Sunny days

It all started with
The cave by the beach,

Just south of home,

Carved into the cliff,

Where I used to bring my secrets,

Where I grieved in secret,

Loved in secret.

The safest, most painful place.

I wish you could have been my secret there.

These places have accumulated over time.

The grass below the rose garden 

Where we’d lay on our backs and watch the summer clouds.

The meditation garden in the grotto,

Where I witnessed God within my heart.

And then there’s your home.

My safest place I never knew.

The strength of the red rim, nestling the town below in its expansive arms.

Sitting in the water of the stream, kissing your face, while the dragonflies buzz about.

Soaking up the hot summer sun on our bare chests and backs and legs.

The beading drops of cool water refreshing us under the heat of a sunny day, running off us.

Light glinting from our blue-green eyes, consuming one another’s souls.

The silence of the gravesite, where my best friend lies.

Where just the memory of your presence there soothes me, just knowing you met him in your home towns, including me.

Surrounded by succulents and lizards.

Surrounded by birds and dragonflies.

The family cat and its rodent prey.

Surrounded by your loving family, sitting in your family home, watching the sunset.

Smiling. Home. Safe. Loved. 

Summer gods on sunny days.

My Lex Luther

There was a time when hearing your name

Chilled my blood and raised my anxiety. 

I’d look around, watching for you,

Nervously hoping to avert your gaze,

Or worse,

Your criticism.

Bully. You terrified me. 

Somewhere between high school and graduate school,

Between apologies and catching up,

Serious illnesses, breakups, and career milestones,

We became friends. 

Worlds apart but closer than many of my colleagues. 

At first, I was skeptical of your remorse,

Wondering if it could possibly be real.

I’d built you up as my vindictive, diabolical arch-nemesis. 

My Lex Luther. 

Somewhere between there and here,

From high school to reality,

You’ve become a cherished ally,

Prince Charming when I was at my lowest,

Treating me to the ultimate luxury,

My body riddled with cancer and chemo,

Distracting me from the fear of death,

Of truly missing out.

The Southern California sun kissing my pale skin,

Carbonation from my first taste of champagne dancing on my tongue,

Sand between my toes, 

your fingers interlaced with mine,

And you, worshipping at my temple,

Delight and care and kindness washing over me, making me whole. 

You restored my confidence.

You showered me with celebration for my recovery and health. 

You glued back the pieces you broke within me so long ago.

And then, like clockwork, you were back to business.

From your cruelty to your kindness,

Our hatred to mutual admiration,

The United States to the Arab World,

You’ve made me feel and made me strong.

Happy Birthday. Every day. 

Messy

Intensity 

Like all the molecules in my body vibrating at once

At an elevated frequency

Endorphins firing, dopamine released.

A magnet, pulling,

Like the tide 

If not careful, it’ll consume you

Before you’re even aware.

Never extinguished,

Only running latent,

Undetected until

The eyes lock 

The ears hear the honeyed tone

The inhalations slow to sync.

Like tendrils 

Those hooks pull you under

Entangling your limbs, your vital organs

Until you’ve got the decision

Fight or be consumed.

And you lie back

Reveling in the mess.

Sin Zapatos

Last night I had a dream.

We were back in your room, 

The one by the train station.

The messy room with a wine bottle,

Once full of Maynard Keenan’s finest.

Last night I had a dream.

I was in your room,

Feeling your sheets beneath me,

Your skin rubbing against mine,

Hearing your deep, heavy breaths.

Last night, I had a dream.

We were in your room,

Wearing that Manchester United hoodie,

Long socks, no pants.

My favorite combination.

You were wearing glasses.

Last night, I was a Star.

In the room with The Wall,

A guitar I loved to hear you play,

And freshly pressed shirts.

In the room where I felt safe

For the first time.

Anoche, esta manana.

Despacio, despierto.

Por completo, cuandro sonries.

Sin zapatos. Al tiempo.

Dormido. Amor. Siempre.

Reflections

Today, in the budding, cold, drizzling spring, I was out wandering in the woods. When coming back to the cabins where I’m staying, I stumbled upon a small grey bird (i’m not a bird fanatic and could not identify readily) doing its best to shield whatever was in the nest it was covering. I stopped and marveled a while. At the resilience of this bird, at its diligence in protection. Then, while I slowly disengaged, I saw my reflection, clearly, in a mirrored object that sat inside a room, through a clear window. I saw myself in a mirror, through a window. And this hit me:

Reflections

What was it?

A large, glassy, reflective

Mirror-like substance

That revealed those

Fragile, now broken views

Of your pain with your dad?

Was I just the conduit?
Was I too like the one

You’ve come to distrust?

Where you were skeptical already?

Were the structures not mine to break?

But, rather, the stone, or raindrop

Rippling the reflection,

Reminding you of its pull?
We are alike. Were alike.

I recall him less over time.

Cancer survivor.

Rags to riches.

Instigator, rabble rouser, hippie tree hugger.

Lover of music, gestalt, experience.

Tactical, technical, spiritual.

Angry. Impatient. Stoic.

Withholding of affections.

And then, like magic,

The light switches on, and…

CHARISMA.

Well traveled but humble.

Always pushing the edges.

Overwhelming.

Yes, so alike.
If only I could cover that puddle,

Keep a placid surface,

Unruffle your ruffled feathers,

Shield you from the uncertainty,

Give you a nest in which to roost.

If only I could be more

Than the mere reflection

The force and not the imprint,

Even just a quiet one.
But that’s not me.

That’s not my role with you.

Letting it all play out

Grows my patience, and tries it, too.
One day may it be you

Who stares back.

Welcoming

Disclaimer: if religion and God offend you, this post isn’t for you.

It’s day 4 of Lent, my first Lent, and I’ve asked the universe to guide me into places I have not been able to see. 

On Ash Wednesday, at 2 am, a woman from my cancer support community here died suddenly from toxicity from chemotherapy treatment. After 20+ years of suffering from metastatic breast cancer, she decided to try one round of palliative chemotherapy, against all her instincts. 22 days after that horrible infusion, she was admitted to the hospital for what seemed to be pneumonia, and she never left the ICU. It was a horrible, unexpected, horrific tragedy for which no one was prepared. 

This woman was beloved by my field because she was the shining example of the empowered patient–asking questions, educating herself on her diagnosis and prognosis, and making her own treatment decisions based on her care goals. She inspired me personally and professionally, and my heart is empty and broken. I’m beside myself with feelings of grief. 

So, on Wednesday, I attended Eucharist, received my ashes, and I devoted myself to not numbing my feelings so that I could be open to receiving answers through the spirit. I have been grappling with so many things about which I just cannot make sense. 

This morning, while in meditation, I remembered a dream I had two nights ago. The only religious image that I still love from childhood actually came to life. The image is called “Journey’s End” and depicts a weary traveler being warmly greeted by Jesus with an embrace. It has halted me many times, even when I no longer considered myself a Christian. It is the message I have always needed.

In that meditation, I was struck by the thought of birth and death being exactly the same. Have you ever experienced a birth, where people are so anxious and excited and planning for the baby to come, trying to hurry the induction of the child so that the baby can be passed around lovingly in its first few hours of this life? 

Well, I wonder what it feels like for the family in heaven who must part with that beautiful soul in order to send it down to earth for the life it is about to live. Do they worry if the child will come back? Do they wonder if they’ll still have the same connection? Do they worry that the child will forget them? There must be such grief and loss in heaven when a baby is born, when they have to say goodbye to one of their own, someone they love so so much.
The first natural death I witnessed was my grandmother’s. She was 94, completely lucid, and allowed me into the room when she was dying, holding my hand. She was beautiful. Just before she took her last breath, she looked across the room, stretched out her hand and said, “Dad? Karl? It’s you.” And just like that, she was gone. She had a welcoming party to greet her and it was her time to transition. That memory has never left me, and I’ve heard so many similar ones to that. 

So, just as we welcome, with outstretched arms, the babies coming into the world, I am comforted by the notion that when we die, were being welcomed back. That while I may be weeping the loss of my friend, a woman of such beauty and substance, she has a group of friends and family awaiting her to say,

“Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” Matthew 25:21

And just like a new baby, on the other side, we’re welcomed with anticipation and delight. Oh, what comfort is in this thought. 

Farewell, M. I will miss you until I see you in the welcoming party.