How Do I Live?

Image from The Empathy Project at Seattle Art Museum 11/2018

12/31/2018

We arrive on this earth, learn things, affect people, people affect us, eat too much or too little, hate ourselves, work on loving ourselves, work on not hating others, lose people, gain new people, worry about money, and kids, our parents and siblings, and friendships, have some laughs here and there, and then we die, we are gone.  At some point, it is over, just over.  We make up ideas about where we go when we die and typically think it will be much better or much worse than life here on earth. I think we just die.We leave energy behind, we leave memories and that is all we really know.  

Death seems to happen by mistake, an anomaly in our world.  We all know that we die, but I am a member of the club that pretends that it will really never happen to me. Or it will happen in a way that is swift so I barely know it has happened. It will happen as I imagine when I am 100 and still have my wits about me. I will be sleeping and my heart will fail.  My imaginings are based on facts; My mother lived to 94, her sister to 92 and her cousin lives on at 101 about to be 102.

When death happens we land in the country of disbelief and say this wasn’t supposed to happen, especially when the person seems too young to die or cut off from doing something that we think is important or it is just someone we love spending time with and it feels like they are taken from us.

As I don’t have a ritual for death, there are the memories that I want to collect up, like a hoarder.  The Day of the Dead ritual in Coco seems good.  Creating an altar of things that help me remember my friend Paula, my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, the friend that died when we were both 19, the friend of my daughter’s who also died when they were 19.  I still carry around my mother’s ashes in a shoe box, fitting for who she was, waiting for the perfect moment and place to put them.  I think of somewhere for the ashes, weigh in on it, and, so far, nowhere ends up saying, yes, leave her here, with us, where she will be taken care of. Maybe a shoebox is the perfect place. It was not uncommon for my mom and me to joke about her and Imelda Marcos.  Not about shared politics, but about too many shoes.

This past month I sat and watched my friend wither away like a dying, brittle vine, still clinging to the trellis it once had adorned with blossoms.  She had stomach cancer but told us she had breast cancer because that is what she wanted to believe. It was part of her wish to believe she could recover from this by diet and positive thinking.  By the time she had told me, and a few other friends, she had had this cancer for a year. We learned of it when the cancer was in the process of attacking her entire body.  In the end, it left her with a writhing ocean of an open wound weeping from her chest.  It was as if her insides had become a riptide of pus trying to break free from her cancer-riddled body, just as she hoped to do, break free.  Prior to hospitalization, a nurse suggested wearing a Kotex as a bandage on her leaking breast, which she did, bringing both of us to uproarious laughter.  The whole time we joked, I had no idea she was dying and maybe it was more fun that way.  It was just a silly bandage that would be removed one day when she was “better”.

The last time I saw her, she was in a baseline assisted living home where she was receiving Hospice care, at least when the nurses chose to follow Hospice’s instruction or when Hospice was there itself. She looked kind of like a person I once knew, but as she became ever more gaunt, she was a sliver of who she once was.  Over a months time, she became an empty body, with blue eyes that moved and had moments, flashes of recognition, and then vacant.  She died on December 24, 2018, at too young of an age, taking secrets with her.

Each day, after leaving the vigil of sitting with Paula, my thoughts would drift off to how will this happen for me.  Who will be with me?  I would like my kids to be with me, but wonder if one could stand the process and if the other will be too busy. I carry a fantasy that my kids will be there like I was for my mother, but that fantasy includes things as if I were like my mother and my kids were like me.  But, in fact, my mother and I were always pretty different.  I mean it was clear we had a special bond, and we were related, but I live my life differently than she lived hers.  I attend to my fears differently, I attend to my hopes differently.  So to think I will have what my mother had in her ending years, doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The last time I saw Paula she looked a lot like an alien with a small diminishing body and huge eyes.  I felt cliche when my mind went off to wondering if this is what life comes to and then wondering if am I doing my life right.  Paula died much as she lived. In the end, she was as worried about her finances as ever, though her worries were unfounded, as they always had been. She scrabbled around with friendships and kept secrets or half-truths how she was actually related to certain people who she spent time with. Early in my first visit, at some point in her morphine stupor, she made a comment about looking fat. The only thing that could possibly suggest fat, was her cancer inflamed arm. Even on her death bed, her eating disorder was alive and well.  Her concern and fear of being fat was evidence that our craziness follows us to the end.  So if this is the case, I deeply want to unhook my deep, low self-esteem issues now. I would like my death bed to be free of the ailments of untruths about who I actually am.

So what am I doing with my life?  How cruel have I been?  What can I do about it now? When do I just let go and be kind, do what I need to do, do what I want and brush off the cruel things said to me, by me and others??  Get the tougher skin my mother had wished for me.  I find all my actions are directed towards freeing myself to be present, being kind and generous, uncluttered by my lower needs of inclusion, fear of being left out, needing to defend myself, needing recognition.  I find I am driven to live from a higher place than my ego and I fail at all of this a lot.

After watching Paula, I hope I get there.  I think I want this more than anything other than for my children and their loved ones to be happy, healthy and feel safe.

Henry with Paula
For Paula and Our Friendship… With love from your Buddha Buddy and Henry

“If death is certain and the time of death uncertain, what do I do? How do I live? What matters most to me in the time that is left?”                                                                      ~Stephen Batchelor

 

Revised 1/21/2019

 

 

Boomerangs and Geraniums, A Retrospective: A Jumble of an Ode to a Divorce

Image: https://pixabay.com/en/photos/geranium/

A retrospective, because now, with healing, it can be said.

Things get said like, no one ever thought death would be a well-visited patient on a maternity ward. (Jodi Picoult, Small Great Things) And there you are with a truth you always knew but never said. Babies die, mom’s die, the greatest hopes die and that is really unsettling, very depressing, but the truth.

More true things get said. No one ever tells you that divorce is like a death and how long that wound of breaking a sacred or not so sacred bond takes to heal, whether you asked for it or not, wanted it or not.  Whether you ever thought of it as sacred. And, either side you land on, there you are with loss and grief and can’t see where you will land or what dark corners you will have to turn before you start to see a speck of light. And you know you will, but you never know when. Everyone around you roots for you, hopes for you and you lean on their belief in you.  You will get through it.

People tell you this is a gift, a blessing, and one day you might even thank him. And you wonder when that will ring true. When does it feel good? When does it feel like the freedom you wanted, you hoped for?

Will it really take half the length of the entire marriage to get over the wound, get over the divorce? Feel free? That’s what you were told and you heard it with your ears covered so you could think that you really hadn’t heard it and told yourself that won’t be me, ever, it won’t take that long, it can’t.

It can’t take that long as there is no place to go to feel better, no hospital ward to hold that wound, that death, or that healing. There are bandages, but that is all they are, bandages, and the wound is slow to heal under them.

Most of us walk around thinking oh she’s divorced, never note the pain of that experience, and push the thought away like a dirty penny. Never really see her. But do judge her, Judge her righteoulsy because we can.

We are not divorced, We are able to make the relationship we have, stick,  For better or for worse.  We have gotten comfortable with what we know, with what is familiar.

And then our life changes and we are the ones getting the divorce. And the judging we had kept quietly to ourselves, flies from us, Like a boomerang spun out into the sky, with unbalanced aerodynamic force, It winds its way back to hit the very place it was thrown from,  Hitting us smack in our righteousness.

Then the boomerang is sent back to the blues again, Flies out into the sky and we have great hopes that it returns with new information gathered from the vast blue.  We hope for information wiser than our righteousness.

We hope for new ways to be with the painful feelings of loss, sadness, grief, And all the other feelings of envy, jealousy, fear, and hatred , That pop out as if they are thorns festering under our skin, Just waiting for the provocation to find its way out.

All the feelings that were, at once kept well under wraps and projected onto others, Are hidden in the garden behind the house, Under the geraniums that everyone pretends to like.

In fact with close examination, those geraniums, really, are not all that attractive:  A pretty bud, with spindly stems, But a very good cover that says eerything is as okay as it was in the ’50’s

How do you explain the wounds, how does healing really work?

Just the facts mam, that is what the attorneys want. They won’t delve into the deep, the sadness, loss, fear, And the tear of pain with each of the children’s experiences, With the mother’s agonizing ache over her children’s pain.

Some say, to do a burial for the divorce. There is a ritual to marry, there must be a ritual for the end of the marriage.

And when a burial is tried there is great hope, As the aches inside ask for the miracle of all the pain being over.

As with any death, the pain remains and heals, taking its own time, whatever time is necessary. There is no rushing it, no pushing it to fit our timing. It is not a time of convenience.

All the pointing fingers at her and her and her, Carry fingers pointing back to the pointer. And that is where the healing is called for,

Where the healing must start.

But we say I don’t want to and I won’t. We just want to keep our eye on the target of the finger-pointing at another.

The hurt is still too deep to look at the fingers pointing at the pointer, pointing at us.

And each time we turn away from seeing the fingers pointing back at us, We ache just a bit more because we know, we know that is the work, The work of unfolding the frozen bent fingers pointing back. The work of looking at the object of the point.

Therein lies the freedom, our freedom.

The bumps and hurdles come when we waver, And want to keep the fingers pointing out, Wanting to sacrifice our freedom to keep another caged. It all sounds so bad, so dreadful, so very unkind.

But divorce brings that out in us.

It is great work to keep the focus on us,  On ourselves, on our pain. It is great work to be so self focused that we will take our freedom, Even if it frees the other. We unbind, unhook from resentments and attachments, And let fly our freedom because now know we are the focus, we are the point.

And, finally, we can say we have let go.  Finally we have perspective, feel free, let loose the past, the anchors, let fly the wings of dreams and hopes to be explored.  Finally we can let go, and we do, and the air breaths fresh adventures into us. Finally.

I Am Not Who I Think I Am… I Am Not Who You Think I Am

The fairy child, is the changeling, the one who grew up with the humans.  

I am the human child taken to live with the fairies.  Or, I have a secret wish that that is what happened.

She told me when we met that she was not a nice person and said it more than once.  When would I just take someone at their word???  Really believe what they say?  Instead, I respond out loud or in my head with, No, you really are a nice person. and I know the nice will come out.  What keeps me from hearing them and letting go of them?

It was a screaming text that jumped at me.  It said, Who are you? Who were you? And then,  You are removed from the group.  I stopped text-talking to her at that point.  The texting that lead to this was fast and furious, she seemed frantic. But who can tell from a text?  I had angst that felt like high school, a feeling I never wanted to feel ever again.   The vibration of anxious drama was too old, like a stale brioche and too familiar, like an old grimy college couch that swallows you because the cushions have lost their bounce.  A lot was said but she didn’t seem to want a conversation.

Needs were spoken to the wrong person, me, a person who could not fulfill what was being asked.  I did speak/text that to her, as kindly as I could.  I did say what was my truth about my limitations, but it was not a wanted response.

There was a time that I fit a picture and my life looked like it was “supposed to”.  I worked hard to wrap myself around what someone else wanted from me.  Something just to the side of truth that put me beside my self.  It made a rosy picture of okay-ness surrounded by geraniums.  Things looked like they “should” and that pleased me for the moment and seemed to please others, though I don’t really Know that last part.

What is that “supposed to”?  Currently, I am not married, I don’t live in an upscale neighborhood, I don’t have a station wagon or van parked in my driveway,  my partner is my dog and I live in a room in a house with a family I met through an Airbnb rental.  And, I am happy or better said, I am content.

If you had told me at 18 that this is where I would be at my mature age, a part of me would have been excited at the thought.  Another part of me, the part that won in those days, would be terrified and would say, absolutely not!

How much fear runs us, runs us all the time?  I think we become so accustomed to fear being a driving force that we barely recognize it for what it is and what power it has over us and our decisions, how we live our lives.  The fear of losing something or someone, the fear of losing ourselves or the fear we have already lost our self, surfaces, and panic ensues.

Anger and fear are drivers that are too often drunk.  They lead us down conversations we might wish we’d rather not had.  Let me say, not always. But I can’t think of a time I chose not to speak from anger or fear and regretted it.  I can think of more instance than not, that I spoke from anger or fear and definitely regretted it.

It is a time for women to be speaking up.   I am a woman learning to shut up, learning to speak when necessary, and for now, life works better that way, at least in my head.

A special thanks to Kim for helping me keep my mouth shut.

Heading South on 580 to 40

4/2/17

On my way out of town, I stopped to see the first remodel my ex and I designed and he built with me lending a hand, shoveling out a cat skeleton, some tossed syringes, and other unsavory things from the garage.  It was a druggy dump that we turned into one of my favorite homes, something really sweet with rounded corners, handmade sconces and lots of light.

Portland front

Though I am now 544 miles from home, it is still sinking in that I am gone from there.

An Experiment

As an experiment, I can remember that everything has a purpose, a possibility or offers something to study, then I can keep it or discard it.  This includes people, interactions, experiences, and emotions.

I have stepped into an extraordinary experimental journey.  Some of this journey is too familiar, some of it is all new.  This is not the first time I have ventured out on my own. It is the first time doing it in my 60’s with my kids who are 2,000+miles away.  It is not the first time I have felt uncomfortable with my unfamiliar surroundings; it is the first time I am seeing it as part of a bigger picture, part of a journey of stepping more into myself, accepting more of who I am and what I need to just be me, what I need to feed my spiritual questing.

My journey to Evanston has been much longer than the 5 night car trip via I-40 with Mr. H.  It has been everything leading up to this: all the thinking about doing what was right, the packing of my whole house, now rented long-term, selling, throwing out, and giving away much of what I have owned, saying see you later, to friends and family and life as I have known itbecause goodbye just sounds like more than the truth.

As I packed up I found myself wondering where I would be when the boxes were opened again, feeling a bit scared and excited.  Mostly excited but sometimes it can be hard to feel excited about something in the future I know little about.

I know that I really don’t know anything. I work hard to fill in what I don’t know with judgments, either positive or negative and though the positive feels better, I still don’t know what it is I am doing. I know I am here in Evanston, I know my room is a room, my dog is happy to be with me, and I know that I am slowly trying on this move. I know I am back here in the land of my first 30 years of life to retrieve something or glean something.

I am trying to just let this journey learn me and work me. I am trying to just sit with and turn towards what is uncomfortable, what makes me squirm or makes me judge myself.

I am thinking about the phrase, “What if it Was Sacred”.  What about allowing the things that make me uncomfortable to deepen and change me. and so become sacred.  I want to be present, and be a warrior to old ideas and limiting beliefs and allow myself to be open and listen to new possibilities and ideas. I want to feel the influence of the new, and what directions it can take me.

 

Letting Go and Letting Go

4/2/17 Thoughts on weeding out, de-cluttering and letting go.

I have nothing new to say here, I just have my thoughts, my pain, and ultimately my freedom.  I want to make the letting go significant.  I want to know that what I let go of, makes someone happy or is useful to someone.

I held on to things and let go of many. I still have 40+ boxes of stuff stored in my garage!  It all needs another good combing, but not this time around. I held onto a bathroom rug that was my mother’s.  It seems silly, a bathroom rug, really? Not just because it was my mother’s but because it is good quality and big and I think of my parent’s house in La Jolla that offered such comfort to all of us, my kids, their dad and I. When I see that rug, I think of feeling well taken care of, having plenty…plenty of love, connection, and things, lots and lots of beautiful things..

I held onto the New Yorker cartoon of a zen monk meditating with all of his crap behind a beautiful screen, a cartoon my mother framed and had hung in the bathroom which is a tradition I have kept. It has been in a bathroom ever since she gave it to me. It will go in another bathroom one day again.  That is, if I can find it in all the well-marked boxes. Well, my intention was to “well mark” them.  I just won’t know how well marked until it is time to find something, like the framed cartoon for the next bathroom.

That cartoon represents a tradition in my family of emitting peace and holding the crap behind the screen. This is the tradition I keep trying to change with every move I make.  With each move I make a little headway and always wonder what I will do with all this stuff when I am a Buddhist nun somewhere in my future dreams. I am tired of the energy it takes to keep turning away from what is behind the screen.  And yet, the struggles of letting go are deep and ancestral.  I have gone through nearly every item I own in detail, making decision after decision, keep, don’t keep, keep, don’t. I am doing it, sometimes down to a spotted paperclip or gold pen, or the metal yardstick my mother felted the back of so she could use for sewing. 

Some of these decisions were choices my mother didn’t want to make. Or was it her way of leaving something of herself behind? I know I am holding on to things to leave something of me and my history behind. As I am packing I wonder if my kids will be the ones to go through these boxes and what will they think about or what unanswered questions will stir in their minds.

Many people have quoted the feng shui book to me, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. They tell me all I have to do is hold the object in my hand and ask if it makes me happy or do I love it.  But the questions are more simple and more complex than that. There are objects that hold memories, memories I want my children to learn about, memories my mother wanted me to learn about, memories that keep the lineage, and the familial connection to what is good, true and beautiful. And the memories have energy.  It is that energy I am trying to untie from and still hold onto the memories. And the whole time, the chatter in my head is saying you are letting go of the wrong things, the valuable things, or you are holding onto the wrong things, the things that don’t really matter.  The truth is, I am holding onto what I am not ready to let go of yet.

I let go of 8 car loads to the Good Will, 4 trips to the consignment store, I sold a few beds and furniture on OfferUp and Nextdoor. and took two trips to Clars Auction Gallery .  I brought Clars a coral necklace still with the Marshall Field’s box. It was my great aunt’s and then her daughter’s and then my mother’s and now mine. It now seemed easier to let go of.  For god’s sake,  no one has worn it for over 40 years or possibly longer. It sat in the box making me nervous that I would somehow lose it or it would get stolen. I knew it was time and it would have been so much easier to let go if nice the lady at Clar’s hadn’t explained to me how it was made and the details of each bead, the gold, the cameo.  But I stuck to my guns and it is up for auction in April. I may regret it, but I may feel a bit more free. I won’t know till I am somewhere in my future life, nun or no nun.