I have found myself, recently, lingering on the pause following, “You’re so lucky.” Would I be lying, or acquiescing, in a cordial nod and smile of agreement? The woman at the grocery store/in the hot springs/at the concierge desk has just lit up with the reception of the news that I’m expecting a baby girl, knowing that my first child is a boy: “One of each! Aren’t you lucky!” What she, of course, is not aware of, is the the 7-months of failed pregnancies preceding this one. She doesn’t know that this little female form came down life’s train track, only after jumping the crossing where in an alternate rail map, I had two baby boys. So when she hints of the suspenseful space where mystery is conceived – in one’s favor or not – I rather think of the dark corners of that room that I so thoroughly explored, with groping hands. Its makes me think of all the profound wells of trial overlooked in first presuming glances and expressions of cordiality at the communal meeting and greeting spots; how much we may discount, or neglect to connect, in the untold history of others. It doesn’t bother me. It just lingers with me. Yet if luck is truly just something to do with the stars, then perhaps, she is correct; this is my fortunate present place in the constellation. And likewise, if luck’s only having something to do with gratitude (as it might be in my faith to suspect), then there would be nothing dishonest in my nod of acceptance of this, albeit eventual, blessing. I supposed I started off this paragraph wanting to explore the pause, but rather, maybe have made peace with it; Likely the most fortunate conclusion of all explorations.
I carried the cold choke of tears from a fading vision,
back to the warmth of my bed.
Dreams aren’t characteristically so on-time,
Ever arriving in a cloaked foretelling.
Or standing with its useless suitcase in the echoing rumble of a train departed.
But here we are with the on-time arrival
of the anniversary of your death.
In the same bed where I clutched a phone and heard nothing after,
“He’s gone. Your father’s passed.”
Without looking, I still find you.
In the trailing whistle of a passerby.
And the daily improv songs and antics of your 2-year old grandson.
Reminding me of just how much youth you carried with you to death.
Reminding me that life is actually never so serious.
Reminding me that there’s always space,
really no matter how inappropriate,
for a punchline.
And that I’ll find you laughing with me,
My son’s daily insistence on the wear of his red rubber boots is fitting. Less than two and a half years navigating the gravity of this planet and already he is fierce in stomping out his independence. “No, I can do it…” a reflexive demand following my every motion and suggestion. Momma’s hands, normally tackling a flurry of tasks in omni-armed domestic combat, are effectively batted away. First I raise my palms like resigned white flags, “Okay, okay….you can do it.” And then my arms eventually cross as I slump into the elapsed (10, 15, 20) minutes it takes to watch 2-year old fingers sort out the seat belt button, pull on pants with the pockets in the front, or open and pour the almond milk into the blender. Ultimately, we are both rewarded with the most lustrous of all medals: “I did it! All by myself,” he says, as much in self-recognition as subtitles to his mother. And I think, “I did it! Patiently pain-ed myself long enough to let him do it all by himself.” And there’s a moment, right there, where I glimpse him as a 17 or 27-year old, with that same relaxed face and those inward eyes of accomplished self-reliance. And I also see that there’s a phone in the background, and a call that he will not make to me, the mother he has left in the inadvertent dust of his red-booted path. And I subtitle the image: Motherhood: the art of thanklessly doing and non-doing with inexhaustible acceptance.
(My hypnobirthing doula from my first pregnancy/birth asked me for a quote on my experience…)
They refer to it as “hypno” but I think “mindful birthing” would be more fitting. Yes, the meditations and affirmations work on silent, work-horse, levels of the subconscious. But the effect is quite tangible and rooted: a simultaneous sense of calm and courage sitting by the door next to the hospital bag. Our culture is saturated in birth stories dripping in fear and pain and disempowerment. They are readily in your face, so you too have to consciously choose to shut those doors and protect yourself from the monsters in that closet. But pregnancy is perhaps the loneliest state of being I’ve ever experienced. It’s a rite of passage – and thus by its very nature, you set out alone. Hynobirthing equips you with tools for the journey, arms you with knowledge and self-confidence that you can transform to wisdom and conquest through your unique experience. It is not an easy voyage, nor will anyone tell you it is. But embracing the path of pregnancy as a gentle warrior will bring forth secret powers of your femininity that you’ll sling over your shoulder for the rest of your life path. And on the other side, a tribe of mothers will wink at and welcome you. So if there’s any piece of advice I can offer you, it’s to choose a mindful birth. (If you resign your freedoms, there are predominant cultural trends that will happily relieve you of your responsibilities/rights.) Know what’s at stake, and step into your experience. Embrace a love and trust of your body and the intuition it inherited from the lineage of women who brought you into being. As with Buddhism, you choose and take what tools you need from hypno-birthing (and leave the rest behind). And as with anything in life, the practice will only return what you authentically invest in it. So accept this quest as a rare (!) opportunity to forge a meaningful relationship with your body. There is no higher way to honor (or be humbled by) this most intimate brush with the bone-marrow of existence.
Chipmunks and small birds flit beyond the shoulder of death.
My father would interrupt my clumsy cobbling of life-memory-love professions with a chuckle and point to the antics of the tiny, striped, tumbling acrobatics in their jostle over seeds fallen from the suet feeder. “Well won’t you just look at that…” he’d say through the rasp of his choking-on-life voice.
On cold jutting stones in the silence of the low-alpine Sierras, I’d sit with Aaron, daring myself to ask him the unspeakable: about his personal experience of dying within the Buddhist context that consumed his Phd path during his cut-short years in life. He’d raise a hand to my ramble: “Did you hear that?” Eyes searching, narrowing, he’d stand and look through the binoculars that had become an extension of his body. “There she is. Wow. Look….”
I was cut short. Never said all I had to say.
But that must be a fact in all dealings with the dying.
The flit and patter of those tiny wings and paws. Did they save us from our over-thinking? Focus us instead on the looking? Root us in the insistent presence of just being? Together. Unfocused on dying.
My father and Aaron have now passed. Yet these tiny songlines of their presence still perch and tumble in all my looking-out-the-window quiet moments. At the bedside of death, I had thought it was my duty to give. To unearth. To close. But the dying have their own agenda. And mine couldn’t be bothered with relics. I stumbled into the conclusion.
There is a lightness to leaving.
When I was 7,
I’d rally a small neighborhood troop,
To carve a tunnel through the blackberry bramble.
Lift the warmed wooden lids off garden snake traps.
Part overhead golden grasses in search of field mice.
Construct a fort roof of fallen pine branches.
Stockpile pinecones for an anticipated ambush.
Host a ceremonial burial for a fallen bird.
Not a far skip to my adult life where I spend my days*,
Carving small student group cultures.
Through the thickets of alien customs.
Catching the most basic of life assumptions unaware,
Searching for mindful treasures in jungles of stimulation overwhelm.
Exploring themes of self-reliance and fortitude.
Stepping in front of the virtues worth defending.
Encountering small deaths and the sacred in passing.
How life dangles clues,
That we may find ourselves through circles,
Growing into the prints,
Of our own footsteps in the sand.
The unwritten life is fast food eaten standing up.
A mindless conveyor motion of bits to mouth.
Yet the primary ingredient of memory, I’m certain, is reflection.
And the unwritten is the unreflected.
Buddhist hungry ghosts lounge with bulging empty bellies on ever-encroaching peripheries.
I’m certain a life can be so consumed.
And in the tangle of the intestines of domesticity,
Who can not fault?
There just isn’t room.
For balance and chaos to live symbiotically.
The table is set for failure.
Yet those elusive quiet moments.
Caught in sighs.
Those fifteen morning minutes,
spent sewing words together.
Those midnight forages for a bedside pen,
Chicken-scratching a dusty dream,
Those tiny pauses of consideration,
Lingering on the end of the fork.
If there’s an opportunity to close my eyes.
I remind myself.
To take it.
I have four arms, four legs and forty fingers and toes. And I have two hearts, two blood types, and two brains. The latter a valid reason, I protest, for my constant state of indecision. No I don’t want dinner. I will puke if I eat. That smells terrible. Cook it away from me. Yes. Now I want some. And I want yours too. Give it to me. No questions. Thanks. My gratitude notably lacking luster as I steal and swallow my (poor, poor) husband’s dinner without shame, and leave only the silence of his lingering hunger. I feel the heaviness of his defeat making a depression in the seat next to mine. For although my husband is known to put on lawyer-like exhibitions of evidence as naturally as his favorite jeans, the man is smart enough to not put a visibly pregnant woman on the stand. Where she will inevitably be overcome with inexplicable emotion and win the jury with her Madonna tears. No. He can pick his fights wisely with our 2-year old, but with his already-waddling wife, there are #nofightsworthwinning.
MY CHILD’S CRY STIRS ME FROM BED. After he’s soothed, I crawl back under the cooled covers and just barely register the time on the clock: 5:30am. But my brain has already stirred and my thoughts toss in the sheets. They swirl around and attack this sudden fact: that I have not shared a touch with my husband in 24-hours. Not an off-to-work kiss, or a return-home from work hug, or an after-dinner cuddle on the couch. Our child is sick, and when that happens, it all becomes a game of touch and go. Touch, and handoff, of the child. Moved from the arms of one to the other, while the remaining two hands juggle pans, meds, mail, pajamas, laundry, phones, pets, bottles. In the darkness of the morning, I consider the alternate universe, where I am not pregnant and so tired that I go to bed at the same time as our toddler, where we do curl up on the couch, with my head on his chest, and I fall asleep to sound of my husband’s industrial-strength heartbeat in my ear. They say an infant’s heart aligns with that of the bosom he rests his head against, and I’ve always suspected that it is the same with lovers. And that through the business and chatter of the day, if we can just get those pulses aligned, the rest will fall into order. In the darkness of dawn, treading all these drowning thoughts, I reach out into the radiating hemisphere from the body on the other side of the bed and slip my palm into my husband’s heavy, empty hand. And in a rare moment of marital surprise, his sleepy hand responds eagerly, viscerally clutching and squeezing mine twice, as if to say: I agree and I’m here. I instinctually love you. His grip holds, and I feel the warmth and course of his blood mingling with mine. Aligning. Leaving only two sets of footprints following a trail of crumbs over the cliff of sleep.
I think I was ten years-old the first time I was accused of living in “La La Land” (by an impressionable 7th grade teacher). When I was a teenager, my parents (in an unfortunate turn of typical teen drama) learned that our small-town police network referred to me as “Queen Yo Yo” for the QYY prefixing my car license plate. And in my late 20s, a best (time-period) friend added the suffix “La La” to my first name which he’d sing down the paths of the beach resort we co-worked to call my attention. I woke up this morning looking for evidence that I sometimes live in my imagination — and I found this breadcrumb-trail of suspicious titles and nicknames. Of course, people can assign you all the adjectives they’d like, but it’s not until you’ve experienced that worldview-flipping moment directly that any new self-realization truly registers. And I think it was in my early 30s when I looked deeper into my Myers-Briggs psychological type and learned that INFPs often navigate a lofty inner world, oblivious to the fog of clouds between themselves and the other 96% of the population. Now I am in constant question of my reality in comparison to others: Is what I’m seeing more colorful, more mysterious, more interconnected, more breath-breathing, than what others are encountering? Has the web of my imagination woven all events and people into charmed caricatures of their otherwise more grey and grounded realities? Do I search my dreams (night and day) for links to this world that would only stand up the court of La La? As a citizen of the clouds, I’m not sure I’ll ever know. Instead, I simply offer the disclaimer, to both the reader and the writer, of the unofficial titles of loft and levity affixed to my name.