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“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.

“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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“Not all those who wander are lost.”—J.R.R. Tolkien

There are four, colorful boxes of incense tucked away in the kitchen on a high shelf in the cabinet where I keep the coffee and the spring-green, leaf-shaped plates.

I can just barely reach the basket where I keep them if I go up on tippy-toes and extend my arm so my shoulder rolls forward—grabbing it with the tops of my fingers.

The rectangular containers are labeled with the attributes each particular aroma is meant to invoke—strength, power, balance, devotion.

I’ve been carrying around the basket that contains them for going on twenty years—it has found a purpose in three or four apartments and now—for nine years—in our home in Maine.

I have no recollection how I came upon it—neither time nor place—yet, I know it has been with me forever. It’s remarkable the way the hay-colored fibers have remained tightly wound almost like they are newly woven.

I am most drawn to the lavender box of incense within the basket—still in the old design—and its call for balance.

Yesterday’s moderation in all things is today’s aspiration for living a life weighted equally all around—a balancing scale—one side mostly-effort, the other mostly-ease.

I select the devotion incense most—drawing out a single, thin strand of the biotic material from the powder-blue box, placing it upright in the crimson, ceramic container on the counter’s ledge and connecting a flame with the tip.

I allow the fire to burn for a moment and look-on as it dies out on its own—transforming into a smoky balm—washing over me as I engage in the subtle, inner-practice of acknowledging the unseen.

Choosing devotion, I call to mind—and into my heart—a sense of what it means to co-create a life with a driving force I cannot quantify.

I call to that still space within a loving—a nourishing—energy that at the end-of-the-day I can turn to and whisper, you saw all that, right?

 I don’t know how they decide which scent—which herbs and oils—are attributed to these various ways of being—strong or powerful, balanced or devoted.

I do notice that the single act of calling-to-mind these qualities—of pausing to notice their residence no matter the depth at which they have been buried—is an invitation to embody aspects of the human-spirit—that I, that we all—might otherwise reject or deny.

I hadn’t planned to spend the late-morning and the early-part of the afternoon unraveling a tangled web of yarn.

Jonah and Adrian learned to finger-knit in nursery school and later they each created their own knitting needles as a part of their 1stgrade, handwork class.

They took pride in constructing and sanding the wooden needles, but neither of them love knitting with them—it’s hard for their small hands and especially for their quick-thinking minds.

Adrian likes to keep me abreast of where everyone in his class is on the rows of knitting they have undertaken for their tea cozy or the flute case.

This friend is already on their red! Another student has just begun the green row!

They do adore yarn and have asked me to buy another skein every time we have visited a craft store for several years.

I have exhibited anything but balance in my response.

I have been downright indulgent in the amount of yarn I have purchased for our household given my own low-level, knitting capability.

I am drawn to the meditative stance of creating stiches, however, my technical skills are limited.

My creative path has always relied heavily on intuition and been light on technique—although I do truly value both.

In our bountiful collection of yarn, we have orange and black yarn purchased around Halloween for hanging decorations. There was blue and white yarn added to the pumpkin-color when we ventured to create NY Mets bracelets. We have yarn that is more like the weight of string and changes back and forth between a few colors that look like candy. And there is some really fluffy, higher-quality yarn in the mix that was chosen for its soft texture and the vision that it would make for a lovely scarf that has yet to come to life.

To my surprise, Adrian once requested purple yarn for a rainbow creation he was making—just after he refused to wear this same-colored, soccer shirt because he thought it was too girly.

We have been keeping the yarn in two shopping bags hung in the cabinets in the mudroom beside the yellow, rain overalls.

I pulled them out today with the intention of organizing the contents so that Jonah and Adrian could more readily access the yarn for use this summer in their various creations.

I invited Adrian to join me.

Like most children, his love-language is time-spent-together and I hoped to both fill up his little body with togetherness and also to make some sense of the tangled mess.

Jonah remained curled up—reading on the couch—while Adrian eagerly agreed to join me.

We spread the chromatic chaos across the living room floor and wondered how the yarn had become so-very-tangled.

It appeared as if someone had placed a cake-mixer into the bag and spun the yarn all around like batter.

Adrian worked with me for an hour or more. We developed a system in which he would begin rolling a single strand of yarn—starting with an end we’d found in the jumbled pile.

He would roll the ball for as long as he could until he ran into a tangle.

Then he would hand the tangled part to me and I would shake out the various strands—haphazardly—until everything loosened up and we could find a pathway for his winding line to come loose and continue.

We celebrated the little-wins of completing a single ball—even the really small ones made from scrap yarn.

There were times when the yarn was so knotted or trapped within the many channels that I decided to cut it free with scissors—sacrificing, for our sanity, the potentially larger ball we could have constructed.

Adrian drifted-off to play with Jonah and I continued working even though I had not planned to spend so much of my day engaged with fiber.

I found one grouping of lines that were attached in such a way that they reminded me of a cat’s cradle string game.

I held up the pattern and looked through the geometric openings at Jonah and Adrian playing cards at the table outlined in various shades of blue from the multi-toned arrangement.

They didn’t notice.

Suddenly, my body became chilled.

Houses in Maine have a way of staying cool in the summer despite the higher temperatures and the fervent sun heating up tomato plants in gardens across the state.

It’s as if a sliver of winter hides out—nestled inside behind the wood stoves—occasionally spreading her coolness as a reminder of her status as most prominent season.

Gathering a particularly difficult entanglement, I went out to the front porch where it felt a good 10 degrees warmer.

Sitting on the front steps, my long-sleeves quickly seemed redundant under the sun’s glare as I attempted to find a way out of the mayhem in my grasp.

After a while, my efforts began to feel futile and my back started to hurt.

I knew this wasn’t a project I was going to finish in a single day and finally decided to give myself a break.

I went back inside and separated the balls we had completed and piled everything else back into the two bags, leaving them on the side of the room to be dealt with later.

I thought about how much this process of sorting out the yarn—and especially the many, colorful, tangled pathways—reminded me of the complexity of the inner journey, of doing the work of living.

It reminded me of what it means to follow the threads of our lives both backward and forward noticing how and where things began and the places where we run into hang-ups.

At times we grow with the help of others—often solitude is needed.

Celebrating any breakthroughs—no matter the breadth—fuels our ability to thrive.

Cutting our losses is sometimes necessary—releasing things and ways-of-life and people, even, that are keeping us stuck—freeing us up for continuing onward.

Sometimes working through a knot is warranted.

More than anything, I noticed how important it is to be gentle about the need to get somewhere—to finish.

Neither life nor the unraveling of knots are destination events.

Any beauty I have found in living has all been about dropping into the very moment before me—right there where the tangles and the pathways live—and finding a way to breathe, to breathe through it all.

 

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