About a month ago a friend sent me this meme. It was right after my husband and I escaped the firestorm in the ancient forest that melted our two-story cabin AND outhouse into a pool of scrap metal. Some might have thought it insensitive or in “poor taste,” whatever that is. I laughed a full belly laugh, for the first time in weeks. It fully captured everything words couldn’t.
I haven’t yet experienced the death of a loved one to COVID or fire, so perhaps it’s easier for me to tap into a sense of the absurd. Lately, I’ve been thinking of writing a holiday letter for the first time in years. Instead of the cringe-worthy shiny happy facts of the classic letter, I envisioned a month-by-month list of unpleasant surprises, with various non-lethal outcomes.
For instance, this past month, after the fire, we planned on a do-over of the night of our actual anniversary, the day we were evacuated from our summer home. We chose my husband Geo’s birthday, and a friend offered us a couple of overnights at their cabin on the Oregon coast. A few days before the trip Geo began having severe nerve pain in a tooth. We thought we’d leave right on his birthday right after his visit to the endodontist to relieve the pain. Which couldn’t happen yet, apparently, although he was given something to relieve the symptoms. We went on our getaway to the coast anyway, and when we arrived we decided we could just peek at the first presidential debate that first night without spoiling the mood. Bad plan. We came home a day early, with tooth and heart pain active.
This was a week ago and so much has already transpired on the world scene that I’ve lost count. When I’m too tuned in to all the crazy bad news, fear just seems to follow and I quickly lose my sense of humor. I figure these experiences are a tiny sampling of what people around the world are experiencing during this longest year in recent human history. Our situation is different (and luckier) than most. I’m no longer responsible for the education of my children, grandchildren, or teenage students. Not caring for an elder with precarious health. We are healthy and virus free. We haven’t lived in lockdown for months, and we have tons of green space and good air, now that the smoke has cleared. For all these things I am truly grateful.
A new tally begins as I savor the lingering beauty of Indian summer. There’s a slant of light on the garden. A colorful green, gold, and orange backdrop as we circumnavigate the hills and town on our bikes. Gradually I let go of the Crappy 2020 Tally and the fear of the Dark Days Ahead. Tonight I’ll sit down to write a few letters encouraging my fellow citizens in Georgia to vote. I’ll call a friend whose father was just moved to hospice care. And maybe I’ll tune into a soothing escape show (Looking at you, Great British Baking Show.) Without the tally, it’s all just life, following the directions, one step at a time.
May you relish the absurd and the beautiful, of this entire messy world in this stressful but crucial season.
Be the love,
Poem: Grandmother Snag
You were there in your place last Monday
before the fire winds spiraled in.
Half of you, anyway,
the top part ripped away long ago
your red cedar shell,
small protection for your ancient heart.
Held fast to the hillside
by spruce, yew, fir cousins.
I showed you to my human mother
while she still had legs and heart
and she loved you too.
And now you are both with me,
still and rugged as ages
untouched by time or by fire
Love is Letting Go of Fear. I read this book over and over while nursing my daughter Johanna in 1982. Home on maternity leave, I made it a focus by asking myself every so often throughout the day when I was operating from love or from fear. (I’ve often thought this may have been my worst parenting advice ever for reasons involving safety. She was the kid who went down the slide face first while I stood by, no doubt meditating on fear and love.)
Today, adult Johanna continues to throw herself into everything she does. She has been deeply drawn to the yoga of Bhakti, the path of devotional love. How wild is that? I’m getting my comeuppance, shall we say.
I’m wearing my Nolo Timeri (Be Not Afraid) button for many reasons these days, and she’s one of them. Johanna has made her living for the last five years singing and teaching yoga at studios and churches and festivals throughout the country. I’m guessing you know what this means in COVID times. I’m still coaching myself about love and fear and reciting Nolo Timeri.
What does my “fearless” offspring do during quarantine? She finds a mantra online from some teacher in India, chants it daily, and adds her own twists. She asks all of her friends and colleagues to join her in a global mantra for healing. (Did I mention that she thinks very big?) She spends the summer, with the help of my bonus daughter Lyris, setting up an online studio and editing the videos sent in from dozens of Bhakti musicians. She’s hosting a new channel, One Heart TV, to unveil the new music video. And all profits will go to a foundation I love focused on helping children in Nepal, like my other bonus daughter Priti, who is still under lockdown there.
What I do know is that watching the video and chanting this mantra along with Noli Timere bring me a sense of equanimity during a dark and smoky time.
This Tuesday, Sept. 15th at 5pm PST, you can join in the live premiere of this new music video, “Mantra Sangha: Health & Healing,” on Facebook and YouTube, or join the Zoom call to participate in the artist meet and greet. All the details are here.
On Feb. 5th, just before the pandemic took over life as we knew it then, my friend Susie gave me a button that looks like this (Noli Timere is “Be Not Afraid” in Latin). I left it on the console of my parked car during the lockdown months. When I discovered it again a few weeks ago, its message took a deeper hold, amidst this summer of confusion, infection, and political craziness.
I decided it was just the message I needed to share in my world and made it my campaign button for the duration. And so I put it on my jacket last Sunday as we headed over to the mountains for a 51st anniversary trip to our summer home in Oregon’s old-growth forest. That evening as we sat in the deep greenness over the creek with some neighbors up the canyon, I shared my new campaign button. We talked about fear, mostly focused on Portland and the election. We slept the deep sleep of the forest. Twenty hours later, we were ordered to evacuate our cabin. I slipped on my jacket, along with my campaign button.
Noli Timere. Be Not Afraid.
We drove the two hours back to our year-round home, chased closely by gusty yellow, hurricane-level winds. Calvin, our dog, began trembling and hiding before we even left the cabin or smelled the smoke, and he shook all the way home. That night the firestorm burned the entire summer home community of about 70 cabins. This morning I slipped on my jacket once more, and there it was: my campaign badge, Noli Timere. Be Not Afraid.
These words come from the highly acclaimed 2019 epic novel Overstory, which encompasses the sacredness of all trees, all families, all beings. Much of the story is based on the timber battles of the 80’s here in the Pacific Northwest. I was here to witness that battle, that cry for the life of trees. I have since come to see the ongoing devastation of our forests and delicate climate caused by greed, ignorance, and selfishness, even as I savor my time at our little refuge in the forest.
Noli Timere. Be Not Afraid. A Battle Cry for Life. Today I glance at the message as I slip on my jacket. We receive the news that most everything is gone. I look at the images of all the fires and furies attacking this land that I love.
We are safely sheltering from the heavy smoke in our year-round community now, unlike the thousands of my neighbors who lost everything a few days ago. Evacuees are everywhere here in this valley, and they are met with a truly astounding generosity. This outpouring has little to do with fear. I’m moved by the simple offering of human comfort, people to people, masks on and distanced socially, delivering blankets and food, knowing that our hearts know no distance.
P.S. Let me know if you’d like a Noli Timere button and I’ll let my friend know.
Last Friday I found myself dangling above the current of a local river, on the advice of a boat-patrolling sheriff, who was busy catching up with my husband, somewhere downstream with the overturned canoe.
Earlier, in the instant that we were tipping over, I had grabbed my dry bag and a huge, funky, double-sized beach/picnic towel. I’ve never felt more one-pointed in my focus than I did once I got his directions. No matter what, I was to hold on to that branch (and my pack and towel). Ten minutes later, the rescue boat returned for me. After we made it back to the dock the sheriff handed back my items. The towel must’ve weighed fifteen or twenty pounds. But still I had clung to it. I had saved it.
He said people often do that. Hold on to whatever they’ve got, whether it helps or not. There’s a big lesson there. It reminds me of the way I’m holding on to my Sense of Myself as a Master of most anything, when there’s a sturdier branch, a kind of surrender to what actually supports me and always has. I’d like to drop the soggy towel now, please. A wish and a prayer.