gleaning

dscn0101

I have been continuing the work of uncovering the treasures from my experiences of last summer and fall. The process felt rather like this at first, looking into the fog from a seat on the sidelines, trying to pull forth the memories of what was there. Quickly though, the words in my journal and in messages sent home, bring with them images and feelings, and the fog is beginning to clear. Islands of awareness are slowly emerging.

When I returned from those months away, life here took me by storm – a surgery for my husband with a long and now complicated recuperation, not to mention the political season that swept me into its chaos for awhile.  It is good to revisit in these deeper waters and  search for its hidden message.

I am posting these new entries directly into the calendar where they occurred. You can find the latest post here .

https://emmaatlast.wordpress.com/2016/09/03/summer-of-becoming-initiation-so-this-is-life/

If you poke around from there, either using the calendar in the righthand margin, or the previous post/next post arrow from the bottom of the page, the rest of the story will begin to unfold.

 

counting birds

dscf0309Yesterday morning, as my husband sat in a hospital bed for the 3rd morning this week, I took a long stroll in the woods. With a friend. To count birds. Perhaps Thoreau would have called it a saunter in the way that he elevated such non-efficiency to the realm of the sacred.  I simply understood that after a week where it seemed as if each twilight-to-dusk was spent navigating hospital corridors, first with my mother who had fallen earlier in the week and now with my husband, my feet needed the touch of the earth. After staring hypnotically at flashing numbers and dripping IV’s, my weary eyes yearned for the poultice of sky.

Indeed, that same sapphire sky had been gracing my morning drive all week. Cresting the ridge, the whole of her expanse on display, she offered her spacious embrace, whether to low lying clouds playing a colorful game of catch with the cockcrow sun, or to the thousands of snow geese winging their riotous expectancy of spring, or to me making my mechanical way along the conveyor of cars.  Into that vast dome, ever constant in a way that even the earth beneath my feet is not, whether watching over the wilds of an Algonquin landscape of lakes or the wilder alien streets of the cityscape, I need only lift my gaze to find my place.  

And so I went to count birds, not consciously thinking at all about the way these ones also find their way home in the sky, but simply saying ‘yes’ to the invitation to a habitat nearby that welcomes a heart such as mine. We strolled, noting the presence of the ordinary – Chickadees, Titmice, Nuthatches, Juncos, Woodpeckers- Downy and Red Bellied, Crows and Vulture-Turkey and Black.  At last, our eyes were drawn skyward by the cornflower blue of the late winter sky, to be elated by the snowy belly and ink dipped quills of the undersides of an uncharacteristically soaring Harrier Hawk.

I’ll not pretend that I didn’t have to fight every guilt-laden brick in my psyche to take that quiet walk, especially when I learned that my son and his wife, along with two of my granddaughters had visited my husband in the hospital that morning and I’d missed them. (Yes, I’ve noticed myself trying to repair that chink in the wall ever since.) On the morning of my husband’s surgery, I’d run back and forth from his room to the waiting area on the first floor as much to care for the needs of my friend as she was caring for mine. And I kept my commitment to babysit a granddaughter later that evening… mostly because I really had wanted to connect with her (it had been a long time) when I’d offered my time last weekend during a phone call, and I still believed that some one-on-one time with the child of my child would be good for all of our hearts.  She and I had also noted the sky that evening, walking back from the playground after dark, when Venus, that bright evening star, showed us the way home as my granddaughter regaled me with some magical story about her glowing hair and its secret pull to that particular planet.  

When I’d gotten the message from my younger sister that my mother had fallen and she had been taken to the hospital, a larger regional trauma center, nearer me, I immediately went. Willingly. Dutifully. Guiltily. Lovingly. Perhaps a bit Hopeful.… oh, the whole of that cloth comes when a single thread is pulled, does it not? …that I might at last step back into a place of belonging with her in some life-giving way.

It seems my mother and I have reached a strange kind of truce now that each of us has at last stopped demanding that the other be what they are not, or give what they have not to give, as if I might actually come to peace with her here in the end, now that she cannot see, cannot hear, cannot speak, cannot remember. And I feel sadness, in this deep-and-forever emptiness inside of me, that I won’t ever truly know her. I’ve noticed the shift in me over the years, from that all-about-me wanting to be seen to this longing to see. Her. As she is. As good.  

I have for some time now wanted to know what it was like for her as a young woman, then a young mother, a tired mother, a defeated mother, a finished mother, an after-mother. I’ve inspected old photographs like a detective looking for clues. I wonder if any of us can ever really know our mothers, the way they deserve to be known, as whole human beings with gifts and flaws, hopes and disappointments, desires and griefs, strengths and fears. I can only imagine the one-sided perspective my own children surely have of me. With only a chapter of the story… perhaps the tired mother we experience when most of us reach full consciousness… the rest can at best be inferred.

As I was maneuvering the transition that comes at the end of the constricting birth passage that is motherhood, my youngest son completing his last years of high school, three of my older sons were married, three of my grandchildren (of eight to come in a span the next 7 years) arrived, my husband retired (he is my second marriage and had joined this circus just 6 years before this whirlwind began), and we sold our home to begin trying to craft this ‘one wild and precious life’ of our own. Not to mention the heartrending and constant refrain beneath all of that chaos that was the constant ringing (read 20+ times a day) of a cellphone reminding me that my daughter had been badly broken by it all and was suffering deeply.

Of course, that particular whirlwind was occurring about 10 years after a 20 year marriage came colliding into wreckage, leaving me to process that grief (which pulled up with it the buried-alive griefs of the lost 16 year old girl who had married and the babies who had died during those treacherous long-ago years) with a child in elementary school, one in middle school, two in high school and one in college.

That was a lot to hold. I can see that now. How could my children see me then as anything other than tired mother, overwhelmed mother, exhausted mother, broken mother, finished mother.  And so it was that I wondered this evening, as I beheld my own mother sleeping on the hospital bed, what unfulfilled life she had also yearned for once upon a time. I knew her only as tired and overwhelmed mother- a forth babe in her arms when I was yet a baby myself- as  depressed and detached mother, as frustrated and angry mother.  My own children coming into her life before she was ready, I knew her as distant and unwilling mother.  In the midst of her own profound grief, when her dreams of ‘after-mother’ died with my father at such a young age -58 years, I knew her as lost mother. When my own grief overwhelmed me, I knew her as dead mother. Always, you see, I knew her in relation to what she could give me, as mother, never through eyes that could see her as woman, like me.

I am nearing the age that she was lost to me now. She’d seemed so old to me then. Foolishly, I’d judged her ‘What could she possibly want for herself at that time in her life?’ or more condescendingly, ‘Why did that she let that one grief so destroy her?’

Perhaps it wasn’t one grief.

Perhaps I project.

My own husband has been hospitalized this week for a 4 month old surgical wound that just would not heal, a surgery that some part of me fears he has had to attempt to defy his own death, which of course is coming. He is 10 years older than I, a truth that I knew when I married and chose to love him til death. Next week, another surgery is being slated, scheduled on a day I had excitedly promised to spend with another granddaughter, whom I’d love to hold closer. Lately, the vision of George Bailey on the railroad platform with suitcase in hand has been rising from my subconscious again.

Yesterday, yet another new grandbaby girl arrived in our family. I made the trip from one hospital to another to welcome her. As I sat welcoming her to this terribly beautiful place we call home, from the designated rocking chair next to the window, my gaze was drawn from her new sleeping face to those long lights of the city, reflected in the darkening water, now stirring the apricot-and-raspberry palette of that fabulous, welcoming sky. This baby girl’s own mother, seated on the bed across the room, juggling her yet unconscious toddler sons, did not notice the salutatory gesture of that wondrous sky, just outside her window. The miracle inside those walls was enough. I remembered that too.  

After receiving the salty kisses from those little boys, I drove from that place to sit by the hospital bed of my mother, now in rehab, watching her face as she also slept soundly within those four sterile walls with no view at all.  She stirred, noticed me, and smiled. I’ve not seen her smile so much as I have this past week. Smiling has not been part of her countenance in the years that I’ve been aware of her (though it was there in those pre-me photos I’d poured over once). We chatted for a bit, me grasping as much as I could of her babble, likely no less than I ever could hear, until the intercom announced that this sacred hour had also ended.  Kissing her too, on lips cooler, thinner, and quite a bit less salty now than once, I left her room to navigate yet one more unfamiliar corridor on my way out.

Exhausted, I opened the door to the star-littered embrace of the sky.

Juncos. Chickadees. Nuthatches and Woodpeckers. Vultures and Crows. In the midst of these ordinary miracles, the snow geese are finding their way home. Beheld by a sky that can somehow hold it all in her arms when we cannot, the circle of life ever spins. We are not called to be sky, I suppose, to be all, see all, know all, encompass all, or even love all, but to let ourselves simply be earth…humble as one small bird, sacred as one quiet star, let ourselves  simply Be …enough. Be seen, be known, beloved, beheld by whatever it is within this great arcing dome of our lives that does the holdingAnd perhaps, occasionally, if we are lucky enough to follow the lift of our hearts with our gaze, the snowy white underbelly of one, who rarely soars, just might make her surprising appearance.

 

ephemeral grace

Vague impressions of a dream, 

which seemed to hold such certain

clarity when it awakened me at 3,

emerge like subtle ghosts

within the fog of day,

entreating me to grasp

ahold.

 

How is it that such

assuredness, that feeling of complete

and utter comprehension in the dark, so vibrant

that it seems that one could jump

from bed to sing it,

(as if one finally understood the meaning of it all!)

can fade so in the light, diminished

into blind inanity.

 

I recall a harsh environment,

the bashed remains of a violent ice, perhaps

the broken shards of limbs, 

a dwelling crafted from those ruins,

not for survival or protection, but

rather for perfection, rugged,

with great sheets of transparency,

crystal windows, through which to see

the frozen beauty round about me.

 

I understood only that there was

something absolutely right and true about its sturdy structure.

and awakened almost laughing, the ‘yes’ of it so

much deeper than a sigh,

something more akin to joy.

 

I’d found the answer that I’d sought

but this afternoon, I wonder

what the question was?

 

 

 

summer of becoming

These fallow days of snowless winter are good for both remembering and dreaming (my trip to Algonquin last week, of course, helping to inspire them both), and so I have dug out my journal from last summer and fall, realizing I’d never done a thing with them here. For me, the brief notes that I was able to make bring the fullness of the sights and the sounds and the feelings so clearly. For you, perhaps not, but I will record them here nonetheless, as much for my own weary eyes as anything.

I intend to post date the posts to the times they occurred, and link them here.

I begin with a letter I wrote home somewhere in the middle of that remarkable time.

Summer of Becoming One

me and the boys

Two women, one canoe

North-West-South-East

Hay Lake Morning- revisited

 

joining the resistance

woman-with-eyes-closed-2

i resist giving my power-to-see-goodness  away to those who would have me despair

i resist living from the stirrings of hatred and fear rather than from the deep well of love and abiding trust

i resist being drawn from listening for harmony into the cacophony of chaos

i resist believing the virtual world is more real than the one I can see, taste, and feel

i resist seeing evil in human beings simply because they see the world differently than I

i resist believing the world to be ugly when i see beauty here in her face

i resist the hardening and poisoning of my heart with toxic and vehement images and words

i resist being sarcastic and cruel to cover my vulnerability and frustration

i resist dehumanizing my fellow human beings with spiteful and unkind labels

i resist being chained to catastrophe, and confined by anxiety

i resist being swept into drama and spun into confusion

i resist finding my power in violence and discord, or seeking aliveness in outrage and agitation

i resist the thought that your ‘no’ necessarily means that my life is condemned to be hopeless

I resist being overwhelmed by terror.. unless it is by terrible and tender beauty

i resist the edict that i cannot find beauty and peace wherever i am

i resist being told it is wrong to seek peace and find hope right where i am

i resist the insistence that my commitment to an alternate way of ‘being’ is less vital than all of the ‘doing’ that is demanded of me*

I resist feeling shame for listening to my heart

i resist believing that words are wiser than silence, or that mountains are more powerful than seeds

i resist seeing you as ugly and broken rather than beautiful and whole

I resist seeing myself as better, or ‘righter’, or holier than you

i resist believing that spring will not follow winter 

i resist believing that darkness will overcome light

i resist the presumption that darkness and winter don’t also belong in this world

 

*thanks to Christine Valters Paintner for this framing of “resistance as a commitment to an alternate way of being. While celebrating those who are called to vibrant activism, we also need those who can witness to other possibilities, those who keep safe and guard the treasures of a life lived slowly and mindfully”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

being water -2

I tried being fire for a moment

– intense, focused, hot –

but then my soul

remembered that I

was water after all.

And so it seems I

have been spreading, and

flowing and falling, and

offering a drink

to the just and the unjust alike.

harsh gifts

 

dscf0281After that morning of sheltering warmth, we filled our bellies with lunch and the belly of the furnace with logs*, then set out into the biting cold to trek across the expanse of the frozen lake to the island. The gusting wind was driving the snow across our path and into our faces like dry sand in the desert, turning the sky in front of us as at times as white as the snow beneath out feet. It was fabulous.

Fabulously wild and alive.

But looking out the window at that rising wind before our departure, I’d felt something quite the opposite. Uncertainty -about the wisdom of setting out into the open and that frigid wind, anxiety -that it would be painful to be pelted by those blasts of driven snow. I admit it would have been a quick and easy ‘yes’ had my friend extended the invitation to stay indoors for the afternoon. Instead, she’d said, “Shall we go out?” and I chose to trust her.

But then I’d have never known the exhilaration of standing in the center of that windswept frozen lake, gazing down its length toward the remembered enchantment of the summer bogs I’d paddled last summer, now buried in the ice and snow. I’d not have realized how the patterns that the wind draws in the snow are the same ones she draws in the hot sands of the desert. I’d not have known the beauty of the glowing sun creating an aurora in the midst of all that gray, nor appreciated the resilience and the strength of my own body.

Back on the mainland, we made our way up the ridge behind the cabins, through balsam, birch and hardwoods, to the rise overlooking the lake, which appeared to be a swath of white draped like a sheet over the contours of the land.  Where the melting snow had seeped over the edge of those granite ledges, great cascades of frozen icicles offered us a sip of mineral-laced goodness. We snapped ourselves a piece to partake in an unnamed and unspoken, spontaneous ritual of natural communion with each other and with the earth. Each of us taking in the preciousness of simple life-giving gifts. Water and Ice.

In the dwindling light of the day, we completed the daily chores, loading the wheelbarrow with the heavy logs from the wood shed and hauling them to the rack by the front door and into the furnace in the basement.  We dragged the garbage out by sled to the dumpster along the main road, pushed the hand plow to clear a path for my car in the morning. It was heavy work, and by now my body felt good and tired (emphasis on the good).  I found myself reveling in the physical understanding that life is sometimes supposed to be hard and heavy.  

My friend had told me the stories of two separate women who had moved to the lake when they were in their 50’s or 60’s, into cabins without running water and electricity, had lived there year round until the last year or so. Now in their mid 70’s, they no longer haul what they need across the lake in their toboggans, no longer melt bucketfuls of snow for the water they need, feed their stoves with piles of logs for warmth throughout the long winter. My friend said one of the women had told her that the first 2 years of living there, she was weary all the time. I wondered about the discoveries she made about herself.

Later that evening over dinner, my friend and I picked up the thread of a conversation we had been weaving during our time together. We’d been wondering a lot about the ways that our seeming ability (or desire) to choose for or against almost anything in our modern world is affecting our humanity.  We want to believe we should be able to control what we allow into our lives – whether or not to get married, whether or not to have children,  whether or not we should be allowed to live in a certain place or a certain way, whether or not to (you fill in the blank)… whether or not even to live or to die. We were pondering how confusing (or paralyzing) all that choice must be on one hand, how diminishing of life it is on the other.  We thought that perhaps it might have been better when things were simply given, when Life happened to us, when More was beyond our ability to either choose or to control, or when Life sometimes simply said, “No”.  For life to be fabulously wild and alive with unknown potentials.

I thought about some of my own wild places, when life happened to me in ways that I could not stop, in ways I might not have entered into voluntarily had I had the choice…. a pregnancy at 16 that thrust my life into unchartered and unexpected terrain, the breakup of the ice that was a twenty year marriage and the flooding devastation that entailed….the coming face-to-face with a predator….

When the landscape of our life is suddenly buried in feet of snow and the winds are gusting harshly, we have few choices. We could perhaps hibernate, if we have the means to survive long stretches without bringing in fresh nourishment, or we could gather ourselves and head out across the frozen land in search of food. If we choose the second, we just might be surprised at how resilient and strong and capable we are, at how beautiful is the world just outside the door behind which we have kept ourselves closed off, at the remarkable ways we can learn to keep ourselves warm even when the world seems frigid, and at how the very thing we were most afraid that we would find painful or impossible is instead frightfully enlivening and astonishingly beautiful.

When the wildness of life is allowed to have its transformative ways with us, when we have no choice but to surrender to it, we grow in previously inconceivable ways. What we can imagine from a place of inexperience cannot even begin to comprehend how that unknown experience will change us, how we will learn -to love, to survive, to thrive, how we will be broken open, how we will become stronger and softer, wiser and paradoxically, freer. Humans really do need life be bigger than our small selves. We need the elements to loom large and wild, we need moments when we are brought to our knees before Life, when we have no choice but to submit to the mystery of the unknown, to trust in Her when she says, ‘Shall we go out?”

 

  • rereading these entries this evening, I am struck by the times I used the word  ‘belly’… filling our bellies with warm oatmeal, with lunch, the belly of the furnace with wood… for these were the days of Imbolc, unacknowledged by me consciously at the time, which is sometimes translated as ‘stirring in the belly’, a time of noticing what is awakening … seeds in the earth, snakes and groundhogs from their winter’s sleep, lambs in the bellies of the ewes… how wonderful is that?

 

 

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