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I Am (2019)*

Melinda surfing

What I want to point out most of all is the starlit sky at the top of my painting as well as the waves that are holding me. In this piece, they represent the net I found recently at the beginning of the last third of my life. They are painted in the final hues of the rainbow. The first two thirds of my life suggested some form of a net was there, initially with glitters represented now by my jewelry, then shifting to words that are less dense but still possible to solidify in books. Please bear with me. So much of my life has been consumed as a school psychologist that the phenomena of Show-and-Tell seems the best way to explain.

SA show and tell

I am reminded of Ken Wilbur’s idea that we are all evolving into spirit anyway, both individually and collectively. The notion that these jewels then the words all eventually transforming, through liquid air, into an energetic net, makes sense to me. As I evolve into spirit, the rainbow tracks my progress to date.

So this pale lavender net I speak of is a safety net, not unlike a fisherman’s net. I had heard others speak of being lifted by prayers. Before, I have seen a net of fond thoughts collect, for instance around my sister Melissa and her husband via his Caring Bridge site as he struggled with pancreatic cancer.

For the first time though, during my husband Rob’s recent surgery, I allowed myself to feel that lift, rock in the faint grip of it, wave-like and steady. At one point in Overlake Hospital’s chapel, I extended my palm to push on the resistance that held me. I reflected on how we are all connected, invisibly and non-scientifically perhaps, but connected nonetheless. For ten weeks, I have rested in this tangible net, a net made of meals, flowers, cards and a shower of electronic messages from around the world. Quite extraordinary. I remember the metaphysical hints of the net’s existence that God has given me at other times in the past.

Some background about this man of mine first. I met Rob forty years ago in the mountains in an REI climbing class. He is my partner, my bright yellow sun, my solar plexus. We lived together in the heart of the city on a houseboat for ten years before our two children came. Time for lots of traveling, hiking, romance and no church to speak of. Still I marvel that when we created our wedding ceremony, we invited a clergyman to marry us and sang a favorite hymn for our recessional, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” [Show bracelet.] This gift from Rob—a multi-colored bracelet—represents the variety of memories we share.

The orange stripe is always pulsating. I remember my 20-something self being in a circle with others at Haven in the Canadian San Juan Islands. A vested priest is leading us as we come forward into the center where my younger sister Susan waits for our blessings and anointings with oil. She has Stage 4 lymphoma. At the beginning of our week together, Susan was folded up into a little ball squeezing her knees to her chest and peeking out at us. After a week of acupuncture, psychodrama, various forms of body work, we are all watching her heal.

Until Susan’s illness, my perspective on life was undisturbed, for the most part, pure innocence—happy family, good grades, all was well enough. But a significant part of her healing was unearthing memories of being sexually abused as a cult priestess at camp. My first published essay, “Embracing Gray,” was about the black mark of Susan’s memories, how they crushed my unblemished childhood illusion and simultaneously offered great value in shaking up my sense of reality.

I attended several courses at Haven and remember the first time I used my palm to touch energy; it was radiating from another person. I started sensitizing my hands then so that they could identify the web of prayers forty years later. This fiery stripe of capital-H Healing is best represented by my silver bell. [Show necklace.] I usually wear one side, the one with the cross, turned in and closest to my heart. The other side has a circle, symbolizing the more expansive humanistic interpretation of faith I found at Haven.

Eventually after this catatonic shift in my understanding of, well, everything, I began seeing multi-colored sparkles everywhere, nothing was ever just white or just black again. But first, what was this camp? Who was this Christ?

The red, my root, is my spiritual foundation. My native faith language is of Christianity. I was fortunate to spend summers unleashed with my sisters at a church camp where my parents worked as nurse and assistant director. Vespers among the trees every evening. Afternoons swimming and boating in the lake. Mosquitoes. Camp fires. Tetherball. During the school year we returned to the city. There I participated in traditional Sunday School, choir and youth group as well as many activities hosted by the nearby Presbyterian School of Christian Education—folk-dancing, clogging, ski-trips.

My father was a public school principal. In his quietly-activist way, Dad helped implement desegregation in the South. No white flight for our family. Instead I was bussed across town as a 12-year-old becoming part of my school’s 2% white minority. By high school, I had adapted but I was definitely in a new environment for those dark years of junior high, scared and lonely most of the time. I never thought to touch God’s net then, but it was holding me. This stretch, living with my family of origin, is represented by a simple wooden cross, made at camp. [Show necklace.]

To describe the middle lusciously green belt, I use the religious word, “Ministry.” Of course the associated chakra is my heart, my center. In the linear story of my life, it started 30-plus years ago when my son was a baby and Rob and I realized it was time to find a church home. Our families were far away in Virginia and Michigan and we knew this business of parenting was too important to do alone. From our houseboat, St. Mark’s was our closest parish and Thank God it had a giant organ and relaxed choir and band (for him) plus a family service complete with puppets for our toddler (and me too).

God spoke to me during our church search when we attended Compline (for the first and only time together). I came through the doors of the nave and saw it chocked full with another completely different group of people. God told me then, “This is it, Penny. Welcome home.” I use two items to represent this spiritual stretch—my heart necklace and The Wisdom Jesus by Cynthia Bourgeaut. [Show necklace and book.] Early on, I volunteered in Sunday School and on the education committee which led me to seven years of governance on our vestry and then the diocesan Standing Committee.

This middle band is characterized by both a piece of jewelry and a book because this is when I changed to being less literal, less linear, less defined by any religious form. I found the mystics. At first, I was mad as hell. These Christian men and women had always been there. Why hadn’t anyone told me?! I had been seeking these wise ones all my life; this middle way of contemplation and action fits for me. I agree with the words of James Finley, “When we seek what is truest in our own tradition, we discover we are one with those who seek what is truest in their tradition.”

I find the aqua swathe the hardest to explain. The best word I can come up with is “bridging.” Overall it stands in for four decades of my work in the world. Over the years I have been the transition specialist, the connector—making programs work for disabled children, traveling with a youth mission to Mexico the summer before college, lifeguarding at an inner-city pool where I was almost the only white person, trying to make sense of benefits for families living in poverty.

When I was working in a school district where more than 30% of the families spoke Spanish, my boss encouraged me to write about learning Spanish in middle age. [Show my book.] I had been traveling back-and-forth to Nicaragua, initially under the cathedral’s auspices “to learn how most of the world lives.” While I had published essays for religious purposes and overseen lots of technical writing, Bridging represents the first time I wrote, with God’s help, for both audiences—the church and the general public. Blue is also the color associated with the throat chakra. I see this period of my life as a time of opening my throat and freeing my voice.

I was led eventually to this rich indigo third eye period of my life. Writers, I’m told, should develop a web presence first. But my blog—alwaysbriging.com [Show business card.]—came after my book. After 30+ years of working on behalf of children and families, this website accompanied me on the long glide slope to my recent retirement. Three years ago, I committed to posting an essay with an illustration at least monthly. I am grateful to have a way to share my stories, for instance about volunteering with the nearby bilingual mission church, about my inadvertent racist remarks, about living with a Jehovah Witness family in Costa Rica and a Mormon family in Ecuador, etc.

Most recently I posted an essay called “Colorful Caregiver Meds,” the closest I’ve come to describing the net and the violet of the crown chakra. My guru Jesus the Christ together as God and Spirit, has made the net that holds me…and all of us…clear, clear and even palpable. For this, I am grateful.

Amen.

 

*EFM Spiritual Autobiography for 2019. Prompt was “colors.”

Colorful Caregiver Meds

RoyGBiv

I tend to pay attention when a concept (e.g. a book or movie title or a travel destination) keeps surfacing especially when my legs tingle or the idea comes to me via three different avenues.

This summer my husband Rob had his bladder removed. During his surgery, week in the hospital and early recovery time at home, I was grateful to have stumbled upon a free 21-day e-series of guided meditations. Each was 20 minutes long and I was disciplined about listening every day. Well, usually I found such deep peace (some might call it sleep) that I don’t remember any of the guidance in terms of the words that were said.  I noticed that this form of resting was ideal for me at the time.

When our new reality began to set in and those free online meds ended, I continued my long-standing practice of journaling without fail but I was completely distracted during what might be labeled “Stillness.” I was not drawn to my usual mindfulness practice in the least. While I had finally learned to enjoy these quiet times no matter what happened during my 10 to 30 minutes of meditation (including falling asleep), I was disappointed to have no discipline whatsoever to simply come to the chair. Having taught these practices in our public schools for years before my (new-this-Fall) retirement, I knew that the welcome sense of calmness would be elusive without steady practice. I missed the stillness and I beat myself up too. Where was my self-compassion during this surreal, sad time?

Then, I attended one cancer caregiver support meeting about guided visualization. The facilitator led us through a body scan calling up colors associated with the chakras. I found myself anticipating the next color of the rainbow using the acronym ROY G BIV (Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet). Rob had taught it to me years ago.

When our leader asked, “What happened during the visualization that you would like to share?”, my first thought was that for a change I wasn’t thinking at all about Rob and his cancer. However I was thinking about Rob and colors with great appreciation.

After group sharing, the trainer suggested we try to remember a fond memory from the past—fond as in “good,” “happy”—because next we would be imagining a place we could recreate and revisit whenever we wanted or needed to.  Immediately I wondered, “Could I possibly remember the very first time Rob taught me about our friend, Roy. Our house-haunting 30 years ago sprang to mind. I dressed up as the rainbow and Rob was my pot of gold. We invited everyone we knew to come over and help us bless our new home on Halloween night. I closed my eyes and the facilitator led me right back there.

When I came home after the session, I downloaded every free application I could find. This would be my way back to Still Calmness with the help of mentors, alpha-wave music and guided imagery. I would find deep and steady peace within myself again.

And the colors would continue flying at me. The second color blast came from a friend in the form of a beautiful “metta” prayer composed for Rob. Now it’s posted on my blog as one of the August Prayers.

And what do you know? I learned yesterday that this year’s prompt for our introductions during my theology class is COLORS. I will be telling my spiritual autobiography with Roy’s help again, perhaps adding a lot of colors to my journal and then painting using my new easel. Who knows whatever else will come my way given the bright rainbows within and around me.

Mealtrain’s Comin—Choo Chew!

Cheesecake

Rob has always been appreciative of whoever puts food in front of him, even me. This week while we’re away at the beach house we’ve been preparing meals together—planning, shopping, chopping, grilling, sautéing and cleaning up afterwards. Kitchen work has never been my forte but this week it’s been downright satisfying.

After his cystectomy, then six weeks of recovery complete with the gracious food offerings from scads of dear friends and family members, we have both convalesced back to the new normal (as if anything could be “normal” again?) The notion of “Mealtrain” has taken on infinitely more meaning than the brand name of a convenient electronic application. Since back when I had babies at least, bringing a family a meal has changed from delivering a quiche or a tuna casserole to supplying appetizers, drinks, entrée, salad, dessert and even, once believe it or not, tickets to a show.

Albeit I’ve told people how stunned and bereft we’ve been at times; coming home from the hospital without a bladder slows down both the bladderless and his beloved especially in the face of that bothersome inguinal node biopsy. People get it and they love us. It’s humbling to be so dependent on the goodwill of others. We find ourselves opening our arms and hearts wide to accept all this love and care and saying, “Thanks.” A simple Thank you seems woefully inadequate when someone offers you life itself. That was often how the exchange of food on our front porch felt. It seems like eons ago when Rob first got home and our bedroom and bath resembled a M.A.S.H. unit, given all the extra hospital-like paraphernalia. Now though, it looks almost like it used to and this Labor Day weekend seems rather ordinary. We’re doing house projects, kayaking, riding bikes, sleeping in and cooking for each other.

Let it be said—we would absolutely be nowhere near this well without the fabulous edibles we’ve been given.

It has been Real Nourishment–providing physical, social and spiritual care. Sometimes desserts arrived through the mail, even ice cream once and chocolate-covered fruit another time. Our neighbor made cheesecake. A gift certificate for home delivery came. In the latter weeks when I ventured out to represent us, I came home with a full plate of dinner for Rob more than once. Another couple drove across the country in their RV to bring us a store-bought canister of delicious Southern cheese sticks. These folks follow directions and are not proud. Neither am I. I practically begged for food in one of my posts explaining, “It helps when you bring us food and also when we don’t talk about cancer all the time.” Our friends do what it takes. And boy are we grateful!

For instance, about three weeks post-surgery, Mr. Rockoff and his bride took the cake; little did they know they were starting a whole new mealtrain route. They presented us Pork Tinga and Cuban Black Beans, enough for an army.  Since Rob was feeling up to it, they agreed to stay for dinner. With the flowers and champagne they’d brought along, we were able to set a nice table on the deck and pretend all was well again. Afterwards there was enough entrée to put several packets for two in the freezer. I ask you, who gets gourmet left-overs like this?!

During week four, our neighbors who’d signed up to bring food texted to say their baby had an infection. No one was getting any sleep at their house, besides the antibiotics needed to kick-in before they could feed themselves reliably much less anyone else. Seemed like the perfect destination for one of the freezer packs. Even poor grieving me, the post-surgery spouse, could make it next door and extend the mealtrain to its next stop.

By the time another friend learned she needed emergency surgery to get rid of her pesky gall bladder, we were ready. We dubbed those fancy pork and beans “Rockoff Bowls” and wrote up the instructions. Besides the frozen packet, we added an avocado, chips, salsa, cheese and sour cream to a delivery bag. I was traveling across town by then and I knew first-hand how well my delivery would feed her husband/caregiver. I was happy to return the favor that so many others bestowed on us.

About a week ago, my brother-in-law delivered chicken sausages, stuffed peppers, salads and It’s Itses ice cream sandwiches. I admitted, “We are really going to miss socializing with our personalized chefs when this mealtrain ends. It still seems a tad daunting to feed ourselves 100% of the time but Rob is almost well…” My BIL cut me off, “Don’t tell anyone! We like doing this.” It’s true, people have been so kind and besides the circle is becoming reciprocal.

You don’t have to get sick to sample the goods. Our friend has forked over the recipe. Why don’t you come join us for dinner? We’re preparing Rockoff Bowls tonight and there’s plenty for YOU too.

 

 

Haiku Reflections

Meds

Throughout the month, this feeling of sadness and uncertainty is not fleeting (as in it is always there) but it is often superseded by some, usually overpowering, sense of love and goodwill. Yes, this too is simultaneous and always there.

 

Scared and storm-weathered

A bit like “Come Alive” course

With Love exploding

 

Fond imaginings

A caregiver’s medicine

And being less tight

 

Creating goodness

Visualizing wellness

Without insistence

 

Simultaneous

Optimistic, authentic

Grieving in Deep Joy

 

I can see the heavens while tethered to the ground. The balance of deep hope is called forth in the midst of rest, recovery and reality.

August Prayers for Rob

Gardenia

Lord, grant to your servant Rob the help of your power, to bear what comes his way in his treatments and that his health be renewed.

*From a priest

 

May everything we create be filled with peace and joy and love and light.

May we grow in wisdom and strength and health, so that we may serve creation by extending peace to all.

May we cherish no ill feeling toward anyone, so that all may live in peace.

*From my first yoga teacher, now deceased, via a neighbor

 

 

(While imagining golden yellow)…May Rob be filled with loving kindness

(While imagining new growth on leaves)…May Rob be well

(While imagining blue, pure and bright)…May Rob be peaceful and at ease

(While imagining magenta)…May Rob be happy

*From a friend