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“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. 

“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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“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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“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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“One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.”—Henry Miller

I probably should have located my destination on a map before getting in the car. I vaguely remembered having seen an exit sign for the town on 295 so I believed the highway would be the fastest route.

I imagined I would be avoiding the steep and winding country roads I had once traversed to get there years ago—in the dark, in search of a theater, still new to Maine.

It was a grey and dreary morning—somewhat rare here.

To friends from away I often describe the luster of winter in this rocky, coastal place—the brilliance of the sun’s rays bouncing off of snow, our position on the edge of the continent seeming to limit the shadows cast by heaps of living going on across the country to one side of us.

With the way the light lands and our position on a map it seems as if we are perched up more propitiously for the absorption of sunlight than in other geographical locations— though this isn’t exactly true when considering actual altitudes.

When I contemplate the way the light falls here, I remember the time I traveled in college to the coast of Portugal from Spain where I was studying.

With three friends, I rented a tiny, maroon car— a Twingo—for a long and scorching holiday weekend.

We drove it to the furthest edge of the European continent and took a photograph pretending to push it over the steep drop.

In the town we stayed—with its cobblestone streets—I took another photograph of a dark-skinned, African man in a tapas bar wearing bright-yellow and smiling at me.

I appreciated the contrast of his black skin, white teeth and lemony shirt.

I couldn’t understand why my Spanish friend laughed when he came upon this photo in an album I later created.

And he just couldn’t comprehend why I would take that photo.

At dusk we saw another man painting, a palette in hand—standing at his easel on a rocky cliff—pantless.

I photographed him, too.

The quality of light there was like it is here—occupying a space in the experience of living—like when we say silence is a member of a meditative group.

Let me be a member anywhere where silence and the light show up.

I had programmed the address where I was heading into my GPS so as I entered the highway it began redirecting me back to the sinuous roads I was avoiding.

I kept driving—ignoring it—thinking it was going to eventually line-up with the route I thought I knew existed.

I noticed suddenly—according the machine’s arrival time—I was barely going to make it to the memoir workshop I was attending.

At the start of the trip I had twenty minutes to spare. My arrival time now suggested I would likely be entering a room full of participants—mid-icebreaker.

I finally succumbed to the imploring requests and endless recalculating to leave my misguided concept of a faster route for the more labyrinthine journey that I remembered.

The ashen day enhanced the quality and aura of the homes I drove past on my redirected route—many in significant disrepair with paint peeling and wood rotting.

The lawns were peppered with broken-down cars and other debris.

I wondered if it was cold inside with the biting chill in the air.

My mood mirrored the weary appearance of the long stretch of rolling road.

I don’t assume that the state of a home necessarily reflects the state of the heart of its inhabitants—I have witnessed meager homes with mighty occupants and the reverse.

And yet, on that stretch of road, I was reminded of the struggle and suffering holding an ample space among us.

When I arrived at my destination I drove through an area that reflected the more urban version of what I had seen en-route—boarded up windows on row houses, packs of kids traveling in too-thin clothing, shop-signs dangling, rusted-out railroad tracks.

Parking hurriedly, I gathered up my many layers of clothing and lunch, a backpack and a coffee to sharpen my thoughts.

The sign for the gathering reflected a start-time one-hour before I had arrived.

Holding off disappointment, I checked my confirmation to make certain I had the right time and asked the librarian for directions to the meeting room—twice.

The sign was misleading and it turned out I was in the right place at just-about the right time.

Finally I found the room where I was meant to be.

I listened at the double doors for a moment and caught a glimpse through the crack between them of a large, square table surrounded by people with notebooks and laptops and hot drinks.

Someone was speaking—making an introduction in a lively way.

Later I would think of her as seeming familiar to me.

“We do not make friends, we recognize them.”

I turned the handle on the door—it seemed to be locked at first.

I rotated it again quietly and pulled—a little harder—opening it and entering as unobtrusively as I could.

My hand shook slightly in my flowered, fingerless glove—shaken by the rush and the hit of caffeine—as I balanced my coffee and all of my things, taking in the welcoming words—faces filled with anticipation—and finding my place at the table.

I was as wrong about Spring’s fervent arrival with her her elbows nudging winter out as I was about my route to the workshop.

Snow came down doggedly last week weighting down the lowest pine branches until their tips touched the ground.

There is more of it—on its way.

The sun is uncovered and blazing this morning.

The crows are playing a game at the tops of the trees—calling out fiercely again and again.

 

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“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”—Omar Khayyam

The housekeeper called to us from down the hallway with the swirling Caribbean carpet. She wore a distant stare on her bronze face that softened when we met. Her smile was generous, her body moved as if weighted down by more than her slight frame.

She offered us water rafts left behind—clear plastic tubes decorated with sky blue and chartreuse stars. We thanked her more than we needed to and Jonah and Adrian promptly pulled the inner tubes over their heads and around their bodies and began bouncing—like inflated Sumo wrestlers—down the hallway.

I slightly regretted the new acquisitions.

The pool water was much colder in the mornings than the more tepid, aqua sea. Jonah placed himself gingerly on his new raft—on his belly, just barely getting his chest wet.

He paddled out to the concrete island in the center of the pool with the imported palm tree planted in the middle—not indigenous to the desert climate where we had traveled for a rest.

He climbed carefully onto the enclave and stood up with satisfaction—his blue eyes sparkling, highlighted by his tan skin.

He folded his arms proudly and with his foot, pushed the raft away out of his reach, theatrically announcing, “Now, I’ve done it!”

“I’m stranded!”

“Now I’ll have to get in!”

A few seconds later he leapt off of the ledge—cannon-ball style—emerging gleefully, breathless from the extreme change in his body temperature and impressed by his strategy.

I lured them to the water’s edge with the suggestion of building a Hogwarts castle in the sand. This worked again and again and we created the structure at two separate beaches in three locales.

I began building drip-castles with them when they still thought it was a good idea to shove a chubby fist full of sand in their mouths.

There was a time when it seemed these days of leading them into play and creation would go on forever.

Now I recognize how brief a moment this stage will occupy across the timeline of living—a narrow sliver on a row of yardsticks across a stretch of years.

They think we will not need one, but I buy a cobalt blue bucket at the gift shop anyway.

I carry it to the shore, fill it with water and bring it to the place where the dense, wet sand meets the softer, lighter-color layer of powdery disintegrated shells.

Adrian makes the connection in this—his 7th year—that sand is the accumulation of billions of ground up shells and rock formations broken down over millennia by the tireless churn of ocean waves.

I once read that sea glass could be created at home by combining water with broken bottles and spinning it around and around in a household cement mixer.

In the past I thought about making the investment in this apparatus so that I—and my children—could experience this process first hand. I might still.

In the place where the wet and dry sand meet I situate myself on the upper layer where I begin building the base of our castle. Jonah and Adrian position themselves beneath me where they begin digging a long trench beside a thick wall—both constructed to protect the castle from the rolling tide.

I pour handfuls of soft sand into the water until I find the right mix—about the consistency of a thin cake batter.

With my fist full, I begin dripping a stream of sand into the formation of individual towers filling the rectangular outline. I watch as the sand sifts through the spaces between my fingers and fist accumulating into mini sculptures—each attempt unique.

It reminds me of the vast scope of lives among us. I think about the many ways that we may cultivate our unfolding—each development organic and coming to life in response to our every thought and vision.

Sometimes the sand cooperates forming a thick base, gradually thinning and growing more and more steep. Occasionally the accumulation of the dripping sand will reveal a form like a body or another figure—an hunched beggar, a mother with child, a towering tree.

My husband notices my whole-body exhale each time we arrive at this place of creating along a stretch of beach and joins in trying out my technique.

Jonah reserves the task of making the tallest drip-castle in the structure.

Once he decides to build it along the side of the building instead of in the center combining many towers into a large triangular wall.

I observe him as he surpasses what I have taught him and I imagine all that he may create in his life—my heart swelling at the thought of it.

I imagine what it means to be encouraged—all possibilities open like a river flowing swiftly through a gorge. The vision—only your heart’s deepest longing, whatever that might be.

The rain comes and goes rapidly.

When we see the nimbus clouds crowding together and darkening across the sky in stark juxtaposition with the turquoise water the boys rush to gather all of our belongings and begin sprinting toward the pool area where there is a hot tub and an awning to protect our things.

I think about how hard it can be to get them moving at times and the disparity of their speed with the threat of a storm.

I relish in the tingling of my skin when I sink into the Jacuzzi—a gentle, cold rain dampening my hair.

We do this again and again when the rain comes—hoping for the most extreme contrast we can experience—a powerful, heavy rain coupled with a warm bath.

Adrian loses his second, front tooth in the pool. He doesn’t notice until we’ve gotten back to the room and he remembers that he felt traction between his mouth and the water when he was swimming.

When his eye swelled up and we took him to the clinic, the doctor commented on the wide garage space in his mouth.

His new, toothless grin both matures him and anchors him more deeply into this place in time in which his r’s are still absent and his lens of the world still soft and hazy.

I was coming from our room by myself and entered into the elevator. It was just after noon.

An older couple—likely retirees—came inside the elevator along with a bellman.

The older man said to the bellman, “good morning.”

His wife promptly corrected him; “I think it is afternoon, now.”

The bellman said, “Yes, good afternoon, it is afternoon now.”

I watched as the older man composed himself. I could almost feel his energy zip into a line inside of him—taught.

A slight brightness came to his eyes. I knew he had something good to share.

“May this be the morning of our lives, then.”

I wanted to hug him.

Back in Maine, snow keeps getting swept out of the forecast by the rain.

Spring is here in full force with her elbows wide nudging aside the snowdrifts and making herself known through the mud and the sweet call-of-the-birds at dawn’s first light.

 

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