"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Suzy: friend, chauffeur, host, writer, generous spirit, maker of dreams come true

When I saw an e-mail from Suzy in my inbox in October, I expected a friendly note, or a writerly exchange, but not what I actually received. It was an invitation to join her in Connecticut,where she lives, for a long weekend to celebrate my birthday. She would fly me there and put me up in a bed and breakfast and we would do whatever I wanted.

As with many of you, I find it much easier to give than receive, and especially difficult to accept such unearned generosity. But it was a chance to spend time with this amazing friend I'd only seen in person once when we met at a writing retreat four years ago. And I can't actually imagine the circumstances under which I might refuse the chance for a travel adventure. 

So I said yes. From the very first I was aware of the enormity of the gift I was receiving and the hugeness of the heart giving it. All of which made my own heart swell and my mouth curl into smiles of easy delight. Our plans were open-ended - there was a lot of talk about writing and talking about writing and just hanging out together. But a week before my departure, I received another e-mail informing me I'd be having a spa day at Kripalu

Suzy spent the weekend before our visit in a workshop with Natalie Goldberg at Kripalu. She knew how excited I was for her. She also knew Kripalu was a place I'd read about and intended to find a way to someday. She moved up my time table.

I traveled on the Friday before Thanksgiving, in the midst of all the hoorah about airport security. I'd convinced myself that being scanned was a small price to pay for the adventure and the friend waiting for me on the other side of the country. I mostly believed myself, but was relieved to discover that going through security, at least in Portland, was no more challenging than when I last flew in July. It might have been an omen, except I was determined that there were not going to be any bad events this trip - only interesting experiences.

Suzy greeted me at the Hartford airport with a great warm smile and before my passenger door was closed we were visiting as though our conversation was the continuation of one conducted over years and years of friendship. Even jet-laggy after a twelve hour day I soaked up all I could, from the drive to Branford, to our first meal at an Italian restaurant, to the incredible comfort of my room.

As she left me for the night, promising to get me in the morning in time for breakfast and our long drive to Massachusetts for my Kripalu experience, Suzy said, not for the first time, "I'm so glad you're here." And by the time I returned home the following Monday, there was not one single doubt about that.

When I woke up the next morning to clear skies and crisp air, I had no idea how much the next hours were going to change my life, or how they'd reveal the hand of a loving divinity with a sublime sense of humor. 
Queen Ann Room at By the Sea Inn, Branford, CT

There's too much to tell, too much magic to share, to try to put it all into one story. So, you'll need to be patient and come back. Next post: Kripalu Saturday. Sunday is a whole other set of wonders to be shared in yet another post.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sharing Gratitude

I'm doing my very first guest appearance today at Laura's wonderful blog, Shine the Divine. Come visit me, and while you're there, spend some time getting to know this most creative and spiritual and kind woman. It's a month of gratitude at her place, each day a different guest - a lovely inspiration and reminder of all that we have to be thankful for. Namaste.

Monday, November 15, 2010


I've been at the beach. Alone. Three nights, four days. I had a purpose. It wasn't meant to be a vacation, but instead a space in which I might get closer to finishing the first draft of my current WIP. No dog wanting to play, or cats wanting in/out/up/down. No husband to greet or feed or visit with. Just me. And my words.

I've been alone a lot in the last year and a half, and enjoyed the solitude for the most part. I enjoy my own company and even more, I enjoy the freedom that comes from no schedule and no other human's immediate needs driving my decisions. It wasn't until this weekend, however, that I considered how distracted I've kept myself, even without the outer distractions found in the busy life I left behind when I stepped out of public education.

Pema Chodron talks about how we all live with a feeling of edginess and anxiety, although often at a level so low we're not even aware it's there. We want solid ground under our feet, which is an impossibility, and the insecurity feels so unbearable, we'll do anything to not experience it. That's where addictions are born, in our desperate attempt to not feel so lost. And alone.

Because I'm writing a memoir, I was not only alone these last few days, I was also alone with the very deepest parts of me. And when I wasn't writing, I was walking in the vast openness of sand and ocean and western horizon - from the depths of as far inward as I could go to an outside as wide as forever and back again. And no other human for witness or comfort. Or distraction.

Something in the intensity of my focus and the lack of distraction (except for occasional e-mail, I stayed offline) helped me understand on a new level that the answers I'm constantly seeking are all tucked away in my own heart. It's where God's voice whispers. It's where the wisdom of my ancestors pulses. It's where the clearest, brightest truth lives.

The only way to access that, however, is to be willing to stand alone and turn inward. To, as Pema Chodron reminds, be Ulysses suffering the voices of the sirens to ultimately break their power. So this anxiety that is my constant companion and that is at its loudest when I'm alone, will not be distracted away. I don't need to feed it, or ignore it or worry that it means there's something wrong with me. I only need to stop resisting its existence.

I'm learning I can hold awareness of the edge, and not be any worse off than I was before. I can be alone with every aspect of my interior exposed to the light, and still be okay. Somewhere in childhood, feeling alone came to mean feeling unloved, which felt like falling forever in complete darkness. To survive that, I found a multitude of ways to avoid the one state of being which, paradoxically, was the only way to access the spark of divine love necessary for all other love.

As I've written this, the old hymn, "His Eye Is on the Sparrow," kept coming to mind, so I did what I usually do when words are talking to me - I Googled it. The verse from the Gospel of Matthew that provided the inspiration for the song holds this wisdom: "Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?"

A single bird has value and is known and seen, an important spark of divine light. And so, too, a single person. Alone.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Happy Birthday

I love birthdays. Always have. It doesn't matter whether it's mine, or the special day of someone I love, or a celebration of a character in a movie. Birthdays make me happy.

Childhood birthdays were a complicated mix of anticipation, thrill at being the center of attention and disappointment that the day was never quite enough of something I couldn't quite name. There were visits from grandparents and cakes and memorable gifts. I still have the topaz heart necklace that was my first official piece of jewelry, given the year I turned seven - a year that became one of those that alters the course of a family's life. There were also always the days after the birthday when life returned to a normal that seemed bleaker for having experienced the light and magic of one special day.

The one constant, from my earliest memory until my mom lost her way, was her saying on my birthday, "Ten (or twenty-nine, or forty-five) years ago today, at exactly 3:53 P.M., I was bringing you into the world." Even when I'd left home, even in the years when I couldn't bear to breathe air that had been in her lungs, for one day of every year she reached out to me to declare our connection.

I don't think she ever did that with my brothers. I've not asked them, and now I'll need to, but there are no memories of them sharing similar stories.

As this year's birthday approached, the last one of my fifties, I found myself thinking about why I still get excited. At this point in life, birthdays bring a burning away of illusion and a diminishment of potential. Death, which at twenty seemed impossible, begins to take shape as an inevitable reality, showing itself in new wrinkles and pains and memory losses. Not something normally celebrated.

I miss my mom's calls, even though many times I could hardly wait to get off the phone and back to a life safe from her. The year I entered the decade I'm about to leave, our family was split down the middle, a fracture that meant she (and one brother) didn't get invited to my surprise party. Even then, she called and left a message.

It's only now I realize her tradition was a way I knew she loved me, even when her actions often indicated otherwise. All those years she swore she'd done the best she could, it turns out to be the truth. And although that best wasn't nearly enough for a developing child, it was love.

And it's love that makes me thrilled every year at this time, thrilled at every birthday for anyone besides me. Birthday celebrations are a concentration of all the love that exists for a person in their life at a point in time. Cards, phone calls, Facebook messages, parties, lunches - each person's expression of birthday wishes is a spark in what becomes a brilliant light of love.

Each new year now, that light seems to grow brighter and brighter, even though my expectations for the day have diminished along with my eyesight and flexibility and stamina. In a life that started on a starvation diet of love, with barely enough to sustain a spirit, I feel rich beyond expression to experience such abundant love on my birthdays. An abundance that stays with me from one November 5 to the next.

Last Friday as I was helping my middle brother, Mark, set up his new antique business, he mentioned in the most casual of ways that we'd be having dinner with our other two brothers and their wives. I was excited to get to celebrate my birthday with all my brothers (and I love surprises), but it wasn't until the six of us were seated at the restaurant that I became truly aware of the unfolding miracle.

Five people went out of their way to spend an evening in the company of others that just a short time ago they couldn't share air or space with - to celebrate me. For the second time in a year, Mom's four children sat together in laughter and ease, teasing and taking pictures and sharing food and bits of lives with each other. This time, for the first time, we were joined by the two brave and beautiful women who married brothers whose paths diverged to the point of estrangement for the last decade.

I love birthdays because they are a time, like the brightest summer day, when it's impossible to not know that love exists in unlimited abundance. It's a time when I get close to understanding in a concrete way what God's love means. To be loved - there is no greater gift to receive. A gift from which even more love grows and finds its way back into the world. Light that releases even more light until the darkness is reduced to shadow with no power beyond what light allows.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Toby Turns Three

Our magnificent and goofy boy turned three yesterday. Because it's fall and because I'm a year and three days away from sixty, the passage of time has been on my mind a lot lately. There's nothing quite like having a child or a dog to remind you just how fast time goes.

Having caught on to the trickeries of the calendar, I have been determined not to let a minute with Toby slip past without celebrating the wonder of him and his presence in our lives. There's been a special magic about him from the day I met him, and if anything that seems to be getting stronger. I'm certain he's here to teach. I'm even relatively certain he knows that.

He is a study in paradox.

Greeting each new person who comes into his life as though they are long lost friends, he expresses his pleasure with tooth-baring grins and wide plume sweeps of his tail that have managed to  significantly thin the leaves on a house plant in our entry. Then he'll run to me (or to Walt) and bury his head against our thighs,  looking for reassurance, pushing so hard he breathes like Darth Vader and I have to lean on something for support. Confident to shy in no time at all.

Bred and born a bird dog, he adores things with wings. However, not quite in the way one might expect from a retriever. He loves playing outside, especially when the sun is out and there are bird shadows to chase. He'll gallop after them for hours without stopping. But his game only works, apparently, when one of us sits on the patio while he runs. We're not invited to join him, but neither are we free to go. He doesn't actually retrieve anything, unless he wants someone to throw it for him, and then he may or may not bring it back. Independent but needing connection.

His hearing ability is sporadic - coming and going without warning. If he's found a nice fresh cache of deer poop, he goes completely deaf. On the other hand, he could be upstairs, sound asleep, and hear the rustling of the treat bag downstairs on the other end of the house for which he'll make a run and sit perfectly, just like he learned at school. Stubborn and oh so sweet.

One of his new habits in this last year has quickly become a favorite. At bedtime, he'll get up on the bed with me for a while, then move to a corner of the bedroom, then to his favorite corner of the kitchen. At some point, he wakes up, comes into the bedroom to check on me, goes upstairs to check on Walt at his computer, then crawls into the big blue chair that has become his to spend the rest of the night. It's the fact that he needs to check on each of us before he calls it a day that just takes my breath away.

At three, there's still a lot of puppy in Toby. If he wants to play and I'm not paying attention (trying to get some work done here) he'll stand behind me and make noises like an engine trying to turn over until I turn around. If I take too long, he throws himself on the floor and sighs a sigh of despair, whimpering until I can't take it any more. It works every single time. Cesar Millan would not approve.

As Toby helps me end this decade of my life, reminding me daily what's important and what's not, insisting I laugh and play and love, I wonder if he realizes what a truly great teacher he is.