Posts Categorized: Confusion to Clarity

Transfusion of the Heart

Transfusion of the Heart

I’m certainly no stranger to life’s unpredictable heartbreak and loss. Lately, like most of my peers in the Youngish Elder category, I notice my brain and body are a little more fatigued from the surprises of each year as it passes. It seems as if the pace has been increasing  lately, and there’s good evidence for this claim. But nobody wants to be re-traumatized by visiting that list of surprises.

While there’s certainly increased cultural and environmental grief, the predictable vicissitudes of aging can’t be ignored. With all my replaced and updated parts, right now my biggest problem is a brain that seems way too eager to drop names (or nouns in general) if it deems them unnecessary. A couple of my very dearest friends, slammed with sobering diagnoses, haven’t been so lucky. I’ve taken just about everything having to do with my health and life force for granted.

In my life there are many blessings I try not to ignore. In my role as life coach for a small list of clients I nearly always find renewed energy and inspiration. My family is healthy and mostly thriving. There have been no major wildfires near us for the last couple of years. For these things and more I am truly grateful.

When I haven’t been so lucky in big ways and small, resilience has found me and showed me the way. It hasn’t let me down. But this year it’s a gradual anemia of heart that seems to want my attention, especially as I peek into the next year and realize the seriousness of the challenges we face as a people. Just imagining possible futures is enough to fatigue a person who’s been doing a pretty good job of treading water. 

I know in my depths that resilience alone won’t do the trick long-term. I think I need a reboot, while I’m still walking in these boots. I recently felt inspired by these lines from Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem How to Disappear:

Walk around feeling like a leaf.

Know you could tumble any second.

Then decide what to do with your time.

Such is life in my seventies. A concoction of gratitude and fatigue. A mixture of hope and acceptance, tempered by the lessons of reality. Learning to pause to let life show me the way.

I can’t see the future clearly, but I’m encouraged by a humbled understanding of the value of the basic components of life.

As gifted songwriter Laura Nyro advised, “Nothing cures like time and love.” These are the healing cures for almost anything. But it’s especially true for Anemia of the Heart.

Time. Love. This feels just about right. May the next year bring you ample quantities of these two essential ingredients. And may this transfusion renew your heart and increase your peace as you move forth.

Susan Grace

The Promise of a New Year 

Winter moon smudges

Halo of hope a smeared rainbow

in dark charcoal sky

Erasing the world 

Of my daily re-creation, 

leaving only a hint 

of life before now.

and a vague moon print 

of future revelation

— SgB 2024

photo by George Beekman

Twisting, Bending, and Holiday Nirvana

A couple of weeks ago, only a few days I after I wrote a blog about my firm resolution to pay attention to my body’s subtle cues, I had a little stumble, a little fall, resulting in some sore ribs. Nothing I couldn’t ignore.

A couple of days later, congratulating myself on my quick recovery, I went back to my regular yoga class. As I twisted and then stretched into a forward bend, I felt a slight click, something I had always called an adjustment, For a moment I thought I that once again yoga had offered its magical relief. As I began to move into Tadasana, a muscle spasm took me to the floor. What had felt delicious the day before prevented me from getting off my mat, and I only got into a wheel chair with the help of friends. 

For the week that followed, which included a long holiday, a muscle spasm got my attention nearly full-time, day and night, So much for subtle listening. I’m not saying that there weren’t certain benefits to being served a turkey dinner by my family, but to tell the truth it wasn’t worth it.

Since then, a couple of gifted bodywork detectives helped me to trace the injury to hyper flexibility, something I had thought was a good thing. What a revelation! I’m told by my best allies that without enough strength, flexibility can be dangerous. Apparently my muscles came to the rescue when they seized, protecting those fragile ribs and the essential organs beneath them. What a clever body! But hardly subtle; apparently this is what it took to get my attention.

I had plenty of time to lie around and reflect on the situation, a yummy opportunity for a metaphor junkie. And what I noticed is that my usual habit to tend, to befriend, to find harmony with win/win solutions, has basically resulted in the habit of back-bending a bit too far. Occasionally all this stretching and allowing has cost me money. But more often the cost is hidden. When I abandon my own strong knowing, it may please others, but it takes a good while to begin to trust myself again.

As luck would have it, this is also the holiday season. The exact time that the Back Bender tends to take over, for all the seasonal reasons, both joyous and overwrought.

As I hauled my yoga mat up the stairs to class today, the pain was gone. I know the strength will return in its own time.

Gradually my body will thank me for my patience. Or, better yet, it won’t have the need to yell at me to get my attention. Now that sounds like a perfect gift for the two of us, my body and me.

May you find joy in standing firm this season, even as you embrace the flexibility of an open mind. May you listen to your body’s wise guidance, even as you celebrate all the life it gives.

Life Is a Demanding Lover

This summer I turned a new page in my imagined book of life. Perhaps it’s even a new chapter. I’ve done the math so many ways: I’m entering the last quarter of my life (if I live to a hundred). Or, more realistically it’s the last one-sixth of life coming up (if I top out at ninety). In other words, I turned 75. 

It took me a while to come out because, for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel so proud of my age. Perhaps all the ageist humor about my generation has taken root in my head. Or maybe it’s the Post-it notes I unintentionally slap on to “people of that age,” a lifetime habit. Yesterday when I was at the hospital for a routine procedure, a nurse looked at my chart and asked if they got my age right and gave me a Girlfriend Thumbs-up.

For a long time now people have seemed sincerely surprised when I reveal my age, having assumed that I’m still in my youthful sixties. Or at least that’s what they say. So maybe I’m not the only one with the Post-It notes.

I spent most of the early summer in a Life Review Project. What a luxury to be able to take slow-down time to question childhood assumptions and discover lessons that life just keeps teaching me! The more I look inside, the more I see. I still have a host of other assumptions and beliefs about EVERYTHING having to do with aging. The truth is I’m fortunate to be reasonably healthy. As far as I know, no wicked cells are lurking in my body planning a coup. And, although my memory for details is sometimes hazy, it feels like something stronger has taken hold. Perhaps it’s wisdom, grounded in the losses of these years which serve as continual reminders of life’s impermanence. 

Besides, it’s very clear to me that my Eternal Self has no age whatsoever. She also doesn’t even have a name, she reminds me, usually with a wink.

A T-shirt caught my eye while I was on a recent ramble. Reality is a Demanding Lover, it said. The phrase resonates like a Zen koan.  I remember all the times I’ve bet against Reality and lost, discovering in the process what it takes to truly cooperate with Life. The longer I think, the more I notice myself writing another, equal, message, perhaps for the back of the T-shirt: Reality is a Generous Lover. 

And I know both are true. Life has sometimes slapped me with demands that I never would have believed that that I would be able to meet. And then it has generously showed me that there is more than enough support to meet it all.  The more often I surrender to reality, the easier life goes. And so I surrender once more. When all is said and done, my initiation to the last one-sixth of my life has left me with more clarity. I’m officially committing to spend the rest of my life learning to love life better, whether reality is demanding or generous. I’m down for all of it.

May your passages be as gentle.

  • ——

Wounded Love

     I

Last night a drawing caught my fancy.

Wounded Man.

500 years old, 

A cookie cutter outline of a human form

Impaled by knives,

by swords, by arrows 

pierced ten, twenty times, more, 

soon to become an index for the very

first doctors.

Wound Woman,

I thought,

That’s what I feel like today,

I see this body,

riddled as it is 

by wear,

by steps and missteps

held together

for a time

by miracles

and titanium.

I think of this

brave heart, 

how it expands

again, again, again after each break.

I looked down to see 

a landscape carved by life.

In gratitude,

I call all of this Me.

              II

I take Me out to a concert in the park.

How’s your summer going?

The standard greeting rushes out

when I see my

long-missed friend.

Then, remembering his body’s battle with cancer, 

I tender the next question

How are you feeling?

Okay, he answers, 

on the weeks I don’t have chemo,

That’s half the time, 

which is pretty good.

He tells me of trips to see his sons, 

stare at the stars, listen to music

savor the company of friends

How do you keep going?  I ask, 

suddenly aware of my complaints 

of creakiness and fatigue.

He gently holds my eye.

I love life, he says simply.

And that answer catches the breath

and still rings bright and true

as summer breeze turns to fall.

— SgB 2023

Spring in the Land of Longing

Happy Spring!

Wherever I go lately, people are lit up. It started here when we were graced with two straight days of sun following three full weeks of rain. Trees delayed by a very late winter suddenly flowered with a vengeance, as did allergies, but we didn’t mind. Spring has always drawn people here in the Northwest out from under our rocks to bask wherever (and whenever) we can. But this year is different, with a communal sense that we’ve made it through Something Big, Or several Somethings Big all at once. Global pandemic and Rampant Wildfire Big, just to start the list. 

The fires are behind us for now, but we’re still assessing the damage. Old haunts and hidden gems have been erased. The mountains are still blackened with falling trees. But undergrowth and wildflowers are returning, and gradually homes and businesses are too, at least those that can. Even if it were possible to rebuild, the communities that burned to the ground will never be the same.

Wherever you live, whatever natural (or national) disaster you’ve faced, human hearts around you are just beginning to recover, still bruised from so many losses and so much fear. This is the great tragedy of all the Big Somethings we’ve faced: a reluctance to trust or rely on each other like we did before. Many of us are deeply lonely: statistics for the US say over 30% of adults and higher for young people, and these numbers are growing throughout the world. Even if we’re not lonely, we all long for connection, a problem that can seem overwhelming at first. But nothing could be more important. In the end, the best way to cure the cost of social distance is with social connection, which is the best glue to hold us all together as we move forward.

The facts are these: we’re all humans who are facing hard realities. AND we desperately need to be with others for mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. According to the brand-new US Surgeon General’s Advisory, a lack of social connection (or belonging) is a mortality risk greater than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The report is packed with research results, and it’s presented in a colorful, clear, and comprehensive form. The writing and graphics are compelling and easy to read, which is a bit surprising in a government document. Check it out here.

It’s a good thing that human beings usually have a strong need to belong. After all, our survival is at stake. But, just as important, we also have a longing to connect to something Bigger. Something Much Bigger. Bigger and Kinder.

Easier said than done. Loneliness and a desire to interact may motivate us to rebuild our lives, but the old ways don’t feel natural. We have changed and so has the world.

Social media, although lifesaving, doesn’t meet the biological desire for real presence. With eye contact. And conversation. (I know. I’m old fashioned.) So here we are: Longing to connect others and yet finding it uncomfortable to reach out. It may no longer feel intuitive to reach out to strangers, but we can do it.

All each of us can do is take a next step. The one that hasn’t happened yet. A smile, a wave, a kind word. Help a neighbor out. Assume good intentions. Notice the places you’d like to belong. Take the step you know to take. A coffee date, a volunteer shift, a language or yoga class, a family or community celebration, involvement with a cause that has meaning for you and for the world. Make your own list.

Each day brings a new opportunity to take the next awkward step. This is how we learned to walk, and it’s how we welcome ourselves back to humanity. Little by little.

May all of us find the courage and creativity to greet whatever (and whoever) awaits us as we honor the importance of belonging. Together.

 

Spring in the Land of Longing

I am from the land of cinnamon and longing

Chocolate and longing

Incense and longing

And I don’t belong here.

I don’t belong anywhere.

This is how we are in the Land of Longing.

We do not belong anywhere.

Take springtime. 

Even though

we feel the hope of flowering blossoms

Spring isn’t for us 

because it reminds us (screams at us really)

that it’s leaving soon and so are we

and besides

it’s never as sweet 

as that one time.

The people from my land 

do not belong anywhere

Except that one place

the one that hasn’t happened yet.

That one. That’s the place.

 

A place to start.

—SgB

May, 2023

Resorting and Re-Sorting

It’s late winter and once again I’m torn by two competing drives, each a response to cabin fever. First, there’s the strong desire to simply get out of cold, wet Oregon, trusting wide open sky as an antidote to the encroaching indoor walls and sunshine to the bronchial tickle the flu left behind. 

And then here at said cabin there’s a (sometimes small) inclination to sort through detritus of indoor living.

Both desires are as primal as the two paths of my Neanderthal ancestors: those who pursued friendlier climates, and those who settled down to sort out things, like seeds and families and agrarian life.

Resorting

Last month found us following the first path, traveling south to a bay in Mexico, where we resorted, mostly by just staring at the sea and basking in warmth. The empty skies and the constancy of waves gave my head a break from its never-ending efforts to create order in my everyday world. The phrase “last resort” came to mind throughout the trip because it felt like one. Covid strategies and stress had multiplied my ill-fated tendency manage the unmanageable. And so this seemed like a last chance to get a break from routine headaches and to downshift my nervous system.

While hanging out at our small hotel, I studied the wildly exotic but ordinary pelicans in the bay outside our casita. For days I watched each pelican as it dove again and again headfirst into the surf, each time filling its beak. After collecting their dinner, these strange creatures simply float on the water, placidly allowing the crazy filtering system in their expanded necks to sort the edible from the non-edible while they bobbled in the sunset and gradually absorbed their nutrition from the sea around them. We have a lot in common, I realized. I was also allowing my unconscious self some time to rest and take in sustenance from life as it is.

Re-sorting 

The seed-sorters. That’s my tribe, I think as I unpack from the tropical resort. Time to unfeather my nest. 

The impulse is right on time. Every year toward the end of winter a need for order rises up. If I were a serious gardener or a farmer, I’d be sorting seeds from last season’s crop, letting go of over-ambitious experiments from last growing season. I’d look forward to the fallow winter cabin time, when snow covers dormant plants and rain creates slick fields of mud and there’s time to pause by the warm fire, taking stock, dreaming, seed catalogues in hand.

It’s in that spirit that late winter weather inspires me to to take stock and sort out my own personal growth experiments. This inclination is especially strong during this past year of re-emergence. Holidays and resolutions are over. I’ve absorbed lots of spiritual nourishment along the way, so I’m filtering out what hasn’t served me. Same with clothes that no longer fit comfortably or reflect my sense of who I’m becoming. During this in-between time on the calendar, it’s also more possible for me to drift a bit away from old habits. To separate the seeds from the chaff, to sort through the detritus of the recent past, to imagine myself into whatever’s next.

I remind myself of all the myths and fairy tales in which sorting (and re-sorting) is a part of the hero’s journey. In classic Greek mythology, Athena orders the mortal Psyche to prove her devotion to Cupid, Athena’s son, by separating all the wheat, barley, millet, and beans in her enormous warehouse. Some ants came along and took care of the sorting in short order. In the famous Grimm fairy tale, Cinderella got her reputation by picking out peas and lentils her stepsisters mixed with ashes. Again, just in time, magical helpers (in this case pigeons and mice) pitched in so that she could make her grand entrance (and her dramatic exit) from the ball.

These ancient tales describe the heroine’s path of discernment. Mere mortals, who don’t have access to magical ants or mice, must look elsewhere—inside and outside—for the help we need to sort the seeds of growth from those that keep us stuck in loops of the past. These days, as the world offers distraction after distraction, it’s more important than ever to do some sorting. Or re-sorting. Like a good pelican, moving at a pace closer to the speed of life.

Reclaiming Epiphany

It was 1984. As a mother of two young kids who taught teenagers during the day I had no alone time. But this didn’t keep me from trying to save the lives of my rapidly disintegrating family half a continent away by telephone. I reveled in my ability to do all of it because that’s what it meant to me to be a feminist pioneer.

The first day of the new year found me packing up from the holiday while I made school lunches and lesson plans. I came up with some vague resolutions, grabbing random shoulds out of the air and jotting them down as I gulped my early morning coffee. And so began another year as the same old Achievement Bunny Rabbit. 

Then one year my husband left for a conference in early January, leaving me a few more duties and the gift of early bedtimes, which offered a little more time to myself. The first couple of days I polished off the leftover fudge, thinking now I was beginning to get in the mood for a real holiday, now that the decks were clear. 

On January 6 my desk calendar said Epiphany. Since I had no experience of a liturgical calendars, I thought the Universe was setting me up with my own private holiday, as requested. Perfect. A day for me to devote to big insights from powers greater than me. What I did that day was sleep and write a note in my journal about what to eliminate from the holiday crazies next year. And I reminded myself to claim this holiday every year from now on.

It was a couple of years before I found about the Catholic holy day of Epiphany. A few years later in Mexico I discovered the Three Kings Day holiday on the same day. I decided it was best to be generous with these interlopers and share my holiday.

And so I began the day as usual two years ago on January 6, with my usual devotional plan. I leaned into the hope that a new year always brings. Halfway through the day my little bubble was breached, but this was nothing compared to another breaching going on that day. I later heard the Speaker of the House of Representatives, a devout Catholic, was praying for an epiphany–a jolt of insight that would somehow put an end to the unfolding tragedy. I continue to hold out hope that my country’s leaders will have multiple strokes of insight that will lead to a brighter future.

And this brings me back to my little “private” holy day. At first it was a huge revelation that I could even claim a day for my inner life right in the middle of the darkest time of year. Since then, I knew it was there waiting after everything wound down. That knowledge has been like a star lighting my way through the holiday crazies.

So I’m reclaiming January 6 as a time of introspection. Journaling usually figures into the mix. This year, I’ve been inspired by Suleika Jouard’s Isolation Journals: https://theisolationjournals.substack.com/p/our-new-years-journaling-challenge?utm

This may be my personal holiday, but I’m happy to share it with you. What if you took a day for you to recover, heal, dream, and listen right about now? To take down some dictation from your inner self? It turns out I have an idea for a name. We could call it Epiphany, honoring the rich history and symbolism of the inner tradition. We could celebrate the wise elders among us, those seekers who have traveled far to embrace the light within the darkness.

We could reclaim Epiphany for our deepest selves. Join me?

Warmly,

Susan Grace

Becoming Human

 

What’s it like, becoming human?

Words from a dream long ago.

I had no answer, only

unformed words that mostly

floated past,  

slower than the pace 

of learning to be here 

on this blue planet 

 

It’s like being baptized in living waters,

I could have said, 

steady feet 

muddy in the shallows 

hardly noticing the drift 

until you’re hauled 

out of the deep 

by your hair

and then you figure out

just how to move your legs 

so that the water 

miraculously

holds you up

 

It’s like that time before you could swim,

I could’ve said,

When your friends held your prone body

 tenderly above the deep water

on a raft made by touching 

the tips of their fingers together, 

and then you found out 

that you could float

but they didn’t let go anyway

just stayed 

circled around you, 

fingers joined, but you 

just kept breathing. 

—SgB

January, 2023

photo by

George Beekman

Antidote for Worry? Soup!

My worries have worries. So I built little matchstick houses

with large ceilings, a garden for them to grow tomatoes, cilantro, & carrots

their worry babies will eat.

—Laura Villareal, Poetry Unbound

Last week my friend Jenni sent me this snippet of a poem. And there it was, in one perfect image. Everything I’ve been hearing from friends and strangers alike for the last five years. “Worry babies” seem to be invading the planet: growing in gardens, dropping from trees. Once they get established, worries, like crabgrass, tend to take over, setting up residency in our brains and getting busy raising their own worry families. Sometimes they take cover in dreams, full of spikes and hooks that keep drawing us in when we’re just minding our own business. This is the work of the Nightime Worry Family, whose patchwork ticky-tacky housing development parties get wild about 3:00 am.

One of my favorite thoughts about worry comes from Bridge of Spies. Tom Hanks’ character, who is trying to save a spy who might well be executed at any moment, repeats his one question three times: “Aren’t you worried?” The reply is always the same:  “Would it help?” If you’d like to check it out this link.

Lately I’ve been asking Wilma, my inner Worry Wart, if she’s trying to help,  because it sure seems the opposite. She made the case that ignoring her completely might mean turning off flashing yellow lights that keep me safe. But often, especially in the middle of the night, her honest answer is “no.”

Although an actual worry may contain the seed of a solvable problem (or at least an action item) by the light of day, the ones that set up housekeeping and wake you up at night do NOT offer solutions. Their job is to feed on any anxieties the body may have stored. In unprotected moments, when you forget to ask if it helps to worry, they can have their way with you, repeating past regrets or imagining fearful futures in an endless loop.

The best hope for evading the Nighttime Worries is to notice the quick moment when we start to feel ourselves getting hooked at other times in our daily lives. This can be especially challenging during the holidays because that’s when worry families thrive.

Try it out for yourself. sometime, in one of those elusive moments a when a worry first arises. Ask yourself whether it’s helpful. Breathe deeply once or twice. Just this much might be enough. Sometimes simply remembering to pay attention at that moment can calm the system. Next, find a quick way to tend to your actual body in some way, even if that means washing your hands or stretching for a couple minutes. Embrace whatever acts of self-care you can, even if it means a quick bathroom Time Out in a moment of overwhelm.

When the time is right, you might ask your version of Wilma the Worrier to help develop a long-term plan. Allow some time to listen to what calms her, especially if you tend toward worry loops. Ask her to prioritize your to-do list, quietly eliminating her crazier ideas. If you listen closely, she might suggest you cut out unnecessary duties or dance or take a walk move excess energy. Or perhaps she’d like a little Time Out for herself. Send her to the spa and then give your body and spirit a few minutes (or hours) for a nervous system reset. Cozy up. Take a quick nap if you can. Simply stare out the window while savoring a comforting hot drink.

Even better, nurture yourself by getting soupy.

Warmly,

PS. Below is a great soup created from a couple of other recipes by way of my friend Martha. The first is from relishmag.com for African Peanut Stew. The second  is from  http://wpr.org/zorba/recipes/z07-0203r.htm (African Peanut Soup). Enjoy!

 

Getting Soupy

I get all soupy in the fall

Squash and pumpkin soupy

Mulligatawney soupy 

Chicken noodle soupy

Muertos with salty tears soupy

Sacred soupy

with your face 

in every spoonful,

each memory of you, 

all that and more

reduced now to a rich melange

congealed on the serving spoon

at the end of this meal.

But I’m still the same greedy monkey

who sops it up, every bit,

with a soft sourdough roll.

—SgB

November, 2022

Martha’s Peanut Soup w/Veggies 

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 onion finely chopped (about 1 ½ cups)

1 medium bell pepper (chopped)

1 large yam (peeled and diced)

1/2 chopped carrot (2 small)

1/2 cup chopped celery

1 cup zucchini, diced

3 cloves garlic (more to taste)

2 tablespoons minced, fresh peeled ginger, more to taste

Jalapeno pepper to taste

*1 tablespoon curry powder 

(or this combination of spices: 1 tsp. ea. mustard seed,

ground cumin,. turmeric, coriander, cinnamon plus ¼ tsp. cayenne

1 (14 ½ oz.) can diced tomatoes, drained (or may use combo. of diced toms. and salsa)

4 – 8 cups veggie or chicken broth to desired thickness

1 bay leaf

1 ½ cups edamame

1 cup garbanzo beans 

¼ cup creamy or crunchy natural peanut butter or almond butter (mix in bowl with some of the broth)

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

5 oz. baby spinach or kale, torn into bite-size pieces

Salt and pepper to taste

Brown rice

1) Heat olive oil in a large saucepan, add fresh veggies (zucchini last), sauté until soft and translucent.

2) Add garlic, ginger and curry spices and sauté until fragrant.  Add tomatoes and bay leaf, cook uncovered until tomatoes are slightly reduced.

3) Add broth, diluted peanut butter, edamame and garbanzo beans and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer.  Cook until thoroughly heated.  Stir in cilantro and spinach until spinach wilts.  Season with salt and pepper.  May  top with fresh cilantro, diced green onion and/or plain yoghurt.  Serve over rice.  Serves  8.

Mother, Simon, and Me

 
 
Nearly every recess in second grade, I raced to the playground to play one of my favorite games, either Mother May I or Simon Says. I didn’t care which. I don’t remember loving the power of telling the other kids how many baby or giant steps they could take. I just liked the way the rules were so easy, as long as you paid attention. If you weren’t listening or you didn’t mind Simon or moved without Mother’s permission, you were O-U-T. 
 
So very simple and clear. 
 
Ever since 2020 I’ve been longing for that old certainty. At first I studied daily updates and followed the leads, somewhat obsessively focused on decoding pandemic rules. Mostly I obeyed them, which wasn’t too hard since I’m of the certain age that makes caution advisable. But lately Simon has been MIA and I haven’t been able to get a clear answer from Mother. So, like everyone else, I’ve been following my best educated guess about re-entering the world of people. 
 
At least that’s my excuse for my questionable decision to fly to Las Vegas last month for an extended family errand. Somehow the first night, looking for a restaurant, we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of several crowd events, mostly outdoors, but still. I was not prepared for the overstimulation that is Las Vegas, a place I hadn’t visited in years. And having been (mostly) sheltered, it was a lot. 
 
A part of me was excited. At the same time another part (my whole nervous system?) began to scream for shelter. After a couple of days of entertainment laced with terror, my husband and I drove a few hours to pick up an RV. We drove it nearly a thousand miles back home to Oregon. This involved learning how to manage all the systems along the way and included a short Siri-directed diversion through San Francisco’s winding streets. Did I mention we were in an unfamiliar vehicle? In an RV? I’m still unpacking from the adventure of the trip. 
 
In the end I didn’t get Covid, something I’ve resigned myself to experiencing as it becomes endemic. As it turns out, several of my friends, both traveling and stationary, did contract the virus. What to do? I’m hearing from lots of other folks about how awkward it is to make plans to reconnect, even though we know itwill probably be worth it in the end. Yesterday, a friend pointed out a people-friendly website: https://covidactnow.org. Having this resource has opened the door to more clarity in summer planning, began with a BIG stretch: indoor singing (with mask). ALMOST like the good old days. But I’ve mostly returned to my old cautious ways.
 
I don’t want to forget the quieter pleasures of the life lived at a slower pace. Walking my elderly dog. Quiet time in solitude by the sea. Following the rise and fall of the ocean, the graceful arc of seagulls and raptors. Life lived on my own terms.
 
I think Mother would approve.
 
Be well,
Remembering Las Vegas 
(or How Not to Emerge from Pandemic Isolation)
Brilliant collage of magenta
Cosmic calliope of punk
Decibels killing to the human ear
Street zipping over the projected sky
“Nuns” with pasties, fishnets and thongs twerking,
Moonwalking the tricky world between sacred and profane.
 
Mother May I?
Take one small step into morning 
this moment of arising 
of drifting in and out without effort
into not being a me and then being one,
becoming and unbecoming 
again and again.
in the dark margin. 
May I taste this tiny slice of life
and savor this small knowledge of death?
 
—SgB 5/2022

Is Spring enough to match the war of hell?

Words have been eluding me this month, mostly because news of war is always lurking, even in the early rays of morning light. I recently recovered from the bad habit of doom scrolling over Covid or presidential politics, and I was finally settling into the soothing early-morning habit of meditating and reading or writing poetry. Then along came Russian invasion of Ukraine, and tragic scenes from Kiev and Karkov (and other places I can’t even pronounce) flooded my mind.
 
I became acutely aware my own helplessness in the face of such enormous tragedy. Then I thought of our sister city Uzhrogod in the Ukraine. And so Geo and I went down to the courthouse and held a sign in solidarity. We donated money for supplies. Then we gave some more to support a local couple who were traveling to the warfront with medical supplies. This helped, but it didn’t feel like enough to match the hell of that war. 
 
Then I thought of the painful losses within my own family from suicide and addiction, another hell in another time of life. And I remembered William Carlos Williams’ words: “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” The last few days I’ve managed to pick up a pen or remember a few words from trusted source Mary Oliver, determined to save the only life I can, my own. When I do that, the day dawns with a new dimension. If I’m lucky, I can be absorbed by a different world, the one that has been right beside me, all around me, all along.
 
To my amazement, Spring has come. Yesterday I sat in the sunshine on my deck in the woods on the meadow with a poet friend. The plum blossoms blushed pink and, and one of them floated like a tiny lotus in the bird bath, accompanied by the bubbling fountain over my shoulder. I knew right then what it is to be in heaven. Sometimes it feels as if there’s no place big enough to contain all the contradictions of life. Guilt came up, along with one image of starving people in Mariupol. Suddenly, the plum tree, along with the song of the yellow-rumped warblers, all of it was gone. This is how it is for me nowadays. My heart breaks from the hell of war. I try to do something to useful. But all the while there’s the heaven of spring, right outside my door. 
 
Meditation helps. Walking and biking and yoga help. But what helps most of all is simply stopping, breathing, and looking around to take in the wonders of the world where I’m embedded right here and now.
 
Yesterday I saw a photo of a subway car in Karkhiv where many families shelter. A mother had placed a tin can with tulips in the window where she and her two sons were sheltering. (Check it out here.) May this be an image we all remember, a moment of spring poetry. A piece of heaven to honor the soul in us all.
 
There is a quick moment
somewhere between dark and light.
Neither this or that.
Mystery sits there.
Nightmares become dreams and dreams nightmares.
Dome of sky offers a day uncut by sorrow
and morning is born again
with news of war waiting
unbidden in the shadows 
 
—SgB 3/2022
 

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