"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

Thursday, March 31, 2011

City Cowboys

Yellow cabs as far as the eye could see, lifeblood coursing through New York's arteries, all driven by men of color with names like Geronimo and Mohammed and Elvyss. Both cars and drivers seemed battle weary, and  battle ready. When I stepped into the first taxi of the trip, I wasn't thinking about all I'd heard over the years about the wild rides people received at the mercy of these men. My seat belt wasn't completely fastened before it all came rushing back.

Two speeds: all out and stop with no transition between. Lanes and lights and pedestrians seemed to have little impact on the drivers' decisions. The idea of using a car length as measurement for caution was clearly not in their vocabulary. If the front bumper didn't make contact, with either metal or flesh, that was good enough. If there was an inch or two between cars, a driver could easily, somehow, merge into that space. If a light still held even the memory of amber, that's the color the drivers would see as they coaxed a little more speed from their taxis.

A surprising number seemed to not know their way around, often needing directions, not just our address. I found myself wondering what would happen if Suzy hadn't been able to provide the information they asked for. We were told, by the guide on the tour bus, that only tourists use the yellow cabs and that the drivers are always looking to pad their fares on the backs of their passengers' ignorance. He also offered to take us, after hours for a fee, to the places where designer goods could be found for dirt cheap, so he may not have been the most reliable source.

Some were friendly, including one man who asked us what we were grateful for on a particular beautiful morning. After Suzy and I had given small-talk answers about the weather and our adventure, he said it was his turn and proceeded to tell us he was grateful to be alive. This just a few days after the tsunami in Japan, and we spent the rest of the ride, the three of us, talking about the state of the world and how fortunate we are in our lives.

Many were mute, making the whole trip feel like a long elevator ride in which everyone looks ahead and no one makes a sound. Our friendly greetings were often met with silence, and the understanding of our destination indicated with a grunt. Not even a thank you for a generous tip, perhaps because the cab was already in motion the minute our bodies were completely out.

There were lots of conversations on cell phones, spoken in whispers or other languages or accents so heavy they  might as well have been another language. One driver ate his lunch with the hand that wasn't on the steering wheel. Another laughed frequently in the front seat, and it took me most of the ride to figure out the source of his amusement was my oo-ing and ah-ing at the sights blurring past us: Times Square, Radio City Music Hall, Grand Central Station.

We rarely had to wait long for a cab to stop, although I never did get used to the fact that all that was necessary to secure a ride was to stand conspicuously on the edge of a street with an arm in the air. A couple of times, drivers wouldn't take us because they didn't want to leave the uptown area. And there were times when it seemed no cab would stop no matter what. But that was balanced out by times like the driver who stopped even though he was on his way home.

Ironically, I never felt afraid. I'm not entirely sure why, just as I'm not clear how we got through every single one of those rides without being in an accident. I looked forward to each new driver and each new ride as another great part of the whole adventure. The cabbies seemed like city cowboys to me: independent, unconcerned with convention, and beholden to no one or nothing beyond the trail and its call. And that's a life to be admired, whether lived in the manmade canyons of Manhattan or the ones born of the elements in the West.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Happy Birthday, Desiree!

Blog button designed for Desiree by Carol.

In the four years I've been blogging I've met a number of people here whom I've come to consider friends. Women I've never met face to face, but whom I'd be willing to do just about anything for. And much like life in the real world, the virtual world offers a continuous array of new friends just waiting to be met. Often one friend leads to another, which is where I'm headed with this post.

I don't remember how I found her, but I've been reading Carol's laugh-until-you-cry funny blog, Facing 50 With Humor, for months. I look forward to her posts, certain I'll be entertained, and that I'll find something to relate to in her stories of life with hubby and son and mom.

And through Carol, I met Desiree, whose birthday is today. Her blog, Driftwood Ramblings, is both funny, and offers amazing photography as well.

Because we've not had the chance to sit over tea and learn each other's lives, I'm not sure how well Carol and Desiree know each other. But in the tradition of all best friends everywhere, Carol wanted to give Desiree a special gift for her birthday. She designed a blog button for her, and invited Desiree's blog buddies to join in the celebration.

So, Desiree, I wish you the happiest, most joy-filled day ever. May your celebration exceed all expectations. May this year bring wishes come true and more love than your heart can hold.

For those of you reading, I hope you'll give yourself the gift of checking out the blogs of these two lovely women. My friends. You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New Beginnings

In the weeks before my trip to New York, when I knew I'd get to see the Statue of Liberty, I found myself thinking often about the millions of immigrants whose first sight of her marked the end of their voyages and the beginning of new lives. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for people who left everything familiar behind, who traveled for weeks in conditions few of us today would be willing to endure, and who arrived with little but what they could carry and as much hope as hearts can hold.

Did their first sight of Liberty bring tears of joy?

When the ferry dropped us off at Ellis Island (as it would have all those steerage and third class passengers remaining after the richer folk were allowed simply to disembark onto U.S. soil),  I could feel the ghosts of anticipation and fear swirling around. A beautiful place, both the building and the site, this was where vulnerable humanity met implacable bureaucracy. In the huge registration room on the second floor, the course of people's lives was set.

What must it have been like to be in a place where you most likely didn't speak the language - tired, dirty and disoriented?

Some were sent back because they were deemed insane or chronically ill or not able enough to contribute to the country they sought to make their home. Some were separated from family while paperwork problems were worked out. Some were hospitalized so they couldn't infect the mainland with whatever illness they brought from across the sea, and died on the island.

Most made it through, however, all but about 2%. Given entry to a country where they believed life would be better than whatever they'd left behind. One journey ended with another scrolling out before them waiting for the ink of life experiences to write a new story.

And isn't that the way for us as humans? We're called to something new: escape from what has become intolerable into a fresh start. We're willing to suffer great discomfort in our quest for the new life, even to the point of facing a greater fear than we thought we could endure. We reach a point where the pain is great enough we leave everything behind that isn't absolutely essential to our being. Sometimes the cost of the new journey is paid in prized possessions or the comfort of status. Hard to part with, but not so hard as to be willing to sacrifice freedom for them.

Each new immigrant who entered this land of hope and opportunity must have believed their possibilities were endless. Some found their way to riches and fulfillment while others died in sweatshops well before their time. I imagine, however, that each of them carried in their hearts forever the first sight of Lady Liberty and her promise of freedom to choose; that no matter where life took them from that point forward they had a moment when they knew without doubt they were as free as it's possible for a human to be.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Meeting Liberty

I've just returned home from a working vacation in New York City.

To be able to write those words seems such a miracle to me. For New York to now be a part of my being, with real memories and amazing experiences, instead of merely an exciting character in stories, seems the stuff of fairy tales come true. Like all good adventures in my experience, this one has shifted my equilibrium ever so slightly, and in ways I expect to continue to discover for some time to come.

My friend Suzy invited. She had access to an apartment on the Lower East Side and vacation time coming. We had writing work to do together. I'd never been to this legendary city. Yes was the only possible answer.

In the weeks before I traveled, as we planned how to spend our four days, the one thing I anticipated with the greatest pleasure was getting to see the Statue of Liberty. Time with Suzy, two Broadway plays, lunch at the Algonquin, bus tours of the city,  the library and its lions, the Top of the Rock, and a visit to Ground Zero were all eagerly looked forward to (and greatly enjoyed in real time), but it was Lady Liberty who called to me the strongest.

Drawn by the symbolism of her solitary green presence in the harbor and the thought that I would actually get to experience her first hand, I've carried Liberty with me like a new friend since Suzy's first mention of the trip. Sometime early on I decided I needed to ascend the 354 steps to the crown, both to meet the unique challenge, and to get to see the world through those twenty-five windows which represent each of the gemstones known to exist when she was built.

One small problem. My SI joint issues, which I've been working so hard to overcome, were not healing as quickly as I expected or wanted. As the time grew closer to my departure, I came to accept I might have to, probably would have to, give up that part of the dream. I couldn't walk up the steps to the second story in our home without pain. It didn't seem reasonable to think I'd be able to manage the 22 stories to Liberty's crown. Not without undoing all the significant progress I've made in the last six weeks.

So I flew across the country and spent the first three days of our vacation enjoying each gift of new experience to the fullest, and deeply grateful to be immersed in the life of a city I've spent my life both fearing and longing to be a part of. Thursday, the last day, and our scheduled Statue of Liberty day, dawned clear, sunny, and promised the first genuine warmth of the season. That it was St. Patrick's Day, a sort of big deal in NYC, held little relevance for me.

I'd spent the previous days admiring Liberty from the windows of our apartment, far off in the distance. From time to time in our travels, I'd catch a glimpse of her silhouette, dwarfed by the immensity of everything around her. When the ferry pulled away from the dock that Thursday, my eyes locked on her majestic form, and stayed on her one way or the other for most of the rest of the day.

After landing, Suzy found a bench for basking in the sun while I went to check in. I intended to use my crown access (only 240 granted a day - we had ours thanks to Suzy's great planning) to go only as high as the top of the pedestal. There were two women in front of me, also with access to the crown, who were close to my age. As I listened to the ranger explain the process to them I became aware I had decided to go as far as I could. That I would move forward, literally, one step at a time, and decide whether to take the next step when I was there.

I got my special orange wrist band. Found the lockers, put everything except my camera inside. Walked through security for the second time that day. Pushed through heavy glass doors to find myself inside the very bottom of the pedestal.

The ranger explained about going to a certain point before another ranger would check our wristbands and then send us up inside Liberty. She grouped me with the two women I'd eavesdropped on earlier. We began climbing steps, laughing, chattering and looking around in awe. By the time we got to the top of the pedestal, and the last place I could have chosen to turn back, I realized we'd already climbed half the steps.

At that point I saw the dream I'd released, reborn right in front of me, waiting to be reclaimed. My hip felt fine. I was on my way to the crown.

We began spiraling upward, each narrow step curved tightly toward a center that would end at the top of the world. I followed my new friends, pleasantly surprised that I was keeping up with little effort. And completely shocked when the woman in front announced we were there. I was just getting warmed up.

The view itself was limited by the size and shape of the crown, but I have never enjoyed a panorama more. I haven't felt so alive in a very long time. Some little girl part of me jumped up and down with glee. I know when I found Suzy back on the ground I was beaming with an intensity to match the sun shining on our bright spring day.

A gift. An answer to prayers for healing. A wish granted. Grace. However that day might be named, I wear the light-filled joy of it with gratitude. I hope the glow of it travels out from me as the glow of Liberty's torch has found its way to countless longing-filled hearts.

Monday, March 7, 2011

March Refuge

The forecast was for rain, as it is most days this time of year. We drove north anyway, willing to get a little wet to  experience a new-to-us wildlife refuge, to have a late winter adventure in celebration of Walt's birthday, to get out and move.

We weren't long into the trip when sun patches began to dot the woolen sky like golden clouds. Soon we were driving into more blue than gray, and the farther north we went, the more glorious the day became. By the time we arrived at Nisqually NWR, the clouds were doing their best to hide the sun again, but the air was dry and at moments held the blessing of true warmth.

As we meandered along the boardwalk, enjoying the paired off honkers (and our own partnership), stopping to watch herons pull wriggling things from the fertile muck, and scanning the sky for eagles, I was aware of feeling simply happy. While Walt shot pictures, I searched the tangerine branches of willows for songbirds. We walked directly into the wind coming from the Puget Sound and were both chilled by it and energized. The primal scent of ocean and exposed tidal mud warmed just enough to release a deep salty tang broadcast the coming of new life as clearly as the birds clamoring in courtship all around us.

The longer we walked, the more alive I felt. More than I've felt in months. A true March day, the weather shifted wildly and without warning: sun extinguished by black clouds that spit rain which gave way to a downy gray sky that cleared into forever blue, all within a matter of minutes. Often the sky would hold so many different weathers, rain fell magically from a cloudless cathedral ceiling.

It was in the shifting I recognized what I love about this month. It's not only the promise of new life that has grown from whisper to shout; it's also the constant surprise.  After a winter in which I worried nothing would ever change, the adolescent mood swings of March are exciting and full of unknowns that promise at least new perspective and perhaps even the next great insight. Everything is possible all at once.

When we drove home later in the afternoon, the weather continued to offer opposites side by side: apocalyptic black clouds trying to devour Easter blue skies. For miles we were surrounded by rainbows: a brilliant double that followed us for a time; a half arc flashing neon from behind; pastel chalk smudges of pillars nestled in hillsides.

March is the time when darkness and light exist side by side in a way that doesn't happen at any other time of year so vividly. Color, breath, and hope are all sharpened by the unique and particular configuration of life and death sharing equal space. Because this month's gifts are offered full blast, feral, and raw they have the power to change a heart with all the impact of falling in love.

Photo by Walt

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


I was furious Monday when the snow started. Knowing there was nothing to do with my fury that would change the weather didn't help. It felt like a huge and very personal last straw and I'd had it.

But it turns out the anger burned away the last of my waiting for the outside season to change in hopes my inner weather would change as well. While the winter has more often than not reflected the journey of my grieving these last months, it is not my grief. It's not in charge of my grief.

It's a trap I fall into often: I know the outcome I want, and decide it would be much less messy if I could just skip all the parts from here to there. No matter how profound my understanding of the need for and power of process, or how often I experience the magic of a cycle completed, I find myself still deciding it's okay to skip ahead. Or just to wait out whatever discomfort I find myself in until a season passes and something new arrives.

Perhaps the hardest lesson I've had to learn lately is that no matter how careful I am, no matter how perfectly I follow the rules, no matter how patient I am - my soul has its own agenda, and life does, too.

On March 20, Kathleen will still be gone. My heart will still be broken. Spring will arrive with its warm days and abundant light, its vibrant colors and new life. I will embrace it, revel in it, roll around in the moist fertile soil of it (metaphorically anyway). Yet some part of me will still be winter, and I'm beginning to understand may always be.

As has so often been the case on the dark days, when I most need it, someone will offer me the blessing of just the right words and a corner of a warm heart to rest myself in. Often it's been here in the comments of my virtual friends. Often it's been in the gentle persistent presence and concern of flesh and blood family and friends. And every now and then God's voice comes to me in the form of a poem.

The one I'm about to copy below came from a newsletter I receive regularly, which is in itself a great source of blessing. I'm reading it at least once a day, and it helps. I offer it to all of you here, that you might be blessed in  your own lives and troubles and broken hearts by its message.

John O’Donahue
On the day
when the weight deadens

on your shoulders
and you stumble,

may the clay dance

to balance you. 

And when your eyes

freeze behind

the grey window

and the ghost of loss

gets in to you,

may a flock of colors,

indigo, red, green

and azure blue

come to awaken in you

a meadow of delight. 

When the canvas frays

in the curach (boat) of thought

and a stain of ocean

blackens beneath you,

may there come across the waters

a path of yellow moonlight

to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,

may the clarity of light be yours,

may the fluency of the ocean be yours,

may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow

wind work these words

of love around you, 

an invisible cloak

to mind your life.

Photo by Walt