Harbin Hot Springs. My soul-home. My screen saver. My compass. My place of healing and refuge. My recurring dream. My holy land. When I arrive, the first thing I do is go to the water spout at the cold plunge and sprinkle water over my head – 7 times – one for each chakra. Then I drink, deeply. I get naked as fast as I possibly can and jump into the swimming pool so I can float on my back and look up at the tall Poplar trees. They are a talisman for me, reminding me to stand strongly rooted in the earth, reach for the sky, and bend gracefully to the breezes that blow. I’m home.
At 25 I was a naive, wide-eyed girl who had just realized my life-long dream of moving to California. It was the Summer of 1990 and a friend brought me up to Harbin. It was love at first sight. And I’ve been going ever since.
I’ve spent half of my life here. I’ve gone in all seasons. I’ve spent New Year’s Eve shivering in the warm pool as it snowed, pulling Tarot cards for the coming year. I’ve camped in the Fall, listening to the acorns, pop like gunshots, as they drop from the mighty oaks and explode on the tent platform. I’ve slept under the summer sky, counting shooting stars, and holed up in hotel rooms listening to the Spring rain.
I’m naked and exposed at Harbin, literally and figuratively. Anything that has been “living” inside of me surfaces. I’ve encountered the Wounded Masculine and the Divine Feminine, I’ve met the Priest and the Whore. All inside of me. Harbin is a portal place, a sacred chakra spot, and in my experience, Harbin provides me with every opportunity to heal whatever is needing to come up. 7 years ago, I was on beta blockers for severe arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) and I was depressed that I needed to be on medication. I hiked up to the tea house with 2 friends and prayed for the “shield to be removed that protected my heart.” I walked back down to the pools and never took another beta blocker again. True story.
In his yoga classes, Peter would refer to the waters of Harbin as mother’s milk and if the pools are Harbin’s breasts, then the waterfall slit in the rocks, along the sacred path, hidden in a tangle of fig roots, is Harbin’s yoni. A place I’ve brought my most raw and unedited prayers to. I’ve come to Harbin at my most tender and broken, taking refuge in the waters. I’ve showed up in my fullest expression of joyful, playful ME. Harbin has received me in all ways, always.
I’ve been a starving student, escaping the San Francisco fog. I’ve been a single woman, a married woman, a young mother. I’ve shared laughter and popcorn in the Harbin kitchen. I’ve knitted on the sun deck, beaded in the Blue Room cafe, I’ve journaled in my tent. Toned in the meadow, I’ve sang, danced, prayed, chanted, sat, meditated, laughed, cried. I brought my children there and camped (which they hated.) I went to the meadow and sat inside a circle I made of my grandparents’ ash, thanking them for their love. Comforted that they will be part of this sacred land.
I can’t count the list of people I’ve gone up to Harbin with – old friends, new friends, women’s groups, boyfriends, husbands. I’ve met poets, artists and strangers that feel like family at Harbin. I’ve had the deepest conversations with people and never seen them again. I’ve gone up by myself and been lonely, I’ve gone with friends and been lonely. I’ve been there alone and felt such contenment and peace, knowing that death could knock on my door and I would rise up gladly and leave immediately – my soul complete and filled with the natural beauty of Harbin’s land.
This year, for my 50th birthday, friends who know and love me gave me money to use at Harbin and I bought a life-time membership. I finally felt ready for commitment (smile.) I got up to Harbin 3 times this year – once for my annual Spring trip with women friends, once for a HAI workshop and R&R and lastly, in July, for some one-on-one time with Barbara, a soul sister who has been coming to Harbin longer than I have and we share a deep and profound love of Harbin as well as laugh our heads off when we’re there.
This past weekend, Harbin was burned in a fire. The text I received on Saturday said it all: “Sis, Harbin is gone.” Pictures of the landscape stand my hair on end. My heart hurts. This fire did not happen to me, I know that. My heart goes out to all the beings (plant, animal, human) that are affected by this major event. And still, I mourn the loss of my temple home. Harbin reconnected me with my past. She is showing me my future. And she taught me to identify, appreciate and require presence.
I know how the sun looks dappling through the giant fig leaves, it is in my cellular memory how the candles flicker in the hot pool, I have sat in the garden lulled by the buzz of the bees in the apple blossoms as I watch dew evaporate off of a blade of grass. My body knows the feeling of the plaster temple floor warming my back. I can close my eyes and hear the night frogs croaking down by the bridge. I can smell the honeysuckle that rings the gazebo. This land, this place is in my DNA. I don’t know what will happen to Harbin, if it will be rebuilt or not. But I can say that if it does get rebuilt, I will care for the land lovingly, with the tenderest of touches, as if I was tending to a beloved hospice patient. I will bathe her body and swathe her in the softest of cloths. I will whisper my gratitude and joy to her, to be able to give back even a portion of what she has given to me. I will thank her for giving me my lover. And I will kiss her softly. Everywhere.
Last year I wrote a post about how I always go within at this time of year – actually I wrote that 2 weeks ago too – hah. Well, I guess it’s a theme for me. But something is starting to shift and lest you think that I only write about tough things, I wanted to share a bright, beautiful light that is shining on me right now. It’s called Embracing Loneliness.
Eleven years ago, I admitted to myself that I might be sensitive. Don’t laugh! Sensitive people had always made me feel uncomfortable and I had spent a lot of energy distancing myself from people that seemed “overly” sensitive. It’s been a process of accepting that indeed, I am a very sensitive person, and finding the gifts in that – it’s my creative spark, my drive to connect from the heart with others, what makes me approachable to people. I have a gentle nature and I try to honor that and try not to get too stressed out, because under stress, my fierce protector comes in and mows everybody down. Balance is a good thing. Praying for that. And working on it. Always.
Well, now I’m on to a new one – uncomfortable emotion, that is. Being in a long distance marriage, having one kid live in another state, and traveling a lot myself, I have a lot of time by myself. All my life I’ve felt lonely and it’s never been comfortable for me. Never! I’ve done so much on my own. I’m an only child, had a lot of freedom as a kid, saw my dad once or twice a year, moved a lot, felt like a ‘weirdo’ because I was ‘different’ (probably being overly sensitive – hah), I’m fiercely independent, a little bit of a loner – ok, a lot of a loner, march to my own drummer, not a joiner, etc. You can probably get the picture. All this time, I’ve thought there was something wrong with me for feeling lonely. I gave ‘loneliness’ a value judegment of wrong…or worse, unevolved – not spiritual enough. If I was truly connected to God, I would “never be alone” right? We’re all connected. So anytime I felt lonely, I felt bad about myself and tried very hard to NOT feel lonely! Push it down. Call a friend. Judge myself. Blame somebody else (ok, Andy) for making me feel lonely!
And then…something happened…something so small and every day, but for some reason, it got in and I had an “Aha!” moment. I was having a therapy session with someone that I respect. He leads workshops all over the world and lives with his wife and son and they all seem to have a very loving, connected relationship with each other. He was talking about how loneliness can overcome him during his morning meditation time and he will weep with it – even when his beloved family is in the very next room! He shared that loneliness is universal and just a feeling – a feeling to be felt and expressed and allowed to pass through. I really did feel like a bull, drunkenly tilting my head to one side and thinking “huh….? Wha??” He also went on to say, that loneliness, when felt, can be an indicator of deep love and yearning – something that I can convey and share with others and further my connectedness.
I thought about how so many people in the hospice groups for the newly bereaved are overcome with grief and afraid of how overwhelming it can feel. What we teach is that the only way ‘out’ is really ‘through’ – feeling the grief is the only thing that lessens the grief. I am comfortable with grief, I feel it every day. I allow it in and really ‘go there’, knowing it will pass and my tears will dry in minutes. What if I applied this to loneliness?
The past several days, I’ve had a lot of time alone in the house, the weather has been bitterly cold, all the animals are using me as a heating pad.
I’ve felt alone and have been missing my family, and have even felt some melancholy and existential angst about the passage of time as well as knowing that I am preparing to be away in India for several weeks – which always makes me feel as if I’m in outer space – as far away from familiar as I can get.
But what’s different these last few days is that I’m sitting in stillness (usually with at least one animal on top of me) and lighting candles, painting, creating beauty and warmth, and saying out loud “I’m lonely” and really feeling it. Letting myself go there. I’m sharing it with others without (and this is big, and new) hoping somebody (ok, Andy) will make it better. And guess what? Big surprise. It’s passing! Not only is it passing, it’s kind of welcome. In a poignant way. Like shedding a tear for a beloved grandparent – so sweet to remember their face, and sad to miss their embrace, but heart-opening to connect to that loving memory. This moment of loneliness connects me to my heart. I long for my husband and connect to the love I have for him. I notice the beauty of the falling snow. I’m present and aware that this moment is fleeting. I am grateful to be in my own good company. I heat soup. I feed the cats. I walk the dog. I feel content. So simple. So big.
There is a loneliness more precious than life. There is a freedom more precious than the world. Infinitely more precious than life and the world is that moment when one is alone with God. – Rumi
There is a force within that gives you life – Seek that.
In your body there lies a priceless jewel – Seek that.
Oh, Wandering Sufi, if you are in search of the greatest treasure, don’t look outside, Look within, and seek That. -Rumi
There is a warrior quality to the third chakra. In this yoga posture – Warrior One – I am Grounded, rooted (first chakra), my second chakra supplies chi to my third. Straight back, open heart, arms stretching in each direction, fingers pointing the way, eyes looking right over the hands, merging Will with Vision = I See. Throat open, Third Eye looking in the same direction as the right hand, head erect, connected to source. POWER!
This chakra is known as the power chakra, and is located in the solar plexus. It rules our personal power, will and autonomy, as well as our metabolism. When open, this chakra brings us energy, effectiveness, spontaneity, and non-dominating power. A healthy sense of self-esteem and identity are associated with a freely flowing solar plexus chakra.
I have a strong life-force; I think it and then I do it. In the past, I haven’t always been so graceful. My will. My way. The third chakra is governed by fire. I have a lot of fire in my chart and I have burned people in the past with my words and my actions. A truth seeker by nature, I took pride in my “swords of truth” not really noticing the bleeding bodies left in my wake.
Over the past several years, I have softened and matured. Life has tempered me – sometimes mercilessly. Nothing like going from the white hot flames to the ice cold bucket of water repeatedly. I surrender! I’ve become much gentler in my delivery. I’ve learned the value (the life path really) of vulnerability and connecting my heart to my actions. And like the sword, I’ve sharpened to a beautiful blade – I’ve learned when to apply force with a gentle pressure, and I also know when to cut through the bullshit. I embody warrior strength with intention and temper it with a gentle heart. I strive to marry my will with Divine will, so that I may be of service in all ways.
I honor myself. I offer my light and service to the world. I give light to all chakra centers above and below. I am the bright Sun. I am the light force made manifest. -Isha Lerner from the Triple Goddess Tarot
I wrote about bringing Lance’s ashes to Varanasi and how powerful that was for me to release them into the river.
Now on to Rishikesh, a lotus of a place, nestled on the banks of the Ganges, in northern India. The water is cool and clean, with sandy swaths of beach and many ashrams and temples along its edge. There is something very peaceful and sweet about this small city and the slower pace is a welcome retreat.
When we arrived at our hotel, our amazing host, Govind Agarwal, had arranged for our group to have a special blessing by priests. As each of us entered the yoga room, we were given a special necklace of marigolds as the priests chanted.
Red paste and grains of rice were put on our foreheads and prayers were offered to Durga (the mother of us all), Ganesha (the remover of all obstacles) and Shiva (Destroyer of Ego and one who sits in deep meditation.) One group member said she felt “home” as soon as she heard the powerful chanting of the priests. The acoustics of the yoga room made me feel as if the mantras were vibrating through my chest cavity and opening my heart.
Have you ever said “yes!” to something because you felt it in your body, even though you had no idea what it was? Months ago, back in the US, Govind had suggested having a ceremony for our ancestors on the banks of the Ganges. Ever since he mentioned it, I became instantly attached to having it. In fact, during the entire trip in India, my intention was to cultivate an attitude of surrender in all things, which I accomplished for the most part, but I stubbornly remained attached – like a barnacle on a wooden boat! – to 3 things: the sunrise boat ride in Varanasi (which didn’t happen, so obviously I need to go back), the ceremony for our ancestors, and the dipping in the Ganga.
The morning of the ceremony, Govind walked us down the marble steps that literally disappear into the river. The 3 priests were waiting for us accompanied by various bathers, curious onlookers and sadhus. We took our seats on the marble, facing the river.
The priests put sandalwood paste across our forehead. We offered prayers and offerings to the river, giving thanks for those that had come before us, honoring our lineage and speaking our ancestors’ names aloud.
I had brought a small vial with me – the remains of my beloved grandparents ashes – unsure of whether I would be willing to part with the last physical remnants of them. As I prayed, I knew with an inner wisdom that in the releasing of this ash, I was surrendering to the pulse of the universe, letting energy go into the flow of the river. “Harold…Hazel” I said out loud as the priest poured milk into the jar and I tipped it into the river. For the rest of the day, I experienced an uplifting of the spirit that was tangible and a peace I usually only feel after meditating.
Days later, Govind’s lovely wife, Bindia, graciously accompanied us to an area of the Ganges where we would dunk in the river. The symbolism differs for everyone, but for me, it was an opportunity to “baptize” myself – to submerge myself 7 times, one for each chakra, in the holy river of unconditional love. To cleanse myself of my sins, and to be born anew. Returning to India, and bringing a group of women to India, had been a dream. Now it was time to recognize that I had realized a dream come true and honor that part in me that had heard the call and said yes to it. To realize that there are endings and also beginnings in a pilgrimage to India. I was consciously saying ‘goodbye’ to aspects of myself, and experiences from the past 2 years. In submerging in the river, I was also saying ‘yes’ to whatever was wishing to be born in me – perhaps aspects or ideas that I am not even aware of yet consciuosly, but the seeds have been planted.
Several of us were called to dunk in the river that morning and it was a powerful experience for all of us. Much gratitude to Bindia who held our hands (with teeth chattering!) as each of us took the plunge. Afterwards, we lit incense and made offerings to the river in thanks for her willingness to take us – the shadow and the light – and wash away our impurities and leave us refreshed and renewed.
I have so much gratitude for this journey and for all the ways I was able to be in sacred ceremony with the holiest of rivers – Mata Ganga – the Mother Ganges. Sharing these experiences with this group of women has made it more potent for me and these memories live on in my heart and mind. And oh Mother India, I will return! Deep bow.
Before our Women’s Journey to India started, I shared with Nancy that I felt 2 themes were emerging around this trip, based on the few things I was learning from the participants and our itinerary. The two themes were ‘mother’ and ‘water’. I knew we were going to Mother India and I was curious to see all the ways these themes might express themselves to each one of us. We had chosen to go to places in India that celebrated life, death and rebirth – many of these life/death rituals happened near or in the Ganges river – otherwise known as Mata Ganga (Mother Ganges.)
We landed smack dab in the middle of Durga Puja – a celebration of the Goddess Durga – the mother of the universe, mother of us all. What a “coincidence”! The time of Durga Puja is a holy time celebrated throughout all of India. Sculptures made out of clay are formed in her likeness – a powerful woman with 8 arms – and she is honored for several days with parades and dancing in the streets. In Varanasi, the beautiful statues are decorated and worshipped, the streets are clogged with processions down to the river, and Durga is sent off in boats to the middle of the Ganges to be set free in the river, clay returning back to mud.
When we arrived in Varanasi, the weather was ominous with frothing white caps on the river that was at a record high and rain lashing at our hotel windows, creating puddles of water that soaked anything left on the floor. The scene was all too familiar for those of us from Colorado. We were dismayed to learn that all boat trips were cancelled indefinitely due to dangerous weather conditions. I stared longingly out my hotel window at the river – Mata Ganga – churning wide, brown and swift, wishing to be on it.
The Ganges is considered one of the holiest rivers for Hindus as well as a goddess: Ganga. Unlike other goddesses, she has no destructive or fearsome aspect, accepting all and forgiving all. It is considered an honor to die at the banks of the Ganges if one is a Hindu, and if that is not possible, to be cremated on her banks with the ashes set free in her current. It was my first time to Varanasi and I had come with the special task of releasing some of my dear friend and world traveler Lance’s ashes into the river. What with the late monsoon floods, and rains from the typoon happening to the East, I was dubious if I would get the chance to fulfill this task.
On our last day, we were told that boats could make the trip and we would indeed be able to take our evening ride with a priest (Pujari – one who officiates puja – offerings/ceremony) so that all of us who were releasing ashes (symbolic or otherwise) would be blessed. The current had finally died down enough so that the boat motors could power their way back up the river once they had drifted down to the burning ghats (the place of cremation in Varanasi that is at the water’s edge.) Punam told me later that she had prayed “day and night” to make sure we could have our boat ride and I shared that I had been praying too!
Before I left my room at the hotel, I lit some incense and prayed to be present and open for the ritual I was about to participate in.
In some ways, it felt like the end of my journey with Lance. From holding his hand as he slipped into a morphine sleep, to lying with his body in the wee hours of his death, to painting silks that wrapped around his body while he lay in his casket, to honoring his life at his memorial months later, here I was, in a final moment with him, releasing a baggie of ash and bone in India.
On the boat, a fresh wave of grief hit me and I sobbed in the dark. The women each held my story about Lance and his family in their hearts and gave me the strength to honor my friend.
After my wave of sorrow passed, came a joyful knowing that Lance would have LOVED knowing his ashes were in the Ganges, in a place that had meant so much to he and Nancy. I felt lighter and calm. A nice reminder for me that resistance is really the only thing that causes my suffering.
Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry:
I am not there. I did not die.
The rains last month were nothing short of epic. It might not have been 40 days, but 4 straight days of rain in Boulder felt biblical. I’ve never seen the ground so saturated. More than 2 weeks after the flooding happened here, there’s still standing water on my street:
Although we were more fortunate than many, we still flooded, our basement is gutted, furniture got ruined and our lives were majorly shaken up by the sirens, reverse 911 calls saying “Get to higher ground”, seeing our backyard turn into a brown raging river and hearing about a possible 30 foot wall of water headed our way, containing boulders, cars and sure disaster. And did I mention, everything happened after dark? It’s been hard to wrap my head around the events that happened. Andy and I look back and realize we were in shock the first few days. “Why didn’t we move those drawers off the carpet?” I ask myself out loud. It was because I never dreamed the rain would continue and we would get flooded a second time on the second night, this time with raw sewage and higher water lines on the dry wall. “Why didn’t we start cutting the dry wall away immediately?” I wonder. It’s because I couldn’t deal with the basement anymore, so I shut the door to the downstairs, compartmentallizing what I could deal with. Until the smell of mildew started to creep in. It’s been humbling to see how vulnerable we are compared to Mother Nature and to see how easily I can be cracked by disturbances in my “normal.” I want to be like grass, bending under the water weight, graceful and strong.
If you want to read a fantastic write-up on the collective trauma this region went through, read this woman’s account. Here’s one quote from her piece: “Humans have a biological need to “orient” in the face of threat. To assess for danger, and when the danger no longer looms, to create safety. We need to find our ground again. Especially when there are cracks and rivers where the roads used to be.” Amen.
We do need to find our ground again…here at home. Or at least, that’s my impulse. To take comfort in the familiar. I’m attached to ritual and routine. I feel untethered right now, I’m tired and my immune system feels compromised. Everything here is topsy turvy. Our furniture is out on the street, or in the garage. Andy’s office has now moved into my space. I feel squeezed. Physically, emotionally and spiritually, and it makes me cranky and brittle. “Let me be like grass…” is my mantra these days.
Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.
I am leaving for India in 3 days. India, the queen of unfamiliar and untethered. The place that knocks me off my feet and pins me down until I surrender: powerless and open. The best advice I can give anyone who is about to travel in India is to let go of all expectations and need for control. When I’m there, I am devoted to the present moment with a fierceness that knows this is my salvation in a completely foreign world. In India, I “Let go and let God” and I love it. The rains last month have given me a head start for India by exposing my rigidity and reminding me that control is always an illusion. I pray to keep supple, so that I may bend, not break. I pray I may keep opening my heart and my hands so that I may release my death grip on what I think I need or must have. I pray for all those affected by this flood and all floods everywhere. I pray for the group of women that are about to embark on the India trip – for safe travels, the warmth of community, and heart-openings. I give thanks for the gifts I have received from the heavy rains – the literal washing away of things that no longer serve. The cleansing and purifying of my home and land. The heart-healing from mending severed ties through offering helping hands. For the trees that look more refreshed than they have in a decade. For my home in Boulder and my home in India and my home in Santa Cruz. Home is truly where the heart is.
Back when I was younger, I kept my heart under 24/7 lock down. Nobody was going to hurt me! Not surprisingly, by shutting everything down, I stayed closed off to giving and receiving love. I also had a lot of heart palpitations and irregular heart beats throughout my life. About 5 years ago I was put on beta blockers because my heart symptoms were so frequent and disturbing. Then, one magical day, on a hike to a sacred place of mine, I prayed to Spirit to “remove the shield from my heart.” At the time, it was a ‘throw away’ prayer, something I casually tossed out. I just said the words at the last minute, before I hiked back down the mountain. However, I came down from the hike and haven’t been on heart meds since. True story. There have been heart palpitations, but now when I experience them, I get quiet and ask my heart what it’s trying to say. What do I need to pay attention to? Every time, it’s been related to something emotional that’s happening in my life that needs attending to. The heart is an amazing barometer of the emotional body. Pay attention to it!
These days, I can’t open my heart fast enough. I feel like the picture of Hanuman, and I’m ripping open my own chest, saying “Here God, let me help you!”
I found a book – or rather it found me – The Untethered Soul, by Michael A. Singer. I have no idea why I reached for it at the bookstore, I think I liked the color blue and the horse…and something about the word “untethered.”
The book is small – digestible for me, and easy to read. It talks about living with an open heart, it gives directions on how to do this, it’s a PLAN (I love a plan!) on how to keep your heart open and what to do when you feel your heart closing. As soon as one becomes willing – conscious – to witness the energy shifts of their heart, they can be aware of a tendency to close the heart. The book breaks down the theory of energy centers – especially the heart center – using scientific terms within a yogic context. And did I mention it’s easy to read?! Really.
All of this resonates for me and makes sense. It’s like reading things I already “know” on some level, but having it in this simple format has really clicked for me. I have been spending my past few days in my open heart, watching the tendency to shut down and close up when I experience an emotional trigger. So far, it’s been pretty easy and even fun. Until today. Today I got “blind sided” by an interaction with someone. It triggered all my stuff – my “good enough” stuff, my “scarcity” stuff, my “alone” story, etc. I could literally feel my energy body wanting to spin out and keep all my stories alive. It was all I could do NOT to fan the flames in my head. Instead I went and danced for an hour. But like a tongue poking a sore tooth, even with the book, and my meditation practice, and the physical exercise and conscious breathing in the heart, I still had to check several times on my stuff to see if was still there (it was.)
Tonight, after a long day, I am feeling more at peace. I am feeling more ‘free’ – truly. I have successfully stayed in an uncomfortable place and kept my heart open. I’ve felt some pain and fear and have passed through some fire. Having the feelings of fear or insecurity don’t make me pure or impure. The trick is not getting drawn into that energy, and to simply relax and release as the energy appears. “And no matter how many times you’re pulled, that’s how many times you relax and release. Your opportunites to grow are endless.”
You will get to a point in your growth where you understand that if you protect yourself, you will never be free.
Michael A. Singer.
In this beautiful song by Nirinjan Kaur, Aud Guray, she is singing the words “Protect Me, Open my Heart, and I’ll be Free.” I like to think she is giving her will over to Source, God, Spirit, and saying please protect me (so I don’t have to!) and open my heart and in doing this, I will be free. A’Ho!
I’m going to write this without agonizing over every word. Writing is something I do because it stirs in me and wants to come out – not because it’s easy or even that enjoyable. I actually do a lot of hand wringing about it. I’m in Florida right now, just finishing a trade show with my husband, and flying back to Boulder tomorrow. These are some thoughts I’ve been having about Summer and Boulder and especially my beloved neighborhood of rural North Boulder, where there are no sidewalks, lots of open space, and deer walk around like they own the place.
Summer is actually my favorite time of year and these next few weeks, as it reaches its zenith, are the days I savor the most. I live for the light and celebrate the longest day of sunshine like the wildest of pagan queens – joy pulsing through my veins, all cells dancing an excited jig. I wish every day could be the day before Summer Solstice – just like Groundhog’s Day, to be repeated over and over, that’d be fine by me. I feel melancholy the day after solstice, as I know the days are getting “shorter.” I’ve always loved the highs more than the lows…duh.
I’ve lived in my neighborhood for almost 10 years. I’ve seen things change. I’ve sold a house and moved twice since then – my husband and I living apart for 2 years, while staying married. It was a new beginning and a gamble, and one that paid off in a stronger marriage, but it still had it’s scary moments. Walking past our old house the other night, I stopped to look at the now very unkempt yard. It makes me sad to go past the house because the “new” owners don’t water or take care of the plants we lovingly tended. I saw our peony bushes popping with buds. They have a short window in early summer where they bloom and emit the most heavenly scent. I used to fill vases to overflowing and the whole house would be redolent in their perfume. I stopped and stared at the buds, plotting a midnight raid to take some cuttings. A wave of sadness washed over me as I realized these are not ‘my’ plants anymore. That time is over. I planted a peony of my own last summer in our new yard…it’s got 2 tiny buds…it’s going to take time to get established.
Old neighbors, a family I love, have decided to end their marriage and they have sold their house and divided up their belongings. What’s left of their life is on the street, waiting for the garbage man to haul it away. I see the kiddie toys and broken tools and paper sacks and I see a life that doesn’t exist anymore. I honor them all in their new beginnings and I feel the sorrow too…in dreams that have ended. That house will always be their house in my memory, no matter who moves in. I keep walking.
Down the bike trail and turning left on to my street, I see the empty lot where Joe and Lisa used to live. Their house razed along with the old cherry trees. The clump of lilacs stand alone as if to say “what happened?” – nothing has been built there and now a herd of deer seem to be the only residents.
Down my driveway now and I see my neighbor’s house is for sale. This happened fast. While I was out of town. Nobody asked me about this! My beloved 94 year old neighbor will be moving away. She lives with her daughter after her house was swept away in Hurricane Katrina, this woman no stranger to endings and beginnings. Now she speaks cheerily about how I can visit her wherever she may land. When asked how she has lived so long and stayed so healthy, Miss Kaye replies “I’ve always had a positive attitude.” Amen. So she has. I need to be more like her.
There has been a lot of flower appreciation going back and forth over the fence this past week. My poppies are in full bloom and, like peonies, they too have a short bloom period and need to be appreciated every minute they are in their full glory. Last summer my gardener mistakenly pulled out all my poppy plants thinking they were dandelions. I was devastated to think they were gone. I viscerally felt the loss. As I read this, it sounds like I am some spoiled, rich gardening lady but what I’m trying to convey is I felt the pain for the plant…being killed. And I felt a responsibility for allowing this to happen. I felt like a murderer. A landscaper friend consoled my by saying that perhaps the poppies had seeded before they were pulled, and if so, they might come back. Guess what? They did! And how! Better than ever and maybe even more beautiful.
The point of all this is…all things begin and all things end. The days get longer, the days get shorter. People marry, people divorce, people separate and try again. Kids grow (darn it!) and move away (not yet!!) and I keep planting flowers wherever I go. I feel each passing more deeply than I used to. I cry more often. I love more. I give thanks for flowers and for bees and for children and a home with a garden, for good neighbors. I embrace the mess and chaos – the perfect imperfection – of being human and judge less (thank god/spirit/grace) and miss the faces I used to see and embrace the new ones. I love and appreciate my husband for being on this wild ride with me for the past decade. I’m grateful for seeds that come back from under the ground, even when everything above ground is telling me they’re goners – it’s all a metaphor, get it?