clouds moving across the scene—and wonder what it would be like if the landscape could reflect the weather patterns of the patients who have gazed up at it.  

One of the machines makes a soft humming sound and begins moving toward me from the side. It hovers over me and then begins moving up the length of my body beginning from around my waist. As it moves upward, I can see my reflection in the glass surface—my bare chest and then my face are mirrored back to me with green lines delineating my skin like something out of Star Trek. Catching site of myself, I memorize this unusual perspective and chat with the technician with the coral-red scrubs while she lines up my tattoos with the map of my treatment. Whenever she wears this color, I think about how I would like to buy something in a similar hue—an invitation to the energy it creates. One of vitality and strength. She comments on the parts of me she can see—my pretty bracelets and jeans with holes in them. I notice her enviably long eyelashes and feel my body soften with the comfort of warmth in the room. On the last day we say our farewells and with a twist on regular etiquette we all express how much we hope to never see one another again.    

This is the sliver of time in Maine when the sky at sunrise across the horizon is so vibrantly pink it is a reminder that all of the most luminous colors really can be found in the natural world. If you catch this light on a damp morning through a thick forest, the contrast with saturated bark might take your breath away. It can stop you in your tracks and tumble you in the direction of creation all at once. It is neither a time of clear inhale, nor exhale. Rather, it is a string of moments, woven together and priming us, for the expansion we will be enacting, even as our roots penetrate into the depths of our beings, where all of the magic happens.

“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.

“Our soulmate is the one who makes life come to life.”—Richard Bach

Jonah’s white, wrinkled button-down shirt and navy-blue pants hang on the laundry room door, the only space in the house with its original paint color. It’s also the only room upstairs without a window and has wallpaper trim depicting a line of clothing hung in a field, blowing in a breeze. 

I am looking around for a dress shirt for Jonah, without stains and perhaps with long enough sleeves to reach his wrists, two hard to come by traits at the end of a school year in which he has been stretching out like a sapling. Often when I wake him, raising the sky-blue blinds, I notice his legs sprawled out across his sheets and wonder how long his new bed will last.

In the closet he shares with Adrian, the shelves are lined with old, snow boots and a basket filled with soccer cleats and water shoes in every size imaginable. There is a drawing Jonah made when he first began creating images of the human form, taped and hanging from a shelf. It’s a self-portrait and reminds me of how children come here knowing exactly how powerful and how perfectly-beautiful they are. The body of the figure is a large, vertical oval filled up with a series of colorful shapes, all integrated, like a stained-glass window. It’s as if he was pointing out the magnitude of his inner-world, the vast interior of us all. He also happens to have drawn himself with a wide smile and crazy hair. His limbs are rectangular, a seeming afterthought to what he views as the center of himself, the important part where he is bright and complete.

The drawing falls occasionally and when I find it on the floor, I either prop it back up on the shelf or go looking for tape to make it more secure. 

There is a second closet in what is now a study with a wall-to-wall, window seat for reading and a large, sliding wooden door. I still hang a few of Jonah’s clothing in there. Discovering a couple of options, I finally decide on long-sleeves given the cold air that comes draping down the Maine coastline with the setting sun, like a damp blanket.

The two closets are connected by a (secret) passageway that has provided endless entertainment and intrigue to children visiting our home. Sometimes I’ll listen from downstairs as a pack of kids go running and crawling between the doors and the narrow opening on the far side of the closet. When I hear one of the doors slam with excitement, I wait for a cry to follow—fingers inadvertently caught. I don’t remember this ever, actually, happening. Just a fear of mine that it might.

I think about leaving the ironing for afterschool and before the concert but decide to get it out of the way. Filled with uncertainty, my mind has been scattered in this blur of weeks, gone by like a subliminal-flash on a movie screen. The tactile experience of household exertion gives weight to my wandering thoughts, tying my drifting energy down like a balloon connected with a slip-knot at my wrist.

Adrian chooses seats for us in the front row where folding chairs are lined up in the auditorium. We settle in not more than five feet from the stage and near a row of steps where Jonah’s class will later stand, clapping out extraordinary rhythms, singing in rounds. We will somehow, magically, be lined-up. Mother and son, face-to-face, in a way we could not have planned. 

For now, looking up at the stage, chairs and music stands are set up in two, arching rows on either side of each other with the violins on the left facing the cellos on the right, forming a semi-circle. The room fills up quickly and the lights are dimmed. Adrian is vibrating with excitement next to me, chatting with a friend. I lean toward him, reminding him not to talk during the concert. Jonah walks onto the stage with his classmates and sits to my left, in the second chair in the second row. Unless I contort my body, I cannot see his face when he is seated. I can see his high-water, navy-blue pants and grey sneakers—new but already shabby. I never seem to prioritize the purchase of dress shoes and take comfort in the fact that the color, at least, is neutral. 

Just before the start of the concert, my friend, an oncologist, rushes in and sits in the seat behind me. I can almost feel my ponytail begin to burn, as if under a spotlight, as if his presence alone portends my future hair-loss. I won’t find out until the following morning about my test-results and my doctor’s ardent recommendation for chemotherapy. I will wish I never knew about the option of freezing my scalp as a means of preserving my hair.  

It would be so much easier to just surrender.

I imagine my friends within the wellness community nudging me toward another way. Haven’t I cured endless sore throats, knee injuries and avoided the flu with my powerful mind? Adrian loves to tell people about the time Jonah had a terrible, stomach bug and how I crawled into his bed with him for comfort, lying next to him, cheek to cheek, never succumbing to the illness.

I had faith in the power of love to protect me.      

In reality, my holistic-minded friends say, do what you need to do. They trust my intuition and suggest that, some combination of treatment is probably best. They tell me about their colleague who is receiving palliative care. They bolster me with offerings of nourishing foods, herbs and flower essences. They transmit their palpable, energetic vibes.

Plentiful affirmations are coming my way. You will come through this. Stronger. Wiser. Happier. I wonder how much more of these things a person is supposed to be.  

Maybe it was the cigarettes, smoke-inhaled in my 20’s in bars at all hours of the night after the towers came down. Or the anger—expressed fervently in response to the ubiquitous, mental-load thrust on women, on mothers, in the modern world. Perhaps my implacable call to nurture is to blame. Shouldn’t the copious consumption of anti-oxidants in the last decade, my diligent morning meditations, have balanced this all out? 

The resonant peace, deep within my bones, has to count for something.  

I decide to blame Glyphosate and send a text off to my friend who joins me in this abhorrent club. You did nothing wrong. You did nothing wrong. You did nothing wrong. I encourage her to rest and I take solace in the idea that life is a co-creation with forces at work I will never fully grasp. I listen for the still-deeper, whispers of my own inner-voice. I am pointed in the direction of our collective experience. In this construct, all we encounter individually is shared in the whole of our universal, energetic body. I am not alone.

At the concert, I listen to songs Jonah has been practicing for months and notice the tempo is much slower than his regular pace at home. I hold my breath for all of the students, noticing their heightened presence, a vast contrast to the relaxed way in which they hang-around at pick-up—knocking each other off of benches and hanging from a tree branch near the parking lot, their backpacks strewn about on the ground. I often have to go looking for Jonah in the school café where, upon dismissal, he has taken to picking out a roll, slathering it with butter and consuming it as we walk to the car.  

Their bows move in remarkable unison. Many play without looking at their sheet music—gazing at each other across the room and at times out into the audience. They have accomplished the ability to collaborate and their capacity to play in steady-unison sends chills up my arms. Their teacher turns to the audience and shares how one student, Jonah’s friend with the golden eyes, came into class a few months prior playing around with the notes in an arrangement usually reserved for older students. She decided this class was ready to take it on.

They begin plucking out a group of familiar notes and the audience becomes captivated by a song most everyone knows. Another teacher joins in on his guitar and the conductor adds her violin. Eventually, the students put down their instruments and begin singing. Their words come out in an authentic tenor, almost as if they are not engaged in a performance. They sound like themselves, like they are using their exquisite, everyday voices. The source of the melody seems to be channeled straight from the wide, oval girth of their colorful inner-bodies. 

I absorb this truth of them, hoping they might always be so in-touch with their original natures.

My face grows hot with emotion. I shift in my seat and make a conscious effort to usher the intense feeling rushing through me around my body where it finally makes its exit through my pores. 

I won’t cry, I won’t cry. No, I won’t, shed a tear. Just as long, as you stand, stand by me.

I have been observing the kind-way of a violinist in the front row since nursery school. I admire her sweet, side-bun, done-up for the occasion. A tune created exclusively with finger-plucking, lightens my heart. 

When the strings part of the concert is finished, the students place their bows on the music stands and make their way down to the row of steps in front of us. Jonah is standing in the front row directly before me. I could reach out and touch him. We smile at each other and I notice the way his face lights up in waves, first his eyes brightening and then his lips and entire mouth following. He looks at me in this way, multiple times, as he waits for his classmates to find their places. It seems as if it could have been just him and me, alone, in that big auditorium.

Finally, we come to the song I’ve been anticipating. The first time Jonah rehearsed it at home, he was moving in and out of my view in the doorframe of the laundry room while I folded clothing. I was taken-aback by his capacity to embrace a passionate voice. I could tell by his grin he knew he was presenting differently than I had ever witnessed him. He suddenly seemed more mature, more his own person. The scope of his private experiences, separate from me, seemed to be expanding exponentially.

Even despite my previous emotion, I didn’t expect my heart to contract so mightily when the music began. If cancer does one thing, it frames your life. It reminds you that time is fleeting and all we really have are individual moments in which to see people, exactly as they are. It also shows you how you can endure way-more than you think you can. 

Beaming in his white button-down, Jonah begins singing to me about this very thing. He looks into my eyes, into my soul, really, with his sparkling, baby-blues. 

If you love somebody, better tell them why they’re here.

Rocking a little, side-to-side, he continues smiling, the message far lighter to him than it is to me. 

My breath catches in my throat and I can hardly contain myself, tears immediately springing to my eyes. My husband notices a shift in the energy surrounding him as if the air has become more humid and turns toward me. It takes Jonah a moment to recognize what is happening. Then I see a brief flash of revelation cross his face. It isn’t the first time he’s seen me try to hold back tears, by any means. But it’s too late to recover myself for his benefit. 

He pivots subtly in the direction of his teacher, so he can stop looking at me. 

By the end of the song I pull myself back together, and perhaps recognizing my recovery on some visceral level, Jonah turns slightly back in my direction. We connect, his face lighting up again like a cresting wave. He finishes the song safely within my gaze. I wonder if he understands the power of the words he delivers in the final few lines of the song. 

And I know it’s hard when you’re falling down. And it’s a long way up when you hit the ground. Get up now, get up, get up now.

Just after this last song is finished, the audience is invited to move all of the chairs and to clear the floor for a line dance. The room erupts into a cacophony of metal being pushed across wood. There is a discernable exhale, like the top buttons of a shirt being undone. 

Each student chooses a partner to join them in the community dance. Jonah takes my hand and we join a row of friends in two lines running parallel across from each other. We discover a fast path to joy and laughter as we follow the call of the fiddler’s song. 

Over and over we come together and part ways again. Hands clasped, we duck through a tunnel of arms raised above our heads finding ourselves out on the other side. We stomp our feet, hard, and clap our hands and bow at each other. It feels good to be light in my body, to let go and be free. You never know when you’ll have another moment like this.

“Women are going to form a chain, a greater sisterhood than the world has ever known.” ― Nellie McClung

An ultrasound room seems an odd place to find joy. I would not go looking for it there. The place where tissue is extracted and examined for cells gone-rogue has qualities antithetical to human-magic. Cold and sticky gel is rubbed across bare skin while danger lurks on a glowing screen. Places you loved before are suddenly deemed suspect.  

As the technician led me down the hallway, I noticed the way her wavy hair was cut in a subtle, angular manner so when it draped down her back it fell into a V-shape. I didn’t know at the time it was likely a fresh cut for her wedding in Vermont the weekend before. She showed me where I could put my bag, overflowing with a heavy book and multiple other weighty items. I thought about how later I would be told I shouldn’t pick up anything heavier than a milk carton. I would carry my belongings out like a bag of groceries, not slung over my shoulder, as usual. Bending forward, I unzipped my mud-splattered boots and climbed onto the table imagining the experience might be restful. A rare luxury to lie-down, mid-day, in a dimly lit room. 

I was ill-prepared for the first biopsy, afterward canceling a full-day of activities, so I could crawl into bed with an ice pack. I rely heavily on a high pain-threshold and a can-do attitude to get through things I might do better to prepare for. I had not considered the signals my body would receive having three of these same procedures back-to-back. My sister described how my immune system might go on alert imagining it was under attack with each removal of a valuable part. 

What I was in-for started to become more-clear as the ultrasound wand was pressed down forcefully on my bare chest in the same bruised area where I’d had the previous excision. My arm, raised in an L-shape above my head, began shooting pins and needles into my hand even before we had begun.

The technician apologized for being silent for a long stretch as she mapped out the red and blue landscape of my inner world reflected like a military radar screen to my right. She lined up the suspicious locations of density like targets. l told her I welcomed the quiet. Her presence felt immediately familiar in the way of an old friend. Of the five women who would occupy the room, she seemed the most like a sister and in the days to come I would think of her. 

I heard an assistant come in and when I turned to look, I recognized the back of her frame as she quickly dove into her preparations. Her fuchsia scrubs were the only notable color in the room, and brightened the space, like a bouquet. When she finally turned toward me, her hair swung around at her chin. Her face reacted with happy recognition. 

I thought it might be you! 

I filled her in on the results from my previous test and watched as the space between her eyebrows contracted with concern. This has become a familiar facial expression in the people I share my experience with. Then she brightened, doling out affirmations of hope, like candy.

I couldn’t say her age, she wasn’t likely all that much older than me, but she brought the mother energy into the room. From beginning to end she filled up a halo of comfort around me with endless offerings of support. Her presence was like a siphon, keeping me fueled and abreast (no pun intended) of what was happening. She left the room to find a warmer, softer blanket, better, she thought, than what had already been draped over me. 

The radiologist came in like a force of nature, with a resident in her wake. She made a comment about how the doctor with her was fortunate to be on her service in a room full of women. We all laughed as she quickly pardoned herself, affirming the many capable men working in the hospital.

We were acquainted from the previous biopsy and she greeted me warmly then quickly switched gears, detailing her plan to the others. She was like a sergeant barking out orders, only kinder and with an upbeat energy. There was a lot to be accomplished. She had a commanding voice and presence I might have once found off-putting. I might have read her as brash or overconfident. I understand better now about what it takes. I understand about how many ways women have been taught to shrink and to be quiet, to dim what allows us to make a needed contribution in a flailing world. I could recognize in her the many layers that must exist in order to demonstrate so much skill under the weight of responsibility with alternating humor and seriousness. 

The sound of a breast biopsy is exactly like the sound an ear-piercing gun makes when penetrating cartilage. It’s like a hole puncher making its way through a stiff sponge. I began bracing myself for the sound as everyone in the room lined up images on two screens with the reality of what was going on inside my chest. The last time I was there, the radiologist suggested I look away when she began inserting numbing needles into my breast tissue. This time, I closed my eyes without her prompting. I began concentrating on my breath, dropping my awareness down into my belly, softening and gripping simultaneously. 

The assistant came around by my head and propped a pillow under my arm and then took my hand in hers as the procedure got under way. Chatter began about weddings and stinky, boy children—several of us had a couple of those—and honeymoons filled with reading and sleeping late. We laughed more than you might expect given the circumstances but there was always a pause and a sense of sacred space being held in each moment when the real work was undertaken. I could feel a force of goodwill building in the room, like oxygen was being pumped in.   

Each biopsy target required multiple shots for numbing that felt like exaggerated bee stings, and then one long needle inserted deeply into hard to access locations in my breast. I steadied myself for the pressure of the reach and turned in my mind to the energy of friends who promised to be with me from afar. I experienced a sense of them, as if they hovered over me. Their personalities fell away in my mind and I knew them in the backdrop of their being. 

With the numbing agent, you can’t really know for certain whether it has fully-deadened the area in question until the contraction of the biopsy tool is made. After each compression, the radiologist questioned me, Are you ok? You doing ok?

She said she could hear my heart beating. I assured her I was okay.

At one-point trouble-shooting was necessary. The resident sat at a computer across the room, meticulously considering the best course of action based on the imagery from a previous test. Peering through horn-rimmed glasses she contributed her opinion and then stepped back to observe. We celebrated between biopsies and the bed was turned around multiple times for better access. Each time I was spun around, it was as if a slate was being wiped clean or like I was being let up for air. Everyone seemed to take that moment to breathe again and I realized each of these women were every bit as much invested in the experience as I was. 

I watched as the clock ticked closer and closer to school pick-up time and when I was finally finished the relief was palpable. I was ready to jump out of the bed and leave but my mother-for-the-afternoon encouraged me to move slowly. She helped me to sit up and saw I had water in my bag, encouraging me to drink. She wanted to know my plan for the evening. I didn’t tell her my husband would be working late. I told her, instead, a friend had brought food. 

Afterward, I felt elated. It was more than the adrenaline surging through my body. Even as I had experienced extreme discomfort, I felt as if I had also been held for many hours in a gentle womb by a group of women who knew their job extended well-beyond the technical aspect for which they were each responsible.

Walking into the damp, Maine air, I made my way to my car and just as I was getting in, I suddenly made a connection. I thought about joy and instances that elicit this human-magic, this fleeting knowing that all is right in the world. I realized that whenever there is love, there can be joy. These two qualities are inextricably bound. It doesn’t matter if it is a bleak time. It doesn’t matter if you and your friend—a woman of grit and dogged humility—both have cancer. Whatever the circumstances, love is the gateway to the very highest realm of experiences we may have as a species.

In the aftermath, my chest turned all shades of grape-purple and yellowish-green. Waiting for the biopsy results was grueling. I’m not a worrier at heart, but I ruminated plenty in this instance. Positive results would likely have changed my plan for treatment significantly. Bursting into the room, my surgeon spilled out the good news. When we discussed next steps, I somehow managed to simultaneously admire her stylish, strappy heels (at a time like this!) and when she hugged me, in the uniquely, warm way she does, I knew I was in good hands. 

“Being at ease with not knowing is crucial for answers to come to you.” —Eckhart Tolle

Adrian has a preference for how I style my hair, if you can call it that, a style. When I let it air-dry after a shower, it springs up in waves throughout the day. At Adrian’s request I’ve let it grow out longer, like when he was a baby and would grab hold of it when nursing. One tiny, hand curled around my pale breast, the other tangled up in my hair. It becomes thicker the longer I wait to wash it. Sometimes I wait a long while, avoiding getting it wet under the stream of the shower. I hide the expansion of it, like unruly weeds, under my grey, woolen hat through long stretches of frigid temperatures. Wearing head-to-toe wool is warranted in Maine right into the second week of May. 

Often, I tie my hair back at the base of my neck. Or I pull it way up on the top of my head in a tall bun. This style, apparently, has a name—the ninja bun. I’ve been wearing my hair in this way since I was a teenager. All those many years back when I sprinted around a track, my chest pressed forward, the smell of rubber wafting around me. The silvery spikes in my cleats puncturing the springy, cadmium-orange surface both steadying me and propelling me forward, channeling my intense desire to gain distance at the curve. We started out crouched and staggered. I tried closing the gap before rounding the corner where, suddenly, I could catch up with my advantage. 

I collect my hair in this way now to feel cool air on the back of my bare neck after being wrapped in layers all throughout the day. I pull it up to be lightened as I circle my kitchen putting away the white mugs with the red fox painted on the side. The plastic lids get stacked in the bottom drawer before the incense is lit where it burns in the smooth, red bowl on the ledge by the front door. 

After I’ve unpacked the lunches—a responsibility technically belonging to Jonah and Adrian—I notice Adrian milling around, not having settled into a game or book or some other unwinding activity. I invite him to come over to me on the floral rug, so I can wrap my arms around his still-compact body. I remind him we haven’t yet had our afternoon hug. He walks toward me leaving foggy footprints on the wood floors with his socks, damp from the humid interior of his shoes.

I kneel down in front of the sink as he approaches me. He eyes my hair pulled-up and begins to grin, a beguiling expression coming over him like an expanding aura. Warm air blows around us from the vent at the floorboard as he drapes himself into my arms, looking suspicious, as if he is going to play a trick on me. He pulls back from our embrace and then acts like he is walking away. While I’m still within reach, crouched down, he moves around the side of me quickly and like a bandit, reaches up and pulls the elastic band out of my hair. My bun comes tumbling apart and my hair windmills down to my shoulders, all the while he’s exclaiming,“Let it be free! Let your hair be free!”  

When my phone finally rang, it was a call I’d been waiting for. I was sitting by the ledge of a large picture-window in the library where the sun streams in all throughout the shortest days of the year. I can rest my coffee on a step-stool there, my computer in my lap, and look out at a courtyard with a jagged, stone sculpture. A rectangular church spire can be seen above the other buildings in the distance. I’ve witnessed this scene in every season in all manner of weather. 

Although conscious of the quiet atmosphere, I experienced a breathlessness in my voice that didn’t come from an effort to speak softly. It came from the river of small talk I had to wade through while balancing a bucket of fear.

The room was suddenly hazy, titles of the knitting books lining the section in front of me all began blending together, as if in a dream. I tried to find a place where I could speak freely finally settling on a small, un-occupied room. I went in with my laptop and closed the door behind me, leaving my bag with my wallet on the floor in the other room where anyone could have taken it. There were no windows and sitting at a little desk, I could have touched any of the four walls. As I listened, I managed to think about how much I would rather be anywhere else, and also, how perfectly-appropriate it was to hear such news in that drab place.

I listened to everything being said, and yet, it registered as if it were happening to someone else. The size of the tumor was being described, and the grade. I suddenly became privy to things like proliferation index and types of receptors as indicators for treatment. I held the phone between my head and shoulder, something I have never been good at, and began typing into my computer. I titled the document breast cancer and put words and actions to the page I had no interest in ever impressing upon my body.  

My body is for breathing through in the still, quiet of dawn and for filling up with luscious, green foods—sprouts and arugula and wheat grass. It is for standing tall in, engaging my muscles and learning to invite my rib cage upward so it doesn’t land like a basket set-upon my lower back. It is for feeling the earth on all corners of my feet sunk in soil, learning to find balance upon this tilted earth. My body is for cradling what is unique and infinite and timeless in me and for connecting with the universal in us all.   

Who will make the lunches? Who will unpack the wet and muddy, rubber rain pants from the backpacks? Who will soak in the sweet aroma of my boys after baseball practice or a bath? Who will be patient with their unreasonableness, their profoundly exacting command of language? Who will count the number of connections in a given day, ensuring there have been enough? Who will rub their ankles, their necks, their knees after the third-goodnight? Who will look beyond the words escaping their lips and dive deeply into the pool of them beyond the place where language matters? 

The need for color came on suddenly, like a hot-flash. I drove directly to a home-goods store and bought new throw-pillows for our couch. Never mind conscious-consumption. There was one really long, velvet pillow that I come across with a flourishing scene filled with jungle animals—a black panther, a giraffe, various monkeys and a gorilla. It would demonstrate to Jonah and Adrian how intently I understand their passion for wild animals. I imagined them piling on top of it in their room. The powder-blue, floral pillows with tassels on the ends swirled with abstract flowers colored in rose and tangerine and pear-green. These would contrast nicely with the orange bench in the living room.

My husband was seated beside me in another sort-of living room, wearing a black, collared shirt, notes scribbled in red all across the papers in his lap. They bring you to these cozier rooms with real furniture to review troubling results, in-person, as if the couch cushions might soften the blow of life’s capacity to turn on a dime. His face became increasingly red, his eyes welling up with tears as he expressed his understanding of all that needed to be considered, treatments studied and absorbed late in the night. I took his hand in mine as he tried to manage things in the way he does with our mortgage rate and insurance policies. He was looking for absolutes, hard to come by in the world of unruly, cell division. 

He sometimes mistakes my propensity for surrender as passivity, our natures at odds when it comes to ideas about commanding outcomes. I comment to the doctor about how I make most decisions on instinct, from the gut. The truth is, I operate largely from the heart, feeling my way forward as if leaping, stone to stone, across a river. 

For a few days I experienced the world through a haze, like peering out a foggy windshield trying to find my way. The endless rain and low-hanging clouds and Xanax taken for a particularly difficult medical-test didn’t help. Then, in a single, distinguishable moment, driving down a steep hill not far from our house, life returned to focus. I arrived at the bottom and came upon an enormous, golden forsythia bush. Its hue was so vibrant, so luminously-yellow, it might have qualified as a new color all-together. I sat in my warm car, the heat blasting and absorbed this glowing vision of nature’s capacity to reemerge even despite its darkest days. Its branches arched up and around, cascading down like a wild head of golden hair. 

Despite the raw temperatures and our seemingly endless wait for the sun to splash down upon us in these damp parts, the creatures have come out of their nests and burrows and holes, making their way among us. Just this week I witnessed a skunk scurrying across the road at dusk as if in a hurry to get back to work, a black cat pausing and looking out from the edge of a forest and the neighborhood osprey, constructing their nest once again on an electric pole from which it has been twice removed.

A ruby red cardinal swoops back and forth from a small pine tree down into our newly tilled garden bed. I watch hopefully as this symbol of energy—of vitality, fire and life—prepares for the days ahead.

“Time is the soul of this world.” —Pythagoris

A miniature moose has gone missing. His coat is sandy brown with short hair and he boasts wide, stiff antlers and good posture. He is different from his (apparently) younger brother who is more-flimsy with soft, chestnut fur and cuddly antlers. Jonah notices that I managed to lose the elder of the two native-to-Maine creatures. He grins, implying some meaning in what Adrian has cast as the older of the pair unknowingly tumbling from the passenger side of my car at some unidentified point into who knows where while in my care.

I suspect behind his indignation and with the aid of budding maturity, Jonah is using humor to ease Adrian’s suffering over my poor performance as a nanny (and mother). To be fair, I had remembered to gather the furry brothers in the early morning, placing them at the top of my overflowing bag so that they would be with me all throughout the day and therefore at school pick-up in the late afternoon, as requested. 

Adrian picked them out in a tiny, local hotel gift shop a few weeks back. If you find something you like in this quaint and untended room with the lace curtains on the faux windows you take it to the front desk to make your purchase. We’d just eaten a buffet lunch and allowed for an indulgence in a mammoth slice of lemon cheesecake. I took a spoonful of whipped cream off the top of Jonah’s piece and shook it into my coffee. I could taste a hint of lemon mixed in with the cream and the bitter beverage brought over by a waitress with bright eyes. She wore a French braid that arched around her head like a pretty crown and her face lit up when she recognized us as familiar patrons.

We have no fewer than one hundred thousand stuffed animals in our home. Well, maybe not quite that many. I might have rejected the recent purchase if Adrian hadn’t offered to pay with his own money and also if the deluge of fur babies we own were solely appreciated as decorative or played with only briefly and then forgotten. The reality is quite different. Most, if not all, of the stuffed inhabitants living with us have names, a date of birth (with a solid memory of from where and when they arrived, much of which I have forgotten) and a firm place within the tribe.

Fruit is a favorite, a gorilla that can fit in the palm of your hand, about the size of a hamster if it were standing upright. Like the Travelocity garden gnome who pops up in vacation photos across the globe, Fruit has made appearances in many of our travel albums. This isn’t to say that it is all that hard to make the cut when considering who gets to go along. There were nine stowaways on our recent journey to the warm island with the gently-lapping, aqua water and a breeze that lifts worry like the Earth lifted from the back of Atlas.

Puppy belongs to Jonah and has been made to be real in the way of The Velveteen Rabbit. We recently came upon a photo from when he was new and white and soft looking. He is a dusty gray now and rough to the touch, his fur all curled up and stiff. He once fell into a mud-puddle in Queens and we all rushed to wash him. When I come across him on Jonah’s bed, I pick him up and examine him, remembering. It seems as if he represents something, as if he is a symbol of change, of the passage of time—an emblem of what we blissfully believe will never happen.

I’ve been retracing my steps. In the bagel shop I ask the cashier if anyone has discovered a stuffed moose in the parking lot in the last few days. Before I can finish explaining she goes running to a back room where another worker says they have a lost-and-found. When she returns empty-handed, I am filling a cup with a dark roast. Pushing down on the dispenser, I listen to the squishy, hissing sound of the carafe emptying.

The cashier is familiar and cheerful with a ready smile and exceedingly eager to please. She is very thin and speaks with a raspy yet slightly high-pitched voice. Her mouth is turned upward and yet there is a hollowness behind her eyes as if she is in pain, perhaps physical pain. I imagine the enthusiasm she so readily offers outwardly circling back around her and wrapping her up like a grandmother’s quilt in a healing embrace.

“So there is someone out there missing a moose?” she asks.

I tell her the story about the brothers with the antlers. She says she hopes we will find the missing animal in such a wistful way that I know she really means it. I recognize that she herself has likely lost things. Clearly, more important things.

At the library, I am directed to a box in the corner that represents the lost-and-found and is piled high with all manner of winter wear, although mostly what I see are gloves. I hesitate to dig through the pile given the stench of wet cotton and wool, but decide I owe it to Adrian to make sure his moose isn’t hidden somewhere in the sea of left-behinds. 

Children have a way of leaving a trail of belongings in their wake. It takes many years and hundreds of thousands of reminders to attach material items to children. I kind of like it this way, knowing that a period in life exists in which humans do not give so much value to things. I appreciate this blip of time when the opportunity to be and to play supersedes any real attachment to material belongings. That is except for when it comes to the creatures that children decide to love. Toward these things they give immense value—as they should. 

I consider visiting the gift shop again and buying another moose and trying to pass it off as the original but decide not to. It feels dishonest and Adrian seems to remember that the big-brother moose was the only one of its kind. I also wonder about the habit of fixing disappointments and consider whether allowing this one to exist might be an opportunity for strengthening resilience and the ability to respond to loss.   

A few times when Adrian has cried in the last few weeks—likely, tired or hungry—he has explained that it is because he is missing his moose. I both believe him that he is experiencing the sting of loss and I also smile inwardly, knowing how briefly he had been acquainted with this particular stuffed friend. We also manage to laugh together a little when he equates a song of longing on the radio to his longing for his moose.

He’s careful not to blame me but he also points out that he has lost not one, but two important things recently.

It wasn’t long after I lost the moose that I lost the watch. It was a preppy-style timepiece with a green and blue striped strap. This old-school Timex with actual moving hands also, unfortunately, belonged to Adrian. He had been (uncharacteristically) conscientious about not getting it wet and handed-it-off to his aunt who then handed it off to me for safe-keeping. I tossed it into a cloth bag I was carrying that folds up and snaps into a tiny pouch. 

When I empty the bag, the watch is nowhere to be found. I retrace my steps, like I had with the moose. It isn’t hidden underneath the chairs where we were sitting. It isn’t rolled up within the layers of clothing I was carrying. In both cases it seems as if the items have disappeared into thin air and I do not have the sense that either one is going to turn up again as things sometimes do. 

A few nights ago, Adrian called me into the bathroom where he was taking a bath and asked me for a wash cloth. I grabbed one off of the shelf and tossed it into the tub thinking he needed it to wash. He was taken aback—he hadn’t wanted for me to get it wet! He needed it to dry his hands. I got him another cloth and placed it gently on the side of the tub. When I came back into the room again a few minutes later to check on him, I saw that he was sitting upright—his trunk and arms fully dry—holding a book up above the water, and reading. 

He likes to read in his bed, too, and is currently immersed in a collection of books by Roald Dahl. The stories are challenging to him with their complex tone and dark humor and difficult vocabulary. He likes for me to be near him when he reads these books. I’m lying beside him while he is propped up on his stomach. I am observing his lips as he just-barely mouths-out the words that he encounters, not speaking them aloud. He turns and asks me if he can keep going beyond the chapter he’s finished and continues on before I can answer. 

A lantern-shaped light is attached to his white bedframe and a little shelf above his bed where he keeps a pile of books and an array of smaller stuffed animals and a journal where I request that he write one sentence each night about his day. He writes funny things, like, Jonah is awesome, spelling awesome in just the way you might think a child his age would. 

The light is shining on his skin in such a way that I can clearly make-out peach fuzz on his upper lip. I am admiring the way his eyes appear golden and taking in his long eye-lashes. I remember about how he told me his eyelashes bumped into the lenses of his sunglasses because they are so long.  

He lets me rub my finger across his cheek, too engrossed in the story to be bothered. I let him pile and bounce his legs across mine while he reads. Every now and then he stops and in a flurry of words he describes what has happened in the story. He shows me the pictures, too, and tells me about when the characters—and the author—have made a mistake. 

The house is finally still after a whirlwind of overlapping encounters with winter’s harshest microbes and all that is intrinsic to the human condition. Some of it is beautiful and golden, like a painted sunrise. Some of it throbs and pulls at the heart like punch in the jaw. All of it threads together the remarkable narrative of a strange and sometimes-conscious species.

A sideways downpour of thick, wet snowflakes has turned to a steady deluge of rain. The wind casts about tree branches and pine leaves, periodically delivering large gusts and a sudden pounding of droplets—a lively, rapid drumbeat on the roof above.

Spring is a season of anticipation—a time of listening for the ephemeral whispers of what is to come. If you can become still—still, enough—you might perceive what has been holding you.  

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“Our first teacher is our own heart.”—Cheyenne Proverb

It is unusual to witness clam diggers this time of year—rubber muck-boots up to their thighs, bodies bent over digging up a livelihood—though it is not a seasonal occupation. I notice their trucks on the side of the road and figure they have found a way through a neighbor’s property onto the shoreline where they follow the tide using wide-pronged rakes or their rubber-gloved hands to unearth clams to sell. 

Out back the relentless rain and the warmer temperatures has softened the conditions—lessening the layers they must wear and perhaps their labor, just slightly. Still I wonder about their backs, bowed like migrant farmers picking crops for long stretches in all types of weather. I wonder about how different—how the same—we are and whether or not their physical strength has been handed to them like a baton.

Each time I see them I think about the thick salt air and seaweed perfume, the sitting on the edge of a boat at dawn and dusk taking in the vast Maine sky. I imagine their weathered hands and wonder if our spines are made from the same fibers—mine seeming somehow not as sturdy despite my attempts at affirming it otherwise.

At the restaurant in the old mill where I like to go when I need a fix of feeling more in-touch with the world, there is a photo essay on display with portraits of men and women who work in the Bath Iron Works Shipyard here in Maine. They are ship-fitters and welders, pipe-fitters and electricians and painters. They wear hard hats and headlamps and some of them protective goggles. All of the photos are gritty—even the ones of workers with clear signs of youth, freckles and soft skin. 

A few workers have cigarettes dangling from their mouths—some are smiling, grinning—all are captivating. 

The photos are lit with a bright light and grey backdrop that give them a timeless quality. 

I am particularly drawn to a worker with a sapphire blue bandana—eyes to match—and a long, golden braid cast off to the side.

Jonah looks across at photos around the room and some of them near us—not for the first time—and says something about physical labor with a sort of huff at the end like he just kicked a soccer ball, hard. He says it in such a way as if to express his feelings for the gravity of the manual work on display. We discuss the qualities of physical labor in contrast to other types of work—like sitting at a computer, like creating art in a studio. He expresses his desire to work outside as an adult—to be physical in his job. I can see how this will suit his copious energy, though I hope his mind will be equally engaged, his big heart put to good use.

Later I read about the exhibit and discover recordings of voices to go along with the gripping images. I listen about how these men and women have a passion for their work, about the fear of injury, about tight working spaces and short-lunches and the work whistle singing out the march of time throughout the day. 

One man talks about how tears came to his eyes when the first ship he helped to build left port. 

I have a stamp. I have a name on this ship that helps protect our country.

They describe the exacting nature of their work and how important it is that they get it right. They understand the stakes are high for their own survival and also for those who will later occupy the ships. Their co-workers are like family. They have hopes about their futures working in the shipyard and some are ready to leave—elbows and knees all worn out. 

They are proud of what they have accomplished.

Listening to the array of voices, I experience an unexpected swell of emotion. I both appreciate the many ways in which our humanity overlaps—regardless of individual dreams or lifestyle—and I am also taken swiftly and unexpectedly back to my own nebulous relationship with battleship grey. 

It seemed as if we might have had special access on the ship because of my father’s rank, though at this point he would have been a reservist and I not yet in the double-digits. He had completed several tours-of-duty and had the unique experience of landing helicopters and other anti-submarine warfare aircrafts onto a carrier like the one we were touring. 

He once told me about how little light and runway were available when landing on a carrier at night in the middle of the ocean. I thought about the connection between his experience and the workers I had come upon through the exhibit.

Below deck I noticed how everything was painted with shiny grey paint that almost appeared like it was still wet. I remember the control panels and that you couldn’t see any dirt anywhere because all of the surfaces were so smooth—as if any debris might slide right off. 

My father pointed out some bunks in a small space down the hallway. He might have been saying that he’d slept there or maybe he just wanted us to see how narrow the beds were. 

This brief, flash-of-a-moment welded my present with a time hanging from my memory by a thread. It reminded me of the stories woven through us even as we live forward in uncharted corners of the heart.

Recently I have been listening to the stirring sounds of Native American flute music. 

I turned to it on an impulse a few weeks back while home alone taping wrapping-paper onto gifts at our dining room table. The flute’s unpredictable rhythm disrupted the more-measured pace of the season and I found myself slowing my movements—the sonorous tones dampening my potential for inner frenzy.

As I worked, I looked out toward the wall of windows and watched as seagulls swooped across the horizon dancing as if to the flute’s serenade. 

The sun sprayed across the shoreline and the mudflats appeared hardened by the cold, imprinting the landscape like the surface of the moon.

I’ve been listening for a few weeks now and I have come to understand these exquisite sound-vibrations as a soulful dialogue—an intimacy—between the instrument, it’s player and the natural world. It’s different than when I first discovered this music and it hit me with no place to land. At that time, my inner-world was depleted in places and littered with all-manner-of-rules about living.

The man selling his cd on the sidewalk in New York City had elicited in me a sorrow I couldn’t name. I thought at the time it was about him, about his need to sell his wares in the way he did and what that meant about his life.

A friend teased me about what she saw as gullibility in my purchase. 

Listening to the music was jarring in contrast to my current life and the mindset from which I had come.

The haunting sounds of the flute brought-on in me what my boyfriend liked to call the Sunday blues. Today I can recognize that I had been grieving.

I didn’t have any idea what had been lost. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how much I would need to reclaim in the coming years nor the many layers of me that would be shed off like a snake’s skin. 

I turn the volume up now and listen through headphones so that I might come as near as I possibly can to these potent, transporting sounds. 

I gaze out through a window into the natural world and am connected to the origin of this place, to the origin of me and all who occupy this living, breathing planet. 

I understand about how much has been taken without purpose—without conscious awareness—and although grief still remains in this, I recognize the miraculous in the finally-knowing. 

Closing my eyes I can feel my ribs vibrate and the energy of my being expand upward as I travel through the raw and the sonorous narration of what has always been.

“Our greatest joy is lived in deep, loving and generous relationships with others.”— Dalai Lama

*This is the 4th (and final) installation in a series of posts. If you missed the first, you can find it here and follow along with each subsequent post.

I’ve been slightly delayed getting winter tires onto my car this year—one blustery storm already gone past presenting Jonah with a premature opportunity to inquire about sleeping outside in his igloo this winter.

Igloos are warm!

Autumn passed by in a flash like the view from a bullet train on a rural railway, unwilling to slow for the seasonal chores to get done. A rush of dark peach, red wine and shimmery gold went surging across the landscape in a flood of cascading leaves hidden from the dull palette of a dreary hospital room where I spent several weeks in October with my mother.

It’s a strenuous task rolling the second set of wheels up the steep stairs from the basement through the garage and lifting them into the back of my car so they can be switched-out for the season.

Last year Jonah had grown strong and sturdy enough to become my partner in the lifting—he enjoyed discovering how he could lift me, too.

We stood facing each other behind my car, the tire positioned vertically between us. I had urged him but was reminding myself as well, use your legs not your back and counted one, two, down (this is where we were supposed to bend our knees and engage our legs) up!

We gave the tire a little bounce to create momentum lifting it into the spot where I once spilled a blueberry pie fresh from the oven—as evidenced by a purple stain.

With all four tires loaded and my lower-back intact, I recognized I had crossed a threshold—my son now officially both willing and able to assist me with physical labor.

Driving through that first storm with my more-slippery tires still on I gripped the steering wheel a little more tightly than usual—trying to stay aligned with the places where other vehicles had already traveled—and made it to an appointment that didn’t end up mattering all-that-much.

It was like entering into retreat to be out in the stillness of the blanketed morning especially in the places filled with trees and where I could drive slowly taking in the quieting display of glimmering light reflecting off all of the snowy surfaces—fields and mailboxes and the slope of the rocky coastline.

I drove beneath an arching row of branches glazed with a billion or so little ice crystals—spread wide across the road as if extended in celebration like a bride’s white-gloved arms outstretched on her wedding day.

Since then we’ve had heavy and unrelenting rains transforming the pristine, white layer into puddles of slush and mud with the occasional remnant of a tall pile of snow pushed aside by a plow melting at a more leisurely pace along with the one last clump of an icy mix where Jonah had begun to build his igloo.

Adrian likes to point out that it isn’t-even-officiallywinter, yet—the solstice still a few weeks off. He isn’t taunting so much as being exacting in a way that reflects the precise nature of his mind and how he interprets the world.

I aim to preserve the things he’s come to us with, to allow him to unfold without too much tampering. His impulse toward only-the-facts feels like it might have a purpose one day perhaps coupled with his vision of himself as a cheetah and powerful king.

His voice shouted out through the clearing of woods where he and Jonah were playing snug in their new coats with the orange and red stripes around the chest—a convenient splash of color in a season and state where hunting remains a long-held tradition.

It was nearly dark at 4:30 as I walked swiftly up the pathway—the faint hint of twilight glowing along the edge of the field in the distance.

He must have recognized my silhouette, the gait of my walk. It’s remarkable the number of ways in which we might know a person—the sound of my mother’s charm bracelet getting ready for church, one sister’s voice for her dog, the other’s penchant for telling us what we should eat.

I heard him shout out through the quiet campus to Jonah.

She’s here!

Running toward me he wrapped his arms around my waist and tipped his head back to look up at me. We had met in a place where a light was shining off the side of a building and so I could see his face—delighted, sparkly eyes and cheeks, speckled with mud—like prominent freckles— along with a large splattering of wet sludge on the top of his hood.

I noticed his bare hands and asked where his gloves were. He pointed to a little play house. I walked over to where it was and in the dark I stuck my head into the doorway, feeling for the gloves and finding them—cold and wet.

A few days later we had lunch—just the two of us—at a Japanese restaurant.

In the car on our way there, we played a game in which he drew a circular, cardboard chip out of a bag and read (or spelled out to me) two words. Each chip had a word written on either side.

 Hearing and sight.

Surf and turf—this one I had needed to explain to him.

Pumpkin pie and s’mores.

The idea was that you were meant to choose between the two words in order to share in your preferences and ultimately in-yourself with the other person.

We discussed at length about how Adrian would much rather have his hearing intact than his site. He equated being able to hear with his ability to talk and found this to be most important.

He does have a lot to say.

For me, it was—hands-down—my sight that I would keep.

I could not imagine a world in which I would not see the face of the boy in the rear-view mirror again.

Adrian has been coming to the Japanese restaurant since he was an infant asleep in his car-seat and eventually he became an amazing edamame eater there. In a video from when he was about two years old he demonstrates his humble beginnings with this beloved cuisine.

He was working very hard at opening a bowl-full of spring-green pods. His hair was light blond then and curled up at his neck, he wore a navy, rain jacket covered with yellow and green frogs and his face would get all scrunched up in his effort as if he were opening a jar with a really tight lid.

Each time he was able to finally release one of those stubborn beans, he would look up at us—so proud of himself—shouting out in his low-for-his age voice, I di’ it’ agaiiiin!

He did this over and over, relentless in his effort and announcement of his success.

When we entered the restaurant recently, before I could stop him, he bee-lined for the hard-candy wrapped in the shiny paper in a basket by the cashier quickly putting a piece in his mouth and another in his pocket.

It was less-subtle than he thought.

He mirrors the growing independence of his older brother with abandon and there is (almost) no stopping him.

At a point while we were eating, he was on his second pair of chopsticks—the first having fallen to the ground. He was navigating them quite easily but a bit carelessly. I let him know I would not be asking for a third pair if he dropped those.

He grinned at me knowingly.

There was a television over the sushi bar showing alpine ski racing. I was grateful it wasn’t turned to CNN. He looked out of one eye at the screen as he lifted a long udon noodle high up with his chopsticks, tipping his head to one side and slurping it up—little bits of sauce gathering at the corners of his mouth.

I observed him as I ate—taking in his still relative-newness.

We shared a look when in his eagerness he nearly dropped the chopsticks again.

We discussed the skiers—who used their poles more, which countries the flags represented and mostly, the incredible death-defying speed at which they were flying down the mountain.

I thought about what it would be like to watch my own sons ski in that precipitous place and what it would mean if they fell. We talked a little about how dangerous it looked—they were skiing so fast—and I acknowledged in the back of my mind the idea that whatever my children love, I will find my way to encourage.

I commented to the server at the gelato shop next door that I was happy they were using reusable tasting spoons. I had been bothered by the number of plastic utensils a single person could use in figuring out what flavor to choose. He shared that the store intended to switch to entirely compostable bowls and spoons by the end of next year and they were already well on their way.

I suggested we sit on the leather couches toward the back of the room where the Salvador Dali inspired painting depicted the parallels between melting clocks and dripping ice cream.

Adrian chose a leather chair next to the couch and as he consumed sour-cherry gelato mixed with cake-batter—his choice—he began bouncing in his seat to the tempo of the Bob Marley song playing overhead.

Everything’s gonna’ be alright.

As he ate he bounced twice on one side of the wide seat, then twice on the other side and then twice in the middle so he was creating a sort-of-triangle in rhythm with the beat.

I asked him if he could just eat but his ability to slurp up his gelato, bounce, smile and talk all at the same time negated any sense of seriousness from my face along with the impression that he needed to respond to my request.

On one of his bounces, I watched as his spoon flipped out of his hand, landing on the dingy floor. He looked at me sheepishly and with his doe-like eyes asked if I would get him another one.

I considered the irony as I walked to the counter and asked for another, plastic spoon.

When I returned, Adrian began talking about how the polar bears are having to swim further and further to access food in the Arctic. It related to our discussion about composting and was also a part of an ongoing conversation we have in our family around Jonah and Adrian’s vision of one-day building a sanctuary to protect animals and particularly endangered species—not a small dream (or burden) for such young minds to shoulder.

He continued to bounce—new spoon in hand—as he declared that he was going to save the polar bears. Bob Marley sang out his support with the soothing lilt of his song and Adrian didn’t seem burdened at all. He exuded an air of confidence in his belief that he could one-day make a difference in the world.

I thought about The Book of Joy written in-part by The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu—the last of the three books that had accompanied me through a recent, difficult time.

In the lens of the moment, Adrian appeared to me as the complete embodiment of joy.

The nature of children and their capacity for presence in play—and desserts—is a powerful place to begin in contemplating what it means to cultivate presence.

The children with whom the Dalai Lama celebrated his 80thbirthday (and whom he described in his book) live like he does—in exile in India away from their homes and families at the Tibetan Children’s Village in Dharamsala. The majority left their homes at age five or six in order to be educated in the Tibetan tradition and will not see their families again until, perhaps, adulthood.

At the celebration, when they described about their journeys, they cried and became completely overwhelmed with emotion. Ultimately, they explained how they had been able to return to joy through the loving care of their teachers and they had learned to take a more expansive view of their lives—recognizing the gift of their education and the ability for their culture to live on through them because of their sacrifice.

I shed many, quiet tears on the flight back home after being with my mother reading these particular stories of suffering —more than in response to any of the many other adversities I had read about (and witnessed) in my recent study of hardship.

The Dalai Lama often speaks about how if he had not been exiled from Tibet—the most dangerous, frightening and sorrowful event of his life—he would not have had the opportunity to spread his message of peace around the world.

Without his struggle, he might have remained a quiet monk in a distant land unconnected from the many lives he has touched.

The sky has been closed up for a few days now and the morning sun radiant casting a wide and warm glow in contrast to the dipping temperatures in the night.

I am on the look-out for snow—for the feeling of peace and the quieting in the air and in my being engendered by its presence. I am checking in on the condition and luminescence of my own heart counting on its warmth—and its wisdom—to sustain me in even the darkest of nights.

 

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“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.  

Join my e-mail list!

“When we allow story its soul, we can discover our own depths through it.”—Thomas Moore

*This is the 2nd installation in a series of posts. If you missed the first, you can find it here.

 

I was on a high from a stretch of days at beaches near-and-far—channeling Jonah and Adrian’s end-of-summer animations away from each other and out into the ethers in places where the sky was vast, the dunes lined with beach roses and the forceful gusts of Maine sea air had a way of whisking away any discord and landing us back in equanimity.

We had gathered smooth and colorful stones—some of them speckled like granite—arranging them in a spiral formation, a coiled serpent in the sand. There were new—more durable—blue and red wave boards picked up at an end-of-season-sale, tried-out and shown to be less-bendy.

I had been lured back into icy waters—a reunion with the cold, a reconciliation with important-parts disowned.

Imagine the splendor of a world in which all-original-qualities-renounced are reclaimed by their rightful owners—the genuine power and delicate force of a planet filled with intact human beings operating at full-potential.

I thought we could maximize our beach-time on Labor Day Weekend by being settled on or near a shoreline—not venturing back-and-forth daily, nightly laundry removed from the equation.

The five-star reviews—the rugged description of the cabins—supported my blind-spot.

I read on the hotel website that depending on the tide, we might need to row a small boat—along with our beach gear—across a tidal river situated between the cabins and the shoreline to access the beach. I imagined a symbiotic arrangement ensuring a row-boat would be available on either side of the river when needed. I pretended the beach gear for a family of four could be made light and compact, that the river would be narrow.

I completely skipped-over the video that, perhaps, with its vivid description of what exactly it would take to reach the waves, might have sent me looking for another hotel completely.

A caravan of traffic weaved slowly south along US-1 as we neared our destination. Checking-in I noted the distance from our room to the start of the river’s crossing—a pilgrimage-length journey worthy of a water break for even the most seasoned trekker.

Our two double beds were fit snug in the room and there was a large picture window that looked out into a field overlooking a modest swimming pool and the wide expanse of the river that stretched between us and the midnight-blue Atlantic.

Slight in size and a seeming page-turner, I had packed the second of the three books I had recently purchased. I began reading it the first night—the light on low—and was quickly drawn back into the narrative of an author I had become familiar with some fifteen years ago.

Immersed once again in the subject of a soul’s journey though time, I thought about my son Adrian and how just about as soon as he could talk, he expressed to me that he would like to change his name to John. His favorite game for many years—beginning when he was still unsteady on his feet—was called Captain on the Ship where his name was John. He and Jonah would rock each other endlessly on our backyard hammock—sailors at sea on rough waters, calling out the various dangers in the distance.

I couldn’t help but think about my great-grandfather, John Anderson, who I only recently have come to know more about—a ship-captain who had survived the storms of Cape Horn and the typhoons of the Indian Ocean only to die young transporting passengers on his personal vessel from Boston to the Long Island Sound.

Held deeply in the grips of the here-and-now, my focus is on Adrian in all of his current uniqueness and magnetic life-force, and yet, it was interesting to think about the parallels—about his seaworthy name with an origin meaning sea or water and to consider the mystery of how we come in and out of our existence—the potential for one soul to occupy many bodies over the span of time.

There may be no more-defining-role to be steeped-in than that between parent and child—not one of us exempt from some part of this dynamic.

From the moment of their births I have believed my children to be capable of teaching me at least as much as I am capable of imparting on them and still even with some vague sense that we might have traveled together before—perhaps in some other arrangement entirely—I have found myself swept up into the momentum of my current role as mother, a position I both love and cherish.

Even so, as I read about the possibility that our roles might in-fact (or in-theory) be interchangeable over lifetimes, I began experiencing a sense of peace and a freedom from the many—sometimes dogged—expectations that this role of mother and the many other roles I have engaged in can require.

Suddenly—that length of river to cross—seemed more manageable.

Without all of the baggage of who we are supposed to be for others—in both relationship and experience—everything becomes less-pressurized.

Without the concept of who we are expected to be, we are—paradoxically—freed to embody our original essence in all of its natural power and capacity.

These thoughts became the backdrop in my mind as we embarked on our weekend away. I found myself a little-less-defined as wife and mother and a little-more just-me, taking it all in.

It turns out the weekend was a practice-run for this looser way of viewing who we can be for each other and would be the answer I gave to my sister a few days later when she asked why I thought all of this was happening.

We are all just playing out various roles for one another across the span-of-time so that we can learn and grow.

I woke early the first morning and read some more until Adrian stirred. We slipped out of the room quietly in search of coffee and breakfast treats. In the lobby of the main building, Adrian found muffins, I tried out the flavored cream in my coffee and we set up a game of Chutes-and-Ladders where Adrian ventured to make the game more challenging—as he often does—by playing two pieces at once. Mid-way through, he accidently bumped my coffee and it spilled on the game. I ran to get napkins and quickly cleaned it up—only a small amount getting absorbed into the checkered, blue and cream couch pattern.

I listened to another guest talk loudly with the hospitality worker at the front desk. He had muscular arms, wore work-out clothing and I imagined he owned the black hummer at a neighboring cabin with a pink decal on the door advertising a personal training business. He was scheduling his next stay for the following summer.

He had children with him—twins—and he was bragging a little to the clerk about how accomplished they were at their sports—the girl a gymnast and the boy a hockey player. I thought about how he possessed hopes and dreams just like I do. I thought about how proud he seemed of what he had created—it was palpable.

I didn’t love the raucous sound of his voice in the early morning and I didn’t really want to talk to him all that much when he sought to include me in his conversation, but I felt a swell of love for our collective humanity and the wide array of forms in which we might show up.

Adrian beat me repeatedly in the game and we headed back to our room.

We skipped the beach on the first day and I left my vision for the weekend in the hotel room on the messy bed trying to land in the place where the beach was hard-to-get-to and the sun, hidden. We decided to walk a well-known stretch of pathway along the coastline surrounded by steep drop-offs.

We drove around looking for parking among the throngs of Labor Day revelers and a place to eat that wasn’t overflowing. We found a spot for both right at the entrance to the pathway.

In the spontaneity of my planning, I had completely forgotten that we had ever been to the beach-town where we were staying. As we were parking, I suddenly began remembering not one—but two—day trips we had made there.

Once we had come in the off-season when Jonah was an infant. We walked down a steep path to the shore careful not to slip on an icy surface, the air frigid. A second time we had driven down in the late summer on a warm evening to meet cousins for ice cream. The memory became vivid as I thought back to ordering a cone for a pre-schooler and toddler under a street light, reciting every flavor twice and negotiating toppings, way past bedtime.

Mid-way through the crowded walk, the sun appeared from behind the clouds and began heating up the air. I took off one of my layers and tied it around my waist. Jonah and Adrian ventured off the path onto a rocky shoreline where Jonah began lifting a large, fallen birch tree trunk and attempting to tip it into the water.

He and Adrian played for a long stretch finally getting the log into the water and then trying to get it back out again—perched from the top of a boulder. It looked both dangerous and engaging to the heart-and-soul of them. I felt apart from the many people walking—the tourists, taking in quintessential Maine—and for a moment, at home again.

We arrived at the river’s edge the following morning with as few belongings as we could manage for a day at the beach. The temperature was up and the tide was out and so there was no rowing required on this first passage.

We didn’t give all that much thought to how we would get back.

I walked barefoot across the drained riverbed pleasantly surprised by its relatively dry and firm surface given my experience living on a tidal shoreline where the low-tide surface becomes like a mixture of wet, gray clay and quick-sand that can steal away your shoes if you don’t move across it quickly.

We were on the opposite shore within less-than ten minutes. We climbed a steep set of stairs over the dunes and found the temperature on the other side distinctly cooler. Even so, we laid out our things close to the water—Jonah and Adrian grabbing their boards, running for the waves.

I eventually got in as well.

Our section of the beach was spacious and uncrowded. We bundled up and peeled away layers over and over as the sun disappeared and reemerged again and again. We sat in chairs low-to-the-ground and read and built sand castles and then trenches to keep the tide away and then finally watched as the waves became overwhelming to our work dragging it out in one final surge of the sea.

We left our things and walked a long way toward the town and the spot where we had entered the cliff-walk. We only carried a little money to buy a very-late lunch. The tide was in now and so the shoreline had shrunk incredibly—all of the people scrunched up into a small section of beach.

We walked around sand sculptures and took in the festive atmosphere—music playing, people living with abandon, free to be themselves. We made our way up to a row of food stands where the pavement radiated the day’s heat and warmed the soles of my feet. We found a table in the sun and soaked in the end-of-summer day, the warmth.

I looked down from where we were sitting and recognized the steep pathway where I had stood nearly ten years back with my first baby in my arms on a snowy day.

After eating, we made our way back through the masses of people and as we walked the crowd thinned and we eventually came upon a wide-open stretch of beach where many seagulls peppered the expanse burrowed down in the sand as if they were nesting.

We walked quietly past them trying to understand what they were doing and also attempting to avoid disturbing them.

We lingered a little while longer and then it was time to climb back up the stairs and over the dunes where we saw a woman coming toward us in a rowboat—the river filled-back up.

We approached her as if to trade places but then as she was exiting the boat with her own-two-sons, she began taking the oar with her away from the boat. When we asked her about it, she said the hotel manager had told her to do so in-order to ensure her passage back—something I likely would have known had I watched the video or read the fine print.

We called the front-desk to find out our options and eventually began walking along the river’s edge toward a distant bridge that we would need to cross on-foot in order to catch a trolley on the other side so that we could be transported back to the hotel property.

I have found—and it was true in this case—that cultivating a sense of spaciousness, and a bit of humor—can be extremely helpful in this kind of dicey moment when we must ask those around us to try a little harder—to push-on a little further—because of our own mistake or erroneous inner-story-telling, as was the case for me.

I picked up as much of the extra weight as I could—gathering up one of the wave boards—and encouraging us along with an awareness of the story-of-us unfolding. My husband valiantly carried the heaviest bag.

Soon we made it to the bridge.

We watched as an adventuresome child jumped off the side of the wooden railing into the river. On the other side, I helped Jonah and Adrian clean off the sand from their damp feet at the trolley stop so we could put on their sneakers to ride back to our room.

In the morning we decided to forgo crossing the river again and to instead head home with a stop in mind at another state-park beach along the way.

Just as we were leaving, I received a call from my sister. Our mother was very ill again—after being well for five years—and in need of our support and immediate care in another state.

Driving home, I thought more about the varied parts we enact for one-another throughout our lives and in many different scenarios in-order to engender growth.

I imagined gathering together the ways in which we show-up depending on the relationship and situation—wounded and strong and defiant and graceful and passionate and angry and calm.

I could see myself placing all of these qualities into a container, shaking them up, tossing them—high-up into the air—so that they might all get rearranged and then come drifting back down like the colorful, celebration-confetti that is our shared humanity.

 

** Due to the lengthy nature of this story, I’ve decided to break it up into a few installments. This is the 2nd. Thank you for staying with me. I do not intend to regularly create such lengthy posts. If you missed the first, you can find it here. I hope you will enjoy my journey through the three books that spoke-to and supported me during a difficult time caring for my mother who is now recovering. Thank you for all of your many good thoughts for her healing.

 

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“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.

 

Join my e-mail list!

“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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“If the whole world followed you, would you be pleased with where you took it?”—Neal Donald Walsch

Jonah and Adrian have been coping with the heat these last, sweltering days by spraying each other down—fully clothed—with a garden hose left out in the driveway.

When water hits the blazing pavement they marvel at the steam rising-up from the surface, transfixed by the chemistry—radiating heat mingled with a cool stream.

An aqua and yellow wave-board becomes a shield—blocking water shot forcefully in a front-yard battle between brothers. Shrieks of laughter and withdrawal and the pounding sound of the hose turned to jet hitting the board emanates like the call of wild birds across the still, quiet landscape.

They look for rainbows in the places where the sun’s radiance intersects with mist and Adrian calls to me—from outside into the house—elated by what he’s seen.

I wish that they might always care so much to share with me about what they’ve seen.

I try to understand how the mind works and construct a future scene-of-them—two, grown men eager-still to share about the things that stir them—the places they will be drawn to—the people—the ways of being in the world that I have yet to know.

I imagine intersecting with this vision of them on another wave in the swell of time.

I sift around my being for any evidence that I can—even now— remember them in this way.

Running inside, they leave footprints on the wood floors and scoop out ice from the freezer carrying it back outside on a makeshift tray.

Delivering it onto the hot surface, they dip their bare feet into the place where it is quickly beginning to puddle and watch as it begins to disappear.

They argue about who has had a longer turn with the hose and ask me to be their referee.

Sometimes I try to decide what is fair—making a judgement and enforcing it. Other times I encourage them to figure it out themselves. Occasionally I will approach them—bringing them to the ground in a seated circle—and engage in a more nourishing exchange meant to soothe tensions all-together with reminders of who they are to each other.

I am always reminding them of who they are to each other.

When I arrived at the soup kitchen, I signed-in, grabbed an apron and asked the supervisor how I could help.

As she started taking me to the back, storage area, I kind-of-wished I’d waited around the serving-line where I hoped to be placed. Instead I found myself walking into a labyrinth of boxes and rows of shelving units filled with a plethora of donated food needing to be sorted and stacks of paper products, plastic utensils and containers strewn about.

As I began moving boxes from one room to the next where the contents would be put in their right-place, I assumed I would be there for the entire shift.

I thought about how I had come there to help—whatever that looked like.

It was a familiar job for me—like the work I had done when I helped manage a large endurance event in New York City and was responsible for keeping straight all of the medical supplies supporting thousands of participants.

There were two teenage girls who I would be working with in this task—one with a warm, wide-open smile and sparkly eye-shadow, the other more-sullen and with a sharper way of speaking.

People donate a ton of tea to food pantries—and canned pumpkin, and artichoke hearts. I imagine it is what they find in the depths of their pantries when they feel compelled to give.

I came-upon multiple boxes of coffee filters and smiled when I thought about how I had been using a paper towel for a filter in my coffeemaker at home for several days because I kept forgetting to buy more.

After chatting about what-went-where, the girl who seemed less-amicable mentioned that she would be doing this work for two days straight. She did not seem at-all happy about this fact.

I didn’t make the connection at first and just as I was asking her why she was there for an extended time, it became clear that she was fulfilling a community service requirement prescribed by the courts.

I’m just a normal teenager—there’s nothing wrong with me or anything.

I said something about how one way or another we are all just learning—I was there volunteering because I believe people are inherently worthy beyond their circumstances and I certainly knew there was nothing wrong with her.

I wasn’t so sure nothing-was-wrong or that she knew her own value but I was certain of her worth.

I wished I could have offered her a glimpse into some of my less-than-stellar life-experiences to put her at ease—to let her know that she was far from alone in her misstep—whatever it was.

Any one of us could pull out a long-list of all of the ways in which we might have done better at some point in our lives.

I thought of Maya Angelou. Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

I knew better than to try to share a quote with her in that moment or to convince her of anything so we moved-on to the paper goods area where she put her hands on her forehead—overwhelmed by the mountain of products.

When I suggested we combine like-with-like she seemed to agree that was a good idea and took over from there, ignoring any further suggestions I made.

Her friend smiled at me sweetly from time-to-time.

It seemed like we had been working for a long while when the manager came back and asked if any of us would be willing to come to the dining room and keep track of the number of trays being served that evening.

I was surprised when I entered the steamy kitchen and saw that the food had only just-then been placed in the serving-line—the first wave of people lining up like pilgrims, layered with their belongings.

I was asked to position myself in a place where I could observe—either in the dining room or behind the serving line in the kitchen and to press-down on a little, hand-held lever each time a tray was filled with food.

I chose to stand behind a friend who was gently dipping out mashed potatoes onto trays—tenderly creating a little space for the gravy—and offering light banter to the souls passing through in the way only a person comfortable-in-her-own-skin can.

To my right was another gentleman I know who—despite his own, significant, physical challenges—was offering bread to weary travelers.

In addition to physically taking a tally of each individual who passed through, I made an accounting of them as well.

Not having a responsibility to interact or provide a service, I passed the time engaged in deep noticing of all those who came there for sustenance.

They selected the foods they wanted and I recognized them as valuable—infused with a powerful life-force and birthed into this world, welcomed or not.

I took in each part of them—the energy radiating from their bodies and especially their eyes and their hands, the turn of their mouths—studying the stories written there upon flesh.

I watched them light up and remember and retreat—expressing preferences and showing gratitude—in much the same ways as we all do.

I told myself the stories of their battles and considered the microcosm accumulated in their various paths—emblematic of the universal struggles we all face.

In the quiet of my mind, I let them know they had been counted—not just for having consumed a meal, not for having passed through, but for having arrived on this planet—in all of their unfettered humanity—worthy of being seen.

 

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“That which is false troubles the heart, but truth brings joyous tranquility.”—Rumi

It is a cool and foggy morning in Maine—the air thick with the memory of a midnight downpour.

The sudden deluge awakened me with a start—the windows open and ushering in the sound of a powerful rain that seemed to be turned on like a faucet in full-force.

I had fallen asleep on my back with my hands over my heart—one on top of the other. I had been soaking in an awareness of the quiet—of the stillness in my being—and inviting the boundaries of my body to fall away.

Bones and cartilage and organs—and all the rest of it—separating into tiny, microscopic cells, drifting apart and dividing until there was no longer any matter to contain me.

I saw this especially in the places where I experience pain—the high-sensation of contraction surrendering its influence when expanded into pure-energy. Ancient stories about who I am and what I deserve are no-match for infinite-consciousness—at least for this brief moment of awareness sans a couple of burgeoning boys tugging at my sleeve.

I had fallen into the space just-shy-of-sleep noticing the way our original essence—my original essence—goes beyond the confines of the body, despite all-of-our-insistence on our physical form being a vessel for the soul.

In stillness I could recognize the way our personal energies continue on beyond what we might normally think of as ourselves and are met and mingled with the vitalities of others—those both in our midst, and even those far away.

Between you and me is a temple that we form together—each pair of us. You place what-you-will-about-me inside the collecting place out there in the middle of us and I will place what-I-will-about-you inside that place as well and something will be born out of it.

We can only contribute to the nature of our-half-of-the-creation. Let us strive to construct our part with the hardy materials of freedom and deep-listening and with allowing.

Let us see how it feels to focus on our part alone.

Startled by the sudden cascade of rain, my heart was beating fast as I got up to close the windows part-of-the-way and turn the bathroom light on in case Adrian came stumbling down the hallway—as he sometimes does—awakened by the bursting cloud.

Back in bed I experienced the storm differently now—more gently.

The rain was slowing-down or I was more aligned with its presence.

I thanked it for watering all of the new trees and shrubs in our yard—yet to be planted—and listened as it flowed through the gutter on the side of the house like a rolling stream and soon I drifted back to sleep.

Jonah and Adrian were dressed alike when I signed-them-in for soccer camp this morning. A cool mist grazed our skin as we walked through the parking lot—their new, stiff, black cleats with the fluorescent-green stripes clicking and clacking on the pavement.

Jonah began dribbling his silver ball—a size 4—that he picked out at a sporting goods store. Adrian held his neon-green ball, a bit smaller—his initials printed with a permanent marker just above the barcode.

Having just returned from being away, we were low on food and so after drop-off I stopped at a small, natural-food store to pick up a few things on my way home.

This store was the first place we had stopped when we moved to Maine from New York City. I remember imagining what it would be like to be a regular patron in such a nourishing space.

Despite the cool morning, the store was air-conditioned so after finding a cart I reached into my bag for another layer and pulled it on.

Just when I looked up I recognized someone I knew entering the store—a former caregiver who had looked after Jonah and Adrian occasionally for many years and whom I didn’t see often.

She had been a treasured friend to our children—introducing them to Pete the Cat and Jan Brett and it’s ok to cry but it’s also ok to stop—and now walking in she had a baby of her own hiked-up on her hip like a pro.

Both of our faces—and my heart—lit up when we saw each other.

Her son shares her lovely, brown eyes and her presence remained warm and introspective.

She is one of those people who makes you feel better for having been around her.

I had always loved that when she spoke it seemed she really meant what she said. She mentioned that she was on the side of motherhood now that I had been on when we first met.

We stood at the entrance and talked for a long time. We jumped right to the depths of sharing.

Sitting in the cart, her son offered me his bare foot and I rubbed the silky top of it. A few minutes later he stuck it out again for more and I got a glimpse of his two, little baby teeth on the bottom row.

She told me that she had written a letter to me in her head on many car-rides but hadn’t had the chance to send one in real life.

I could feel that I had received her thoughts regardless of whether they had made it to paper.

I’ve written so-many-letters-in-my-head in that very way and can only hope the messages have landed where I’ve intended them—like hers did in me.

After we said goodbye, I turned for just a moment to the produce section, moved forward and then felt drawn to look across the room where I recognized another soul-sister who I hadn’t seen in a very long while.

There was more lighting-up and putting arms around a kindred-spirit in an embrace.

I have loved this friends’ capacity for awe in our exchanges.

She has a way of opening her mouth just slightly and widening her sparkly, blue eyes in response to the magic that always seems to show up between us.

Despite the time that had passed—and the relatively short chapter we had spent together—there was an immediate knowing in our shared energy.

I told her I didn’t think I had come to the store for food after all but that it was for these crossings-of-paths that I had come. She shared that she and her daughter had planned to stop at the store after going swimming but had suddenly decided to come in then instead.

I have been thinking about whether it has all been said—whether it can all ever be said—about how exquisite this life is in both its beautiful simplicity and in its complex connectivity.

It reminds me of observing my children when they have just awakened—their bodies radiating heat from sleep in their warm beds, their cheeks soft and relaxed. With heavy eyes—partly still in another realm—they’ll whisper to me will I rub their backs and I do so willingly getting more from the experience probably than them.

Later, they will ask me about the bounds of the Universe—the Multiverse—and inquire about whether I think invasive species are a part of the food chain—they’re not, Mom.

I go on noticing because it turns all-of-the-lights-on-in-me, radiating warmth in the places I need it most, and illuminating the way forward.

 

 

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“Forget about enlightenment. Sit down wherever you are and listen to the wind singing in your veins.”—John Welwood

The serving plates and bowls had been washed and tucked away late into the night—hidden in narrow cabinets and sliding drawers until Thanksgiving—the list of what to buy to feed everyone slipped into the recycling bin.

The stillness of the house that next early-morning had the feeling of Summer drawing-open the curtains and strolling into the backyard for a long and undisturbed rest in the shade—The New Yorker magazine tucked under her arm for a leisurely read.

Jonah and Adrian meandered down the stairs in the late morning like droopy, rag-dolls with soiled, grass-stained feet, the glow of sparklers lingering still within their midst.

Slowly, we gathered up library books scattered about the house—some in a pile on a bench by the bookshelf, others in a spring-green shopping bag hanging by the back door.

I felt relieved and like my shoulders hung a little softer for having upheld a family tradition once again—knowing my children rely on the event for marking time, for understanding their unique place in the world.

The trunk of my car was filled with recycling and returnable cans and bottles. I planned to drop off the cardboard boxes and papers but to wait on cashing in our returns.

I thought we were all feeling too-lazy to navigate the somewhat messy return process. I imagined we would avoid the crowd of last night’s revelers who might be doing the same.

Eager for some pocket-change, Jonah encouraged the exchange.

When we arrived at the grocery store the air was thick and heavy with heat—intensified by the asphalt parking lot. I soaked in the warmth on my bare, freckled arms and helped each boy to a black, plastic bag from the trunk—Jonah got the heavier one.

The boys walked slightly ahead of me knowing where the machines were. I captured the image of them in my mind—each with their load slung over their shoulder—Adrian in his favorite grey sports shorts with the florescent stripe on the side and his pale-yellow shirt, Jonah tossing his long hair back with the flip of his head.

Inside, their arms disappeared fully into the damp bags—bending to the side, dipping-in and grabbing a can or bottle and then reaching up to slide it onto the conveyor belt of the machine located just above their heads.

Sometimes the receptacles would get spun around and around and then rejected only to be pushed-in once again by the persistence of four small, but eager, hands.

A couple of tall men with a cart full of cans waited behind us as we navigated the machines. I imagined they were father and son.

Adrian finished first—a small collection of liquid pooling like a narrow balloon at the bottom of his bag. With the more-full load, Jonah was becoming weary of the dampness on his arm and asked me to finish for him.

I reached in—trying to pick up my pace—cognizant of the others in line. I quickly understood his discomfort as I took over, the stench of empty bottles palpable. Before I could get to the last can, Jonah and Adrian had pushed the finish button to collect our receipts.

I took the remaining can and popped it into the shopping cart behind us, thanking the men for their patience.

After collecting our money—just shy of three dollars—we made our way to the bathroom to the right of the customer service counter to clean the sticky layer off of our arms.

Jonah went into the men’s room and I walked further down the hallway to the women’s room—Adrian shuffled between us in the two places.

I rubbed Pepto Bismol-pink soap into my palms and all the way up my right arm and then rinsed it off with cool water, drying with a paper towel.

When I came out, Jonah and Adrian were standing wide-eyed in front of a collection of colorful gumball and candy machines and turned to me with their puppy-dog eyes.

Can we use our money to get something?

 I smiled and gave them the bad news as gently as I could, ushering them back down the hallway and out into the penetrating sun.

Contentment hung between us like a sundress on a clothesline in a cool breeze as we climbed back into the car.

I thought about the time my sisters and I had gotten gumballs at a grocery story as children—no concern about food dyes then, blue 1 or red 40.

My younger sister was about four-years-old and we had all just piled into the car after shopping—large wads of gum occupying our entire mouths, exercising the strength of our jaws with their stale stiffness.

All of a sudden—having forgotten about the purchase from a machine with a dime and the twist of a metal handle—my mother looked into the rearview mirror catching a glimpse of my little sister’s lips, painted a purpley-blue from the dye of the gum.

She gasped at the site—not making the connection with the gum—and became panicked thinking my sister was turning blue from some sort of lack of oxygen.

I don’t remember how she—how we all—realized it was the gum and not asphyxiation causing the transformation in my sister’s appearance.

It put a scare into us all thinking she couldn’t breathe—we can laugh about it now.

At the library we piled up a little cart with loads of books—we’ve yet to be limited by the staff despite our voracious desire for words. I chose a few picture-books that interested me and got comfortable in a soft, burgundy chair—waiting for my boys to join me.

I thought about kicking off my flip-flops, then didn’t.

One of the books described the transformation of a mother’s closeness with her children over time.

It reminded me of this idea I have of my heart being tied snuggly to the hearts of my children—a big crimson-red ball of yarn between us—and how, as they grow, the fiber unwinds creating greater and greater distances yet keeping us bound together.

I imagine a time when the cord might drape between mountain ranges and across continents— laid out across vast landscapes, only some of them literal.

I am counting on a tight weave for a durability that will weather the distances of a lifetime.

Adrian’s favorite of the stories I selected was the one with the wild illustrations of a lion with big expressions trying to teach some other animals about presence. It was the turtle who understood best in the end—isn’t it always the slower-paced among us who reveal themselves as masters?

We added it to our collection to bring home.

Suddenly we were all famished. I was praying that the taco truck would be parked by the big field and it was.

The car was so hot, the boys insisted I roll down all of the windows and start the air conditioner before getting in. We were sweaty still when we found a parking spot right next to the favorite food truck—the line short enough.

We stood on the sidewalk and I layered Jonah up with the bag of library books and Adrian with our orange, picnic blanket that hangs from a strap. I gave them a twenty-dollar bill and told them to go for the lemonade from the stand down the street and then to find a place in the shade to spread the blanket out while I got our lunch.

In line, I watched as they strolled down the sidewalk together—each weighted down with the things I had given them, the red-line dangling loosely between us.

I have been insisting they carry more and more.

They got to the stand, looked-up at the menu-board, exchanged a few words between them and then Jonah came walking briskly back toward me until he was close enough where he could shout-to-me and I could hear him.

Can we get a root-beer float instead?

No!

Jonah dashed back to Adrian and placed their order while Adrian bounced the blanket against his little legs.

Loaded up with drinks, they managed to spread the blanket next to a tall pine tree on the edge of the field just a few feet from where I was still waiting. I was surprised they had chosen a spot so near—the entire field peppered with shade.

I could see their sneakers on the blanket poking out from the side of the truck and breathed easier knowing they were within my reach.

After lunch I laid back on the blanket—propping myself up on my bag—and looked up and across the lawn at a giant oak tree.

It had thin and spindly branches for arms—giving it the quality of a wise elder with a cane—and boasted copious, flourishing moss-green leaves.

The heat hovered heavy and still all around us—like truth spoken quietly in a loud room.

A very-slight fluttering of the leaves in the distance caught my attention and I felt a thin ribbon of air graze my skin.

It seemed unlikely that the air-pressure would build from there but then I noticed a mounting energy and thought about the nature of this invisible force endlessly reflecting the relationship between conflicting pressures within our atmosphere.

One of the large, wider branches with its dancing leaves began to flap slowly and powerfully like an eagle’s wing pumping air in slow motion—the breeze mounting.

I pointed out the contrast between movement and the stillness and coaxed Jonah and Adrian to lie back onto the blanket with me so that they might experience the tiny hairs raising up upon their own skin.

Like conductors—or sport’s announcers—we pointed out what we saw and felt as the leaves began to flutter—just slightly—ushering in a bigger movement and ultimately a welcome relief to our sweaty skin.

We waited for it again and again—in all of its subtlety—delivering a gentle breath-to-the-day and landing us on a patch of earth, in a sleepy town, side-by-side.

 

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“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”—Brené Brown

I selected the parks option for a search on the GPS and found a match a few miles away.

With too-little time to travel home and back before camp-pickup I followed a hilly, winding road to a new spot in a neighboring town where many of the homes are surrounded by enormous boulders.

These mammoth rocks have been left alone and integrated into landscaping plans—dense and vibrating with the story of another place and time—likely transported via glacier tens-of-thousands of years ago.

Situated around some of the houses they appear like dinosaurs—curled up for an afternoon nap.

It is so breezy here in this unfamiliar spot.

I’ve gone back into my car for a favorite sweatshirt—worn soft over years —and put on a snug baseball cap to keep my hair from blowing all around.

I’m listening to the steady tick of a sprinkler watering the field beside me—every now and then catching a glimpse of its rounded, liquid arch. The water seems to break off from the end of the stream and shoot forward into a powerful collection of drops—pausing—then raining down onto the grass.

Once in a while the breeze will carry a slight mist my way that I can smell more than I can feel.

It reminds me of running through sprinklers as a child just after the lawn had been mowed—the fresh-cut grass sticking to my bare feet, to my shins.

A large robin digs for a worm down the little hill to my left and then flies off abruptly—startled by a yellow Labrador Retriever with a ball in her mouth running toward me.

A miniscule, florescent-pink spider sprints across my computer screen like he’s late for a flight.

I am often surprised to discover vibrant hues like his—that seem like they belong more in the color-palette of man—manifested in nature.

I try to use a piece of chipped, grey paint from the picnic table to lure the spider off of my laptop so I can get a closer look. He’s moving so fast and keeps avoiding the paint chip but does finally crawl up onto my thumb and quickly begins racing toward my wrist.

I move away from the table out into the sun to try to see him up close—he’s so tiny—but then I have to blow him off of me just before he goes scurrying up my long sleeve, afraid I might lose him beneath my clothing.

We live in such an enchanting world.

It can be so easy to forget and brush by the faces of insects and trees, subway riders and bus drivers, the nurse taking our pulse, the child waiting hopefully at the lemonade stand—our own dear face looking back at us in the mirror.

Don’t let it be said that you are anything but dear.

It can be so easy to let it all pass-us-by while we fret about—you name it.

Let our preoccupation be instead about seeing one another—and ourselves—in the light-of-day, for all that we are.

I say a lot to my children about what they eat or don’t eat—probably more than I should.

It has to do with my own powerful reaction to what I consume.

It has to do with how much I love them and reminds me of the definition of the word sweater as given by the writer Ambrose Bierce, “a garment worn by a child when his mother is feeling chilly.”

Recently I was trying to justify my encouragement of more eating-of-dinner to Jonah and Adrian.

They were in a hurry to get back outside.

I tried to describe to them the relationship between food and mood. That was my initial thought, at least.

I fully recognize the experience of well-being is not that simple for a whole lot of people, myself included at times.

Did you know if you are ever really, really sad you can ask yourself a couple of questions to understand why you might be feeling that way?

They perked right up to what I was beginning to say—It’s mind-boggling to me how sometimes my voice can be to them like that of the Charles Shulz Wah Wah language for adults and other times they seem to devour my words like water absorbed by the thirsty roots of a plant.

This was one of those lucky moments when their attention led me to believe that what I was about to say might somehow soak into their subconscious and be retrieved later in life when they needed it.

I shared that if they were ever really sad they could ask themselves, When was the last time I ate? What did I eat? Was it sugary? Have I had any protein?

Before I could go on, Adrian—my seven-year-old—interrupted me.

Actually, first you should be sure you have had something to drink—drinking is more important than eating. 

Touché.

He was right. Hydration is critical, so we agreed questions about both eating and drinking would be helpful.

Jonah was waiting his turn to speak but I could see he wanted to jump into the conversation.

Together we all quickly went to the question of rest.

Eat. Drink. Sleep.

Have I slept? Have I been getting enough sleep for a few days?

 It was clear to us all that sleeping was an important component in feeling good.

This is where I thought it got interesting.

My first impulse when I posed the question was to point out the connection between how we treat our bodies and how we feel in our emotional state.

Jonah took the inner-reflection to another level and led us into a deeper discussion than I had intended.

He proposed that we ask ourselves, have I been kind?

This sort of blew me away.

Wow. Yes. How we treat others affects our well-being. Have I helped anyone recently?

Next, I began thinking about how exercise contributes to the production of endorphins and well-being when Jonah said we should ask ourselves the question, have I been outside?

We all got excited about our collective need for access to fresh-air, sunshine and natural beauty in order to feel grounded.

Jonah said that he thought of being outside and exercise as the same and then he said, what about asking whether you have been learning anything new?

This was something I hadn’t thought of and agreed contributes to a sense of purpose.

They had taken my one question and run with it.

Suddenly I thought about a practice I had shared with Jonah and Adrian a long time ago that has been an integral part of our daily connection.

I wondered if they would remember as I began hinting, there is one more thing that you can check-in on if you are feeling really, really sad.

Jonah was sitting to my left at the head of the table.

He sat back in his chair—slightly away—thinking.

Adrian was across from me on his knees on his chair—elbows propped up on the table, hands at his chin.

His hazel eyes sparkled searching for the answer—wanting so-much to be first.

They were both on the verge of getting it when Adrian shouted out, hugs!

Yes, if you are feeling really, really sad you should make sure you have had a hug from someone you love!

As the boys ran back out to play—dropping their dinner-dishes loudly into the sink, silverware clanking—I thought about how hard it can be to reach out to others—even those we love—when we are struggling.

I thought about how above all of the things we discussed, this can be the most critical for remembering who we are—maybe especially, for boys and men.

I thought about what it means to have access to all of these things for both children and adults—clean food and water, a present and nurturing family, a safe place to sleep and play.

I hoped that our discussion might somehow be planting seeds that would blossom into my two sons never feeling so alone that they think they have to go-it-alone.

There is a soft, white and blue floral rug on the floor in front of our kitchen sink.

At the baseboard level there is a brown heating vent that can be turned on to boost heat so that on frigid, winter mornings in Maine when I am standing at the sink, the heater will blow a powerful rush of warm air keeping my feet toasty.

When my cat Autumn was in her last days I would sit there on that gentle surface in front of the heater with her in my lap warming us both.

I have eaten food there—like I’m having a little picnic, my back against the vent.

I have called the boys there at times—when their play has made our living room feel more like a gymnasium or boxing ring than a home—so we can have a meeting of the minds on a padded surface.

This morning I asked Adrian for a hug before he left for camp and he came over to me where I was standing on the rug loading dishes into the dishwasher. He rarely hugs me in the typical way and instead wraps his entire body around one of my legs and begins sort-of hanging on me like I’m a tree branch.

This morning was no exception.

I came down onto my knees to be at his level and to be more-steady so he wouldn’t pull me over. We hugged—there on the rug—and he remembered our conversation from before.

The sun has burst forth and hid behind the low-draping clouds again and again since I arrived here in this breezy place.

A flurry of spiders has visited me at the covered picnic table including one who was bright-yellow with long legs and several who were thicker, black and compact—one finding its way to the brim of my hat.

It turned out to be a spidery place.

Before packing up my things, I left it all at the table and walked barefoot across the field—a wide open expanse of space, expanding-the-spaces-in-me.

The ground was lush with mushrooms and clover—the cool damp soil, soaking my feet.

I counted six more robins scattered across the field in two’s, their work made easier by the soft ground. Each time I got near to a pair they would take flight—showing off a burst of burnt-orange feathers tucked between grey.

The clouds were spread out across the pale-blue sky. I tipped my head back and upward taking in the space and the air—damp and fragrant with the sweet smell of summer.

 

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“They say it’s your birthday! It’s my birthday too!”—The Beatles

On this end-of-May, day—forty-five years ago—I arrived into the world at the tail-end of a trend of many women giving birth without dads in delivery rooms.

My father was with my mother through much of her labor but then just as I was about to emerge, she was rolled away into an operating room—bright lights all around.

When he first laid eyes on me, the forceps had been sterilized and put away and I had been bathed and wrapped in a soft, pink blanket—looking slightly bruised from the journey.

Afterward, he headed back to the house where a neighbor was looking after my sister and then came and went from the hospital in the next few days as my mother recovered.

This was before the time of drive-thru deliveries and returning home and being on your own sometimes within hours of giving birth.

On one of those days—and for many hours—my mother looked again and again at the watch on her small wrist, wondering where my father was.

He hadn’t shown up when he said he would.

I’m not sure why she didn’t call or even if she could have.

Much later—when he finally arrived—he explained that he had gotten caught-up mowing the lawn and that my grandmother was cooking chicken paprikash and so he couldn’t leave until she was finished but he was there now and oh look at the baby!

My father can be very charming—distracting from the topic at hand—and he does also go to great lengths to prioritize a well-kept lawn and fine food.

This is to say, my mother believed him—that he had lost track of time.

He had actually been across town at the children’s hospital with my sister—then, two years old—where she was having her stomach pumped of my aunt’s thyroid medication—swallowed, while unattended in the bathroom, in the time before helicopter parenting and safety lids.

It wasn’t until my mother came home from the hospital a few days later and was walking up a sidewalk toward the house that she discovered the truth.

My sister—with her platinum-blond hair and likely mismatched outfit—was sitting on the front steps waiting to greet us.

As my mother approached, she lifted her little arm up to show my mom the hospital tag around her tiny wrist.

Mommy, look at my bracelet!

That was just-the-start of all of the twists and turns of living that have transpired in these last four and a half decades.

In some ways it seems I’ve only just begun to get my bearings and come to understand what living is about.

In other ways it seems as if every-single-step-upon-this-path—and every misstep for that matter—has had a distinct purpose and been adding up to this very moment in time.

It can be tempting on birthdays to wish for something monumental to happen—a surprise, a thoughtful gift, a message from a long-lost friend.

It can be tempting to believe or project the opposite, as well—to brush aside the idea that a single-day-in-a-year can hold any particular relevance and insist instead on the normalcy of this truly miraculous event that marks the beginning of a life.

To discover a balance between the two seems like an apropos metaphor for the grand act of living as a whole.

Rising early on Sunday—sitting cross-legged on my couch in the quiet—I leaned forward to reach for my coffee perched on the leather ottoman bought a few years back to prevent head injury in wrestling children falling from the sofa.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of our fox.

It was the mother—the healthier of the two who have been making themselves comfortable on our property these last months, their den likely constructed nearby.

Her face was very still and staring distinctly down the stretch of lawn on one side of our house.

I thought maybe she was trying to decide whether it was safe to pass-through.

Then I noticed a rustling behind her.

I knew she had two pups—we had seen them on another day frolicking in our yard, fearless and naïve to the world around them.

I thought maybe she was holding them back standing there.

I decided to quietly get up and retrieve my binoculars from a closet across the room.

I knew it was risky.

I had barely risen from the couch when she heard me and began to move.

I knew in an instant what had been going on.

She had been standing there nursing her pups.

She began first trotting across the lawn, the little foxes still attached trying to get one last drink.

Then she began to run.

One small fox released itself and got its footing quickly and ran with her, away.

The other sat there dazed having been knocked loose.

His body language said, what just happened?

I remember having to suddenly stop nursing my own children at times—in a restaurant or some other inconvenient place—and them looking up at me with a similar, confused expression.

It reminds me of how it can be sometimes living out the human experience—confusing, disorienting, abrupt.

We do all eventually find our way—even when this doesn’t seem to be the case.

There is no right way, either.

This I have come to know.

A towering birch tree with its white, textured trunk and unusually draping branches stands tall outside the three picture windows a few feet from me—perhaps wilted from the steamy temperatures that have risen and fallen precipitously these last few days.

Every so often, a powerful gust of wind comes bursting forth brushing the branches to the side like long tresses of hair across a neckline—then just as suddenly stopping and bringing the flowing branches to stillness.

 

 

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“A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love.”—Stendhal

It was Friday afternoon and I was perched at a weathered, picnic table at the top of the stairs overlooking the dock.

The sun burned hot and bright—shining through the just-barely-fluttering birch leaves hanging out over the water creating a sense of transparency, like when light is diffused through kite paper.

The breeze was cool and intermittent, softly lifting a few strands of hair around my face and placing them back down so I could sweep them from my vision again and again.

I did what I could to brush aside, as well, the many, mounting rejections intrinsic to creative pursuit—and to temper the sadness and dismay building in my bones over innocent children dying in school once again.

There are ample reasons in any life to lose hope for humanity and for our aspirations—to lose faith in the power of benevolence and our ability to live safely, fruitfully, joyfully.

Even the smallest injustices can take root in any-one-of-us and germinate into something distorted and more powerful than what is merited if we allow it to.

Might we all find ways to examine this inner-alchemy and insist instead on a personal evolution—a way forward—expressive of greater compassion, deeper insight and specific calls-to-action unique to each of us.

Might our efforts spread and take root and become intertwined between us so that we might weave a world fit for us all—like an intricate basket—weighty yet giving to accommodate the vastness of our differences and our distinct need for one another.

When they first went down to the dock, Jonah and his spritely—his sisterly—friend tied heavy, metal objects to long ropes and tossed them out into the water repeatedly.

They noticed a pair of hermit crabs in the distance and wondered aloud if their rope could reach to touch them.

Adrian sat on the long part of the dock alone soaking in the sun and sea air, resting in his private thoughts.

Then he placed a frisbee with a mesh center and a faded, pinkish-orange frame over his head like a bouncy hat.

Later he made his way onto his stomach—legs stretched out behind him, arms propping him up—resting again.

A motor boat passed through the cove briskly heading for the shoreline off to our right creating fast, undulating waves and jostling the dock.

The quiet mood transformed with the rapid rhythm of the water and the kids sprung-up steadying themselves on the rocking raft like surfers, suddenly filled with new ideas for play.

In the distance an unusual sea craft appeared—one-part tug-boat, one-part barge—with a narrow tower emitting a small stream of smoke into the clear, blue sky.

I pointed it out, speaking in a regular voice despite my distance—my call-to-attention carrying swiftly and clearly in the vicinity of water.

This tendency has to do with air temperature and soundwaves and the way this dynamic allows for more of what we say to reach those who are listening.

Jonah ran up the stairs past me toward the house—inspired.

“Where’s the camera?” he shouted, unwilling to stop to hear my reply.

Soon they had the camera with the zoom-lens and a notebook with crayons poised to capture and record all that they saw and thought about these mysterious happenings.

I tried not to worry too much about the lens getting wet and perused the websites of the chosen artists on my laptop—at first glance the work appeared quite different from my own and impressive.

The mood by the dock changed again when the water calmed and a pair of ducks with a trail of five or six ducklings crossed just a few yards out into the bay.

We all seemed to notice them at once and expressed our glee at witnessing such a sweet sight.

It wasn’t long after that when a sock got stuck in a tree.

On a property with children, socks can be found just about anywhere.

The exploration moved up from the dock and behind me into our yard where Jonah had brought out two, long nylon ropes he found in the shed and together with his friend threw one side up high into a sprawling oak tree and over a branch.

Now there was a length of the rope hanging down on either side of the branch.

They decided to attach a thick, wool sock—one of Jonah’s—between the two strands of rope to create a sort-of seat or thick-knot where they could gain leverage with their bare feet or rest their behinds as they climbed up higher and higher, carrying the rope wrapped up in their legs with them.

When they tired of this pursuit, they threaded the other rope through the circular base of a swing that hung on the opposite branch of the tree.

They took turns climbing onto the swing and allowing the other person to pull it upward with the rope into a steep incline—then letting it go forcing the person holding the rope to run forward along with the swing so as not to get dragged by the momentum.

It was both inventive and dangerous-looking.

I took in their ingenuity doing my best not to gasp at the close-calls and thought about the delicate balance between allowing my children (and their friends) to test their abilities and pursue their visions and to be free, really, all the while trying to keep them safe.

Often giving them space to explore and believe I am not anywhere nearby feels like the most crucial choice I can make now to impact their future-ability to thrive.

It’s so hard to trust this critical process—this birthright—given what I know about the world, given what we all know.

It was a relief—and a return to balance in the weighted-scale of the afternoon—when Jonah and his friend left the swing and brought out the violin.

They both play and passed the instrument back and forth on the porch steps.

I noticed the way the light fell on them like actors on a stage.

Eventually I realized it was time to gather up the ropes and get us ready for an outing we had planned that evening.

The kids pulled on one side of the rope to retrieve it from the tree.

The sock-side went shooting to the top where it became lodged between two branches.

We yanked on it briefly attempting to release it and eventually had to abandon it to leave on-time.

I was surprised a few days later when I noticed the rope and sock had somehow been removed without my knowledge.

Jonah explained that he had accidentally released it when he had once again climbed the rope the following day and it came loose suddenly sending him onto the ground—onto his back—with a thump.

I’m not sure the sock ever made it back inside.

The days have grown longer in these last weeks—the sky illuminated at dawn and brimming with the emphatic narrative-of-the-birds, settling in for a season of greater ease.

 

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“Faith is a passionate intuition.”—William Wordsworth

This book is different than what you might find in a mainstream bookstore. The cover is a combination of white and pale-shaded blue—remarkably smooth to the touch—the illustrations fanciful and drawn in a pastel palette.

It has the feel of a children’s picture book more than a middle-age reader and was a gift for two boys’ birthdays celebrated two months after-the-fact.

From the drawing on the front they could see an adventure would be found within, yet Jonah and Adrian still wondered aloud whether the story would be adventurous enough.

Oh-how-enticing the lure of excitement can be.

Adrian will sometimes exclaim in certain situations—usually in response to the presence of a spread of sweets and some parental limitation—I’m so tempted!

I smile thinking about his words and wide-eyed expression and imagine all of the ways in which the world will call to him as he grows and the temperance he will need to harness at times.

I think about the restraint we all need to exercise so as not to be swept up into the appeal of instant gratification and constant diversion so available in today’s hastened reality.

When I check-out of these ways of being too-hurried and too tapped-into the perspectives of others, I notice a new—a renewed—energy rising up in me.

To shed constant noise and popular narrative is a little like being reborn.

I find myself engaged again with the rhythm of my own ready voice filled with the valuable instincts present in the spaciousness of conscious breathing, alive in the drinking-in of my child’s long and detailed story, whispering as I peer at clouds inching across the sky—draped in shadow, then in light.

The natural world sharpens into greater focus—branches of trees outlined thickly as if with a stick of charcoal, as if my contact lens prescription has suddenly been increased.

A greater nuance of color is revealed in my sight and my heartbeat steadies with every moment less I spend absorbed in a world of endless chatter.

Time seems to expand and worries around outcome lessen.

It will all get done. Or it won’t.

I will be known. Or I won’t be.

Stripping away the collective voice, we may arrive at the solitary—yet deeply fruitful—precipice of our own unique being where we may quietly mine our personal truth in living.

It was my kind of drawing—whimsical with an elegant boat made from the body of a swan—a delicate, lavender flower decorating the sail.

Aboard were three children with rosy cheeks and a gnome with a long redish-blond beard wearing a pointy hat standing at the helm where the swans neck rose up and curled forward in the shape of a hook or an umbrella handle.

A mermaid rode portside with green flowing hair and beneath the boat swam three single-eyed sea creatures.

I attempted to read in an animated voice to garner enthusiasm when we began huddled together in one twin bed where the light is better.

It wasn’t necessary though—the story was packed with compelling happenings from the start.

We finished a couple of chapters before we packed for our own adventure and I tucked the book into the boys’ backpack to read while we were away.

I was surprised by Adrian’s early awakening given our long journey and his brief slumber and had to peel my eyes open to greet him.

I had stayed up into the night unpacking, learning my way around our new accommodations and hunting for the coffee I knew would ground me in morning ritual the following day.

We found a wide chair with a giant ottoman to lounge in while I drank from a dreamy mug and then eventually made our way outside—into the back—where the sun cast heat in a way that we hadn’t felt upon our skin in Maine for many months.

The book was far from my mind.

There was a wooden shrine along the edge of the flourishing space with a large Buddha from the Indian tradition seated in the earth-touching position—an emblem of determination—and based on the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment.

I admired and photographed it from a particular angle to highlight a single strand of flora in the path of the sunlight landing at chest-height in front of it.

It became a touchstone in the coming days to gaze at the Buddha amidst the ruckus of kids in a pool—a flash of serenity among splashing chaos.

A wall of fuchsia bougainvillea almost-completely camouflaged a fence and there was a pool with a giant, inflated swan-boat-raft—seated at the edge—ready to be launched.

It was completely lost on me at first.

The white swan raft with its black markings and yellow beak looked fantastical and fun but I didn’t initially make any sort of connection.

It might have been the second night when we pulled out the book to read before bed that I finally looked at the cover and had a revelation.

We had arrived in a place where there was a literal swan boat available for our enjoyment mirroring the cover of our book and the story within.

On that first morning, I allowed Adrian to launch the swan into the pool.

He pushed it off the ledge and then leapt onto it fully-clothed, shortly after falling in.

There was practically incessant riding-on-the-swan-boat, leaping-onto-the-swan-boat and nearly-destroying-the swan-boat’s neck by four children for five days.

Clearly the one with the long, curly, blond locks was the mermaid and any of the other three could have been the gnome or the sea creatures.

When we weren’t by the pool we were absorbing sun and beauty in other nearby locales.

We had just come from a hike in Topanga Canyon and from scarfing down food from In-N-Out Burger.

We were exiting into the parking lot from the restaurant when a man we had passed by the doorway, called out to me.

Jonah and Adrian were sun-kissed with white and blue hoods pulled up over their heads in protection from the strong rays—slow and sleepy from the activity and the food.

The man began following us.

He was sun-burned, too, and appeared to be either homeless or nearly so.

I heard him say something again and I quickly scanned my inner alarm-system for any signals that I should gather my boys more near.

Instead I received the opposite message and knew distinctly to turn toward him—not away.

He began telling me in his drawn-out voice that he had recently heard a radio program about penguins and that my two boys in their white and blue hoods somehow reminded him of those adorable creatures wobbling along.

I could see his point entirely and his comment had immediate significance given our family’s recent association with penguins.

We thanked him for the message—taking in his weathered face and watery eyes—wishing him well.

Enjoy those bambinos, he’d said as he strolled off.

After he’d gone, we all began talking at once.

Penguins! Can you believe it!

This message wasn’t lost on any of us.

Life has a way of speaking to us when we have hearts to listen.

Sometimes it can take time and reflection to understand the directions in which we are being guided.

Often the world is offering reassurance that can only be understood in hindsight.

There are vast meanings attributed to the symbolism of the swan drawing from ancient mythology to dream analysis to Shamanism to Native American Totems.

The thread that seems to weave the many interpretations together is the emphasis on intuitive listening—our abilities to live gracefully within this invisible dance with something greater than us—and our receptivity to messages delivered from another realm sometimes by angels who walk right here among us as if in disguise.

This might be the slowest entrance into Spring that I’ve experienced since moving to Maine nearly nine years ago.

Wool and blankets are staples still.

Tiny buds have begun to appear on branches—though you have to look really closely to notice them.

Strangely, there will be a spike in temperature with a high of 80 degrees forecasted for tomorrow—a welcome relief from the low-draping clouds and the chill.

My hope is to be among the natural world soaking in the warmth and the silence and listening intently for the exquisite call of the swan.

 

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