Posts Categorized: Getting Unstuck

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

Serving This Body

Until I arrived at a ripened middle age, I truly had no idea how little attention I paid to my body, mostly expecting it to function fully with little supervision, whether I was asking it to conceive and give birth or to run a couple of miles. And this body just did as required, with only a few protests or sprains. I realize now how very lucky this is. Also, how oblivious I was. While I was believing that youth made me impervious, some of my peers were already quietly dealing with life-altering diagnoses.

I turned fifty and then sixty, and gradually a bit more maintenance was required. Next came surgery. I replaced twisted and worn-out old parts. Not painless, but I’ve been able to walk and dance and do most yoga poses again. And, hey, at least I haven’t found myself in the organ-replacement line.

Since I hit seventy, more of my friends have been visited by serious conditions that have taken over their lives. A few have had the time in their bodies run out. Gratitude visits daily as I recognize this good fortune.

During this past decade an irregular heartbeat required a couple of trips out of state to get back in rhythm. Since then I’ve needed a few heart-stopping reboots (aka cardioversions, nowhere near as scary as they sound). And still through the miracles of modern medicine I’ve been allowed to basically ignore my body once again, although I do feed and water it regularly,

Although my outer hearing is still good, my inner hearing could use serious amplification. Sometimes when I’m meditating I scan this body and I see how hard it still is to attend to the signals, which might as well be made of smoke some days. 

I remember the part of my younger self that either ignored or bullied this immaculate living machine, while it went about handling its business without my head’s intervention. And I marvel at the many automatic systems that keep things running. But I also live with the consequences of my own bullying and self-neglect. I sincerely want to make it up to myself by finally giving my body the respect it has earned.

I have begun to wonder what it would mean to claim mature leadership of my body. Recently the phrase Servant Leadership popped into my mind. This was something I’d learned about years ago when I studied organizational development. In a nutshell, a servant leader is one who shares power and puts the needs of the employees first, with the goal of helping people develop and perform as highly as possible. Instead of the people working to serve the leader, the leader exists to serve the people.

Now this sounds just like the kind of relationship I want with my body, I think. Today I ask what it would be like to be a true Servant Leader of my body, as if I worked for it? This seems like a worthy goal as I mature fully into my wizened old age. 

And for once I listen. My body says Yes, somewhere around my belly button. It’s a good start. 

Saluting all your good starts.

IMG 3009

Call and Response

This body, this loyal servant 

with promptings and desires 

once manageable 

or at least quiet and discreet,

unobtrusive as it went about 

its everyday business,

This very body just expanded 

its tech department,

added a Response Center Tower 

with a basement ready to catch complaints 

as they pump in from every organ and limb.

Lines are always busy, 

but I try to check in at least once every day,

sometimes just so I can ignore 

Its advice all over again.

— SgB 2023

How to Celebrate Survival: Sidewalk Art and What Matters

I know you, she comments, toddling along in tiny half steps, supported by her walker. 

I squat down to get closer. “Listen up!” I remind myself, aware of how quickly she could pack her wisdom in just a few words. 

“You’re a survivor,” she declares. “And you should tell everybody that a 97-year old woman told you that!”

I’m visiting my friend Anna Marie at her care center. This was to be the first of many short visits we would have now that she was settling in closer to me. We both knew that something would be coming for her someday, probably soon, given her age and fragility. This made each word from her mouth precious.

I could never have imagined then the pandemic cloud that would swing our way a couple months later. Or that both she and John, her life partner of more than seventy years, would each die merciful deaths in those years. Just now, four years later, I’m passing her words on to you, wondering what she meant when she called me a survivor and why it was so important that I pass it on.

Anna Marie was my best friend’s mom. She was the most talented listener I’ve ever known. Although I now know that she might have seen me as one of one of her special support projects, she never let on at the time. For several years I was often overwhelmed maneuvering through serious dysfunction in my family of origin. On any given Fourth of July or family birthday you might find the two of us huddled, chatting in a corner. I’d report the latest drama or tragedy, and she’d mostly just listen. Over time she became a kind of personal Yoda, with her tiny stature, her kind heart, and her pithy observations. So when she had something to say, I listened up. I knew that any words of wisdom that she offered would likely be chewable for a long time. 

But. Me? A Survivor? I just couldn’t see it.

At my stage of life, everyone is a survivor of something. Being upright and alive after sixty is qualification enough. Most of my life I’ve been a juggler, determined to keep all balls afloat, somehow believing that I could also manage the lives of a several other people in my orbit. My plan was this: I would keep their lives from exploding and avoid getting the mess all over me. (I know. A great plan. And hopeless. For one thing, follow-through on way too many decisions is up to them, and they didn’t have my superior skills in project management.)

But. Me? A Survivor? As I visit the idea today, I still struggle to find it. Not me. I’m not a Survivor. I never had to fight or flee for my life. I’m not in the category of people who have truly earned the distinction of a Capital “S” for the generations their families have survived. (At least we finally have holidays like Juneteenth celebrating some of these Survivors.)

As far as survivors in my personal life, Survivorship honors go to a dear friend who’s still bringing home Pickleball trophies despite her Parkinson’s diagnosis of several years. Or one who just completed chemo treatments for her ovarian cancer. Or another who did all the caregiving for his beloved wife as she slowly died of a brain tumor.

However, I do have some experience with “small s” surviving and perhaps even thriving when others were stymied or stilled. I’ve lost nearly every member my first family from self-harm (either literally through suicide or passively as the consequences of drugs or alcohol took their toll. 

I was lucky enough to experience serious depression as a teenager and young adult. Back then I swore I would do anything to avoid a recurrence. And I kept my promise to myself to make radical self-care a top priority. Since then, I’ve developed a personal anti-depression protocol that includes emotional and spiritual self-love. I somehow survived to adulthood and now to true elderhood. I guess this makes me a survivor, even if I haven’t earned a capital letter S.

I’ve learned to give myself some credit for simply showing up as I am and listening to my inner voice. This may seem like nothing, but it all adds up. Because what I’ve discovered is that taking time to relish tiny ordinary moments of life is a secret to a gradually happy survival. I’ve learned to celebrate seemingly minor accomplishments and playful human enterprises, like sand sculptures or sidewalk art. 

And so this summer and fall I’m acknowledging my survival and the thriving life of a Survivor by checking out some Sidewalk Art festivals. The summer tradition is popular here in the Northwest. Many cities around the US host similar events. 

Survival Sidewalk Chalk. Why not?

Survivors and survivors, unite! 

———-

Mo Love

Years before encampments,

just those two words scribbled

by a hobo in a stocking hat 

dragging himself on a skateboard

having lost his wheelchair again, 

moved by his mission, 

to remind them what matters:

Mo Love. 

They called him Flipper before he was born

for his ceaseless movement.

And when he emerged they called him Philip. 

Or Prince Philip of the Silver Spoon, 

dressed him in the style of the President’s son,

cheered every season:

football, basketball, track

always a starter, an American hero

Phil.

What happened next is not new 

for golden boys

who begin with victory and hope.

Assurance just beyond the next step

until he landed on the wrong side, 

in a pool of alcohol, drugs

and broken promises.

At last a fall from a slick roof

shrank his athletic limbs, 

cut short all the rich opportunity of his birth.

Mo Love.

He called himself Mo, 

for his home state, 

Last name Love, 

for the home he never left.

— 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

Lessons from a Rescue

April, 2007.

I retrieve the local paper from the driveway. Page 1 is filled with accounts of a puppy mill raid. About ninety designer mutts in desperate need of foster families. The single-wide trailer where they procreated and fought and chewed through the floor to find food was now emptied, the owner awaiting trial for the second time.

It’s my first morning back from an intensive life coach training, and I’m definitely on the lookout for coincidences. The leader of the course, a famous writer, was known for something she called the Technology of Magic. She wrote Get a Dog! on the title page of my copy of her new book. This puppy mill coincidence seemed pretty magical, so I head down to the shelter, curious but not convinced.

I get there to find cages with various combinations of Maltese, Yorkie, Chihuahua, and Papillon mutts stacked into a very unstable doggie high rise that rose to the ceiling. It’s a frantic, chaotic scene. Some of the animals are starved skinny. All are barking. 

I’ll just look for one that’s not barking, I thought. And there he was, poised at the entrance to a crate full of fuzzy mutts, sitting calmly and gazing around him like a Beanie Baby Buddha.

Then we found out he was only about eight weeks old. No problem, said my inner genius. He’s too young to be messed up by his surroundings, given some good training. And so we took him home to “foster,” (My family used air quotes too). Once there, I gave him a bit of water and kibble. His eyes lit up. “My person” could’ve been written in neon over my head in dog writing.

And that is how it was for the next 16 years. Within days he figured out that his main job was to be a therapy dog in the Oasis. And I’ve been accompanied by a little white shadow ever since.  Forget about privacy. Doors not firmly shut would be likely nudged open by a nose during one of his ongoing sweeps of the house.

He was eye candy his entire life, from an irresistible puppy, to a stately, 15-pound senior. We called him Calvin for his cowlick hairdo, his wide-eyes and mischievous nature.

It didn’t take long after we got him before we discovered that his anxious attachment to me was becoming a problem. He occasionally nipped people who hugged me, so I stopped hugging my friends when I encountered them on the bike path outside our house.

Experts were called in. Training commenced, with spotty results. He nearly got himself killed in the dog park when he squared off against a German Shepherd. This was before he got his testicles out, but he held a grudge for pointy-ears his whole life. And that life ended naturally last month.

During his lifetime, Calvin must have nipped or bit at least ten people, most of whom were admiring what a cute little dog he was. Only two reported him. This earned him a tag labeling him dangerous. That tag is on his collar on the mantel now, right beside a hand carved box with his ashes and a snip of his soft white hair. And a beautiful memorial portrait on a Christmas ornament hand painted by his admirer, Liz-e. His hypervigilance is over, and he is at rest.

Being Calvin’s person taught me many lessons, but the biggest I think is this: Never underestimate the power of early childhood (or puppyhood) trauma. The neural pathways established in the very earliest stages of life never quite go away. But if we can meet the victims with something like the patience and devotion that our pet offers us, our hearts grow a bit wiser, kinder and more compassionate. And that compassion can extend even toward ourselves as our own hearts heal from life’s inevitable losses.

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

Subversive Power of the Smile

Happy Summer!
 
Gathering in community is challenging right now, for oh so many reasons. We’re already reeling from culture wars fed by deeply-held beliefs and trumped-up divisions and differences. Then there’s the confusion and chaos of rapid change. To make it worse, recovering from the isolation or trauma of the pandemic sometimes makes it awkward to simply be around other people. At long last our mouths are mostly disrobed. But I notice even this can be awkward, even for me, a naturally friendly person in a small, relatively safe town. For those who are just beginning to emerge from grief, anger, or fear from the troubles of the last couple of years, it can feel frighteningly vulnerable.
 
As human beings, it is our nature to thrive when we gather with others. So how do we go about life now, in our first “normal” summer in three years? Some of us start with church or go to farmer’s markets. Others brave the unpredictability of airline travel flights to reunite with family and friends. Or we find ways to naturally embrace real live community, in public spaces with children playing and babies toddling, perhaps accompanied by actual live music.
 
Lately I’ve been thinking often of a long-ago trip to Thailand, “Land of Smiles.” Even though the airline lost our bags, even through jet lag in a country radically different than my own, I experienced a curious feeling of well-being after a couple of days. I had already noticed that all the locals smiled as we passed. All of them. It was infectious and also faintly familiar, like going to the Oregon Country Fair or another festive gathering. But it took me a while to figure out that so much smiling had some powerful juju.
 
What I now know is that in Thailand there are 13 or more distinct smiles. The most common, reserved for strangers, is a smile to say hello, a polite courtesy. But even this smile, which I might usually find insincere, had worked on me. Since that trip I’ve discovered research on the increase in dopamine and endorphins and all manner of good chemicals humans experience when smiling. And yes, studies show it’s infectious to give and receive smiles.
 
I recently thought about the Thai tradition of smiling when I read these words by Richard Rohrer: “We don’t think ourselves into a new way of being. We live ourselves into a new way of thinking.” I suddenly knew just how to go about recovering from my awkwardness. I could live myself into a new way of thinking by the simple, conscious practice of smiling at folks whenever or wherever I could, regardless of what team they seemed to be playing on.
 
My radically subversive act began. Almost immediately what might have seemed false before felt like my true nature. I was living myself into a new way of thinking by simply smiling.
 
It’s been a remarkable experiment. Infectious. Fun. And real.
Join me? 😄
 
True Nature
 
Yesterday down the oak outside my window
A masked raccoon slowly crept, face first, 
Striped tail straight up, prehensile claws holding fast. 
Tiny nuthatches do this too
And somehow the earth doesn’t rise up 
To claim their bodies, break their necks,
Or punish them for their arrogance.
Must be their true nature, I think.
 
Meanwhile, this body of mine, 
held upright by bumpy ankles of many breaks,
Plops and slides down the slippery clay riverbank 
butt first rather than risking a crooked footfall. 
Sometimes, I think, true nature 
also requires getting low on the earth,
having a seat, and then trusting gravity with the rest.
 
 
—SgB 6/2022

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
 

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