abundance

My life is filled with abundance. The world is abundant.

sunflowers

Right now, so many of my friends and loved ones are facing difficult times — and in the way these things go, many of them are having one after another difficult thing piled on top of them in an overflow of trouble. There are health scares for them and their loved ones, and life changes, and work trouble, and interpersonal trouble, and loss of all kinds. Having been through my own periods like that, I empathize so deeply. I’m glad I have experienced all those things myself so I can stand beside them however I can.

For me, right now, I am not in the midst of a rain of trouble. For me, right now, it’s a time of great abundance of every kind. Of great joy, of great peace. And I’m grateful for that too because it gives me resources to spare so I can be there for my loved ones a little more readily. When I was in my own huge storm a few years ago, I remember feeling the dreadful focus of all of it, the power of it, the overwhelm that kept me unable to connect to trouble others were having. My own troubles were so consuming they blocked the view. So now it’s my turn to get to have space and energy to spare, attention to give, concern and love to offer, an ear to listen, a shoulder to bear, a back to help carry. It’s a nice thing about the world that when some of us are in trouble, others of us can help.

And so I recognize the grace and wonder of my particular moment, and appreciate it all the more. And what a moment it is. Among all the rest, my oldest daughter Katie’s birthday is in just a couple of days, a celebration of the day that has melted me for 35 years, now. The anniversary of the day my life changed forever, and forever for the better. The day this wonderful woman was ushered into the world, through me. I love and admire her with all my heart.

there she is with HER beloved child, our darling sweet Oliver
There she is with HER beloved child, our darling sweet Oliver, taken a couple of years ago. I have hundreds of pictures of her taken since then, with Oliver and now also with Lucy, but I’ll stick with this one. She is a wonderful mother.

Katie is without a doubt one of the strongest people I know. She’s hilarious. She’s one you can count on. She loves her family more than anything. She’s solid, and tenderhearted. She knows what matters to her.

And Marnie, also in the vast field of my abundance. Marnie, whose earnest heart feels so familiar to me; Marnie with her adoration of her boy and her husband; Marnie, with her big quiet voice. For 32 years I have watched her flower.

Marnie and Ilan, taken early this year. Again, I have a bunch of other photos of her but this will stand in.

And Heaventree, my glorious Heaventree, the ground of my abundance. And poetry. And music. And beauty. And books. And friends, far-flung for now but no less mine. And my health, which at the moment includes mental health of the shiny, happy kind. And my husband, who will drive up from the city today bearing food and my big camera and his beautiful eagerness to cook for me. And my wisdom, which allows me to know that the wheel shifts and turns, it can do nothing else, and this abundance will shift too. Who knows what the fall and winter will bring, I sure don’t, but I am swimming in great abundance for now so if you need an ear, or space, or an arm, count on me.

* * *

As long as I’m thinking about my daughters, here is a wistful poem about the experience of being a mother.

The Mothers
Jill Bialosky

We loved them.
We got up early
to toast their bagels.
Wrapped them in foil.
We filled their water bottles
and canteens. We washed
and bleached their uniforms,
the mud and dirt
and blood washed clean
of brutality. We marveled
at their bodies,
thighs thick as the trunk
of a spindle pine,
shoulders broad and able,
the way their arms filled out.
The milk they drank.
At the plate we could make out
their particular stance, though each
wore the same uniform as if they were
cadets training for war.
If by chance one looked up at us
and gave us a rise with his chin,
or lifted a hand, we beamed.
We had grown used to their grunts,
mumbles, and refusal to form a full sentence.
We made their beds and rifled through their pockets
and smelled their shirts to see if they were clean.
How else would we know them?
We tried to not ask too many questions
and not to overpraise.
Sometimes they were ashamed of us;
if we laughed too loud,
if one of us talked too long to their friend,
of our faces that had grown coarser.
Can’t you put on lipstick?
We let them roll their eyes,
curse, and grumble at us
after a game if they’d missed a play
or lost. We knew to keep quiet;
the car silent the entire ride home.
What they were to us was inexplicable.
Late at night, after they were home in their beds,
we sat by the window and wondered
when they would leave us
and who they would become
when they left the cocoon of our instruction.
What kind of girl they liked.
We sat in a group and drank our coffee
and prayed that they’d get a hit.
If they fumbled a ball or struck out
we felt sour in the pit of our stomach.
We paced. We couldn’t sit still or talk.
Throughout summer we watched
the trees behind the field grow fuller
and more vibrant and each fall
slowly lose their foliage—
it was as if we wanted to hold on
to every and each leaf.

songs and echoes

I was 21 here, and during all these years I always had my guitar with me
I was 21 here, and during all these years I always had my guitar with me

When I was a young mother, one of my favorite routines centered on my kids’ bedtimes. With three kids and just one of me, time alone with them individually felt so precious. We had regular dates, but I especially loved the tucking-in time — so much that I spent a long time with them, one-on-one. Most nights I took my guitar with me, and after we’d talked about their days and whatever else they wanted to talk about, after we read together, I’d play my guitar and sing to them. I loved it when they’d drift off to sleep while I sang (least often it happened to Katie, who was older and not falling for that). I’d sing softly and watch their little eyes get heavy, watch them resist but see their bodies relaxing, and I’d keep singing long after they seemed asleep. The only thing that helped me get up and leave the room was that the next child was waiting. It was every bit as important to me as I hoped it was to them. But you know, you do all these things with/for your kids and you don’t know, you’re just doing the best you can.

When they were teenagers the tucking-in routine changed, since they didn’t have a ‘bedtime’ exactly, and singing to them dropped away. You know how you wonder if they remember the things you did for them when they were little, and you see so often that they don’t? But it’s OK, because you did it for them, and the memories are in your heart anyway. Even today, when I remember all those hours singing to them, my eyes fill with tears and I get soaked with such deep happiness. Those were some of my best hours of mothering.

Marnie sings to Ilan — who is currently a huge, giggly fan of the ABC song — and said she keeps trying to sing one of the songs I always sang but she can’t do it because she cries. (“Song of Wyoming,” John Denver, which is one of my very favorites and lovely as a lullaby. I can’t play and sing it without crying now either, it’s so tinged with those sweet memories.) I get to hear Marnie’s soft, sweet voice singing to Ilan on the little videos she sends of his delight. Her voice is like mine was, with a soft, feathered edge.

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Katie sings to Oliver, I knew this and have listened to her sing from the very beginning. She has an extraordinary voice, strong but gentle at the same time, and she’s really good. Katie’s specialty is songs from the 60s, music she dearly loves. Oliver has become conditioned to falling asleep to Goodnight Sweetheart (well, it’s time to go / goodnight sweetheart, well, it’s time to go / I hate to leave you but I really must say, oh, goodnight sweetheart, goodnight). Gosh I love hearing her sing that song to him.

And then a couple of nights ago I was at her house, helping with Oliver so she could get some packing done for a week-long road trip they were taking, and I stayed through Oliver’s bedtime. They have the sweetest routine as a family. Katie sits in the chair, Trey lies on the floor, and Oliver plays and wrestles with Trey and climbs into Katie’s lap for some reading, and sometimes he runs in circles to make everyone laugh. And then Katie starts singing — and Oliver dashes over to his bed and crawls up to his pillow and lies down to listen. After the song ends, Katie and Trey kneel by his bed for goodnight kisses. It’s extraordinary.

But I lay on the floor, listening to my beautiful daughter’s exquisite voice singing “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” that great old Mamas and the Papas song, and just broke down crying. It’s a hard song to sing, an often complex melody line, and then a leap up to a higher range, and some soft scatting at the end, and Katie just flowed through it with all the love she felt, and I felt it too. Trey has a gorgeous voice too, deep and rich, and he joined in, threading harmonies alongside Katie’s melody. What a lucky little boy Oliver is. What lucky boys my grandsons are. Here’s Mama Cass singing — quite a gorgeous song, and she is wonderful — but Katie’s version is even better.

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I sang to my children, and now they sing to theirs. Mamas often do, that wasn’t something original to me obviously, but I’ll take this next-generation singing personally, as a gift I gave them that meant something to them, something they want to give their children, too. Good mamas, love echoes.

Spring Awakening

March 2011, breakfast -- one of the last times I saw him, though not THE last. He won't take a straight picture, he always pulls a face at the last minute.
March 2011, breakfast — one of the last times I saw him, though not THE last, which was Aug ’12. He won’t take a straight picture, he always pulls a face at the last minute.

I miss my son Will. No news there. I don’t talk about it very much, less than before, but I think about him all the time — and in a variety of ways, of course. Sometimes it’s with hurt, sometimes with anger, or sorrow, or loneliness, or betrayal, or bewilderment, or loss. Sometimes I realize it’s been a while since I thought of him. He has no idea that Ilan is now part of our family. He’s never seen or acknowledged Oliver either, for that matter. Our family is going forward without him, as it can only do, and because it’s our only option.

During my too-brief moment in Austin last week, I had another one of those jolting epiphany-type experiences. I was taking a shower and listening to music, and a song from the Broadway play Spring Awakening came up on my playlist. [From Wikipedia: Set in late-19th-century Germany, the musical tells the story of teenagers discovering the inner and outer tumult of teenage sexuality. In the musical, alternative rock is employed as part of the folk-infused rock score.] Will loved that play and saw it on Broadway. He told me about it with great excitement, played me some of the songs, said how much he loved it and that it felt like it was personal for him. I saw it shortly after he recommended it, and wow. Just, wow.

Will probably also had a little crush on one of these guys.
Will probably also had a little crush on one of these actors in the production. I did!

In the play, all aspects of teenage sexuality are present — from incest, to exploration by straight kids, to exploration or longing by gay kids — along with a variety of consequences of the exploration. Some of the songs are explosive and high energy, and some are dark and so filled with sadness I almost cannot bear it, like “Whispering” (“See the father bent in grief / The mother dressed in mourning / Sister crumbles, and the neighbors grumble / The preacher issues warnings // History / Little miss didn’t do right / Went and ruined all the true plans / Such a shame. Such a sin”). This link provides the list of songs and each title is linked to its lyrics and a Youtube video of the song.

One song is “Momma Who Bore Me,” and my suspect memory whispers that Will especially loved it. [knife in my heart, with this opening lyric:

Mama who bore me
Mama who gave me
No way to handle things
Who made me so sad

So for all the years since he first told me about his love for this play, I have taken very personally the weight of it, as if his love for it was just about me in a bad way — oh how great and perfectly it articulated his bad experience. And this is so me, to do this. So whenever I heard any of the music, I felt it like lashes on my naked skin, bad, bad, bad me, I’m the reason he won’t be part of our family. Lash, lash, lash, LASH.

But when I was in the shower, listening to the song “Bitch of Living,” I realized: it’s not about me! Will’s love of that music is not [just, if at all] about me, by any means. Will is gay, and this aspect of his life has brought a whole bunch of struggle and difficulty and rejection by his father and that pain, and figuring-out. Exploring. My own young sexual life was excruciating and as horrible as it could be, and I forget that it’s not that for everyone; it’s otherwise a complicated time, a confusing time, a thrilling time, a new time, a wondering time, and that’s what the music is about, that’s what the story is about. I’m sure the Momma song had some resonance for him, but that’s not why he loved the play. He loved it because it got at a huge thing, at the complexity and thrill and struggle of that time of life, a time that was intimately about him. Not about me. It’s not about me.

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That’s the fabulous song “Bitch of Living,” just to
give you a taste of the musical.

Anyway. I know I frequently mention AA sayings — my husband knows a bunch of them and so they’re part of my lingo if they’re especially good — but there’s a saying in the Al-Anon world for parents who have kids who are addicts: You are not your kid’s higher power.

You are not your kid’s higher power. I am not my kids’ higher power.

I've always loved this shot of him taken when he was a young or mid-teenager.
I’ve always loved this shot of him taken when he was a young or mid-teenager.

It’s so easy to forget that they have a huge interior life that you have no idea about. That they have secrets, and thoughts, and that where you are in their various constellations is very different than where they are in yours, and probably different from where you think you are. I thought about the fact that Will is a ‘character’ in my life — more than that, since he’s my son and I gave birth to him and loved him intensely from that moment on — and that I am a ‘character’ in his. I’m not the sun, I’m a comet.

Even in my daughters’ lives, in the context of our loving relationships and easy and regular participation in each others’ lives, I’m not the sun. I used to be, when they were tiny little girls, but as they grew I moved away from that central location, as I should.

This is an insight I keep having, in different forms, about Will. It’s always a comforting insight, a kind that makes his agonizing choice less about me which relieves me of one kind of pain, anyway. Knowing me I’ll never let myself entirely off the hook, but hanging myself on a fish hook instead of a meat hook is a huge relief. Perhaps I belong on a fish hook, though I’m not even certain about that. I think I need to save this to my ‘Lessons Learned’ tab so I can refresh myself without having to wait to relearn it.

xoxoxoxox

Lester Tricky

When I was a little girl, I had a younger cousin who liked to stick bobby pins in the electrical outlets, and when sparks came out she’d laugh in absolute delight and say, “Lester Tricky! Lester Tricky!” Some adult would come running and tell her that electricity was dangerous and she shouldn’t do that, but you could see in her eyes that she would never listen.

I’ll come back to Lester Tricky in a minute, but first some context. My life is extraordinary right now. Just utterly extraordinary. Yesterday was Katie’s birthday and I got to spend some hours with them, and some time all alone with little Oliver, who isn’t feeling very well right now. Molars, I think. When I went home afterwards, I made a yummy dinner, and then feeling too extraordinary to sit still, I went to a pie shop with my new book of poetry and relished that warm chocolate salted caramel slice. I came home, still feeling too extraordinary (but also too full of pie), so I laced on my sneakers and headed out for a steamy walk — the only kind you can take in Texas this time of year.

Marnie had introduced me to a wonderful podcast called Song Exploder (I strongly recommend it to you!); song writers focus on one of their compositions and talk about the creation of it in fascinating detail. I selected a band I’d never heard of (Sylvan Esso) talking about their song “Coffee.” (Here’s a link to the specific episode, recommended!) The episode grabbed me from the beginning, and so I was hooked and lost in the conversation.

one of Austin's nicknames is City of the Violet Crown
one of Austin’s nicknames is City of the Violet Crown

It was that violet kind of twilight, and the cicadas were buzzing in the air non-stop. I walked past one family of deer, and then another, and then two little fawns that seemed to be on their own. The twilight deepened a little more, and the cicadas grew louder. As the conversation drew to a close on the podcast, the episode ended with the entire song played. And as I listened, I felt the top of my scalp, like electricity was dancing in my hair. It moved down my cheeks, down my neck — still alive in my hair — and down my arms. I saw goose bumps come up on my arms, and it kept moving down my body, down my legs — goose bumps there too — and into my feet. I looked up and there was a brilliant half moon right overhead. I looked to my left and there was a large male deer standing there looking at me.

ElectricityIt was extraordinary. It felt like everything else around me was on pause, there was no traffic on the busy street nearby, the cicadas seemed to stop, the breeze went on pause. I blinked slowly, swallowed, looked up at the moon, down at my arms, and closed my eyes. I just stood there in that moment, lit up with electricity. I remembered Lisa, and Lester Tricky. I felt the whole of my life, everything behind me and everything stretching out in front of me, my family continuing on into the future, me as an ancestor of all these people who streamed into the world through me. I don’t know how long I stood there on the sidewalk with my eyes closed. I think when the song ended, the spell was broken. I opened my eyes, the breeze seemed to pick up again. I heard the traffic nearby. I took a deep breath and looked up at the moon in the darkening sky.

I can’t guarantee that the song will have the same effect on you (but I do recommend that you start by listening to the podcast about it, linked above; it’s only 13 minutes long). Just in case, here is the official video of it. I love the female singer’s voice, and the eerie moodiness of the song, and now forever it’s stained purple for me.

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I love being me. I don’t think I’d be anyone else for any amount of money.

cracked open

I think we all kind of go along in the world in a glossy way — by which I mean we feel discrete, bounded, ‘sure’ of what we’re going to do later in the day, in the coming weekend, this spring, over the holidays. Next year. If someone stops us and presses hard, we’ll acknowledge what life can really be like. Yeah, yeah, I know, the best way to make God laugh is to make plans hahahahahaha….. (or whatever the saying is), but we know we don’t really believe it. Not today, anyway. Not today, because today we have appointments all afternoon and somewhere we have to be tonight, and we are healthy and young. Hahahahaha!

But when the tenderizing stuff happens, we know better. We remember that we really did already know better. After the pounding my heart took yesterday — really so little in my own self, much more for the people I love — I felt all cracked open. Actually, the cracking started the night before while watching an episode of Top Chef, of all things. Bear with me. Top Chef is the only “reality” show I watch, and I’m always so fascinated by the extraordinary creativity of the chefs when they’re pushed for time and ingredients. Wow, I could never do that. I never would’ve thought of that. One of the common reality show tropes, I gather, is to have a contestant call home while the camera watches and listens in.

Last night one of the contestants called and when he was talking to his daughter, his voice caught in his throat and he was trying so hard not to cry, and he told her how much he missed her. I thought about the fact that parents are often telling their kids (young, middle, or adult) that they miss them, but kids don’t (as) often say it back to their parents. That’s because for so many of us, having our children permanently cracks us open and makes us vulnerable — and especially vulnerable to them — in a way they don’t and probably can’t understand. And they don’t need to, perhaps they shouldn’t. I saw Bette Midler on The Tonight Show (in the Johnny Carson years) right after she’d given birth to her daughter. She told him that she could no longer watch the evening news because she was just too open now, the world felt too dangerous because her little daughter was in the world and it’s frightening. I understood her very well, because my own girls were very little — Will wasn’t born yet — and I felt the same way. You obviously don’t have to have children to get cracked open, and having children doesn’t necessarily crack you open, but it often does, I think.

So I went to sleep feeling that tender open vulnerability that the chef contestant reminded me about, and I woke up and did my beautiful morning ritual and felt open-hearted for a second day, still deeply worried about money, and then 1-2-3-4, bad bad bad bad things for people I love. Not the very worst in any case, but pain and suffering and uncertainty and unfairness, and me with not one damn thing to do that will help. Of course I want to be a magical all-powerful Queen of the Universe and just fix it all, but I am a mere and lowly queen of the pillbugs and the most I can do is pick up the little creatures off the burning street and place them in the grass. I can’t even ensure that they don’t get squished or starve. My powers are so puny.

I suspect that I’m feeling easily moved and open to the world because of the changes I’m trying to make — quieting the noise, starting my day the way I am, eliminating chatter — and I’m glad if those changes are having this effect. I’m glad. So here are a couple of things I saw yesterday that I want to share with you, because I found them very moving.

The “What I Be” project, by photographer Steve Rosenfield. Rosenfield recently asked people to complete the following statement: “I am not my ___ ” He wanted people to fill in the blank with their deepest and darkest insecurities, body image, substance abuse, mental illness, race, sexuality, etc. You can see the images on the project website here. Here’s one that really moved me to tears, because I might’ve chosen to say it too.

his insecurity: adoption
his insecurity: adoption

I could’ve easily filled in the blank with several things I saw in the images. The holocaust survivor who wrote “Hitler” on her extended middle finger also broke my heart. So much vulnerability in all of us, and we walk around trying not to let it show because it’s so soft and scared. I do love that about us, the way we put on our brave faces. Of course there are days our brave faces put us on because of course they’re not just a mask, they are who we are too! We are all the wonderful things, yes, and these too.

And then this one reminded me of the invisible-to-me ongoing lives of others. I love Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. That is some mighty fine music they make, and she is larger than life, a real in-her-bones musician. I didn’t know she has been fighting cancer until I read this piece on her in the NYTimes magazine. She has a new album, though she isn’t quite finished with her treatment for bile duct cancer, which of course caused her to lose her hair. Here she is in the video for the heartbreakingly appropriate song, “Stranger to My Happiness” —


Here’s what she said about shooting the video:

It took like eight hours to do that video. And right in the middle of it, I was standing there and was like, “Hey guys, I can’t do this no more.” I was just exhausted. I was done. It took a lot. They had to take the cord out at the top of my dress where they did the chemo. And my hands and my face and my nails, certain parts turned darker. My feet were colored, like, black. It was like I had tar in my hands and like I was walking barefoot for the last 25 years. So I was really concerned about that. But then I said, “Let me go do this. Because if I don’t do this video and get this stuff done, things aren’t gonna move.”

Asked about her decision not to wear a wig, she said:

I’m not a hair person. My hair on my head is my hair and I’ll connect some braids onto it. But now to go out there without it, it’s a new Sharon. Plus, I want my fans to go through what I’m going through. If they see this maybe they’ll understand. And maybe my story will get across to someone else with cancer. Maybe they’ll say, “Keep moving!” But basically it was to inspire myself. But you know, whenever you do something for yourself, you’re doing something for someone else too.

The bravery and courage we all show in the face of life is so so powerful. Only trouble of some kind calls us to be brave, and dammit I wish we didn’t have the trouble but we do. From the moment I gave birth to Katie in 1982, I’ve never been able to be casual about the world, because she was in it. And then Marnie. And then Will. Since their births, my life has become SO vulnerable because I can be brought to my knees, brought to the deepest despair, by anything that happens to those people. And then, dang it, they went and married people I love the same way. And my friends, dang it, you crack me open too, what can I do in the face of your hard times? Nothing, often, and I hate that.

Then yesterday morning a very dear friend who loves genealogy laughed when she said, “I see dead people.” It was so funny, such a great frame for spending time exploring your ancestors. We both laughed as we parted. I stopped at the market on my way home, still chuckling over her comment, and the store was full of elderly people on scooters and in wheelchairs. I’d seen the van out front but hadn’t put it together — shopping day for these people. I glanced at them as I grabbed the few things I needed, I picked a check-out line that didn’t have wheelchaired people in it, and as I was racing out the door, I passed a beautiful old woman sitting in her chair by the door, waiting to be pushed to the van. I glanced at her and she looked at me and smiled, and suddenly I realized I had not been seeing people. Suddenly I realized that another task is to see the living people, and we don’t, really. We dash along — or maybe just I do — not seeing people. But there she was, dressed and with pretty earrings, taken to the market in a van full of old people in wheelchairs. I paused for a second and stepped backward to smile at her and say hello. I nearly missed that opportunity.

Be kind to people today. Be kind to yourself today. See the people you pass, see them. I get to see a very dear friend today; she’s coming to my place for a walk, bringing me soup we can share, and I am grateful for her. Another friend came to see me last night because she knew what kind of day it had been for me. I feel overwhelmingly grateful to you all for holding me in your hearts the way you do. I want you to know that.

surplus

I am happy. I am happy for myself, because I am happy, despite all the pain and loss I and my family have recently suffered. Which, to be honest, is only the latest pain and loss. Because life is going to give you pain and loss. Living is painful, among all the rest, and from the moment of birth things are being lost. The countdown starts at birth, life is passing, it’s going past, it’s going to be stopping. And along the way, you are going to lose people, there’s just no way around it. It’s in the weave of the fabric.

loveNo matter how bad things have been — and they have been bad — I’ve always had what I needed, and even more than that. Since 1982, I have had my children and that means I’ve been so saturated in love for the last 31 years it has been unimaginable. I’ve had these beautiful people to love, and I’ve had their love. Always, never questioned, never lost. We fought, we struggled with each other, but never once did we wonder if we loved each other. Now that is really something, not to be taken for granted or forgotten. When I found out I was pregnant with Marnie, I didn’t know how it was going to work, because I loved Katie so much it made me feel like my seams were splitting. How in the world could I also love another child? How could I ever love another child half as much as I loved Katie? But as you know if you have more than one child, what happens is that your own heart doubles, somehow. No love is taken away from the first child, you just double in size. But it’s exponential, somehow, not multiplicative.

There is still work to be done, healing to happen, but when I think of where I stood on November 7 and where I sit now, the difference is shocking. I had nothing but myself, my clothes in suitcases, my books, and my five children. (And of course that’s not nothing, at all.) In a couple of weeks, it’ll be five months since I lost so much and found myself at scratch, with no home, no bed, no chair, no nothing. I had a home in my kids, and Katie and Trey welcomed me into their home with open arms, but I was a wandering guest with pajamas and a toothbrush. Now, I sit in my beautiful living room surrounded by a full home, a comfortable home, a lived-in home, MY home. I have too much stuff now, which absolutely cracks me UP. I bought an elliptical machine and am now struggling to figure out where to put the chair that’s displaced by the machine. I have too much stuff. No place for the chair. And four months ago I had nothing but clothes.

That bit of material surplus is the visible evidence of the deeper surplus I have now. I’ve always been extraordinarily lucky and rich, since July 23, 1982 when Katie came into my life, and I always always know that. And now I have a place of my own I can’t be asked to leave; things of my own; hours of my own; dear wonderful old friends and new friends — I have a growing set of new friends, people I really like so much and look forward to developing a history with; new and familiar routines; plenty of work; and some very exciting possibilities for new endeavors with my daughters and with another woman. I am only 54, there’s so much still to come, so many years to create, so much happiness to experience, more unimaginable loss in my future without a doubt, more hardship, big and small, and plenty of the unknown. Probably there will be times to come when I wonder what it’s all for, why does it matter, why persist, because life is shocking sometimes.

It’s a beautiful Sunday. The woodpecker is squawking at me. Finches are divebombing past my window and warbling their beautiful, sweet songs. I’m going to brunch with friends shortly. The sun is shining, the desert beckons, my heart is happy and light, and I have more than I need, and all that I want. I feel so incredibly lucky to be me. I found this Jack Gilbert poem this morning and want to share it with you:

FAILING AND FLYING

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

courage

beautiful womanwisdomcourage
beautiful woman
wisdom
courage

The third tattoo down my spine represents courage. (Beautiful woman post here, wisdom post here.) The characters are kanji and there are a lot of ways to express the different shadings and meanings of words. This combination of characters means something like courageous energy.  This version is the most spiritual. This is the essence of bravery from deep within your being. This is the mental state of being brave versus actual brave behavior. You’d more likely use this to say, “She is very courageous” than “She fought courageously in the battle.”

I chose this word for my back with a bit of trepidation, for a number of reasons. First, it was one of those loose words whose meanings I didn’t understand. I thought about it a long time and my definition of it means doing something while being terrified. I think courage and bravery are often assumed to mean that somehow the courageous person is immune to fear, that she just stands up in the heart of the battle and charges. But if that were true, why would that be courage? That would be something else, I think. My sense is that it’s only courage if you’re terrified and do it anyway. Then you have called on your courage. The second reason I chose it with uncertainty is that I wasn’t sure I’d ever been really courageous when I was growing up — what else was I to do when I was facing the things I faced? All there was to do was to grab the gun out of his hand when she pushed him and run far away with it. All there was to do was try and find a place to hide and sleep for the night. What else was there to do? People can do nearly anything when they have to, and it’s more about an automatic ‘save your life’ response than something that stemmed from courage.

But the reason I finally chose it and placed it so high on my spine was that it took so much courage to have my children. I’d heard my whole life “Never have kids, they ruin your life.” It was my mother’s favorite, favorite thing to say to us. She would lean down into our faces, her face twisted with hatred and her jaw clenched, and sneer those words at us. Of all the lessons she taught me, that was the clearest.

And I come from such a long, long, long line of terrible people. On my father’s side they’re all vicious alcoholics who torture their families, beat them, and then shoot themselves in the head. My dad, his dad, his dad, his dad. That’s a pretty long line. On my mother’s side, her grandfather sold his 14-year-old daughter to a mean old man for the price of a horse. He was cruel and people described him as evil. I never met him, mercifully. She had been abandoned by her Comanche mother and her father was in jail — her uncle (my Big Daddy) adopted her, but her adopted mother was cruel enough that my mother ran away with my father when she was 17, to get away.

I had been trying since my late teenage years to find a doctor who would sterilize me. I thought there was no way in the world I could raise kids without damaging them, I wasn’t nearly strong enough. All I knew was what not to do, I had no idea what love looked like, what it felt like. Doctors would just smile and pat me on the head, practically, and say “now now, you’ll change your mind.” I would cry and find another doctor, and ask. Then another, then another.

When I learned I was pregnant with Katie, I was absolutely, totally terrified. Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod. My father was viciously, constantly drunk and terrorizing me, while talking about all the things he was going to do with Gussie, his name for the baby I carried. Ohmygod ohmygod I cannot let him ever be alone with my baby for even half a minute ohmygod ohmygod what will I do. Terror. How can the baby survive me and him? Then, when I was 5 months pregnant, he killed himself. One problem down, but my poor little baby was still stuck with me. I had an idea in my mind of myself standing solidly still, like a wall, and all those generations of horror crashing against my back and stopping. Stopping with me. Was I strong enough?

Giving birth to my precious, precious daughter was without a doubt the most courageous thing I’ve ever done. I was absolutely terrified, for years. Every single day I faced myself in battle and some nights I was bloodied and bruised from the fight. Mister Rogers came to my rescue one day and the battle became a little easier, but even today I feel like I just have no idea what I’m doing, how to be a loving mother, how to do the right thing. Even today I feel like my knee jerks the bad way and if I’m not careful, ….. if I’m not careful, ….

But in honor of my wonderful, wonderful children who loved this:

* * *
This week became very difficult and I’ve mostly been wailing and crying. I’d held out hope that somehow my husband and I would be able to figure things out, but he told me very plainly that it is over and he hopes to find someone else. I am picking pieces of salt out of my eyelashes from all the tears and my chest feels like I’ve been crushed. Something almost magical happened yesterday and I will write about that next time.

Happy Friday, y’all.

good thing of the day: the right book at the right moment.