All my life I’ve been traveling. I was born in Maine and at one and a half, moved to Beirut, Lebanon. Another country, another culture, another climate. At four, in the middle of winter, my mother and I left the Meditteranean and moved to Hanover, New Hampshire, newly divorced in the late 60’s. At eight, my mother re-married and we moved to Oberlin, OH where academia coexisted with rural poverty and racial tensions of the early 70’s. After two years, we moved to Lake Forest, IL, listed in the “Preppie Handbook” as one of the 10 preppiest towns in the United States. I moved from place to place feeling like an alien. This is a pattern that has repeated itself my entire life. Always moving, trying on the new customs, reinventing myself.
One of the things I have always loved about traveling to India is the feeling that I am so far from anything familiar that it forces me to let go of any outward identity my ego may cling to to define myself: parent, wife, hospice volunteer, runner, home owner, etc. The only thing I have in India is the over-arching requirement to stay present.
I read somewhere that gold fish grow to the size of their bowl. If they’re swimming around in a tiny glass, they will stay that size, if they’re put in an aquarium, they will grow larger. The Bay Area is a much bigger fish bowl than the the one I’ve been living in. And I feel…free. I feel anonymous. I feel alive with possibility.
The past several days have been jam-packed with moving and arriving and storing and unpacking. It’s been exhausting. Yesterday was the first day I had a glimpse of the ocean. I forced myself to drive in afternoon traffic and when I got out of the car, the wind whipped my hat off. I stood at the shore, turned off my music and consciously welcomed myself home. In that moment, I knew that this land isn’t home. I know it’s cliche, but still I want to share. I am home. I am my home. Wherever I choose to go, I will always be home.
That said, I also had the realization (for ME) that 16 years is too long to yearn to be somewhere else. I feel a peaceful joy to be back, this multi-cultured holy land where I am both completely unknown and deeply loved.
My kids are having some last adventures with family this month and in September we will all meet up and take my daughter to college and then Harlan and I will begin Road School 2017 for the fall semester. Just like a blank canvas can inspire the painter, the open road calls to my soul – it always has. To quote John O’Donohue, in his poem The Traveler, I look forward to “the invitations which wait along the way to transform” me, mile by mile.
I’m not sure if it was the rainy day today that made me even more dreamy than usual or just the seemingly random events that occurred this morning. I read a woman’s post on Facebook that said she remembered her birth, that there were bright lights flashing in her face as she entered the world. I thought about this (and her) for most of the morning. Marveling that somebody remembers her own birth. I believe her. It’s just that I don’t think there are many people that remember their own births.
I’ve been tripping out on that more and more. How special each one of us is…and how really getting to know somebody (for me anyway) is like learning a new language. Sometimes like becoming an expert in a whole new species, surrendering preconceived notions and judgements.
I am driving on the road, past where the body of a young raccoon has been decomposing for a couple of days. I can smell it. But today I see another raccoon, a big one, dead on the other side of the road. “Oh no!” I exclaim. I wonder if they’re related, was this the already decomposing one’s Mama? My heart sinks as I touch my heart.
I have a vivid memory of riding in the backseat of my grandparents car. We passed a dead dog on the side of the highway. I was shocked to see it. I didn’t realize that this could happen. That dogs could get hit by cars and their bodies could lie by the side of the road, cars whizzing by. I spent the rest of the ride in silence, deeply saddened. That was a gray day too.
Early this morning the phone rang and I didn’t recognize the number but I answered it anyway. I rarely do that. “Is this the Grief Support Network?” he asks. “Well…not exactly”, I answer. Yes and no. The hotline still transfers over to my cell phone even though I haven’t worked there in 6 months. They don’t know how to fix it.
I start to go into a rambling explanation but then stop myself and ask if he is looking for support (sometimes it’s a sales person.) He is. He tells me what’s going on and I listen. He explains to me that he has plummed the inky depths and also connected to his brightest divine nature. “I can tell you get it,” he says. And I do. I am sitting at my computer in the darkness, having an intimate conversation with a “stranger”.
The older I get, the more I feel that each one of us speaks our own language and to really listen to somebody, to really get somebody, takes a certain amount of amazement and awe in humanity in general. What delicate and finely-tuned creatures we all are; senstive, unique, miraculous energy bodies that communicate on so many deep and subtle levels. Right now, for me, this is the best show in town. Peace and Love.
This Spring, my son announced that he had two life goals: quitting school and living in a van. His love of learning has been with him from infancy, but ever since 6th grade, he’s slowly and progressively been losing interest in school. Over the past four years, I’ve watched the light go out of his eyes while in the traditional educational system.
By April, things had spiraled rapidly downward; my son was depressed, uninspired and feeling powerless to change his life. Uncharacteristically, he wasn’t getting up in the morning, he was isolating from friends and was refusing to go to school. I had no idea what to do or how to help him. Finally, at a crisis point, Harlan opened up to me. What I heard more than anything was that he really and truly doesn’t want to go back to school and wants to “drop out”.
As I listened to him, I had an “Aha!” moment. What if we “Dropped In” and hit the road? What if we took this Fall Semester of 2017 and he got to live and learn in real time, in the real world, seeing life through the eyes of a traveler? As a mother, I knew I needed to act quickly to come up with a creative solution that might serve to inspire my son into not giving up. Since nothing traditional has worked (and we’ve tried it all), I wanted to come up with an out-of-the-box learning opportunity that would spark his innate curiosity.
Without knowing exactly how I could pull it off, I proposed the idea of living on the road this Fall to Harlan. Almost instantly, like pumping a bicycle tire with air, I watched him come back to life. He became motivated and finished 9th grade. He joined a gym and is working out daily. He’s working with an inspiring mentor who is teaching him about meditation and healthy living. We’re training for our first Sprint Triathlon in October. He has a summer job and is saving money for the trip. We’re working with an educational consultant to design a personalized curriculum for Harlan.
We’re plotting our itinerary on the map:
Vancouver to Baja from September through December.
Along this route, we will be researching people and places that inspire us, in order to learn from these interactions. Together with an educational consultant, we will design a curriculum that Harlan resonates with; creating projects that involve writing, music, photography, and natural science – all with the rich backdrop of the Pacific West to support his education.
Since I have announced our decision to hit the road this August, miracles are happening. People are reaching out with places to stay, well wishers are offering words of support, and we are packing up and moving out of our home on July 31! Finances are an issue. I’m a single mom navigating work, life, and parenting two teenagers, the oldest of which is heading off to college in September.
I’m a grief counselor. I work with people who have lost a loved one and are navigating life without the person they love. I have teenagers. I know angst. I have lost family members to suicide. I have close relatives that struggle with clinical depression. I know life is short. And mysterious and powerful and awe-inspiring. I know that I love my son with all my heart and will do anything within my power – anything – to help him get the light back in his beautiful brown eyes. And yes, that means even asking for money, something I’ve been raised never to do. I’ve started a Go Fund Me Campaign, called Road School 2017, to help with our costs.
Donations will go toward:
- Online Educational Consultant
- Used laptop
- School Supplies
- Educational Experiences (e.g. Museums, State Parks)
NOTE: 5% of what we receive in donations will go to Pacific Sands Academy, a program that offers an accredited, interest-led, passion-driven independent studies program for teens. This money will help families afford an alternative choice for children who may be struggling with the traditional educational system.
There is no training manual for what Harlan and I will are about to embark on, but there is a road map – the one he and I will follow along the highway. As a parent, my job is not to mold him into a smaller, younger version of myself, but to hold a safe container large enough for him to expand his wings. To quote John O’Donohue, in his poem The Traveler, I want to introduce my son to “the invitations which wait along the way to transform” him. Stay tuned, Road School starts late August 2017! #roadschool2017
Just coming off a whirlwind weekend visiting a college with my oldest, soon to be 18, my daughter.
We landed in Denver and I stopped to fill my water bottle at Root Down, my favorite stop at DIA. After filling it, I screwed the cap on tight and turned, just in time to see a man being wheeled past, only a few feet from me, a swarm of paramedics administering CPR. I could see his chest going down and up, an alarming amount of distance really, it was not natural, not at all. They were pumping his chest with their hands. He was wheeled down some hallway I’ve never noticed before – the whole thing happened in seconds. “This is an emergency” I thought. I sucked in my breath. It did not look good.
Right there in terminal C a man was possibly dying. Probably dying by the look of the whole scene. I shut my eyes and felt the tears. Heading down the escalator to the train, I wanted to stop and tell the people swarming from the doors, “There’s a man possibly dying up there!” Life and death so close.
Of all the things I kept thinking about this weekend, “Life is Short” was one of the most prevalent thoughts. Memories of my girl as a toddler, scenes of her as a youngster, bed time, reading her stories, singing to her. Watching her struggle and falter and careen into some hard years.
Now a young woman, going to college. Beautiful big eyed girl. At ease (mostly) with herself and with life. She’s ready. I watch her from a distance.
Leaving the airport, we drive straight to her dad’s house. It’s Passover and we are going to his “Bob Marley” Seder. Passover celebrates the liberation of the Jews from slavery and people will play instruments and sing Bob Marley’s Redemption Song.
On the way, we stop and pick up my daughter’s boyfriend. I hear her in the back of the car whispering to him, “You are part of this family”. We arrive and the table is crowded with friends and relatives and exes and children. We open the door for Elijah. As usual, everyone is starving as we slog our way through the Haggadah – the book we read that tells us what Passover means and why we celebrate as we do.
On this night I sit between my son and my friend Starling. There is laughter, and the usual chaos. There are people complaining that they’re hungry, and children who would like to drink more wine, there’s raucous singing, and music breaks for more Bob Marley songs, there’s dancing, and food. And more food! Tsimmis (my favorite), and brisket, and smoked turkey with gravy, and matzah and charoset and soup and gefilte fish. Everyone is stuffed.
I look around the table. There is love. There is forgiveness. There is laughter and subtext. History. There have been heart-aches and illness and crises and hard times. Tonight we celebrate Redemption – being saved from sin and error and gathering together to celebrate another year with love and grace.
I raise a glass and thank the cooks. And I remember the people that can’t be with us; the people that can’t be here and the people that have passed before, and yet they feel so close tonight. And I say a prayer for the man at the airport and his family. We all drink. L’Chaim. To Life. Life is short. We are all part of this family.
I do the dishes. The kids stay at their dad’s. My heart is full with just a tinge of sadness. The full April moon follows me on my ride, lighting up the mountains that wait silently for me to arrive, home.
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
Have no fear for atomic energy
‘Cause none of them can stop the time
How long shall they kill our prophets
While we stand aside and look? Ooh
Some say it’s just a part of it
We’ve got to fulfill the Book
Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever have
I’m hearing daily stories of heart break, illness and tenderness from friends and clients. It seems to be in the collective energy field right now. Regardless of where you fall politically, I think many people are experiencing the chasm in our country: between parties, between groups, between relatives and friends.
If our true nature is to be universally connected to all (which I believe) then this rampant atmosphere of divide and finger-pointing must be painful to all of us on a soul level.
So what to do? How to keep my heart open? No matter what? No matter who I am thinking about or dealing with? That is my practice that I’ve dedicated my life to. Even if it feels good to distance myself from somebody (or some group) because of their actions or words, I choose to take a look within myself and try and access compassion.
It’s a spiritual axiom that we can only change ourselves. Gandhi said “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” I know I’m not saying anything new, but I’m sharing my practice with you with the hope that it may be helpful. Living a heart-opened path (no matter what!) is much easier to do when everyone is doing what I think is right, or “playing nice” and not triggering me. But what about when someone does something egregious? It’s so tempting to distance myself and say “Oh no. I would never do that!”
But if we’re all connected…I need to take a long, deep look at myself and find the part(s) of me that are related. Instead of pushing away aspects of myself that I don’t like to see in others, or that make me uncomfortable, I need to shine a light on those parts, and love them up. I believe that I do have the wounded masculine aspect in myself that acts out of insecurity and powerlessness. I am the wounded feminine that is too afraid to speak up, or speaks out harshly, fearing I can’t have what I want. I am the divine as well – we all are. I have all aspects of shadow and light inside of me because I am human. I am a spirit having a human experience. I think I signed up for all of it!
I am practicing loving myself. Unconditionally. Simple yet profound.
Love. It’s been written about. It’s been sung about. It’s an energy. It’s a feeling. It’s a way to live. So often I have looked externally for this feeling and offered it freely to others, but I forgot (or rushed past) the first step: Self-love.
If you are like me, you might read those two words and think “Blech”. Self-love? That’s no fun. I like to connect with others. I like to interact. Self-love sounds lonely. And boring. I really used to think that! (TRUTH: Sometimes it is kind of lonely and boring – definitely not instant gratification land.)
I believe self-love is the foundation for my life. When I skip this step (and I have) the opportunities keep showing up to allow me to get it right. Like pulling a weed and not getting the root, it just keeps coming back.
How do I practice self-love?
One of the ways I do is to stay present to “what is” vs. what I wish was happening, and not try and escape any uncomfortable feelings that may arise (like loneliness, fear, grief). It’s a practice and some days are better than others. When an uncomfortable emotion shows up, I try to be loving and patient – the same way I would be with one of my children. Acceptance and forgiveness are huge players in this arena. Trying to love all parts of myself, not just the “nice” parts.
Unconditionally loving ourselves means accepting all parts of us, not “fixing” or removing the more prickly parts of self, rather shining true love and compassion on those harder to accept aspects of ourselves. This is love unconditional. This is love invincible. This is LOVELUTION.
LOVELUTION: a beautiful and quick shift from simply existing to loving oneself constantly and totally, radically impacting all areas of your life to ripple out to others. (I made it up. You’re welcome.)
Ripple out to others?
Yes! The best part of this, is that when I fully give myself to this path of open-hearted living, it is guaranteed to benefit everyone in my life. That’s right, by loving myself, I am increasing the love in my life. Love begets Love. I am surrounding myself with love. This is an energy I can always impact and control because it begins with ME. When I plug into this, I see its effects immediately. People respond and behave lovingly to me. Some days are easier than others. Some days I love myself more than others. One day at a time. Progress not perfection. I’ll keep you posted.
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
A friend of mine has traveled to Orlando to offer free therapy to those affected by the recent tragic event that took place at Pulse. He asked me if I would make a meditation available for people struggling with their emotions in the aftermath of this traumatic event. I am honored to be of service in this way. Through posts on Facebook and watching the news I see how this act of violence ripples out to the community, the country and the rest of the world. My prayer and deepest wish is that this offering may give somebody out there a moment of peace, comfort, and a knowledge that they are not alone. That we are ALL in this together. And if one suffers, we all suffer. Please feel free to share this link with anyone who you think could use it.
Ohhh this one hurts.
Meditation dog. Never sat down to meditate without my sidekick showing up. Had her own sheepskin but she would usually crawl in to my lap midway through the set.
A little too full-figured for a lap dog. She didn’t care.
Silly dog – people would smile at the sight of her. Some would ask to take her picture. She made me laugh. Every day.
Drove to Texas with Lili to get her at 8 weeks old. She was the size of a baked potato. A baked potato with huge ears.
When she was happy she would roll on her back and make strange choking sounds.
Everyone thought she was a boy. “Don’t they see the pink harness?” I would ask myself out loud.
She loved me. My god the devotion. She would whine outside the bathroom door for me. When I traveled she would go on hunger strikes and suffer bouts of depression.
Had to stand on my lap in the driver’s side looking out the window on car rides.
Flew on the airplane like a champ. My “emotional support” dog. She would fall asleep as soon as the plane took off. Lying across my lap, occasionally farting. Nobody seemed to care.
Her breath was terrible. All her life.
She was unafraid. She would challenge the largest deer. Shrilly barking at the nonplused herd. I thought she would get brained one day by a sharp cloven hoof.
She was Mr. Magoo blind. Unaware one time that a large red fox was stalking her in our backyard. I had to run out in my socks and scare it away. Then she barked like a mother fucker.
Dare I say it, she could strike quite the elegant pose in her old(er) age.
I burn with shame to say that I don’t remember the last walk I took her on. I’ve been pretty busy the past several days. And it’s been snowing. Not her favorite weather condition.
The last two nights of her life she slept uncharacteristically close to me, up by my pillow. It was cold outside, I didn’t mind. Sweet comforting presence of her, snuffling and snorting.
Her last day, she ate a good breakfast – rotisserie chicken and kibble. She took a nap with me on the couch. I’m wracking my brain to think of what else she did. Barked at a puppy – as was her way. Not very friendly to other dogs, sorry to say. She skipped dinner – that should have been a huge red flag. She enjoyed her meals.
Last night, I came downstairs to turn off the lights. In hindsight, I do think it was strange that she hadn’t already made her way up to my bedroom. I saw her sleeping on the rug in the TV room. I called her name and she didn’t wake up. Not strange though as she’s become hard of hearing lately. I stretched my hand out. She was cold.
Linda called her “soulful” and that felt too deep to me at first. I found her subtlety dismaying. Never a licker or a tail wagger (she didn’t really have one) her face was a mystery. Poker face extraordinaire.
She was my heart companion. For ten years Ruby has been by my side. When I cried, she would charge her way to my side. Concerned. Present. A reassuring weight. Her favorite place was on me or right beside me. Always. So “soulful” it is. I can see that now.
I am chagrined to note that in all my “death” experiences of being and sitting with people and animals that are dying, I was a basket case when it came to this. I was afraid to touch Ruby and I felt totally freaked out, like I wanted to run or throw up or both, simultaneously.
Grateful to my kids for their compassion and kindness last night, to my sweet friend who stayed up until 1am with me on the phone and to my sister Linda who came over this morning and did what I couldn’t. She helped me get Ruby out of the cardboard box in the garage, set up an altar with sweet flowers, candles, oils and incense. And chanted Akals to my soulful heart companion, Ruby. Then she helped me wrap her in the same sheet we had wrapped her beloved mastiff, Juno, in just a few weeks ago and bundled me in her car, while I held Ruby in my arms, kissing her sweet nose, and drove me to the vet, where I left her to be cremated.
No way to fill a hole like this one.
RIP Ruby. You are missed. You are loved.
August 9, 2006 – April 28, 2016
or… What I Learned Last Week Through Trial and Error
I spent a chunk of last week caring for my dear friend Barbara after she had surgery. I have never had surgery and really had no idea what to expect. I just knew that this is one of my best friends and I wanted to be there for her and so I volunteered to be her main person for the first few days. What I know in hindsight is that this is no small task nor should it be taken lightly. And…it’s not for everyone. So I’ve compiled a list of what I learned in the hope that it will help others – both caregivers and people about to have surgery – so that they can make the best decisions about who is in their space at this tender time.
1-Play to Your Strengths
For example if you don’t have the best bedside manner but you make a really mean chicken soup, volunteer to make meals, but don’t sign up to be the hand holder for your friend or family member when she’s getting prepped for surgery. If you decide to take on the “job” of caregiver, go for it wholeheartedly and no holds barred. Be on board. If rubbing somebody’s feet makes you squeamish, find someone who is great at giving massage to come sit with the patient while you have a little break.
2 – Take Your Job Seriously
Remember that you are the gatekeeper and that your job, to the best of your ability, is to filter all the personalities, energies and information that the patient is being bombarded with. You are an advocate for the patient. You’re another set of eyes and ears, don’t be afraid to take notes or even record the doctor when they are speaking. In my experience, nobody minded when I asked for clarification on certain things or had questions about the aftercare instructions. In general, I felt that the hospital preferred that I was there as a go-between for Barbara.
3 – Be Gentle with the Patient!
Even if you’ve never had surgery before, it’s important to note that the days leading up to surgery, immediately after the operation, and the days shortly after the procedure can be a very tender and vulnerable time for the patient and her family. My friend Barbara kept saying that the veils were thin. I think she was referring to the fact that all of her defenses were stripped away and this can be a time where fear and powerlessness are magnified. Be especially gentle and kind with your loved one. This is definitely where a nurturing and gentle caregiver will be preferred over somebody with very little bedside manner. Let that person run errands for you or help in other ways.
4 – Have Food in the House
Do have lots of yummy and nourishing snacks available in the house for the patient after surgery. Don’t assume that the patient only wants to eat soup or bland foods. In fact, I knew Barbara was feeling better on day two when she started fantasizing about lasagna!
5 – Rest
Encourage the patient to have many breaks and to rest quietly. It can get a little overwhelming with friends and family calling, texting, and stopping by. No matter how wonderful it is to be reminded how loved she is, my little Energizer Bunny needed quiet time so that she could recharge. One of my best memories was playing my Dragon Drum for Barbara while she napped. Also in this category, do encourage the patient to take her 3 AM pain pill and go right back to sleep. You do not want her to get chatty, nip that right in the bud. You need your sleep too!
6 – Show Some Emotion
Let yourself have feelings. Your friend will appreciate someone else expressing themselves; it’s not just the patient who is feeling an overwhelming amount of emotion. Once all the forms were signed and Barbara came out of the bathroom in her cloth gown and paper cap, s*** got real and I couldn’t help myself, the tears just flowed. Barbara held my hand and it was a very loving moment. Also, don’t be afraid to share a laugh – always good medicine (where appropriate, see below.)
A lot of these will seem like a giant “Duh!” to most of you but I assure you these were either learned the hard way or witnessed.
1 – Don’t Forget to Eat
Don’t eat the patient’s yummy nourishing snacks! And don’t underestimate how hungry you as the caregiver might get. It’s important to think ahead if you can and if you have that luxury, stock the refrigerator for you as well. When well-meaning friends text and ask what they can bring you can also say that the patient is very hungry and wants chocolate and almonds (even if they’re really for you!)
2 – Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive to Surgery
Do not, repeat do not, let the patient drive herself to the hospital on surgery day with you in the passenger seat. The patient has a lot on her mind and will be distracted. When she tries to back up into a very tiny space it will not go well. Avoid this scenario by insisting upon driving.
3. Laughter is Good Medicine Except When Patient is Nervous/Crabby
Don’t make too many jokes right before surgery. Usually the patient will not appreciate you making references to your giant pimple on your face and asking the surgeon if they have any medical recommendations for you. Once again, the patient will not think this is funny. Neither will the doctor.
4. Let It Roll
Don’t take anything the patient says prior, during, or after surgery personally. A lot of emotions can come up. It’s best to encourage the patient not to make any long-lasting, life-changing decisions in this general window of time. The patient’s mood could be perceived as erratic – something seemingly harmless like a little elderly man pushing a motorcycle up a hill could drive the patient into a murderous rant. Best to just soothingly reassure the patient that you hate that motorcyclist too…there, there. The patient will have almost zero recollection of what they said or asked for. For example when your friend/patient asks you to mince garlic in her lemon water she might actually mean ginger and will look at you like you have sprouted a second head when you ask her if she really wants you to put garlic in her tea. (Actually, as I write this, it occurs to me that this section could be written for perimenopause too…aaack.)
5. Don’t Be A Jerk
In her tender time post-surgery, do not give the patient any books regarding her medical condition or tell her stories about people who have died from the same medical condition. Right? Also in this category, do not judge any type of procedure or follow-up care the patient decides upon afterwards. This may take an attitude of trust on your part, but I assure you most people think long and hard and confer with their doctors and their loved ones before they decide on any follow-up treatments and it is OUR job as a supportive community to love our friends and family members through all of their decisions without judgment or opinion unless asked. And even then, people, use your heads. Remember…this is a tender time. Tread lightly! No bombarding the patient with statistics and medical data.
6. Don’t Forget What a Sacred Window of Time you are Sharing Together
Take as much opportunity as you possibly can in the surprisingly busy days post surgery to reassure your loved one what an absolute gift it is, and continues to be, to spend time with them. To hold their hand, to do their laundry, to steam there garlic tea, to warm up their soup, to stroke their hair, to give them a kiss, to cry with them, to laugh with them, to drive them around, and to just be in their presence. It is a rare gift to share so intimately with another and I am grateful to have had this bonding time with my sweet friend of 26 years.
Huge thank you to my family and friends for supporting me in making this trip happen, kids got shuffled, pet/house sitter bent backwards, drum carrier got fedexed so I could bring it with me on the plane, friends held space for me and said healing prayers for Barbara. I know it’s cliche but it truly takes a village.