It's been awhile. I don't think we've spoken since your low-flying arrow struck me straight through the heart, rendering me putty in the hands of the handsome man I named Beloved. But things didn't work out the way I imagined. He became distant and I, interpreting his withdrawal as rejection, erected a wall of emotional protection. My idealized love was more myth than mate, and I was left staring into the mirror of my fate.
I've spent a lot of time with that mirror, overcoming discomfort with my own reflection; eventually even falling in love with some of my own imperfections. Now, for the first time in my life, I think my heart has opened wide enough to welcome healthy, authentic love. And I'm writing to ask for your help.
I’m a late bloomer, so I don’t have time to waste. I know what I’m asking is pretty far-fetched: a synchronous connection with another human that leads to deep and lasting relationship. I’ve experienced this kind of instant kinship once, so I know it exists. And while I’m sure it’s rare to bump into such a kindred soul twice, and even less likely that personal timing would align to sustain such a magical thing, I believe in this version of love.
As you know, there is one minor stumbling block: I hate dating. Remember a few years ago when I met the nauseatingly new-age tarot reader who had the audacity to predict, over martinis, that ours was a date with destiny? Or the thirty-something aspiring writer seeking a “strong, feminine mentor” to teach him “the ropes of writing and love?” I'll stop there, before I make us both sick.
Needless to say, after those short-lived dating debacles I never intended to return to the land of online matchmaking.
Until a few weeks ago when, awakened by a dream, I heard a man’s voice say my name, and some other words I can’t recall but which seemed exceedingly important at the time. The voice resounded with familiarity, reaching in deep and stirring my emotions. I remember stumbling tearfully through the darkness to grab my journal and pen. But the next morning, when I opened the journal, the page was blank: I hadn't recorded a single word about the dream time conversation. Still, as woo-woo as it sounds, I was left with a lingering sense of someone familiar nearby, reaching out; a beloved, attempting to connect with me.
Since the man in my dream didn’t leave any clues about his physical whereabouts, the next day I searched google for the best places to make authentic online connections... for women-of-a-certain-age. Then I did the unthinkable, wrote and posted an online dating profile on a site for "mindful singles."
Less than one week later, I sat sipping cappuccino in a quaint cafe with a presumably-mindful guy who said he felt an instant connection with me. His profile appeared in my “matches” column, and I was somewhat intrigued by what he'd written. In person, I didn't feel any instant chemistry but, as he talked, I found myself internally noting things such as “cares about social causes,” “reasonably intelligent,” “health conscious,” “appreciates music,” “nice sense of humor.” We exchanged stories, laughed a lot, and shared a dessert. An hour passed almost without my noticing. Considering how much I detest dating, things were going reasonably well.
When he said he'd like to see me again, I readily replied that I'd like that, too. Then, suddenly and without warning, the attractive man across the table, as if possessed by a date destroying demon, casually interjected a comment about his excellent overall health for a man of his age, and his exceptional virility as a lover.
Oh, right, I remember; this is dating. Like a wolf on the hunt, he’s scanning for compatibility, mutual attraction; and the possibility of mating. Appalled by his crassness, I quietly pointed out that he seemed to have jumped ahead to a future unlikely to unfold. He just wanted me to know, he said, that despite his number of years, he was anything but old.
What a perfectly dreadful way to end a reasonably pleasant date. In what universe would a woman announce over lunch that she’s multi-orgasmic and her nipples face true north? In no universe ever, that’s where.
I understand insecurity is at the root of Mr Virile's awkward pronouncement; that his bumbling expression of sexual prowess is really just a desperate desire to be seen and validated by Women. We all know that men who wax poetic about their penises (ew) are simply revealing their deep desire to be loved.
Fine. But seriously, man, take it to your therapist. Because the thing is, I’ve arrived at a place in my life where I’m not interested in teaching a grown man about the connection between love and sex; or helping him understand that the functionality of his penis has nothing to do with authentic intimacy; or that any woman worth his time would find it in dreadfully poor taste to reveal his deepest Freudian insecurity on the first. damned. date.
So, back to square one.
I know it’s a tall order, Eros, but I believe in the heart’s sweet recognition of an old, familiar soul, and the gradual deepening of intimacy as it develops between friends and weaves its way into something that speaks to the whole of each being.
And I believe that is the kind of love that is seeking me. So, next time my beloved stops by for a dream time visit, I hope he leaves me a note with his name and number. Please put a word in, would you?
Patient in Portland
I recently celebrated my fifty-fifth trip around the sun. Things ache sometimes – my neck, back, and hips, especially when I get up in the morning – and my heart, for what I've lost and for what lies ahead. I’m forever taking my glasses off and putting them on again to accommodate the annoying vision changes that come with age, along with too much time in front of computer screens. And I notice I’m not as adept at multi-tasking as I once was. But, truthfully, I don’t resonate much with the idea of midlife as a crisis.
In fact, physiological “adjustments” notwithstanding, this metaphorical midpoint in life feels more like quiescence than crisis. I wouldn’t trade the hard-won awareness of today for a do-over or a trip backward. I believe I am the best version of myself I’ve ever been, even with the extra wrinkles and padding I’ve accumulated over the last few years.
With the sometimes painful process of learning how to soothe the fearful voice within, from within, has come a measure of calm certainty about my own deepest knowing. This awareness allows me to hold healthier boundaries and create deeper authenticity in my relationships. With my own mind and heart setting the course, I feel reasonably safe in the world.
As if testing my new level of awareness, the universe sent me a pop quiz a few weeks ago: I fainted at work and hit my head when my desk broke my fall. A blow to the head is both a literal and metaphorical wake-up call for me. The last time it happened, a car accident left me with both a serious concussion and an awareness that my well-being depended on my waking up and removing myself from an emotionally abusive relationship. What was I overlooking this time, I wondered?
At Urgent Care, the attending physician explained the results of my EKG and other diagnostics: my heart looked relatively stable, he said, and all my vitals were “within normal range.” Still, he sent me home with a long list of symptoms to be aware of, and a request to check blood pressure and heart rate often. I should go directly to ER if I noticed any of the symptoms or if my heart rate or blood pressure increased precipitously. If I was alone, I should call 911.
I live alone, so for the next several nights I slept with my phone. I asked a neighborhood friend to sleep with hers nearby, too. And before going to bed that first night, I posted medicine instructions for my cats and put a load of delicates in the washing machine. In case I croaked in the night I didn’t want my son or my friends to be stuck with dirty underwear or sick cats. These are the kinds of thoughts one has when reading and re-reading a long list of scary symptoms. And when one lives alone. And when one worries about heartbreak as an inherited trait.
The doctor focused his examination on my heart, and that was a big anxiety trigger for me: my father died of a broken heart, the gradual result of carrying the burden of long-held family secrets, of disappointment, of lack of service to himself as he devoted himself to the service of others; and, finally, of extreme loneliness after the death of my mother, the love of his life.
My father spoke to his God through prayer first thing every morning and last thing every night, and he counseled me to do the same. Did his God whisper anything back to him when he prayed? Dad didn’t believe in expressing your feelings in order to heal—he thought that was self-indulgent. Instead, he said, turn your troubles over to God, who alone can provide comfort. He prayed with deep gratitude for all he was given, but he did not believe he deserved any of it.
When the doctor told us that Dad’s heart was failing quickly and there was nothing more to be done, Dad said a prayer of gratitude for what he described as “a beautiful life” as I cried. And it was a beautiful life. But I wonder how his story might have ended differently if he had forgiven himself more, loved himself more, and allowed more of his feelings to flow freely in directions other than heavenward.
Since my workplace fainting and head-bump, I've been listening intently to the voices from beyond, including my dad's, who sometimes whispers in my ear in the twilight hours, asking me to take care of myself, to slow down, to learn from the lessons of his over-giving before my own gets the best of me. And I listen to the whisper of my own inner knowing around when to stop. To rest. To stretch. To dance. To speak kindness to myself. And to wrap my own arms around my heart.
The road to paradise is paved with self-sabotage. I know, because here I am 55 years into the journey and I’m still regularly tripping on the potholes and falling flat on my face.
When I say ‘paradise’ I’m referring to those impossible ideals of perfection: the notions of an eternally faithful and romantic relationship, the Zenlike spiritual life, the professional kudos, the financial portfolio bursting at the seams, and the clothes that aren't, because the body underneath them is whippet-thin and toned.
All of these notions are fraught for so very many of us, but when it comes to body image, the potholed road becomes a veritable minefield. I'm just learning how to parent my unhappy inner child, so when I set a recent goal of an overall improved lifestyle that would include recording what I eat, when and how I move, and what emotions come up as I bring greater awareness to my physical being, I might have expected the inevitable emotional crash.
During the intake session with the world's most gentle, kind and compassionate coach, I shared my journey of the last six years, of the grief of losing a handful of important loved ones, of an empty nest after 12 years of single parenting, of an emotionally abusive relationship, of a dire health diagnosis, of packing on 40 pounds of self-protective fat, of chronic, debilitating depression, and life and death questions.
Movement will help, she reminded me. And food consciousness will help. And the support of community will help. Connection will help! And for the first few days, these things shone like beacons of hope, inspiring me to make journal entries and explore anti-inflammatory foods and awaken early enough to do some yoga poses and meditation, to post positive comments and feely emoticons to the group facebook page so my new community would see I’m participating... in support of them and of me.
Then, on day four, a few extra stresses piled up at work; an unforeseen lab bill arrived and my credit card had a fraud alert; the university my son attended sent an invoice for several thousand dollars and nobody could explain why; and a few bits of fringe from my favorite black poncho somehow got pushed down into the receiving end of my seatbelt, rendering the belt useless and reducing me to tears. By the time I headed home from work, with my broken seat belt tucked under my leg in case of police contact, I felt unsteady and trembly.
I wish I had recognized that my inner child was firmly behind the wheel by then. If I had, I may even have pulled over so we could have a little dialogue. But I just didn't have it in me, and by the time I arrived home the corkscrew was in my hand before I even thought to question it.
I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person; I come from a lineage of strong, outspoken women. How does it happen, then, that I routinely sacrifice my highest and best intentions at the altar of self-sabotage? How is it that a few emotional traumas in an otherwise beautiful life can leave me scrambling to remember who I am?
In my world, even small traumas (is there such a thing?) inevitably lead to sadness and disappointment, which leads to depression, which leads to the abandonment of my inner child, which is a vicious cycle that feeds on itself and on those damned idealized notions. Throughout my five-plus decades, there has been a series of moments when, out of my desire to have something or someone I wanted or needed, I chose to sit quietly instead of speaking my mind, or to say yes when I really meant no, or to put my own comfort or safety aside in order to avoid facing someone else’s discomfort or, worse, my own anger and fear of abandonment.
The thing is, sad has been a constant thread in the tapestry of my life and I’m tired of trying to hide it. The journals of my youth were filled with badly written angst-laden poems and esoteric thoughts mostly surrounding my near-death experience, a date rape at the hands of the “good catholic boy” in high school, and the subsequent May-December romance with a much older man that rendered me utterly heartbroken. And I’m still writing about the ever-repeating themes of grief and loss, disappointment, and my struggle to remember who I am so that I can give my frightened inner child the healthy adult she’s always deserved.
Today is a new day. The depression and self-sabotage may come and go until I fully remember who I am, fully step into the role of my inner child's protector by turning away from dysfunctional relationships and perfectionist tendencies, and over-spending, over-drinking, and over-giving. When I learn to love the child within in the healthy ways I hope to be loved, and when I fully become the healthy adult, perhaps I’ll no longer choose to reenact the traumas of my earlier life.
I’ve always known that I carry within myself enough light to illuminate the darkest days, to love myself as fully as I love my child. But some days it's just so hard to remember.
I work in a school community where, together with a group of other dedicated adults, I am responsible for the safety of more than 200 children. I’ve lost a lot of sleep since the most recent school massacre.
Thirty years ago, when I became a Montessori teacher working with three-to-six-year olds, we regularly practiced what we called “Exit Drills”-- we taught the children to stop what they were doing anytime the bell or alarm sounded, to listen for direction from the adults, to make a calm line and follow silently to a designated space outside of the school building, where we would take attendance to be sure no one had been left behind. Some children, no matter how calmly we discussed it, would scream or cry at the sound of the bell or alarm. In that case, I might pick up the scared child and carry him outside. Always, I was holding at least two little hands who needed that extra bit of comfort during an unsettling situation.
Nowadays, we are also tasked with teaching children what to do in the event of an earthquake, and in case of something now known as a lockdown. Whether running from an inside threat or hiding from an outside threat, the adults job is to keep the children calm and help them to believe that they are safe.
But the truth is, they aren’t safe. None of us are safe. Living here in the United States of America, the so-called ‘land of the free,’ no one of us is safe. Because United States citizens are regularly gunned down at schools, in places of worship, at malls and in movie theaters. Not to mention the increasing violence that occurs behind closed doors in the form of domestic abuse.
So, as adults who work with children, we focus on the steps over which we do have some control. Our grounds are secure. Check. Our classrooms are equipped with doors that allow for a quick lockdown. Check. Our staff regularly revisit all the steps required of us, should a threat occur. Check.
And we do our best to feign confidence in our ability to protect the children, so that they have safe places to air their concerns, despite what we all secretly know is just a show. None among us possess actual confidence in our ability to protect them, for the reasons already stated.
And despite the myriad intense opinions expressed on social media and in the news - fake and otherwise - I haven’t heard anybody offering compelling reasons why the incidence of gun violence at the hands of white men has reached epidemic rates, or why nothing is being done about it.
A recent news headline (on Slate, I think) resonated deeply and I’ve been pondering it: Violence is not a result of mental illness. Violence is a result of anger. I agree, and I disagree. I would say, instead, that violence is the result of anger that has turned into aggression.
When we work with children, boys and girls alike, empowering them to express all their feelings, those feelings include anger. Anger, like all feelings, needs to flow in order to move through and out. Feeling and expressing anger in appropriate ways lets children learn how to set and hold healthy boundaries.
Suppression of anger is where things get problematic. When anger isn’t allowed to flow and be expressed in appropriate ways, it can lead to aggression. Aggression is the result of suppressed anger, and violence is an act of aggression.
And, it would appear, based upon rates of violent crime among white American men, that they are the group most susceptible to acting out aggressively in response to suppressed anger.
So, on Sunday, when I read my friend Jen’s Facebook post expressing the exact questions I’d been mulling, with a genuine sense of curiosity and deep respect for men who would be brave enough to respond, I asked her if I could share it with my own online community. I then re-posted her request to the white men I know and love, to answer any or all of these questions: What is one helpful insight you've had about the anger and violence within you? What is one productive way you've found, on your own or with others, to work with, heal, or transform the anger and violence within you? What's one thing you commit to doing this week, on your own or with others, to work with, heal your relationship with, or learn about the anger and violence within you?
These questions resonate as a meaningful starting place for dialogue because they are open-ended; they do not assume that all white men act violently or express anger in the same way, nor do they assume that violence does not also exist in women or in men of other races. They do, however, invite deep and introspective exploration of a particular concern about the unchecked, unexamined anger in white men which so often leads to aggression and violence.
Men were asked to focus on their own lived, embodied experience and intentions. I wrote that links to or sharing of analysis-based “solutions,” or comments denying male anger or framed around the “not all white men” argument would deleted, and they were. The first few responses from men who came across as defensive and, well, angry, took me by surprise. One directed me to look at my own anger as the root of my misguided generalizations about men; another accused me of gaslighting with the questions I posed.
At the same time, I was completely humbled and moved by the deep and thoughtful insights from many of the other men who responded.
They bravely acknowledged having carried or carrying anger caused by biology or something akin to an automatic response, early influences of family or conditioning, a perceived lack of control of their circumstances, fear.
With such authenticity they shared the ways in which they have learned to manage or work with or overcome their anger: through awakening to the anger and their relationship to it, to the choices they face; through movement, spiritualism, time in nature and experiencing the cycles of life; through releasing attachment to perceived needs and desires; through experiencing true love from others and of self.
With clarity and compassion, they shared the commitments they make on a daily basis to everything from conscious movement to the care and tending of others; to expressing their feelings with courage and truth.
I want to share in its entirety the response of one young man who I am honored to have first met when he was seven and who is now aged 22--one whose clarity and authenticity is perhaps reflective of the new generation of visionary young people who are leading us through this dark time of violence and into a brighter future:
“Anger is constricting but when you bring awareness to it, it can provide lots of energy that can be used to uplift and empower. It also teaches me what I need to take action on because it shows me what I have difficulty in accepting. (I) take time to be still and use meditation and exercise to be able to look at my anger without judgement. Anger stirs lots of thoughts and mental noise so when it's quieted it's easier to see it for what it is. Then I can take needed action with a clearer mind. I commit to facing it and using it to make decisions that don't create mental debris. This is timely because I was angry very recently and finally accepted it with the help of awareness to it and body movement, and I felt very happy and light with most of the anger transformed. Now I can make a clear decision and I'm not put off by the initial discomfort it takes to face this issue. It's nice to write all this down too!” (DF)
If you’re connected with me on Facebook, you can read the whole thread in a post on Sunday, February 18th. And, if you are so moved, your own responses to the questions are most welcome and encouraged.
That we live in a culture that broadly fails to acknowledge white men as the most common perpetrators of gun violence is a problem. That there are mature, thoughtful men in the world, like these men, who are willing to acknowledge some of the reasons for anger among men and offer some ways of working with it, is indeed hopeful. My heart is filled with gratitude for the gift of knowing these men and, in particular, for the insight and wisdom they so generously share with me and with the world.
Let’s keep the dialogue going — that we may do better, as we know better.
photo credit: Annie Spratt on UnSplash
The quiver of a dancing leaf;
where your breath ends, mine begins.
The silver thread of spider's web;
as I squint my eyes, you tilt your head.
The shadow of a waning moon;
masks a moment gone too soon.
Leaf and web and moon remain,
but only memory brings us back again.
Years ago, while sitting across from my therapist, processing the latest relationship disaster that rendered me a pathetic heap of self-loathing, she explained a pattern that dramatically shifted my understanding and turned me at least in the direction of healing.
Most people, she explained, spend their lives trying to disprove a set of mistaken core beliefs about self, those acquired in earliest childhood: 'I’m unlovable, unworthy, undeserving' of this, that or the other thing. It's what drives toward achieving things like good grades, awards, degrees and certificates. The crazy part is, at the same time as we're trying to disprove our own unworthiness, we are collecting evidence to fuel our deepest fear: that we are, in fact, unlovable, unworthy, and undeserving; which is what drives some of us to engage in unhealthy relationships with unhealthy partners who affirm these fears.
I found this notion difficult to grock, and I'm really still getting my head around it. After all, like most of the women I know, I regard myself as intelligent and, at least intellectually, I really do believe myself deserving of healthy, mature, authentic love.
Here's the tricky part: these deeply held core beliefs can't be healed or resolved by merely thinking. If they could, Narcissus (and any of his modern day pseudonyms) would be hard pressed to find a date. But, because so many of us are still waking up to this pattern and learning how to interrupt it, Narcissus and his buddies have black books filled with the names of smart women like you and me.
While I officially passed the midlife mark a few years ago, without having achieved the societal success marker of a long term romantic partnership - because of that aforementioned tendency to choose Narcissistic men who have neither the interest nor the capacity for authentic partnership - I have learned to identify the cycle earlier and change course more quickly; which was the topic of today's morning pages. Because it's so timely, I thought to share:
Within moments of meeting, we’d fallen into easy conversation about a myriad of common interests; he seamlessly dropped the names of people I respect and admire, highlighting his connection to them and how they influence his work in the world. He looked deep into my eyes with genuine interest; there was instant rapport, warmth and laughter. He readily acknowledged my worth by asking if he could read some of my writing to learn more about me. He sometimes came uncomfortably close; brushing my arm or playfully touching my hand. I could feel his breath. Time seemed to stand still. How could so many hours have passed? Within that time out of time, the level of familiarity increased to the point I began to imagine what intimacy might be like with him. Within days, we had fallen into bed to culminate our sensual curiosities, and I had easily fallen headlong in love with the notion of him as the leading man in my love story. My infatuation with him dominated my thoughts in day time and dream time until, a few weeks into our delicious romance, he revealed his broody, distant, controlling self; the one he he’d left at home during those early outings. He criticized commitment and spoke with disdain for his ex-wife, demanding no strings be attached to our shared intimacy. His sudden, unexplained detachment left me reeling from shock and wondering what I had done wrong. I scrambled to remake myself in the image in which he had first delighted, exhausting my emotional reserves as he refocused his attention on the next, new shiny object of desire.
It's a generalization, to be sure, and some relationships included months or even years long periods of monogamy; still, the above story aptly describes most of the intimate relationships in my life until now. Which is a bitter pill for a smart woman to swallow. How could I not see it coming? Why would I waste even a moment with another self-absorbed ego-maniacal man? Why am I hopelessly attracted to men who lack the capacity for deep and authentic emotional connection?
The answer is obvious: if I don't love myself deeply and unconditionally, I can't draw that kind of love toward me. So, like most of the women I know, I worked on incorporating activities focused on self-love into my daily life. And, despite not having any sort of permanent grip on the influences driving my self-destructive relationship choices, I developed some survival/coping mechanisms. Such as, an unhealthy relationship with food and a tendency toward over-drinking to dull the chronic disappointment and grief. Over the last 30 years, I've lost and gained huge amounts of weight, depending upon whether I was curating an idealized self image or protecting myself against the next narcissist encounter.
And, even though I wasn't always able to stop myself from walking right into the metaphorical spider's web, I became very practiced at identifying the charismatic, narcissistic personalities that would prove the truth of my self-doubt and feed my fears of inevitable abandonment. In a crowd of hundreds, I could pick out the most self-involved musician; brilliant new thought guru, broody philosopher.
A couple of years ago I wrote a list titled ‘Ideal Mate,’ and have updated it several times since, to remind me of the love that is my birthright. Not surprisingly, the top ten attributes on this list include those that are present in my closest friends, and which I myself possess: honesty, kindness, empathy, compassion, generosity, openheartedness, presence, affection, humor, fidelity.
On a recent stroll through the forest, my friend asked, “where will you be in ten years?” I giggled aloud, recalling the intense flutter in my belly the first time he had posed that question, just after we met. I don’t remember what I said that day because, frankly, my mind was clouded with infatuation at his slightly sexy air of all-knowingness (read, arrogance) and impressive ability to quote Campbell and Krishnamurti on demand.
Thankfully, those silly idealized notions wore off awhile ago and so on this day, my answer rang out loud and clear, like a prayer:
Wherever I am ten years from now, I’ll be fully there, present and openhearted; passionately seeking the love that is also seeking me. And doing my best not to settle for less.
photo credit: Roman Kraft on Unsplash
This is a time of rebirth, as it springs up in tiny green shoots in the garden or as a sacred anthem of the reborn self.
Such as the one told by a woman on the radio the other day; yet another #metoo story to add to the mountain of stories upon which we stand, as women healing. I listened with rapt attention, as one does when reliving personal trauma through another. Just then my phone buzzed to signal an incoming text:
"Hey, love, you there? Still at this number?"
Bloody hell. Smart women don't fall for such narcissistic shenanigans. It's so damn cliche!
"I passed your exit the other night on my way home from a gig, and have been thinking about you since. Want to meet for a drink sometime? I miss you, baby."
Every few months he pops in to take my temperature, to find out if I'm available, or at least open... even just a little. Probably, his latest girlfriend has just dumped him. He's fishing for some nurturing, a bit of comfort, and a chance to drink at the fountain of the divine feminine.
"Hey, sweetie, you there?"
Actually, I'm not; I'm back there, remembering how our story goes:
He'll be there, waiting, and wrap me up in a longer-than-just-friends hug and a kiss that will land somewhere on my neck. By then he'll have my rapt attention. What we had was really special, he'll say. I am one of his great loves, he'll say. Then, he'll regale me with tales of his latest and most brilliant work -- an award-winning composition or jaw-dropping performance. He knows that I'll sense his insecurity and meet it with loving comments about his creative brilliance, building him up and reminding him of the greatness I fell in love with back then. That's the purpose we play as women in his life; we are his patient and doting audience.
Then, he'll feign vulnerability as he describes in great detail the ongoing existential crisis that robs him of sleep; how his extreme sensitivity makes it difficult to deal with expectations or to conform to traditional love structures. He'll gaze deep into my eyes, without really seeing me at all, and then say "you know..." as a way of affirming my ability to really see him.
"Are you dating anyone? Just tell me if you want me to leave you alone."
My tummy is in intense knots of nausea now, a signal that I'm dangerously merged with my inner child. Of course I see him; the wounded little boy beneath the fragile facade that fails to shield his weakened, rage-filled heart. That's what empaths do; we see. But seeing him doesn't excuse his treatment of me.
So, I collect myself and say, "Hey. Remember, I asked you not to contact me again?"
The last time we were together had been a traumatic, tearful breakup and I should have known better than to go over when he called, but thought of being held seemed more important at the time than setting boundary. Then I was still attached to my idealized image of him and of us. And I was deep, deep in agonizing grief ... about so many losses. He'd called me upstairs to his bedroom, where he lay in his bathrobe. He'd pulled me into him and forcefully kissed me hard, a basketball game blaring on the screen behind him. He'd penetrated me in a way that left me feeling sad and violated, not loved. After, I could see the anger in his eyes as he held my face and said, "I'll always love you." One more promise he'd never be able to keep,
Then, like so many times before, with his tank full and mine completely empty, he had walked away; leaving me with only myself to hold onto.
"Listen," I said, " for a minute I thought maybe we could be friends, but I was wrong. I love you, but I don't like you; and I don't like me when I'm with you. I can't help you, so please stop asking."
Because authentic love isn't pathological.
Nothing worth having is easy,
but if you leave before the final act
you risk losing the gift you had waited so long to receive,
the answer to the one question you came to ask.
You risk losing the moment of twilight
or glimpse of daylight
in which the wish fades into reality
and you realize you are already home.
Despite living almost directly in the path of totality, and having procured special eclipse viewing glasses, I didn’t choose to directly witness what is being called the great American eclipse.
I did, however, perform a quiet solitary ritual in the early morning, in honor of the intimate eclipse of sun and moon. And as the light began to shift, I snuggled into meditation position and began adding my mantra recitations to the collective prayers for peace. At some point I fell deeply asleep, and later awakened to discover that the eclipse had come and gone.
As I read magical accounts of those who put themselves on the path of totality, standing shoulder to shoulder with faces pressed into boxes and colanders and heads wrapped in tin foil, peering out into space through pin holes and paper glasses; I wondered if I’d later regret “meditating” through the most anticipated cosmological event of my life.
I had very intentionally chosen to follow my inner voice and allow my instincts to guide me, to honor the totality of the dark moon in darkness and quiet, alone. I thought about the phases of the moon, and earth’s revolution around sun as a measurement, marker and milestone of human existence; of the intimate dance in which the moment when one celestial body fully obscures the other is known as totality.
Totality means the whole of something; oneness. How can obscuration be viewed as oneness? I realize I’m hardly qualified to be picking bones with scientists, but this is where my mind wandered off to as most of America squinted through paper sunglasses to witness the stunningly brief union of Lune and Soleil.
Could it be that our witnessing of the event, the convergent awareness of our connection with the larger whole that creates the totality experience? Or perhaps it’s enough to tap into the collective hope and anticipation that what is hidden in darkness will soon be bathed in light. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in praying to the celestial beings overhead, for the unveiling of concealed truths and for a much needed healing of earth and her people.
Sometime later in the day I realized that, despite not having viewed it directly, the energy of the eclipse reverberated throughout my body. Bringing quiet attention to that vibration and settling deeply into it, evoked several poignant memories of personal brushes with totality.
The first occurred during a near-drowning when I was nine years old. Terrified, I choked and struggled against the downward pull of white water until, unable to fight any longer, I let go and my body floated toward an incandescent light that twinkled with the warmth of home. Years later, when I held my newborn son for the first time, I recognized the same shimmering light in his eyes. Finally, I watched in awe as each of my parents, taking their respective leaves of this temporary earth home, stepped into the same portal of warm light through which they had once escorted me. And ever so briefly, there was something resembling wholeness.
Truth and totality are moving targets, widely open to interpretation. Yet, a few fleeting moments of grace have anchored a connection to something larger than me, and in some inexplicable way I believe yesterday's eclipse did that too.
Still, next time I might wear the glasses… just for shits and giggles.
Yesterday I walked out into the yard to discover my favorite rose bush awash in crimson. Her name is Pumpkin Patch, and she has a story to tell.
In early October 2011, less than a week before she died, my mother stood at the bedroom window staring out at her beloved rose bushes. They were planted in whiskey barrels and, even so late in the season, were covered with blooms.
I wondered if the faraway look in her eyes belied sadness, or if she was lost in the mental fog caused by the cancer pressing on her brain. "What are you thinking, Ma?" I inquired. "We need a rose for that empty barrel, don't you think?" She said, pointing to one that had stood empty for many months; an indication of her decline.
By this time Mom was incredibly weak and unstable on her feet, even with the walker, so I was surprised when she yelled to my dad who was resting nearby in his easy chair, "Ole, get up! We're taking Sis to the nursery to pick out a rose!"
Dad and I tried to talk her out of it, but she wouldn't be dissuaded. Dad drove and I sat in the back with Mom, whose eyes scanned the landscape along her favorite county road. "Remember that nice farm stand, Deed?" I nodded, recalling many times we traveled that road together in search of an estate sale, or explore the antique stores in Coburg, or walk through the pioneer cemetery. I squeezed her hand as the memories washed over me, hoping she didn't notice my tears.
At the first nursery they told us their rose crop had been wiped out by a pest. Dad and I exchanged worried glances through the rear-view mirror. "Drive to Bloomers, they'll have what we want!" Mom directed. Dad had barely stopped the car in front of Bloomers Nursery when Mom flung her door open, heaved herself out of the car, and began pushing her walker across the gravel driveway. I ran ahead to clear a path. Dad followed behind, anxiously pushing his own walker over the unsteady ground and yelling, "Sis, stop her before she falls!"
But there was no stopping her. In what would be a final burst of energy my mother, with her signature tenacity, hoisted her walker over a railroad tie and came to a stop in front of a bush covered in gorgeous deep orange blooms. "This is it, don't you think?" she said, grinning and glancing at me for approval.
She appeared to sleep on the ride home, but as soon as Dad pulled into the driveway Mom sprung back into action, barking orders from her perch on a rickety bench: "get my trowel from the wheelbarrow; bring that bag of garden mulch and there's a box of bone meal in the shed; be careful as you remove her from the container, her roots are fragile; fill the hole with water and fertilizer before you put her in; take your time, don't hurry, give her roots time to settle."
Everything I know about roses, I learned from my mother. She'd walked me through the steps of planting, transplanting, pruning and feeding many times before. This time she recited every detail as it if were the first time, though I imagine she took such care because she knew it would be the last.
Later, I came into the bedroom to find my mother once again standing at the window, peering out at the patio. "She's a beauty, isn't she?" she said, motioning to Pumpkin Patch. "She's just perfect," I replied.
"Afterwards" she said, "you'll take her home with you, okay?"
And every time she blooms I'll think of you, Mom.