Wednesday, April 12, 2017


My neighbor raises Monarch butterflies.  She is passionate about it and knows what appears to me to be everything about the process.  A couple of weeks ago she brought over a small milkweed plant with two tiny eggs on it's leaves.  She thought I might be interested.  I was.  I watched those little eggs like a hawk.  They were the first thing I looked at every morning and the last thing every night.   Like most well watched things, mine did nothing until I went away for the weekend.  She sent me a photo of one microscopic caterpillar and when I got home I grieved the egg that did not hatch and proceeded to watch the little Caterpillar in the same way I watched it's egg, perhaps with even more intensity.  I was astounded at how quickly it grew, doubling and tripling in a week.  We had a cool night and I came out in the morning to find my Caterpillar curled up in a circle in the dirt.  I was heartbroken, sure it was dead and knowing for sure that I was not meant to have anything to do with animals.  When I touched it there was a tiny reaction so I did the only reasonable thing and began blowing on it.  I take full credit for it's getting moving again and an hour or so later it was back to eating the milkweed.  I made sure to bring the plant inside for the next three nights.

I was told that at the right time it would attach to something, make a J shape and then it's skin and eyes would fall away and it would spin in circles until it spun a cocoon.  I desperately wanted to see this so I began watching even more carefully, checking every time I came home from work.  One morning I woke to find my caterpillar hanging in it's J shape.  It stayed there all day and I watched obsessively.  Nothing happened.  All day long, nothing happened.  Although if I looked closely I could see it pulsing a bit.  I wondered if it hurt to make this transformation, if it hurt as much as human transformation often seems to? I went to bed that night hoping it would hold off until morning but I awoke to an exquisite cocoon.

Do you know what they look like?  They are jewels, that lovely sea green that artists call Celadon, the color of the shallow ocean in some exotic place.  They have a row of what looks like molten gold drops all along a ridge at the top with a few more gold drops here and there near the bottom. At the top where it is attached to it's stick are two tiny lines of black dots, regular ones mean a female and irregular ones are male. So beautiful it is tempting to think that they cannot possibly be real.

Now, here's the thing.  The color and beauty comes from the caterpillar that lost it's skin.  The chrysalis is clear and that amazing green is the guts of what has died. Watching over the next week and a half as something new is created from the old I can see the wings forming and the orange and black beginning to peek through.  

This extraordinary process has me thinking about life and death and rebirth.  I find it interesting that it is also Holy Week, the Church's story of life, death and rebirth. The end of something both common and extraordinary brings the birth of something new and equally extraordinary.  That story is a cliche and it can be hard to wrap my heart and head around, but watching it happen before my eyes has made it real in a new kind of way.  That caterpillar probably has no idea what is in store for it, it simply is born and eats and then follows some inner prompting to spin into a jewel.  To die to what it is.  I doubt that it approaches it with the apprehension we do, I'm pretty sure it doesn't spend most of it's time worrying about what it will amount to or what to do next.  It simply follows the voice that leads it on.  And then it is born again as something new, an endless cycle put in place simply for the glory of the grace and beauty of it all.

Don't even get me started on all the things that can go wrong in this process, suffice it to say that they are many and heartbreaking.  Not really so different from the miracle of our birth or life or death.

And I keep thinking that I should take heart during the times when I simply seem to go from leaf to leaf eating, eating, eating.  There is always something more to come.  The process of becoming may not be pretty or easy but I was born for whatever it is and at the end of one death is always a new life, equally as common and unknown and beautiful.

For me this is the real story of Easter, it is the story we see in the world around us and in every faith tradition there is.  Life is common, life is unknown, life is hard, fine, beautiful and death is not the end.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Tuesday was the four year anniversary of David's death and I remembered that "I used to write."  I went hunting for the blog and spent part of the day reading through it.  Some of it wasn't bad, some of it felt very pitiful and painful, which I suppose those days were.  I am grateful to all the people who listened to me with such great love.  I wonder why I stopped writing.  I do remember feeling like I had nothing left to say. And then life starting changing so quickly I couldn't keep up.  I woke up one day realizing I didn't need to stay, I sold the house and bought a new one in Florida.  I worked for a year and a half, turning it into the home I saw myself inhabiting for years to come.  I worked to make friends, to be a good neighbor and to begin to belong to a new community.  That did not come easy and then the country began to fall apart and I realized that I couldn't stay in this new place. I had fallen into a rabbit hole and I did not like the woman I was becoming. Once again I gave up a house and a small dream and moved somewhere new.  It's been three months in the new place and I am coming up out of the rabbit hole.  I am no longer thinking of forever homes and I am comfortable here for now.

And maybe I have more to say.  We'll see.  

 I realized last week that my life has taken small steps over the last couple of years, toward something new.  Each step so small as to be almost unnoticeable but now, culminating in what appears to be, suddenly, a new country.  I crossed some invisible line, wholly unaware of it in the moment.  Now looking up I realize that this is not the same landscape with a few changes and additions, this is new.

I met someone recently who, when visiting my house for the first time, brought me two perfect oranges picked an hour before.

One night we went to watch the bats leave their houses.  That's a thing here.  750,000 of them and at one precise moment in time they flow out in waves; moving as one out of the house and into the sky, they wheel and disappear.  And one very wise hawk sits watch, occasionally diving in and climbing away with that "one small beating heart that tries with all it's might to live."  Nature is not a gentle mistress, but she does have magic at her disposal.

We went to the art museum and there were smiling children proudly holding paintings while parents took way too many photos.  We painted roosters on rice paper, made an origami good luck hanging, and designed a Japanese rock garden.  And then opening an almost  hidden door, we found ourselves in a miniature water garden.  Water fell from rocks and the bones of a Japanese Maple made living sculpture. Small azaleas bent over a stream and ferns and moss tucked in around a pool of water. Leaving that space we took the opposite, equally hidden door and found ourselves in a rock garden where we were given rakes and allowed to make our own meditative design in the stones.  More proof that life really is all miracles and magic.

How can you not love someone who brings you gifts like those?

 The world is hurting and I am often lost and confused but "I am learning to walk with grace in the dark and I am learning to fly with hope in my heart."  It is only when the old moon dies that a new moon appears and I feel my soul lifting once again toward the light.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What Matters?

"Never waste your suffering." This was in response to a question I'd asked him about whether he thought that suffering makes us into better people. He said, "Not necessarily. Not automatically. Suffering just happens, constantly and randomly, and if you don't make anything out of it, then it causes you nothing but harm — it happened to you for no reason. But suffering can also be the greatest possible invitation to transform — but only if you accept that invitation, and only if you go through a complete catharsis, and only if you actually change yourself because of what you've experienced. But that part is up to you. Only you can execute a catharsis in your own life. Suffering without catharsis is nothing but wasted pain. And you should never waste your pain, never waste your suffering. It's powerful stuff, the most powerful stuff there is. Use it. Transform from it. Learn. Grow. Be better."  Jim MacLaren

I want to repeat that one line, because it has never stopped ringing in my head: SUFFERING WITHOUT CATHARSIS IS NOTHING BUT WASTED PAIN.

Don't ever let your pain be wasted. Make something of it. Use it for transformation. Harness its power and evolve.

Jim MacLaren died in 2010.

What I've learned from this new pain is that I am enough.  Or I hope I have learned it.  Before David died I spent an inordinate amount of time wondering What I Was Going To Do Next.  How I was going to make my mark on the world, or make a bigger more important mark on the world.  I was destined for greatness, I needed to find a way to Change Things. 

I thought I knew that things didn't matter.  I was never one for ownership, fancy cars, big houses, expensive clothes or gadgets.  But I still believed that more recognition, power, influence mattered.  I didn't know I believed this, I thought I just wanted to make a difference in the world; but in reality I wanted my difference to be valued so much that it would be recognized and honored.  By many.  For a little while after David died I believed this even more.  I would create meaning in my life again!  I would use my suffering for the greater good!  I would transform myself and the world!  I've calmed down a little bit now. 

Now, I am really learning that stuff doesn't matter.  I am not really any happier with my paid for car and house.  Yes, it's good to not worry about living in my car or choosing rent over food, both of which I spent many years doing, but there are new worries.  Worries don't go away.  And I just figured out that power, recognition, influence are a kind of stuff.  They don't really matter either and they never made me any happier.  When I was younger and riding the wave, looked up to, the go to person, I wasn't any happier.  I still felt like it was never enough. 

Now, what I miss most, what made me happiest, is the love and belonging I felt with David.  The community and family that came with being a part of his life and him being a part of mine.  Hearing people talk about his life and his powerful affect on them brings this into sharp relief.  They remember that he loved them, that he was present for them, that he accepted them where they were and who they were.  No one cares what he did for his work or how influential he was, how much he owned or how nice any of it was. 

I find myself relaxing into the knowledge that I don't have to do anything anymore.  No more striving or worrying or reaching.  There is only the question of how I will use this life and this suffering and sorrow.  Will I use it to make me whole?  To create in myself someone who is capable of love and compassion?  Someone who truly knows what that means?  I hope so. 

(I wrote this post a couple of months ago and found it in drafts.  When I wrote it I think it felt like too much, now it feels like something too share....)

The House Wins

This house stares me down every morning, and most mornings, it wins.  I drop my eyes, my shoulder's curve inward and I slink away. 
I sit outside with my morning coffee and every tree, bush and rock holds a memory.  I go inside and every piece of wood, tile, even the paint holds another memory.  The morning sun shining through the windows and warming the floors, the changes I've made to the shape of the rooms, these things don't keep the house from winning. 
I thought half way through the second year things would be easing off a bit.  And they are.  The grief is no longer a blazing sword, now it's more like an ever present set of eyes.  Watching, always there.  It rarely takes me down anymore but it wears away at me and I am tired.  My struggle now is not how to get through each day but how to find myself again. 
I know I feel like me when I get down off this mountain, away from the hills and trees that always feel so claustrophobic to me.  I know I remember who I am when I am with a student, teaching.  I know my soul breathes at the ocean, with the smell of salt and air I can feel on my skin.  Honestly, many days I want to leave these hills and this house and find a way to something new and clear.  
Someone told me the other day that it was just a house.  And he was right.  But right now, the house still wins. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Our Bodies Tell Our Stories

Our bodies are a container for our stories.  That scar from the time you were learning to ride a bike, the C-section scar that heralded the birth of your child, the breast reduction or augmentation that allowed you to feel more confident in your female body.  The weight you gained or lost to keep men from looking at you because they did it too much when they shouldn't have.  The child who flinches away when you are talking to her and you reach up your hand to brush your hair out of your eyes.  The thrill that runs through you at the sight of your beloved.  The hunched shoulders, the limp, the bitten fingernails.  Our bodies tell our stories. 

And this is something I love:  Ask someone about their tattoo.  Eyes light up and they start talking, even that sullen teenager with the knuckle tattoo will share his story.  Every tattoo has a story, tells something about that person's life.  Mine do.  One of my favorites is the dragonfly and the word for Breathe.  I got it when I turned forty and had been through years of therapy.  My therapist would look at me sometimes and say "Breathe!"  I forgot on a regular basis, a holdover from a childhood trying not to be seen, believing if I simply didn't breathe I would disappear.  That tattoo was a statement of a decision to take up space, taking my place in the world and allowing myself to breathe. 

Today, after months of searching for the right design and the right artist, I got a new tattoo.  A chicory flower.  When we named our property Chicory Hill Farm I went out and bought seeds to scatter on the property.  I was too impatient to wait for the weeds to find their way up our hill.  Because Chicory is a weed, growing on the side of every road and highway, in the cracks of the sidewalks, in the fields.  It gets mowed and cut down and walked on and it comes back.  Over and over it will rise up and bloom all summer long with the most perfect purple-blue, a color rarely seen in nature.  It shines with an inner light in the mornings. 

It is a symbol for me, not only for the survival of my rough childhood but my survival of this last year and half.  I've wanted this tattoo for a long time and only now felt that I had actually survived and could honestly wear it.  There have been so many days when I was cut down, on my knees, not certain I would be able to get up again. Finally, now, I know that no matter what happens I will get back up.  And like the Chicory, I will be strong and hardy and beautiful. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

When Everything Was Possible

There is a spot next to the doorway of the old barn that is a snapshot of love for me.  Passing by instantly brings me back to a moment in time that defines something about my relationship with David.  We had been haying all day and it is hot dirty work.  I suspect we had just finished unloading a wagon of square bales into the old barn, stacking them into every inch of available space from floor to rafters.  A couple of folks would throw them from the wagon into the barn and a couple more folks would throw them up to someone who teetered on the top bales trying to find the best spot for each one.  Sun shines through the empty spaces between the logs and the dust and hay float in the rays.  Honeysuckle covers the fence on the other side of the hay wagon and David is leaning against it, drinking from an icy water bottle and wiping his forehead, leaving a line of dirt behind.  His shirt is soaked and sticking to him, gloves shoved in his pocket.  That moment in time: hot, dirty, clear bright sun, the smell of cut hay and salty sweat and honeysuckle, and looking across at him; is pure love for me.  We were new to the relationship and I remember being so undone by the sense of belonging with him and this group of people.  I remember believing in forever. 

Now I sit in that spot and cry for the lost innocence.  Is it possible to get that sense of a future back after it has been lost?  How will I ever trust in some long stretching future again, knowing how easily and quickly it can be derailed?  Am I sad for losing that future with David, for the innocence lost, or for the sense of belonging that I treasured so deeply?  I don't know, maybe all of it. Maybe simply for that one shining golden moment when everything was possible.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Soundtrack of My Life

Driving home from the Bair family reunion I realized my Ipod is a soundtrack of my life with David. 

I fell in to a burning ring of fire....

If you've been thinking you're all that you've got then don't feel alone any more, 'cause when we're together then we've got a lot. You are the river and I am the shore....

Our house is a very, very, very fine house, with two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard, now everything is easy 'cause of you....

Multiply life by the power of two....the closer I'm bound in love to you, the closer I am to free....

Oh yeah, didn't we and don't we make it shine, we're standing in the center of something rare and fine...

Love prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true.  With thanksgiving I'll be a living sanctuary for you....

Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in....

Oh we're not the jet set, we're the old Chevrolet set...but ain't we got love....

I was overcome with a kind of wild grief, sure I couldn't go on and knowing there was no going back.  Lost. 

Lost and alone on some forgotten highway travelled by many, remembered by few....searching for something that I can believe in....

The Shenandoah Valley in Virginia is one of the loveliest spots on earth.  It is another map of our time together.  We drove that drive so many times with such joy and anticipation.  Then there was the last drive when he was so sick and then again with Peggy and Michael for the memorial service and then the first time alone.
But that valley was a part of my life before David, as were the songs.  I used to hike and camp there regularly and Jesse and I would go to summer camp in those mountains.  I remember going to Luray Caverns as a child and driving the Skyline Drive in our old breadtruck on our trips from Florida to New England.  We had two eight track tapes that we sang over and over up the entire east coast.

Dang me, dang me, they oughta take a rope and hang me.  High from the highessst treeee.  Woman would you weep for me....

Oh you cain't roller skate in a buffalo herd, you cain't roller skate in a buffalo herd but you can be happy if you've a mind tooooooo......

The trick is to honor the past and find a way forward through that old familiar soundtrack. Walking by the light of a flashlight tentative step at a time.  Trusting in the light.