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. 

Black Albatross

It was more than 18 years ago now,

The day I watched your face

Turn from violet to blue to an icy white.

I stood there, holding your hoodie.

Complete shock.

This accessory smelled more like you than you.

I remember my mouth going dry from surprise and terror and fear and panic.

My ears recall the utter silence. Pin drop.

Those fibers on the black lining, rubbing.

Your body, more limp, making you look like a hanger, no longer holding up your clothes.

You’d cleaned your room. Spotless. Pledge.

No feelings, just data. Vacuum.

You and me, alone, in a clean room.

You lifeless, me dead inside. Mirrors.

I didn’t do anything. I just stood and watched. I’ve regretted that.

It was our only time alone before all the tears. I’ve regretted that too.

I remember you like you left yesterday.

Wearing socks.

I’ve stayed quiet with regret for so long.

What would I say if no one would judge?

I’d talk about the sigh of relief my chest exhaled when I saw your lips turn blue.

Knowing I could get out and not worry about you.

Chasing my dreams without thinking of the mess you’d become.

I’d tell someone that the last words that left my lips in that room was, “i couldn’t save you. I never could.”

It wasn’t I’m sorry or I love you. You were my loss, but a loss.

I’d express my anger that you left me at the worst time, without a friend. A best friend. You rejected me.

How I gave up my bunk beds because you’d slept on them with me, because I couldn’t stop seeing you hanging.

How you made me more different than I already was. Now I was the girl with a dead friend. Now I’ve watched someone die. Now I have even more issues.

Unrelatable and alone.

How you knew. You knew I had no one to help me with this. No one to turn to.

I wanted to yell at you, to call you selfish. But that wasn’t correct.

I would say I have never quite gotten the hang of being around dead bodies because you were the first. And there was nothing comforting about it.

How every time I’m around one now, how every time I even see Jesus on a cross I see your face.

How I never understood. How I don’t understand. Did you not trust me?

How sometimes, in those first few days, I slept easier knowing you were safer.

How sometimes, in those first few years, I hated you. I hated me.

Guilt. Relief. Anger. Calm.

You changed my life for the worse.

A terrible scar across my heart.
All I could show was pain or nothing.

For so long, nothing.

In a child, out an adult?

Protecting you then honoring you?

Who does that for me?

And all I seem now is selfish.

If only I felt safe enough

To say it while still alone in your room.

Perhaps then, this pain could dissipate.

Over-staying Our Welcome

On the first day of 2017, I completed re-reading Joan Didion’s amazing work The Year of Magical Thinking. It got me wondering, might we mix up fate at times, causing us to extend our time on earth, past that which might be planned? Do we make choices that can alter our ending?

Joan Didion is a master of vulnerability. Joan Didion is not the semblance of joy, but her deep feeling encourages the path to joy. Some of my favorite moments:

John Dunne, on Joan’s Birthday (a bittersweet memory):

“Goddamn,” John said to me when he closed the book. “Don’t ever tell me again you can’t write. That’s my birthday present to you.”

I remember tears coming to my eyes.

I feel them now.

In retrospect this had been my omen, my message, the early snowfall, the birthday present no one else could give me. 

He had twenty-five nights left to live.

On self-awareness:

I think about people I know who have lost a husband or wife or child. I think particularly about how these people looked when I when I saw them unexpectedly–on the street, say, or entering a room–during the year or so after the death. What struck me in each instance was how exposed them seemed, how raw.

How fragile, I understand now.

How unstable.

On changing the timeline:

I realized that since the last morning of 2003, the morning after he died, I had been trying to reverse time, run the film backward.

It was now eight months later, August 30, 2004, and I still was.

The difference was that all through those eight months I had been trying to substitute an alternate reel. Now I was trying only to reconstruct the collision, the collapse of the dead star.

I firmly believe that we don’t need the physical death of a loved one to experience the grief about which Didion writes. It could be the death of an emotional connection, the death of hope, the death of our physical bodies as we know it. We all want to control the timeline, we all want to change things. We all seem unstable and fragile, for however long or short a time.

In 2014, I suffered the disconnection, the emotional death, of my relationship with someone with whom I held dear–closer to me than anyone I have ever experienced. The first quote, the memory Didion shares of her husband, is one I know well. This partner gave to me something no one else could ever give: encouragement. He was my tireless supporter. And he taught me every day, “You’re stronger than you think.” For over two years I have been trying to substitute an alternate reel, only yesterday to realize that, perhaps, the reel had already been altered.

Do I think that we change the course of our lives through our actions? Yes.

Do I think we overstay our welcome, that we wander onto paths that weren’t made for us? No.

No. For we will learn much on our journey, but we’ve got an ending coming that is set as our destiny. Whether this life or the next one, we will be at Journey’s End all the same.

“It’s great to have an ending to journey toward, but it’s the journey that matters in the end.” –Ursula K. LeGuin

The Lady of Shallott

‘The web was woven curiously,

The charm is broken utterly,

Draw near and fear not,–this is I,

The Lady of Shallott.’

Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Lady of Shallott, 1832

A year ago, I spent 10 days travelling Europe–London first to see my eldest brother, and then to Prague to see my youngest brother. From London, we toured the UK countryside. In Prague, I got some much-needed family time. I felt as though I belonged to something. You see, last year was a tough one for me, as I faced a serious illness that not only compromised my body but also my spirit. I was a broken woman, and I recall the feeling of believing I had hit rock bottom, only to become startled by the bottom still falling out from under me. It was regular devastation. My first full day, I arrived at my favorite place on earth, the bench in front of The Lady of Shallott at the Tate Gallery.

My travel journal entry:

Never has a piece of art moved me like The Lady–she halts my breath, stops time, makes me forget any other art exists. I am most in awe of her vulnerability–the raw emotion coming across her face. She is grieving. Not quite resolved, not quite tense. She is still suffering to breathe, close to weeping. It is the pillar of vulnerability for me. I strive to be The Lady, as I feel her pain but don’t have a boat upon which to push myself. My candle, too, is about to go out. Sitting in front of her, every inch of me aches.

I love watching people walking by her, passing her, only to turn around and stop. She is the most beautiful woman in the world, but only because of the fearless vulnerability she shows. I love seeing young women interacting with her, looking back at her as they walk away. She is tough to come to terms with. And yet, she is inside us all…that part of us that we hold onto too tightly. She lets go of it for us. She exhales the pain we seem to choose to keep.

I am still haunted by this passage. I’m haunted and liberated by the grief she displays so openly. It reminds me that grief is something natural, necessary, normal. 

On the 9/23/16 episode of This American Life, Ira Glass shared stories of people who had died and what they said just before they passed. What grief and death remind me to do is live. In the moment. Every day. Feeling it all. 

Feel it all. Grieve the endings, celebrate the beginnings, sit in the middles. Cry when they leave. Yell when they anger you. Fear for their safety. Delight in their pleasures. You never know when those moments are the last you’ll have.

Moments

You never know what moments will hold the most meaning while you’re living them.

This morning, I awoke from a dream I’ve been playing on repeat for weeks now, always ending in the same place: he opens the door to his old apartment, smiles that huge, goofy smile and says, wide-eyed, “HELLO!” The scene ends and I awake. The blue trimming of the doorway, the peeling paint on the door, the narrow landing near the stairwell, the chattering of others coming from inside the apartment. Of all the moments over the years, that one has become a favorite. Especially now. Especially when that smile is gone; the smile that always seemed to open every locked door in my heart.

Moments. 

Where I fumbled with my airplane seatbelt and we locked eyes.

Moments.

Where I saw tears stream from those beautiful eyes.

Moments.

Where he taught me how to properly pour wine.

Moments.

When I first met his dad.

Moments.

When he first called me out on a lie.

Moments.

When he challenged my feminism.

Moments. So many small memories that seemed insignificant at the time but now seem to be the things I remember best. 

Tonight, a stranger asked me if it was better to have a respectful, thoughtful ending to a romantic relationship or one that cuts you off at the knees. 

My response? 

I would never jeopardize the beautiful memories with someone just because the production of them ends. 

Never take the moments for granted. You never know when they’ll stop occurring.