Friday, December 2, 2016

Grief

 My mother passed away two weeks ago.  Her name was Barbara.  Born in 1928, she survived the Great Depression and the Great War.

Barbara loved literature and music and the mountains.  She played classical piano.  When we moved to a new neighborhood in the spring of 1967, I remember finding my way home from school by listening for the sounds of Claire de Lune from her piano.

A little over a year ago, Barbara was diagnosed with a terminal illness.  She fought with such courage, it changed my life to be witness to it.  Last month, my sisters and I, and her very devoted friends, were with her when she passed.

My Mom taught me to love the woods, and she opened the world of books to me.  She taught me that the spiritual path is a normal part of living.  She and my Dad, and all of their generation taught me that when life knocks you down, you get back up.

After the graveside service two weeks ago, I was driving home. It was dark and quiet, and there was finally time for me to feel the loss.  As I drove down I-5, I was feeling sad, and then I started thinking about things I had done and said to my Mom that I regretted.  I decided to turn on the radio, to distract myself.  I was driving through the the dark, steering with one hand and tuning the radio with another,  but there was nothing but static on the radio, so I turned it off.

And suddenly it felt like someone was sitting in the car next to me.  Exactly like someone was sitting there, only I couldn't see anyone.  It felt like Mom was there.  It felt like her, like her presence, only also more.  There was a kind of hush and we just sat together for a bit.  I got to thinking again about the regrets I have about my relationship with her.  Impressions started to come into my mind, not like words, more like fully formed ideas, but they were formed the way Mom would have said them.

She "said" that there was more for the two of us to do, but that was okay because we would see each other again and we would finish.  She said "you are a good man."  She seemed calm and focused.  Then she said goodbye and the presence faded out, exactly like if you were turning the dimmer switch on a light.

Before this encounter, my grief for my mother felt like a hook that held me in a terrible grasp.  After, I felt the loss but also, peace.  I drove the rest of the way home reminded that the next world is much more available to us than we allow ourselves to think.  And that those who are in the next world are more alive than we are.

My relationship with my Mom, as Mother and Son, is complete.  My life continues; work, health problems, money worries, and walks by the river, sunsets and friends and family who hug me.  My Mother continues too, in a place not so far away, where who she was here is only a part of who she is forever.



Sunday, November 20, 2016

Road Trip

This day has been so sweet, nothing to do but read, write, draw and nap in the cozy silence of my little studio.

Finally, about 3, I decide to get out of the house for a bit, maybe walk by the river.  By the time I get to the park, it is pouring down rain in the best Oregon tradition.  The river is as gray as slate, hurrying  along, the rapids of summer long gone, now it is a flowing monolith, punctuated only by raindrop impacts and the familiar "cat's claw" pattern made by incoming breezes.

The rain is driving, and I'm not wearing my rain pants. Within minutes, my jeans are getting soaked. I decide to retreat to the car. But now there is nothing to do. I have an appointment at four, but it's only 3:30. I have not brought my book.  What to do? My mind is a little frantic, confronted with empty, unplanned time.

 Of course. I breathe, and note the in breath. Then another, and another. Rain falls on the roof of the car, making hard sounds that contrast with the soft light outside.  Thoughts fall away, and there is only my breath and the rain.

30 minutes later, I am on my way to the appointment, refreshed and at peace.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Recovery

Today for the first time in six months I feel strong enough to go for a walk in the woods.  The recurring health problem I struggle with has left me with a gray succession of days, spent in exhausting pain.


Today though, there is a respite. So.  The wooded trail.  It is as I left it, muddy and silent, and golden with fall.  The leaves on one Alder tree are so bright that  for a moment I think the sun has broken through the tall trees on this rainy day.


As I climb the hill past the glowing trees, all the loss of the last year falls away; illness, the loss of my Mom, my job.  Here, the concerns of the future cannot press do not press in me as much either; money, insurance, my health and What To Do Now, all fall away with every step I go deeper into the woods.  Now there is only the trail, and the trees.


A silent mist marches through the steep forest, softening the edges of my vision.  Ahead, something brown crosses the path, visible for a fleeting moment, and is gone.  A deer, probably, though there are also cougar and bear here.


At the pass, I pause to take a picture of a tiny white and gray mushroom pushing up from under some blackberry leaves.  In a depression in the cap is a tiny puddle of rain water. Two dark pine needles float there, in the shadow of the dark green blackberry leaves.


On the way down the hill, the cares of my life re-assemble themselves.  But they come back in a little lighter than they were before the walk.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Agrarian

I'm with Hannah at Agrarian Ales today.  Hannah grew up with my boys, so I've known her since she was little.  Now she is a grown woman in her twenties.   She has all the pieces of a grown-up life; life partner, job, and a thriving artistic practice.  She's known grief and hardship, and she is so, so strong.

The grown-up Hannah retains the Sense of Wonder that little Hannah had, too.  She still revels in the simple beauty of a new flower, still feels and gives pure joy on seeing a friend.  Fifteen years after I met her as a little girl, the young woman still brings me back to these realities of life when I forget them.

It's a cold rainy day today, so we're sitting under an awning at this little brewery.  It's out in the country, on the farm where the hops are grown for the beer that's made here.  We're sitting at a picnic table, on wooden bench seats.  Behind us, a tall kerosene heater hisses with a tall blue flame in a glass tube.  It chases away the cold some, but we still feel the outdoor breeze, still hear the rain pattering down.

The beer is hand-crafted, and it's so fresh, you can smell a constellation of floral notes from the hops, feel the crisp, bitter bite as you take sip after sip.

Hannah, sitting beside me, is reflected in the tall glass tube of the heater.  Her image glows there, behind us, as we huddle over our glasses of beer and plates of home-made pickles.

A musician from Portland plays guitar and sings at the other end of the covered space.  I am in Flow, my senses full from beer, food, music and the pleasures of a cool , rainy breeze.

Hannah's image flickers in the heater's flame, and the real Hannah takes a sip of her beer and smiles at the singer.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Gentle Flow

That's the name of my new favorite yoga class.  Last week I went to a vinyasa flow class, and it was so hard I was sore for two days afterwards.

So for now, it's back to Gentle Flow for me, a slower-paced, less intense vinyasa class.  "Honor your own journey, and enjoy it,". The teachers tell me.  Finally, at my now advanced age, I have internalized this wisdom.

Danni leas us through a five minute mediation and then we start with seats twists and side stretches.  Soon we are in Down Dog, and Forward Fold, then Plank, moving fluidly through the sequence that has become a refuge to me.  Last week, Danni asked me if yoga practice was "comfortable for you."  And today I discover that it is.  I find myself simply enjoying the feel of my body flowing from one pose to the next.

I also find that I am discovering as I move.  When the moves are easier, I can linger in each pose, and take the time to discover what it has to say to me.  I feel my body move as a breathe in and out, I can feel bone and ligament and organ respond to the moves.  And I can see my mind slowing down and healing.

Too soon, Danni directs us to Shavansana.  I have an exquisite moment of purity, laying there on my mat, looking up at the skylight in the roof of the studio.  There are broken clouds in the sky and the light changes as I watch my breath come and go.  Then we bring hands to heart and say Namaste.

As of today, and I think because of how this session went, I feel like I have a yoga practice; a constant presence in my life that is a refuge, a challenge, and a spiritual journey.