The Mulching Machine

There’s a giant mulching machine parked outside my house, and the lovely smiling woman who operates it has invited me to bring the debris that has been clogging the air ducts of my home to her. She is beyond kind and understanding. You can leave it here, she tells me, we’ll mulch it, there is nothing that can’t be mulched, and you can use it to fill and cover that giant hole you keep falling into. And maybe with time, it’ll fill in enough to hold and nourish and keep moist some flowers and a nice little shade tree.

So I try it out, and little by little, the rooms of my house are being fed fresh air again. I’ve been building some new muscle too, carrying the debris out there.

Sometimes the short-term result of exposure to the pretty potent dust being stirred up has been deep, deep aching and swollen red eyes in the morning. Some of my dear friends have thought perhaps the debris, whatever its nature, better left in the ducts. But though it’s potent in the mulching process, it is all organic material, and perhaps not as potent as it might initially seem? Perhaps even less potent than left in the ducts? And besides, where would I live once all the fresh air has been cut off, and how will I ever have a party again without fresh air and heat flowing to all the rooms of my house?

When the ducts have been cleared and the mulching machine has moved on and the aching has receded I will water and enjoy the shade tree. I will enjoy the fresh air inside too, and perhaps have a party. And I will savour the image and words of the lovely woman who invited my offerings of ancient duct-blocking debris. She will remain forever etched in my memory as beautiful.

Mercy Now

surf 5

A warm summer night, a tiny venue, an adoring crowd. Outside the window, buckets of water pour from the sky, and a few claps of thunder loud enough to override the noise level indoors break through.

Inside—in addition to happy chatter, and later, magical music—are love and beauty, failure and heartbreak, all held in her soul, pouring out via her words and melodies into our souls, as we smiled and smiled, and, in some cases, wept.

Inside my being, the warm glow of what my family and friends and teachers give me. You’re big enough to hold it all, one of these told me again last week, you can be solidly anchored at any time; you need only remind yourself of this more faithfully and more deeply, to be prepared when the storms blow in.

It’s true, I know this. Haven’t we all weathered, over and over again, failure, illness, abandonment, the death of our dreams? And the smaller waves too, being judged, misunderstood, set aside; not being liked, not being wanted, not being respected?

Little squalls keep blowing in; the surf’s been unusually high these past few years. Breathe, I remind myself often, breathe. Surrender, detach, let go, expand, feel the wind at your back. There is no need for flailing and grasping, no room for judgment or condemnation or fear, only room for the truth, all of it. I don’t need to be all things to all people. I don’t need to be liked be everyone, nor to like everyone. I just am; they just are. My idea of what is just and fair may not be yours. I may not understand the ways you have found to survive; you may not understand mine. Your experience may be foreign to me, mine to yours.

And then, occasionally, there are those who—either because they have lived something similar, or because they are naturally highly empathetic, intuitive and brilliant—occasionally there are those who get it, and with whom conversation resonates deeply. These people are treasures.

Remember, I tell myself this morning, what Mary Gauthier sang deeply into our souls on Saturday, “Every living thing could use a little mercy now/only the hand of grace can end the race/towards another mushroom cloud/people in power, well/they’ll do anything to keep their crown/I love life, and life itself could use some mercy now. Yeah, we all could use a little mercy now/I know we don’t deserve it/but we need it anyhow/we hang in the balance/dangle ‘tween hell and hallowed ground/every single one of us could use some mercy now…”

We Dance

We DanceI have an 8 AM appointment. I’m delighted to be outside, walking, breathing the cool fresh morning air, passing others on their way to work, feeling the muscles in my legs, glad for bare feet and sandals.

Later, in the heat of the day, hiding out in the cool shade of our cave with some time to focus, I read about Family Constellations Theory, and am happy not to fall asleep three pages in, which is what happens when I read before bed. Reminders: accept with gratitude the life our parents gave us; accept the particulars that life and those around us have given us, both the good and the bad. When we do this for ourselves, the pain of others in our constellation is mitigated too. This is very hopeful to me.

I have a conversation with my daughter. I am proud of her, and of her brothers, proud that for all the pain our little constellation has carried, we are busy pursuing joy and compassion and forgiveness.

I tear up fresh butter lettuce, and I mince sweet peppers and cucumbers and shallots and radishes for a crisp cold salad. I top it with mango Stilton cheese, and fry up a couple of eggs to go with it. It’s a nice summer supper. Afterwards, we go climb those green, green river valley hills, me and my husband, and I even manage, for the second time this week, to do it without falling and skinning my knee. (I’m going to credit my new runners; I’d had the old ones for about 15 years, and they tell me that’s too long.)

Overnight, a storm brews, though not outside. In the morning, for reasons that only now in retrospect make any sense, I wake up remembering all the other stuff of my life—the not-happy stuff, the betrayals, the very real challenges currently staring me in the face. And when I say I remember them, I don’t mean they are benign little facts in my brain. I mean I remember them, loudly, as if they are, all of them, happening this very second. Yesterday’s sunny skies are gone.

I make some plans—work is, to my mind, the best medicine for most things. There are a few problems with this however, one being that I am at the moment a tad underemployed.

Still, I keep busy, though I remind myself not to rush, that I sometimes break things or hurt myself when I rush. In the evening, I sit outside and feel the breeze, watch the rain, the hail. It is soothing.

I listen to a CBC podcast, and from Daniel Levitin learn that in most of the world’s languages, the word for music and dance are the same—there was no reason to have two. Listening to music, singing and dancing, mirroring another’s movements and vocal sounds—these activities create empathy and bonding. They produce a cocktail of pleasure chemicals, one of them being Oxytocin, the hormone of love, trust, bonding. The neurons in our brains synchronize to music. And they also synchronize us to each other as human beings in the absence of music, when we walk together, or listen to each other, look at each other. We actually begin to converge physiologically within seconds.  Cooperative work brings about deep neurological changes, a sense of purpose, being connected to a larger whole. We are dancing with each other all the time.

This, I decide, is at least part of the reason for the current storm. My work is mostly too isolating.

The new day dawns gray again, literally now. I carry on with my get-through-the-to-do-list approach. But today, I am also meeting a friend for lunch. On my way, deep in thought on a narrow sidewalk, I notice the big yellow school bus nearby, sort of. It has only partially registered. It makes a tight turn, and swings its very long back end into the pole I am standing right next to, barely missing me.

Minutes later, I splash coffee not quite hot enough to scald me on my hands. Over lunch, I have face-to-face conversation. The clouds burst outside the window, and we share my umbrella as we leave. It really is, as my friend said, a lucky day.







A Weekend on Autopilot

Our cave has a nice little covered mouth, offering a perfect mix of shade and sun, breezes and outdoor noises. It’s warmer than the interior of the cave these days, but not too warm, a few feet away from our music collection, only steps from the fridge, and I’ve yet to meet a mosquito out there.

I took my new e-reader and a copy of Me Before You by JoJo Moyes out there this weekend, and what an experience that was.

We also went walking on river trails, got caught up on the news, watched some Frasier reruns, and had a spirited disagreement over brunch out on a patio with a friend. But mostly we had plenty of time just to be—to be together, and alone, to be on autopilot; to think and feel rather than do; a vacation without going away. (It’s always cheaper that way.)

For some, aimless, unstructured time and solitude is heaven; they can’t get enough of it. Others find it flat, boring, lonely, something to avoid. I think we need connection with ourselves to enjoy it.

I don’t think we were born feeling abandoned or alone. I think we were born ready for joy and connection with others and ourselves, but learned, through any number of ways, not to pursue it. We might have learned that it is selfish and wrong to pursue joy, or that it is out of reach anyhow (and logical to give up our pursuit of it quickly), or that we never need to put effort into pursuing it because someone else has always done it for us.

But I’ve always believed that growing up involves understanding how it is that joy in its many forms—achievement of our goals, intimacy, peace with ourselves in solitude—might elude us. I think it involves reminding ourselves that we do in fact have within us what we need to tolerate sorrow or disconnection from others at times, but also to successfully reach for joy and intimacy again and again, no matter what we learned as children.

Me Before You has a little to do with this, though it is about so, so much more, and a powerful reminder to live fully and joyfully. It is an excellent way to spend part of a weekend if you’re hungry for a read that engages your emotional side of your brain as much as your logical one.