"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

Monday, December 17, 2012

Season of Darkness

This is a season of darkness. Night barely gives day a chance to speak, and even then the skies are thick with rain-dense clouds. Terrible things are born in the deep shadows, then burst forth into the light before being consumed completely by their own black hearts.

Two years ago today, my adult daughter was overcome by her own inner darkness, unable to believe that light could break through. Many days now I don't think of her at all. But when I do, the thing that strikes me over and over again is the permanence of her death. There will be no more chances for her, for us, for a different sort of future.

On this unwanted anniversary I think about the other members of this club who helped me find my way in the earlier days of grieving. I know they mark their own anniversaries in a variety of ways. I know we've all learned to live and love though hearts exploded and tender and healing. I know the ending of our children's lives was just the beginning of a whole new landscape of endings for us.

The club grew by a significant number last week in a public and horrifying way.

This is also a season of hope. In a few days the Christian world celebrates the birth of a baby whose presence is a promise to defeat darkness forever. A birth symbolized by a shining star, one brilliant diamond of light in a night sky. A birth so threatening to the forces of darkness that great efforts were made to extinguish the light of that babe before he had a chance to become. Yet become he did.

In these last weeks as I've rested and healed, time has stretched long before me. Without the day-to-day to distract, and in the midst of gray gray hours, sparks that fill existence frequently unnoticed seem to be showering down:

A hundred Pine Siskins filling the air with fairy music, flurries of feathers, and flashes of sunlight embedded in their wings. Tame. Fearless. One so close I might have reached out to touch.

A Bald Eagle flying low and close, the first I've seen in months.

The kindness of friends willing to take time out of busy lives to make mine easier in a myriad of ways.

An owl duet in the pre-dawn.

Lilac buds, tight and green and full of promise.

Pain-free steps.

A morning with my mom as I made apple butter, using her recipe, my house filled with the perfume of cinnamon and cloves and forgiveness. I'm sorry she had to die before I could share my kitchen and my heart comfortably with her. I'm happy that even without her physical presence, it's not too late to learn to love her better.

The pulsing rhythms of drumming class that make music with my heartbeat and chase shadows to the far reaches of awareness.

Packages of heirloom sweet pea seeds, ordered, arrived and now waiting for the season to turn so the dormant life can be buried and then resurrected into fragrant, fragile blooms reaching and twining their way to the sun.

This is a season, too, of unlimited possibility—of choosing to see the sparks. We can reach out to each other in love. We can speak gratitude. We can pray. We can remember that astonishing beauty grows from the deepest darkness.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Over the Line

I walked through the challenges of the first three weeks like a deer eating her way through the tender leaves and buds of June roses—the thorns barely registering. Every new day brought the gift of new healing, less pain, an ability restored. Last weekend brought my first opportunity to go out into the world, and I embraced that as fully as I had all the rest.

Saturday was lunch out with my dear friend, Patricia, then a long and satisfying visit at home with my teammate and friend, Kelly. I was tired at the end of the day. Well more than tired, but I had an even better day planned for Sunday, so I ignored it.

Sunday was the first day since my surgery that looked and felt like a regular day. Walt and I went to breakfast at The Cricket, our favorite place on Belmont in Portland. Then we went to drumming class just down the street. Then we went to Costco. It was a perfect late fall day, cool and crisp and dry. A pretty standard Sunday for us. Fun. Productive. Relaxed.

Except for all the other Sundays I hadn't just had major surgery three weeks before. And by the time we got home I could barely move. I found Tylenol and ice and my chair while Walt unloaded and put away everything, and got dinner together. I couldn't get comfortable at bedtime and spent the night right on the edge of sleep, beyond exhausted.

I had an appointment Monday morning, which my kind friend Daune drove me to. I actually felt pretty well for that, but by the time Daune dropped me off at home just before noon, I knew I was done for the day. And maybe done for more than just a day.

Perhaps the hardest part of this whole process has been to allow my body to tell me how much I can do each day. To be present and to listen carefully. Nothing is automatic and I have to consider each step I take and each task I choose to take on. Energy is a finite resource, and when it runs out, I sputter to a stop like an unwound wind-up toy. There is no pushing through as I could in pre-surgery days.

So when last weekend my body seemed to say, yes let's try stepping out into the world, I embraced the permission like a long lost friend.

 And I stopped listening to the signals.

It's a pattern for me. This is not the first time I've found myself facing a line. On one side is optimal circumstance, exactly where I'm supposed to be. Experience tells me the other side is too much. But because the line moves—every day I can do a little bit more than I could the day before, in life as well as in this healing process—I feel the need to test it constantly. I nudge. I push. I step over.

I step back. This week I took a giant step back. For three days I iced and rested and walked and exercised and iced and rested some more. I listened carefully to every little thing my body had to say. I did what it asked without complaint. By yesterday I was sleeping better, the soreness had receded, and there was a literal spring in my step. I realized I could take several balanced steps without my walker, and I managed a 40 minute outside walk with my walker.

It's a new weekend and my body is saying, Okay let's try this again. Today I'm going to drive for the first time. A short distance, with Walt in the car beside me so if my body says enough, I'll be able to listen and step back. Tomorrow we're going to Tacoma to hear my brother Mark sing in his church's Christmas program, a yearly tradition that is one of my favorite holiday events. Walt will drive. I'll sit in a correct posture, wearing my compression hose. We'll take breaks so I can walk. I'll take ice and Tylenol. I'll nap on the way home. I'll stay behind the line.

I know I'll challenge the line again. Sooner rather than later probably. Like my blue eyes and my curved pinkies, wanting just a little bit more seems to be an unalterable part of me. Fortunately, knowing that, and feeling the consequences of overstepping this last week, will keep me from wandering too far away from myself. At least for a little while.