The Plunge: +30 to -30

She is tall and has an intricately patterned tattoo of small raised dots on her face. She smiles, says hello, extends her hand in greeting, and we walk together to the room where we will work on her English language skills. To get an idea of her vocabulary, we begin with some pictures. She knows the colour black, but it’s the only colour she can identify. She identifies some of the items in the pictures I show her in English, but most of them she identifies in her mother tongue, an obscure language that is one of many indigenous languages in her country of origin. I try out her language with each image, repeating after her, which, judging from her smile, seems to either please or amuse her. Then I say the word I’m after in English, which she repeats after me.

Though she has grand-children, she has never been to school. It’s slow work, and the sounds are difficult for her, the shape of our language on paper even more so. But she is eager and determined and seems to like it. In her nascent English, she tells me I should visit her country, that I would be a good student. I feel honored, and tell her she is a good student.

Then, shaking her head, she says, “my country, war. Always, always, war. Bad.”

I ask if she has family. “Husband, dead. Sons, dead. War.”

I try to take this in. I can’t. I feel an immense heaviness though, so perhaps I have taken it in. It has tapped into a feeling I carry around a lot sometimes, a feeling that the world is darker and bigger and crueler than I once believed.

I tell her I’m very sorry, and we resume our work. “What did you have for breakfast?” I ask. She searches for words. I prompt her. “Toast?” She nods. “Do you like jam on your toast?” She looks at me blankly, then out the window, where a small group of men are standing on the sidewalk smoking. The sun is shining, but they are wearing toques and winter coats. “Cold?” she asks. “Yes, it’s cold outside.”

“Cold outside,” she echoes. Pointing, I say, “they are outside; we are inside. They are cold; we are warm. My shirt is black; your shirt is red. This is my bag; that is your book.” They, we, mine, yours, this, that. She echoes me. I ask what colour her shirt is. “Your shirt is red,” she says. “No, my shirt is black, your shirt is red.” Her face lights up and she points at herself. “My shirt is red!” Bingo.

In response to an image of a sea turtle, her eyes widen in horror, and, shaking her head, she says, “bad.” Then she half mimes, half tells me a story of one lying in wait for a swimmer and snapping his toes off, blood everywhere. I’m skeptical, and tell her no, that can’t be, I swam with sea turtles once. Her eyes widen further. They don’t bite, I tell her. She insists they do. I check it out later, and yes, some of them do.

Sometimes when I arrive she is eager and waiting, ready to display her completed homework. She has moved from barely knowing her alphabet, to proudly pulling it out at the start of a recent session and going through it almost perfectly.

Other times, she is tired, headachy, foggy. “Medication,” she says. She shows me her written work. I tell her it’s good. “You tell me, if no good,” she insists. I promise I will.

I show her a picture of chocolate ice cream. “Not good,” she tells me. “Cold.” I tell her I love ice cream in summer. She laughs. “Yes, in summer. February now? Then March? Then… summer in June? Go outside in June, eat ice cream in June. In my country, not cold.”

One day she tells me about the fire alarm that has gone off in her building since I last saw her. “Too cold, not go outside,” she says, “I die.”

We talk about many things over the course of our meetings, much of which neither of us understand fully. But we make progress. She wants to know where I live, and is pleased that I am close by. She is going to be moving, and wants to make sure I will come to her new place too. One day she smiles at me and says “You are beautiful,” and I’m not sure I heard her correctly. She repeats it, clearly. I tell her she is beautiful also. She smiles. “You come tomorrow,” she asks? “I’ll come again in two days,” I tell her. She smiles again, and when I leave, instead of extending her hand as she normally does, she reaches out and hugs me.

Her warmth and courage might just be antidote enough for the heaviness I feel at the random cruelty of the universe.

What Can Happen in a Second?

What can happen in a second? You can take a risk, and be glad you did. You can go from searing pain to locking eyes with your newborn and never be the same again. You can set aside your anger and shame and go to that meeting and meet someone who will last the rest of your life. You can learn you have cancer. You can learn you are in remission. You can decide to make contact with the stranger who happens to know something of your experience and end up forging a wonderful friendship. You can permit fear to paralyze you and make the biggest mistake of your life and almost lose everything. You can forgive yourself. You can let go, or hang on. You can reject, or embrace. You can argue, or listen. You can put on pause your racing mind and legs, and for a moment feel deeply alive. You can give, and you can receive. You can remember to breathe, and be surprised and see clearly and swim in gratitude and love.

The Fault in Our Stars

The_Fault_in_Our_StarsI haven’t been able to stop thinking about Hazel, or, as Augustus likes to call her, Hazel Grace. She got too deeply under my skin. It’s a young adult fiction, but though I am many decades past young adulthood, I cried my way through most of it last weekend. I cried for Hazel, and because John Green so perfectly nailed the whole thing of dreams and futures being completely and crudely interrupted. I cried for Hazel, and for the young man she fell in love with, and for their utterly heart-broken parents, and for the courage they all so doggedly pursued, and perhaps most of all for the real-life daughters and mothers and fathers and husbands even more deeply under my skin, those who are living in the bitter-sweet zone of crushing illness interrupting the plans and dreams they are on the cusp of realizing.

The Fault in Our Stars is a young adult story, but trust me, these young adults know more about living fully than do many full-fledged adults. They know about fear, and about being honestly and fully human, about accepting reality over denial, about what needs to be done now, before it’s too late. They embrace how badly they want to live, they understand denial, and they lead their families and us as readers through the jungle of denial through to acceptance. They know anger is inevitable and honest and at times essential, and that platitudes and false hopes are mostly defeating. They speak the truth about how desperately they want to avoid being a grenade in the lives of those they love, leaving them with too much shrapnel to bear, but also about how desperately they want to be remembered, how badly they want their lives to have meant something. And they know the infinite value of love.

Don’t read this if you’re afraid of feeling things deeply, if you need to avoid intensity to keep your head above water, or if you’re so jaded you’ll write it off as a manipulation. But if you’re ready to take that next step into reality, John Green is an outstanding guide.

Antidote to the Night

Night. Or early morning. Brain chatter. All that must be done, all that begs to be resolved, all that has been taken in, all that must be faced, all that is yet unknown. Heaviness. The strong current of fear.

Sometimes though, this: Deep connection with the self—mind, body, soul, breath. Deep connection with another. Deep connection with a fictional character, a story, a poem. Laughter. The bright light of another’s love or gratitude. Her honest naked truth, her grief, her joy. His. Yours. Understanding. Feeling heard. Acceptance. Taking a step or two out of the jungle you’ve been lost in. Turning your face toward the bright, bright light of the sun.

Nights that follow just might begin to feel different, legs once again melting into sheets, ears once again tuned in to the thrumming of the universe. Sleep, longer and deeper, strength and balance and gratitude restored.


Women Who Run with the Wolves

wolvesThis is from the brilliant Clarissa Pinkola Estes of Women Who Run With the Wolves, via her Facebook page today.
Dear Brave Souls: For remembering. Even in the swale: love and limits–as each soul is called to whatever works of lovingkindness are picked up within the range of each soul’s callings. Then follow, as called.
Differentiation: It’s not merely the call the wild and wise creatures wait to hear. It’s that some calls are summoning to action: a worthy endeavor of protection, loyalty, inquiry, blessing of those one is called toward.It’s not mere scent the pack waits to pick up. It’s that some sudden scents are somehow like those reported by saints and holy people and those on the journey of loving soul to soul, causing a person, a creature, even a flower, to pause and feel in all one’s cells, the grandeur, the peace and the magnitude in and all around oneself. Simple Being. Simply being.clarissa's rules

May it be so for us all. Regardless of rivers clotted with offal, regardless of clear sky-open blue water, rather because of both of these environs, let us row onward to the best of our loving abilities, each in his own way, each in her own way, as each see fit in the broadcast range of Love.

this comes with love, and also with Love,