god is in the details

God is in the details.

as a child i did not day dream of being married or having children. oh, there were times i played with a plastic, hard-headed betsy wetsy, feeding her flour and water paste, pretending she was crying, wrapping her up tightly in towels and tucking her into a shoe box for naps. but i was easily distracted by the apple tree that needed climbing, out in the empty field across the street. a pad of newsprint and a chunk of charcoal could captivate me for hours. by age 14 and without my consent, i was  “junior mother” to six younger brothers and could change a diaper with a kid hanging on my leg. i could cook dinner for nine, make my own clothes and get to my job at the mall by 5:30pm.

my dreams back then were about survival and escape, freedom and travel and adventures, going to far away lands, living a wild life of mystery, or even a life in the middle of nowhere, a solitary, quiet life. maybe a life in a stone house with several long haired cats, a sturdy easel and a garden with rambling roses and changing cloudscapes.

but then. In a moment, something began to shift as an unknown, unexpected sense deep within me recognized something new and different, something sacred was about to unfold. my daughter was going to be a mother. over time, friends said there was nothing to compare with the experience of being a grandparent. i thought it would be just like having my own children but i could send them home when i was done.

i watched as her body changed, as her moods swung, as she decorated, nested and packed an overnight bag. for months i watched my own woman-child, that soccer loving, creative force, expressive, extroverted, people magnet as she waited to deliver life.  i was filled with expectation and excitement. more for this than the births of my own three children, because what i didn’t know then, i know now.  anticipation built for this new little life, for the miraculous process of birth, for the new relationship that would unfold.

i met them at the hospital for the long labor, overwhelmed with gratitude. i slept in the nook of her room, held her hand, rubbed her back, caught the eye of her husband too many times to count as we drew breath together and waited.

newbirth

in that moment of first inhale, of new life, birthed from tears and work and sweat and breath and ache, of crying out from love, from connection, from fear it may never end, to the realization that she had wailed her first cry, she was swaddled in warm flannel and held to her mother’s breast to have each finger counted, each hair smoothed.

i tenderly watched from my window seat as mother and father welcomed new life within their own world of love and awe, with tears on my cheeks and a full heart aware of sacred space and time.

godindetails

a tiny bundle, my only daughter’s newborn daughter, little Dot was nestled in my arms and my body began that gentle rock, forgotten over the years. at that exact moment, the very instant she opened her eyes and looked at me, time stopped. i was alone with all who had gone before me.

i whispered and cooed and told her the secrets of this new love, this unexpected tender love, my love. how from this day and until the day that i died, i would always and in every way possible, love her. i committed to her in that private, sacramental moment, my promise to hold her in my heart, to release her into her own journey with  the assurance of acceptance. it wouldn’t matter how or where she lived, how far she travelled, what she did, the choices she made. i gave her my vow. i would always find her, always search for her, always love her.

grand-baby-girl eyes, newly born, revealed my grandmother’s eyes and her grandmother’s eyes, the experiences, the wisdom, the strength, the creativity, the tenacity of generational wisdom, the lineage of the ages.

at that sacred moment a tiny baby full of potential, unknowingly prepared just by being born, changed my life forever as i saw myself reflected.

 

surrender

surrender

she is young, maybe 23. but then, everyone is young these days. her standard “schpeal” is a bit bewildering. i see her mouth move, i hear words directed at me, but I don’t know if she is really there.  “you can take your clothes off from the waist up. put on this gown (and you know it’s ugly) and tie the two blue ties over your right hip, then tie the two tan ties over your left hip. open the curtain when you are ready. (she doesn’t realize I could out wait her.)   Tap-tap-tap. Tap-tap-tap. she is flicking the top of my right hand and telling me i have really great veins and that she does this all the time. my palms are wet. i show her the pooled sweat in my left hand as she makes her second attempt at the “great vein.” after her third attempt she declares my veins flat. i could have told her that. nothing to drink in 16 hours, so flat veins seemed reasonable to me. by now I am crying.

“you might have some pain or cramping. because your abdomen will be inflated, you might notice some gas. if you see any blood in your stool, get medical attention,” she says in her best, disengaged nurse voice.

an IV is finally hooked up. she wonders if i have any questions as she cleans up her mess. “are you aware that i am having an endoscopy today?  do they inflate my abdomen for that?” she giggles as she leaves my curtained cubicle, saying, “oh, I do this all day long and i forget who is getting what done.”

i willed my eyes to stay open for the ten seconds before the propofol took me away. i wanted to be present, i wanted to feel. i surrendered easily into a lovely place of nothingness. the next thing i remember is the nurse in the next cubicle saying, “you can take all of your clothes off but your socks. put on this gown and tie the two blue ties over your right hip, then tie the two tan ties over your left hip. open the curtain when you are ready.”

tears flowed at the absurdity of it all.

 

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standing on the edge of case inlet, on the puget sound, the sky is sparkling, there is a gentle breeze coming off the water, bringing with it a slight, salty smell of freshness. i can hear the silence. my bare feet are planted on the ground and i feel connected with the earth. something begins to rise up within me.  fear? excitement? maybe this is it ~ maybe I will be able to breathe again.

led in meditation, i willed my eyes to stay open to take in the beauty surrounding me. i wanted to be present, i wanted to feel. i wanted it all, yet i was afraid, so alone, so uncertain about my own ability to go forward.

breathe in. breathe out. allow the process to do its work. make the decision to go forward, into the unknown. enter the struggle, yield to this. just this. trust yourself.

exposed throat, arms extended, heartspace lifted, wide open body leaning back. easy, deep inhales, like the tide I stand before, followed by sighs, deep exhales from my belly, i begin to sink. in opening, i list, not knowing she is there. she’s got my back. she does not touch me, hands in her sweatshirt pocket, but I sense her presence. i begin slowly to lean into her like an embrace, my head drops back onto her shoulder and i take in the words she whispers gently.

tears flowed with the ache of connection.

 

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never wanted to go there. not one single thought about it. never, ever imagined in my wildest dreams that one day i would be in paris.

my senses, every single one of them is heightened as i travel alone, not understanding the language, the city, the sights, the sounds. i connect with a group of six women, in our own apartment, with my own bed, my own bathroom, my own space to process this adventure. i began to learn a new rhythm. an early morning walk down the street to pick up my fresh warm croissant to savor with vanilla bourbon yogurt and hot tea and milk. i learn to ride the metro with the group ~ more importantly by myself. i ride a bicycle through the countryside and spend a half day alone, wandering the dead in pere lachaise cemetery. i eat luscious food in fine restaurants and mouth-watering quiche at a sidewalk cafe and carry my own baguette and fromage to the foot of the tour eiffel.

i didn’t know then, that the reason paris beckoned me was wrapped up in an unexpected, unplanned visit to philharmonie de paris and a newly opened exhibit by marc chagall. in answering the call, a single moment transported and transformed me.

parisoperahouse

one step over the threshold, into space i can only describe as sacred, a place set apart. a small room held dozens of people, yet i was alone.  there. the ceiling of the paris opera house. i look up, lean back, open my heart and will my eyes to stay open. wagner and debussy and tchaikovsky, stravinsky, bizet and verdi. each note plays out, is drawn out in invitation to surrender. surrender to the music. surrender to the art. allow the beauty, the movement, the sound, the emotion to take me into the explosive expression of color and creativity.

the real summons is to surrender. to be present to myself, fully and wholly and holy unto myself.

i slowly back up against the wall in awe, almost unable to breathe and slip slowly to the floor.

the tears flow.

the gift

Day 12 :: The Gift
 
The unexpected, unimagined phone call came when I was out of state helping facilitate a workshop. The emergency number was called and I was taken out of the group to call home. My brother, gently told me that my mother had had a stroke. He said it was not life threatening, that the troops had circled and that I did not need to come home. My mama, the strength, the organizer, the motivator, the matriarch of the huge, dysfunctional, “look good-be good” family, was in the hospital, unable to speak, unable to engage.
 
I went into shock and did what I was told. I stayed and continued to help with the workshop. But, OH ! how I acted out! I cried. I screamed. I thew props across the room. I yelled. I was scattered and afraid. It was the best place that I could be – a place where I could fall apart, be held and known and taken care of. If I had gone home, it would have been expected and much too easy to slip into my designated family role as caregiver and surrogate mother.
 
Days later, I saw her, her tiny self in an oversized, previously worn, light blue cotton gown on the Neurology Unit.
hands
 
In a room full of noise and activity. Her husband, her kids, spouses, grandchildren. Medical staff came and went. Doctors and physical therapists and nurses and aides, all professional and kind. I wanted to scream, “Do you know who this is? This is my m.o.t.h.e.r. Do you understand how important she is?”
 
But there she lay, with unkempt hair, jewelry removed, no lipstick, a vacant look to her. She couldn’t speak in full sentences, this, the woman who had talked to everyone, all the time. She ate salad with her fingers, this, the woman who ate everything with a sterling (why save it for a special occasion?) knife and fork, always with a linen napkin. She brushed her hair with a toothbrush, once with a fork. She was confused and frightened and not sure where she was. She tried to talk. The words that came out of her mouth made no sense. She didn’t know her name. In an instant, she lost the ability to drive, to paint, to read, to knit, to cook, to talk. She couldn’t be left alone. She didn’t understand money or time, her medications or how to relate to others. And no one knew what to do. Or what to say.
 
In her 80’s, before the stroke, she hosted family gatherings of 50 people every holiday. She managed three homes. She created the flower arrangements for her grandchildren’s weddings. She knit blankets and sweaters and washcloths. She remembered every birthday, of every person, every year. She could organize the symphony, the community, and everyone else’s life. She could design and build a house, at the same time travel the world.
 
The gift is being with her and having conversations that mean something. The gift is time. The gift of seeing her, really seeing her because she no longer has a filter to hide behind. I see her as I always wanted to, had always hoped to, always dreamt of. Her defenses are down, her pretense is gone.
 
The gift shows up to be unwrapped each day as one of the most difficult experiences of my life. I am with her at her worst. Those days when she is confused and defensive, cryptic, unkind and unable to let something go. I am with her at her best. Those days when she is childlike, reading one word at a time, trying to remember, trying to find the words, trying to understand, trying to create. I am with her as she sings only the notes and knits one stitch at a time.
I am with her when we laugh until our bellies hurt and I am with her as she asks the questions that are most important to her:
 
“Where am I going when I die? Where will I lie down? I think of all the people and family. I’ll be a spirit, maybe mama and I will be joined at the hip. I think I’m really going to be with others …with my mama. I look at her all the time when I am at the beach. Is that me? My whole life has been a big vacancy. It is the unknown….gigantic. like a …it’s not a movie. I don’t hear with my ears. I don’t remember my dreams. What is it going to be like? My children need to tell me.”

the shoes

Day 11 :: The Shoes

6 ½ AAA

How is it possible to remember her shoe size and not her presence.

It seems like only yesterday that she could wear glamor. I can see them clearly.

Ferragamo

Roger Vivier shiny black patent leather with gold pilgrim buckles

Manolo Blahnik classic stilettos

Kitten heels, dyed to match

The shoes on her feet were an expression of her place in the world, her status, her so-thought sense of self and acceptance into a society that she never felt a part of.

Maybe one more pair of shoes will get me in? Maybe the right pair of shoes will make me acceptable. Just one more pair. Just one more.

Now she will only wear Mephistos.

Red leather. Black suede, bejeweled sandals, snakeskin, leopard skin, all with a firm, solid sole, each fit with an arch support. Many with velcro straps. Tiny tennis shoes or shoes that tie up, and fit snugly so that she can walk with confidence.

Occasionally, maybe half a dozen, at least, Dansko’s in all colors and patterns.

In 1973, I wore a pair of white patent leather platform shoes for my mother. I wanted to be barefoot at my wedding, but the fight was not worth it. Now I wear comfort.

Chuck Taylor All Stars

Birkenstocks

Keens

Doc Martins

C82ECB10-9F67-48B3-B0AD-96816B3117BD

I bought a pair of red boots. She bought the same ones.

I got a pair of red Mary Janes. She bought a pair.

She wants my red converse. She tries them on and they don’t fit. Why aren’t they Mephistos?

She wanted my purple hiking shoes, settled on brown and wears two pair of socks with a full insert to make them fit. But hike she will, in mother-daughter matching boots.

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She wants what she cannot have.

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She wants what she used to have. A driver’s license, the ability to read and knit and cook and travel. I imagine she wants to wear Ferragamos. Only yesterday we went through her closet, deciding what to keep and what to give away. She wants to keep it all. And there is no reason to take them from her. There will be a time to give it away. But not now.

She is 84 years old. She had a stroke two years ago, has difficulty speaking and has (just a little memory loss) early onset dementia. She easily walks four or five miles a day. She does exercise class sitting down, with a theraband and a ball.

She dipped the tag of a teabag into hot water. At lunch, she tried to eat her salad with her knife. When I asked if she would like another knife she looked at me, then the knife and we both fell into a fit of giggles.

She lives fully as she slowly slips away. Walking down the hallway her right foot scuffed. A bit later, closer to the stairways, it dragged slightly as I moved to catch her. She didn’t fall. She giggled and blamed her new khaki tennis shoes.

I knew I should have bought Mephisto’s

 

the tears

Day 9 :: The Tears

 

so cliche’.

big girls don’t cry.

i was a big girl at age 4 or 5, i don’t really know. we moved four times by then.

don’t attach to people, places or things.

 

i walked the railroad tracks alone to a school called opportunity.

my mother would nap with my kid brothers.

i made my own snack, took my own nap and waited alone.

i didn’t cry when we left.

 

a move to the panhandle, next to a clear lake, a mink farm and flora the bridge player.

the big school bus would pick us up at the edge of nowhere.

that day, my mother was ironing in the kitchen. she might have been crying. i don’t know.

the president was dead.

 

a move to the suburbs, another state and i didn’t cry when we left.

a new school. a new house.

that surgery to remove a birthmark that embarrassed the family.

still, i don’t remember crying.

i don’t know where my mother was.

maybe playing bridge.

 

another move, another house.

another move, another house.

 

four years in a house painted fire engine red, wall to wall red carpet, red flocked wallpaper.

filled to the gills with seven children, 14 and under.

the irony was not lost on me, even then.

mother was too busy.

cleaning and baking and sewing, changing diapers, taking care of kids, painting.

playing bridge and tennis.

searching for herself.

staying alive.

 

there wasn’t anything to lose, nothing could be broken, i couldn’t get lost or hurt.

i had learned my lesson well: don’t attach to people, places or things.

just stay alive.

……………………………………………………………….

 

pregnant with my third child.

left sitting on the side of the road, alone in the summer heat.

my grandfather watching from the picture window.

two preschoolers playing in the yard.

i don’t know where my mother was.

maybe playing tennis.

maybe playing bridge.

 

……………………………………………………………….

 

quiet. no need for words. just being.

six months, like clockwork, i sat, staring out the window, wordless.

sitting with a wise man, willing to wait for what would come next.

december flakes of snow began to drift, the first tear fell gently.

opening the door.

being present.

being seen.

being.

breathing.

 

………………………………………………………………

 

did she ever cry?

did she ever know her girl

needed to cry,

wanted to cry,

had something to cry about?

the secret

Day 8 :: The Secret

prompt from    http://inkypath.com/programs

how complicated a secret can be, especially when it is known to everyone and said to no one.

my father golfed with the pastor, my mother sang in the choir, i wore white cotton gloves, did what i was told and attended confirmation. it breaks me open to say i can’t remember my two younger brothers.

she sang with his mother in choir as well as the other woman, all together like the trinity, walking down the red carpeted center aisle. his parents (a little snooty) were best friends with her parents (owners of an ice cream joint). or at least that is how lore goes. churches can do that. they can make social friends out of anyone. i think he may even have sung with them, but that is part of the trickiness of my memory, of untold stories, of pretense, of trying to be good enough.

i remember sneaking home one night, walking from the park, following the winding backstreet, up the red cement stairs, through the iron gate to the back door. there was a tiny porch-light, i’m not sure if it was on the wall or lit from above. the door was locked. i couldn’t believe i was locked out of my own home. i was too young then to have made a backup plan, which came later in life when i would shimmy up the clothes line, cross the garage roof and climb in through my brothers bedroom window without anyone knowing.

that night though, standing outside of my home, he was the one that let me in. in the darkened house i saw him come from my parents room, turn right and walk through the dining room, into the kitchen in his white skivvies.

as an adult the dates and houses and events have been documented by my brother. but as a child, as a kid, as a teenager, i didn’t really remember when my father left. the summer we were at the lake we returned and he was gone. i’m not sure when the other moved in or when they married. one day he was there. he never left. then we moved. then his three sons came and we became the Brady Bunch, all boys, one girl.

then the baby was born, two months early. whatever that means.

early October, 1967 my 35 year old mother gave birth to a son.

we didn’t talk about it. the secret was set.