Signs and Synchrony

Diary 7/11/19

I know this post is longer than usual, but I wanted to share further ripples from my retreat with the signs and synchrony I saw. Human beings are pattern makers. We connect dots of everything from stars in the sky, to the implications of Chinese fortune cookies. We may or may not take them seriously, but it seems to be a way that we endeavor to make personal sense out the vast impersonal universe in which we find ourselves. I no longer question, “Where did this come from? What does it mean? How did this happen? Is it real?” The experience of honoring my response is enough. It takes me out of the logical concrete world and opens my intuition and imagination alongside my left brain dominion. I don’t know that there are answers to those questions, or if there need to be any. I more easily allow myself to be tickled or touched or grateful as “messages”appear before me.

July 4th, with backyard fireworks taking up airspace all day and into the night, was when animals at the retreat center began to show themselves to me. Because I could not traverse their territory out of doors, they had to make themselves known to me through windows. That day, I had a conversation with Richard; my first. I have not sought out such communication, it simply arose in my mind and I chose to listen. He teased me by saying, “What? Did you think that just because you have a body and I don’t, that we are separated? Remember what Emilia wrote down for me to give to you when I was still in the hospital, when I could hardly retain coherent language, let alone hold what I had just said?”

This is what he dictated for her to put down on paper: “Adoration for my Beloved, I am always with you. I will always be with you. Forever. Thank you so much my darling. I’m here with you forever.”

I told him that, no, I hadn’t forgotten. I keep that paper and its sentiments as a treasured gift. He replied, “ Well, it is real, I am here with you and always will be. I know you can feel my love right now.”

I put down my pen and sat still again. There it was, a warm, visceral sensation in my heart. The sensation of warmth and heart feelings expanded and swelled until my whole body felt like I was immersed in a warm bath of love. I thanked him for this physical reminder and we went on to speak of other things. He said he had been learning how to appear as animals in the embodied world, and assured me he was going to visit me soon. Speaking of bodies, I told him I was having a hard time with my body at this retreat. It was also unpleasant to be the only one who showed their infirmities, whereas at the Care Center at Kendal, I am one of many. Here at the retreat, people would wince as they saw me struggle to get up from a table and were always rushing to open doors for me or take my food tray to the kitchen for cleanup. My pride was a little aggravated by all this solicitous attention.

Richard reminded me that I owed my life to the kindness of strangers. When I was born eleven days after my father died, my grandmother took me to live with her on Long Island for a year or so. My mother, with my three and five year old brothers, returned from Kansas to live in Woodstock, N.Y., the summer home of her teenage years. My grandmother had poor health and the neighbors across the street, in the upstairs apartment, and friends across the hall, often took care of me each time she fell ill. Richard’s reminder helped me to readily thank those long gone strangers by more graciously receiving the help of those who were caring for me in the present.

When all was quiet within me again, I went downstairs to sit before the open windows of the library room outside the dining hall. I still felt embraced by Richard-love and sat quite still until I had a nudge to open my eyes. Immediately one of the resident does ran across the front of the building and away into the woods. I closed my eyes, and again came the nudge. A squirrel ran up the trunk of a tree and out on to the end of the branch directly in front of me. I chuckled as he stared at me for a few minutes before he turned tail, ran down the trunk and ran back up to stare at me all over again. “OK, Richard, I see you,” I thought.

I went into our silent dinner, and afterwards did a double take as I saw something large and brown outside of a glass door on the way back to my room. It was a doe, lying on a patch of tall ornamental grasses, planted to block our inside view of two electrical transformer boxes facing the parking lot. She also stared directly at me, poised for flight. But she didn’t stir. I tried not to have predatory eyes in gazing back at her. Then I saw her mouth was slightly open and she was panting. I saw her entire belly rolling and realized she was in early stage labor. Her teats were swollen, and when not staring at me, was lifting her back leg up to lick at herself. Richard and I had birthed enough lambs together to know a laboring ungulate when I see one. I kept telling her, over the ten minutes we were communing, that she had to find another place for giving birth. “I know there are fireworks going off all around here. It seems safe behind those boxes and on this grass, but this is also a place where many humans traverse every day. It is too exposed for you. Please move on now.” She looked at me intensely, shook herself, and bounded off into the woods.

Touched by that encounter, I went back to my room. Immediately, as I sat down in my meditation chair by the windows, a female cardinal perched on the closest branch and looked at me, one eye at a time. When she flew off, two American goldfinches alighted next. Their feathered sunshine danced and flittered together until they both stopped to gaze back at my laughing face. When they departed I felt thoroughly in touch with Richard.

I only looked at my phone now and then to check the time and eliminate too many emails from piling up to answer on my return. To cap off these these animal encounters, there was an email from Dennis, our good friend, and a Jungian oriented sand-play child therapist, sending me a chapter that he was dedicating to Richard from his new book. This chapter was about encounters with Pan, the wild element in us all, and how Dennis works with panic attacks that he has helped so many children resolve.

Dennis and Richard had gone on a trip to Tuscany together years ago. I think he said to me they had climbed some hills and crossed fields to find a spring burbling up. They were delighted to happen upon it until they realized that the hoof-prints all around it were those of wild boars. It was, according to Dennis, “the hour of Pan”, and they beat a respectful retreat. Make of it what you will, but for me, these overlaps of my world and the animals around me deepened my sense of physical communion with Richard.

In my second floor bedroom, there were two, side by side 3’x8′ windows. They looked directly into a cluster of very tall Balsam fir trees, maybe 80-90 feet tall. Two different thunderstorms invoked such intense downdrafts that they set these giant standing people into visual chaos before me. I felt seasick as both the vertical and horizon planes of my ordered world were thrashed violently with the arms of massive green carwash rags on my windshield. Accompanied by rollicking thunder and lightning, I could not help but regard these trees with awe.

One night, just before I climbed into bed, I was thinking those trees were like Christmas trees with post doctoral degrees. Not only do balsam firs have that classic curved-up bough design, but instead of tinsel or glass icicles, these had slender green pinecones hanging down to decorate their branches. Just then, a firefly slammed into my window with a single blip of light. I looked out, and there were a dozen fireflies zooming up into the deepening dusky green depths. Now the trees were completely decorated with blinking lights. A Christmas treat delight in July.

Miracles? No. But surely a result of slowing way down and paying attention to my one amazing world.

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Falling in Love

Diary 7/10/19

I am back from my silent retreat. More of that below. My younger daughter is 33 years old today. Amazing. We had a psychic friend who channeled a delightful entity named Emmanuel. Our friend gave us a reading the first week we brought Marion home from the hospital after her traumatic life and death birth and Emmanuel told us, “An altar for your faith is born.” Marion was certainly a family life-changer for Richard and me and her older sister. As her biological challenges (mild brain damage, Autistic Spectrum Disorder, epilepsy) were slowly revealed to us throughout her childhood, we found our own vulnerabilities and strengths to support and learn and love her through her struggles. Love’s altar has been a beautiful one, and today Marion lives independently with aid from a variety of agencies. She paints extraordinarily colorful and fantastical images, and finds her life full and under her control. We communicate daily through video cyberspace, and that makes it tolerable for me that she is still in N.Y. state while her sister and I are now in Ohio. Happy Birthday, my dear, wise daughter.

My week of silence was wonderful. It is not easy to put into words such an internal non-verbal experience. There was one day of signs and synchronicity which is easier to share which perhaps will show up in my next post.What I can say about the rest of my time is to acknowledge the spiritual muscularity it requires to face yourself honestly, minute after minute, hour by hour, and day after day. It evokes exactly what you can imagine of listening to and observing all the subtleties of your personality. The thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and sensations fly by and you can pack heaven and hell into the space of an hour, let alone during the long, dark mysteries of the night. Navigating this in a context of healing, of the longing to be whole, brings you to face to face with the need to surrender a lot of what you thought necessary to defend yourself from the world “out there.” Instead, you find the startling lack of difference between “in here” and “out there.”

Many hours of intermittent deep peace and joy balanced the work with suffusions of stillness in mind and heart. This Jesuit retreat facility itself was lovely in all ways. It was spacious and comfortable. With 57 acres surrounding the main building, it is an ideal location for a retreat center on the west side of Cleveland. Every window looked out into greenery of forest, field, lawn, or landscaped areas.There were pathways that led all over; to a grotto here, statues there, with many benches and even a fountain dedicated to forgiveness. Though I could not go far away with my rollator, my fellow retreatants would disappear outdoors flowing in every direction, with journals and backpacks to sustain them on their journeys.

By the fountain, there was a plaque with the following quote on it. It summarizes my own discoveries of finding out that I have recommitted to live in one world where the sacred and mundane are one and the same. Staying in love is my chosen work.

Fall in Love

Attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ (1907-1991)

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

From Finding God in All Things: A Marquette Prayer Book © 2009 Marquette University. Used with permission.

Richard’s Birthday

6/24/19

Today is Richard’s Birthday

Entering this day

through the womb

of his memory

is painful

as all births are

I draw my first breath

and another

and another

the day is manifestly

beautiful

as every day is

were I to always

treasure breathing

on my own.

The day unfolded sweetly from the first thing in the morning poem above; with loving support from family and friends near and far. I am held and loved and swaddled in kindness. Gratitude for what is, nourishes and comforts me. I am truly blessed in both my sorrow and my community.

Water and Spaciousness

The pond at Buttonbush Bridge is a magnet for me. My friend, Linda, and I are going to spend a week in silence during the first week of July at a nearby Jesuit retreat center. I am drawn into silence more and more deeply as the time approaches. I have done ten day word-fast retreats in groups before and with Richard from time to time, but this is the fist time I am going only with one friend to a place neither of us have been. Since we declined their proffered religious instruction, we will be totally on our own, in our private side by side rooms, sharing silent meals with others. Linda and I have yet to sit down to make loose plans together.

There are beautiful grounds surrounding the facility, with woodland trails that I doubt I will be able to access using only my rollator for stability. We need to agree on signs- Do you want to walk outside after lunch? Do you want to sit together this afternoon? Do you/I need a hug if we are stuck and are going through a hard time? How are you doing?

My personal choices for myself abound as well. Hopefully the facility will respect my vegetarian- no gluten diet as they indicated, and I don’t need to bring any food. My biggest focus for this retreat is about releasing the wordsmith in my brain. I’d like to get to a point where I can sustain longer periods of time without words constantly naming, labeling, judging, reporting, and shaping my experience. That is a real challenge for the writer in me.

We all have quiet moments after vigorous activities, both mental but especially physical, when we lean on our rake, or knees, or desk, and simply stare out into the space around us. We are not particularly focused on anything, we just allow the quiet reflective moment to be. We don’t have to report to anyone but ourselves in those times. They are restful and nourishing and complete in and of themselves.

Meditation is like that for me. Lately, I find that as I practice sitting in meditation, I am less and less interested in the thoughts that stream by. They are there, but I am on a different wavelength below them. If I am caught by a daydream, I find I am simply less concerned about how it turns out, and drop it like Alkaseltzer into a glass of water. The fizz doesn’t even grab me anymore. The sound track dissipates into silence.

For that reason, sitting by the pond is as close as I can get to an open sky, gentle stillness, and absorption in something other than myself. It only takes a few minutes to get my “pond eyes” working. There are no big dramas; only very small ones that are revealed as I become more still.

Buttonbush Bridge Pond

Bodiless swans

feather the breeze

cottonwood tree puffs

skid along the surface

edging delicately down

to the algae mats

Small birds appear to

walk on green carpets

fluttering along twigs jutting up

between water soaked roots

A single frog glurks

another croaks repetitively

triggering a belching circumference

amphibian territories

rounding off into silence

Ripples

subterranean turtles

water striders

the swift dip of a bird wing

gentle circles of doomed cottonwood seeds

Like a watercolor painting

stillness beneath

blends

stillness within

I take the landscape with me when I go.

Having and Losing

Diary 6/13/19

I have exciting news! I am now a grandmother-to-be. My daughter and son-in-law’s baby boy will be born around December 20th. It is a time of awe and urgent patience. Waiting is not the right label for this state of hope. Time will invisibly unfold its wings, cell by cell, revealing a human child when the stars, the hormones, and my professor daughter’s semester is over on December 12th. If the little feller bides his time, she will somehow get all of her grading done before his arrival. She can only plan so much in advance, tailoring her syllabuses accordingly.

I am gaining a new role to play, one which I have long desired. My eyes have been misting over beautiful baby clothes in catalogues for the last twenty years. The entry of a new family member into our midst is as astonishing to me as it is to every family. The continuity of emerging generations is becoming more palpable as I age. I know of my recent ancestors and a smattering about more distant ones, but living with three generations is something to experience. Plenty of my friends here at Kendal are great-grandparents. My own grandmother got to hold both of my daughters before she died. Photographs are faded proof.

Did you know? Because a female fetus is born with all the eggs she will ever have in her small ovaries, when I carried my daughter, she already held the egg which is now becoming her son. So he was potentially there inside of me as well. This biological connection helps to underscore the powerful thread of family bonding, partially constructed of mothers and daughters and eggs. Of course fathers have their own paternal bonds, DNA and otherwise, and I am so grateful this child is born in the time of equal co-parenting.

Which leads me to the losing that is happening simultaneously with the having of such wonderful news. Richard so looked forward to being a grandfather. He always operated within long arcs of time. He anticipated sharing his loves and passions with the next generation on our sixty acres of land. He wanted to share his love of the earth with gardening, animals, and farming. His love of skiing, hiking, and riding, and his love of the arts would have been communicated in his wanting to discover and support whatever his grandson would come to love. As a therapist, Richard was steeped in the wonder of connecting early childhood development through the adult stories people told of their lives. It was a miracle of love to him; unraveling the wounds of the past to better heal the pain carried forward into the present. To share in the earliest journeys of evolving personhood with a grandson would have been a great blessing.

Since my son-in-law also lost his father in childhood, this child will not have a living blood relative grandfather. I will not have a partner to share this new role with. My daughter and I both feel a tinge of sorrow concurrent with our joy. The early factors of my grandson’s life are already being written. The state of our country and our threatened world is part of his story. I can only imagine what his generation will face and what his contribution will be. What will be called forth from all the new members of society as humanity faces our dire legacies?

The upcoming dates of Father’s Day and Richard’s birthday heighten our nostalgia in this month. Already my unborn grandchild heralds the unity of having and losing, joy and sorrow, and the reality of Love. A new being to love is coming soon to a screen very near and dear to me.

The Daisy Masacree

Diary 6/1/19

It was a “massacree”, as Arlo Guthrie called it in his famous Thanksgiving Day talking blues song. This was a slaughter of the flowers in my tiny garden beneath one window. I heard this morning at breakfast that I was not the only one to have lost their plants. This doesn’t make me feel any better. Everybody’s gardening work was whipped down by an ill informed wielder of the weed whacker from the grounds staff. In my case, we are talking daisies and day lilies, quite common flowers, and considered weeds in some places. I chose them carefully from the plant sale precisely because they are hardy, and need little to no care. Their nature is to spread rampantly over the years and that was also my intent for their future.

To me, those plants represented hours of investment. I dreamed a small garden into a possibility by buying a few necessary tools and bringing over my hardy Swedish outdoor walker (Veloped) from Emilia’s house. This has large wheels designed to travel over grass and woodland paths. I purposefully strained my legs and back by getting the flower bed ready, transplanting the plants, watering them and keeping my eyes and heart on them many times a day. I got permission from the nurses to occasionally deactivate the alarm on a door leading outside that is meant to prevent wandering residents with memory issues from disappearing. It opens directly onto the outdoor cement patio where I store my Veloped and tools. It is only fifteen feet away, as the rollator rolls, from there to my patch of earth. I considered the subsequent stress on my body as “functional PT”. From this experiment, I learned that I would recover from each round of gardening in a couple of days. This is a positive new development in my reaction to inflammation.

The daisies were just starting to bloom: three, count them, three! were already open. I walked back across the hall from our breakfast eatery and my jaw literally dropped in shock to find them gone. I made fast tracks (for me) down the halls and round about outside to find the unwitting culprit and not in anger, but in sorrow, to let him know what he had inadvertently done. He was clearly ignorant of plants altogether to not have noticed how carefully spaced my babies were, with no other weeds around them. To him, he saw only juniper bushes and some random green stuff in between that had to go. He looked stricken as he heard me out. Back in my room, I saw few minutes later that the head of grounds was there with him and I spoke to her through my open window staring down at the now barren dirt.

She apologized for not instructing Mr. Weedwhacker better and said she would have the plants replaced next week. When I heard others in the apartments on the other end of this main building had sadly complained of similar destruction, I realized this young man had blundered his way through the morning. Well. Obviously, this is no terrible tragedy. It is merely the loss of my anticipated pleasures. I already had the satisfaction of a job well done, as the plants were clearly going to thrive in their relocation. I will enjoy their relatives when they arrive, and presumably the young man in question will have gained some knowledge, and/or, someone better equipped will take over weed whacking.

All spiritual practices warn of worldly attachment, which does not mean that we shouldn’t love our lives and all that we encounter. Rather, it is to remind us that nothing is permanent. I love the Buddhist saying, “The cup is already broken.” To fully live this concept means that we can choose to deeply invest our love and enjoyment of everything and everyone, right now. The objects of our love will not last. Nothing does. Above all, it is only love itself that endures. Because my garden was decimated on the anniversary eve of my life at Kendal, the incident momentarily triggered my far more serious loss of husband and home. By the afternoon, I managed to incorporate the whole experience and let it go. I wasted nothing in creating my small nursery- soon -to- bloom garden. We come and we go in our seasons. May we learn to passionately love them all in the time we are given.

Veils and Luminescence

Diary 5/31/19

It has been a year since my trek from Woodstock, N.Y. to Oberlin, OH. Tomorrow marks the anniversary of my arrival at Kendal at Oberlin. This calendar event weighs both heavily and lightly in my thoughts. It is a safe and lovely haven for docking my small boat. The burden of sailing through grief and loss, anchors the memory in my being. Sparkling new revelations were also stirred in the wake of a broken heart that shone in the water like luminescent plankton. My past was torn up, shredded, and tossed on the Ohio waters like confetti. My daughters and son-in-law were my steady pilots in the initial transition. They supported me in each their own ways, and were in my daily concerns as my daughters also acquired new lives as fatherless young women. Our family reconfigured in benign paths that we are still co-creating to our mutual benefits.

At Kendal, I have been met creatively on every front. Writing, performing, singing, dancing, meditating, and supporting others as I am supported, engages and nourishes me in ways that I have not been for many long years. Since my laminoplasty, I am now moving towards greater mobility with good help from my Physical Therapy team. After working with me twice every week for this whole year, they know me well. They truly rejoice in my slow but steady recovery.

I miss my N.Y. friends often but, I find new friendships the more I participate in any of the committees that are the internal backbone of this sprawling organization. I recently became a member of the Quiet Room committee. In my overflowing grief on the first week I arrived, I was surprised to discover that there wasn’t a non-denominational chapel or quiet room where I could retreat. The old one had been absorbed into a new wing built specifically for those residents with dementia. Six years later, a committee has been formed to address this glaring lack. It is finally “in the 2019 budget”; magic words that speak to manifesting a designated calm space for staff, residents, and grieving families coming to be with their loved one approaching death.

With six other women, it was a pleasure to arrive at a consensus, which is the Quaker way of conducting all business. We were given someone’s former office to make a practical, but comforting room. We chose a soothing paint color, and new carpeting and furniture. We await fabric swatches for our chosen seating that is neither too high, too deep, or too difficult to get into and out of for our eldering bodies. All accommodations were duly noted, and no wheelchairs were harmed in the making of this quiet movie.

I am on other committees as well, and just agreed to join a brand new one initiated by a new resident- the wildlife committee. Not everyone thinks of benign solutions concerning squirrels, rabbits, goose poop producers, and so on. There already is an Arboretum committee, as our Kendal grounds are officially an arboretum. No one needs to begin a Lorax (Dr. Seuss reference) committee to speak for the trees. I have a dawn redwood tree outside one of my windows. It is fully leafed out in its frothy delicate way. It will be here long, and very tall, after I am gone, perhaps even after this building is gone. At the moment, my imported cement frog and turtle, dubbed, “The Aquanauts” by my family and friends from N.Y., rest beneath its branches. I looked out the window the other morning and did a double take as a mourning dove folded her feathers and lay down on the turtle’s back, covering him completely. Perhaps she enjoyed the radiant heat. She was still there when I left for lunch.

This last month has been a veiled time of remembrance, grief, and gratitude. The acute pain of my losses has dulled, as it must. The waters are stilled and more placid. My senses are less vivid as the flow of life inevitably carries me along into the larger pond. I am not exactly waiting for whatever comes next. It will come whether I will it to, or not. I am endeavoring to simply be open and ready and led into the unknown by this new year of life at Kendal, my home.