Dad

dad baby carriage

“I have to get my pacemaker replaced,” my father told me the other night on the phone, “the battery only lasts so long.” I, being strongly averse to needles and knives breaking my skin, immediately murmured an empathetic “oh no, I’m so sorry,” to which he responded with, “Oh it’s not a big deal, just a local anesthetic, and I can watch the whole thing on a TV screen. It’s more fun than going to the dentist or watching a football game.”

I laughed, and decided that his perspective may have a little something to do with things like having lived on potato scraps from the garbage cans of the elite when food was nearly impossible to come by in Germany all those years ago. Or with his beginnings here in Canada: a menial job, an utterly foreign language, dinner out of a can placed directly on the heat source.

He graduated to a better job, got married, and took out a loan to build his growing family a home, which he spent his evenings building, and which he paid off entirely in eleven years. He rode his bike to work in southern Alberta hurricane-strength winds and frigid temperatures. (Now, at almost 85, he still rides his bike around town.) He’d known deep, deep hunger, and, determined that none of his children ever would, he planted a garden big enough to feed an entire village. He taught us the joys of simple things: a sun-warmed fresh ripe tomato off the vine for a snack, sweet peas, crisp cucumber, corn-on-the cob.

On holiday Mondays, he and my mother took us all hiking at Waterton National Park, and, on hot summer weekends, on picnic suppers and to go swimming in the local pond to cool down. When I was ten, he bought me a bike, which I adored. In winter, he pulled us to church on a sled. Eventually he bought a Valiant, in which we went camping every summer after that, all seven of us piling in, alongside an orange canvas tent the size of a hotel and everything else we’d need for two weeks. We were sardines in the back seat, wedged in on top of sleeping bags that filled all available foot space, but we loved our time at the lake.

After he’d taught me how to drive that Valiant with its moody clutch, he once forgave me for parking it on a hill without putting it in gear or engaging the parking brake, landing it squarely in the branches of a tree while I was in City Hall taking care of something I now have no memory of.

He taught me to love pickled herring, dark heavy bread (which my mother baked weekly), potatoes drizzled with oil or butter, fresh garden vegetables. Together with my mother, he taught me the value of community and faith, of visiting the sick and the imprisoned. He taught me the value of hard work, of honesty and integrity. (For as far back as I can remember, he’d refuse a glass of wine based on principle: for his insurance rate or something of that nature, he’d said he didn’t drink, so he never did, the only exception being the tiniest sip of communion wine at church.) He taught me the beauty of books, classical music, hymns sung in glorious four-part harmony. He taught me that there is a story beyond our own, and showed me what it looks like for a man to love a woman unfailingly and deeply.

For this, and much more, thank-you Dad; I love you and happy Father’s Day.

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The Rhythms of the Universe

alberta springA few weeks ago, with early morning insomnia, with psychic reaching and stretching, longing for my creative muse, I remember: the moon is dark. Like all life, we belong to the rhythms of the universe.

Since then: suppers with friends, a birthday dinner with the kids, a number of long intimate conversations. Love. Reasons to celebrate. A brightly-coloured and exuberant parade. A shared and perfect Reuben. The Fault in Our Stars, walking home afterwards holding my husband’s hand tightly, desperately willing my own cells’ propensity for runaway replication not to return, willing the universe to be kind to us, to our love, to the children.

On Sunday: sunshine on my feet, a breeze on my face, my book. A hike, and a picnic for two: croissants with chicken and cucumbers, an exquisite bottle of Viognier, a bar of dark cranberry chocolate. Afterwards, deliciously fatigued, and satiated, a bath, open doors and windows, breezes, no mosquitoes, the sound of voices outside, neighbours enjoying the early summer weather. Perfection.

Yesterday, drenching rain. Tired again, but in our wake, my daughter’s and mine, gleaming fridges and stoves and tiles, a sense of achievement, and now, not one but two deeply cleaned apartments, the old and the new. A hot shower. Dried out fingernails and skin (I never remember gloves), body butter to soothe. A hot cup of coffee. A terrible view, but flowers on the balcony, and the scent of rain.

A nearly full moon in the sky tonight. Another cycle of love and creativity almost complete, another cycle of aching backs and hearts and feet, of comfort and love and laughter and music and pleasure. Another cycle of the ordinary and extraordinary, all winding down again, preparing to shed, to take a long slow breath, take stock, and start all over again.

A quiet evening. Gratitude. Then, a phone-call, frightening news for a friend. Stabbing fear, railing against, tears. Outside, another drenching rain. In the morning, thick fog, much thicker than the one blanketing the ground.

It’s all Good, even the Dark Side

I discovered Miriam Greenspan only this afternoon, but am already very sure I’m going to like her. She takes on our fairly robust cultural aversion to “negative” emotions, preferring to call them dark emotions instead, because dark captures perfectly the image of dark, rich, fertile soil from which something unexpected can bloom. I like the optimism inherent in this. It’s positive thinking of the best sort.

I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly this topic over the past year, and recently found myself sitting among a small circle of women with a shared intention to turn our faces toward the suffering of others—an intention to take it in, transform it, and return it to them as compassion.

We had a lovely guide, and it was a fitting meditation for Maundy Thursday. She had us visualize ourselves at a peaceful, safe, happy time in our lives. With each breath we then began to focus on the suffering of another, tapping into the alchemist within our souls to return it to them as something pure and strong and life-giving.

I’d arrived that night a little unaware of my vulnerability—I’d been coping quite well with some current turbulence after all. But between the intensity of the meditation and a tendency toward a somewhat porous psyche, it didn’t take long before I came undone. I was infinitely fortunate to have an empathetic other bear witness to my coming undone. She validated the dark emotions that broke over me with the force of Hawaii’s North Shore, and reminded me, when I insisted there was something pathological about my response, that intensity does not always indicate pathology.

Though we tend to see emotions such as fear, grief and despair as signs of weakness or failure, they are actually gifts when we become conscious of them and attend to them. I learned so much again that night and in the weeks since. Conscious suffering deepens our connection to others and to ourselves. It makes us less afraid and judgmental, and more compassionate with both others and ourselves.

Greenspan is honest about the chaos involved in attending to and befriending dark emotions. They can be intense, and staying with them rather than running from them is no easy task. It’s not a linear process either. I have been committed to it for some time now, but on that night fell into a very old and familiar hole whose walls scream guilt, shame, failure, weakness.

So, for myself, and for my beautiful friends also doing this work right now, a reminder–productive grief isn’t for the timid or easily fatigued. It is circuitous and demands we allow dark to exist alongside the light. But I think I’m beginning to understand that we can tap into grief’s full healing power only once we know deeply that there is no need for blame or shame, once we stop judging and abandoning ourselves, once we accept that what we feel, however difficult, is a goldmine.

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

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.

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)

Makua

hana flowersHer eyes looked deeply into the eyes of her mother, then beyond, at the angels who had escorted her on her passage into this world. Her face lit up with a big smile, the first of millions that would follow. Even then, at seven pounds of barely-unfolded, long, skinny, downy, newborn beauty, she was a bright light.

Her parents saw this, and her grandparents, who woke in the night to soothe her feisty hungry cry, saw it too. So did her aunts and uncles, her siblings, her parents’ friends, strangers passing by, and later, her own little friends. She herself however, couldn’t see it yet; children have to wait a little while before they see how brightly their own lights shine.

But shine she did. Her essence glowed brightly through all her years of childhood. She was a tall strong flower that swayed and danced in the wind. And while the grown people around her saw and loved her large bright essence, children were sometimes afraid of it, or envious. Some of these children went to some lengths to trample her bright blossom. Each time it was trampled though, because she was young, it came back quickly and easily.

One day she became aware of her bright light. She remembered how it had hurt to have it trampled at times, and now understood what had happened those times she had been knocked to the ground, struggling for breath, and she felt angry.

So she tried to hide her brightness, but it wouldn’t stay under cover. For a while, wanting her path to be easier, she tried to divest herself of it completely, throw it under the car or against the mountains, or at those who had hurt her. But like a boomerang, it returned to her, over and over again, often with great force, knocking her own self down and smashing her own blossom yet again just as others had done.

It began to tire her deeply, this being thrown at, and throwing, and getting winded, and eventually she began to hurt in her bones, her muscles, the deepest parts of herself, and for a long time she could hardly walk. Her mother saw her deep fatigue, and went to her. She stroked her hair, heard her words, saw her tears, and, and held them carefully. She breathed them in, and slowly, as her own fear began to dissipate, began to offer stories that had helped her in her own time of deepest fatigue. Stories of how the lessons of living with a strong and bright essence can be difficult, but that they can also yield powerful gifts that heal the pain of others.

Your strength and light can confuse or threaten or blind others if you’re not careful, she told her, but when you embrace it with wisdom and love and humility, it will also heal them when their bones ache and they have lost their footing or their breath. It will help them understand their own gifts.

And others with a strong bright essence, she went on to tell her, will always be there to help you too, no matter why your tall stem might be deeply bent, your blossom resting face-down on the ground at that moment. She told her that together, they would sing healing songs, and fly. She told her that strong souls are our teachers, and that they can’t be permanently quashed or discarded. They return and return, to shine brightly and sway and dance in the sun, and to sing together with others who sing the same song.

(Many thanks to Francesca Mason Boring for her images of Makua, the Shoshone word for soul.)