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Archive for February, 2018

I watched a movie recently called “A Door in the Floor” about a woman who lost her two sons in an accident and how her life and marriage unwound inexorably after that. There was nothing possible that could stop it. Concurrently the book I was reading was about poetry as the other side of insanity. “The Quickening Maze” is set in a Victorian British asylum. The caregivers are more certifiable than the inmates. Most of the patients are creative types, most but not all of them, mad. I see attributes of myself in each and every character.

Such quixotic media invites an orgy of introspection. Can I make a case for being truly rational? Can my life really be the passage of a sane woman through an insane world? Hardly. Only a lunatic could have left such a path of destruction, while trying so earnestly to make everything come out real and true. My right path is keeping on trying. Somehow there will be a way to wind it all up and lay me down to sleep with a measure of peace and honor. I refuse to believe the lie that my only resolution is suicide. I must keep strong and demonstrate for my sons a noble path that leads to grace and goodness. That is surely the way to redemption.

Then an e-mail from an old friend arrived. I had sent some of my pieces to her. She wrote back complaining that they had “too many words”. It was reminiscent of the scene in Amadeus where the Emperor tells Mozart that his composition has “too many notes”. Jane is tone deaf about art of any kind. Not only can she not approximate a pitch, but she can’t choose clothing of complimentary colors, nor visualize objects on two dimensional drawings. Why should she appreciate my efforts at creative writing? Why am I writing about what I have endured, and how brave, though foolhardy, am I being in sharing it with others? I expect too much. At least she got me out of my head and into hers, a serendipitous interposition.

Another voice from the past, Nan, comments on my blog, telling me that what I am writing is beautiful. I don’t necessarily believe her, but she is kind. It is the very breath of life for me that some dear somebody cares enough to comment. All these serendipitous inputs are telling me that we aren’t expected to repair the past. Friends need only love us.

Remember playing cowboys and Indians and cops and robbers a lifetime ago? When we get shot, we’re supposed to fall down dead. I am defying the rules by behaving as if I could express life as an algebraic equation and solve it. I should simply fall apart after taking so many mortal blows. I am keeping on keeping on because Daddy taught me to stop when bad things happen, and think about what to do, and then do it quietly and thoughtfully. I should be drugging or drinking or plotting suicide, but I’m not. What’s inhuman is that I’m still slogging on, nursing the possibility of hope.

If I share this with anyone, I will be immersing them in my pain. That is wrong. I need to internalize my own anguish, not broadcast it. It is my pain, my punishment. I can take it. Everybody at my so perfect church acts like everything is just fine. That must be the secret to maintaining a classy persona. Stay cool. Keep moving. Pretend all is well. Why does it work for them and not for me? Maybe I’m not a good enough pretender.

Today I watched “The Rabbit Hole”, with Nicole Kidman, a story of losing a young child under the wheels of a car. She, as did I, sought out the driver of the car and offered forgiveness. For her it brought a measure of redemption; for me, it only separated me even more from accepting the hole of my heart. I should have screamed at him and beat his chest. That would have been more honest, more real.

For all these many years I have written all around my grief, but addressed it only through metaphorical stories about talking trees and rumbling roads and pontificating shingles. How crazy is that? The world waits for me to crumble. I refuse to give them that satisfaction. Better to be strong and crazy than weak and sane.

At my daughter’s funerary viewing, hundreds of people showed up to see her sweetly asleep, shrouded in lace, dead and beautiful in her white coffin. It had the sense of a surreal circus. As a mother, all I could feel was embarrassment. I met no one’s gaze, and they were happy to leave me alone with my loss. They were every one so glad it was me and not them who had made that most heinous of all mistakes. Precious children must not be allowed to die whether by accident or by intent. Death must not win out. I failed in that most basic requirement of being maternal. It’s not enough to make life. The obligation that goes on to the end of forever is to keep it alive.

I am thankful for the serendipity that continues to place in my path endless possibilities for understanding and healing. It must have something to do with a cosmic curl of caring reaching out to encircle me, protecting, forgiving, cherishing. There must be a God.

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Forgive and Forget

Is it enough to forgive,
or must I forget as well?
If I dwell on it,
chew on it,
reduced to pulp of mind,
surely I will swallow it
in one great gagging gulp.
Where then will it be,
stuck rumbling in my gut,
a toxin to true thought,
that ruminating mind,
a bovine chewing on its cud?
Most surely it will stay,
inured to reason’s blade.
Would that I could cut it out,
Excise all pus and pain,
drain that obsessive swamp,
and free myself this day
and evermore… but no.

 

It’s not enough to forgive;
We must forget as well.
Open the cocoon of pain,
so it may flutter-flit away
a butterfly of love,
forgiveness giving birth
to all that can become.
We know in some clear place
that forgetting must ensue
if we would be truly free.
We reach for dementia’s hoary hood,
Knowing oh so well that forgetting
Is the path to not-knowing,
and forgetting near so fine
as never having known at all.
I forgive you, and you, and even you.
I forgive all that ever was,
and more loving yet,
I promise to forget.

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Starting Over

As wishes turn into kisses
And longings turn softly to sighs,
The lust in me stirs and remembers
How tender, how sweet were our cries.

Our lips touch gently and linger,
While our eyes meet and shimmer and shine.
The earth stops and waits in its turning
As our hands and our hearts intertwine.

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Sunrise Song

The magic mists of morning
Rise to meet an azure sky.
Grass, dew-sparkled, waves
In hushed wind-worried sigh.

Rolling fog casts shadows
On meadow flowers below
While spectral rays of sunrise
Stripe hills with rainbow’s glow.

To God’s capricious artistry
Etched in filigree above
I add with joy the cadence
Of this paean to you, my Love:

A song that wants to hear its singing,
A melody with more than tune to tell,
Text whose words spell more than meaning,
And speak in rhymes that dare not tell

Of moonlit nights with smiles remembered
When all but lovers go to sleep
And prayers of children heard at twilight
Pray the Lord their souls to keep,

Lest reporting jar the meaning
Of quiet thoughts that need no words,
A song that rings in children’s laughter
And scolds bright mornings with the birds.

Come, my Love, and meet the dawning.
Breathe and savor all you may,
For the magic mists of morning
Rise to greet our wedding day.

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Wisdom

It is not wisdom to be only wise,
And on the inward vision close the eyes,
But it is wisdom to believe the heart.
To trust the soul’s invincible surmise

(George Santayana, 1863)

 

I have long prayed, since when my pajamas had feet, to become a wise woman.  Every selfish entreaty with the Divine that began with passionate requests for intervention and salvation ended with the quiet whimper of acceptance: nevertheless Thy will, not mine, be done.  I begged only to become a wise woman.  Prayer after all consists mostly of positioning our lives to catch the holy wind.  Setting sails with love’s pure light will surely take us home.

 

He who seeks for Heaven alone to save his soul
May find the path but surely miss the goal,
While he who walks in love may wander  far
But God will lead him where the blessed are.

(Henry Van Dyke, 1852-1933)

 

I wonder in retrospect if I was harboring a suspicion that God will not answer prayer.  Maybe I’m only a cynic at heart.  What if I were to speak to the God of all creation expecting to be heard, to be answered, to receive bread… not a stone?  What if I made room for a simple faith?  It might be a life-changer.

 

“The feeling of done-and-done-and-done is so much fun.”  Binge-watching Fixer-Upper has planted a bug that plays on endless loop in my head.  Wayfair and HGTV have no idea how pervasive is their contribution to the collective consciousness.  The only cure seems to be replacing it with something more grounded.  I have found a rendition of the Mozart Requiem that is made to order.  Arsys Bourgogne is a French choral group that is everything a choir group should be.  They are pitch-perfect, and express their music with a lovely integrity that reaches into my very soul.  Their soloists embody the composer’s pure intent.  Always tuned to the soprano line, I appreciate her pure vowels, crisp consonants, tonal clarity, and sure sweet arch of phrase as melody becomes meaning.  European vowel production promises and delivers choral singing at its best.  I am enthralled, and hope my Wayfair bug will be extirpated and expunged.

 

My plan is to watch the Arsys Bourgogne Mozart every night before bed in hopes of getting some sleep.  It’d better work.  I am tired of lying in an attitude of sleep, counting ceiling tiles, and listening to Wayfair’s jingle play in my head.  God help me.  Clarity of insight is cool, but I really need to cut some zzz’s.

 

If that works maybe I can carry it a step farther.  Sleep knitting up the tattered sleeve of care is a must.  Shakespeare knew that.  With some restorative sleep I might actually dare to pray for a good death rather than lying abed and worrying, glassy eyed, about a slow and painful one.  Am I wise yet?  Just asking.

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Homeless

When it becomes dangerous to live in your own home it is time to leave, and leave I did, taking with me my cat, my Collie dog, and my Sig Sauer P239.  Yes, I had a permit to carry, so I was legal in case it might have become an issue.  It was early October in Roanoke, Virginia.  The weather was seasonably delightful, and my green tent blended well with the autumn color at the local campground nestled in the foliage alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I should have left years before, but had nowhere else to go.  I had no savings since my retirement income always got sucked up into the expense of running house and farm.  The bruises got worse.  I was fed up with being punched and slammed against walls.  That hurts.

My ’89 Acura Legend had a capacious trunk with a small seat-back door that folded down to allow access to the main interior.  It was designed to provide for carrying 2×4’s home from Lowe’s,  but I used it as a cat door for Espresso, my black Domestic Shorthair, so he could visit his litter box in the trunk.  He loved to ride shotgun with his front paws on the dashboard so he could see with those lovely golden eyes where our adventure was taking us.  Maggie, his canine counterpart, preferred lounging in the back seat on top of all the pillows, blankets, clothing, camping gear, food, and water.   She had a twelve hour bladder, so I only needed to walk her morning and evening.  We managed.

My YMCA membership provided exercise, a hot shower every day, and a place to change clothes,  which I kept clean at a Franklin Road laundromat.  It should have been doable, but things kept happening.  First somebody stole my tent while I was on my daily rounds.  At least I had the foresight to empty it every morning, stowing sleeping bag and other gear in the car.  That forced me to sleep in the car tucked into my sleeping bag , not nearly so comfortable but doable.  My ex-husband and I had always enjoyed winter camping (no tourists,  no bugs) so my sleeping bag was certified down to zero degrees Fahrenheit.

October gave way to November, then December.  The campground closed for the winter, and I was on my own to find a place to park every night for shuteye.  First there was the requisite stop at Mill Mountain Coffee to slip in the back door and fill my hot water bottle, preventive for icy feet syndrome.

My State Farm Insurance agent had a back-of-the-office covered carport;  I began appropriating it nightly, especially on stormy ones.  One bitter cold evening, after pulling into my spot, I ran across the street to a Seven/Eleven to pick up breakfast makings.  I left the car running to keep it extra warm to start the night off right.   Of course Maggie had to protest.  She wanted to go, too.  Barking and pawing at the window, she managed to step on the back door lock, which on the Acura automatically locked all four doors.  Now I had a car parked, locked, and running with a cat and a dog inside.  What to do?  I ran  across the street again, this time to ask for help.  There are times when I’m sure God is watching out for me.  The local emergency squad team had also stopped there to coffee up, and they came to assist.  One of the team was a young very thin woman who was able to slip an arm through the narrow opening I had left to provide fresh air for Maggie and Espresso.   She reached in,  pulled up the slick knob-less locking mechanism, and all was saved.  What luck!

I managed to live through a bout of food poisoning and was feeling pretty puny, having also run out of vitamins.  Christmas was the loneliest ever, and in January the jet stream conspired with Old Man Winter to send sub-zero weather.  One bitter night, as I lay trying to fall asleep, the Slumberjack bag failed me.  I began to shake, and my teeth commenced chattering.   It was then that my sweet dog Maggie, rose from her accustomed place in the back seat and carefully climbed to the passenger seat where I had been spending my nights with the seat-back fully reclined.  She placed her paws carefully as she crawled forward, careful not to hurt me.  When she was satisfied she had just the right spot, she covered me with her hairy body and remained there the entire night, while slowly I warmed and slept.

Another January morning I woke locked in the deposit of an ice storm.  We were frozen in all day waiting for the parking lot, where I had chosen to spend the night, to be cleared.  There comes a time to admit when you are beaten.  It was time to go home.  Some beatings are worse than others.  Knowing the difference leans toward wisdom.

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Will

Will, as determination to be everything that you are, is complex.  My mother and I locked horns over this problem from the beginning.  We each were vested in our own version of truth, she with her favored neuroses, I with mine, and there was no compromise.  She often called me a willful child; I replied, “So what.”

 

One afternoon when I was three she forbade me to visit my friend down the block because it had rained.  Mud was a problem.  She insisted that I go upstairs and take a nap.  I wasn’t sleepy.  I wanted to visit my friend, but… I wanted to be a good girl and mind my mother.  A conflict.  When she was asleep in her bed, I crept downstairs and rummaged up two flattened cardboard boxes.  Starting at the end of our pavement, I stood on one box and placed the other one a calculated distance from it with a heading that advanced my bare feet toward my goal.  I jumped onto the other box.  Then I moved the first box to an improved strategic location and jumped yet again to the twice relocated box.  Repeating this tactic brought me to my friend’s doorstep without muddying my feet.  I congratulated myself at having resolved a conflict in service to the needs of all concerned, but hadn’t counted on my mother’s hidden agenda.   Her need was to control.  I was her creature who must obey.  It was ugly.

 

Another afternoon, banished to the ignominy of my childhood bed, I was told to take my nap.  I didn’t want a nap.  I wanted to go abroad, to explore and to frolic.  I needed to be my creative playful self.  Who was this person to so thwart my existential quest?  I slipped out the door and ran right into a Texas dust storm.  Mommy hadn’t told me about those.  I couldn’t open my eyes and wandered about the yard, running into tree-trunks that bloodied nose and forehead.  I howled in agonized affront.  Who were these trees to so abuse me?  “Mommy,” I cried.  “Help!”

 

She heard my loud mouth and came running, saved me but took my disobedience personally.  A good girl minds her mother.  “You are the Devil, she shrieked.   I can see it in your eyes.  He has taken over your body.  That’s why you do these things.”  I knew she was crazy and broke my life in two__her half and mine.  Mine was the better half; Hers was insane.

 

Will created a folie-a-deux for my mother and me, but it focused my healthy child narcissism into the ego strength needed to prevail.  Everybody won.

 

***

 

Will is a neutral concept, and serves both for good and for ill.   Living creatures share this feature.  How else would baby birds peck their way out of eggshells?  Cows decide if and when to let down their milk, when to deliver a calf, and when to hold back until a safer time and place conspires to bless the birth.  I saw this play out knitting in anticipation of incipient labor, waiting for no apparent reason for my daughter to be born.  Finally I understood.  She was waiting for me.  I put down the knitting needles and sweater-in-the-making, lay back, and determined to have a baby.  An hour later Melanie Rae Taylor entered my world.

 

Control of fluids is a ready example of harnessing will to good effect.  I have known since childish scraping of knees and elbows that we bleed when we allow ourselves to bleed.  I practiced telling myself not to bleed in response to a fresh injury.  As long as I remained attentive to the situation, no blood would exit the wound.  As soon as I tired of the job, capillaries would release, and blood would be everywhere.  Wait long enough for the clotting mechanism to work, and I could save a Band-aid.

 

I have always been a hard-stick, a lab tech’s nightmare.  They would complain that the needle was in, but no blood would flow.  A question!  Finally I decided to apply the converse of my childish determination to hold back from a wound’s right to bleed.  I blessed the needle and gave my permission for the blood to fill the tube to provide the results I needed.  Since that day, I do fine with lab techs.  I am no longer a bad-stick.

 

Once in New York’s Grand Central Station tagging along with my dad, I saw him reach for a cigarette.  He looked at the pack of Pall Malls and threw it in the trash.  “I don’t want to smoke anymore,” he said to me and_more important_ to the cigarettes.  He explained that with sufficient will we don’t need to be controlled by our bodies.  Addiction is for other people.  I never forgot that lesson.  He never smoked again.  When I got a Hashimoto’s diagnosis I set out to lose unhealthy weight and reclaim my thyroid, dropping fifty pounds in a year.  Daddy would be proud.

 

In 1963 a West Virginia byway claimed the life of my daughter.  She was too young.  She should not have died; I should have prevented it.  After the funeral I chose to return to my college classes without waiting for the grief to play out.  I sat in the lecture hall and watched the walls heave in rolling waves.  The only explanation that held was that we live in a holographic construct where everything that is, is determined by our hallucination of its existence.  In such a world I could have created a better future for Melanie.  I would have if I had known how.  The Ultimate must have a reason, a purpose, in her death.  I can accept that understanding for losing what I could not, should not, cannot bear to lose.  In such a world, she waits for me to learn all I must and move on to what comes next.  What lovely irony that she began by waiting to live, and now she meets herself coming around the curve of time waiting for me to die.

 

If self-determination is so predictable, we should be able to die when we want.  I have an ascending aortic aneurysm, a not-off-the-chart-but-getting-there condition that I don’t monitor.  I should, according to my cardiologist, but I choose not to.  A dissected aneurysm is a clean painless way to die.  I choose that for an exit strategy.  It bothers me to be alive when more viable people die.  I should not be consuming resources given my diminished capacity to contribute.  They owe me?  No.  They owe me nothing.  I gave from love, the only way to give.  All else is commerce.

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