Acceptance

Diary 12/5/18

The following is used as part of the 12-Step program of recovery in Al-Anon that my friend printed out for me. “Acceptance…I must always remember: Life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% how I choose to react to life….How can I treat others with acceptance, tolerance, and love? Am I accepting myself and others as we are? How?”

Acceptance is right up there with forgiveness as a most basic, difficult practice of the human condition.

You can’t have one without the other. It is also foundational to growth. Unless I know the chemical nature of my soil (highly acidic in the Catskills where I did many years of gardening) I shouldn’t be surprised when plants requiring a more alkaline environment wither and die on me. If I insist they should and do not accept the reality, I will experience a distressing loss every time. Accepting what I deem unacceptable requires a lot of introspection. Once the ranting, blaming, self -pitying, temper tantrum subsides, I am left with what is, and how to accept it. It may be that much harder if I experience painful unjust results caused by someone other than myself. I have often told the following story to past clients.

Good friends once invited Richard and me over for a late afternoon of extended appetizer nibbles. Their son, who used to be in the nursery school I ran, came home from public school, sobbing. He rushed through the door and flung himself into his father’s lap. I knew him as a very bright, sensitive, and charismatic child. He also insisted on finding the one disruptive thing he could do in my classroom almost every day and because he was a natural leader, he could throw our small community into an uproar in minutes. He had a cherubic innocent face with twinkling blue eyes and by the time he went on to kindergarten, we had learned to resolve these incidents with greater finesse on both sides.

When he had calmed down enough to speak, his father asked him what had happened. “ The teacher said,” he gulped out, “that if one more person spoke out of turn there would be no outdoor recess today. And somebody did, and it wasn’t me!” His father held him some more and then said softly, “ Yes, well, sometimes life isn’t fair.” His son pulled back with eyes wide open in astonishment. “ If life isn’t fair, then I don’t want to be here!” he wailed.

I have never forgotten that moment. He was me, and is all of us, recognizing for the first time, that life is not run on our personal rules of fairness. I have experienced this truth countless times and it always requires serious introspection. “Am I accepting myself and others as we are? How?” Those are the questions that lead to resolution. That is the way to acceptance and the peace that arises when we see our way clear past the immediate distress. It is easy to write these words, even to know for sure it is the only choice, yet for me, I still require rehashing a well worn cycle before I find rest in this new circumstance and do the inner work.

The first question goes further, “How can I treat others with acceptance, tolerance, and love?”

Starting with acceptance, that next step is how can I also tolerate the ongoing problem? How might I need to shift my own participation in this interaction? Do I need to find new healthy boundaries? Do I need to speak out in a way to promote better understanding with positive criticism? Do I see how this may be a familiar pattern from my past? Can I lower my demanding expectations of how it should be? Can I allow others their differences in good grace? Can I see the human beings beneath the drama?

Finally, can I treat others with love? Ultimately, following this inquiry to its inevitable conclusion leads to love. Loving ourselves for being in this unacceptable predicament, no matter how we ended up there, is paramount. Once we find we are always lovable, love naturally flows out again towards others.

It is fierce work but Love is always the unending recovered treasure that awaits us.

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December 1, 2018

The last month of the year of 2018 has begun. It is strangely difficult to imagine letting it go, because Richard was still alive in this year. He was in the process of dying, but in December of 2017 he read “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” to me and Len and Marion after Christmas dinner. He insisted he wanted to even though he was nearly blind. He did OK speaking the lush language. With forty years of repetition he could step into the well worn footprints of the Welsh snow. Those he could summon in his clouded brain. Marion and I glanced at one another when he missed key sentences but we listened intently as well. It was clear to us this would be his last reading. I briefly thought of recording him, wishing we had thought to record him when he was fully present. I dismissed the idea knowing that preserving this phase of his decline was not something we wanted to keep for the future.

By January 2018 he was in the hospital more than he was home. We were hoping that by allowing the doctors to administer full brain radiation this would slow down the cancer cells flowing freely in his cerebral spinal fluid. The lymphoma was busy finding more homes within the nooks and crannies of his brain. The oncologist thought mostly it would offer relief from spinal pain (it did) and that it would help to sustain more mental clarity (it didn’t). As I have written before, that man, Richard, that I loved so well, was no longer here, even though his fading body and mind still occupied the hospital bed of our rental house living room. Relating to his body, altered as it was, kept him anchored in our world with us for twelve more precious days once he was released from the hospital.

Through a psychic friend after his death, it was comforting to hear him ‘say’ to me, that “the bull needed to move aside so that my  lamb could step in.” We all have different aspects of our personality. Richard was so deeply loving and kind but he was also stubborn and willful. Naming the bull was very specific and it is true, that he was also an utterly sweet, endearing lamb the more the brain tumors eradicated his executive function. I watched him become wide open and without boundaries as the end drew near. His body would jerk if someone opened the door to the kitchen at the far end of the house. I could barely hear them entering but his sense of the change in atmosphere was instantaneous. That is why we were so blessed by his bevy of caretakers. If we had someone with an abrasive personality it would have troubled him greatly. Instead we got angels.

Music particularly ran through his body like wine. You could see his nervous system responding to the words or rhythm whenever someone sang to him, which we all did in our own way. We could feel the mutuality of exchange whether his body or voice was visibly or audibly participating or not. The psychic also reported he said the he had been hyper aware, with the left side of the brain diminishing as the right side opened up to where he was going. Whether that is truth that was channeled or not does not trouble me. I have no need to confirm the unknowable in rational terms. Articulating the omnipresent infinite cannot be accomplished, certainly not by me.

Again and again, I can say from my experience, I saw that Richard was Love itself and that I now know that we all are. It has nothing to do with our belief systems. I cannot ever un-know this perception of our human selves. It was a great gift that Richard bestowed on me. The loss of the bull is something we will all experience in unique ways. The presence of the lamb will step forward when we, too, move aside into Love. I know he is Love in 2019 and forever. The 2018 calendar is in *Kronos time. Kairos time offers me an additional perspective.

*Kronos: the Greek god of linear time

*Kairos: Kronos’ grandson of the eternal now

Seven Billion Hearts

11/29/18

Yesterday was another ‘first’ of tough days because it was Emilia’s birthday. We both missed Richard fiercely; me, the co-parent of this first-born daughter; her, the father of her life. Emilia looked up his birthday email to her from last year, when he was already very compromised in comprehension and focus. He was in denial about the reality of his losses and wasn’t able to process in rational ways. He didn’t know that he was three months away from death. But his email was crystal clear about how much he loved her on so many levels. It made us both weepy to reread his sweet words of love.

I slept better last night after a day that became too busy for me to handle gracefully. I got 6 hours in a row! which was a minor miracle after a week of choppy dozing that passed for a night’s sleep. Pushing myself onto a hamster wheel of unending practical accomplishments, I felt pressed for time yesterday, determining that I had to race endlessly on. Which of course, I cannot do well. I summoned old habits that have apparently not died off from lack of use, as my body/energy continues to fail. I easily summoned that anxious, pushy Judi who I have not revisited for some time. I claim her as my little sister, giving her loving boundaries. She was dragging me along behind her on a long rope of fear, afraid to stop and feel sorrow. Finally, her exhausted little fists unclenched, letting the burden go.

I am learning to tolerate my breaking heart though I still construct sturdy dams against the pain. The pressure builds, my defenses collapse, and finally I overflow with tears. Great emotion pours out. I find myself open to more love both entering in and shining out. I am awash in love. This is a gift of grief. Death and loss break our hearts open over and over again until we accept that this is essential to living the fullness of human experience. No wonder we fear death. Each piece of defense crumbles away until our very identity is subsumed, while our hearts remain wide open. Recognizing this cycle, and allowing it to run its course, is something I am gaining some conscious control over; death defies any control.

If I insist that there must be a way to cut off this painful half of being human, I create more suffering. I suffer “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” as a woman who is cleaved from her real being. This role eventually becomes too heavy to hold; the burden unbearable. I crave the refuge and relief that comes from being whole again. I see more clearly that this is a drama co-authored by me.

There are more and more times when I know I am the author, the actor, and the unchanging stage upon which the play is enacted. There is a new self-abiding that I repeatedly lose, but find, and am found by, in intimate moments of awareness. It arises not because I am trying to escape the pain, but because I am learning to unlock the door and put out a welcome mat for it instead.

Many upcoming rituals and holidays will celebrate the return of light to our corner of the darkening earth. The vast cosmic dance toward and away from the sun echoes the drama of humanity. We swing towards and away from the light we crave and the black empty space we so fear. Seven billion of us co-create and co-author this miracle of the world we inhabit. Seven billion of us long for “the peace that surpasses all understanding.”* May we find the wholeness that we already are, in seven billion moments of the infinite now.

*Philippians 4:7

Stuff

Thanksgiving is early this year. Which means that commercial Christmas is, too. Besieged earlier by endless election ads, we apparently now require ads to boost our need to buy and give more stuff.

Richard’s folks lived in Florida and when they both passed, family members requested various favorite pieces of artwork and furniture which were sent all over the country. The larger items Richard and I chose arrived via a moving company owned by Russians. When they trundled up our steep driveway, I gladly received them, relieved they found their way up our winding mountain road in New York state. The team of efficient young men spoke no English but the boss/driver did, a little. I directed them up and down the stairs by vigorously pointing, “Here! Careful with that! No, outside on the deck!” and other helpful gestured advice. When it was all done, the driver came up to me with the receipt. I wrote him a check and he said very seriously with a heavy accent, “ Enchoy your stooff.”

It was delivered in such a sober tone that afterwards it struck me hard. I didn’t ever consider us as ‘wealthy’ but compared to many we were. He didn’t actually say,” Oh you rich Americans with all your crap, you hardly have room for what you already own.” Maybe it wasn’t even implied. He might have simply used that simple English phrase with all of his clients. The truth is that there were many things we inherited that we didn’t need, but rather accumulated out of nostalgia. Some of those things I still have, some of those things my daughters have, and most has been auctioned off for an unknown somebody else to ‘enchoy’.

‘Downsizing’ is a familiar phrase at Kendal. Everybody here left behind their former lives, professions, and many possessions. We brought only what could fit into a cottage, or an apartment, or in my case, a single room. It is a familiar phrase to all of my aging friends as they are contemplating the approach of the inevitable move from their current homes. We all have more than enough stuff to see us through our elder years. Sometimes I still think, “Whatever happened to the St. Francis tile Richard bought in Italy? I thought I kept that.” Perhaps it is still in an unopened box in Emilia and Zoran’s attic. Or perhaps, in the chaos of leaving my life in Bearsville behind, it is on someone else’s shelf.

If it doesn’t appear, I will say goodbye to it again in my mind. I still have my grandmother’s small wooden statue of him here on my windowsill. I love to watch the birds on the bush outside my window over his shoulder with the little birds carved there. I know this was bought by my grandmother in Assisi. It is enough of a reminder for me to love who this saint is storied to have been. I don’t actually need the tile. Richard’s life with me is everywhere in tangible form; from the leather chairs he had in his Manhattan office, to the small earring tree he and Emilia at age four built for my birthday. And in a moment of grief inspired clutching, I kept the last pair of pajamas that he bought before his final trip to the hospital. He wore them maybe once. They are a masculine gray, have a button fly, and are a little too large. At the time it was clear I needed them as the packing ensued. And I do wear them. (You don’t have to picture that.)

More importantly, he is a presence whispering in my deep inner ears. I don’t worry any more if it is “him”, that human Richard I loved so well. I just let the whispers touch me, help me, love me whenever his voice appears. This is from an open letter to a fan that Nick Cave wrote about the death of his son. He speaks to this listening so beautifully.

I feel the presence of my son, all around, but he may not be there. I hear him talk to me, parent me, guide me, though he may not be there. He visits Susie in her sleep regularly, speaks to her, comforts her, but he may not be there. Dread grief trails bright phantoms in its wake. These spirits are ideas, essentially. They are our stunned imaginations reawakening after the calamity. Like ideas, these spirits speak of possibility. Follow your ideas, because on the other side of the idea is change and growth and redemption. Create your spirits. Call to them. Will them alive. Speak to them. It is their impossible and ghostly hands that draw us back to the world from which we were jettisoned; better now and unimaginably changed.”*

*I thank my cousin, Bob Barnett, for sending me this letter. He is another reconnected cousin from my father’s side of the family who sends me inspirational writings just when I need them.

 

Life with no Wings

I spoke to a couple of friends about my new relationship to experiencing memory loss. MS has already created my Swiss cheese brain, but this additional dreamy haze of the past has happened since Richard died. I asked my ninety-eight year old friend if she is also sees her past through a scrim as it continues to exist farther away in time. “Yes, but not when it comes to memories of my children. I also have photo albums to remind me.” I don’t look at photos yet. I am not sure I can bear it right now. For me, the metaphor of the old rug I trod so urgently every moment of my whirlwind focus on creating my identities as girlfriend, wife, mother, therapist, etc. is being rolled up behind me with every step forward I take. It is disorienting but happens with everyone as we age.

For me it was abruptly intensified due to losing Richard. He had long and deep memory skills. Old clients would be amazed if they met him on the street twenty years later. He’d ask, “How did your Aunt Sophie do? I remember she was your close adult ally as a child and how hard it was for you when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.” Clients would be astonished and clearly touched. He was also the ardent memory keeper of our relationship. His memories were embedded in all of the material possessions he acquired with each new enthusiasm he embraced; that tool, that hat, that horse bridle, was acquired on that day in that place and the sun was shining and it was on sale. He loved living here on earth in a palpable, sensate, way. He dove into everything that caught his attention with passion and intelligence.

I was never so fond of the earth plane and material items-  I was always hovering a little above it all trying to escape the suffering of my unstable childhood. I spent hours alone in the woods around our house being a fairy. I couldn’t escape on those tiny wings, of course. As I have learned to address each old wound through years of work in self- awareness, they have less hold on me and the need to escape seems less urgent. Tuesday’s miasma of suffering was a reversion to old habits inspired by new pain. But even as I fanned the misery flames, I knew I would have to relent and turn towards the pain of my body and soul. I knew it was a temporary delusion; that I was fighting against my current losses to no avail. As I am often heard saying these days, “You can’t fight reality. It always wins.” Like my friend Einer used to say, “Gravity. It’s the law.” True, that.

Accepting submission to reality as the last gasp of “NO!” passes my lips, is Grace. For me it is usually followed by tears of anger and/or sorrow. I release the physicality of denial, of holding back against the waves of emotion that emerge. Then I feel less full of Judi, and that emptiness allows a drop into the nourishment of Silence; as awareness of Being. There is a magnetic pull towards the depths, and my longing is met by an upwelling of peace that meets in the middle. I have this image similar to Michelangelo’s God and Adam, but reaching not to touch fingers, but to merge beings. That painting would show Awareness and the manifest earth plane as not two, but as one and the same. Being and being. In my mind’s eye the artist’s next painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, would be only a radiant fusion of light, as Adam grows up to know that he and his God are One.

Another friend reflected to me that I now seem less concerned with creating a new ego identity here at Kendal. I have been fueled by the adolescent drive to figure out who Judi is as I blundered about joining this writing group, petitioning to start meditation classes, establishing myself as a contributing performer to the community, and so on. It was a necessary step to find out who this individual woman was without Richard entwined in my every thought. That structure is established and more and more I can just show up so that life is living through me. The identity is mine and I like her. But she is already a bit dreamlike as I am invited to live more moment by moment. At any time I can always choose to pick up my troubles if I wish to. I am not less, but more, committed to being here in this world with no wings.

Counting my Losses

Yesterday I was counting all my losses, not my blessings. I nourished them tenderly all day long. I was miserable. The loss of Richard arose as unbearable loneliness. I seem to be in the middle of an MS exacerbation resulting in further loss of communication with my left leg. I am dragging it about lately. Despite an ongoing scheduling conflict that I could not resolve, I went to the first rehearsal for the Winter Solstice choir (assembled for the next big community wide celebration at Kendal) just to see what music they were learning. It was an impressive, diverse and complex selection. I am only a modest sight singing reader and many of those singers were, and still are, pros. They were terrific, the conductor was an enthusiastic force of musical nature (former professor of voice at Oberlin), and I realized I did not have the stamina required to challenge my brain and body and voice at that level anymore. Another loss that was sadly acknowledged on top of the rest of my losses.

What to do? My friend reminded me earlier that morning, that the first Noble Truth as stated by Buddha, is that mundane life is suffering, or Dukkha. Pain is pain, but suffering is caused by the very human tendency to reject it vehemently. I once wrote, “It is not easy to forgo suffering in the face of pain from … a chronic condition. Nor should you skip over it. It is an essential step in the journey to accepting pain for what it is (to embrace pain and work with it, not against it). We project endless suffering into the…future based on the fearful experiences of the past. Suffering cuts us off from the respite of … possibilities available in the moment. Learning to release suffering into original pain, brings us into reality, plain and simple. Life is no better or worse than what it is right now.”

Nice words, Judi, and the source of that wisdom was unavailable as long as I huddled inside my self-imposed dark cell. I came back to my room before dinner exhausted just from being an observer of the rehearsal where I had stumbled along, tracking the difficult (for me) musical scores. I found a small package waiting outside my door. A cousin of mine (John Moncure Wetterau), who I have not been in touch with for years, sent me a book of his poetry, Greeting Buddha. He had said he would send it to me after we had emailed each other around a larger family matter. He was in Greece at the time of our original communication, shortly to be on his way back to the States. I was as moved by the fact that he followed through with his offer as I was by his poetry. People often don’t take the time to put something in the mail when they say they will.

Greeting Buddha within me took the rest of the evening and well into the time before sleep. I was very entangled in my woes. I used every meditation tool l could think of. Finally I took Richard’s set of mala beads from the back of my bedstead, going around one hundred and eight times. I went first in one direction and then the other, over and over, making short prayers that were authentic to each round. After I could focus on genuinely praying for others, there was a crack of light as the cell door slowly swung open. I put the beads under my pillow and mercifully sleep arrived.

I wrote this chant some years ago and it was one of the tools I used to get me through until the new day.

In the dark before the dawn,

When I’m wandering all alone,

May I search for, may I find

A light to guide me home.

Hold to that light

Through the long night

Until my eyes

Bless the sunrise.

Death’s Bounty

I just finished work-shopping the sonnet I wrote for our poetry class. We followed the Shakespearean format,  of 10 syllables per line, the correct ABAB rhyme scheme in three quatrains and a finishing couplet.  It was daunting, impossible, until all a sudden it wasn’t and I “got ” it. Nobody in my class suggested any changes so here it is. It belongs to Halloween, the thinning of the veils between the worlds.

Death’s Garden; A Sonnet

by Judi Bachrach 10/22/18

Sitting alone at the top of my head,

The mind grasps at everything to mean something.

Tell me how to live now that he is dead!

My heart cries, keens, remembers how to sing.

 

The soil of pain breeds rich fertility.

The mind cannot comprehend the reason,

Wonders at its own inability,

To reap Love’s harvest from this dark season.

 

Death’s bounty brings me spaciousness at last,

Lets my mind rest inside the mystery.

The heart frees my thoughts from future and past.

A seed planted now creates history.

 

Life is the digging, love is the growing,

My soul flourishes in peace, Not Knowing.