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Runaway Rescue! (Resolution Revolution)

Once again reality didn’t agree with my plans. The nerve of it. Less than month ago I reflected on a Christmas past, the year our family spent the holiday tending sick puppies and watching them die from Parvo, one by one. For me it was a story of grace and humor in the weirdest places. I had no idea that another dog-centered holiday movie was about to be released.
 
This year on Christmas Eve the scene was set. The lights. The wrapped presents. The Tree. The baking. The full refrigerator. The early afternoon arrival of my son and his partner Liz-e, along with Finn, a year-old beagle they’d rescued from Korea, where a stray might be headed for the meat market. He had experienced more than a little trauma in his life: a tsunami, loss of his entire litter, being shipped half-way around the globe. But in the end he was rescued by a warm-hearted network of dog lovers from both countries (https://wildheartspdx.com).
 
Within a couple of hours of his arrival, as a rare Oregon snow began to drift in, he zoomed out the front door, down the bike path, and (eventually) all over town. We were able to follow him some of the time by using Air Tags, which sent occasional beeps to my son’s phone when an iPhone is close by. For three below-freezing days a scattered tag-team of family and friends and firemen and security police random strangers stalked him through the snow, many of them foregoing their holiday plans. Gratitude isn’t a big enough word for these many acts of human generosity. He had travelled almost 30 miles over three days when he stopped running and took shelter under a parked truck. The smell of Korean carry-out food was what it took to lure him out in the end. And all was well. It was The perfect Hallmark holiday movie, with less kissing. And afterwards a few more nightmare-type dreams of losing control. 
 
Isn’t that the way life shows up sometimes? Just when you think you’ve got some idea packaged into a preplanned version, it can explode into something more chaotic and less welcomed. You’d think this is a lesson we’ve all learned from the last couple of years of Covid. And yet along comes the terrible surprise of one more highly transmissible variant just as things were settling down and life was returning to something we recalled as normal. The only surprise here is the fact that we’re surprised, having lulled ourselves into the belief that things would match our intentions for them. 
 
A teacher of mine once asked me if I’d rather have a flexible mind or body as I age. I don’t like having to make that choice, but I would land on the mind every time. Because when it’s limber, it’s easy to see what’s negotiable with the Universe and what’s not. And at its heart the mind knows to love what it has no choice but to accept. In a throw-away line last week, Stephen Colbert said, “Can I change it? I can’t? Then I love it!”
 
Now that’s flexibility. A tall order during these trying times. A full-time job, really. But this is the kind of freedom I want in life. This peace. This freedom. 
 
I want this for all of us.
 
—SgB
 
Resolution Revolution
 
Here I am once again
 
same time new year
 
holding tight to the road,
 
to this revolution of my own making. 
 
The one where I resolve 
 
not to resolve
 
to be lighter, brighter orsomeone
 
with nothing out of place,
 
a corrected version of me,
 
but built back better. 
 
Instead, let me evolve into someone 
 
good enough but better when still.
 
Because this revolution is not televised. 
 
 
—SgB 1/2022

Dead Puppy Christmas and Carbonated Holiness

One Christmas past, my daughter and her friend brought home fifteen sick puppies from a kill shelter rescue mission that had gone awry. I imagined a family home Christmas as a video, swarming with curious, slightly weak puppies around the Christmas tree.
 
I didn’t know much about Parvo at the time. Reality hit quickly. When we saw how sick the puppies were, we rallied to a new mission, setting up an emergency vet clinic. 
 
For the two days leading to Christmas we nursed half-pound infants, trying desperately to save them from the grim effects of the disease. We kept our arms full, set alarms and devised a way to hydrate with homemade IV’s. Instead of going to a midnight service we prayed for their survival as we held them and watched them fade. Hour after hour the little pile of bodies in the corner grew. In the end only one survived, born miraculously on Christmas Eve.
 
My blog post that season said “This will be the Christmas of Dead Puppies soon, and we will laugh. Someday.” When my son Ben read it, he said he cried, and I saw how powerful my protective shield had been, and how truly traumatic it had been for all of us. We needed to grieve. Now, ten years later, I have the distance to see the whole picture and appreciate how we coped.. We cried plenty, but somehow even in the midst of it all there were moments of hilarity.
 
What saved us was being able to see our own powerlessness in the face of the absolute absurdity of the scene. We told ourselves that it couldn’t get any worse and then it did. Again and again. I guess you could say that dark humor became our greatest ally. This and the power of distraction. My memories of the year feature us stumbling through some Christmas carols, playing Pictionary, and awkwardly dancing to a Wii Rock Band workout featuring Beatles music. But mostly I remember the laughter.
 
It may seem strange, but ten years later I realize that this may be have been our most deeply soulful Christmas of all, working together through the crisis and still finding a kind of humor in the midst of an awful situation. Later I heard Anne Lamott call laughter “carbonated holiness,” and I knew just what she was talking about.
 
This is what I wish for each of you this holiday season. 
 
Without the dead puppies.
 
Just some carbonated holiness. 
 
With love,
 
Susan Grace
 
Dead Puppy Christmas
 
Today in the mist of a stroll 
through the Advent calendar
I open tiny windows of Christmases past,
The first scene is one I tenderly recall, 
Dead Puppy Christmas
There we are, five of us humans,
 jostling fifteen half-pound puppies 
recently rescued 
before the Grinch of Parvo took over,
now sick and getting sicker.
Across from the tree in this diorama 
is a small I-V stand
Each hour another pup stops breathing 
and a tiny body Is added
to the pile in the corner.
In between we cry, 
stumble through carols,
distract ourselves with sugar cookies,
eggnog, gingerbread and games,
Tending to life and to death,
Awaiting the miracle of Christmas Eve, 
one surviving puppy.
 
—SgB 12/2021

First Step, Second Step

 It is pointless to know where the way leads. Think only of the first step. The rest will come.
 
— Sams of Tabriz
 
It was time for my first big step. I was finally able to bear my own weight after a bike accident resulting in six weeks of complete dependence on everyone around me. My heart was full of gratitude, but my balance was precarious as I ditched the surgery boot and slowly began to reclaim my own two feet.
 
This is when I convinced my husband that we should take our first road trip in forty years. It made sense, I argued, using Lockdown Logic, for him to drive and for me to ride with my foot elevated on the dashboard for several days along western edge of the continent from Oregon to the Southern edge of our country. Lockdown Logic said that it was time to use that car we bought just before the pandemic. It said that we should get out of our little bubble and drive, not fly. Some of my lifelong friends had been planning a gathering for a year in San Diego, so logic said that now must be time to hazard a trip out of the cocoon. In addition, secretly I wanted to reconnect with my rural roots by simple human interaction in more far-flung parts of this divided land we hear so much about.
 
Half-way through the trip, I bragged to my friends about our small safe haven of a city, especially our local school board. We live in college town with a deep dedication to education. Our little city leans left in a state that is famously unpredictable. We’re well outside of the newly vilified city of Portland, so we’ve seen few so-called culture wars.
 
While we were traveling, we saw proof of a country more united than the news would have us believe. Except for a few drivers who didn’t like our slower pace as we followed directions like the old codgers we are, we were met by human kindness throughout our trip, whether red or blue. We saw little mask or anti-mask mania. Little evidence of vax wars. We came back relieved, ready to report that rumors of civil war are greatly exaggerated.
 
So the first big step back to “normal,” was a complete success.
 
The second day after our return, I went down to my local food cooperative, where I ran into a friend who filled me in on local news, referring me to the New York Times. One of our bright lights, Sami Al-Abdrabbuh, our school board chairman, had been under physical threat almost since he was re-elected by a landslide.(More here)
 
I began to doubt my recent travel experience and felt the cocoon calling me back. After a couple days, I remembered one of my favorite quotations, attributed to Rumi’s teacher Shams: It is pointless to know where the way leads. Think only of the first step. The rest will come. I know that I can’t un-step that first forward step toward my fellow beings. All I can do now is get stronger, more educated, and more flexible to prepare for the next step. So I‘ve been educating myself on harassment and cyber threats. By moving out of denial and into reality, I armed myself with information about how I can take a more grounded and informed stand to support my very real oasis of a community..
 
I want to reboot stronger and lighter. My second step has been to return to my physical therapy schedule. Who knows what the next step will bring? For now, it’s showing up for my body so that I can take more balanced and healing steps. It turns out that this is the perfect time for this challenge, what with all the traditional expectations and the challenge of reconnecting during upcoming holidays . My prayer is that I remember all the lessons of the last two years as I continue into the future with step after ever-stronger informed step.
 
May we all notice human kindness permeating our coming days. May we move forward to the beat of our shared heart, our shared humanity, our shared planet…
 
Road Trip
 
Her country, newly
humbled by fear
called to her, 
offering its western perimeter. 
A whiff of youthful memory
cried out, which caused her to 
stare sit stretch 
and then sit again, 
watching sky television
a dream of a parched world 
flying by 
not the same as before 
but still 
ocean met dunes 
rocks stood sentinel
days were fruitfully spent
moving under bowl of big blue
 
cities came and went 
with humans still busy 
annoying other humans 
passing on the right 
honking from the left
and then the gusty rain came
erasing it all in a big wet huff
and after that there was this:
a miniature freeway oasis 
appearing from the fog
with fairy lights and
breakfast in little brown bags
but most of all the kindness 
of a muscle flexed, a stranger’s hand 
lifting a bag, opening a door 
just because you with your cane 
could use one.
 
 
—SgB 10/2021

Spider Sense

During my slow recovery from a broken bone and surgery this fall, I’ve given myself the luxury of silk. Spiderweb Silk. The spider on my windowsill creates its miracle of tensile strength slowly and steadily. As I watch I think of the body magic that is healing my body with very little help from me. With plenty of time on my hands and a new curiosity, I’ve dipped into the human Interweb to find out more about spiders.
 
Newsflash! Spiders aren’t all hairy monsters who devour their own. Only some of them. About 40% can get cranky enough to consume each other. Biologists who focus on the social life of spiders discovered that adult spiders seem to forget how to behave together after being alone too long, which causes them to become aggressive. They’re still not sure why some spider species like to hang out together while many eat spiders if given the chance. As it turns out, spiders raised in groups almost never try to eat even unfamiliar spiders. When they remain together, they respond to chemical cues and remain tolerant. But when they’ve been isolated, the familiarity is lost, and that’s what leads to intolerant and aggressive behavior. 
 
I’ve seldom ventured out on my own two crutches at all, but last week, I headed out with the help of my trustworthy life partner and nursemaid Geo. Out of necessity we went to a big box grocery store where masks are still required. People are my favorite! I thought, looking forward to the quick exchanges of connection that are part of the human social world. I tried the “smiley eyes” thing out as I motored around in my electric go-cart. People mostly ignored me, which felt lonely and awkward. Then at the check-out line one guy, his mask down below his chin, told me that I was cutting into line. I saw that this was true and I apologized, but he just glared back. 
 
Immediately my mind got busy judging him. Then it began to criticize other people’s pandemic behavior. There are some very sticky thought webs about that subject, I noticed. I couldn’t wait to get to my safe and predictable home, shocked at how one interaction had shifted my whole mood. Back with my spider and its web, I remembered another spider factoid: most spiders create a new web every day. Then I remembered that I had forgotten for a minute: the energetic kindness of strangers who have bounded ahead of me to help open doors. The beautiful emails and cards of sympathy and kindness. The meals prepared and cheerful visits of friends. 
 
There was such clarity in that moment that I began to spin a new web based on my simple truth, backed by more than 70 years human social life. No matter who smiles at me or gives me crap or what gets spun in the news cycle, I know for sure that most humans are not unkind. I could see the likelihood that our species will get less cranky as we get out more. I think we’ll learn again how to tap into our basic human need for kindness and connection. And when I’m in doubt, I remind myself of the words of spiritual eco-activist Joanna Macy: “Let life through, in the biggest doorway in your being.” When I do that, there’s enough room in my heart for all of creation, including cranky humans and spiders.
 
May we all remember that in the coming months.
 
SgB 10/2021

Letting It Roll

Resistance
 
I tie my limbs with rubber bows
red yellow blue green
remembering not to hold,
I breathe and count rep by rep
the movements of slow recovery.
 
—SgB

Now has come an easy time. I let it roll.

 
Thus began my personal mantra for the month of August, courtesy of my favorite poet William Stafford. And so at the beginning of last month I changed my daily practice to include rolling around town and country on my electric bike. Clever, huh? But then, a couple weeks in, I hit a pile of loose gravel.
 
My understanding of letting it roll changed radically in that moment. I was forced to drop immediately any idea of managing the situation. There was no choice but to let the Universe roll on without my guidance. So much help began showing up, from the angels on the spot who helped out at the scene, to my husband who was impeccably on call for the first two weeks, to the long list of family, neighbors, and friends who came forth with offers, food, and encouragement. Now a metal plate and a few screws are holding the fibula back together while I experience the meaning of surrender and dependence and still manage a humble brag concerning my Athletic Injury.
 
Now has come an easy time. Right here. Today, I remind myself, with my leg propped up on various surfaces around the house, I’m finally freed of the lessons brought by the pain of the first two weeks. I repeat the Easy Time mantra frequently, even while I continue to give up some pride and gratefully accept help. Since there will be no wild times requiring bearing weight for a total of nearly eight weeks, I’m learning all kinds of other things about asking for help and releasing a few dozen unexamined preferences. My walker and I roll along fine when I keep these things in mind. But sometimes I forget, and then come the thought storms about how long this will be, how pathetic I am, how bad it is for my body and mind to be largely sedentary for four weeks, how unbearable the pain is.
 
Suddenly it’s not an easy time anymore. Everything becomes harder and I get lost in a little pity tea party. Then I take a sip of the nettle tea my friend sent to help knit my bones. And I notice I’m breathing fuller and my monkey mind is taking a nap. And the serene beauty of autumn takes over the healing.
 
This is that easy time. And I am grateful.
May you find some easy times and places this Autumn.
 
And may you let this good time roll.
 
SgB 9/2021

Why I am Happy

I hate summers.  Every year by fall the words tumble out. Admitting it seems sacrilegious. And yet there it is. Even today, as I savor the summer world waking up, I know that it’s not completely true. I don’t really hate it. But still.
 
No. Not still. That’s the problem with summer, I think. All the hubbub and activity. Summers are composed of too muchness. Overwhelm. Not enough stillness. So big. So busy. So much coming and going and not enough time to land. 
 
 
 
 Like most everyone around me, I’ve been trying my best to make up for lost time with family and friends while responding to the reality of a rapidly shifting world. Yesterday I sat for a time in my garden, trying to catch up with myself. Essentially nothing from my activity-based checklist is completed, and yet already there’s that sense of depletion. A phrase from a beloved poem by William Stafford, Why I am Happy popped into my mind. My framed and beautifully scribed copy burned in a forest fire last fall, but the wonderful thing about words is they don’t burn but keep doing their magic as long as we can string a few phrases together.
 
The next words, I let it roll, come into my mind.
My to-do list for the next month just got a whole lot shorter. 
 
And so we come to my summer wish list for you, my friends: 
 
May you let it all roll as you remember the peace and ease of the blue and free lake you already carry inside yourself.May that elusive peace of mind be your guide as often as you can during these precious days.
 
It’s a wish and a prayer. For you. For all of us.
 
SgB 8/2021

Now That I Know

Now that I Know…

These are the words of my spiritual director, a radical priest who holds space in a small loft in Portland. I’m not a Catholic, but I trust this guy.

I’ve just weathered the traumatic accidental drowning of a friend and an addiction crisis with a family member. Both were situations requiring me to find the ground under my feet ASAP while at the same time surrendering to all the things I couldn’t control even if I wanted to. Other people’s needs seemed to dictate my days. 

Now that I know, he said quietly. 

What?  I asked, leaning in.

What did you learn? What do you know now that you didn’t know before? He asked.

For a moment the overwhelm and fog lifted. Clarity. A felt sense of calm, a perspective. A way to move on.

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Seeking Space for Solitude

Dear Friends,
 
As we enter a post-lockdown world, many folks are ready to make up for lost time in the social whirl. But if you’re finding it difficult to reconnect with the demands of the interactive human world, you’re not alone. Literally. A lack of personal space or forced togetherness has been tough on everyone, but the reality is that for some it has been harder than for others because (newsflash) we’re all different. Just as most humans crave connection, others long for a permeable membrane so that they won’t lose touch with that quiet inner voice they hear best in solitude. Hello Neurodiversity. If you’re in the last group, I suggest you read The Divergent Mind (see below) to help you understand youOSU Pillows Lightsr introverted or sensitive self. Then start where you are. Claim a space (or a time) wherever you are to ground and center. Even a small corner of your apartment or bedroom works to start. Check out ideas and links here to create a virtualMindSpa:” (with thanks to Oregon State University’s CAPS program). Later, as you move into new or bigger spaces, you may find the idea has expanded, as it did for me.
 
A Room of One’s Own. When I was a mother of young children with a marriage in tatters, the title of Virginia Woolf’s 1929 manifesto began to haunt me. My little corner of the bedroom no longer offered the precious personal space I needed. I claimed one of the tiny bedrooms in our ranch house as my own space, with an actual door. I remember painting it white against all advice. It looked more like a padded cell than a retreat space, which is just what I needed at the time. While the children grew, I began imagining a third life stage, when I’d vanish into a cave in India or commit to a simple life inside a Carmelite monastery cell. While other mothers fantasized about dealing blackjack in Vegas, I saw myself as an Anchorite, like those nuns in the middle ages who stayed in place, praying for divine wisdom, advising pilgrims who came to them with a word or a verse. I continued to long for solitude even as I was (mostly) enjoying a sweet life with family and community.
 
A Room of One’s Own. Twenty years later I headed over to a monastery to check it out. Eventually I trained as an ecumenical “spiritual director,” which involved little directing and a lot of listening. I claimed our little garden room as my Oasis, and I began to invite a few people, one at a time, to listen to the fountain and to smell the jasmine, to engage in inquiry and conversation. I created an online landing place. And presto. I was an anchorite without leaving home. This oasis is still the perfect setting for early morning meditation, but there’s enough clanging and banging in everyday life that my very distractible inner monkey has been having a field day. Listening to that still small voice took more and more uninterrupted time.
 
A Room of One’s Own. Then along came the many-tentacled pandemic. As we sheltered in place, the refrain returned, this time like a desperate shriek during the togetherness time of the lockdown. I was in luck. A couple of years ago, we cleared out our bike shed and turned it into a tiny “she shed’ where my nomadic daughter could land between musical tours. Covid brought her home and moved her into her own place of her own. And the space became vacant. You can see where this is going. I now have a separate space of my own, a place to retreat and write and listen to the precious uninterrupted voice of solitude. A Housie of My own.
 
IMG 3060

IMG 3061

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In the middle of current real estate craziness, this may not be on your immediate horizon. But you can start where you are. A corner can become a room can become an oasis can become a housie.
 
It all starts with listening and tiny little steps.
 
Love from the Housie, 
 
Susan Grace
 
Divergent MindThe Divergent Mind:
A game changer. You may have missed the memo since this ground-breaking book was released on the exact day of the first lockdown in the spring of 2020. This well-researched book has given me a deeper understanding of my own nature and the ways of many of my clients. It’s also helpful in explaining to friends and family the neurological differences those of us who are highly sensitive or introverted often struggle to find the words to communicate for ourselves. 
 

Mothers Dreaming Daughters and a Future

Dear friends,
 
It’s complicated here in this Bardo, this world between worlds that we call 2021. Like any animal emerging from a cocoon or hibernation, many of us are tender and tentative. As we take each step toward “normal,” we ask ourselves, Now where was I?  (in the Before World). But in all the excitement, we can easily forget to ask Who am I Now? No longer in the old safe world of traditional etiquette, we’re on our own to find some graciousness as the world keeps changing. Daily. Mask on or off? How to come up with safety agreements with people we love who nonetheless disagree with us on the red-hot subject of vaccinations?
 
Decision fatigue alone is enough to make you want to crawl back into lockdown. There’s no One Size Fits All, and we’re on our own to fashion something that works each time we engage with our families and friends. Even if we figure something out, there’s no guarantee that things won’t all change again. Quite the opposite. This requires a flexibility and equanimity I’m only beginning to feel in this life. If we were butterflies emerging from the cocoon, we’d flap our new wings before flying into this new world. The human equivalent is to take that second question about who I am now more seriously. To take time to adjust to this new reality before taking a giant leap back OR forward in this Simon Says world of the pandemic.
 
Sometimes when I need perspective I look to my ancestors for inspiration. I found some by going all the way back to the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1870. My great great grandmother Maria Raum, a new immigrant, lost her husband and an unborn baby to the Yellow Fever plague in Memphis after his beer wagon was commandeered to remove bodies. Maria was left penniless and unable to feed herself and her 3 and 5 year old daughters. Unable to go back home to Germany, unable to speak the language of the new world, she did what she had to do so that they would survive. She sent them off to a Lutheran orphanage while she worked as domestic help and saved enough money to be able to support them. After three years she emerged from the world of pandemic domestic service to find they had been packed up and loaded onto an Orphan Train headed west. Hundreds of miles and inquiries later she found them living with their new farm families.
 
What she did next is my favorite page of family history. Instead of fighting to reclaim her girls, she and her new husband built a house down the road to watch them grow and have children of their own. She’s buried in a small German cemetery near her daughters and their adoptive families. Now that’s a radical form of resilience, an example of true Motherlove. 
 
I call on this grace and resilience as I dream of what this next world might become. I’m beginning right here, where I am today, dreaming this new future, knowing even if it all changes love will find a way. Always does in the end.
 
 
Poetry reading posterPS. I’ve been writing more poetry during our current pandemic. I’ll be reading this new poem about my mother’s mother’s mother, this week, along with my Open Handed Writers’ group and friends. It’s a free Zoom call (with the support of our local bookstore)
 
If you’re reading this May 5th, come listen tonight at 7 PT and join us as we celebrate Mothering as a Verb. Just visit this page for the link.
 
 
 
Dreaming Daughters
 
The women in my family dream their daughters,
And so I dreamed you up, a strong Baby Woman. 
Just as my mother dreamed herself a sister instead of a baby
And her mother dreamed a prodigy, Shirley Temple of Saline County.
And her mother before her dreamed up a milliner.
But the mother before that, a new immigrant turned into a widow by Yellow Fever,
That mother just dreamed of getting her daughters’ bellies fed
 
And so she let them go by boat to an orphanage, 
signs hanging from necks in the only language she knew,
saying keep them safe and I will come.
And when she didn’t, couldn’t, an orphan train took them 
To new farm families with mothers who at least spoke the old tongue,
who adopted them and who fed them
and put them to work cooking for farm hands until
they began to have dreams in this strange, new language
and when their German mother traveled hundreds of miles to find them happy, 
she built a little house the size of her new dream 
down the road from their full-bellied lives. 
But she just kept on dreaming and watching in that new place
because that’s what mothers do sometimes.

Hope is a Thing with Feathers

Aloha, Dear Friends!
 
Looking out the window at the flowering cherry outside this morning, my mind goes back to this exact scene a year ago. The view is the same, but the feeling is so different. Today spring’s birdsong reminds me of a memory tucked away in the folds of this old but durable brain. I hear the words of Marcus Borg, a mentor and religious scholar who helped me to rediscover my Christian roots. One Sunday he was speaking of the Holy Spirit, which I’d never had much use for before, although I often thought of myself as a Spiritual Person. 
 
His words resonate even more today: As you watch for the face of the Holy Spirit, be quiet. Patient. Like a bird watcher longing to see a rare and shy bird. I was immediately taken with the image, and it has visited me often since then. I’ve found it immensely comforting to allow that bird into my heart when I’ve felt overwhelmed by my own dark nights or by the newest examples of human ignorance or evil. (It probably goes without saying that this past year it’s become an almost constant companion.)
 
But I’ve learned again and again that the shy bird of soulful comfort will not show up at my command. This is one of the biggest takeaways from my year: love, faith, and hope cannot be stalked. They reveal themselves in their own ways, peeking out of the brush of everyday life, usually accompanied by acts of mercy or kindness. I’ve learned to be a little more still and to patiently watch, with an eye out for tenderness. 
 
Hope is a Thing with Feathers. Emily Dickinson’s poem has been with me this spring. And her words keep coming back to warm me in this chilliest of lands. And today while hiking, what showed up? A Thing with Feathers. A beautiful soft bird’s nest woven of grass and softened with white and speckled feathers. Enough already, I thought. And so I share this photo and Dickinson’s poem with you today, in recognition of the beauty of synchronicity, my favorite poet, and National Poetry Month.
 
May that bird with feathers perch more and more often just outside your window. May your heart be filled with the power of hope. May you be blessed and healed as we find our ways back to each other…one bird at time.
 
With love,
Susan Grace Beekman
 
 
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul 
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.
 
And sweetest in the gale is heard
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
 
I’ve heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea
Yet never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
 
~Emily Dickinson

The Grandmother Stands

For the last couple of decades my family has owned a cabin in the old growth forest of the Pacific Northwest, less than two hours from our home. Whenever the speed of life was too much it was always there for us. Our refuge. When the weather was right, in the early mornings, I’d wrap up, sit outside the many-paned windows, and take in the forest. In the center rose an ancient red cedar snag, undisturbed by the hemlock, cedar and fir upstarts, all less than a hundred years old, who all seemed to gather around her. I named her Grandmother Snag. Every time I sat, there she was. I began to think of her as my own private Natural Wonder. And then, a few months ago, our cabin and the surrounding forest were wiped out by a fire that sped through the valley at speeds over 60 miles per hour. 

As the news rolled in, confirmed by drone reports, we knew that all the family mementos and irreplaceable instruments had succumbed to flames. Somehow this mattered less when I imagined the Grandmother Snag there, holding fast to the hillside, surviving even this devastation. I wrote a poem about her. I poured over the drone footage and asked witnesses if they’d seen her, joking but slightly hopeful still. As the small community tallied and mourned our losses, the reality of destruction was too enormous for me to bring up my fanciful image of one snag.  

Then last week, five months after the fire, my husband Geo was finally able to enter the hazardous area to see what remained. We were told to expect little, which turned out to be a falsely optimistic prediction. The entire old forest was gone, along with more than 70 cabins in the valley. Damaged and dangerous trees had been felled and stacked and now lined the rutted and muddy road, sometimes twenty feet high. Only ribbons of twisted metal and a lone fireplace remained, along with two stove boxes.  Two perfect bicycles were melted to sprockets. A fire-blistered propane tank somehow hadn’t exploded, and a once-green metal outdoor table with four chairs sat rusting, waiting for some human company.

George brought home one box of melted remains: a Kokopele metal plaque, a dragonfly door knocker, the remainders of vintage Mary Poppins lunchbox, melted like a Dali clock. Then a couple of weeks ago he surprised me with a Valentine’s gift: a family photo of sorts, one he had taken at my meditation site. In the middle of the blackened forest hillside only one landmark remained. And there she was. Tilted to a 45 degree angle, but firmly and deeply rooted in the forest floor. Charred and bent but not broken. Grandmother Snag. 

Grandmother Snag 2021

 

 

 

 

Up in Smoke: An Inventory

1 outdoor pit toilet with peeling door
1 sixty-year old gingerbread cabin 
2 decks, shaky floors, 
5 beds, and games and drums for a crew
1 hand-hewn ladder to a skylit loft,
1 retirement clock
1 white and robin-blue wedding quilt 
signed by your grandmother.
1 bluejeans and corduroy quilt 
hand tied by your mother, 
that one that covered us that first time we slept together.
All remnants of all fifty years gone with the spiraling and swooping
cleansing fire of our last anniversary,

 And also: 2 bay windows opening to 
18 species of tree,
Uncountable rampant lichen and fern. 
An entire ground floor of deep moss
Greenest quiet of ancient forest mornings 
The pale sun lighting Grandmother Snag,
Red orange indigo scrubbing the emerald floor. 
Long walks on rivers in the fullness of forest
Infinitely star rich nights with music and friends, 
Beyond fire and smoke.
Beyond time.

The Other Side of Through

The tight pink buds on the tree outside my window and the daffodils everywhere are broadcast spring here in the early warning channel that is the Northwest. Diminishing Covid numbers bring hope, and it feels like an enormous cloud is about to lift. It’s not lifted yet, but patches of blue are now visible. In related news, on Friday I’ll get my vaccine booster shot. 

Words from my gospel choir days come to mind: There’s another side of through/ the whole world waits for you. You got to hold on, hold, on, till you’re on the Other Side of Through.

I loved swaying back and forth, belting out these lines when I was in the midst of wave after wave of turmoil in my life.  There was a long time there when I just needed the reminder that there WAS another side.  I clung to the thin refrain and did just what it said.  I kept on.

Then one day, one week, one season, I began to notice it was true.  I was no longer in the eye of the storm.  I was on the other side.  I was through.

Next another image comes to mind from up the hill in the ancient forest where my family had a cabin for years. There’s a trail sign that reads Here 2, marking a trailone that ends at a There sign at the bottom of the hill. Funky hand-lettered signs marked the start and the end. All of this went up in smoke last September, including the forest and all human habitats. What was left behind is scorched earth, memories, and at least one good insight: It was not possible to be either “here” or “there” at once. And there was a whole wooded hillside to navigate between those two points. 

That’s how it feels this early spring. Not yet There, to the end of this pandemic and all the cautions it entails, but not Here 2 either, focused every day about each detail of quarantined life. We’re somewhere on the trail to There, and we are still moving to the Other Side of Through.

I’m keeping in mind another memory: The trail of soft forest duff wound gently down a hill, one careful step at a time. 

Be well. 

 

New Beginning or Groundhogs’ Day?

Friends,

It’s been weeks since the official inauguration, where we all learned about the power of poetry from Amanda Gorman, a gift from the next generation. (Just for a couple of feel-good moments, check it out here). Ever since that day only two weeks ago the word “inauguration” has been tumbling around in my mind. Technically, an inauguration is simply the acknowledgment of a new beginning, and this is a time of year and a time in human history when the whole world is longing for a shot at that. And yet most of us are still waking up each day on Groundhog’s Day, only worse because, along with the isolation caused by weather, there’s another little wrinkle called the pandemic. Our coping skills are limited and the usual go-to’s aren’t open anyway. What we once may have faced as a test of discipline or creativity has started to get on our collective nerves. Folks who do well with January resolutions may be sailing off into some unknown socially isolated sunset to live happily ever after. But for many of us, it’s still Groundhog’s Day.

As I was contemplating these deep thoughts, I realized what I needed was not a resolution, but an inauguration of my very own. I started thinking about a pledge of allegiance and I wrote the poem I’m sharing this month. This year I’m determined to no longer be a self-improvement project in my own mind. As long as it’s my own personal inauguration of this new season, I pledge to myself to bring along all of me as I create each new day, beginning again, practicing kindness in a world torn by suspicion and doubt. Now all that I need is a bumper sticker, I thought. Then just yesterday I stumbled on the perfect words from Raymond Carver, suitable for slapping on the best of bumpers:

It is the tenderness that I care about. That’s the gift this morning that moves and holds me.

May we celebrate tenderness and the soft pink pearls of morning light. And may this be what moves and holds us through the coming year. My inaugural prayer for us all.

With love,

Susan Grace

Poem: “Inaugural Pledge”

I believe in Life in Breath in Love,
in the United States of Mind.
But I pledge allegiance
to the scattered states, too.
The confusion sloth and torpor.
the many everyday sins.
All have a place at this table
as long as they lay down their weapons
and show up with big appetites.
We’ll break bread, drink wine,
surrender to the slaughter
of what we thought we knew
about ourselves, about each other.

And then we’d arise and go forth
day after day,
step by creaky step,
restoring the peace,
marching to the promised land.
welcoming the forgotten and scorned,
uniting against the common enemy,
the masters of lies and deceit,
but most of all
delighted by the soft pink pearls
of morning light
– Susan Grace, 2021

Gratitude from the Cocoon

Hello and Happy Epiphany!

Last night I Zoomed with five high school friends who’re exactly my age, having graduated in the same year. Some of them I’ve known since I was ten. All had successful careers, now mostly behind them or replaced by community, church, and family service. All of us have Cocoon 39353 1920been lucky, hard-working, and clever enough to be financially stable in retirement.  Most, but not all, are well-traveled. Most, but not all, are doting Zoom grandparents. All, not most, are thankful each day for our lives and health.

The check-in began with our hit parade of insights and fears about the pandemic and politics, richly interwoven with memories of our shared youth. Then there was a noticeable pause. And it was Vicki who confessed first. I’m so content with this quiet life. I don’t want to go anywhere, change anything. I’m just peaceful. Then one by one each woman testified to the deep satisfaction of solitude and living in a kind of day-to-day flow: the creative surprises that have emerged from quarantine. We realized we’ve become “homebodies,” an identity that would have gagged us at a certain time in our lives.

Today I still see the face of each vibrant woman in her early seventies, combined with a clear memory of each face at different stages, all the way back to the girls we were at 16. There’s something transcendent in each face, something more at home with itself, something less stressed and more rested than ever before. Apparently cocooning is a powerful regenerative beauty remedy.

I’m so humbled and honored by the sacrifices being made to keep me and my generation safe. I remember the frenetic pace and the stress of trying to hold together career and family as it came at me from all directions during my householder years. I can only imagine how much harder it is for those of you whose lives have become infinitely more complex in the last year.  I realize that you’ve borne the brunt of the pandemic, as you’ve shouldered the need to protect us from the ravages of this plague.

I want to say thank you, but those two words don’t describe the gratitude I feel in my heart. This may be the first time that many of us in the cocoon have ever been truly rested. We hope to do you proud when we emerge, and now, here we are. In deep appreciation of this world between worlds where you took good care of us.

And so I begin each morning with a prayer of gratitude and a poem. For you. For us all.

SgB

Morning Prayer

Bless the fuzzy dream world.
Try to remember it as body arises,
foot meeting the floor, slowly staggering to the toilet.
Praise the plumbing that still works.
Watch as body releases water.
Boils water. Makes tea (and thus more water)
Heart beats of its own accord.

Open curtains.
Breathe out the sleep world
(in praise of fog rain sun snow).
Notice the flurry of to-do’s and no-don’ts,
the packages of maybes
piling up on the doorstep of waking,
helpers with the best of intentions.
Ignore them for now.
Light candles of gratitude for the warmth of being
Sip the tender morning light. Savor it.
Go forth.
Remember these things.

Susan Grace. (2021)

My Octopus Teacher


Film Pick for January: 

My Octopus Teacher
An interspecies love story…

Featured image by GLady from Pixabay