A season of acceptance

I share a personal journey here in the hope that it’s universal, that this resonates for you in some way no matter the source of your sorrow.

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A sadness always settles on me this time of year.

The light of long days dwindles and nature decays and dies. Leaves drift like scraps of paper to the ground, green grass begins to blur to brown, and an undercurrent of chill pushes into the early mornings.

The sadness this season, however, is deeper. It’s also about dad, seeing him decline. He is like a bent-over tree, whose branches bare themselves, whose roots have been withering since the stroke five years ago.

Now, as I sit with him here on the deck as he naps, he is asking me strange questions, erupting periodically as he rouses. Who took your camera? Where did those papers come from? What is that over there?

I look down at the college ruled 3 subject notebook next to me. Students are back in school now and will fill their pages with copious notes from courses in English, math or the sciences.

My notebook is filled with medical notes and appointments, logging dad’s health in bits and pieces, what has been done for his care, what more needs to be done.

I woke the other morning thinking of dad’s INR levels, the many phone calls for his IVIG treatments I had to make and other pressing medical issues that required attention. Who wakes in the morning thinking these things?

I am sad for all of it.

If I’m honest the sadness is not only about the loss of dad and who he once was. It’s also about the loss of the life I once had. I want to wake in the morning with time for creative writing, plan a day trip, splash my feet in the ocean, travel to Scotland or Spain. But even if I did these things, would the sadness go away?

Most likely not.

These words are not complaints or about self-pity, but a simple acknowledgement that sadness is part of life’s journey, a testament, I believe, to how well we love or have loved.

Whether we are a caregiver or not, decline and loss will visit us in one form or another. It will hurt. It will feel horrible. We will want to push the sadness away.

But in the end, accepting it is all there is. A delicate balance of not drowning in the sorrow, but allowing ourselves to float in it, to look up at it, like leaves drifting from their source and finding some peace with it.

In her book The Mermaid Chair author Sue Monk Kidd writes:

There’s release in knowing the truth no matter now anguishing it is.  You come finally to that irreducible thing and there’s nothing left to do but pick it up and hold it. Then, at last, you can enter the severe mercy of acceptance.”

I still struggle with this acceptance. Tears are always at the edges of my life, remembering that I haven’t had a coherent conversation with dad in almost five years since the stroke, recalling the dynamic man and inspirational speaker he was, and the times I would ask his guidance.

Yes, I am sad at all this and at its source is the welling of my heart knowing that days pass, seasons pass and everything dies in its own time.

But all I can do in this moment is walk over and pick up dad’s hand and hold it. To know the truth of this unrelenting sadness. To allow the pieces of sorrow to fall from my heart like the dying leaves.

To pray to enter the severe mercy of acceptance.

 

 

 

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Don’t it always seem to go

Life can blindside us. There we are, moving along in our daily routine, and wham. Something — whatever “it” is — calls us to attention.

For me, that “something” was a traumatic fall about two months ago. It’s miraculous — as my doctor has told me — that I didn’t break any bones or end up with a concussion when I hit that cement sidewalk. I’m in walk-feet-2forever gratitude for angels around me when I pitched head first.

But my teeth took the brunt of it, dislodging them and shoving them into my fractured jawbone.

Blood spewed everywhere and a kind lady saw me fall and took me into her home to help me clean up. I ended up in the ER that night with a CT Scan and being assessed and probed. Ironically, I knew the ER doctor from all my past visits with dad, who had a stroke three years ago.

The human part of me immediately kicked into “why” — that nasty question we ask about much of life.

When the shock and trauma of it all subsided, I realized that “why” was a waste of energy and time. It was a “victim” question and I didn’t like that. I decided, hey, it happened And now I was left with how I wanted to respond to the experience.

So how did I respond? Afterwards, not well. I wept, I was angry and I railed to the heavens that THIS could not be happening, not now. I wanted to write my second book. But had I really been doing that? I needed to continue to help care for dad. But really, now, didn’t I need a respite of some kind?

And then, I watched as self-blame kicked in. How could I have been so stupid, so unaware as to allow this to happen?

woman-floating-paperworkI’d process all those questions later. But right after the accident, I was still in shock, or some kind of post-traumatic stress, my body banged up and sore. I fell into periods of the deepest sleep I’ve ever known. So comatose, in fact, those sleeps frightened me.

But I decided to allow it all. I may not have liked it, but I knew on some level that I had to give permission for all this to unfold. I couldn’t — and still can’t — eat solid food. (Silver lining here: I’ve lost a lot of weight that needed to go.) And I needed tremendous amounts of bedrest. No more go-go-go. No more to-do lists.

Just being. Just resting. Just deep listening and deep sleeps.

I’ve had a good amount of dental work done at this point.  There’s much more ahead. And I’m thankful that some of my stamina has returned.

But here’s what I’m most thankful for, believe it or not.

Taking a shower. Cooking a meal, even if it is soup or mashed potatoes. Driving to the grocery store. Dusting and vacuuming. Crazy, right? No. Those simple things I once took for granted, that were part of an ordinary day — now I see them as gifts.

Here’s the point, my friends. We are given lives that, in the main, are routine. We wake, we eat breakfast, we brush our teeth, we go to work. Or we stay home and care for a family. Or we pay bills, call a friend, clean the house, prepare dinner, help the kids with homework.

dishes-2-620These very simple, simple things in life are gifts. Blessings. To NOT be able to do them for what has seemed such a long period of time — and now to be able to do them — is a gift beyond telling.

The fall, yes, was a huge wake-up call on many levels. And I know those lessons will be sifting through my soul for some time to come. For now, one major lesson is that time is limited and we never know what might happen. So, yes, I do want to write that book, many books. And yes, I need to learn to better balance caregiving my dad with my own self-care.

But I don’t want to overthink or analyze all this. I just want to continue to “be” with whatever this experience needs to be — in the moment.

And in the moment, I can say that this challenge fills me with boundless gratitude. I am aware now of the smallest of blessings. To breathe. To move. To laugh and cry.

holdingspaceforyourselffeatureAnd even though I have always been somewhat mindful of those who have chronic health problems, those who are shut in, those who are fleeing their countries and have so little — now I am almost painfully attentive to how much I do have, how so many people in the world would cherish those things I once complained about or took for granted.

In the end, life in all its spectrum will be with us — from dazzling joy to crippling sorrow to somewhere in between. Can we learn to accept it all, to learn and grow through it all, to be kind to ourselves and not judge the experience or fall into self-blame (as I am still learning)?

As I continue to mend, I find that I am in the moment as never before, savoring the crimson and gold leaves of autumn, the crisp cool morning air, the dishes in the sink, a hot shower, a warm bed, the neighbor who stops me to talk even though I am tired, the gift of a deep breath in and a deep breath out.

Gift and grace. And so much more. As Joni sang, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.”

Let’s be here now. Thankful, now.

 

 

The Gift

Here in the Northeast, the weather is turning cooler, leaves are falling and geese flock in chevron flight across cloud-streaked skies. This time of year seems right to share this essay again. In 2012, it placed fifth — among thousands of entries —  in the inspirational category of the annual writing competition of Writers Digest Magazine. I was, and am still, thankful.

Some of you have read this before. For those who haven’t, here is The Gift. 

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geeseI have started walking again in the park. This has become a prayer, a way of grounding myself. When my feet are pulled to earth, my body centers, then my mind and finally my spirit. It does not always happen this way, but when it does, it’s as if irritating gauze has been lifted from my eyes, as if the earth beneath my feet becomes the salivated soil the Messiah used to heal the eyes of the blind man.

The park has a pond at its center, thick with geese. They are there now, but soon they will be gone. They know it will be time to go. How is it they have this inner sense of rightness, of being, without questioning? Is it the scent of snow crystallizing in the upper atmosphere, the blustery skies, the days of dim and muted light? I think it is none of those, but an act of trust in the highest good of which they are a part. So they surrender. And in surrendering, they are protected.

Winter is coming and I dread it. I liked this season once, appreciated the mystery of snow, the way it coated roof tops and tree limbs with layers of whipped-cream softness. It smothered the world in comforting silence, the muffled sounds of cars lumbering by, a child on a sled, her squeal of delight echoing across a hill, pure and clear as a soprano’s piercing the frigid night air.

Now, as I have grown older, I wonder where and how I lost those childlike eyes, the thrill of innocence in the present SnowAngelmoment, the staccato crunch of snow beneath my boots. When did I lose the joy of building a snowman until my nose and cheeks were pink and my gloved fingers tingled? When did I abandon the delicious act of spreading my arms and legs on mounds of white to carve out angels?

I had become blinded by the winters of life, by deadlines and adult duties, meeting others through mist and fog — vaporous and not present — and hibernating, waiting for spring, hope and life.

One day, at the pond filled with geese, Sara Maria gave me hope. To say she gave me hope is to say everything. That day God was revealed to me and was embodied in this girl-child. She became Yahweh and Emmanuel, the ever-present moment of I AM and God with us.

In my life, I believed in God and often prayed to know God better. I sought direction and signs. I asked the eternal “why” but often, God was silent. Why then did God listen that day and choose to speak in that way? Was it because that afternoon as I sat on the park bench, watching geese lift from the pond and glide off into the dusky sky, a young father and his child filled my heart with an unexpected thanksgiving?

father-and-daughter-walking-near-pond-2_bkdcqpuer__S0000The sun was low, soft light filtering through the leaves, dappling field and wildflowers. Father and daughter walked hand-in-hand in the distance. Patiently, he waited as she stopped at times to bend down and scoop up something in her hands. Even from afar I could sense his love for her, she, free to explore, and he, watching and protecting.

As they walked closer to me, I could see she was a pretty child, a round face and curious eyes, taking in all of life without question or judgment. Her thin legs would break into a happy skip and then she would squat, exploring the earth in great detail.

I knew they meant to pass me by, and I, in turn, would offer a simple hello. Then, the child did something unexpectedly — she stopped before me. She stood there, frail and elfin-like, her silent stance embracing me in acceptance.

She asked my name. I told her and asked hers in turn. We began a conversation of the highest realm, of her walk by the pond, of her father, of her mother at home, of the geese on the pond. It was then I noticed she clutched something in her right hand — a bouquet of tattered and mottled goose feathers.

These were special, she told me, showing me the unique designs of each and then sharing what she would do with these when she returned home — dust her doll furniture, tickle her brother, tuck them in her hair and pretend she was an Indian princess. Her body was a ballerina’s as she spoke, tiptoeing around her father’s legs, lowering her eyes and then lifting them to meet mine.

Words spent, she cocked her head and grinned. She tugged at her father’s leg and he bent close to her small face as she whispered in his ear.

“Fine,” he said. “That’s a wonderful idea.”

She paused shyly, then extended her arm and hand, straight into my space, straight into my heart.

“For you,” she said.

I could not speak. What could I say to this gift from this stranger-child, a gift she had gathered with joy and love?

“Thank you,” I whispered. “Would you like to take one home with you? Pick the one you’d like. It will be our special feather.”

She nodded and after a few seconds of deliberation, chose one. Then, holding her father’s hand she said good-bye and walked away.

For days after when I walked in the park I would look for Sara Maria, hoping to see her again so that I might truly thank her. But I never did. I finally decided that this was the way it was meant to be. She was there for me at one moment in time when I needed her.

I took the feathers that day and gave them to the water, one by one, a symbolic gesture that I could not hold on toholding-a-feather-1 anything in my life, not even the blessings.

I let them float on undirected breezes, knowing that my journey had to be a letting go, a trust that wherever I am is good, secure and protected because of a higher power at my side.

Each feather became a prayer.

 

 

Praying the path

When I wrote this essay almost 10 years ago, I had been in a desperate search for answers in my life. I knew, like the seasons, I had to let go. I share these words with the hope that others who are in this space now may know they are not alone. That healing and answers do come. Here is my story.

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leavesA leaf falls. Then another. I want to hold on, to summer, to my writing, to my life. But lately it feels as if I am losing them all.

The path I am walking winds next to a creek, stubbled with rocks. Somehow, the water finds its way around the stones, not pushing but simply being what it is. I stand there for some seconds, the stream rippling and gurgling and I, yearning to hear what my heart is struggling to tell me.

Another leaf glides down, landing softly in the stream, then floats away. Then another. I want summer to stay. I want the warmth and comfort of the season, the earthy smells of jasmine and honeysuckle, the sun burning my skin, the salty smell of ocean waves, the softness of a summer evening and fireflies flitting through tall weeds — I want it all to stay. But as singer Joni Mitchell wrote, “It’s got the urge for going, so I guess it’ll have to go.”

I walk a little further, up a small incline to a bend in the road. Here, the path splits. Both lanes are shaded and cool, two-paths-5both inviting. I find a nearby stump and sit. I am weary. It seems I have walked this path a hundred times before, searching for answers. It seems I have prayed this path too many times.

Now I must let go of even the prayers. I must rest in faith. I must fall into the uncertainty that is my life.

The truth is I may never find my calling or purpose. Or my writing may never find a home. I call myself a writer, but is that my path? And what does “being a writer” really mean? The world is filled with writers, offering their wisdom or insights. Writing is like any other task — hard work and seldom appreciated.

What I seek is deeper meaning in my life, that somehow my meager existence can better the world in some say. So I ask: “Is there something else, dear God — something deeper, greater — that you want of me?”

But I have no answers. For anything.  Jesus the Christ or Buddha would say this unknowing is good, that we must “lose our life to find it.” They would also advise to “do nothing” or “simply be.” Rilke would say to be patient toward all that is unresolved in the heart — to live the questions and not to seek the answers, not now.

All these seem like well-meaning platitudes. Here, years past mid-life, I want answers. I want ground under my feet.

queen-annes-lace-theresa-johnsonI bend over to pick a flower, Queen Anne’s Lace, and I unearth it, roots and all. This is how I feel lately. As if God has reached down and plucked me whole.

I inhale to feel my own life force, the cool air filling my lungs, then I exhale. With my breath are my prayers. They have become simple lately, so scaled down that at times they are barely audible. This is how I pray:

“I’m here. Help me. Thank you.”

I pray “I’m here” because I feel as if God has forgotten me. I feel the need to remind the Divine that I’m still here on earth, still yearning for a life that matters.

I pray “Help me” because I need God’s help more than ever to guide me.

And finally, I pray Thank you” my small token of hope that somewhere, somehow God is helping me, even though I don’t see it or feel it. Even then I’m not sure help is coming. But I have no other choice. I must be open to God’s graces, trust that my prayers are being heard. It is yet another letting go.

I finally stand. I must walk on water and on the ground, let summer go and trust that perhaps around a bend in the road, there is direction, hope, happiness. But I don’t know. There are no guarantees or promises.

I only know I must take the next step. I draw in another deep breath and choose one of the paths. I move forward. I whisper “I’m here” as another golden leaf drifts down, falling at my feet.