My Grandson’s Hand in Mine

It seems such a small thing that I have resisted writing about it for a week, and it was such a small thing, my grandson’s hand slipping into mine like a piece of cool silk when we cross the street. Not any little street, but NYC streets. Without resistance, especially across Broadway.

We all have some memory of being touched gently, serenely, with not a single barrier, whether by a lover or someone we wished to be a lover. At least I hope we all have, but surely I overstated. It isn’t the makeup of the world that we all have been loved.

Actually I remember the touch, as an adolescent, of a monkey reaching through a cage, quick as a viper, grabbing my hair at its roots and pulling my head against the screen as I screamed. I feel it now, but that is not the kind of touch I mean.

In retrospect, I remember other violent touches, the first time my husband hit me, but this is not about that.

This is about a ten-year-old boy who slips his hand in mine like silk. It is about holding my hand out when he is a step behind and having his hand touch mine without my even seeing him, knowing he is there and his knowing I am there, and we will cross Broadway safely.

It is about agreement of who we are together. And agreement of going forward, of crossing the landscape, of moving through time and space in our bodies. Our bodies that hold our minds, and thoughts, and emotions. It is about trust. It is about love as ordinary as water.

I have never felt that level of trust with my arm through that of a partner. I have never felt that safe crossing busy streets.

That amazingly fine hand with long delicate fingers, not clutching, simply entwined, and continuing so after we cross the street.

Yes, he may jump and whirl and yell and laugh and roll on the rug with delight when he beats me in chess. Triumph, unabashedly competitive.

Yes, he is alert and attentive to my elderly foibles, leaving my key in the door of the apartment. He is already tending and accepting.

But when he puts his hand in mine, our palms against each other the world is somehow right. We are comrades and for that moment I am still the elder, the guard, the protector. There is no resistance, nor is there surrender.

The touch says it all, and that is not a small thing at all.

 

Going Gently into the Light

All I want is to be gentle and to have the right to be gentle. It is not my time to protest anymore, but giving it up feels like an abandonment not only of those in need and those in pain and those in loss, but of myself, of the spirit of my younger self. It is confused by my physical weariness.

Some people climb the Himalayans in their 70s or even 80s, but that will not be me.

I am not complaining, though I am baffled. Doctors do not decipher my weariness, they prescribe or they look at me slightly askance as though someone who looks as I look must be a malingerer, or neurotic, certainly unrealistic and narcissistic. They are not inside my body.

I am not a malingerer. My body and my mind are weary. Wrong, only part of my mind is weary. One part is burstingly alive, radiant, claiming, grabbing, and appalled at the other half.

Forget names, forget the names of things, forget the sequence of events over the past week, forget spellings.

Doctors say is it usual. It is NOT usual. It is not acceptable, though I try, when I am not angry or frightened.

Have you noticed how we never grow up? How dreams and thoughts take us back to childhood, and there it revamps things? It makes memories and some good guys problematic, but more, it makes some bad guys good. We come to understand those who hurt us and accept the cages that destroyed them and harmed us. We become organisms that forgive, even as some people must be written off.

And even that loses meaning too with time.

I don’t want to be the old woman in the chair in the corner, and it is difficult to imagine I will be even as I might be. “She was so vital,” they’ll say. “She was something in her day.”

I just want to be gentle and gracious and generous and to have flashes of brilliances. Strangely I do have flashes of brilliance, mostly private. They come as gifts special delivery from a bright and shining light, and they blow me away. No, they lift me, and fly me to clean places where for a moment I am where forever lives.

I just want to be gentle and know that I too will be forgiven for wrongs and errors, and that I have a right to be gentle, that the world will be safe enough for the elderly to be gentle if they need be, without guilt, that we can mourn our losses quietly and let joy flow like light through our veins without guilt for not having done more.

Perhaps this will change, perhaps my body will find a key to turn that brings it back to power and rambunctiousness, and I would accept that gladly. Who wouldn’t? Reality has always included miracles we can work towards and be open to, but not command.

Perhaps the miracle is that, as my body gentles itself, love occupies all its spaces.

 

 

My Fainting Epiphany: love and loss

The first thing I felt, before my eyes opened, was the coolness of the bathroom tile against my cheek, as calm, placid, and cool as a forest lake—as though I’d never felt coolness before, as a baby might feel it, as someone without memory files.

The first thing I saw was a roll of toilet paper above me. How odd, and why were the walls at strange angles, like a white-on-cream cubist painting or quirky stage set—like flat surfaces that did not know they were walls, that were not yet tamed into being straight up.

It was the middle of the night. I was alone. I was flat on the bathroom floor.

Ill and light-headed, I had thought I might faint so took a pillow with me, but I missed it. I have scrapes on my forehead, a bruise above my right eyebrow, and small gash across my nose. Also a junior-size bump above my left ear and two splits inside my left upper lip. It is a Rorschach test to figure how I landed, though clearly my face led the way.

In the few days since I have rested, gardened, and questioned. What really matters? Who am I? Are politics or art more important? How many people will die without health care? Have I overcome or neutralized or morphed through the pains and betrayals of my life, or not?

That last question is one I’ve focused on for several weeks. My therapist on the afternoon before the night of fainting reminded me that trauma is cumulative. I recently opened the lid to the anteroom of my losses. One can go on, gain strength and even love through loss—including loss through betrayal and harm—but pain and loss don’t go away, they just become more companionable. Mine had become dark overstuffed upholstered chairs mildewing in the corner badly in need of cleaning and new stuffing.

This blog is not specifically about my traumas, but about the twining of love, loss, and grief. That someone arbitrarily harmed you, that they turned into a monster, does not mean you can retract your love without feeling loss. In fact, you can find your way to detach from the person, even to stop loving them, even to forgetting them over time, but you cannot cancel out the sense of loss. You loved. Love, too, is cumulative, and it remains.

No, this blog is not specifically about my trauma, but to give you a sense of my creds. I lost my child in a custody suit, suffered physical and emotional domestic violence, my “soul mate” third husband had a separate secret life complete with apartments in San Francisco and Beijing, and my childhood was an exercise in emotional stoicism.

I now live three blocks from my daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren and our lives are filled with love. I got out of the abusive marriage 40 years ago, and that husband died after 20 years living in a banana grove. The “soul mate” married someone as fraudulent as he is and lives far away. I feel no need for vengeance.

And my parents became sweet and loving the last years of their lives. I tended them both into peaceful deaths. I also was there when my only sibling, my brother, died suddenly, a loss felt deeply.

But let us return to exploring how feeling loss proves you know how to love.

Loss is loss is loss and feeling or re-feeling losses can be disorienting. It can make walls go slant. It scales away your self-definition, and tries to strip away your persona, leaving you with the choice to let that persona go and find your way in the land of no self-definition and confusion, or to try to tamp down your painful losses and lock them in an anteroom, clinging to your persona as though you think it is who you are.

We all, in fact, always exist in the state where self-definitions are constructed trappings, attempts to not be frightened by the magnitude of being alive. When was the last time you tried to perceive the cosmos? When did you meditate into bliss? When did you last see the world as a baby before you decided walls go straight up?

Besides musing these past days, I watched two episodes of “Xena: Warrior Princess” and two episodes of “Star Trek.” Both firsts for me. The acting in Xena is hilariously bad and Star Trek is, so to speak, a world of its own.

What is of most interest is that the ads are about life insurance or things needed to breath right, i.e. equipment to clean your nose, and equipment to clean your sleep time breathing equipment, and things to do so you don’t feel guilty for dying. That is, the ads are for declining baby boomers who want re-runs of vicarious thrills rather than getting off the sofa—or facing up to that they spend too much time on the sofa.

We Americans are not good at looking at our lives. It can be painful. Not one of us with any age has not at some time been in a morass of lost love. It can dissolve a persona so thoroughly that the actual person is not sure which way is up, where her feet are, or what is ahead. The walls slant.

But I prefer loss of self-definition, as least for awhile. I prefer its freedom. I prefer finding my way through the loss to the love that had, and has, its home in my cells. The love did not go away when the lover, or parent, or friend, or betrayer died or left.

As trauma is cumulative, so is love.

I prefer beauty, and touch, and taste, and colors, and music, and the twining growth of wisteria up my house, and the cool nose of my dog, and the glint of rose off the sides of wet fish, and the whiff of sage, and my grandson’s smile when he spies a joke in the air, and making love in a soft bed with linen sheets and someone who goes there with me.

I prefer not to feel the bruises on my face but the cool smooth tile on my cheek. I love the hydrangea bush I planted yesterday, and that I could help its shocked branches by staking them upright. I love tending plants.

I want to be here, alive, mucking around in the sensations of being alive, even if I lose people and things. The hydrangea flowers will die but the plant bloomed.

I prefer to have the door to the anteroom of losses open so I can explore it for forgotten gems, find what was good and what was bad and say “I am here,” even if I do not know who I am or how large the cosmos is or when my body will die.

We endure the losses in order to become love experiencing life.

Love is cumulative and it is tough, and will tend us as surely as I tend the hydrangea.

 

Love, Beauty, and Soul are Dirty Words

We love children and polar bears being rescued, but something has gone wrong. We are not fully alive if we do not recognize those who died. We bind up and choke our souls when we do not mourn unnecessary death with outrage.

Pondering:

My dog ponders why he gets dried treats while humans get chocolate truffles, not to mention lobster chowder and mushroom pastries. Still he loves us, especially the grandchildren, and is mature enough not to make sneak attacks for nibbles off the counter.

My 7-year-old granddaughter ponders if she has remembered everyone she wants to give gifts, not allowing herself any excuses for her age. Her body twitches in anticipation of giving her gifts, each with a note saying she loves you.

My 9-year-old grandson ponders the structure of the US Congress and the electoral college and asks if there is an exact correlation between the number of representatives a state has and the number of its electoral representatives, or if it is only approximate. He loves his nation and feels we and it are in danger.

I ponder why I have more anxiety cooking for guests than I had facing angry men with guns in foreign nations.

I ponder free will, the nature of the conscience, the nature of consciousness, if forgiveness has any real meaning, if there is a separate entity we conveniently call “soul” or if that is a blend of our psychology, memory, ethics, longings – like custom paint mixtures with a drop of cerulean blue, some spring green, a tad of gingko leaf green, and a dollop of blood red until you get what feels like the essence of what you are looking for.

I ponder why I love more as I age, how to prevent wrinkles, how much exercise is really necessary, the nutrient value of mushroom powders, what happens to your cells when you have no sexual partner, the size of the universe, and will I have a self-awareness that can self-identify as “me” after I die?

My therapist ponders if she should be pragmatic with me or abstract, usually choosing pragmatic since I handle abstractions better than daily life – usually, not always.

Like my grandson, and every adult I know, I ponder if the T-word (I cannot say his name, which is pragmatic for the state of my psyche) is ushering in – with his band of humorless martinets – the end of the world, the end of the world as we know it, or not so many changes after all.

I do not need to ponder if he is sane.

Love, beauty, and soul:

What I ponder most is love. I read that writers are told not to use the words “soul” or “beauty.” But I know beauty when I see it and I know soul when I feel it. If not using those words has any value other than to get us to further differentiate into details and nuances, I don’t know what it is. We should speak of beauty and soul all the time, delve into their mysteries and their healing powers.

Beauty and soul, like love, cover a lot of territory and are true, and are not afraid to get dirty.

The White Helmets rescuing Syrians from under tens of tons of concrete rubble are beautiful and dirty and work out of love.

Polar bears on melting snow and ice are beautiful and heartbreaking and trying to save their cubs.

Parents carrying children a day’s journey to hospitals across barren earth are weary with grieving for their beloved and desperately ill babies.

Love and beauty and soul mingle with the blood, shit, and gurgling of those who die by guns, drones, bombs, and diseases. They loved and they were loved.

Hearts and minds off course:

We love children and polar bears being rescued, but something has gone wrong. We are not fully alive if we do not recognize those who died. We bind up and choke our souls when we do not mourn unnecessary death with outrage.

Lincoln Financial is one sponsor of The PBS News Hour. Their ad begins with “feel good” photos and a reassuring male voice telling us “You can care for many, but you can only love a precious few.” It then shows photos of loving moments limited to two or three family members.

When a widely broadcast ad tells us we can only love a precious few, when a script like that gets through the advertising department and the corporate higher ups, we have crossed into dangerous territory, a land where the T-word and his racism, bigotry, hatred, threats, and walls are elected – if not by the majority, still legally – to lead our country. Children like my grandson know and feel the poison for what it is, poison.

Feeling the love:

As I age, I witness my love expanding, seemingly on its own. Do I love the T-word’s cabinet appointees? No, but I don’t exactly hate them either. “Abhor” is a more accurate word.

I’ve become one of those women who has become gaga with love. This is not an abstraction, it is my reality. I touch it and feel it, even if I cannot explain it.

Do not tell me I can love only a precious few! That is bunk, a lie. It is wrong, it is the opposite of what I do and most people do. We love widely and deeply, and would love even more if we understood it as the natural and healthy way of living – if we had more courage, more encouragement, more faith in ourselves.

Love, beauty, and living aligned with your soul is as pragmatic as it can get. It is the only way we will survive.

 

What I Want: from Richard Gere to urban wolves

I want to lie, lazy and nearly naked, in the languid embrace of a sleeping lion with a scratchy mane, sweaty flanks, and the rank smell of wildness.

I want to regain for a moment the moment when I was 21 and walked into the sea wearing a black bikini of two 5″ bands across my white body and every head turned to watch.

I want the Israeli government and the Hamas and Fatah governments put on a boat and dumped on a small sandy island with only flowered shirts and baggy shorts to wear and packets of freeze dried hummus and bitter lemons dropped on them at random intervals. You might call it a blockade.

I want my ex-husband who is with a woman twenty years younger to know I’ve had the best sex of my life in the six years since I found out about her and left him.

I want Richard Gere to move in, wear white linen shirts, bake bread, and come up to me every day with a wine bottle in one hand, a glass in the other, and say, “Baby, I miss you.”

I want to swim again with the sea lion that whirled and twirled in front of me and looked into my eyes, stopping only to chase off two small sharks beneath us before returning to me to whirl and twirl again.

I want every poet, musician, artist, father, mother, farmer, and dreamer killed by war and violence – and all of their offspring who never were – to be returned to us.

I want addicts loved, the homeless sheltered, all sexes embraced, all ethnicities valued, and all children to be fed.

I want fewer liars and deceivers.

I want my dog to love me as much as he loves the people who take care of him when I am away even though I don’t walk him as much as they do or take him on paths where he sees deer.

I want the polar bears to survive, and wolves to proliferate so much that they enter urban centers, still with a glint in their eyes but politely moving to the side on sidewalks as they sniff out the nearest park with good water, or a coffee shop if they prefer.

I want to lie on my belly on new grass, my toes wiggling in a divot of mud, and hear the earth whisper that she will tend us the best she can even though we have not tended her.

I want the courage to hear the music that must exist across the cosmos of pain, grief, loss, desire, longing and even more of joy, brilliance, ecstasy, and light. I want it to permeate me but not vaporize me so I can return and try to tell others.

I want to accept. I want no child to lose his or her parents. I want love to prevail more often, more quickly, more evenly, and more obviously.

I want to hear every birdsong as though for the first time.

I want Richard Gere to move in, bake bread, and come up to me every day and say, “Baby, I miss you.”

 

A Valentine: Conquering the Fear of Saying “I love you”

It was Easter Sunday, 1960 in Iowa, I was 17, and nearly two feet of snow covered our quarter-mile lane. My father drove me on the tractor from the house to the cleared road where Jerry – not his real name – met me and took me the eight miles to town to meet his parents.

The noon meal included lamb, which I had never had before, and a head of cauliflower with melted cheese cascading down it. His father, who was French Canadian, prepared the meal. They owned the hardware store, several farms, and had land in the most beautiful lake country in Minnesota. They were the elite.

The night before Jerry and I had gone to my senior prom. He bought me a corsage of roses on his way home from college. We had dated since the end of the summer before. He sent me letters several times a week in neat small handwriting.

I had been in love with him – totally and secretly – since I was 12 years old. To have let anyone know that I, a country girl, was besotted by the most sought after boy in school – a townie, captain of the basketball team, student body president – would have been humiliating, unbearable.

But a miracle happened. On our first date we went to the movie “A Summer Place” starring Sandra Dee and Troy Donuhue. “Within that summer place your arms reach out to me. . . . I’m safe and warm in your arms, in your arms, in your arms.” 

On the night of the prom, after the dance, before the snow storm, we held and kissed. He told me that he loved me and wished we were married. He would take me to meet his parents the next day.

That next day, after the meal of lamb and cauliflower, he drove me to the end of my lane where I put on boots to walk to the house. We kissed and I told him I loved him. It was the first time I said “I love you” to anyone, even my parents.

I did not hear from him again for four years.

To not hear from someone in those days meant that it took weeks to know that you were not going to receive any more letters. Winter went to summer as I walked the lane to the mailbox to nothing. It was never talked about, never mentioned by anyone. Ever.

This and its infinite variables is how the words “I love you” become difficult to say. Is there anyone who hasn’t felt caution about expressing love, saying those words?

We don’t want to expose ourselves. We don’t want to mislead others. We are afraid if we say “I love you,” it will be heard as something else, as undue or awkward involvement. Obligations, intentions, obsessions.

The words “I love you” may have more baggage attached to them than any other words in the world, at least in the Western world. “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” come off easy in comparison. To be sorry and to forgive may be difficult to say and do, but they are one-click operations compared with plumbing the depths and complexities of love.

We know what being sorry is about and we know what forgiveness is about, but the word “love” has to support an array of meaning, nuance, subtlety, and innuendo. What kind of love? Romantic? Parental? Spousal? Sexual? For country or culture? For love of art, artists, idols, the home team?

It is peculiar that we don’t have distinct and separate words for different feelings of attraction and attachment. But I’ve come to believe there is a reason for this. It has to do with how language reflects truths that we seldom bring into conscious focus. Our language reveals that there is only one word for love because love is an encompassing whole. It is a totality and all of its variants fit inside the immense dynamic whole of love.

The ocean is one big thing. It might be a choppy ocean, a dark ocean, a calm ocean, but it is still one ocean made of water. We don’t have different words for “ocean.” (Okay, “sea” sort of, but not really.)

The sky is one big thing. It might be a stormy sky, a clear sky, a sky with clouds, but it is still one sky made of air. We don’t have different words for “sky.”

Love might be experienced with different qualities and forms, but it is still love. And – this is important – it possesses the qualities of a magnet. We are constantly pulled towards love. We want to live within love. We want love to permeate us. We recognize love as healing, sustaining, transcending, inspiring, and as our natural place to be, as home. As there is only one “home” so we only have one word for love.

The infinite variations of love occur through the feeling and actions of people who are lovers, parents, children, seekers, humanitarians, peace-workers, worshippers, and more. It is we humans who shape love into its different forms and apply it in our daily relationships. It is humans who “color” love, tweak it, make it real, make it our own, and become whole inside in the process. We heal, we transcend, we inspire, we come home.

[Note: Obsession, addiction, envy, jealousy, possession, and greed are not variants on love. Period. They do not heal, sustain, or transcend. They are not “home.”]

To round out the story of the Iowa boy who disappeared. He reappeared in 1964 when he was stationed at Quantico Marine base in Virginia and I was a cocktail waitress on Capitol Hill. He asked to see me and I acquiesced, but I was not above trying to humiliate him. It did not go well for him, and ended after several weeks.

I found him through Linked In a few years ago. I had a 5-decades old question I needed to have answered, “Why did you disappear after I told you I loved you?” He remembered nothing of it.

He then asked me, “If I had stayed with you that one night in DC instead of leaving would everything have been different? I’ve always regretted that.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. Just goes to show you, we are in the same movies, but we experience different plot lines.

He now lives in San Diego and is on the far right-wing fringe of politics. That’s really a different plot line than mine.

I owe him one thing. The imprint of first love, how total and consuming it can be even when secret, even when rejected.

And I owe him as the first catalyst for the muscle I have built over time to tell the people I love that I love them. It didn’t come easy, but the fact that it came hard means it is an examined, deliberate, and cherished choice. It is joy, clarity, play, gratitude, and strength. It is also freedom because to love someone is to go beyond the limitations of words.

 

 

Human Rights, or Dinosaurs Can Fly

Human rights are not like the laws of gravity or relativity. They can be violated without bodies launching into the cosmos even though it seems possible that souls may ascend as the bodies that held them fall.

Human rights can be denied without affecting the passage of time. Time will continue on its neutral way even though one moment of savagery can change everything in a person’s life and then freeze into a painful continuous “now.”

Nor did human rights arrive on a tablet of commandments or in a holy book or as words written on a wall or across the sky. If human rights had divine origins, the god that initiated them was late by millennia and still doesn’t have an enforcement plan. Where you go after you die is not adequate for the here and now.

Instead, human rights were created by humans through conscious evolution. They are concoctions of our better natures, the codification of empathy. Most people feel suffering inside when others suffer. We want suffering to stop.

We also recognize the pragmatic value of protecting others from harm and supporting each other for good. Human rights embody the living conditions we wish for everyone, especially the weak and vulnerable. To engrain the concept of human rights in the consciousness of the majority of people helps us unite against those among us who are short on empathy and long on greed and cruelty.

The movement for universal rights of equality, justice, education, health, and safety may seem to be evolving at the same speed that fish found their way to land and dinosaurs to feathers, but it is real, alive and unstoppable no matter how terrible its prospects look at the moment. It is, in fact, gaining speed.

Just to be sure on one thing: Human rights are larger in scope than the rule of legislated law. Such laws are needed, even as tools to enforce human rights, but they focus on punishment more than opportunity, are often poorly thought out, and are invariably tilted in favor of people with the money and willingness to hire morally dubious lawyers. Specifically, human rights are about not being feral. The mapping and near-universal acceptance of human rights is a triumph over the impulses of humans who want what they want when they want it and to hell with anyone else.

Yet, because human rights are not physical laws but rely on the better impulses of humans to make them real, they are constantly assaulted by the lesser impulses of humans – greed, lust, control, violence, self-righteousness, prejudice, and hate. The two sides can seem pretty evenly matched.

But the belief in, and the struggle for, universal human rights will win because most of us want to love each other. We want to share our lives, thoughts, arts, visions, music, dance, food, stories with each other – and that is what love is.

We will unite in kindness and protection and opportunity because we want to be family and we will not allow our family members to be starved, sold, voiceless, homeless, violated, or bombed. We will demand that all members of our family be respected and that all have protection, education, housing, health care, and justice.

Love is the ultimate right that encompasses all other rights. No religion, no belief, no cultural heritage is more important than honoring the human right to love and to be loved. Love is the law above all others. To disobey it is to fail at your turn in life.

It is time to bring love into the conversation about human rights. It is time to recognize why we care for each other to begin with.

 

The Bird That Hit My Window: truth and metaphor

DSCN5407A few days ago the sun shone just right through the glass doors between my living room and my balcony. A few inches above eye level is a white imprint – a startlingly elegant image, a Rorschach test in the middle of two lines that curve upward six inches on both sides.

It is the impact print of the mourning dove I found dead on the balcony a couple weeks earlier. Even the trace of its feathers is visible.

feather detail

The dove was folded in on itself under the small marble-topped café table. I determined to remove it before the woman who comes once a week to clean my house arrived. It was my dove, my balcony, my responsibility. Removing dead birds is not part of her job description.

But Onelia arrived too soon, before I had gathered myself to crawl under the table with an improvised bird body bag. Thinking she would not see the body from the living room, I decided to remove it later rather than draw attention to it.

Yet, when I looked later, the body was gone. Onelia had removed it without telling me. We were each protecting the other. Well, she protected me, and I had intended to protect her.

We didn’t speak of it then. We still haven’t. Between us, I am the designated weak one and she the strong one. Whether this is true or not, it is okay by me. People arrange their perceptions and assumptions into relationships without using words, and we do it in ways that tend to bond us, at least for awhile. Strength is her pride. It has gotten her through a difficult life. If protecting me adds to her sense of power and capability, I will not disturb that.

But I will not tell her of the mourning dove’s imprint on the window. I want it left there and she would clean it away. I want it there for a long time. It is flight. It is the moment before leaving.

We are alive and giving and flying until that moment. We leave imprints on each other. We burnish, scar, embellish, and decorate each other. We deepen character in each other. We take on each other. We are a Rorschach test of insights, memories, rituals, and of shared and opposing emotions. We impact each other, interpret each other, and live through each other.

In the last six days, a close friend called to tell me he had had a serious heart attack so wouldn’t be able to have dinner next week. Another friend was moved to a hospice after more than a year of treating her fifth bout of cancer as a friend rather than an enemy invader.

A few days earlier a friend told me he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, and my dearest friend for the longest time simultaneously has a cousin dying and a roommate in his twenties being tested for lymphoma.

Two days ago I was with a precious friend at the offices of her primary doctor for management of her chronic lymphoma leukemia. On the table was an issue of National Geographic with a cover photo of a newborn and a lead article titled “This Baby Will Live to be 120.” I realized I needed to look closely at what is going on with people who weren’t born yesterday.

I am surrounded by people who are handling diseases and the threatened end of their lives with such grace that I am slack-jawed. It is enough to accept that you will die, but to plan for it in real time and to be absolutely gratefully alive until that moment is the accomplishment of a lifetime.

One friend with terminal illness was, when we last spoke, gathering her strength for one last trip to Tuscany. Why not? Tuscany is beautiful.

My friend with the cousin who is dying just completed papers for her body upon her death to be donated to a hospital for research. She sent the records to three of us for safe-keeping with the words “I’ve always wanted interns exploring my body.”

I hadn’t given any thought to where my body would go. I live as though I have decades to decide such things – and maybe I do. I know only that I don’t want to be ashes on someone’s fireplace mantel.

I think I’d like to be a print on someone’s window, captured in full flight, until the rain and snow remove me.

Was the mourning dove part of a couple? Was she or he missed? I think so, I believe so. Maybe not so long as humans grieve for each other, but enough that it bothered the other birds who live in my garden. One mourning dove has had a nest in the wisteria the past two years. Was it that bird? Will there be a nest there next year?

People leave, but their imprint remains. A whisper in the mind, a feather, a stranger’s turn of phrase, a holiday tradition, a poem, a piece of lace, an old Valentine card, a farmer’s winter wool hat, a photograph imprinted in the mind more than on paper, a mother’s remembered stroke across a cheek, a bit of arthritis in your pinkie finger that reminds you of your grandmother’s crippled hands, the upper lip of your grandchild that matches that of your mother and all her siblings, a fountain pen with a gold nub, a feeling on a day when the wind, temperature, and humidity are just so, fireflies on a summer night, being alone when winter arrives, being alone when the crocuses come up in spring.

We carry people with us – both as blessings and as scars. As humans we can turn those blessings and scars into lessons. I am a student of my friends. All of the people I have mentioned are peace builders. Every single one. And they are all at peace with their lives and its end.

Is there a correlation between ease with dying and how you lived your life? Has it been full? Has it contributed? Did you live with integrity? Have you no apologies yet to say? Have you no angers yet to release? Did you dare? Did you fly? Have you been loved? Were you able to feel the love that was offered? Did you love? Were you nurtured by your loving?

Yesterday I bought two see-through black lace blouses. I don’t intend to die soon. I plan to  make love, eat well, hug people every single day, care for my friends, play with them, create art, go to the theater, write an opera, and learn the capitals of every nation on the planet.

I plan to exercise, snuggle with my dog, swim, dance, finally learn decent (and indecent) French, eat chocolate and candied ginger, and listen to my women peers who have fallen in love for the umpteenth time. I plan to fall more and more in love with my grandchildren and their  parents. I plan to be as transparent as the see-through blouses.

I will die, but that is all I will do for death – Edna St. Vincent Millay. (Quote courtesy of another friend and peer – an activist, healthy, beautiful.)

 

 

 

 

 

Ode to a Man Who Loves Me

There is a man who has loved me since I was a sophomore in college, or maybe a junior. I’m not sure now. He was the campus poet. Also a wrestler and football player, but for me mainly a poet and friend. Four or five years ago he found me through Facebook. When I responded with “Is that you?” he was unable to reply for weeks.

But since then he has written, mainly through private FB messages or emails, an average of two or three times a week. Each note is poetic, most have photographs, and they revolve around me, not him. He seldom volunteers information about himself or his life.

Occasionally he forwards an announcement from NASA or elsewhere on new discoveries in the cosmos or inside atoms. He is very smart and understands that we cannot comprehend where we live – and that the best we can do is to keep chipping away at ignorance until the gems of truth are seen and known. Well, I attribute that to him. He never carries on or pontificates. Maybe he just loves being awestruck.

Stars, mountains, lakes, and vistas figure large in his life. He spent years working in our national parks. A couple years ago he sent messages that I needed to call him right away. He had gone out to his car at night to see if that was where he left his keys. Standing under the stars and thinking about the end of his life, he had to talk to me, he had to make sure I knew how much he loved me before he went gaga and forgot to tell me.

Well, I don’t think either of us is near to being gaga, but he wrote last night that he is ill with one of those degenerative diseases that is not kind. I’m not sure any of them are. I am sad.

It took little nudges from me over months to find out that he is ill. He has had many medical tests done and the verdict seems to be in. His energy was devoted to supporting me, to being a champion, to declaring love, to being amusing with words that have multiple meanings and surprise pathways. It was not in sharing his troubles. You might find this strange. It is certainly unique. He chose to bless my life, and has.

Beyond his being there, beyond his infusion of beauty into my life, he has shown me the courage of expressing love, of saying it. We in the Midwest were taught not to do that.

Neither of my parents said they loved me until I was in my mid-twenties and I forced the issue by ending annual visits to Iowa by telling them I loved them. After a few years of this, they expected it and managed first an awkward “me, too” and then finally “I love you, too” at the airport. It was like chewing cardboard for them, but they got there.

There are so many absurdities around saying “I love you” and my friend blew them all away. The hesitancies didn’t apply. I’m not saying I deserve his love. I recognize he credits me with being more or better or whatever than I am. But that is not the point. He loves and he says so – not only to me. Sometimes he copies me on poems, photos, and notes to his family.

He was in Vietnam, one of only two in his unit to return alive and with all his body parts. A poet in the midst of slaughter. How does one deal with that? Well, at least partially with medicines and by saying what needs to be said before you go gaga or die.

He says he will love me always. It is that simple, that courageous, that “without any strings.” He has received scarcely anything from me compared with what he has given, though I hope he knows how grateful I am.

I love you, my friend. You have helped me to tell everyone I love that I love them. You have given my heart freedom, muscle, and joy.

And, dear friend, please forgive my being so public in the face of your tendency towards privacy. I want to pass on what you have helped me to learn.

. . .

Readers, below is a teeny sampling of photographs, and I start with a random – yet very clear – excerpt from a longer quote:

Q: So what did the OTHER photon say to the one photon … etc… 
A: I have NO clue as to what this matter is all about… so please, enlighten me, I truly wish to know if there is a tunnel at the end of the light…

tunnel at the end of the light..

reflections of warmth, love and light.. too much love..

veil of clouds..

Peace.. 2

Na Pali Coast, Kauai..

Love, one world..

heart with no pockets..

Does Gravity Have Weight? Or when will insanity stop?

My six-year-old grandson knows the important questions:

“Gramma Trisha, does gravity have weight?”

Me: “I’m not sure. Why don’t we look it up?”

“And if light has weight.”

Me: “Right, un-huh, that too.”

Well, I couldn’t decipher all of the Google entries and complex formulas re gravity having weight, but the consensus seems to be that gravity does not have weight. So that is what I told Ben with the caveat that we might find out in the future that it does have weight.

Also light does not have weight, except – oh, yeah, those photons when light is being particle and not wave – the ultimate morphing job. So it gets wobbly, but I told Ben that most people believe light does not have weight but maybe in the future we would find out that it does. I give the future free reign to surprise us all, hopefully for the good.

It’s not that I think that public opinion about gravity or light having weight is going to fluctuate like opinions about eating gluten or the efficacy of melatonin. It’s that I believe scientific inquiry will continue to advance in corners of civilization shielded from Creationism, Fundamentalism, war, violence, and other social ills. Little clusters of scientists – and other rational people open to change as new evidence comes in – will continue to explore all the aspects of being alive on our planet. The DNA thread with courage, the one that urges us to learn the truth based on repeatable evidence, will prevail through hard times.

Hard times such as when great factions of people are trying to set back the clock on women’s rights, deny climate change, violate the principles of separation of religion and state, carry assault weapons – omg! – into market places, help the rich get richer without caring for the poor, divert funds away from health care and education, and destroy Mother Earth on the assumption that she will just keep on giving to her spoiled children.

Ben reminded me of the important things: we will not fling out into the cosmos whether gravity has weight or not, and the sun will come up tomorrow whether light has weight or not. We have what we need to make love, give joy, and provide health and safety and justice for others on this planet.

Abrupt change right here:

I am in grieving about what is happening in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel. I know that I am grieving more profoundly because I have friends there. It is personal.

The deaths in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and the Ukraine are larger, perhaps more horrendous, though Israel is announcing – perhaps has already begun – massive bombing attacks on Gaza and is talking about land forces.

[A moment ago, as I was doing a final check on this blog, reports came in that bombs have reached Jerusalem, missiles seemingly from Gaza. How horrendous this is going to become is beyond my desire to imagine or ability to face at this moment. It is not impossible that Gaza will be decimated. The below continues more or less as originally written.]

These attacks escalated from the actions of two hate-filled violent Palestinians that Hamas seems genuinely not to have known or to have been able to control. We now know that the Israeli authorities knew within hours that the three settler youth were most assuredly dead. They had the phone tape that included the gun shots and the songs of the monsters who killed them, celebrating their deaths. For a week they didn’t tell anyone, including the parents, while they (re)arrested more than 500 Palestinians, demolished homes, and managed in the process to kill at least 10 Palestinians. Gangs of Israelis – mostly young men by the videos I saw – took to the street chanting “Death to Arabs.”

This is the open warfare that I know the most about. It is more manageable and personal to me than Syria, Iraq, Egypt, the Ukraine. I know the territory and can wrap my head around this catastrophe. It just happens to be that way. I have no excuses, just lack of knowledge of the other horrors.

At the same time the US Stock Exchange is reaching new highs. Is this because we feel separated and insular from the fight, therefore safe? We are the island of stability? Or are we grateful that for once we aren’t sending troops anywhere? Let them all kill each other while we will eat cake? Or are investors just oblivious? [Later note: let’s see how the Exchange reacts to today’s suicidal insanity.]

I sold my stock in Caterpillar Inc. a month ago, before the Presbyterian Church divested from its stock holdings in companies like Caterpillar Inc that contribute to Israel’s containment and occupation of Palestinians. I can’t hold stock in a company that helps build nine-meter high concrete walls to hold a nation in and provides bulldozers to level people’s homes.

I don’t think Caterpillar Inc. noticed my sale, though I did send them a note about it. I also told them I would add the sale to my blog. Hence, here it is.

Returning to the light:

Maybe gravity and light have weight yet to be measured. Maybe they don’t.

But death and violence and racism and prejudice and hate do have weight. People fall when they die, when they are battered. So do morals of a culture, so do hopes and aspirations, so do opportunities, so do fragile psyches, so do the minds of children when they lose their parents. (I remember in Afghanistan. You could look into children’s eyes and see immediately who would rise and laugh again and who would be broken for the rest of their lives.)

Light may have weight, or it may not. But it can cleanse and heal and return us to sanity and give us hope and help us to forgive, and that is something of such value that it must have substance.

Whether that substance relates to something in our oh so real physical bodies and brains, or if it is the vapor of an elixir that comes from some great elsewhere doesn’t matter. I believe we can call light into our beings, and into our lives – and we must now. Now.

Each one of us for all of us. Because that’s how light works. It is not exclusive.

If you don’t share light and healing, it will leave you to the dark, which gives you and me only one viable option as I don’t think you like dark and injury anymore than I do.