Peeking Behind the Gossamer Curtain

Three years ago on this day, on a silent clear night in northern New York, we stood quietly around the suddenly still body of our amazing Mother. She died there in the wee hours, in a gentle handoff from the physical folk to the ethereal extended family. It seemed to me then that she somehow exhaled herself into the next realm. Her arrival was planned, practiced and practical; her fragile body was beginning to deteriorate. Once she could no longer walk in the woods or kayak the edges of water, it was time to move out.

Her Spirit died into the next world while the moon was overhead. Her earthly remains left her 14th story “tree house” for the last time in the mid-afternoon of that same day. Lovingly tended by her daughters, just as our Grandmothers would have done, she appeared little changed.  It seemed she was just finding her new abilities, illuminated, but just so much happier. Dressed in her favorite gown, itself a shiny beige veteran of two grandchildren’s weddings, with warm socks, she held tightly curled fern fronds and flowers from a Spring that hadn’t yet arrived.  She had gone on: “To my next adventure.”

It was our job as children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, neighbors and friends to wave good-bye, preferably smiling. If you couldn’t muster that, no worries, she was going anyway. In her last gaze I think she saw all, understood all, felt all, everything that everyone did was all- O.K. in her book. Had she been alive, she would have taken just the tiniest nibble from those ferns, …just because they were so beautiful.

Fernpainting

Fern Carol Martell 2010

“I am ready for my next adventure”

These were the words she used to explain why she was ready to die, and why she would go willingly. I believe she was still smiling when her “earth skin” was slipped into the plain pine box of her own choosing. It was Amish plain pine, freshly sanded and unfinished. By necessity it stood overnight in a funeral home surrounded by gilded guilt and the heavy décor of regretful sadness.

Her casket; if you would call it that, stood proud and simple. Had she still been there she would have remarked about the grain of the wood, caressed it with her hand, her long arthritic fingers seeking the lifeforce, reminiscent of ET’s heart touching scene. Wood grains were a passion with her! She would have found the rough place I remember seeing. That sticky knot that made me wonder if this pine box was still planks when she died?

I remember we opened the dark shades in the “room of sadness.” We opened the top of her box to tuck in bits of memory; tiny flowers and the secret missives from her favorite fans. I recall a flash of future déjà Vu that I would recall that exact moment in the future, which is today.

“My Angels Were Here”

My Mom was unusual in that she welcomed death into her life with curiosity, anticipation and a smile. While others may choose to clutch and cling to their life with the last drug and surgery, she opened the door to the next life with intention. She made her path clear of medical interventions, she asked for comfort and respect, and not much else.

She entertained the angels of transit into the next life quite regularly. She left notes to this effect, found later tucked into “must read” books and under cushions that we would move, “after.” I imagine she offered her visitors a keen interest in the subject of afterlife, and a cup of herbal tea. They seemed to stop in frequently, in her dreams, and at the edge of sleep; appearing from behind what she described as “gossamer curtains.” Those words always accompanied by a graceful arm movement that denoted her feeling the fabric and a subtle sense of the sound of bells.

They came to gently welcome her to her new existence, we mused. It was not unusual in the months before she passed to see her eyes shine in anticipation for her path, and in compassion for ours, as it was revealed. She kept it mostly to herself except when my path crossed theirs at her front door and the mystical mist still lingered about her.

Three years later I have grown skin back over the wound of loss. This is not a victim place, it is the work of grieving. Grief is love that echoes back at us when its target can’t be found. It takes a bit of time before we can scratch out the old address for our loved ones and forward our thoughts to:

Mom, Your Next Adventure, Somewhere in the Ethers, 87503

Now I can look at her transformation with appropriate joy. I can appreciate what a renegade she was; a consummate explorer in the unknown realms. Or did she know exactly where she was going because she had already been there?

Whatever the case, from my current position of safety and observation I can ask:

Where is it written that death must be faced with fear and pain, angst and anguish? At the end of a life, one could choose acceptance. I believe there is another paradigm that exists in parallel to the no hope “Grim Reaper” cheat death scenario. I want to take the Angel option; beautiful beings providing whatever you need for a sweet transition “Into your next adventure.”

Loving conductors, great music and sweet peace? Interested? Ask them.

I think my Mother works there, her name is Gloria.

Circles of Life

arlington-national-cemetery-350566_1280 (1)

The steel gray clouds deepened in response to the waning December sun. Splats of icy rain fell on the 624 pale green acres of Arlington National Cemetery.  Marble monuments stood, a silent foil for the prattle and posturing of Washington DC, just across the Potomac. On December 15, 2018, the supporters of a project called “Wreaths Across America” appeared at the edges of Arlington National Cemetery throughout the day to lay wreaths, to pay respects, to remember and remind that we are all related.

Many people, thousands of people, their numbers estimated between 44,000-57,000 came out in a cold rain to lay circles of Maine Balsam against the smooth cold marble of a quarter million head stones. There it is; the painful irony: the circle of life, in winter resistant evergreen, tied with a bright red bow leaning on the finality of death in carved marble.

Two young women had heard the request for volunteers to lay wreaths on all the graves at Arlington. The National Cemetery is part of their “hood,” an unexpected swath of green amidst shiny high rise buildings and the multi lanes of the 395 corridor. They had come in an UBER from the apartment just 6 miles away to a drop off point at the edge of the access road.

They and the thousands of others trudged in on foot, a fitting way to honor a soldier. They waited an hour or so to reach the back of the tractor trailers holding fresh green wreaths of Maine Balsam. As they waited, they watched, and they felt. The instructions given were simple: choose any stone, and say the name of the person engraved there out loud and lay the wreath. Looking out over the sea of white stones, more than 400,000, is it possible to understand the enormity of the loss?

But in communion with one stone, one name, the abstract became concrete, imagined heroes became flesh and blood, soul and spirit. They stood and watched as those around them completed this ritual. Life is never more real than when it is hedged by death.

The temporal imperatives of urban DC were rinsed away by the mid December rain. The heavy drops beat cadence on umbrellas and plastic ponchos. Rivulets of water ran in the faces of those focused on the task of acknowledging heartbreak and hardship. The women watched the others.  Military men and women in uniform came to a fallen friend, an elderly Mother pushed her walker awkwardly down the row, children in their best Christmas outfits standing quietly beside bent elders; these were quilted together on this grey day by the far away wail of a bagpipe. The vignettes were endless.

arlington-2250538_1280

Soon enough they had their wreaths and they found themselves standing amongst the graves of soldiers. In the dates and the names they found tiny pieces of story; those who died young, those who died in action, those that died of their injuries years later, and many that died after a lifetime of carrying traumatic memory that most of us will never experience, they were all there.

Spouses are here too, their names engraved on the back of the stone as if to “lean in” on each other when the going got hard. Entwined lives that began with crisp starched collars, sharp creases, pride and courage ending as all humanness does; ashes to ashes dust to dust. Marble is hard, cold and unforgiving. It’s chiseled meaning will hold strong in this place for a very long time.

So, what happens when you add a wreath? What happens when 44,000 or so living humans offer compassion and gratitude to hundreds of thousands of warriors?

The women told this story. She walked amongst the rows with the first wreath and came to him quickly.  He had died very young in the 1970’s. Saying his name, she felt gratitude for his service and told him without words that he is remembered.  She continued to walk, taking in the names, the people, feeling the strength of her own emotions.  She walked until she found a family name engraved in marble. The name of her great great grandmother’s family of ten children who wandered across the US across 5 generations.

Knowing that he was of our tribe was enough.  She said his name, offered gratitude and took a picture of his grave and that of his wife of many years. The picture that she sent me opened a door of beautiful possibility.  His beloved wife was born on the birthdate of the woman’s great grandmother and died on the birthdate of her grandchild. His name was Evan, hers was Eva.  Sounds like family to me

So, I ask again, “What happens when 44,000 or so living humans offer compassion and gratitude to those who have died?”

Some might say what’s the purpose in this kind of enquiry? What’s the purpose in imagining that we could even guess at that answer? The purpose is central to what propelled 44,000 people out of their armchairs and Christmas shopping frenzy to serve the needs of those that will never say thank you.

I think they hear us and I believe it helps us all.

May we seek peace.

https://www.wreathsacrossamerica.org

 

Autumn

It was the Autumn Equinox 2002.  We lived on New York’s Long Island, a 20-mile-wide swath of sand and rocks dropped by a glacier a few eons ago. “The Island” radiates west to east, beginning at the grimy industrial edge of Queens and Brooklyn. The land flows 100 miles to the East, separating the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean, from Long Island Sound to the north. The sand surrenders to the water once again at the rough rocks and windy cliffs of Montauk Point. Long Island’s flexible, mutable geography supports little elevation, other than a few hills and some sand dunes in continuous flux.

From the pebbles of the north shore, or the southern sandy coastline, you can turn your back on the millions of people, the tangle of highways, and the hundreds of square miles of overstuffed suburbia. From that position, there is open sky; a celestial amphitheater in the reflection of the open water.  On that day in 2002, I stood in that locus and witnessed the zenith of a short lifetime. Autumn happened in the momentary pause between the exhale of Summer and the inhale of Fall.

Madonna, child, and a cat

Leonardo da Vinci, Study for a Madonna with a Cat, about 1478-80

 

I was a Hospice volunteer then.  I sat vigils, and ran errands for those who couldn’t get out anymore.  Mostly the need was for family respite; a planned visit that allowed family caregivers a few hours of personal space. Just a short breather for sanity’s sake. Tending a family member at the end of life is hard. It extracts the very best, and the absolute worst of us; all at the same time. In the sacred atmosphere around the end of life, all of our well-guarded facades are ripped away. We find our long-denied emotions dropped there on the carpet, at the end of the bed.  Sometimes that “short time left,” is achingly long.  For others, the longest life will never be long enough. I had some “regulars.” They are the best teachers and they were generous with their lessons.

There was Rose, feisty 80 lb., 90-year old, who arranged for her own discharge from a substandard nursing home. From her wheelchair, via front lobby pay phone, she reported her own neglect case to the Adult Protective Services Elder Abuse hot line. When they came to investigate, she convinced them she was put there against her will, and she was returned to her home. Her victory, was much to the chagrin of her concerned; but unavailable, adult kids. She admonished her children for their attack on her independence with a promise, “If you put me in a nursing home again, I will just have to die.”  After six months of hard fought freedom, supported by tenacious Hospice folk, they did, and she did. She remains a personal hero of mine.

Ellen, was another petite powerhouse. The top of her head reached my shoulder.  She spoke with the quiet, polite lilt of her Killarney childhood. Despite her bone warping rheumatoid arthritis, she displayed the personal pluck of the new bride, just “off the boat.” She had come through New York harbor, emigrating to the US in the 1960’s to join her brand new, US Army husband.  It was the drugs prescribed in large doses to help the pain of the arthritis that caused her kidney cancer; a “potential side effect.”  I brought her groceries, and she made us Irish tea that could melt rust.

On this Equinox, September 21, 2001, this request for assistance was very different. The woman from the Hospice office sounded frantic.

“Everyone is out on calls, there is no one can get there now, will you do this?”

“This” was pick up morphine from the Pharmacy in Ronkonkoma and drive west at rush hour to Oyster Bay on the north shore.  There was a baby there dying at home, 2 days old. Her parents had asked only for some morphine to ease her labored breathing in her final hours.

I used the shortcuts to avoid the Long Island Expressway, snaking through the side roads and finally onto the Oyster Bay Expressway to where it nearly ends on the sand. Turning off the final exit, I found the gateposts of the community. This was a grand old North Shore neighborhood built when Wall Street folk began to wander off Park Avenue and onto Long Island fairways. Green islands of manicured grass swept upward to meet sculptured shrubbery, leading the eye, and the invited foot to the imposing front entries.

I found the address and pulled into the wide driveway.  Holding the medicine in my hand, I said a prayer for this family, for this baby, for myself to be helpful, and as unobtrusive as possible.  My heart was beating in my ears as I walked up to the dark wood door.  I looked for the name on the bag.  Her name was Autumn. Her birthday was yesterday. I rang the bell and kept my tears in check.

An older man, the grandfather I thought, threw open the door.  He greeted me with practiced affability and a hearty laugh, his words somehow tumbling through a clenched jaw.

“Come in, Come in please!”

I stared at the man, perplexed by the manic hospitality.

“Have I had come to the wrong door?” I thought.

The ice hit the side of his glass, the crystal jingled like the ringing of a tiny bell. I wondered if I was being mistaken for a cocktail party guest.  Sensing my confusion, and taking no chances that I would abandon his doorway, he reached out to pull me into the foyer. The quick movement spilled his neat Scotch down his wrinkled suit pants, and onto the marble floor.  He watched somberly as the amber liquid sought equilibrium. He seemed so grateful to have an alternate place for his attention.

“Come in, come in! Would you like a drink?”

I thought then, “Certainly I am in the wrong house.”

I looked beyond him, across the foyer, up the single marble step and into the living room. The expansive space ran across the front of the house facing north to Long Island Sound. Early evening light radiated through the long windows lending a warm late September glow to the pale carpeting. The shadows were lengthening; daylight was waning, and no one had thought to turn on a lamp. Tossed on the long green sectional were hastily discarded jackets, and a new diaper bag.  Mother and baby sat in a wingchair covered in mauve brocade. Dad stood behind the chair with one hand on his wife’s shoulder and his eyes on his daughter.

I imagined the other woman in the room was the grandmother. She sat in a matching wingchair, heels together and hands folded in her lap. She was so still, I wondered if she was saving the air in the room for her granddaughter.  Her eyes couldn’t leave that tiny body.

I understood now the terror of this Grandfather. The grief in that room was vast and raw. He couldn’t find his way into the room. The intimacy was too much. I could hear her strained breathing from where we stood in the entry and I remembered my task. I reached out and gave him the medicine. He stared into my face, unseeing, frozen in place.

“What is her name?” I asked the Grandfather.

“Autumn, her name is Autumn.” He said.  His face relaxed, his eyes filled with tears.

“Is there anything else you need?” I asked quietly.

The Mom looked up then, softly she said with a smile, “No, we are fine.”

48a97514de0710e707c34ad992dd96eeIn the young woman’s face, I caught a glimpse a 15th century painting of Madonna and child. She smiled at her daughter, talked to her, held her.  This was her child’s life, and she would not miss a second. Whatever would come later, she was here for her, now. By the time the Grandfather had reached the top of the marble step, I was quietly closing the door behind me.

I had too many emotions to drive amidst prosaic commuters.  I had just witnessed “love” in its most pure state. I was ungrounded and profoundly grateful for my healthy children. I drove the three minutes to the beach, and parked my car in the empty lot. I walked across the boardwalk, past the closed snack bar, and out on the sand.

As I watched, the sun dropped into the western horizon.  A sail boat moved across the water toward the harbor. The long shadow of the mast on the water reminded me; this was the Autumn Equinox. Down the beach to the East, there was a jogger, the slight woman ran easily along the shoreline.

From behind her, seemingly from out of the water rose a huge ball of orange.  At first I thought the brightness of the sun was echoing on my retinas. I looked to the left and there was the sun setting, looked to the right and a harvest full moon was rising at the same time. It appeared I was standing on a different planet. The jogger, a woman near my age, came to where I was standing, breathing heavily from her long run down the beach.

We looked at the sun, the moon and each other, grateful that there was another human to witness. It was comforting to have validation. We stood silently until the sun dipped below the horizon, the moon rose and the moment passed into memory. There was a wordless wave and she was off down the beach, and I was back to car and home.

I had a message from the Hospice office when I got home. “Autumn passed peacefully.”   I can only guess how many lives were touched  Autumn, a tiny ethereal being who never touched the Earth. The date has magical proportions for me.  It remains a day to wonder, to appreciate, to imagine:

 What kind of spirit comes into the world for only two days and leaves with the sun and the moon as her companions?

 

Leonardo da Vinci, Study for a Madonna with a Cat, about 1478-80 …

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leonardo da vinci paintings | Head of Madonna 1508-1515. Chalk on …

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leonardo da vinci paintings | Head of Madonna 1508-1515. Chalk on red-

 

Caregivers and Other Heroes

I saw her first in silhouette, the bright sun from the third-floor western window etched a crisp black image of a faceless woman on my retina.

She leaned forward stiffly, bending to the oversized recliner in the corner of the dim room. The chair’s resident was lost to the shadows. She turned to look into the hallway, just as I looked through the open door. A tiny flash of recognition and a flush of emotions shot up my spine.

Hope“I have seen this before,” I thought.

I looked away quickly, waved cheerily to another resident and moved on up the corridor. I had a “planned” conversation at the end of the hall, I would go there first. That is what we do isn’t it? Put the recognized task firmly in our path, effectively blocking from view any unexpected possibilities that might crop up. A “plea” could be followed by “needs,” bringing forth evocative emotions; always better to stay “on the path” for efficiency’s sake.

“I will stop on the way back, a little later.”

But “later” wouldn’t do. Time is mutable in the cosmos of the fragile, frail and elderly. Appointments are secondary to bodily functions and short term memory. The only real time to manifest anything is “right now.” I barely felt it; just a small shutter. Then as awkwardly as a stiff brake applied to rusty track, I eased to a stop. Rich images of my own experience oozed from of the cracks in my demeanor. Something about the figure moving against the bright light had elicited a memory.

It was a summer evening, a cabin in the Adirondacks, multiple generations were gathering on couch and floor to watch “family movies.” There it was! My elders illuminated in silhouette, crossing the projector beam, crisp black images against the brilliant white screen. They were unmistakable in form and movement, reaching out for the arm of a chair in the inky blackness. I was a child then, as was the technology of watching the past. These were short, silent wonders of physical film. The movie camera my Mother piloted had a sound; a mechanical “whir” that elicited good behavior and hastily assembled, always smiling family cliques. Film feels different from our avalanche of IPhone personal documentaries and excessive disc space. On film, time is short, images are precious, life is a temporary condition.

I heard the brittle film creaking dryly around the gears and sprockets of our 1960’s movie projector. We watched long departed family in mid-century vignettes, wrapped in golden patina, roll by on 35 mm. celluloid.  There I am at three. There is my great grandmother, and my parents looking happy and fresh. But 50-year-old film is tenuous, as people are impermanent. Unexpectedly, the precious film would rip, sending the take-up reel flapping as a single frozen image melted before our eyes. In the space of a breath, our elder’s elders were gone.

Endymion

Endymion George Frederick Watts http://www.georgefredericwatts.org

Back in this continuum, I had stopped dead in my tracks in the busy hallway.  A strong scent of desperation reached out to me, I stood there blocking the path. Something tense and taut in the faceless woman’s posture had caught me deeply in my solar plexus. In my belly, there was an echo of the anger, fear, and impossible deep sadness of ambiguous loss.  I heard her then,

“My husband is right here in front of me, and yet my Husband is gone.”

This was a cocktail of grief almost too strong to be understood by anyone not of this tribe. I had intended to pass the unfamiliar room. I could return later, maybe. Something in the scene sought more than a bookmark and a cursory promise. Some ethereal wisp of this woman met me face to face in the hallway. She spoke to my soul again.

“I am here,” she said, “I am still here.”

Such is the destiny of Caregivers.  They give all they have; pouring heart and soul, optimistic intention, and endless time into their fragile loved ones. And for most, the end of this Hero’s Journey finds their own hands empty. I hope their hearts are as full as those who have passed gently into the next world under their care and comfort.

  “Long Term Care or Health Care Center are the current alias for “Nursing Home”.  I think the newer terminology is an accurate assessment.  Extreme medical interventions at the end of life, create “Terms” of residency that are so much “Longer,” than ever before.  Death can be elusive for those who haven’t made their “end of life” choices prior to an emergency. For the people who live and work here, “Nursing Home” hails from another era. The “real nurses,” those who chose this profession to care for the sick, lament the lack the time for giving “real nursing care” to their residents. And for anyone who lives here: make no mistake! Long term care surely isn’t “Home.”

Professional caregivers are saddled with mountains of paperwork, onerous regulation, and workplaces that are perennially short- staffed. Not surprising that caregiving positions go unfilled. In this locale, a CNA, the backbone of “hands on care,” might start at $11.00.

She, (they are predominantly women), will care for as many people as necessary. There is no “I will pick this up tomorrow,” in this field. These hardworking caregivers cannot drop a confused resident in the drawer for another day. Every need must be filled- Now. Short staffed might mean 15 people to toilet, feed, put to bed, medicate in an 8-hour shift. This is Long Term Care, (LTC) such as it is in 2017.

I have a love-hate relationship with these facilities.  I love the people; I hate the concept of sick elderly as commodities. I hate the low pay for the people doing heartbreaking, back-bending work of caring for our family members. How can it be that so little financial resource is engaged in the actual “hands on” care of our precious elders? These choices were made for them by illness or circumstance. Many residents have complicated medical needs beyond the scope of home care.  Many are just too frail for the outside world. They cannot go home. These are folks of “the corridors.” They are all here: the optimistic, the compliant, the fighters and those that have gone on to different realms while leaving their bodies here.

Finding myself blocking this particular corridor, I stepped aside. The aid passed by with the complicated apparatus of physical impairment and a weak smile. I was not “unwelcome” here, but I was sometimes an impediment to efficiency. Stepping up to the room, I saw the resident of this long-term care, “half room.” This room held two residents, thoughtfully separated by a wall that extended halfway to the door.  You may hear your neighbor, and all that he experiences, but seeing them is avoided, unless coming or going to the shared bathroom.

Love-and-Death-2

The silhouetted woman looked up as I knocked on the open door. No longer looking like a Facebook profile with no photo, she had a face when I entered the room; a worried, fragile, thoughtful face.  This side of 70, trim and neat, she wore a plaid blouse tucked into pressed jeans, and carefully combed hair. She welcomed me,

“Come in. Please come in. Thank you for stopping.”

I made a mental note: Always Stop. Sometimes the real beauty is in the basics.

I introduced myself as volunteer, interested, and willing to listen. She waved her hand toward the low bed with the blue blanket and I sat next to her, opposite a tall man with gentle grey eyes.  It was her husband in the recliner. He was looking comfortable and well-tended, but lacking the measure of ease that can be a byproduct of some kinds of confusion.

“He is doing what he has to do,” I thought.

He seemed acutely aware of her circumstances; frustration, overwhelm and sadness. Forty years of communication doesn’t fade quickly. I wonder if he knows already how it will end, and that there is nothing he can do to change this scenario. He smiles, at her, at me, at everyone who enters the room. She introduced me and I shook his hand. Realizing no sound made it through the space between us, I showed him my tag and he read my name.  He seemed to find pleasure in using the words.

“When they know he can’t hear, people don’t bother to talk to him,” she said. “He has almost no hearing and his hearing aids are missing again, for the third time!”

She described multiple visits to area hearing experts, trials of expensive equipment and his final acceptance of his deafness. Acceptance, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. The frustration in her voice made the words tremble, but his gaze never changed. I realized then; direct communication with this gentleman, has been rerouted through his wife. She had fought the battles.  She had intervened.  She was here day after day, interpreting the world for him.  I wondered where “she the person, the professional,” was in this plan?  Where had she gone, and could she ever come back?

“I am a nurse, I took care of him at home for 8 years, until I couldn’t physically do it anymore.”

I tried to imagine this small woman negotiating even the most standard activities of daily living with this man at twice her weight, head and shoulders above her in height. There had been multiple medical issues, across 15 years, it had been a slow decline.  She had lost family members and close friends, most recently a sibling. She recounted the death of a parent during childhood and I suggested that this was a great deal of grieving to be carrying.

“What I grieve the most is our conversations.  I miss eating breakfast with him and talking. I come here every day for his lunchtime so we can share a meal together.” Describing her trip in from their rural home an hour away had been treacherous a few times this winter, “I waited too long to go and got caught in it!” she said. 

Proudly, I thought. She had conquered her fear of driving alone to their rural home in the dead of winter.

TimeI wondered if the taut tension in her slight body was the result of a few too many white knuckled trips home. She smiled with a nervous laugh, and I saw just a piece of “her” wink back at me.

I wondered what she would be like without three layers of worry and the awareness that she was saying goodbye to her life’s partner in grueling slow motion. She talked about their close two-person family, and her immersion in a productive career; creating current nursing guidelines for facilities such as this one.

After years of struggling at home alone with his physical care, she is here.  She moves daily between “home” and “Health Care Center.” It appears that she is soaking up the last sweetness of her lifetime relationship, while she can. She is a maelstrom of emotions, and yet there is no other place she would rather be than here; at his side. Such is the way of Grace. The best caregivers understand how tenuous and temporary is their precious and nearly impossible to bear burden.

And this is only one bed, in one room, in one facility in a small corner of New York.

 

The-Dweller-WithinIn 2014 there were 1.7 million beds in Long Term Care facilities in the US.  Projection for 2050?

25 million.

Who will be there to care for these people?https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_03/sr03_038.pdf

I like to imagine that those who have gone before, use our experiences in the” here and now,” to encourage, teach, and even give the occasional “heads up” about what lies ahead on tour life path.  They encourage us to be thoughtful and care deeply for the people around us. We will be “that” soon enough. This experience raises questions for me, and indeed all of us! If I’m a bit “off,” and you have been asked to make decisions for me; this is your reference material.

BWOwl“Our bodies were not designed to go on forever. If I am badly broken, don’t fix me.  I have already had an extraordinary life! Save the bionic parts and the fancy interventions for the children. From the beginning of time people got old and died, usually at home. I imagine a gentle process where my world gets smaller, and I get slower until I wind down like a clock and just stop. I can imagine it might look messy and sad from the outside, but don’t be concerned. The Fall doesn’t look like the Spring or the Summer, it is a wonderful season in its own right. No worries, it will all come out just fine.”

On this day, I took the elevator at the end of the corridor.

I returned to my car in bright sunshine. I was left to wonder at that brand of courage, love, tenacity maybe all three that I witnessed in this couple. I backed my car out of the space, took a long last look at the building, and experienced a rush of gratitude and appreciation for the relationships, the good health and the ease in my life.

“I can go home.”

Thank you for the experience, I am grateful.  I wish gentle passings for us all.

All paintings by:

George Frederic Watts (23 February 1817 – 1 July 1904; sometimes spelled “George Frederick Watts”) was a popular English Victorian painter and sculptor associated with the Symbolist movement. Watts became famous in his lifetime for his allegorical works, such as Hope and Love and Life. These paintings were intended to form part of an epic symbolic cycle called the “House of Life”, in which the emotions and aspirations of life would all be represented in a universal symbolic language (From Wikipedia).

http://www.georgefredericwatts.org

 

 

 

 

Listen Deeply and You Will See the Feeling

three_flags

Three Flags by Jasper Johns, 1958, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

One day last week, my email received delivery of a random real estate listing. Trulia, the real estate website, resurrected my email from the basket on the shelf called “unsubscribe.” For this listing, and only this listing, I became “active” once again.  What is true for internet is true for the ethers: We can hide, but we never really disappear. Just for a moment, I hesitated to tweak my dormant real estate perusal habit but the copy was tantalizing:

“Mid-century home, custom built in 1955 for “Famous Scientist,” (not his real name) who worked on the Manhattan Project. A remarkable, one of a kind home, tucked away on a circular drive on 4 acres wooded lot.”

I could have deleted it.  I’m not looking for a house, but where is the fun in going only where you’ve planned? Peering into the few unfocused images of the listing I saw an “impression” of the backyard from the sun porch on a summer day. Purple Coneflowers shown in full bloom with just the hint of two square bee hives tucked under the trees. Another photo taken at oblique angle offered a taste of a warm welcoming kitchen; handmade wood cabinets, shining cottage hardware next to the bright window over the sink.

standinginpool-copy

Yes, there is nothing more intriguing than a house with history, with the clear stamp of the sensibilities and soul of the previous owners.  How previous, is sometimes the most interesting part.

No need to buy a house in order to interact with its history. Sometimes it is enough to walk through, just a “meet and greet” for whatever reason. My predilection for homes in flux is not unlike my Mother’s affection for walking through Garden centers long after her own herbs and flowers were a sweet memory. We come to enjoy, we come to support, we come to give love, because we can.

I googled the original owner and found a respected career of science and leadership. Amidst the curt, contained Academic language, I sensed there was more. What it was like to come home, to pick up life and career, after helping to create the first Atom bomb? What does changing the world feel like on a personal level? How does a man with such a big history come to live in such a small house, surrounded by nature as it must have been in 1955? Was the world different then? Were the rules clearer? The enemies more distinct? Or was that the only perspective at the time, to fight darkness with darkness, destruction with destruction.  We will never know.

“Open House” Saturday, no showings before Saturday morning.”

We were headed out of town for the weekend. I would drive by soon, “just out of curiosity.” Thinking that was the end of it, I returned to my conscious task of moving all the digital history I chose to keep, from limping old computer, to the new sleek model. Along the way, my last decade flashed by; pictures, music, my own written reflections streaked through my day. It was a day of memory and ghosts and happy sad thoughts.

Well of course our plans changed, one door closed, another opened, invisible walls slid to the side and Saturday afternoon was available after all.  Thankfully there is more to our lives than only ourselves.“We will stop there between the chowder festival, and a walk with the dogs, just for fun.”

carolsingkids-copy

Rounding the curve, there were a dozen cars pulled off into the greasy snowbanks of this mismatched early 1960’s neighborhood. Unmatched pairs of curiosity seekers stepped carefully across the ice coating the narrow gravel ellipse that was “the circular drive.” The scene was unexpectedly eerie. A moving shadow of a wildly overgrown Rhododendron played on the front bricks. Ambitious White Pines of all ages pushed up everywhere; through rock walls and driveway edges. Their sweeping branches leaned in; precariously close to the bedroom windows, creating soft snare drum rhythms on the single panes.  Years of shed needles shut out groundcover, dampening new life as efficiently as algae chokes a pond. No doubt, there was deep sadness here.

As a gardener, I knew there hadn’t been one here in quite some time. The robust had prevailed, the diminutive had faltered.

The memory of ivy and vinca maintained their presence guardedly in the cracks of the brick face and between the rock walls.  Two of the largest of the sticky White Pines had been hurriedly chopped in the handful of days between advertisement and open house. Their hacked-up stumps still oozed golden sap on this chilly winter day. The small branches and woodchips that were their remains, splayed out across the dirt driveway as if a wily wizard had “shazamed” them in the moment before we pulled up. Always be wary of quick fixes and fresh paint, they tell the problem, if not the story.

Passing through the multi-paned front door there was a sense of desperate confusion. The ecstatic realtor was holding court, beaming her pleasure at the bewildering excitement of this bargain crazed crowd. Handing out cards and cookies she seemed completely unaware of the storm forming around her. Small knots of people huddled in the huge great room. Windows filled an entire wall to the southwest, and yet it was dark and dank.

drinkfromhose-copy

I heard snippets of wistful conversations about the patina of the floors, the built-in book shelves, the brick fireplace. A luxurious and graceful mature Spider plant squatted casually at the end of the long pine mantel holding the sole bit of life in this cold room.  I wondered where it had come from, and how soon it would get to go home. Scented candles burned on windowsills, an attempt to discount the heavy, throat closing aura of mold, damp, and viscous stillness. I stepped back into the wordless part of my brain, seeking direction.

Being careful not to touch anything inside the house seemed paramount. Unclear on why we were here, I stepped outside, to get a breath, to get some perspective. There were several couples out in the trees, one man looked back at the house, gesturing his amazing ideas, imagining an HGTV dream of reclamation and redemption. “The roots of this loss are everywhere,” I wanted to shout to them, “The pain is too much, let the trees take care of it, they know how.”

Standing outside on the pieces of slate that had been a patio, I regained my senses and noted the floating rungs of a wooden staircase leading precariously up to the nearly flat roof of the living room.  It had no supports, nothing linked it to ground. “He must have visited Loretto Chapel,” I thought, remembering the church in Santa Fe with Ripley’s credentials and a spiral staircase that curls to the balcony totally without support.  The story goes; it was built for the nuns to sing in the balcony by none other than who else: an itinerant carpenter.

This lesser accomplishment had been marked off limits by an insignificant strip of yellow Caution tape.  It had been tied there and pulled off by some light-footed optimist.  All at once I realized, “This is a New Mexico house.” The large open rooms, a kitchen only as big as it has to be, windows that look out on open space, and a stairway to the roof for star viewing. Is this some of what he brought back from Los Alamos?  Having lived in New Mexico and its opposite, New York, it seemed obvious.

“Yes,” I thought. “I miss that too.”

Wanting to complete the journey ASAP, we galloped through the empty rooms, newly painted and unoccupied.  The biggest bedroom had a beautiful window, seemed a nice place to watch the snow fall from bed. The closet held nothing except a week’s worth of professionally ironed dress shirts. The office was murky; the presence of briefcase and folders was unexpected and confusing. I barely crossed the threshold, and didn’t linger. I imagined the unconscious occupant moving quickly between the three necessary rooms, office, bedroom and kitchen. He would keep close to the wall, avoiding a look into the living room, and then, with a quick sprint, out the door. I wondered where they had stashed the furniture and how anyone could stay here, even temporarily.

It was a quick tour, it was just too much to stand in for very long. I had renewed gratitude for my cozy home, and my physical ability to stand in the sun. Back in the car, we returned to our reality and decided upon our dog walk trail “de Jour.”  We would walk on the track bed turned bicycle path, starting from the Lock 7 on the Mohawk and going south along the river. It was a bit farther than we needed to drive, but walking by water is always a good idea. I hadn’t been on this part of the trail for many years.

Down the hill and across the Mohawk, the dogs in the back seat were ecstatic.

Our old Toyota, still sporting New Mexico tags turned left to River Road skirting the vast riverfront property that is Knolls Atomic Laboratory. I remembered then, the short biography about the scientist who came home from Los Alamos after the war and settled here to work the rest of his life at Knolls. As we entered the roundabout by KAPL I realized our mission.

rauschenburg

Buffalo II, 1964 Rauschenburg, Robert

We parked the car, the dogs sprinted up the incline. Once reached, the path was straight flat and continued endlessly out of view.  We walked past ice covered ponds, water roaring through rusty culverts, and  frosted vegetable fields, harvested this time of year by the hungry wild things.  We walked 2 miles south heading towards Vischer Ferry, where just around the corner, water from upstate New York hills flowed into the Mohawk River, and onto the deep moving currents of the sea-bound Hudson.

I had just read a book about the old Celtic thoughts on the specific attributes of trees.  They are all unique in their attributes and abilities to be used for medicine and hold the integrity of the land. As we walked they waved, the birches, the alders and especially the water soaked Willows.  We were walking with the current, “in the flow.” We reached a small building at a beautiful curve of the river and took stock of our place and time. It was after 4 when we decided to turn back to the car. The going back was harder, the day was colder and even the pup was dragging when we finally saw the poles that marked the parking lot. It was a full day.

I am reminded this day in February that research and inquiry go in both directions. I watched a TED talk this week from an impassioned Astro Archeologist.  She finds the relics of human past from satellite images worked with algorithms.  Her contention is that we have awareness of only a 1/1000 of a single percentage of human experience that rests hidden from view under our feet. “It is time to turn the pyramids upside down…” she said. From the heavens, they look for the very subtle impressions in the earth that indicate the map of human history (https://www.ted.com/talks/sarah_parcak_help_discover_ancient_ruins_before_it_s_too_late?utm_source=tedcomshare&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=tedspread)

I took this as a personal AHA! Moment.  There was something about that image of looking at our planet, our lives, our past, from an “other side of the atmosphere” point of view. It cleared my myopia and I laughed out loud. No need to wonder if those folks we choose to “research” or remember aren’t peering right back at us with equal interest. Do relationships and interactions transcend physicality?  Of course they do. I write these words and I hear the deep chuckle, “If only you knew, if only you know.”

Arrien, Angeles, 2007, The Second Half of Life: Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom, audio

Parcak, Sarah, https://www.globalxplorer.org)/

Three Flags by Jasper Johns, 1958, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Buffalo II Rauschenberg, Robert, 1964

Let Yourself Grow!

Winter Landscape at Sunset

antonsnow

Winter Landscape at Sunset, Anton Mauve (Dutch,  c.1885-87.)

“Look deep into nature and you will understand everything.”

— Albert Einstein

This week in mid December the thermometer at the wide window of my western exposure has reported -7 to 44F. Standing close to the fire in the woodstove, I watched the “outside life” slide slowly into the quiet whispers of winter. In just a few hours, the last leaves caught in the wire fence, tufts of emerald green grass, and stiff stalks of Kale disappeared beneath brilliant white snow edged in hard grey ice. The sky darkened, the wind blew. The Poplar communities huddled together, the white Birches leaned and dipped, carrying pencil thin snow loads in silence, until wind or sun relieved them of the burden.

The spare plainness of organic form on light, black branches on white snow, wiped away any subtlety or shading. The four elements of life shouted out their truth; the earth is quiet, the water still, time in the light is short! Sporting illusions are meant for gentler, longer days. Epiphanies come fast and furious in this stark landscape. Ice isn’t gentle, and cold has no conscience.

We are not separate from what we like to call “Nature.” Bring on your fancy down jacket, and the heat tape, we are that which we call Nature, and she is us. Skate if you wish across frozen natural truths, you will eventually come home to the thin ice of Earth born mortality.

I have already accepted the mantra:

Whatever works for a tree, works for me.

edvardmunch1915winterlandscape

Winter Landscape, Edvard Munch 1915

These are my gentle alignments that come to pass on a quiet walk in the overgrown backfield on a snowy December afternoon. The frosty air clears my sinuses. I watch as the dogs push warm noses into mysterious snow mounds. They look up at me with fantastically funny white beards and a comic’s straight man face, “What? What’s so funny?” New snow is a dog’s miracle.

Extraneous thoughts drain out of my head like the watery mucus from my running nose. It’s very bright, very clear.

“A bonus!” I think.

The snow adds so much light to a dark day. I am grateful for the reflected light that fills my eyes in the days of long slow darkness. I have left my backpack full of, “I need to,” over there, leaning against the side of the barn. When words stop, senses come out of hibernation.

Stepping back, there is a crunch of boot on fresh snow. A tall elegant Truth strolls by me, donned in ice-encrusted branches with hoarfrost festoons on curled brown leaves. I follow the crooked finger with my eyes, walking across downed Goldenrod and winding grapevines to the rear tree line where I see the Dogwood relative splayed out across the fence. The still attached leaves had taken on ice and snow and the weight was too much. The cold caused brittle, the wind blew, and the graceful tree was snapped in half. In a tenuous fracture, she was broken from the weight of water and ice encasing the leaves that clung to her branches; a casualty of the natural progression of cold and wet at the entrance of winter.

Standing in the hour of sunlight of the afternoon of just pre-solstice December, it came to me. In this light it was crystal clear. It is our inability to let go of our leaves at the end of a season that causes human beings so much angst, and yes, agony. It is our inability to accept that seasons come and go, wind happens, all things have a natural ending as well as beginning. It is just all grist for the mill. To argue this changes nothing. To cling to the past is to be weakened, taken down, cracked open in the cold leveler that is winter.

I heard it clearly out there.

“Let it go already! Give it up! Move on, forgive,

 Let yourself Grow!”

The anger, the hurts, disappointments, the stuff, the sadness, let it all go. Toss it onto the great sacred compost heap of human experience. Let the leaves of past seasons become the rich indiscriminate fertilizer of collective wisdom.

Out in the field, my crunchy truthful friend spoke.

“No need to understand the whys, drop the leaves on the ground and walk away.”

 

davidgrossmanwinterdayending

Winter Day Ending David Grossman

In the past week at this Northern latitude, mountainous grey thunderclouds have tumbled across our upper landscape. It has snowed, rained, precipitated in shapes that only the far Northwest Native people would recognize as separate entities. We have been blown about by winds capable of moving massive arctic fronts across our entire continent. We have been frozen solid, thawed, wet and flooded all in the same afternoon.

These are powerful forces and yet the trees, for the most part, stand strong in the wind, despite the cold, despite the short days. All the while, in the dark ground, the roots stretch out, growing thicker and stronger, reaching out to new depths.

 

Tomorrow will be a short dark day, the next the darkest yet, the Solstice of 2016. I intend to enjoy this time. I wish you Safe passage and Much Growth this blessed Winter season.

 

Death is Generous

Life has Always Been Temporary
chagallmarcFigurinesurgrandsocle

Chagall, Marc La Danse 1967

We weren’t surprised by the early morning email announcing her passing on a cold gray day in northern New Jersey. She was the last survivor of six Elders from the port side of our ship of life.

Although I shared no DNA with this woman, she was woven into my life tapestry through marriage and the golden threads of shared family. The depth of our response, was at first as imperceptible as a minor tremor in an area not prone to earthquakes; it was unexpectedly shaking. We knew how deeply the actions of others and the echoes of choices had impacted these lives. We heard the small whisper in each of our ears, “Family,” it said to me. My partner heard something private, and imperative. We pulled the winter wear out of Florida storage, to bring the only thing we had to give; ourselves.

I had met her only several times. A tiny woman with brilliant smile, her personality radiated literally without boundaries. She was legendary in her ability to bestow friendship on anyone and everyone within reach of her voice, her arms, her heart. With my limited personal experience I am unclear if she was the honeybee, or the flower. I would guess probably both. She lived some hard, soul breaking times. These may have been written on her heart but not on her face. Those that earned the WWII survivorship have a different understanding of fear, heartbreak, courage.

Death is generous
Life has always been temporary

She died smiling in her 97th winter. Her soul mate had gone on ahead. Her mind, compromised by the faulty pathways of Alzheimers had been a mystery to her family for many months. She had floated on the wings of “nearly here,” held and protected by loving hands. There were no “if only” or “what ifs” left in her life. Even those left to cry knew there was no more to be squeezed out of her lifetime.

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Chagall, Marc Blue Violinist 1947

When a well-loved woman passes smiling in her 97th year, there is reason to celebrate. Her family knew who she was and what she wanted, they requested joy to attend her ceremony and joy appeared. It was my rare experience that day to witness a family in evolution. Three generations attended their personal emanations, all holographs of a single life: mother, grandmother, great grandmother, stepmother, aunt, friend.

They attended her physical passing of soul to spirit by sharing her story and wearing her smile. Around the table, old friends and youthful faces talked story. Her story, as they knew it to be. They reached back into baskets of memory to bring forth a perfect rose of a tale, gifting everyone with their treasure.

Neighbors, friends, family human and canine sat in this spell, cast by those we couldn’t see. For those of us with less “skin in the game” it was clear; the living folk were only the first tier, layers of generations, ancestors, friends, even beloved pets came to dance her home. Their names studded the conversations like a 4th grade roll call. Speak their name in story, and you will be shortly sharing a chair.

Death is Generous

Life has always been temporary

What is it about that space? What is the pristine clarity of the territory surrounding graduation from soul to spirit? When we of different realms can still touch each other, unsolvable problems melt like a March snowman. Insurmountable issues fall away, the unforgivable is swept out like so many dead leaves cleared off the unused patio. When the door into the next world opens, we all get to breathe deeper and sing louder. For a time.

In the dissolution of houses and estates, lies the absolute liquidation of worry and expectations. Common elements are rejoined in a new way; wiping away hurts, demanding that walls come down-forever. As lava slides down the mountain in Hawaii consuming all in her path, so it is with death. It’s hard to connect with pain that no longer exists, nearly impossible to link with that which has been healed.

As long as the food trays and the friends hold out, we all get to stand outside the material world. Yes we stand, plate in hand, fielding raw emotions that run free on wild horses. Emotions too long harnessed by distance, therapies, drugs and leaking body fluids, emotions that surface in a moment. Emotions that will continue to show themselves unexpectedly across another lifetime; our own.

Right now we can enjoy the euphoria. It precedes the dark windy place that is profound sadness. The lonely thin trail on the high windy ridge that is grieving. No need to look for this, it will find you.

Death is generous

Life has always been temporary

Found on indulgy.com

Chagall, Marc Heavenly Dream 1967

What is the “grace” of death? What is the music playing just down the hall and just beyond our ability to hear? When we silence our lives and turn our faces to a soul in transition do we too move closer to transcendence? In the presence of death we are kinder, wiser, more forgiving. We speak more carefully, as if suddenly aware of our words and their impact. Habitual motives of self-protection and separateness stand out in the sharp delineation like a cardinal on the snow. Suddenly it seems, there is another choice.

I wonder if the great angelic beings that come to lead us home sprinkle some “Dust of the Divine” about? Or is our loved one is standing right there and we are, as children are being “the best we can be?” Whatever the mechanics of the situation, I believe this is a huge opportunity to dip your toe into bliss.

If it’s possible to put all aside, to listen more deeply, feel more open, show more love, because someone is gone from this life?

“Why would we do anything less, anytime?”

 

To Molly- Thank you for letting me share your family, may your smile warm them always, may your dance give them joy

 

CHAGALL Marc,

LA DANSE, Sotheby’s, London

http://www.artvalue.com

Blue Violinist 1947 ackermansfineart.com

Heavenly Dream 1967  Found on indulgy.com

 

Know in Your Bones-Solstice 2015

Harvest Moon George Innes 1891

“Harvest Moon,” by George Inness

Here we are in the land of real winter.

Four p.m. and the sun is setting over my field of dried Goldenrod. The plant kingdom outside my window is playing the Madrigal of “darkness into light.” Having read the darkening days, the plants have surrendered into the season, dropping down into the underworld to rest and recover after three busy Quarters of generativity. I have watched green turn to brown, leaf into root, the spirit of each moving out of the light, away from the touch of cold. To the square cell folk, darkness means relief for a while, of the burden of “growing and expanding.” Yes, green things are dying all around us. December in the north end of the Northern Hemisphere is all about dying back, dying into the whole.

“In nature, darkness is neither good nor bad but simply a neutral condition in which things rest, take root and grow.”

Thom Cavalli, author of Alchemical Psychology

It would seem such a tragic loss, but we know in our bones that the light will come again. I wonder as I watch, “What did we as humans loose when we forgot how to sit in the dark?”

Everything that dies “out there” isn’t abandoned or lost. It is cheerfully chewed on, mopped up, and fully consumed by the hungry creatures of the single cell set. When the light comes back, when the air is warm, when last years achievements have sunk deep into the mud, new growth will appear. We have exempted ourselves from this process. We have no imperative to stay close and warm and dream in the dark. This “quiet time” is healing time. Time and space allows last years hurts to fall away. Was there an ill-conceived branch or a vole-decimated root? No worries! Dream a new dream. All will be used. Ever see a plant landfill?

What if we had this much resolve to utilize our own emotional flotsam? What if we were positive that after a quiet dark time of reflection, our painful emotional escapades would feed our present life with the great vitality of a rich fertilizer? The key here is to know in our bones that the light will come again.

Could it be that healing hurt and tragedy, allowing joy to regenerate us, requires time and the acceptance? If we want to fertilize our psyche with the richness of the experience we call “life,” then we need to acknowledge a time called Winter. We require seasons to process the growing and the healing. My intention for a full lived life would look like this:

“I have used all my tools at least once, I have been on both sides of almost all the major relationship quandaries and have reached the end of my life holding lots of love and not much else.”

I think a bit of naptime might be good for our culture. An improvement certainly over the frazzled, out of sorts, 24 hour a day tantrum that is our Americonsumer Christmas. Never met a 2 year old who didn’t feel so much better after a nap.

Home at Montclair George Innes

Home at Montclair by George Innes

So here we find ourselves knocking at the Solstice door once again. Not so much dark as…quiet presence in stasis. My “well lived life” scenario in the dark times of the year might be:

“I will work a shorter day, sleep more, sit by a fire and allow the rhythms of the season to rock my psyche into balance until the light comes back.”

All made possible because…

We know in our bones that the light will come again.

We all crave alignment to something more ancient than our own most recent manifestation. Nature is beyond the teacher, nature is how it works. Is there a time when we will cease to need the dark in order to describe the light?

That’s a question for the spring!

Wishing everyone a blessed return of Light in whatever form you find most beautiful.

 

 

T.F. Cavalli, Alchemical psychology, Old Recipes for Living in a New World, (New York: Penguin/Putnam, 2002)

George Innes (May 1, 1825 – August 3, 1894) was an influential American landscape painter. His work was influenced, in turn, by that of the old masters, the Hudson River school, the Barbizon school, and, finally, by the theology of Emanuel Swedenborg, whose spiritualism found vivid expression in the work of Inness’ maturity. Often called “the father of American landscape painting,”[1][2][3] Inness is best known for these mature works that not only exemplified the Tonalistmovement but also displayed an original and uniquely American style.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Inness

“Harvest Moon,” by George Inness, oil on canvas, 30 by 44 ½ inches, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., bequest of Mabel Stevens Smithers, The Frances Sydney Smithers Memorial, 1891

“Home at Montclair,” allpaintings.org

 

The Trust

I looked for this today. It was a file, named The Trust,” waiting patiently on my virtual desktop.  Good thing it’s virtual. The location of the laptop where it lives has been as mutable and mercurial as the air sign of Gemini in a stiff wind. These past weeks I have been in constant interaction with the concrete and friendly entity known as my Dad’s Trust. While some might regard this legacy to be an untouchable resource, I take my lead from Dolly Levi.

Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow. “

We have been doing a LOT of encouraging around here.

I wonder if the abrupt movement of “saved to spent” has been the origin of my recent dreams? In this week’s highlights, I saw Dad etherically ease dropping on a “not so quiet” gathering of his four daughters. Sitting silently, forearms on thighs, he cleared his fingernails with a small penknife. He listened, nodding occasionally; he smiled some, and sighed more.

It was a 3D dream space where we acted out thoughts and stifled emotions while simultaneously witnessing the event. Behind closed eyes in the early morning I reviewed the dream; it seemed like a Psychodrama gone Schizoid. I think maybe it is just my Spirit remembering the task of my life is to live it as no one else can.

But that’s the end of the story this is the beginning.

The Trust” and so it goes:

“Today is June 13 2014.

I am in Flying Star, (pricey coffee house in Santa Fe) reading the packet from Marilyn, trusty Trustee from The Bank. I crawl through the pages, not comprehending the details, but discerning the worry for the future in the “cover every contingency” investment strategy. I can feel him pouring over the Wall Street Journal, stock analysis, and last year’s numbers. Pages of numbers in columns, pie charts and percents all described in unemotional numbers; the reason and residue of my Dad’s life work. Inside this package there is love, there is pride, there is intellectual fun I think, I hope; I think he really enjoyed the game. “

“I can imagine he puts these questions into prayers and asks for guidance because that’s who he is in this life.

I see him lost in thought, concentrating, an unseeing gaze out a long frozen window. In the quiet of his upstairs office room he sits at the giant oak desk, its finish rubbed silky smooth from his flannel shirted elbows. He is there, leaning into see the numbers on the monitor when he learned the mysteries and miracles of the Internet. He removes his glasses, cleans the lens, rubs the sore places on his nose where the too tight glasses rest and digests what he has seen on the screen.”

“We can recall that shortly after his death this desk had to be cut in half by his mourning son in law before it could leave that room. As if it was too burdened with the time and energy of spirit spent there, it had to be halved before mere mortals could remove it. Had the wood itself had soaked up the mysterious emotions of our father? His intentions and feelings were rarely witnessed nakedly, until he was dying.

We can remember further back when another son in law did his daily work on that desk. Despite the dying in the next room, he needed to make a living. He supported our family between quiet requests for help that could only be answered by another man. Miracles happen in these times. Foes become allies. Propriety slinks away to less imperatives places. There is only room for love and laughter anything else seems to be pushed back beyond view. Fear pounds at the door, but if one can stay in the second, there are quiet opportunities to realize the incredible beauty of a life in metamorphosis. We are witnesses, yes, but the view is blindingly beautiful. Sometimes the scene is too raw and ready for those of us expecting to stay a while longer in the land of the living.”

But let’s get back to the desk.

It was surrounded by crayon drawings, photos, school pictures, clay creatures from children, grand children, and great-grandchildren. It was an environment really. I hope it was a reflection of Karl’s heart. It was the land where his children prevailed. We honored him, we threw love at him in seasonal missives and over-taped construction paper constructs.

“On a sad day in April, he gave these back. He demanded the privilege of an elder at the end of life. He wanted all of his precious bits to be returned to their givers. When the quiet flurry of removal was done, his walls were bare and we held our offerings in our hands. I remembered that day with these papers spread in front of me on a brilliant day in Santa Fe.

Hands wrapped around my teapot of Jasmine tea for warmth, I remembered what I had put away for a time when I hoped it wasn’t too sad to recall.

“Images of the creaky desk chair with over worn cushion. His wife’s warm and fuzzy decorating paradigm was abandoned at the doorsill of his office. This room was our Dad condensed. So long missing, so long missed. A desk the size of an average kitchen table. Snow was falling outside the window for the 4th cold month. Failing physical health; worry about last days, unthinkable dependence… Strife in the family; steps and sisters, old wounds rising up like the bubbles in his ginger ale. Red plastic bowls to hide any blood. Exiting his home in the strong arms of two medics in a hammock too reminiscent of a body bag. His cry of surprise or pain when he found himself on the stairs. That giant man saying, “It’s all right Honey.” It would never occur to refer to my Dad as “Honey” but he calmed, relaxed and closed his eyes. So much easier with strangers.

I can’t find the part of me that knows if he ever really looked at us again. My head thinks that’s when it was safe to apply himself to getting out of his body.

He had felt responsible for so long what did it take to have the faith that everyone would be OK if he left?

Thoughts on this day:

It is Friday the 13th, from the ancient calendar it is the day to honor Minerva. There is a full moon tonight and most importantly this is the day that my father will be released forever from this burden.

I spoke directly to him then.

“Our hands and minds are capable Dad. We will all be fine. Know that your life’s work will be held, or paid, or spread around. Most of all…deeply appreciated.

We will all create possibility to all issue; present and future. There will be four completely different ways, all good.

Seems a good reflection of your investment strategy, but it is our own expression.

Go ahead now Dad to whatever you dreamed of, or prayed about sitting at that big oak desk. You are free now, no more worries about scarcity or disability.”

Be free Dad, you are loved

It is our job now

Thank You My Friend

For as long as I sit at this desk, I will see the place where we put your body back into the earth just this morning. This is the longest day.

Time has stretched out like shiny taffy, pulled until it came to an end and “snap” you were gone. I need to remember on this loneliest of days, how many times we celebrated your exquisite integrity and your command of the language of unconditional love. I need to remember your companionship as a gift, your faithful heart as an example.

Eleven years ago we found you, my mystical guru of devotion and discernment. You were waiting there, at a City of Albuquerque annual adoption event, calculated to propel hundreds of stray dogs and puppies out of shelters, and into adoptive homes. The plan is simple: every adoptable shelter resident in the city is transported to the Fairgrounds, add  radio stations and sponsors, and see what happens.

On that day, we wandered through the cages. We past Pits and Rotties, through the “toys”, too tender and tiny for rural New Mexico, and away from the baying Hounds. There was discernible desperation in these long nose faces. The dogs had a handle on what was at stake, they seemed to know their clock was ticking.BearBWright

Our daughter spotted him; black muzzle, tiny ears, almost past a puppy with matted fur reminiscent of an old used bath mat. His card said “Stray-found downtown.” He was an “inner city” dog. Where he was headed in the breed pool was anyone’s guess. She saw his magic and skipped to the head of the “Do we really want a dog?” line by presenting him to her Dad, with leash, and the casual suggestion that he take him outside for a “get to know you walk.” Then and only then, did she find me pondering a Pomeranian once owned by an infamous animal hoarder, a single Pom, from a Pom family of 50. I was taking “rescue” too literally.

By the time we reached them Bear was calm, and Dad was smitten.

Of course he also had a touch of Parvo, but we didn’t know that yet. Dad looked as if he had reclaimed a soul part named, “My Dog Loves Me,” approximately age 10; his face was dazzling. The pup, soon to be named Bear, due to his uncanny resemblance to a Grizzly cub, offered me a ”heart to heart” communiqué. It translated into an intention somewhere between Star Trek’s salt monster, “I am for you..!” and “We need to do this Mom.”

And so we did, we made an interspecies partnership for the promotion of higher consciousness through living in the present with as much unconditional love as he could model. The timing was perfect. Our children had embarked on their own adventures and we were Midlife adults carrying substantial backpacks of leftover Nuture.

Bear’s gloriously inclusive heart developed over time and ripened with maturity. Mac, an unexpected and initially unwelcome addition developed into an unflagging devotee of the infallible Alpha-ness of Bear. Mac’s selfless love of his fearless leader has no human counterpart. It is an egoless canine adaptation that strengthens everyone in the pack. Bear recognized one ultimate Alpha-Dad and his alternate-Mom.

A particularly notable aspect of Bear’s prodigious relationship skills was his ability to discern the potential for discord or danger. His signature move was to come between any newcomer and his “family”, of which he used a very loose and comprehensive definition. All children, everyone’s children are family, as are people attached to, or smiling at “His People.”

Bear’s creed of Serve and Protect was elegantly simple based on his awareness of his own great power.

There was no need for scary growling, no show of force. He did nothing overt to raise the awareness of the detainee. Most never recognized, that the Bear Block was essentially a character analysis. His wagging tail would erroneously signal friendly canine acceptance.  He would stand as an impenetrable roadblock across any incoming legs, when he found their owners lacking.

For those of us under his protection, we looked for his opinion; we respected his opinion. If he went back for the second pet, all was well. Occasionally there was a over the shoulder look, a wide mouth pant and uneasy eyes that asked, “This guy is lying, deceitful, dangerous or inebriated, what do you want me to do with him Mom?”

For eleven years I have had the privilege of being in Bear’s family as he is in mine. We buried him today, in a hole we dug ourselves, in a gentle green yard that we call home, in a blanket that smelled like us.

I have nothing better to give you then my love and gratitude. Wait for us there, we will come after a while.

For my Family, you know who you are

Call in the Valkyries

womaninwavesFor two days it had been blue grey drizzle, punctuated by periodic deluges that slapped at the windows, sending the dogs under the table. The unexpected monsoon shook loose the dead leaves from my live oak and washed them across the lawn into rusty mounds. My potted tomatoes split across their plump half ripe bellies, unable to refuse more water than they could hold.

Without appointments on these days, this discerning being chose to “hole” up at home. I donned socks, curled in a chair, and attended to my extraordinarily patient paperwork. I created dreams of a tidy weather tight home in the North; smugly green and beautiful in it’s efficiency. Our home would be steadfast beacon of comfortable living with minimal planetary impact.

I am allowed the luxury of imagined living in “other places” by virtue of my big brain human-being status. This, and the prevailing postulate of my species: Humans have the right to dominate over all other life forms. This philosophy allows great latitude in our dealings with all other nonhuman cohabitants of the planet, and it’s so convenient! Omnipotence feels great as long as one hums loud enough to drown out everything but ourselves.

do·min·ion noun

sovereignty; control.

“man’s attempt to establish dominion over nature”

supremacyascendancydominancedominationsuperiority,predominancepreeminencehegemonyauthoritymasterycontrol,commandpowerswayrulegovernmentjurisdictionsovereignty,

“at the time the Spartans had dominion over Athens”         (Vocabulary.com)

It was still early, we found only two cars at the beach lot. A deserted beach was surprising on this bright morning in February, at the apex of the Southern Emigration season. It was snowing heavArthur Rackhamily for the second day in the Northern tundra. On this day in southwestern Florida, the sky was an exquisitely clear robin’s egg blue. The southeast winds pushed hard across the face of the Gulf. The waveforms pulsed endlessly, rhythmic heartbeats of a restless goddess radiating throughout her domain. Amphitrite doesn’t miss anything in this; her personal providence. It may be frozen someplace else, but the blood is flowing here, pounding really; pounding in our ears.

I felt it, even before I saw the refuse. I felt the moan under the waves and the scream in the wind. The water was milky, churned up and opaque. The wind didn’t create this howl; the wind was mourning the losses.

Offshore the sand dredger stood anchored above their next prey. Working day and night for weeks, they had plunged the impossibly huge mouth of the vacuum into the belly of the Gulf. Grabbing all, suffocating all, moving the sand with the empathy of a Giant’s foot on an anthill. It was pumped up to plump up the pricey beachfront that had of late, looked wan and gangly. The hanging roots of the beach grass lay exposed to the sun. The dune barely stood; sliced open by wave and wind.

Seize-The-Despoiler-Rescue-The-Gold-Help-Us-Help-Us-Woe-Woe,-Illustration-From-The-Rhinegold-And-The-Valkyrie,-1910The expensive condos at the legal edge of the dune are winter home to beings with ownership sensibilities and the “wherewithal” to protect their investment. The privilege of living close to a barrier beach had not taught them to see. These condo folk have “dominion,” and a pretty short life span. What chance do a millions mollusks and a some unconscious crustaceans have in the face of such obvious entitlement?

As long as “gravity” holds out on this planet, sand and water will ebb and flow, swirl and sway. They are in perpetual dance; forever and for all time. It’s a perpetual call and response with these two, the mediums of elemental architects.

Form + energy /time=natural forms

We walked amidst deep piles of small shells, small mountains of amorphic sponges drying in the wind, a sea cucumber, even a dead raccoon lay eyeless and rolling at the edge of the angry waves. A red sand dollar just recently alive in a nearby aquatic suburb lay drawn and quartered across the sand. The red color suggested the color of blood. Insinuating, if only in my soul; what if this was a human body? What if we were ripped from our comfy chairs and supermarket parking lots and sprayed out into the universe for some “higher purpose?” Suddenly this clear windy day at the edge of the sea became an apocalypse.

valkyries

On this day, life at the edge of the sea was about domination, disrespect and death. This wasn’t a hunt for lunch, protection of young, or survival. What gives us the right to destroy so much?

Call for the Valkyries, there be heroes here. Although not human ones. Valkyries are the mythic women who carry swords they never use, who chose the heroes that will die in the man-made battles, women who scoop up those that will live forever. They are the place where good and evil are not clearly distinguishable, they are the same.

Bring them to Valhalla; it’s not safe here

All artwork by Arthur Rackham (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Rackham)

 All artwork by Arthur Rackham Images from http://www.1st-art-gallery.com
Born 19 September 1867
LewishamKent, England
Died 6 September 1939 (aged 71)
LimpsfieldSurrey, England
Nationality English
Known for Children’s literature

Singing the Solstice Blues

Solstice 2014

We chased the sunset; flying due west across the Southern United States at sunset on the Solstice of 2014. This final day of descent into darkness in the Northern Hemisphere has always been notable to me. In the last few years Solstice prayers and hopes have been etched on heart and they played out their mysteries in the months that followed. It isn’t the darkness that catches my attention. It is the echo of rituals past when people and the earth sang together, danced together in mutual care and respect.

Solstice is an intractable physical event; like puberty or menopause, birth and death. An astrological alignment of sun and earth described in light and shadow expressing constants floating in a sea of other potential outcomes. All this drama played out right here in our own intimate corner of the universe. These behemoth players dance the archetypes of sacred interrelationships on a planetary stage of constant change. For the early watchers, when survival was more primordial, the daily sunset was mortality, the sunrise a prayer of gratitude.

The Solstice is the shortest day, the least light, the final exhale of this solar year. Seems worth a few moments of contemplation amidst digital distractions of pre Christmas cheer. Our 21st century world is not a jazzy hologram or fantastical computer generated image, but a living breathing entity. We the humans, are here, because there is a “here.” All that happens in the physical realm is “that” which allows us a life in the physical. We are all part of this beautiful planet earth and one of her children. It would seem reasonable to listen to “Mom” now and then, give a hand up to those in need, and say thanks once in a while for our ride on this fantastic space ship.

I was reminded this year to mark the darkest day by an explorer in the realms of plant devas. An in-training Anam cara of the apple tree has reminded those of us who listen of the olde practice of wassailing. A sweet and chilly practice of going to the trees that feed us in summer to give encouragement in their hardest and darkest days. The grace of warm breath amongst chilly trees, human voices singing out support, grateful hearts banishing dark spirits who would bruise and maim the creators of food and fruit. Marking miracles makes sense.
Attend the last breath
makes the next breath feel so sweet.

In Search of…..What? In Search of Who..? Revisited

redonwoodsThe Devas hold the schedule, I hold the hose.

I am accustomed to tending my own garden of Psyche daily. I work each morning as a medieval monk tending the medicinal herb garden. It’s solitary work. Strong medicines need quiet voices and patient hands. In this garden of “Know thyself,” and it’s corollary “Know Everyone Else”, the Devas hold the schedule, I hold the hose.

I seek the smallest of keys, the softest of voices whose demands create heaven or hell here on earth. I am a devotee of the siren called Relationship. Without relationship, love is lost, if love is lost; all is lost. The answers to the “good life” quest are all right there, floating in the rich soup of interrelatedness. It is appropriate then, to find myself here.  Queries of life should be answered in the field, library research is far too easy, far too clean.  It is a shock to witness the deep clouds of aged aloneness that are all around me.  Their solitary presence as palpable as the gnat that floats in my coffee, right under my nose.

Why do so many fragile elders live out such lonely endings to their “Well-lived” Lives?

These are the superfluous thoughts that I ponder in my garden. In Florida, the hearing is hard and time runs short-endlessly. Thoughts are cheap; connection requires deep attention and careful listening. If I wish to hear them, I will. Once heard, I will have to listen, and I already know the sound is deafening.

Deva

MysticalconversationredonIndo-European, Sanskrit word for God, originally thought of as feminine. The modern word Goddess has changed connotations to represent a lesser form of divinity. Deva had the meaning we typically think of as the word God today, however God was thought to be the Great Mother.

In Buddhism Devas are highly evolved beings who inhabit different levels of existence. Devas are commonly associated with great beauty and bliss.

Modern New Age versions of Deva’s are thought of similarly to angels, nature spirits, or fairies.
Pronounced Day-va.

 

Is there anybody there?

In the heat of August, our 1960’s era Florida ‘hood seemed nearly abandoned. Air conditioning and cicadas hummed in unison, shades pulled against the relentless sun; we are all hunkered down in our separate oasis. In gentler October, I came to discern the fainter life force: there are many more people here than meet the eye. Empty carport and weekly mowing does not necessarily denote a Michigan snowbird’s empty winter escape. Is it a clever vacation timer changing channels in the late night TV glow across the street? Or is there a gnarled hand on a sticky remobecomingRedonte picking endlessly at the arm of a single recliner in that darkened room?  When I look at the blank face of that picture window, I wonder what looks back at me.

By November, my own lack of critical agenda mixed with the timeless energies and endless ebbing of those in 30-year retirements. Only then did I begin to hear them. I accepted the possibility that hearts too fragile to be “out and about” lived amongst us; close by and yet unseen. Yes, some of our neighbors have been here a very, very long time. Current wisdom calls this “Aging in place.” With enough resources one can stay home until you die, sometimes alone, sometimes leaving another alone for the first time in many years.  Sadness and fear are the concrete reinforcement of loneliness, once hardened, it must be hard to get free.

How can I help and why don’t I want to?

An opportunity to interact with a silent neighbor arrived via Postal indiscretion. West became East and switched mail brought an impromptu visit from a frail neighbor. I didn’t recognize the Deva in the background right away. She stood no taller than my chin.  Her razor sharp blue eyes shimmered above the optimistic swash of pink cheeks. Our visitor knocked on the door with authority belying her tiny stature. I was surprised by the friendly face; she took that in stride; she needed to sit down. Lowering herself into the nearest chair, she announced herself and her mission. Panting a bit, she noted my painting of wings on the wall nearby and identified herself as a fellow painter and designer.

Had I not been wearing my Florida Fairy foiling earmuffs, I would have identified her immediately as one of the “nature folk” or “faerie people.” Diminutive in size but powerful in Spirit, these beings are part of mythology worldwide.  Mythology means “replaced by a different idea,” it doesn’t mean “extinct.” It has been my experience that occasionally one of these Folk will drop into our amplitude to whisper in our ear

oldangelRedonor whack us up the back of the knees while screeching “WAKE UP!” directly into our hearts. She had appeared at our doorstep having trekked down a half block on slippered feet to deliver a bulk rate package gone amiss.

“He” was just out of the hospital that very afternoon from a hernia operation. The timing of this sortie was just so untimely. I was so taken by this elf in my living room and the stream of wordless language flowing out of her that I forgot myself and offered her whatever help I could.

“Oh no, we’re fine. He just isn’t feeling very well.” She said. Another sign of the Wee Folk; reverse hyperbole.

Then I heard the Deva, “She wants you to come with her…”

I walked her home, offering first to drive the span of four driveways and a street. She reminded too much of the gentle gray doves we see splayed out on the road because they just won’t hurry. She told me of his stomach pains and his surgery, her cancer and her painting, “He” was installed on the couch when we got back. There would have been surprise on his face as we walked in together, but it would have taken too much strength. He was saving what he had to speak gently to his partner.

Haunted

He told me he came here for the small airport; he was a pilot then. She said they bought the house for the pool; so much fun for his grandchildren. He said, “They are grown now, haven’t been here in such a long time, but they used to like to come.”

There were ghosts of good times watching them; the reapers of regret piling their sheaves high. I sat and listened.  I learned about life and longing and love. I called on every angel I knew to help them, and to help me know how to leave this house without bundles of baggage that I didn’t pack.

She showed me the pool; vacuum bubbling away on its appointed rounds. When had someone had last jumped into that clear water? Was there ever sand on the floor and food in the fridge? When was there last a child sleeping in the three empty guest rooms with sheets on the beds? My silent questions were sucked into flocked walls and thick carpet and left unanswered. The density in the room dared me to stay longer.

“No food, no wine, no fun!”

She waved at the artwork layered on bookshelves and the cases of small cans of liquid diet stacked in the Formica kitchen. Paints were laid out on a card table in the sun. “Do you paint now?” I asked. She said smiling, “Not inDeathRedon a long time, my back hurts too much.”

I asked if it was hard to not eat food anymore, cancer had taken that too. “No food, no wine, no fun!” she said.

I sat for a while in their living room taking in the dire straits in this home. Health completely gone, mobility quickly disappearing, they were collectively a ship with ravaged sails facing an oncoming storm. I looked for despair but couldn’t find it, neither could I feel anger. It did seem that sadness took up the best part of the couch. The professional part of me asked, “How long could these two support each other and their own disabilities?”

The partner part of me knew the real answer: until “Death do they part”, and probably beyond.

I walked home with my bundle of information in a language I didn’t understand. It was heavy and bulky, it smelled a bit rancid. I resented carrying it home, but I did. I put it in my studio room under an unfinished painting. I hoped they would talk between themselves and get back to me on its meaning.

twoinboat

Well they did. It came to me in the form of a recommended article from a dear old friend from my ancient past. A fellow sojourner in the early days of our “We can do more.” The basic theme was: ideas in the Ether, stay in the ether, unless they are processed via focus and form into concretized products. She wrapped love around that article and sent it out. This my friend, is the product of that bundle. Thank you

To our silent neighbors all around

I know you are there, I hear you and I send you love

Addendum

January 20,2016

I revisited this story written when we lived in Venice Florida

Our tiny sweet lady’s husband died shortly after this was written, she followed, just a bit later.  One of the children moved into all those empty bedrooms with a shiny clean pool.

Our “across the street” invisible TV watching gentleman also died that winter while we were away for a weekend. Turns out he did have family. Shortly after, I was holding the hose on some parched Gardenias when I saw a young man move away from the foul voices of the “house emptying crew. ” He moved behind the dumpster to sit on the back bumper of an old van.  Out of sight of the the others, he bent over and sobbed a river of tears into his hands, shoulders heaving; it was a heartbreaking scene.

All that sadness, anger, depression, whatever the emotions that existed in that living room must have been still there. There’s always someone in each family who chooses, or is chosen to hold that basket. The house had been foreclosed upon, those that went in didn’t stay long inside. The living conditions inside were just that bad.

I said a prayer for this sad boy and I thought our tiny neighbor from the wee folk was right there next to me. When we were done, she looked up at me with a look that told me, “You don’t understand now…but you will.” She patted my arm, gave a little wink and walked back up the street to her old house.  I was happy to see a bit of Spring in her step now.

The younger 60’s hippie neighbors to the left of him also left quickly, they did it with a rented truck and a friend’s pickup.  We followed a bit later, selling most everything we had gathered there to a “picker” with a turkey vulture mentality.  On Ground Hog day we will set off to revisit old territory. Thank you Florida for the good lessons well learned.

All paintings by Odilon Redon

http://www.odilon-redon.org

http://terrainwalker.wordpress.com/2011/01/09/native-american-little-people/

Color Me Yellow and Sing Me a Song

closeupred

If you believe your life is random and separate, read no further

Move along down your uncertain path, unencumbered by mystery

Pay no attention to the music that underscores your life

It will only confuse and befuddle an only ME

 This life I have chosen a fine concerto written for the key of WE

Optimistically performed in the chaff of a corn field, on a stormy day in October

A melody of connection sent out on the wind, set free by design

Not a prudent choice, but mine to make, this time ‘round

We imagine the perfect phrases from a polished instrument

A clear tune moving through time- forward and back, illuminating the revered

Human egos and the flotsam of strong currents render their divine melody

Be lost to whirling winds, gnawing teeth, and inattention

I am not a mid age woman with a crow on my head

I am actor and audience in the Opera of matter, movement, and miracle

The symphony of connection is a birthright, a codex to be savored; one life at a time

Perfect phrases from a polished instrument we can all hear

 

watergap

 

We took a ride to see the leaves in October.

We went to celebrate our harvest of good health with the glorious colors of autumn.

We went in search of apples, cider doughnuts, blue skies and red Maples.

We went with a sense of immediacy; defendable to those living close to the earth, or those not long for this world. “Hurry let’s go, before they are gone….”

It is one of the miracles of impermanency that in their last glorious days, any leaf, on any tree, will individuate with glowing authenticity. Even as it drifts back to its Earthly origin a single leaf shouts out “This is who I am and this was my experience here, let me sing my song and shout my colors. Let me share this with you!”

yellowroad

 

We took to the road to witness our world as luminous, by the leaves made numinous

North out of Florida, through Georgia and into the mountains, we journeyed heavy of tire, but light of heart in the roving ranchette that is Minerva. Having spent many months in a forced retirement community known as “Storage,” Minerva was ready to rumble. The quest to savor and sample the glorious days of Harvest is an ancient tradition in my family. Three generations wandering country roads on a Sunday afternoon after church. Our elders named the trees, read the colors for weather omen, happily radiating us with multi- generational layers of earthly experience.

“Remember the Nor’easters last year that took them all down? The ice storm of 58?”

The colors on Kodachrome forever preserved in my mind. Musty sweaters and piles of squash, an over ripe apple, the last yellow jacket; sounds and smells illuminated by the Halleluiah chorus of falling leaves in sun bright colors, these images live in my soul.

Life isn’t a sure thing. Learn from the imperative of the “Beautiful Day.” Go now!

 

The Leaves were honored in countless tributes in October.

We saw them. Red Maples and rusty Oaks, Hickory and Beech standing against a clear blue sky swept clear of humidity. After the brilliant but monochromatic gold of New Mexico, then multi-textured, perpetual green of Florida, I thought I would weep at the beauty. I think my brain hadn’t processed color and light at this magnitude for a very long time. I drank in the colors by the gallon. My ancestors wiped pie sticky fingers on worn aprons, and smiled.

The leaves sang their colors simultaneously. A vast chorus, all singing a different song. They had been the subtle back up musicians of green; anonymous and safe. These individuals in their last days were accorded all due respect as they announced their own demise. Remember the childhood celebration of the single leaf? The favored one plucked out from thousands by a small hand. It’s beauty enshrined between ironed wax paper and hung in the window.


 Individuation is a philosophical, spiritual and mystical experience (Jung, 1989b, p. 294). It is the goal of                   our psychological development and in metaphysical terms amounts to God’s incarnation (Jung, 1989b,                         p. 157). Individuation is the central concept and purpose of Jung’s Analytical Psychology (Jung, 1989a, p. 209


single leaves

So much diversity; clear and brilliant as they prepare to fall and rejoin the ultimate unity. All is exposed in the autumn of life; nature and nurture, character and cultivation. Attached and entwined, the scarlet poison ivy insinuates itself into the heights crawling its way up on the bark of trees. The woody grapevines and their clever corkscrew wrappers; we can see their trickiness clearly in October. The artifice of expansion is useless in Fall. Drop the yearning; a leaf life is but one season long. Better to go out singing.

In what was once a wall of analogous green, each different species is shouting out their identity, “Look at me! I am not a Maple or an Oak. I am a Beech and my essence is yellow!” Each leaf differentiating their experience from the thousand on the same branch. A fungus here and caterpillar there, a sunny spot or shady struggle, its time for the finale. As a leaf, in the bright short days of October, is this the best time to self actualize? Or the only time?

This magnificent display of innate creativity just before returning to dust, is it a last ditch dump of all the glory you came with, but never used?

Are you really any wiser or more beautiful than the “Greenies” of July? Or are they just too engorged with tomorrows to create extraordinary colors today?

Or is it the grace of clarity that arrives when we realize we are leaves and not the tree.

Happy Harvest

 

multicolr


A self-actualizer is a person who is living creatively and fully using his or her potentials.

 “What a Woman can do, she must do”

http://psychology.about.com/od/

theoriesofpersonality/a/hierarchyneeds_2.htm


Maybe the sea is heaven, Maybe heaven is the Sea

What is a beach? What is the sea? Do I reflect her or does she reflect me?

 

SeaGodsWe went down to the beach early this morning. It is a miracle to have unlimited access to “the beach” in the heat of a Florida summer. Few things feel better than immersion in sun warmed salt water. The Gulf is that; a bowl of gathered water and suspended “stuff” all assimilating into the Atlantic Ocean and beyond. Despite the human need to name and claim, it is not of Mexico, nor of the United States. It is the cupped hands held under the spigot of North America’s rain. Water from the sky holding by force of attraction all the flavors and flotsam of each place and experience on the journey.

The same water that existed on Earth millions of years ago is still here.

But did you know it is all the same water? We are a closed system here on planet Earth, a giant terrarium. Water moves around, as water vapor, liquid water, and ice. Water is a shape shifter, changing its form as conditions dictate. Never lost, only changed.

“Although some matter, such as meteors from outer space, are captured by Earth, very little of the Earth’s substances escape into outer space. This is certainly true about water. Therefore the same water that existed on Earth millions of years ago is still here. The global water cycle dictates that the same water is continually being recycled all around the globe.”

http://science.nasa.gov/earth-science/oceanography/ocean-earth-system/ocean-water-cycle/whaleshark7So there I sat on the nearly uninhabited beach, sun drowsy and half immersed at the edge of the water in a yellow beach chair, communing with the fishes. From a suggestion of an unknown source, I began imagining that I could dissolve into that water, let my molecules float across oceans, and still be conscious. I envisioned drifting without fear through Amphitrite and Poseidon’s domain. And what is the beauty of being dissolved? No concern for fear, or pain, or survival, water always survives. Weightless and worry free; “going with the flow,” in the most literal sense.

I wonder if this is what physical death feels like?

I imagined the behemoth polka-dotted whale shark; the vacuum mouth, filter feeder seen here recently. She swept me up but I passed right through her; no harm done. I wondered about visioning such peace at the time of death, on the anniversary of my birth 59 some years ago. Life is just so tricky.

I think I will call it “Aqua Therapy.” Becoming suspended in the Sea is the perfect solution for the raw chafe of human beings and the pesky nymphs of modern living. Too many electronics? Too many miles? Too many words? Go sink in, soak up the magical medium of life on this planet. Mystical, mercurial changer of shape and form, carrier of life and death, water is the ultimate denominator of life here on the Blue planet. She is the ultimate balancer as well.

Is it an accident of creation or invention that all things electronic can’t survive a simple swim? What does it say about our constant E-companions? TVs, phones, pads and pods are all neutralized by our mother liquid. Yet we are that, a structured cclosedsystemontainer of dissolved minerals. We are that: a very elaborate canteen of fluid and form holding tiny beings, vast communities of differentiated cells, infinitesimal chains holding all human memory.

Maya, Maia, Me

Maybe it was the color of the sky, or the warm gentleness of the water. As the chair sunk into the deep shell sand of the shallows, I contemplated the impermanence of my temporary liquid neighborhood. The tiniest of fish moved rhythmically towards beach, back and forth with the breath of the waves. The edge of water and sand renegotiated with each wave, endless infinite shuffling of inhabitants amidst water, wind or predator.

What came next was a “what if” epiphany. For a moment there was a swirl of illumination. We protect ourselves a lot. We focus without pause on the survival of a body that will not survive… no matter what. We always look up to others and out to belief systems in search of our meaning of life, and our “after life” address. Separating death and life with definite parameters, – like having a human body.

What if heaven is like the sea? What if heaven is the sea? What if we are heaven?

In a Google search for an attractive “Water system” illustration I found this; exploding all facts and theories thus far in place on what water can do, what water can be, where water came from.

Deep Underground, Oceans Of Water May Be Trapped In A Crystal ‘Sponge’

by L. CAROL RITCHIE

June 15, 2014 3:27 PM ET

Science teachers may have to add a whole new layer to the water cycle. Scientists have discovered evidence of a vast reservoir of water hiding up to 400 miles beneath the surface.

“The discovery could transform our understanding of how the planet was formed, suggesting that Earth’s water may have come from within, rather than from collisions with large, icy comets.”

The water is trapped in a blue mineral called ringwoodite that sits in the mantle, a hot, rocky layer between the Earth’s crust and outer core. That means the water is not the familiar liquid, vapor or ice, but a fourth, mineral form. We reported earlier this year on a rare diamond containing a microscopic piece of ringwoodite that bolstered evidence for the vast wet zone.

It is likely the largest reservoir of water on the planet, and could be the source of the oceans’ liquid. The study was published in the journal Science.

The study is also remarkable for the discovery that melting and movement of rock occurs in a layer of the mantle known as the transition zone, between the upper and lower mantles, the Guardian reports. Most melting was thought to occur at much shallower depths.

“Geological processes on the Earth’s surface, such as earthquakes or erupting volcanoes, are an expression of what is going on inside the Earth, out of our sight,” said Geophysicist Steve Jacobsen from Northwestern University, co-author of the study.

“I think we are finally seeing evidence for a whole-Earth water cycle, which may help explain the vast amount of liquid water on the surface of our habitable planet. Scientists have been looking for this missing deep water for decades,” he said.

The study relied on seismometers across the U.S. and lab experiments simulating rocks under high pressure, says Nature World News.

“Ringwoodite here is key,” it notes. “Its crystal-like structure makes it act like a sponge and draw in hydrogen and trap water.” It could be a vast amount of water, says the Guardian. “If just 1 percent of the weight of mantle rock located in the transition zone was water it would be equivalent to nearly three times the amount of water in our oceans, Jacobsen said.”

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/06/15/322246690/deep-below-oceans-of-water-may-be-trapped-in-a-crystal-sponge

Nice to meet you ringwoodite.

And where do we go from here?

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The Journey

sunset

The Journey

One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began,

 though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice,

 though the whole house began to tremble

and you felt the old tug at your ankles.

“Mend my life!” each voice cried. But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do, though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers at the very foundations,

though their melancholy was terrible.

 It was already late enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen branches and stones.

 But little by little, as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds,

 and there was a new voice

which you slowly recognized as your own,

 that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world, determined to do the only thing you could do,

determined to save the only life you could save. 

                                                Mary Oliver

 

I found this poem again today amidst the flotsam that is my cache of Resource Files. Under that name, I save bits of sacredness according to me, in image and words. Usually relevant to a specific time or place; some feel like lifeboats in a rough sea.

I looked into these files today looking for a landmark or lighthouse to find a path through these foggy times.

We have said goodbye to three parents, one per year and just when it seemed we were done, my Stepmother has died quietly this week. She exited this life unexpectedly and without witness of any of those whose lives were so altered with her entrance.

I was a sophomore in High School when my parent’s expectation of “until death do you part” fell to more modern moirés.  The explosion of divorces that rolled in with the 1970’s took most by surprise; our family was no exception.

It took a decade or so, but I did eventually recognize there was no “wicked stepmother” here.  She was pleasant and pretty, and anxious to please… please our father anyway. Theirs was a loving relationship steeped in a small town world and strict Baptist beliefs. It was a relationship that didn’t have enough space for everyone.wreath

Had another searcher gathered them, my Resource Files would have a physical dimension. This poem might be hand copied, lay in a file folder, held with a paper clip, topped with a post-it note inscribed with the date and source. The precise lines of the yellow legal pad would be ignored completely by the scrawling familiar hand.  The words would turn to cover even the vertical margin spaces.

In another time, these unfermented ideas and inspirations might be shoved into a thick book; tactile and heavy, holding faint odors of dark closets and seldom used hats. The words on the page tightly pressed to their brethren, waiting to be read again someday, by those who would find them, at just the right time.

But this is my life. It is 2014 and my inspirations are stored in a tidy, imagined file box named Apollo who lives in the upper right corner of my sleek silver MAC, a hand me down from the professional computer cowboy in the next room.

The thoughts on paper pages and the emotions expressed there no longer exist except in the liminal space between generations. The space, which right now, feels like the tiny breadth between the living and the dead. It is the map-less uncharted space that prompts this search through my files from the past. I am looking for reminders from my elders-like this poem, to understand how long “limbo” lasts.

For the uninitiated:

Liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”[1]) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.

During liminal periods of all kinds, social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt.[4] The dissolution of order during liminality creates a fluid, malleable situation that enables new institutions and customs to become established.[5] The term has also passed into popular usage, where it is applied much more broadly, undermining its significance to some extent.[6]

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liminality)

 oceanrainbow

And we thought our sense of threshold was unique and personal?

As student of ritual, I am in the whirlpool, the paradox.  I am in the stillness, at the threshold, transitioning to my new status.

I will not be bringing the deep pains of the past with me.  Neither will the old fears fit in our new space.

We do however thank you all for the inspiration, the support and the love.

We will keep that in a safe place.  Blessings and Safe Journeys to all that travel.

 

 

Owl In the Morning

quietriver

In search of a rare Café breakfast we took a morning walk through the shadows of this deep green swamplands.  This watershed area was designated parklands and built with the efforts of CCC workers in 1938. Timber architecture never gets old. No doubt remote and isolated at the time, it is now a gratefully undeveloped oasis just 15 miles or so from urban Tampa.   We started out from the campsite on the path that wanders along the peopled side of a meandering green river thickly faced by rough palms and pines, elegant Cypress and the sharp points of the palmetto.

The water’s barely discernable flow is remarkable here for its color and texture. Forget the transparent element in your water bottle; this water is something quite different. Thick, verdant and completely opaque after a foot or so, this river holds an entire universe in suspension.  What lies beneath the green screen, only the river knows.  We heeded advice from wise readers and kept feet, human and canine away from the edges. To be within reach of the river, was to risk being sucked into its belly.

This footpath is just barely removed from the behemoth vehicles of recreation and the tiny tents of the optimists neighboring our current camping site. Standing quietly as part of this land of camouflage we lingered, watching a mysterious swirl of green water initiate an easy flight of the white bird to the next hammock. A gleaming 4-foot alligator posed on a dead log.  Smiling from his post across the river, he looked like a decoy for an 8-foot cousin waiting below.

To discern what is here takes time, it takes attraction and attention.  It takes a willingness to become part of the mystery. As we stepped out of the brush where footpath crosses camp road delineated by a striped pedestrian crossing, a Barred Owl called out from the Pine.  We took note of this old friend, and familiar call, and felt blessed by this real life edition of Minerva’s Owl.

riverbranc

Hours later, driving on a mundane errand, I found her there splayed out on the zebra stripes between the fast moving traffic lanes of Route 301. Apparently she was sent reeling from this life by collision of wild raptor and passing car or truck on this busy corridor.

Spotting the striped wings, I pulled to the roadside and stopped.  I hoped it was not an owl, but maybe a turkey?  I watched a concrete truck rush towards us, displacing enough air and space to raise the broken body and spin it above the pavement. In a blur of feathers the body flipped over and dropped back to earth on her back, wings offered outward in a position reminiscent of beloved human martyrs.  Then I knew for sure who she was.

In a rare moment of embracing the rules, I considered the location just off the park grounds, and the hefty five figure fines for possession of raptor feathers by a non-Native.  I considered the road clearing prisoners up ahead and the fire tower to the south. I returned to the park to enlist the ranger’s blessing, hopeful that there would be interest in preserving this beautiful body. I thought of our grandson and his classroom unit studying Owls last Fall.  The subject had piqued his interest, pulled and prodded him to become an integral part of his new class, in his new school.  Owls are like that, they take you along.

I know from experience that it is against the law for Jane Q. Public like me, to have an owl preserved through taxidermy; this is not my first owl.  The Park employee I encountered seemed immune to the possibility of preservation, and I identified this route as useless when she asked me with surprise, “An owl is a raptor?”

I returned to the Spot, pulled off on a turning lane to “no place,” next to the zebra stripes.  A traffic pattern created for an “un-developed” development, this lane turned into nothing but an overgrown barricade guarding acres of cleared, but empty “lots.” It was the only place on this straight freeway of a Florida 2-lane where a fragile body could lay untouched by tire, and I could pull off without danger to life and limb. I asked for a break in traffic, and barriers of will went up at north and south.

Armed with a faded dog towel, I reached for her. The body was painfully soft, limp and fragile to the touch, and amazingly heavy. Certainly she was just hit, her neck broken, the rest of her intact and beautiful. There was the Face of Minerva’s Owl right there in my hands. She felt like family. I scurried across the road into the car as if the Feds were watching from the nearby fire watchtower.

owl

As I put her in the car her head flopped, but her wings folded perfectly back to her sides. Her legs were thick and furred as a cat, with sharp curved talons clenched, and frozen forever in that moment; a predator in pursuit. What I didn’t expect was her presence; the smell of the woods, the feeling of flight, the intensity of focus still frozen there in her legs. I didn’t expect the still animated life force that joined me in the car.  Driving down 301, going to Publix, with an Owl Spirit in the car.  The mundane and the sacred were taking a road trip.

I will take time pondering the meaning of this event. Look at my Minerva Avatar picture chosen months ago, and you will see what I saw on the road. Has she slipped from my imagination, riding on spirit through the ethers into our physical existence?  And for what reason?  Nature wastes nothing, certainly not a life of a wild thing.

We here in Minerva will think deep thoughts about how it came to be that an owl that greeted us in the morning was by afternoon, dead in my hands.  What can we understand from the story of an Owl spirit flying high and focused, taken down in a moment by a miscalculation of timing?  Was she on her way to her Publix too?

We brought her to see our grandchildren so they could see the magic and the mystery that belongs to the winged beings.  The next morning went drove to a trail that became a track, and made a path to the north. We put her at the bottom of a big tree with a nice nesting cavity.  If she died of old age, she might have just plopped there after a long life.

MinervaOwl

There is meaning here, the understanding of which was made more imperative by the owl calling last night so loudly and insistently over our camp that Mac growled in response each time and Bear threatened to do a full fledged howl.   It wasn’t quiet until I rose 2 hours before dawn to write this story.

There is no sentimentality in the divine Minerva, there is only her wisdom as a witness to an epoch divided by each single lifetime.  How then should we spend our minutes of eternity?