Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Here is how you know you've spent enough time in the woods:

When, instead of a vague recognition that you are striding through a wild berry thicket but you can't stop because there are miles to make, you pause and gorge yourself, carefully selecting only the ripest ones.

When you no longer dodge the spider silks that span the trail and glitter in the patchy sunlight, but march through them, collecting them across your chest, reveling in the feel of the strands whispering over your arms and dangling off your elbows.

When you walk twenty miles in to a 47 mile journey around the lake and discover that a group of industrious beavers have turned the brook that was shown on the map into a 75 yard wide pond, impassable safely when you are alone, because of the 12 hour hike from the nearest human and 30 pound anchor on your back, and faced with turning around and retracing your steps, you shrug and about face. Right after stopping for salami and crackers.

When your heart slows and breath slows and body slows down enough that you notice the odd shapes of trees growing around boulders, spot the smallest of toads and newts, and can hear snakes moving stealthily through the grass.

When you know the total silence of the humid north woods at 2 PM, when neither bird sings, nor chipmunk rustles, nor wind stirs the leaves.

When you cruise into the most beautiful campsite with private beach imaginable that you'd been dreaming of all day, un-clip and let that pack fall from your shoulders like a sack of potatoes, and howl in gratitude, like an animal, at the top of your lungs.

When you stumble to the shore line, see the water lit up orange by the setting sun, and strip down in broad daylight before God and nature and dive into the water to wash off the deet, and sweat, and filth you gathered from living outdoors.

When the book to read and journal to write in sit in your pack, ignored, because you'd rather spend 45 minutes studying the movements of one particular dragon fly, because the only thing that makes sense anymore is to be still - in your body, and your mind.

When you get a sick feeling in your stomach imagining the chimes and beeps and buzzes your phone will make after 3 days turned off, and how you'll possibly face all the humans and their various cries for attention.

When you stop cussing the biting flies that swarm you and whine incessantly in your ear, sun up to sun down, because they are just doing their job, as you do yours.

When you begin to hear the whoosh whoosh of the highway traffic in your final approach, and though your feet are hamburger and your back is in agony and your head pounds with thirst, everything inside of you screams to turn and walk back from where you came.

When you step finally into the bright sun and pavement, and stare dazedly at your car that seems now to belong to someone else, and use your leftover stream water to wash your grimy face and change into clothes that aren't caked with mud then look back at the trail head and wish you could plunge back in, let the woods swallow you, and never never never come back.

That's how you know you've been in the woods long enough.

Friday, July 31, 2015

"All that time I wasted."

I have been providing writing prompts to a friend who is doing her damndest to stay sober right now. Here is why that works: when you're drunk all the time, you have no feelings (except, perhaps, self loathing in those briefest moments between hits). When you have no feelings, you cannot write. Ergo, if you want to write, you have to feel. I have been giving her one liners to give her day purpose, in hopes something buds, something unexpected, something she didn't know was waiting in the sap of her soul. I know what's waiting in mine, because I am always in there. To the point of being obnoxious, I suppose. But, what if I prompted myself as well?

All that time I wasted
waiting for something to happen
when the thing that was happening is
me. You.
To hurt to suffer to grow to love to embrace to look and find or come up
It's not a waste.
Fear? What a shame.
Shame shame.
What will the Eternal say when he asks,
"What did you do?"

Repellant. I was repellant. My 'stay-back!' energy has been so strong most of my life that I could see in my minds' eye people flatten themselves against the wall when I walked past. "This week," said my therapist last year, "I want you to smile at someone and say 'hello'". The challenge left me one palpitation shy of a panic attack. Maybe we can bargain? "What if I just make eye contact. And it isn't with the "f$%k off" look? "Fair enough," she said. "It's a start."

It was a start. My heart beating out of my chest, I looked at a stranger steady in the eye, with kindness. I waited a week so as not to strain myself. Then another, then another. "Your tactic is very effective at keeping bad people away from you. Keeping you safe," she says. "But you also keep out the good ones." Oh.

Here is what happens when you waste time protecting yourself - you miss everything good. I did. But I found the way out, just in time. What happens when you retract your spikes and look someone in the eye and say with a quiver in your voice and a troop of butterflies raging in your stomach "here it is...", uncertain you have what they were hoping to find? Sometimes you'll hear, "no thanks".
It makes you want to double over. Or take a knee.

I have found that happens less frequently than anticipated. When you are fortunate: in a sizzle of electricity, authentic and unexpected connectedness occurs. It's what I live for. People. Me and the people, the people and me. And the animals and the trees and the sounds I hear and the food I taste and the bodies I touch and the things I pull out of myself and expose to the air. But mostly, people. You know them, they know you. You help them, they help you. Around and around we go - taking turns in the care and feeding and tender loving of one another. The point of life is to get better. Sister, she says, you ain't getting no better by staying safe. She was right.

I wasted so much time. I didn't throw open my arms and say "welcome", because I was terrified of hearing "no thanks" and "goodbye". I am slowly, slowly getting used to hearing both, and saying them when it's right...or I should say, wrong. What I am still astounded by is all of the beautiful threads running from me to you and you and you. Those who answered my "welcome" with "it's nice to be here" and "thanks for having me" and "I appreciate you saving me a seat".

I have to stay on this - psych myself up every day, now that it is more than just friends and acquaintances and colleagues I seek. As I was warned, there are many frogs to be kissed. How many "no thanks" will I hear or speak? If I am brave? Tons of them. But if I am lucky, one will say,
"I've been waiting." And I'll say "me too."

Every "no thanks" will be worth that one "hell yes". It won't happen by squeezing back into my armor, though. Courage. Let no man on earth or in heaven above, accuse me of wasting another moment of my time on the fear of "no thanks".

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Compelled to Move

I knew a guy who wanted to know what God knew. He wanted to see the end of the story. The big picture, the little picture... he fasted and prayed over what was next before making any moves. The lamplight illuminating the next step in his path was not enough, he needed to see the whole road, vantage point: hot air balloon. He would refuse to move until he knew that the step led to the destination he desired.

So often, he didn't move. Often he waited and sought for answers in crystal clarity that just never came. I'd tell him: if you got an engraved invitation...if you saw the outcome, where would be the need for faith? This. This is the crux of faith. This blindness, this trust. This has nothing to do with Christianity. Not exclusively. It has everything to do with every faith, any faith. What am I living for?  I'm not sure. Where are I going? I'm not sure of that either. But. I. Am. Compelled. To. Go.

It sure would be swell to know now that the hard work I am doing in school pays dividends. That I'd not only get into the program, but graduate the program, and have complete job satisfaction when I do. (Did you notice all the "ifs" there?) How awesome would it have been to know that if I left my marriage, a better partner would be available to me?  That if I finally meet someone nice that I am not wasting my life space, head space, and heart space on something that isn't going anywhere. Boy, it would make those paths easy to take or reject. But then, the mysteries of life would never be solved.

Skipping to the last page of the book is boring. You miss the plot twists and character development. You miss the interludes. You miss the fun. You miss life. Sometimes I drive myself mad with wondering if I am doing what's right, on the right road, consorting with the right people...if my choices pay dividends...good ones. But that is the point of stepping out. Here I am, taking one baby step at a time, hoping for the best, feeling the ground beneath each footfall before I commit (is it quicksand or rock?). There you are, doing the same.

Or not. You could be like that guy I knew. Afraid. Afraid to decide, to risk, to believe or hope. To trust himself. To trust in The plan, The path, The Almighty, Mercy. To trust that if one does step on quicksand, miraculously someone shows up to throw you a branch. I am weary of frightened people. I grew weary of being one, so I stopped. It's that easy. We don't know which gambles are worth taking. But I do know one thing: we have no chance at living great lives by treading water. Safe life, okay life, good life if you are really really lucky. But 'great' is only for the brave, for those who are more curious about page 2 than page 276.

What about you? Do you hate your job or wife or friends or body or hobbies or sadness? But you stay and stay and stay because, at least it's known? You can do better. I know you can. You know how I know? Because I am standing in the kitchen of a house I rented, typing at a desk I purchased and refinished, and thinking that maybe I will go lie in my hammock in a little while after my girls are safely asleep, and that tomorrow I will get up and make more such choices. Not ones that my husband or my faith or tradition made for me...ones that made me feel depressed and empty, but ones I made. There is only one way to the life you never dreamed you'd have: it's to move. Take a step. The only failure is the failure to act. I hope to see you out here with me, blindly groping in the dark towards something. With the stupid faith that hopefully, something better is ahead.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Dear Pit Crew,

Dear Pit Crew,

We're there.

Tomorrow is moving day. I remember when many of you stood by and stood up for us, watching as we did something that you knew was wrong but you hoped you were wrong about. But you shut your mouths and loved me anyway, because I never listen. So.

Tomorrow I am boxing up the pictures and the sheets and the Christmas ornaments in a flurry, and you will show up with trucks and mommy vans and SUVs with the seats folded down and your rake that you forgot to take out shoved to the side as you cuss at it and apologize. And we'll sweat and bang up our knees and scrape our knuckles on door frames and say "Where does this have to go? The ATTIC?! Dammit!" and heft it up the stairs and place my precious meaningless things down gently. And you'll smile at me, because you are good at that, and pat me gently on the shoulder, and remind me that you are proud, and I should be proud, and it's all okay now. It's okay now. It's okay. I am okay. The girls too. And we got this. And you're here. And then we'll toast, and maybe a couple tears will roll down my cheeks, and we'll all hug. And you'll say "call if you need something". And then you'll go. And I'll be all alone. All alone in my new house. I haven't lived all alone (or part time alone) for twelve years. It will be quiet. And sometimes I'll get weepy. And nervous. And wish I had my kids with me tonight, or my dog, or just someone. Someone. Just...someone.

But in that moment. The moment I get down and think of those other ones, those ones who have someone. Who have a great and happy life with a someone, I'll remember that I have you.

I don't know how it happened.

I don't know how I managed to accumulate connections with wonderful and careful and gentle and tolerant people like you. People who text me to say they are thinking, and how is class, and do you want to have a glass of wine and snack with me tonight? I know I don't deserve it. Probably, no one does. Was I so smart to find you and weed out all the bad ones? Was I so lucky? Was I so blessed?

What I learned from watching NASCAR races with my dad throughout my youth was not much. The drivers ride around fast in tight circles in stifling hot cars. (Sounds a bit like life, doesn't it?) But when it's time, they send the signal, drive into pit row and their crew rushes out. Like a well oiled machine they gas up, rip off tires and replace them, hydrate the driver and send him on his way. He could not possibly compete without them, and their expertise and dedication can make the difference between first place and second or tenth.

Just like you.

There have been people in my life who've let me down. A lot. Repeatedly. But ya'll showed up. Even when I was being a pain in the ass. Even when I was just a tiny bit whiny or hysterical or anxious. You sent a card or an email or showed up with ice cream and a hand to hold. This wasn't a tough year, or a tough twelve years, this has been a tough life. You knew what you were getting into with me. And I knew what I was getting into with you. We need each other. And when I saw your need, I ran towards you. And now that you've seen mine, you've run towards me. My life is worth living because of my girls and God and you. That's it. The end. You are an integral part of the puzzle. The engine does not keep running and tires don't keep turning without you. You make my life. Really, really.

Moving day is not just a celebration of my new life, but a celebration of your role in it, whether you are there to shoulder the mattress with me or not. I know you're all there in spirit. This is OUR triumph. Our move out and on and up. My wish. I have so many wishes. But my greatest wish is that I could be half so much to you as you've been to me. My dearest dearest friends and family. Your love is life.

Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Whether you gave me one kind word this last year, or millions. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Tomorrow is our emancipation.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A moment with Mary, Rumi, and Special Friends

“So every day
I was surrounded by the beautiful crying forth
of the ideas of God,
one of which was you.” 

Forget the mundane of your life for a moment. Forget that you have to take your kid to the doctor and a get together an hour later and don't know how you'll get it done, and you are almost out of dog food, and there is a load of towels in the washer that will get moldy if you don't switch it very soon, and you have planning to do for your trip next week, and the bathtub is dirty. And the car needs an inspection. And the weeds have grown up tall. And you have to use the chicken in the fridge TODAY or it'll be garbage. And what do you have left? What's left after work and busyness and obligation and maintenance? 

People. Nature. The unstoppable force of the turning of the earth, the seasons, time. Strip your life down to it's most essential elements, you'll find music or art or words or trees. Children, parents, siblings, friends, acquaintances, lovers, spouses, soul mates. Outside of these, little else has mattered, will matter. All we do is of small consequence, it is just a means to survive so that we can create and relate to one another.

Life is so full of chores that must be done, which is out of alignment with the people that fill my heart. I have known so many characters in my short life, who've brought laughter, compassion, companionship, blessing, and curses. But then the curses are blessings too. Many times I have thought that I had lost someone, who turned out not to be lost at all. Many times I wished to lose people, who just wouldn't be lost. Often times I have overestimated a person's value to me, which never hurts as bad as underestimating.

We are all one, we come from the same spiritual and physical source- interconnected and interdependent. There is no boundary between us.

“Why struggle to open a door between us when the whole wall is an illusion?”

A sweet friend I met when our oldest's were in preschool is going away this week. Far away. It reminds me of when my folks left, or my sister left, or that dearest old friend or or. Everyone leaves, most of them return. But they can't really gets away if you hold them in your heart. This does not have to be a sad business you know. This missing someone can be a celebration of their importance, the joy and pain they brought you, the wish for their well being and renewed physical closeness...even if that may never happen again. 

Yet, never, is an impossibly long time. And in my experience, no door is ever fully shut. Even those I'd missed a decade or more, found their way back. You cannot forget love and tears shared. Or you can, if you doggedly refuse to think about anything but oil changes and shopping lists and flea baths for the dog. There are so many important things to live for: justice and charity and the spread of mercy, but none more important than people. Not as a collective, but as individuals. To create for and share with and tend and nurture and please and amuse. Special humans. Special because they are YOUR humans. Nothing causes you the pain that the other humans can. Yet nothing nothing nothing causes more joy.

 Another one of my humans is going physically away. But she can't get too far. She's held in my heart, along with the rest of you. Those with whom I've drunk dirty stream water, watched fireflies in the forest, cried with and over, laughed with and over. The chance to see you, my people, and connect with you again each day is the only reason worth waking up. For my lovely daughters, for my mom and dad and sister and nephews, for you my dearest friends: far and near, contact or none. You make my life. You are the way I know that God loves me. There is terrible longing in the human heart, and because of you, mine is largely satisfied.

“They stay in my mind, these beautiful people,
or anyway beautiful people to me, of which
there are so many. You, and you, and you,
whom I had the fortune to meet, or maybe
missed. Love, love, love, it was the
core of my life, from which, of course, comes
the word for the heart. And, oh, have I mentioned
that some of them were men and some were women
and some — now carry my revelation with you —
were trees.”


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hereafter and Ever to Live Separate and Apart

I have decided this will be my last post in reference to my divorce. Maybe you are disappointed - sometimes it's fun to rubberneck other people's pain and drama. I respect that. I like to be useful. If my ex-husband's and my suffering have brought you comfort because at least you weren't US, then I am pleased to have been at your service. But I can't help you in that department anymore.

I am no longer part of an "us" or a "we". It is just "me" - pass or fail, for better or for worse. Hereafter and ever we live separate and apart, as the language of the divorce agreement goes. The comedian Louis CK aptly pointed out: "Marriage is for however long you can hack it. But divorce is forever."

I cannot tell a lie. My ex-husband confuses me, and always has. I take pride in my ability to recognize a person's inner spirit being, to predict behavior based on what I know of psychology, as well as to determine what those I love need, and find it in myself to give it. But he was as slippery as an eel. No sooner had I felt I gained a hold on who he is and what motivates him, before he'd twist out of my grasp and confound me. He made me feel like a drunk trying to walk a straight line and say the alphabet backward. Muddled, clumsy, and so obviously bound to fail. I tried my brains out but was never able to deliver to him the un-nameable thing he was looking for. At the end of the day, no matter what one of us did or didn't DO to the other, we were a terrible fit on just about every meaningful measure of compatibility. And this is the real deeper problem. We didn't relate to each other, though it wasn't from lack of trying and it is really no one's fault we didn't make it. Yet it is both of our faults. We chose to get married. We should not have, but we did. And now have beautiful daughters, and have been transformed by our respective sufferings, and are so much more lucid about what we DO want in our lives. So it's good, very very good indeed, that we did make this "mistake". And if I could go back in time, I'd make it over and over again.

Despite where we are, despite all the valleys that we not only crossed but made lengthy encampments in, I loved the man. Desperately stupidly hopelessly loved. Else, how could I have been so willing to hurt for so long? And in his ways, ways that are not mine, I believe that he must have loved me. He is not a monster. He was my darling, and I wanted so much to be the direct cause of his happy life. Instead I was his stumbling block and source of strife. And he, mine. No one intends this. No one finds a suitable prospect and says "Yes. I do believe that I would like to torture this person mentally and emotionally until they feel broken and desperate to escape life." Yet, it's what we did to each other. In my view, I brought good things to him. But what he received from me was not what he wanted, and so he got bad things. Yes, the marriage transformed me through suffering, but also through moments of laughter, friendship, and shared love for our children. Through him I have learned that nothing is black and white. No one is all bad or all good, no relationship all bad or all good. Things just are. If we are truly blessed, the balance leans more heavily toward the good. Many many of us are unlucky though. Which is why many many of us, are divorced.

I am moving very soon. I tell all who ask and care to know that my ex-husband has been an absolute saint this last year and a half. Both of our efforts to make our children comfortable and live peaceably with one another while we sorted out the details have been unparalleled; imperfect of course, but really admirable. No one can believe we've done it, and not gone crazy. Or fought like animals. Or poisoned each other's food. I don't care much about the past except for how it informs the future. What we went through changes who I am, and how I will live and love going forward. He is a fantastic father, and our daughters are incredibly lucky to have him. I know that we will work together and continue to support one another as parents in any way possible.

Thank you again so much from the bottom of my heart for the variety of ways you have encouraged me and shown your love to me through it all. I cannot re-pay you. But I promise that you have taught me valuable lessons about kindness and tolerance and friendship and patience that will never be forgotten.

So, for this season of life, it is a memory. I am done talking about being a wife, and the road to becoming an ex-wife. I keep coming across this poem by Pablo Neruda; one of his few poems that wasn't about love, but the loss of it. I post it here to honor what we wanted to be, what we tried to be, and the honesty of what we were. I pray peace and blessing on every member of our small family - for family, we will always be.

Saddest Poem

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.

Write, for instance: "The night is full of stars,
and the stars, blue, shiver in the distance."

The night wind whirls in the sky and sings.

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

On nights like this, I held her in my arms.
I kissed her so many times under the infinite sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her.
How could I not have loved her large, still eyes?

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.
To think I don't have her. To feel that I've lost her.

To hear the immense night, more immense without her.
And the poem falls to the soul as dew to grass.

What does it matter that my love couldn't keep her.
The night is full of stars and she is not with me.

That's all. Far away, someone sings. Far away.
My soul is lost without her.

As if to bring her near, my eyes search for her.
My heart searches for her and she is not with me.

The same night that whitens the same trees.
We, we who were, we are the same no longer.

I no longer love her, true, but how much I loved her.
My voice searched the wind to touch her ear.

Someone else's. She will be someone else's. As she once belonged to my kisses.
Her voice, her light body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, true, but perhaps I love her.
Love is so short and oblivion so long.

Because on nights like this I held her in my arms,
my soul is lost without her.

Although this may be the last pain she causes me,
and this may be the last poem I write for her.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Mourning Doves

I love birds. One of my most favorites is the Mourning Dove. My neighborhood is loaded with them, and their lonesome coos ring outside my bedroom window each morning. They are aptly named. Their calls do sound distinctly, like they are sighing again and again in grief.

Grief, is a funny thing. It is not linear. I kept thinking that if I took one step then another, that it would progress predictably - in a pattern of less then less each day until it was gone. But it hasn't. Neither is it circular, because it comes irregularly and each time it feels oddly new and unexpected. There are all kinds of grief, so much that I guess you could say it comes in 31 flavors. But despite the differences, it is all made from the same raw material: severed connection. What varies is intensity and duration. No, one can't compare the loss of my niece Harper to the loss of a marriage to the loss of a job, but it all stings in that same visceral way, making us feel naked, vulnerable, and adrift: "it's gone it's gone it's gone".

I have been divorcing in heart, mind, and legal documents for about 20 months now. At first I lay in bed for hours every night unable to sleep, breathe, blink from the absolute terror, utter sadness, and incomprehensible decision I was forcing us to make. I'd quit. I'd tried so hard for so long, and then, like that - I just quit. But no matter how many ways I turned it over in my head, quitting was the only answer. So what right have I to be grieved? And how, after all this time, could it still be happening?

We have muddled through almost a year of legalities in the same home, and are within 2 weeks of signing our marriage away. My husband and I get along as much as we need to, which isn't much. You can keep a home functioning surprisingly well with a minimal amount of communication, actually. And though we will always be family, because of the way our daughters unite us, our relationship is well and truly over. There is clearly nothing there for one another in the feelings department anymore. So I was shocked on Friday when grief showed up like that annoying neighbor who sees your lights on and pops over because he is just dying to ask what you paid for your new lawn mower.

He had decided to go to the mountains for an impromptu overnight. Something we usually did together. Something that, at the very least, I always planned and packed for. So when he came home looking to go, I did what a wife normally would do: I mothered him. I scooted around the house opening cupboard doors and closets. Packing emergency supplies and food - compass, toilet paper, extra water. Admonishing him to hang his food to keep it safe from bears and use the map. Putting fresh batteries into the headlamp. And as I am dumping all this at his feet for him to stow in his pack, I am suddenly struck with the absolute absurdity of the situation. Maybe he was too. It made me terribly sad and I had to excuse myself. What I have learned is that grief isn't just for the person you've lost, but for the future you had planned, your dreams and hopes, and even silly day to day rituals. He comes home and puts his coffee cups on the counter to be washed, and I come over and throw them in the sink. He brushed my car off in the morning this past winter, just like the 11 winters before that. I still cook foods that he likes and slide it in front of him with a selection of his beloved condiments. If the kids talk back to one of us, the other says "what did Daddy/ Mommy say?" in defense of our spouse. When he left for those big bad mountains, I almost wanted to hug him. I settled for a text later on: "have fun. don't die." "Thanks. U 2", he replied. It was the nicest thing we'd said to each other in over a year.

It's not only old habits die hard, it's old lives. I have wanted to make my own decisions for so long now, with nobody to answer to. But it suddenly feels overwhelming. Paralyzing. Sad. No, we weren't good together. Not by a long shot. But we weren't alone. And godknows there is safety in numbers. I have learned that when you think you are done hurting, you are really just on hurt hiatus. Sometimes I will be struck all over again by my niece Harper's death and I'll double over and howl like a wounded animal. That's to say nothing of how it still affects her parents. And always always will. Grief doesn't go away. The time in between it's visits becomes extended. And when it comes you know how to bear it. But, it'll never stop. I will always, in some way, mourn the loss of this little family unit we have made. Things will never be the same for any of us. In many ways that is an opportunity for so much more and better, yet in other ways it is a great loss. But, I just summed up the condition of being human, didn't I?

Every morning and evening I walk my dog around the block, and listen to the lonely sound of the doves:  "hoo-oo, oo oo oo", as they call to their mates. Sometimes those calls sounds an awful lot like what I have in my heart. But most days it just sounds like sweet music from a beautiful animal. What I know is that we are all visited by grief - some larger, some smaller. And we suffer for it. And that pain, along with the opposing joy is what unites us as humans. The only way it is bearable, is if we help one another bear it. What I am learning from this season of life will be put to good use in future seasons, and in support of others. And that is the point to suffering if ever there was one. To build a bridge between me and you, and you and him, and him and her. And on and on and on.