Equal to the love you make

[FB post from yesterday, 8/27]

This morning at 5:04 AM I got an email via my yelp account from a recently-homeless woman who wanted to get a quote on how much it would be for me to board her two “beautiful” adult cats in my home.

It was already a weird morning because my friend Graham sent me a link to my old Garfield house which is now for sale again and seeing the interior sterility and the back yard–which the summer after James moved in 2007 was the site of a “healing through manual labor and sunburn”–with its huge tree gone and most everything I planted looking dead really put the punctuation on the end of that chapter in my life. It was the punctuation you typically see after “you stupid fucking idiots; what the actual fuck.” 

And so it was that I started my day. Sunday. An easy work day before the madness starts up tomorrow and moves well past Labor Day; my life not yet recovered from the July 24th madness, and my sick dog, and bug treatment, last foster kitten/group, etc., to where all the madness has started melding while laundry mounds to dangerous proportions, and every text is an agony over whether I should accept or decline more work or accept or decline the next group of foster kittens, etc. when I’m sleeping on the couch in my clothes because it’s easier to rouse myself to another workday when I don’t let myself get too comfortable.  

And as I drive in the darkness towards Capitol Hill–the ever-so-slight tension in my body already existing as I imagine Stella’s upcoming glucose test, and what if I don’t get a prick of blood the first time, and what if her values are really low or really high, and what if she doesn’t eat, and what if something happened to her in the night, etc–I’m thinking about this email. 

Because yes I struggle; yes I’m overworked and exhausted. But she’s living in her two-door car with her two kitties and it’s gotten “extremely difficult and she’s worried.” And while one part of me still holds the visceral memory of getting to the tipping point upon which I had to either start caring for myself properly or die, another part of me doesn’t know where that point is anymore. For as you live and grow, you get stronger, and as I’ve cared for myself over these last few years, I’ve become more capable, and while I know it’s not my responsibility to superhero all of life’s shit away so that no one else has to feel pain, at what point does non-action in the face of suffering actually become cruelty? At what point does saying no become me living a life of fearful, self-indulgent, privileged hoarding? There’s no glucose strip for this; there’s no manual.  

As the thoughts paraded, I drove west on 13th south and when I neared the freeway, something dashed across the street in front of my car. There was really no one else on the road so for a second I thought it might’ve been a wild animal but it wasn’t. It was a lost dog, a pitbull who looked scared. So I pulled my car to the side of the road and rolled down my window to talk to it, wrestling with myself. Because the desire to lure it into the safety of my car conflicted with the knowledge that Stella had to have her test and shot spaced almost exactly 8 hours apart, which was just a few minutes away, and as the dog slunk away–pausing and glancing over at me, unsure of itself–my heart broke in grief just a very little bit before falling into acceptance.  

For as the damned thing looked back at me with eyes like it would’ve gotten in my car, I thought of how in just the eight months of 2017 I’ve earned as much as for all of 2016–making a one year pay increase of $21,000–and how I was going to make another catio for my cats anyways, and dictated into my phone a response telling her that I don’t board animals but have a catio in the back of my house she can put her kitties in during the day. knowing she might abandon them, knowing she might be addicted to drugs or otherwise unstable. Knowing that this improbable situation may work out to be a total Garfield House.  

Because I get something from a world in which someone like me would still be willing to offer what they could to help someone like this lady. I get something. WE get something. And sometimes I forget that. Sometimes I make things all about the other person or all about compassion or all about an animal when really it’s about all of us. For I get something from this. 

And even in the darkness at the end of the night, I didn’t get to see that scared dog move into the safety of my car but I did get to see it look back at me, and even in its fear, curiously wonder about the love and concern for it held within a human heart.

And I guess that’s enough.

Come see me, Sophie

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Sophie, Cyborg Sophie, Soph, Sophinator

[I’m a pet sitter and the above picture is Sophie–a Siberian Husky I’ve cared for many times–who took a turn for the worse while I was sitting for her and, in dramatic fashion typical of this charismatic girl, her last day on earth was spent with her parents racing back from their honeymoon–driving all night–in order to get to her, after which just a few hours later–time they said was wonderful–she collapsed and died peacefully.   I knew they’d get back in about 2:30 a.m. so during my evening visit Tuesday night, I said goodbye to her, and told her that in whatever world she ended up in, to come see me, for I’ve known her in better times, and long for her to walk and eat and prance and do her barkbeg for treats, and maybe even keep stealing her sister Greta’s chewies and hoarding them in her bed, and walked away in tears, hoping she would come see me, and that I’d again be able to once-more see her looking at my face intently in the charming way she had because she loved life and could not help but look out at it with eyes desiring to share that love with the world].

Come see me, Sophie, as you’re walking the blue twilight between worlds.

Come see me, in that dream land, when the pain disappears, and the body absorbs into stars,
and we can behold the sun as it rises on this first new day.

Come see me, From your world beyond pain, when the boldness of your heart finds itself again, and in the unburdening from flesh you can see the magic of who you are.

Come see me, Sophie, and watch the tears of a Sophie-less morning,
Then scamper off to the world you now belong to, catching joy like butterflies,
looking back to see me (one more time)
Quietly calm in the salty stream
Daring the world to make me forget
For as on the lawn that day and forever, with my hand stretched out, you reached back to me through Time, painting me into wholeness with vibrant splashes of your self, making my heart thump with happiness as your eyes held the wonder of the blue sky and the deep green, and the clouds watched and danced across the sun.

Everything looks different

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Last night my girls, Ellen, and I watched Thelma and Louise together, and because I’d forgotten how long the movie was, the event lasted into the early hours of today, at which point my youngest–who’d been hesitant to even watch it at all for the last scene she’d heard so much about–excitedly chatted to me through my bleary-eyedness, saying that along with Donnie Darko, it was now one of her two favorite movies.

None of them had ever seen it, and Livy asked me in one of the first scenes when Thelma’s husband Daryl was being an asshole to Thelma, “Is that just the way it was back then?” The movie was made in 1991.

No, baby; Daryl’s just a dick.

In the midst of girl power and Thelma and Louise gunning it to their chosen end, Ellen held my left hand still and, as I watched the movie, drew upon my skin the pattern you see in the picture above; somehow, in the warm living room after the hot summer solstice day of 2017, she accessed an internal well of artistry from within a near-meditative state, and–moving henna tube into curves and points–created this freehand design, reaching over while the first section was drying to grab my hand again and add more detail before moving on to make entirely different designs upon her own skin.

When I finally saw the finished product upon my hand, my mouth was open in surprise because I could not formulate a connection to the type of mind that could so effortlessly create such a vision. I couldn’t “get to” where a human being could so confidently embrace hovering over flesh with a tube of dye and still be able to funnel the experience down into a work of art.
Because that’s just not me. I’m never going to be able to zen out and manifest this kind of thing on someone’s arm.

And I used to think that in order to live fearless, I couldn’t say such things to myself. That in order to stand within my own power, I had to self-talk myself with “You can be/do/have anything you set your mind to!”

[Which is where I’d cue up the time I snorkeled in Hawaii with my sister, thus supposedly pacifying my fear of the ocean. Somehow I thought I could talk my fearful emotional mind into experiencing something in a logical way, but, in reality, my logical mind was saying “good for you!” while my emotional mind was saying “what the actual fuck are you doing in the water?!?” because logical mind can only take you so far, and then you’re stuck in the open ocean, hyperventilating and shitting your pants because your feet are dangling in what is basically a giant shark tank and, for the love of god, who is playing that fucking Jaws music?]

But I’ll never be able to “you can do it!”/Pep rally myself into–voila—I’m now Renoir, and being no good at something shouldn’t always bring out the self-esteem protection squad.

Because mind over matter is bullshit and invalidates the natural sense we have of who we are and what choices are right for us.  And, unless you’re hurting someone else, it’s perfectly okay to let yourself be who you are. It’s perfectly acceptable to say “I’m no good at this,” and not feel like it somehow means you’re giving up on yourself.

At the end of the movie, Livy and I discussed what our favorite parts were.

Livy’s favorite part is when Thelma calls Daryl to see if the police have been asking questions and almost instantaneously hangs up, knowing their phones are tapped and that the police are listening based solely on how nice Daryl is to her. It’s pretty classic.

My favorite part is when Thelma, events skewed against her having created a transformation in herself to where she finally feels in control of her own destiny, sits in the passenger seat, and says, “I feel awake. Wide awake. I don’t remember ever feeling this awake. Everything looks different,” and wind whipping her hair, they course together in their convertible as fugitives through the waking world of red rock.

A Gift of Dark Days

I’ve never cried so hard as that day in 2007 when James drove his moving truck down the street.

He was moving from Salt Lake to live with his office assistant/girlfriend and her son 2000 miles away, just weeks after we told the girls we were divorcing, a divorce which blindsided me, James and Sarah probably beginning their relationship that summer we dug out our basement, when I unknowingly insisted James stay with Sarah and her husband Ryan near the Virginia Vitech office rather than come home to the stress and unpleasantness the girls and I were living with.

“James, no: really. It’s horrible here; just stay with Sarah and Ryan and I’ll take care of stuff here.”

Naturally, he didn’t tell me Ryan had moved out.

But on that epic day, Livy had lost her first tooth (in a bowl of popcorn!) and when he drove off in his UHaul, both girls chased the truck down the street, and he noticed, stopping at the end of Garfield Avenue–next to the orange house he’d eventually move into after the break up with Sarah—getting out of the drivers side to swing around to where Julia and Livy waited on the sidewalk. And there was this moment in my mind—this lovely flash of hope–that he would hug his daughters so tightly, he’d never want to stop, and would recover who he was and become the dad they needed.

But he didn’t. And that night I cried with the force of eternal heartbreak, as if something in my body was already living the future–the sense of rejection my girls would feel, the way they’d blame themselves as faulty, believing if they’d only been different, he wouldn’t have left–instinctually knowing this archetypal loss and what it meant to us all, rolling myself into the fetal position on my bed in the darkness of earths night, convulsing from grief, and the unrecoverable knowledge that the hill was far off and way too high, and that my daughters–my most beloved ethereal connection to both this earth and my own soul–might never be whole again. And that neither would I.

But I was wrong.

I have said goodbye to many things in my lifetime—so many versions of myself and what I thought I needed to be happy— and while it is true that the girls and I were never the same again, the events from that time changed us, scarring us with an experience that gave us no choice but to reach out to one another and (eventually) to go more deeply within. For I never wanted that day to happen–and even now, don’t want the memory of it–and begged God so many times to make the pain go away.

But the Universe in her wisdom did not listen, knowing that one day there would be a stronger, calmer me for the trial, knowing that the evolution of a more sacred human requires unwanted experiences so as to better understand and connect in compassion and grace with our world and our fellow beings. Knowing that it is often our own tears which baptize us into better versions of ourselves.

And absent the human-centric aspect of Time, it becomes possible to witness even the most-emotionally cold day of your life as something you wanted.

Because I’ve been struck with reverberations of that day each moment of the ten years since, and it is within the now that I can see–just adjacent to the sometimes still-intense feeling of loss–that there is a “me” that is actually bigger than such times. For the momentary relief of pain that I desired cannot compare to the joy of knowing I’m now better for it, and you do not even know how beautiful you are until you have had to fight for yourself.

And when you can take something shitty and use it to make something beautiful, there is no fear or need or want anymore: there’s just one opportunity then the next to embrace yourself as a sacred space and learn how to power your way into a more redemptive world.  

And dark days then become sources of strength, powering us all to a better version of ourselves.

An afternoon in which I live out our precarious balance

8/31/2016: Jesus. At the Smiths [grocery store] at 9th and 9th, a homeless mom pushing a shopping cart filled with their stuff and her dazed-looking teen son with auburn hair and freckles following her riding his bike, bags hanging from the handlebars and backpack on his back that had a fucking poster sticking out the top of it.

Oh dear god. I had to sit down on a bench because I was shocked to tears.  Our homeless shelters are currently full so there is nowhere for them to go.

Come fucking on.

How much trauma are we all supposed to bear witness to and still keep ourselves emotionally afloat? Just because we are not walking the streets with our homeless teenagers doesn’t mean we aren’t gutted when we see it happening to someone else.

And I was going to go on an epic rant and go off Facebook again because: its me! I know that I’m part of the problem; of course I am; I have to be. Because we are ALL the problem and the solution; that’s just the way the balance of the universe works.

But rants and self-flagellation are indulgences when someone else is hungry and a teen boy has to walk the streets with a lifetime of prized possessions sticking out the top of a backpack. So I went to Liberty Park and tried to see if they were there. I had $30, and a kind word. But they weren’t there.

Our government SHOULD be our village. But it’s not. We are the village. We are the boots on the ground; we are the ones witnessing and experiencing this trauma together. We are the solution.

And if we can’t shelter our village in our own home then at least we can shelter them in our own hearts with a kind word, a smile, money, a bag of food, a bottled water, or even a simple blessing said quietly to ourselves that their hard times are bringing to them a future of more infinite joy.

May we all listen to our hearts and heed what it says. Our village needs us.

And to the dear Mother of the red-haired boy: next time I see you, I’ll be ready.

 

Post Script 9/1/2016:  I spent about an hour at Liberty Park yesterday, looking for these people, sitting and reflecting.

I don’t believe in accidents; I’ve accepted that Life will include pain and suffering, including my own; I believe that sometimes to get to self-love (which naturally includes love of others too) you have to take a path through dark people and scary times and traumatic events; I know that the journey is fraught because our supposed allies—like religions–tell us foolish things we believe are true, like how inherently selfish it is to put ourselves first (as if being an advocate for ourselves is somehow shameful), which prevents us from adequately using our energy and thoughts so as to become our best selves.

So I knew this experience had occurred to do something for me–to change my thinking, to change who I am.  I knew all that.

I just didn’t care.

Because I didn’t want some big bullshit mental pep talk about how wonderful the Universe is and how connected we all are and how pain is such a great teacher.

I didn’t want to get all dreamy and passive and accepting and Love Love Love.

I wanted peace.  I wanted the pain to stop.  I wanted “basic human nature 101”:  release me from this shit right now.

But the experience wasn’t over, for as I sat on a bench at the park, I opened my email and up popped one from a writer friend in Oregon, telling me that he’d had me in mind when he was stopped by a panhandling couple outside a restaurant, engaged them in conversation, listened to their story, checked for track marks, and handed them money to cover a hostel for a night.  He said he’d never usually do that but he felt like reaching out and listening to them was the right thing to do, and the rest just bubbled from there.  He also said some other things, and together, it barreled me down until as I got into my car, I was crying with joy.

For his email message received at just that time—when I was low and tenderized, and having just finished writing this emotional Instagram post beseeching us all to see the village that needs us, and to shelter one another with compassion and kindness–was like the universe telling me how much it cared about me, and how much it cares about us all.  How—even in the midst of Human Nature 101—the imperceptible connections between us exist, and that Truth is fortunately bigger than me, and doesn’t listen to my discomfort knowing—as it does—the extreme gratitude that is experienced in making the leap from despair to joy.