Prayers, pleasing, and protecting

This is the part I don’t want you to see.   It would be so much easier to stay invisible, and not set obscure questions I ponder sometimes out there in the breezy air to flutter around . . .



It’s my fault.  I’m sorry. 

These phrases course through my blood like cancer cells.
I feel like they’ve always been there.
That I was born with them inside me: it’s my fault.  I’m sorry.

As an intuitive person, one with more empathy than any one person should have, I’m always sensing, always alert to how others are in a situation and to the unspoken vibration of moments.  “It’s my fault/I’m sorry” is my go-to emotional response, when a moment feels charged, uneasy, subtly dangerous.

My stomach muscles tighten, and my mind scurries across the past several minutes, back and forth, scanning, scanning:  Why is she not smiling?  Why is he not talking?  What did I do wrong?  Why is he yelling? Why is he in that room with the door closed? What did I do wrong?

I remember my 3rd grade teacher once stopped in the middle of yelling at some other student and looked straight at me:  “Am I yelling at you, Colleen? No, I’m not yelling at you. You didn’t do anything wrong.”  To her, I must have looked slapped in the face or terrified or something, I don’t know, but she could visually see I was reacting to her anger, even though it wasn’t directed at me.

So I know these things about myself now.  I spend time consciously reeling back this initial and irrational response I feel I was born with.

It takes energy and focus, but I’m doing it.

One day at the page, I began to reflect about this and a series of questions unfurled from my pen . .

Do you think an unborn baby can sense its unwed mother’s secret thoughts and prayers? Her heartbreak, her shame her sadness?  (Go away, go away, dear God, make this go away . . . )

And then, do you think it’s possible for this same unborn baby to grow up into a girl and then into a woman, yearning to be seen but never to be too much of a bother?  To feel, at her core, that she shouldn’t take up too much space, be too big.  And that she must please and protect – like some unspoken penance for causing this shame and suffering, this derailment of her mother’s then-intended life?

How is it possible to discern the beginning? Where is it?  When does one’s story start?


Postscript:  I’m happy to take the blame for my parents’ marriage.  In October 2016, they will celebrate 50 years together.

Reflection by Colleen Nolan Armstrong, drafted in June 2012 and completed today.  #outofthebox

Home coming


One hour before my 30th high school reunion

When I let myself remember and feel the good, it brings up the not-so-good too.  To be here, back in the suburban Philadelphia town I grew up in, from 7th grade to 12th grade,  I am feeling is this sickly sense of dread, of why did I do this to myself, when I told myself I wouldn’t.  (“I’ll never go to my high school reunion. I mean, never. I’ll never go back”)

I am scared to be with people I knew 30 years ago, when I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t.  When I held feelings down and deep inside, this gurgling-green, invisibly waged  war I caused, this self-destroying, controlled battle – that is bulimia and perfectionism.

Coming home, I reluctantly greet that sad & broken girl again, and it unsettles me, but I am not that girl.

Tonight,  I hold that fearful girl I once was,  in loving arms.  And I let myself remember her.





Mostly afraid


You are mostly afraid.

What appears to be solid and trustworthy, just isn’t.  Again.

The world is adrift.  Kicked hard and off-balance,  trembling and reeling. The air shaky like summer heat on pavement,  the unseen static of fear.

“It will be all right.  It will be all right.”

You yearn for a mother’s arms.  To assure you that the nightmare you-can’t-quite-shake the-image-of, will go away soon.

Her  breath, soft above you.
Her skin, warm aside your cheek
Her blood thrumming a steady, strong seashell sound inside your ear

And you are comforted.   For a time.











dogs-pictures-black-and-white-5I will choose to call the dog Hope – even though I know full well, his name is not Hope and that more than likely it’s Sam or Chance or Buster or Pal.

But for me, today, I call the dog Hope.

Hope was laying on the right side of the road just beyond the court where I live, at around noon or so today. Pulling the car wide around him, I left the motor on and walked back to where he was laying. A small dog, probably 15 pounds, if that, Hope had short hair, slightly curled. It was this golden cream color all over that deepened to a peachy-caramel color at the ends.

His paws were still. No panting. He looked like my dog Ollie sleeping on his side, belly exposed, furry penis slack, relaxed

But there was blood, bright red – brighter red that I thought dog’s blood would be – it ribbon-ed thinly, around his head.

I laid my hand tentatively, then more firmly on his body, which was warm and soft and pliant. The accident must have just happened yet, I had heard no sound. No screech of brakes, no burned-rubber swerve of tires, no car horn.

Yet, a parked mini van, with one seated driver, was pulled off just beyond me, maybe 40 feet up the road. I wondered, had that driver hit the dog? But that driver never emerged . . .

Hope’s body was limp in my hands, as I lifted him off the street. I cupped his head and neck, as I would a child’s, and lay him on the hard, dirty-black ice-snow left by the plows.

There was blood on my hand now and I paced by the dog not knowing what to do. No collar or license. No one around except the minivan driver who seemed oblivious.

A black utility van sped by, then stopped. Doors flung open. A man with sand colored hair and deep green/grey work pants rushed over and close .

“Oh no” he shook his head back and forth, pulled at his hair, and told me in a heavy Eastern-European accent how it was that the dog had gotten out. “We were working and we opened door. Owner not home, And dog, he just, went. Went out, you know? Out the door, I called owner. ‘Your dog, he run out.’ And then we drive around, you see, looking for him, and now this?” looking down at the dog. “is he?” I felt the dog’s body again.

“I don’t know.” I said, “I think so, but I don’t know”

Another dark, windowless van stops, and the Russian man who had been speaking, straightens up, and backs away, making room: “This is owner.”

The dog’s owner is wide and tall, dark-haired, someone I would fear meeting on a walk at night. Yet, he is shaking his head and walking back and forth, “oh god” this giant man repeats again and again, looking, then not looking at his dog’s body on the snow.

The owner’s eyes look to mine, hesitating, not really wanting the answer they ask. And I say again, “I don’t know. I think so.”

Once more, I press my hand onto the dog’s neck, this time pushing more deeply into the fur. My heart quickens. There is life stirring inside, this tiny stream warm and flowing, I can feel it, a pulse!

I look up. And the owner sees hope in my face.

Grabbing a dirty moving blanket from the back of van, he quickly wraps his dog, covering his whole body and head, and places him in the back.

Doors close. Gears shift. and the owner’s van speeds away.

The Russian workers’ drive away.

I drive away, too.

* * *

I know where the workers are working. I know the house from where the dog mad-dashed this morning, just before noon.

The house is just a block or so from where I live.

Yet, I couldn’t go there tonight to ask “so what happened to the dog?”

I guess my heart just needed Hope to stay alive a little while longer.

Though, truth be told, I believe he is.​

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 (, #Quest2015, and most of all, to Shaman Lora Jansen (  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

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,

Yes, there is suffering


Yes, there is suffering
And most of it we do not see.

And yet I wonder
how much of it we carry
by the the breath
that is the air
that is the Wind
that connects us

un-spooling itself
across Ocean’s
great span of pewter
with fin-less sharks
bleeding blood
atop its waves

catching on
Mountain’s grand granite wrapped white
with featherless birds
grounded and silent
in smoldering black

City’s concrete prisms
buzzing and sparking
then blasted to ruin
with grey ashes
a snow in September

a hungry child hums of teapots and posies
a veiled woman prays Hail Mary on wooden beads shiny as chestnuts
a tortured man begs for mercy, knowing none will come
All touched and part of the invisible Wind

We swallow the Wind
We swallow the suffering we do not see.
It is ours to bear.
And yet, we sing.