Blog

Blessed Addendum

Carol in NicaOne week ago we learned our cruise has been canceled. So a thousand clicks later, we have changed Destination SE Asia to Destination So Cal.

Grace abides.

We’ll be going to All Saints Pasadena for the first time to visit our priestly friend, Alfredo. Then a week together in Palm Springs—also new to us—before a few nights in San Diego where we honeymooned 37 years ago. I am grateful as I anticipate traveling.

And I am confident again that Rob is well. Because that’s how he feels.

Even though I ache to cross borders, I can bridge from here. For instance, Rob and I are meditating together before bed. Last night’s version was dedicated to Global Perfect Health. He is better than I am at hearing and using the suggested Sanskrit mantras.

All the myriad of feelings remain, including the ones I wrote about last week. After all, it’s Lent, when we acknowledge our puny-ness and endure the reality of death. Worship at our cathedral will be quieter and more traditional. Not my preference but I know this too is part of the design.

At times, I still bristle of course. Like when my beloved yoga teacher saw ashes on my forehead and explained to the others, “Oh, it’s Ash Wednesday. It’s the beginning of Easter for Catholics.” I tightened briefly because no, I am not Roman Catholic and I know the stereotypes.

Even last week when our trip-of-a-lifetime was nixed, and I felt that wash of sadness, anger and disappointment, I did not get stuck and wallow like I usually do. Instead I somehow continued to vibrate and the general bar of equanimity has settled again. More calmly now, I am experiencing hopeful and open-hearted blasts of warm emotion.  For example, I finished reading an out-of-print novel recommended by the 80-something-year-old retired aviation engineer in my book group. Round the Bend by Nevil Shute spun me right around the world and back. Another delight: I found this photo from my last group tour in wonderful Nicaragua.

Infinite Joy* abounds.

The pause for writing is always worth it, whatever the feelings. This round I checked the definition of catholic (note small c) and found, “all-embracing.” Definitely fits for me. Maybe I was incorrect in my assumption that yoga Bev’s catholic had a capital C. Wouldn’t it be splendid if she recognized the “universal” (another definition of small-c catholic) lover in me?

*https://genius.com/William-finn-infinite-joy-lyrics

Soaring or Spiraling?

Bird Sunset

Sometimes I feel like I am flying solo…Alone. At times it is an absolutely magnificent, beyond-words experience. And other times I feel oh-so-lonely. Like today. And I am trying not to get STUCK here. I know how easy it is to wallow around for way-too-long when I touch these feelings of loss and I begin to speculate. This time our cruise got canceled and I realized I may not travel internationally with Rob again. Or be able to coordinate all six of us travelers for a getaway in the future. Or live fully into anything else I might want to do now that I’ve retired. Oh the dismal possibilities. Bah!

And I get so irritated at the smallest damn thing. For instance, when the person in front of me in the grocery line leaves to go get the 20th can of cat food because she miscounted 19 and really wants to get the discount. Or I knock over a full giant water bottle, the lid falls off and soaks the floor. Or one-more-person tells me, “It’s probably for the best” (and they’re probably right). Bah!

It’s easy to whip myself when I’m in this place. Yes, I know the comments are well-meaning. Yes, I do try to console myself, “Sugar, of course you have every right to be disappointed and pissed off and bereft beyond measure. You are not a bad person for these thoughts and feelings. You will recover. But how about you stay here and sob for a while and let me hold you?”

Fortunately an artist sent around this beautiful photo of a raptor flying free (thank you, Ashley Entrop). Next came a clip of PS22 Children’s Chorus singing Hallelujah, away out there beyond grief. Plus I had the good sense from the edge, to call a friend who told me about her dream—that a frozen roast was inside her hip. When she woke she started writing and now it is thawing on the counter. Maybe she will talk with it…

I am still sad. But, Thank God, also vibrating, not solid stuck, still, in one place. Inside, deep down, I knew to write; I just needed someone to remind me. My characters, Art and Vida, are out there waiting to talk with each other again. Of course, it’s time. They have a lot to say. Maybe I’ll even post a playlet some day because, I’m sure you are dying to know, WHO THE HELL ARE ART AND VIDA?

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

My Favorite Coach*

Pete Carroll

Two weeks ago at the end of Super Bowl Sunday, I found myself sitting in a small city airport, expecting to see lots of people dressed in Seahawks paraphernalia even though we weren’t contenders. Sadly, I was the only person decked in my gear. I had just enjoyed four days in Spokane with MY HERO, MY SISTER, Melissa.

We had left each other at the departures curb after a long good-bye and big hugs. During the afternoon we had watched the second half of the game at a wine bar overlooking the river and the slight, though sparkling, Spokane skyline. A fun bluegrass band played when we entered the bar. The game was projected on the giant screen in front of us but there was no commentary to be heard. That was just fine with me.

Melissa’s husband, my brother-in-law, died four months ago. He played college football and refereed high school ball. When we found out almost two years ago that he had pancreatic cancer, I called to ask, “Hey Monte, you can’t leave yet. I don’t know nearly enough about sports. Can I text you and ask for details about professional football or any sport for that matter?” He laughed and replied, “Penny, you can ask me anything you want about sports, but not about cancer. I know sports, not cancer.” So this lovely relationship began through texting about gruesome football of all things. Actually it continued and deepened.

Wow, there sure is a lot of culture around American football, including my own personal cultural memories. For instance, I remember my football-loving grandmother who lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She had a college degree—not a given in her era—with a major in PE. On holidays, I’d watch Washington Redskins games with her. I remember the slow motion television replays that made even tackles look like ballet. She called her beloved players “n—–“ thus creating a complicated, early memory for me. While I remember those games as generally fun times with Grandmom, that racist slur definitely tainted the warmth. Now her favorite team’s mascot has changed and they’re the Washington Nationals. Times have changed (or more fairly, are changing).

We began revisiting football when my nephew played for the nearby high school team. They’d lost forever until the freak streak when Elliot was a wide receiver….and my daughter Carolina was a teddy bear mascot. Now that’s a fun memory on all counts.

Then my father—an elementary school principal/English major who was decidedly too skinny to ever show much interest in playing football, found himself seriously aging at 92. That’s when the Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson from Richmond, Virginia (same hometown as my Dad and me) started leading his team (AND OURS!) to a Super Bowl championship. Fantastic! By that time my Dad had given up tennis, then ping pong. He’d shifted from riding a bicycle to a tricycle. Even when it finally came down to someone following his trike around the block with an oxygen tank, he could still watch and celebrate pro-ball 100%. He even dressed up as Russell Wilson for his retirement community’s Halloween party. And NO, he did not use black-face.

Next was Monte, my rules instructor. We texted back-and-forth for 13 months during Seahawks games. Me with the questions; Monte with the answers. I even texted him unknowingly during his last breath to let him know I’d be home soon and turning on the game. Now, I’ve transferred this text banter to his wonderful son, my nephew Andy. Every now and then I pull a “Haha” from him.

Back to that recent Super Bowl night though…

I wondered how I could enjoy this game I think is so bloody extreme? I hate the hurt it causes. Such a hot testosterone mess! And yet…I love the culture. The community. The conversations. I miss Monte and it seems like a good way to continue connecting as a family.

It was certainly perfect to be in Spokane for that particular weekend with my gorgeous sister who is doing it! She’s managing all the gargantuan shifts in her life—financial, emotional, etc.

I am fricking amazed at how many people she knows. I loved the wonderful bright green-and-blue Seahawks pants she wore for our evening together. I treasure the stories she told me, about Monte’s last minutes, about the first night he was on the other side, about the softest times.

I’m happy to say I could downplay those glasses of wine at the Alaska Air and TSA check-ins. I even talked them out of charging me $30 for the extra bag. Maybe it was my Seahawks Rashad Penny shirt? Didn’t even have to pull my own cancer card to get that. But I will pull up that trick Melissa taught me if/when needed.

Yes, I have learned A LOT from Melissa, my favorite coach. She’s living through every wife’s nightmare with decorum that is transparent and inspiring. I think she is becoming more beautiful all the time. The new coaching job suits her.

 

*Photo was taken last April when Monte and Melissa stayed in Seattle for extended experimental treatment. They lived in an apartment on Capitol Hill near Virginia Mason for the duration, thanks to the largesse of our friends, Randy and Eliza. While we walked that first evening after dinner, we spotted Seahawks coach Pete Carroll out for a stroll too. I think there was also a rainbow in the sky that night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So Hum Vibrating

I Am

How I would love to reread what my friends wrote at our creativity circle (aka Jewels) recently. Would I dare ask them to type their pieces or perhaps send photos of them? The most I can bring myself to do is peck out mine.

So hum

Yahweh

Yo soy

Je suis

That in itself is amazing. Four languages sprang forth in two seconds. Each expression means “I am.” Some have said it is God’s name or the sound of God’s breathing. Only one ends with a consonant. And that one—hum—may even be synonym-like across languages.

Remembering Kelly who is quieter, sparkling and radiant. She led another group in a discussion about darkness, earlier in the week. Feeling responsible for the sad stillness in the room because I was the one who had chosen the reading prompt. Resisting a whimsical comment that would lighten things up, for God’s sake, the way I might have done….before Rob’s surgery, that is. Resisting, resisting. Knowing somehow I was at least willing to experiment when I had chosen the serious essay about suffering. Recognizing Kelly knew the dazzle of darkness so would keep us safe.

But, at the close, I felt disappointed. This was not the peace of resolution I had experienced at the end of the other group theological reflections. And of course, silly me, I did wonder if the others were disappointed too? And even crazier—so me, so human—I wondered if I was responsible for their melancholy? As if I, in my omnipotence (LOL), could make anyone feel a certain way.

And then rather nonchalantly, when I whispered to Kelly afterwards how hard it was for me not to try changing the mood, she said, “I love darkness. To me, as we sat there sharing a thought, an idea here and there, I could just hear the hum.” And she even said that nonchalantly (as I said), the opposite of how I had felt.

All this to say, that same word came up again two days later when we Jewels meditated together, “So hum, so hum.” My God, in Sanskrit it means “I am.” Sweet Jesus! I had thought words that end with vowels naturally reflect breath more than others because they continue into the air making them better sacred words for contemplation. Like Yahweh, for example.

“Mmmmmm,” a consonant, clearly also does this. And now I see it. The English version, “I am,” ends with an “m” too. How perfect! Silly, crazy, vibrating human me.

Vibrating

Singing

Moving

Humming

Writing

Scribbling

Breathing

My body does not ever stop completely. I am never still.

When I am very quiet, I can feel myself moving inside.

When I am listening, watching, listening, imagining, hearing, I can feel others moving, including the air.

Sometimes the vibration is so slight. Sometimes the earth itself moves enough for me to feel it gallivanting.

I’m glad I waited patiently and long enough to find this word, vibrating (with the “ing”), to use as my word for the year…serving me and all creatures great and small in this year of clear seeing.

This Darkness I Cherish

Burned forest

Yesterday I visited a friend whose beloved had unexpected brain surgery and spent ten days in the ICU. Another friend’s husband was hospitalized after a stroke and is recovering his balance given rehab and PT. Our choir-mate can finally show his face again in crowds after a blood cancer diagnosis and stiff round of chemo. All these near-70-somethings have new understandings of their vulnerability. Their women, like me, are grappling, trying to love and care for these men we treasure, learning our “new normals.” Rob’s (and mine) is no longer the saddest, most recent, story of loss and change. I find I can be present in a new way.

I am grateful these tears can fall. That I feel soft. And prayerful. Still sad, confused, profoundly empty at times but, like the short days and long nights, the balance of my cup of feelings seems to have shifted, almost precisely in step with the sun. Most mornings now I wake and, as consciousness dawns, I wonder and check. I feel more settled and content than not. I startle myself more often with belly-aching laughter. Also I welcome the rippling tears, no matter how painful. Do I dare say I cherish them?

At one point in early fall, a doctor asked how I was sleeping. Blessedly, sleep/dreams/resting has not been a problem for me. Others have scolded me for turning down her Xanax prescription. Still I have wondered if my characteristic lightness of being would ever return.

I am definitely a fuller and more compassionate human being due to the intensity of Rob’s diagnosis, surgery and recovery. What I contemplate now about mortality and great love, is, how-to-say-this?, more grown-up? The earlier insults—depression in college when I was scared and trying to control (and of course failing to control) a bevy of freshman beauties as their RA, desperation again when my near-perfect family fell apart after learning about my sister’s sexual abuse at the camp I loved, grief following the long demise of my dear father before he died at 94, etc.—don’t compare. After all, Rob is close, practically flesh of my flesh; we became one, in sacred vernacular.

Frankly, I am impressed with the profundity of this latest journey with Rob—what it has opened up for me/us, the pain and fortitude I have witnessed, the miracle of healing anyway, recognizing none of us ultimately gets out of this alive, the place in my heart that would expect nothing less. Even though it hurts, I don’t want to swallow or ignore it.

Over the past decade I have assembled spiral notebooks full of good writing and artwork by others. I have never chosen a particular theme until, at the risk of dualism and pitting Light against Dark, I decided to create a notebook devoted to Darkness. This fall, when my brother-in-law died and the anger-sadness-bewilderment of Grief threatened to sink me, I noticed I gravitated toward poetry about heavy-ness, as in not-lightness. It helped to collect these gifts into one notebook, giving a nod to the newer deeper understanding and feelings I respected. Now, I appreciate myself too much, on this side of the worst of it, to go back to immature unknowing.

I found the collection’s cover art too, a piece by my cousin Paula Fong. In mid-October I visited her studio and found wonderful illustrations of bees, flowers, animals, trees all in their natural habitats. Yet, I was drawn to the one of a scorched forest. It had a magnetic-like hold on me and serves as the cover of my latest notebook. Fortunately there is a stream running through this scene. And sunlight peeks from behind a cloud. I recognize the gorgeousness of this depiction and its place in my own circle of life. I have lived with this heat, flaming to the point of almost burning me and my joy up. A fire like this one creates deep fertile loam. Rich nourishing ground of this sort eventually allows transformation and resurrection. I know this. I believe this with all my heart—for all of creation, myself included.

Thus I am grateful. I know transformation is coming. The water does flow. The sun does shine. I am standing in the middle of it and am better off for all of it. I am. It helps to have my notebook nearby to remind me.

(Artwork by Paula Fong)