Reaching for Stars

moon climbing large
Collapsing onto the bed, he moans
“I don’t feel good.”
Every night he doesn’t feel good.

What would Good feel like? I want to ask.
The absence of pain?
A month of snow days?
Maybe this Good lays a path and clears debris,
one smooth downhill grade.
Or better still, buoyancy
as if weightless
on water cooled by twilight
and the wings of loons
dipping low.

Continue reading “Reaching for Stars”


Happy 100 Days: 70

Tee and I crossed paths at our university’s faculty and staff enrichment day this morning. We lit up when we caught sight of each other. Between sessions, we made a beeline for each other to chat. At lunch, we found a table. He invited a friend to join us and I pulled up a chair for another co-worker. Greetings all around. Tee still introduces me as his “ex-wife.” I always say, “Meet Tee, Bug’s dad.” It feels good to make this conscious shift in my language and to let him follow his own instincts.
We laughed and talked, our little lunchtime foursome, going on about kids and birthday cakes and university parking tickets. The only friction came at the end when we had all packed up to head to the next breakout session. Tee held me back to encourage me to take Bug to a high ropes course they had visited over the weekend. Tee nudging me to follow his lead with all his super-daddy activities does not have the intended effect. Instead, I feel myself getting panicked and irritated. I have explained as much in the past, letting him know that Bug and I have our own rhythm on the weekends. Tee can’t seem to help himself. He is like a little kid bursting at the seams to share his new discovery. I can appreciate that Tee is hungry to describe these adventures to someone who knows his son’s unique ways.
From time to time, I indulge a little of this. Tee returns the favor in kind, I’m sure, putting up with my over-sharing when I forget to reel it in. Still, I am starting to let myself pay attention and trust my gut. If I notice an interaction is rubbing me the wrong way, I ask for us to stop. I know this perplexes Tee. He seeks to know more about why or at least to explain what his “side” is, as if my feelings have a counterpoint in logic. Sure, I could go on a reflective, meandering journey to understand why. I have done exactly that since. . . well, since forever. Even as a kid, I thought I had to have a rational explanation for a feeling AND a defensible position for my reason before I was allowed to ask for it to be respected. It is a revelation to hear my own voice saying with gentle frankness, Stop.
I am still learning how to identify my limits. The next step is to hold them without fear and without apology.

A peacemaker is a bridge walked on by both sides. You can either make peace or get the credit for it. But you cannot do both.
David Augsburger, Conflict Mediation Across Cultures

I am learning all over again how to do the elegant dance of caring for my connections while also caring for myself. It is strange to leave a marriage and return to parents. Strange, but also illuminating. I can see more clearly than ever the fascinating give-and-take in which my folks engage. Being here now shines new light on the odd mix of lessons I learned growing up. They have been married, as my mother like to say, “Oh, on and off for about 40 years.” After the drama of the Off, they have certainly earned their On. They have settled in. Even as I type this, they are downstairs giggling on the couch, delighted that they have finally learned how to use the On Demand feature on the Fios. “We have a new toy!” I hear my mother cry, and they both cheer when they discover yet another episode of their favorite British crime show.
Living so closely with them, I see how they have become a kind of hybrid being, each compensating for the weaknesses of the other. She worries about every impending disaster. He barrels in, guns blazing, his confidence more than compensating for any missing facts. They find balance in the partnership. That partnership still changes in ways that surprise me. Years ago, for example, they came to a grumbly truce about tennis. He is a fiend who goes out to hit on the backboard every weekend. She doesn’t like playing with him and flatly refuses to go. He asks her every Sunday as he’s packing his racket. Every Sunday, she says no. For years they have been going through their little Sunday routine. Then, one day in early October, I came downstairs to find them gearing up and getting in the car.
“Where are you going?”
“To hit a few!” My dad grinned. My mom rolled her eyes and off they went.
I am curious about how this happens, how people concede a little here and advocate a bit there, adjusting to similar adaptations in the people around them. Doing this while also staying true to one’s own path is a mystery to me. I am aware, though, that I have to resolve this polarity in myself first. I have a little bit too much of both of my weird and wonderful parents battling it out in me. Most days, I want to resolve the confusion by wrestling those extremes into submission and then crowing to the world that I am victorious.
Seeing Tee today reminds me that such deep change requires strength, not force. I can make peace in my relationship with my son’s father, my parents, my son, and my demons, but I have to do it with a quiet fortitude. With a loving touch. With a few private promises and a handful of well-placed words. I suspect that I also have to do it without “doing” it. Instead, I can let go of the pieces of what I believe to be true or right. Shake off the habits, watch them scatter, and welcome a new arrangement of things.

Sixth Scents

There was once an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day, his horse ran away. Upon hearing this, his neighbors came to visit.

“Such bad luck” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it two other wild horses.

“Such good luck!” the neighbors explained.

“Maybe,” replied the farmer.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown off, and broke his leg. Again, the neighbors came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Such bad luck,” they said.

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after that, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army to fight in a war. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by.

“Such good luck!” cried the neighbors.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

Bad news is on its way. I can see it cresting on the water out near the horizon. I don’t want it to come, but there is nothing I can do to change its course.
If the past is prelude, then this wave will knock me flat. What to do? Curl, protect, contract the muscles? Gather breath?
When I was pregnant with Bug, I had the nose of a bloodhound. Women carrying kids share a superhuman ability to smell that chocolate brownie a loved one ate at lunch as well as the sour sweat on every article of clothing in the laundry basket. This quirk of biology is surrounded by speculation. Is the increased olfactory skill a direct survival mechanism or is it simply a side-effect of the hormones?
Whatever the reason, my trial superpower was an equal source of wonder and disgust. The last thing in the world I wanted to know was that in the camp kitchen a quarter mile away, the fish sticks were almost ready. Also, though, I would stop dead on a walk through the high desert hills and swoon at the scent of a fruit-laced flower tucked out of sight. Between the yucca and manzanita, I stepped through some crack in the universe and emerged into an orchard of mango trees. I rarely found the source, but my brain and body understood I had brushed against the thigh of Eden.
When the senses are at their most raw, everything stings. Even the beautiful things, and perhaps those most of all.
The past is not prelude. Collapse is not foreordained. News, like the farmer’s luck, is an animate thing. This moment is writing over whatever came before.
Disappointment is just a feeling. It is an emotional tide, washing through and then receding as all the others do. Sorrow, excitement, rage, joy. These things are fleeting. The only power they wield is that which we give ghosts and kings. They rule by our willing submission.
Here is the new posture as the slow wave of unwelcome news gathers force:
Whatever the habit most associated with enduring heartbreak, do the opposite. If the pull is to retreat into a cocoon of blankets, Ben & Jerry’s, and HBO, then call a friend and make a date for the gym.
Stay awake. Read one line of poetry. Clean one closet shelf. Say a single prayer.
Every garden is both rot and blossom. It is true that we can compile irrefutable evidence of our failure. It is equally true that we can build a rock-solid case for our own limitlessness. Do the latter. Gather evidence. Learn a song in a foreign tongue. Identify a constellation. Name your goodness. Expand.
Say something nice when you feel anything but.
Walk out into the bright day.
Resist self pity. Override self righteousness. Quit faking nonchalance.
Have the courage to care. Desire will shift with the tides, too. Yearn, and feel the hunger. Neither the wanting nor the hollow it leaves will scar you.
Stay tender. Stay loose.
All that needs to be already is.
Feel everything. You are stronger than you know. Also, you do not need strength at all.
Sniff the air and welcome the scouring approach of the sea.

Muth, John J. Zen Shorts. New York: Scholastic. 2005.


Me: “Tell me about this picture.”

Bug: “That’s my two houses. Your house and daddy’s house.”

Me: “Are you hiding behind one of the trees?”

Bug: “No. I’m hiding in that brown and purple thing in the middle.”

Me: “What is it?”

Bug: “A little teeny tiny house. No one can come in but me, and I can do anything I want in there.”

Me: “Like what?”

Bug: “I can say ‘shut up’ all I want.”

Me: “What else do you do?”

Bug: “You know what else.”

Me: “Um. . . let’s see. You watch TV?”

Bug: “Yep. That’s what I do. I watch all I want. I watch TV all day long.”