I will remember you

 

2939612_sI love Sarah MacLachlan’s song I will remember you – you will hear me singing it often to myself when I am holding the story I’ve yet to birth in my heart.  When I do that, I feel this beautiful feeling, this warm sense of something larger than I am inside.  The feeling is resonant of that sweet stretch of  an April day when I  knew my daughter Katie would be born, but chose to keep the knowledge secret, this constant, bearable labor – an echo of a Christmas Bible verse I love:

” But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Luke 2:19: 

***

On that early March day in 2006, when I was diagnosed with cancer, the reality that I might not be there for my kids and my family struck first like a hot iron thrust in my center – I’m not ready-I’m-not-ready-I’m-not-ready was all I felt, as these stormy waves of fear and sadness passed through me,  sweeping me under. 

On that same day, I also thought of the story I’m speaking of (the one in the box in the closet)  and panicked –  if I wasn’t here, no one else would write it, and the world would never know the profound impact this one child had had on my life.

***

That September,  I applied for a writing residency at Hedgebrook on Whidbey Island, WA.  It was my 4th or 5th time applying. Here is part of my essay:

The piece I am creating is, by its nature, going to be a painful, like birth I imagine.  The places that I will need to go in my heart and mind are dark and uncomfortable ones: the murder of a child; a mother’s struggle with post-partum depression; and the gaping-hole-in-the-heart that is September 11.  Being diagnosed with breast cancer last March was probably the best and worst thing ever to happen to me. Cancer broke me, forced me to look in the mirror at the woman and mother I had become.  I had not recognized how isolated I was; how much I was taking my children and family for granted; how little of life I was allowing myself to experience.  I had built an iron wall around my heart, dug a moat around my life, and kept the drawbridge up and closed.

I can write this story now because I am here and alive to tell it.

My application was rejected (wisely).  And while I began an application again the following September, but in the midst of divorce, I needed to let it go . . .

***

The truth is:  I am afraid.

I am afraid that once I finish this piece (the one boxed up in the closet marked: Open on Mother’s Day 2016), and it is out there in the world, I will have accomplished all I am have been called to do in this One Beautiful Life.  That  the cancer will come back.  That I will die.

[Typing this now, though, I can see the frayed and irrational connection my mind has made – between this story and my health. As though by not writing it, I could somehow  keep Death over there, at someone else’s door]

Sarah MacLachlan sings:
I’m so afraid to love you, but more afraid to lose

Clinging to a past that doesn’t let me choose
Once there was a darkness, deep and endless night
You gave me everything you had, oh you gave me light

***

I didn’t directly answer the Quest 2016 prompt this time.  Instead, this piece emerged  when I held on to Seth Godin’s question:

Theme:  Imagine Your Future While Being Wholly Present
Visionary:
Seth Godin

Prompt:  “Would they miss you if you were gone?  What would have to change for that question to lead to a better answer?”

Would they miss me if I were gone?  All depends on who “they” is.

  • My children & Mike and my parents and my family (and of course the dogs, but probably not the cat) would miss me.  So much so it breaks my heart to think of their pain.
  • The few friends I have would miss me.   A little bit. (I’ve kept myself hidden from them for the most part anyway)
  • My corporate work colleagues would be shocked and some sad, but only for a moment, barely a breath.   Sure, there would be a flurry of activity trying to piece together budgets and understand where things are and how to cover my role.  But soon it would be like I had never been there.  I know this.  I’ve watched death visit  here too many times, in my 22+ year career.
  • Readers here might miss me  though, the sad truth is that they wouldn’t really know how much.   Because I don’t show up consistently for them.  And up to this point, I have not been  brave enough to finish the story and send it out into the world: to race it down the beach – smiling, laughing, child-like – to catch the breeze and to watch it rise and hold, and then hold and hold, tugging at its string – this soaring beauty cast against a wider sky.

The birth of the story I am to write has required an unusually long gestation and a great love.  It will also require great courage.

***

Seth Godin is the author of 18 books that have been bestsellers around the world and have been translated into more than 35 languages. He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership and most of all, changing everything.

 

Why write?

I’m angry.

I’m not happy about my work sitting in a closet.

It feels crappy.


I wasn’t going to share this video diary with you

because to me,

this little girl’s face

says it all.

It really does.

But then I remembered how

I’d promised myself,

that,

this year,

I would be brave.

Who are you?

Who are you? I wonder.  And why are you here? especially on a day, when it feels there is nothing coming through to the page?

Somewhere close by, there is a bird singing.

I don’t remember him from any other spring and I’ve lived here, in this same neighborhood, for years.  In April, there were the same sweet chickadees chicka-dee-dee-deeing  in search of mates.  For months now, the cardinals have serenaded from tree tops, so bold and boastful and red.

But this bird, he is one like no other, and he has been singing to the heavens in every different trill and caw and warble you could imagine a bird singing.

I wish my words could sing as effortlessly.  Instead they plod along like work horses.   Tomorrow will be better.


With gratitude to the hidden garden bird.  My best guess (thank you Audubon Society) is that he is a Lark Sparrow

http://www.audubon.org/sites/default/files/LARSPA_2.songsnum2_UTkc_1.mp3?uuid=5560d0b988f45

Deflection

: the act of changing or causing something to change direction
: the act of changing or causing something to change direction

I used The Story as a way to deflect people’s focus away from me.

“So I am working at a management consulting firm, but REALLY I am a writer and let me tell you about this great story I’m writing.”   A clever magician’s trick, this art of illusion.

Yet, I wonder if it really worked.  I know people enjoy a good story, especially ones with ghosts and murder and Miss Havishams in gothic gowns, but could they see what was really going on as I un-spooled my tale?  Could they see my marriage un-ravelling?  Could they see this heavy black cloak of depression I dragged elegantly through my life?  Could they see loneliness? Could they see through the disguise, and spot the woman trying too hard to convince herself and that yes! she had it all together and that yes, she was happy.

Perhaps.

What happens when you set down your shield, take off your armor, and try to remain still, while involuntarily trembling, like an ugly oyster broken open, not for just 1 day, or 1 week, but for 1 whole year?  What happens then to your tender underbelly?

I imagine the sun shrivels and scars what flesh remains, that pieces of you may be picked at and torn by ravenous scavengers, that perhaps you risk even dying.

And I am afraid of that.

So tell me, Friend and Reader, are you still there?  Tell me that this risk is worth taking.

For in truth, I can not see the point of walking away from that which has called me.
I cannot see the point in standing, as just myself, before you.   I don’t know where I am going with this, and I can not see the path ahead.

“You are young. So you know everything”

Day 4 - the churn of the water I love the Mary Oliver poem West Wind #2 and have it here at my desk as a daily reminder to myself to “row, row for your life toward it”

When I was young and a new mother, I used to walk everyday, pretty much all day, with my months-old son Ben in his stroller.  We would first walk to the Green Mountain coffee shop next to Anderson’s bookstore, where I met Jay (my ex-husband and actor and bookseller) and stepped forward together into the dark & passionate maelstrom that would be our new life together.

I remember every morning I used to order a low-fat peach-berry-crunch muffin, which made me feel justified and good, but never satisfied.  Everyone knew me there.   Mothers coo-ed at the sweet little boy tucked in blankets.  I don’t know what I did – if I was reading or writing or just sitting there with my warm mug of coffee.

I wonder what they must have thought of me, there everyday, alone with this baby for hours.

After breakfast, I would walk the meandering brick path, running on both the north and south banks of the DuPage River.  I’d listen and watch the water flowing across the rocks, notice the ducks arguing, and stop at the same picnic shelter, when Ben would need his bottle or to be changed.  He never seemed to mind the day-long walks.  He’d look up at me in bright wonder.  I wonder what he saw?

I thought I wanted to be a stay-at-home mother.  I thought that was the best thing for a child – just like breast feeding & cloth diapers, which lasted, for me & Ben, only 3 days, if that.   But I wasn’t very good at being a stay-at-home mother.  I was restless. Purposeless. I was sad and lonely.  Motherhood  wasn’t what I dreamed it would be like.

I know now that going back to work in corporate America, was a good thing for me, yet, then I resented it so much. This wasn’t what I was supposed to be when I grew up, why I went to college, it wasn’t what my parents dreamed for me.

I always believed that being a wife and mother (and possibly a part-time florist or cake decorator, writer, or weirdly, a park ranger) was the right thing for me – to raise children, to create and hold together a family.  It certainly wasn’t my dream to commute to Chicago 5 days a week and send my child to daycare.

And god, how I blamed my ex-husband in every way possible, that I couldn’t choose to stay home with our son, like so many more affluent women in our town.  I was so jealous of the women and their organized playgroups – all of them seemed so adept at what I struggled with – being a mother to an infant and toddler.

Instead I spent those days in a heavy grey fog of depression.

Once I remember saying to my own mother (and knowing it was true) that Ben was in better hands with our home daycare provider Cindy.  She was so gifted at helping young children thrive – Ben loved being in her home, with the other kids his age – watching trucks rumble down the road, playing outside in the sandbox, going to story time at the library.  He loved Cindy. Sometimes, he would mistakenly call her “mom” when we were leaving her home at the end of the day and saying goodbye.  That hurt a lot to hear.  But I swallowed it and smiled.

If I wasn’t a stay-at-home mother (and part-time florist/bookstore worker/coffee shop waitress/writer in blue-felt hat), what was I?  

What was I called to do?  when would I feel “the mist on (my) mouth and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls plunging and steaming”?

So you will forgive me for hesitating and resisting packing away the Story that I thought I was called to write.  You will forgive me my fear of letting that Story go and turning away from rowing towards that “unmistakable pounding”.  Because then, what am I?

I am drifting in too-calm waters, purposeless

Yet, I wonder, could it be, that even at 48, I am still that young woman Mary Oliver’s poem calls to?  I don’t know, but I have lifted the oars anyway, and am listening.  Are you?

West Wind #2

You are young.  So you know everything.  You leap
into the boat and begin rowing.  But listen to me.
Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without
any doubt, I talk directly to your soul.  Listen to me.
Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and
your heart, and heart’s little intelligence, and listen to
me.  There is life without love.  It is not worth a bent
penny, or a scuffed shoe.  It is not worth the body of a
dead dog nine days unburied.  When you hear, a mile
away and still out of sight, the churn of the water
as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the
sharp rocks – when you hear that unmistakable
pounding – when you feel the mist on your mouth
and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls
plunging and steaming – then row, row for your life
toward it.

~ Mary Oliver ~

And from Roger Housden’s “Ten Poems to Open Your Heart” – the opening coda to his discussion on this poem is a quote from Mary Oliver:

“Poetry is a life-cherishing force.  For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down for the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.  Yes indeed.”

Moon Bear Dancing with Breeze – a legend

A long, long, day ago, there lived a girl and her name was Breeze.

Her hair had been of longest deepest black, though strangely marked with a lightening streak of white, which was especially strange for one so young. Her hair frightened those in the village and they laughed and shunned her, shaming her family and the girl herself.

One sad day, Breeze ran to the stream that raced with silver fish and she made a fatal wish.  She wished herself to be the same as everyone else, so that her family would not suffer the shame of her striking difference.  She cupped the water in her hands, drinking its mystery and hoping the spirits could hear her plea.

But instead the stream’s water had been poison, and the girl now slept in a room painted scarlet, smokey with scent of burnt hickory and sage.  Thin, tinny music was playing from a harp that lay on the lap of her mother’s only sister, who worried and rocked in her chair, while the girl’s mother wailed in sorrow.

Breeze was feverish. Her arms pale as tusks of elephant, yet limp and frail.  Her black hair was damp and brushed back from her forehead, it streak of whiteness hidden by a wet cloth, which an old woman, whom the family did not know, had placed there.  The damp cloth smelled of lemons, which made Breeze smile in her dreams, which were often

The old woman held a cup of steaming tea up to the girl’s mouth  and the girl’s father lifted her body up so that the tea could be swallowed.  The tea tasted like fish and cucumber peels in the garden, and rocks and rain.  Yet the girl drank the tea and the old woman left, her slippers rushing softly across the floor like a scratchy dance,

The girl slipped back into dreams and in her dreams, she traveled above oceans and mountains and lands she’d never seen until she stood before a wood with a shadowy path that led to a stone building painted white, where she could hear sad and scary sounds, cries of something she feared to look at.

Yet her heart carried her toward the place and she walked inside bravely.
The cages were black iron, as black as Breeze’s hair, and so small that the creatures inside them, with their great paws and claws like thorns could not turn to see her.  Yet, she could see there were many of these cages, all filled with fur, lined up in rows that seemed to stretch further than her sight could reach.

There was no one watching.  There was no one listening.

Breeze wondered what it was she could do, a sickly girl, with shameful hair.  And she could think of nothing so she turned away, looking downward, in shame, at the dirt floor. She kicked the dry dirt, angrily, so it made clouds as she walked.. Yet her shoe touched something hard and bright – a silver key hidden shallowly beneath the gravelly dust.   She picked up the key and tried the lock on the first cage.  It opened, yet the creature inside did not stir.

Breeze stepped back and waited and hoped.  And slowly, fearfully, the creature made its way out of the cage, onto the floor and crawled out on all four paws to the door.  The great creature turned, its brown eyes questioning and looking right at Breeze, beckoning her to follow.

Breeze could see now that the creature was a black bear  and even though everything inside her said, “do not follow”, she followed.

The bear led her forward, pulling her through shadowy woods, and toward a great and silvery stream, one that reminded her of the stream at home, the one in which she’d made her fatal wish.  She watched the bear lumber into the water and stand up, dipping his paws into troves of fish, that danced like rainbows, yet, none of the fish were hurt, despite the bear’s claws which looked to the girl like black thorns.

The bear having finished his play shakes dry and begins a long walk by the stream of racing fish, alongside trees as tall as mountains.  He walks for many days and the girl follows.

At last, they come to a thicket of young trees with berries, that sheltered a space littered with dry leaves, stones, and felled logs. There is snow in places too, even though the girl is not cold.  She sits on a rock and waits.  Bear after bear emerge from shadows,  They seem to dance all around her, first on all fours, then tall on just two,  Their fur is as black and soft as midnight, with creases of white, like fingernail moons or sometimes hearts.  It was as though the gods themselves had painted the bears that way, so that Breeze would recognize them as her own and call them beautiful.

After much time passes, the bear that had led her all this way stands giant before her, yet, Breeze is unafraid.  He crouches down and lays his head upon her tiny lap, which also does not frighten her,  Instead she cradles the bear’s mighty head, stroking its fur, and sings a lullaby from some long ago and forgotten time.

Together they sleep – Breeze and her Moon Bear – dreaming each other’s dreams without fear,without suffering.

===============================================================================================

Author’s note:  With deepest gratitude to Jeffrey Davis & Tracking Wonder (http://trackingwonder.com), #Quest2015, and most of all, to Shaman Lora Jansen (http://www.onetribeonly.com/).  The plight of Moon Bears and the farming of their bile in Asia has haunted me since reading a reflection piece, which Lora published recently.  I offer this imperfect piece of writing to those who are working to heal Moon Bears, and to change the economic conditions that continue to make this practice profitable.  To learn more, see https://www.animalsasia.org/us/our-work/end-bear-bile-farming/

In addition, I dedicate this piece to the family of Breeze.  Breeze was a beloved Bearded Collie, with whom Lora worked with as a shaman – in the end, she guided his spirit as he passed in December 2014.  My heart sees Breeze’s spirit still dancing, still shepherding, guiding those who are frightened, gently to safety.   May all be healed,