Posts Categorized: Surrendering

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.

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.

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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

The Solace of Destruction

Three years ago, at the end of the ill-fated summer of 2020, George and I went to our off-grid mountain cabin as we had for so many years. Our cabin was in a little enclave of summer homes perched along a snow-fed river within an Oregon old growth and second growth forest. It was situated a couple of hours from our home in the Willamette Valley.

When we heard about wildfire to the east, we were more concerned about the effects of smoke combined with Covid than we were with fire’s spread. Our Anniversary only a day away, we thought we’d stay one more night, After all, we’d weathered storms there before. Then the local rural fire department stopped by to upgrade our evacuation status to Go. We agreed that this was a most excellent idea. 

As soon as we finished staining the decks.

With the dozen or so other cabin owners gone, the forest had gone strangely silent.

While we were closing up, I looked around for Calvin, our little white designer mutt. I called his name. No response. We searched the woods. Nothing. A few panicked minutes later, I found the little guy quaking and refusing to get out from under our car. I crouched on all fours to pull him into my arms.

That’s when time stopped. I saw myself in an eerie tableau, surrounded by the vertical green uprising of a heavily wooded two-hundred-year-old forest of at least 13 varieties of ancient trees and countless species of animal life, and yet no chipmunks or jays squawked into the vacuum.

At that moment it still didn’t occur to me that any part of what was present all around us could ever be lost. The silence was that deep and that wide, an enormous space filled with a world of peace. I sat quietly, savoring the enormity of the feeling.

Meanwhile, the staining done, we snapped into autopilot, locked up and left, leaving the guestbook of cabin history we always left on the kitchen table for posterity.

A toxic yellow cloud tailgated us for the entire the 85-mile trip back to our hometown. It arrived at our doorstep along with us, having traveled roughly 70 miles an hour. This was the same cloud that broke records for air pollution and later settled around the entire globe.

That day, of course, we didn’t know any of this. All we knew was that the radios on the ground were gone and only a couple of firefighters were fending off destruction of a historic lodge and retreat center. The next couple of days we were part of an informal network, trying to guess from Forest Service maps which of our cabins had gone up in smoke. We guessed and said goodbye to one summer home after another via chats. Months later we finally learned that 69 burned. The mystery of the one that remained has yet to be solved.

It’s been three years since what has come to be called the Labor Day Conflagration of 2020, which drove those faraway fires to burn that entire valley and so many more throughout the West.

I refused to return to the site of destruction when my husband and others made trips there. I simply wasn’t ready. This allowed me to create an untouchable cabin tableau in which every corner of my mind is filled with sentimental objects from a century of family life. This included family quilts, even the one we once huddled under after we first made love in his college apartment. In the corner was an irreplaceable handmade cajon my husband bought on the street in Havana from a Cuban drummer, and the walls were covered with maps of the area and original art created by friends. All alive now, preserved only my memory. Beautiful and inviolate forever.

Last weekend I finally returned to the burn. When we arrived at the knoll that once held our summer home, the sky was open and the nearby mountaintops were suddenly visible, a new backdrop to the mass graves of piled logs. Instead of being flattened by a sense of emptiness and loss as I had expected, I stepped into a familiar and soothing refrain: the buzzing and bumbling of dragonflies and horseflies, competing with jays and crows for airtime. Purple fireweed heathered all the clearings, their cheerfulness broken by black horizontal stripes of fallen wooden soldiers.

I looked up to see the shell of a tall tree that had once been the best view from our outhouse, as it stood tall pointing to the stars and moon. It was still vertical. Remembering how I once piled stones there, I reached down to find a sleek river rock, once black and now a mottled red. It was hot. I stood quietly, in awe of the power of fire, whether from the sun or wildfire. Ghosts of old growth cedar and yew and spruce and fir stood in silent sentry around us, witnesses of an older order.  There was some solace in the sheer force of destruction.

in the middle of the scene was a giant redwood snag I had called the Grandmother. She had been my mentor, my elder, my friend and meditation teacher for 17 years.I even introduced her to my real-life mother. Each time I had arrived at the cabin and each time I left, I had greeted her, honored her enormous life cycle, noticed how she was leaning but still unbowed, sheltering frilly ferns and thick moss at her base. And here now just beyond the clearing she leaned, her bark whitened above the flame mark, and yet her roots still held firm, deeply connected in the earth.

The deep well of destruction. The buzzing sounds of creation. All of this held in the enormity of a moment of Silence.

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Fireweed Dance

Yesterday I hobnobbed with ghosts,

danced on the grave of the ancient forest,

trucked with shadows from the trees. 

I did the fireweed dance 

The mullein dance, the dragonfly dance

On that place where something else once stood.

And then

 

for a still moment there was and there wasn’t

an absence of anything,

even that cabin with the shaky floors 

and the stained-glass skylights

once dwarfed by forest giants

now eloped, fused together forever

carried away 

by the mountain wind 

— SgB 2023

 

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

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.

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

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