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.

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,
dr.e

You are so Beautiful

The flame in our centre wobbles with our breath, but perseveres. The faces in the room begin to soften, skin and eyes seem clearer than when we began an hour ago—breath and focus and careful quiet words must be exfoliating and clarifying agents, I decide, capable of clearing away the detritus, permitting light to pass through, creating an environment in which buried pain and fear might surface, in which color and story might take shape.

Lying in bed afterwards, the memory of the tapestry we’ve begun to weave fresh in my mind, listening to January rain melt chunks of ice and snow off the roof, I felt strength and joy pulsing in my core. It’s a tapestry taking shape from thick rough scratchy charcoal and brown threads, thinner and brighter and smoother gold and purple and red ones, threads of grief and joy and love brought with us into that sacred space.

We had candles lit for each of us present, and for those powerfully on our minds. Your good friend, gone now, forever and far too soon from her babies, your own grief fresh on your face. The grand-baby that was supposed to arrive in this world this Christmas and didn’t. The baby lost at birth all those many years ago, and still somehow present now. The child struck down by a car, the parents and friends laying down their torch to illness or old age, the ordinary women living with the ghosts of common cancers. The fierce love and protection mothers feel for their babies, and the fear and denial it can give birth to. The strength it can also give birth to, strength and intuition that eventually puncture denial and know when enough suffering has been enough. The fear of knowing deeply there is much beyond our control, that we have little choice as to when we must say good-bye to a mother, a father, a friend or husband or wife, a son or a daughter.

So many threads of our souls added to the tapestry that evening. It’s a good gathering though when we can bring these with a mind to cover the walls and floors of our lives with colors and textures as rich as this. You are beautiful and unusual and brave, my fellow sojourners, and these threads have added so much.

Textured Beauty and Joy

mall ceilingIt was lovely, the abundance of the week, but so is this right now, this quiet Saturday morning in the wake of it all. It was lovely, the intensity of a short but delicious visit from my son, the abundance of turkey and rouladen and dirty mashed potatoes piled high, of family with all its limps, of spirits and sweets and thoughtful gifts and silliness in the forefront, grief in the wings. But so is this, right now, just the two of us, our space, our love, our music and books and comfy cottons, a glass of water, a cup of coffee, some sit-ups, a few stretches, last night’s wonderfully crisp beer and juicy bacon avocado hamburger still resonating in my memory.

It was very powerful cracking those coconuts the other night too, with the full moon, just before the winter solstice, as a way to explore the concept of our souls. The loud noise, the milk spilling out, the instant awareness that to be alive is to be loudly cracked open, to have chips, to be uneven and raw and nourishing all at once. It was a brilliant metaphor, thank you, Tara!

Every year the sun stops, and we feel the darkness, and we light candles and think about the birth of hope, and how babies embody perfectly the beauty, strength, determination, and resilience of our humanity, how they embody perfectly our vulnerability, our dependence, our endless hunger, our existential loneliness, our desire, our need for connection.

Your new granddaughter, by the way, so much like you dear Jeff, is stunningly gorgeous.

I feel so lucky. I am so lucky. There is the confusion and fear and insecurity that comes with consciousness, but there’s also this: so much love, and the wonderful gift you give when you allow me to articulate my truth, my grief—the complicated grief we all have and are conscious of to varying degrees. The wonderful gift you, dear Robyn, give when you invite me to sync my vagus nerve to yours, when you listen with insight and wisdom and empathy. The wonderful gift you, dear Jeff, give with your presence, your arms around me, your truth, your edgy humour, your tears and self-disclosure.

Let’s do it again, and again—open our eyes wide and speak the truth—as long and as well as we can, because though consciousness, like all good things, is fragile and easily lost, it is what makes laughter and love possible, what makes it all so textured and rich and big and interesting and wonderful.

Winter Solstice Words

candleWe made beautiful babies together, you and I, and that is—despite how everything has been altered—something to celebrate as we approach this winter solstice, this season of long nights, fear, candles, and hope.

The babies we made were miracles. They had enthusiasm to die for, and possessed charm and beauty and brains and creativity. The first knew he would someday be a doctor, even then. The second loved her many babies almost as much as we loved ours, and I knew she, too, would someday be a healer. The third made us all laugh, and thought doing math over lunch as a four-year-old was fun. We knew he too would find his place in the world and grace all who cross his path.

We worked hard, you and I, as parents tend to, to pay the bills, feed and clothe them, and offer an enriched childhood. They grew, and they inspired us, and made us proud. We listened to their stories and dreams, we played hockey and dolls, and we jumped on the trampoline; we walked the dog and read books and watched movies and made things; we took ski trips and camping trips, we ate and laughed and loved.

There were dissonant sounds. There always are; without them there is no music, and for a long time, it was beautiful music, even with the dissonance. But with time, the faults in the score ripped wide open. The dissonance dominated completely, and the pain between us took a steep toll.

It bent our backs, and finally our knees, and one day we had to lay it all down. I turned away, you turned away, and we all wept, and for a very long time felt nothing but sorrow.  You needed to stop running though, and I needed to stop crying, and so we bid each other farewell.

It got messier then in many ways, for all of us. But for all the dissonance, this remains in sharp focus: We made three amazing and beautiful human beings together.

Also in sharp focus for me is this: Three years ago, just before the winter solstice, I heard the bell that will someday toll for me. It echoes in my ear still, especially at this time of year, and it demands extravagance. It demands I speak of the beauty and mystery and contradiction of it all. It demands truth, it demands love, it demands openness.

What we had was real and good, but it was not the whole story, and not enough to sustain us for life. We aimed for the moon, and it was rich and fun, but too painful.

I see the little faces of our children when they were very young, and sometimes, for a fleeting moment, I miss their innocence with every bone in my body. I see the old dreams, and know I must find new ones. I know the shortest day of the year is just ahead, but that longer ones follow in its wake. I know that morning always follows night.

The season clearly brings heightened nostalgia for me; there is something about anniversaries of major events. Every winter now, my body remembers. It shouts its memory, makes it impossible to ignore. But I’m lucky. Not just to be here, but to have come close, because even though I have hated it intensely, this coming close, it has brought gifts too. I’m lucky to be here to see our children find their way to adulthood and learn to navigate this nutty world. I’m lucky to have so much love in my life, others who don’t mind me putting words to all this crazy messy beautiful and painful business of loving and living and letting go.

I’ve filled our home with greens, and have begun my December habit of lighting the candles. I’ve set an intention, several actually: breathe love and words and peace into all the dark and dusty and silent spaces of my life. Seize the day. Watch the dying light of the season and remember that it eventually comes to all of us one final time, and that until then, it is my task to make space for what I know, to articulate it, to live it and reject the lenses of denial and pretense that flatten and soothe and dull. It is my task to let awareness infuse my days with texture.

Our lives, yours and mine and that of the babies we created, unfolded as they did because there was no other way for them to unfold. The future will unfold as it will also, and I intend to embrace it. I intend to remember that my heart is big enough for the beauty and the pain. I intend to embrace the love that was, the love that is, the losses and changes, the joys and disappointments, the new gifts along the path, all of it.

The Thin Light of the Moment

fireThere’s no better time than this moment right now, while that sliver of love is just barely still present in the night sky, to light a fire, to burn off some of the old and extraneous, and make room for something new.

It’s like our souls know this. It’s time again, they whisper. Or perhaps it’s just the souls of those of us who have always been conscious of the rhythms of the universe, those of us who have bled with these rhythms, those of us who know that it is a good thing to shed that which has become unwieldy and far too heavy. Perhaps it is just the souls of those of us who knew, even as children, the comfort offered by a patch of grass and a cold windy dawn, those who have always ached with the beauty of nature and known our connection to the air and water and soil and the process of photosynthesis, which truly and literally are our essence, our life.

Perhaps this sitting by the thin light of a sliver of a moon and a bonfire is only for those of us who know the only hope for our sometimes deeply-eroded and polluted joy is exactly the same one we hold for our broken oceans and lands: take a step back from immediate gratification and remember our origins: We are made of the earth; we are divine cosmic miracles, with an innate ability to renew and heal and create.

So light the fire, and exhale, exhale, exhale. Exhale the heavy particles that have for so long robbed you of vitality. Inhale hope. Trust the alchemy our bodies and souls are capable of in the dark of the night, alchemy that has turned rage to courage and joy before, and can do it again. Trust our enormous capacity to tolerate and survive and gather up the scattered pieces of our lives. We need not fear the ache in our bones and mitochondria; we need not fear our rage; we need only compassion for it in ourselves, and in each other. Though it may be a craggy high place we have climbed to, we need only to keep returning to oxygen, to our hearts, sore as they may be, and we’ll find that even at this altitude we can light a fire, and find enough air to breathe.

So by the light of the fire, we wait. We wait for the sliver of love hanging in the sky to grow into bright and pregnant fullness again.

And as we wait, we’ll find that, even here, our voices can remain both strong and gentle. We’ll find that the words so often stuck in our throats can return to facilitate the transformation that takes place in our bodies when our truth reaches the ears of an empathetic human being who too has sat often by this same fire. We’ll find that as our words land upon the soul of that other, it becomes possible to integrate a little more of what we know in our minds and our bodies. We’ll see that those scattered bits of soul lying all around us are still glowing, waiting to be loved and reintegrated. It is here in the soft darkness that we, like the naked infant in the incubator, grow strong.

Here, in the firelight, we know deeply that we are not kings of the universe, but rather keepers of it, part of it. We know deeply that we carry within us an ultimately indestructible divine essence. We begin to know at the level of our mitochondria that there is no shame in not having filled the soul of another by reflecting exactly what they wanted us to reflect, no shame in not fitting a convenient template. It is here we learn that there is no shame in the ways we’ve found to carry on, and there is no shame in our needs, our thoughts, our creativity, our desires and dreams and feelings. There is no shame in putting an end to mirroring what others are begging us to mirror, no shame in asserting that this, what we are putting forward now, though not what they had hoped, is in fact who we are. There is no shame in having thought for too long we might fill their emptiness. There is no shame in being female, and there is no shame in saying no. There is no shame in the rips and patches in our party dresses; we’re still coming to the party.

It is here, waiting by the fire, that we know the pointing fingers of others simply mean they have forgotten how to see and feel and feed their own souls in the thin light of the moment.

(Photo credit: Marcus Obal, Wikimedia Commons)

All Hallows’ Eve

I held you in my dreams that night, like I used to, when you were afraid long ago. I didn’t know yet exactly the features of the thing that had broadsided me, and then you, but I had seen it’s shape in the dark, and it brought tears even before full impact. And you were so kind, giving to me that afternoon before you felt its full impact.

I’ve known for some time this day would come, a very long time really.  And though I didn’t know its features exactly, not like I know the features of your face, I knew its shape, I knew it would come and land in our house. I thought my fear might stop it, but fear stops nothing.

Now that it’s here, it helps a little to see its face more clearly, its features, its origins. Still, it hurts as much as I feared. How can it not, when the patches have just come from your eyes, the skin off your flesh, and it has reminded me so much of how my own came off? How can it not when I know how it has all come to be, and that it could not be any other way?

But I have to thank you for being the one to hand me the floodlight to see it all clearly this time. You amaze me sometimes.

A good floodlight, in the form of words on a page, or the face of another who is intimately familiar with the features of the thing that broadsided you, can be a wonderful thing. It is how we see fully the dynamic that injured us, and the exact nature of the injury, which of course is necessary to know which bones to set, which medicines to take. It is what is necessary to help us get our bearings, to see exactly where we are, and where we must go next. It illumines the ground on which we find ourselves in the wake of the collision, and helps us recognize exactly what we must mourn in order for our souls to regenerate.

We, all of us in one way or another, stand on a ground of so many losses. They comprise our foundation as much as does the solid, good beauty beneath us. And the losses are as worthy of traditions that honor them as is the bounty we celebrate at Thanksgiving—it has been my experience that it is only in properly honoring them that they can transform from something rigid and toxic into something fertile and sustaining, something firm enough to support both the laughter and the tears.

You have surveyed other crash sites by other floodlights, I know, but this floodlight is perhaps the brightest and most painful yet.

This lingering on what has come into sharp focus, I can hear some of you saying, is unnecessary; focus on the positive. I disagree. Because without the searing honesty of the floodlight at the scene of the collision, none of the truth of it—not our fears, nor the ways we found to survive, nor the injuries sustained—will be laid out bare and naked, which is essential if we are going to be able to discern exactly what has been broken, where the flow of blood needs stanching, what needs mending, and later, which muscles need exercise.

This is the reason I need to put into words the darkness and the fact of the collision scenes we sometimes find ourselves sitting at. Words have the power to bring to the surface the tears we need to shed. Words have the power to take that which is within and lay it out where it can be seen, where others can help us pick up the shards and help us mourn. And unless we mourn, we cannot grow the soul and resilience we need to live fully.

It is by the illumination of the floodlight that our resistance is disarmed and we can begin to honor that which we find in the dark and transform it into something new and life-sustaining. It is how we can begin to see that things could not have been any other way, how we let go of resistance, shame, and blame. It is what enables us to stop saying If Only. It illumines exactly how our flexibility and bounce have been eroded, how our backs and kidneys have become fatigued, and how we might heal. It is in the light of the floodlight that suffering can begin to ease, that we find the strength to bury that which must be buried.

Our nights are getting so long now. The ground is spread with red and yellow as striking, in their own way, as the blooms of spring. It’s a good time to honor that which darkness read and yellow leavesrepresents, a good time to be coming up on All Hallow’s Eve, a good time to remember that life and death, joy and sorrow are hallowed, worthy of honor. And it’s a good time to be thankful for light that illuminates the darkness.

And you, heart of my heart, will not be alone as you do this work; you too have an entire tribe of us who have gone before you standing there with you.