Tolkien

[Utah’s “Mount Doom”, courtesy of the 8/2018 California fires a thousand miles away. Even the air knows we’re all connected].

After my divorce in 2007, I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy every year. James (my ex-h) is actually the one who initially said circa 2006 “I bet you’d like the LOTR movies” and he was right and the next year after he moved 2000 miles away to live with his girlfriend and her son, and my children almost died of broken hearts, I bought the books at Barnes and Noble and read them on my front porch.

The books spoke to parts of me that I’d not known were there to the point where the person who wrote them was important to me. What kind of soul, I wondered, would create something this complicated and magical? What kind of life could make this allegorical journey pierce through my grief and trauma so as to feel strength? I had to know, and my wonder brought me to him.

And he wasn’t even a writer; not in the placeholder of those typically dubbed with that label. He was a philologist—studied languages; invented them for his books—and the world he moved in was the academic one.

But his beloved mother had inspired words by encouraging wide reading. Then at age 12, when he endured her death, Tolkien and his little brother became wards of the Catholic Church because their mother had been disowned by her family when she converted to Catholicism thus making his religious allegiance firm. And fast-forward tonwhen in the hospital recovering from a lice infestation, he relived stepping over the dead faces of soldiers and slipping on the blood of his friends in the trenches of WWI that the idea of Middle Earth was born.

As I’d rock in the wrought iron glider James had purchased, I met this man and read his books. As I watched our children play in our neighborhood—James now long gone—then later, inside the bourse, in the privacy of broken hearts, held them when they fell into their panic that I’d somehow disappear forever and they’d be alone, Tolkien made me alive inside the resilience and wisdom born from paths trod of pain. His voice let me live inside worlds I wanted to be called to. Made me lift my sword to a foe that read seemed too big except in newfound fearlessness instead asked me for mercy.

And trauma and grief had settled in to terrorize my girls but through Tolkien’s words and his magical retelling of his difficult life, he bore people of strength and tenderness into possibility.

Only From the trials of his youth did he persevere through fighting greater causes and mightier foes.

And on my porch, rocking in that glider–watching the children I loved more than anything ingesting unwanted trauma; myself inside vulnerability I dared not yet admit—Tolkien taught me that life will be fraught but that when the tender hearts are forced to face the shadows, they get to rise to a greater wisdom.

For though much in life is simply endured, for beauty and love much is also created. And when the tender heart needs a voice, you must make a world for it to live in.

Mama

[Quail mama and tribe, Taylorsville UT, 8/26/18. Look at that little ones legs flying back there. I didn’t get a pic of the ducks from this post because I was driving and kinda wanted to live].

On my way to a sit a few days ago, I was on the stretch of 700 East where it curves around and intersects with 900 East. It’s a wide road there–like 8 lanes I think–with a lot going on, stoplights, and turn lanes, cars barreling and others merging, and another stoplight up ahead synced up with the 9th East one, so that if the first light’s green, you don’t even have to think about stopping. You can just sit your ass in your lane and jet on through.

And it was late evening, but even through my speed and the curves, I could see something up ahead moving across the road from right to left, and it took me only just a sec to realize it wasn’t just one something: it was three “somethings”, a mama duck and her two babies, crossing this road, with cars easily going 55 to 60, mama in front and babies in back, in the hot dusk and barely visible, moving across the road at a pace suggesting they were well aware of the danger.

And relatively fresh in my mind was another sit I’d done at a complex with lots of ponds, when I’d seen this mama duck and her six or seven ducklings toddling around, and as I surveyed the scene of so many ducklings in my car, I had pulled up slowly and maybe because I’m a weirdo, rolled down my window to offer her my respect as one parent to another (’cause this shit’s hard, yo) and window rolled down, as her babies scurried close by, I was telling her what a good mom she was and enjoying the moment, before looking down and noticing that nearly right under my window was the completely flattened remains of a baby duck that’d been crushed by a car. The guts were relatively fresh, and it was literally so flat that while carefully driving up–with the remains smack in the middle of the road–I hadn’t even seen it.

So of course on that dusk-night, my mind went to “oh my god; they’re going to die,” because flattened ducks happen and sometimes happy endings appear so unlikely that it seems best not to hope.

I looked to my left at the big black SUV next to me–preparing to quickly look away from the carnage lest the driver not see the mama–but he saw them and slowed, and between the two of us, the little family got to the middle of the road where they then rushed into the lanes of the oncoming traffic and out of my view but, as I turned south onto 9th East, I just happened to look in my drivers side mirror at exactly the right time and saw that somehow the little duck family had also managed to safely cross the 4 lanes going the other direction and were now together and moving towards the brown grass of the far side of the road.  Out of immediate and imminent danger, hearts certainly racing, and marching forward, blessedly having edged out death so as to be graced with another day to live.

And, naturally, I was so relieved.

About a mile down the road as I relived the scene with a calmer mind, a powerful thought came through, so powerful I had to write it down. Because on that road–in a duck scene I’ve seen maybe dozens of times before–mama duck and her babies crossing in extreme danger, the road roaring with cars, feet propelling them desperately forward through what seemed like (and often is) certain death, I couldn’t get over something that I’d always before taken for granted.

For locked in my limited box of “human”, where I’m sealed into an experience and magnetically tied to the earth, I’d never before acknowledged what an improbable act of self-sacrifice it is that, in the midst of extreme danger and peril, the mother duck doesn’t just save herself and fly away.

And in opening my eyes wider, I let in an entire world.  For, in a life of psychological minefields, holding to hope seems foolish until you finally see the ever-present happy endings that you never even noticed.

And the bigger truth is that Life’s not just about flattened baby ducks. Life’s also about mama ducks who don’t fly away.

The journey to “Amy Brook”

 

Pic: My younger brother Jeff and I circa 1971; I was about 3.

According to the birth certificate tucked inside my baby book, I was born October 1, 1968 at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View California and my name was “Amy Brook Palleson”. I don’t remember any of the other fluff on it—height, weight, etc.—just that the birth certificate paper was black with white printing and hard to read and that the book itself was a mess of white out and scratch outs and corrections.

We can fast forward now, through memory lane, through years, through the solidification of who I was—Rose and Martin Palleson (dads parents; “grandma and grandpa”), Leeroyce and Deck Hogin (moms parents; gammie and gampie); through aunts and uncles and cousins; through my brother Jeff born in early ‘71, my sister Alex in ‘75, and Clancy and Cindy, my father and mother—Fast forward all the way to the couch in gammies living room where I lay quietly crying at age 13 (or 12? I can’t even remember) because solidity is often invented, and my real dad was dying, asking to see me and only knew me as “Sophie”.

In the way of regret and guilt, I’ve often been to that place where I must explain my choice, that day I learned Clancy wasn’t my dad and that the real one I never knew about was dying. For that was the year I was mercilessly bullied—had started high school, young for my grade; afraid to turn corners; lost all my elementary friends—and would the next year change schools because of it so I was mixed up and scared and insecure and didn’t have much to hold onto right then.

But the bigger truth is that children know what’s expected of them, and that secret was supposed to be kept. That’s why when I was one year old and she left him, Mom had changed my name, that’s why she crossed it all out in my baby book; changed my birth certificate, had Rose and Martin/my dad‘s parents officially adopt me and never mentioned anything. Because that was the new life she’d wanted and I loved her and was supposed to let her live this life. So in a heart bigger than my self, I knew she’d feel betrayed if I went to see him and I never wanted to hurt her—lived my life to protect her—even if that meant hurting someone else (and myself) instead.

And of course he died, and so then did his only memories of his daughter, Sophie Stuckey, the name under the white out.

And there are times when I’ve looked upon that day with judgment of myself for not going to see him. Because it is not like me to extend myself into such seeming-cruelty. To deny a man about to exit this life the chance to see what he had offered this world; deny him a chance to experience closure for a chapter which may have haunted him through health and illness, happiness and hardship.

But when my own child turned 13, I met my world from a different place.

For I didn’t know until then that one choice always speaks many languages. And that the guilt and regret of a young girl who didn’t know what to do was actually the wisdom of a human being caring for another. The wisdom of a human who wanted more for her mom than for her own self, who in so acting, would let her mom then live always inside the world where she doesn’t have to confront anything but the memory of her one year old baby with a new name and their brand new life together.

_

Sometimes in saying my own name— ‘Amy Brook’—I can hear my mother defining that new life, and the new hope she had for her and myself.

For that name means ‘beloved by the stream’ and in iterations of selves both past and yet to come, I believe that much of me has lived to bear out the truth of such a name. Beginning in earnest that day on the couch as a 13 year old girl.

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Post script: In yet another facet of this, I have realized in these later years that I was also afraid she wouldn’t love me anymore if I went to see him. Because in the years after I found out Clancy wasn’t my dad—long after Harvey Stuckey had passed—mom would say things like “you’re just like your father!” when we’d argue. Of course I’d never met him so had no idea if what she said was even true but that she was talking about someone I never knew who was dead and who she had left when I was one it was messed up. I think mom had a lot of abandonment issues and that after I knew about my dad, I never really felt like I was just hers anymore, and it made her vulnerable.

Anyways, Please don’t do that to your kids. Say things like “you’re just like your father!” when your kid knows how much you despise their dad. Even if they ARE acting just like the other parent and it’s egregious, give them the space to self-correct and remove the language of shame so that they don’t struggle with the feeling that they aren’t loved or lovable.