a crown of thorns/ a basketful of flowers*

Dear one,

There are moments throughout these days when such sadness rises up in me that I have to leave what I am doing and go sit down with it. It seemingly comes on suddenly, the feeling rising from my heart, but  if I pay attention I can usually trace it’s source. It might be an image of bodies in bags that I saw 30 minutes ago on the news. Or a phone call with my daughter. Or a harsh word from a stressed loved one. Or the sadness of a friend.

This morning, it was vegetables. And soil. And the physical intimacy of growing things.  I was looking up information on a small local farm, whose young couple are offering to drop off boxes on doorsteps, in lieu of setting up their stand in the market. Drinking in the photos of their organic garden plots, their boxes full of color and texture, I could almost smell the soil. You know what they say about the sense of smell, how it brings with it memory. And so, my body was immediately brought back to the visceral experience of tending a garden, the way it helped me through difficult times, like some primordial embodied prayer.

Digging.— for the root of the matter

Sowing,— dreams of a different way

Thinning— seedlings of dreams that were not mine to grow

Supporting/protecting — the fragile, the predated

Weeding — (often more angrily) that which was threatening, hurting,

Watering.— pouring myself out

Tending.— my heart

 Perhaps the morning’s feeling was merely/mostly this last one , the longing to tend something, at this time when I am feeling so restricted from physically doing so. Or perhaps it is the hope that a garden represents — food for tomorrow. Perhaps it is more simply the quiet belonging with and to the earth that I am reaching for, when I fear the holy place, my Algonquin, where I have known such healing intimacy with Her, is slipping from my fingers.

Anticipatory grief, my friend suggested.

Perhaps it is merely the simplicity of physical tasks, the need to get out of my head and into my body, to work the trauma of these days through it, from it. That is also the gift that Algonquin has brought through these years, after all. A place to simply be, to disconnect and to re-member.

Of course, there are stretches where I feel at peace too. Oh yes, something has most certainly settled in me, descended from head to heart. Those restless days of that first week, where my mind was so swirling that it couldn’t sit still are passed. Now I am able to pay closer attention, to feel all that is within me— the sorrow and the hope (more sorrow, at present), the worry and the wisdom. I have not experienced panic, but I have experienced sobering grief. And I also have known that all will be well.

Jack helped me a bit this morning, reminded me how to steady my heart, to ease its fluctuations, or at least to hold them within its vastness; reminded me how to dive into its deeper wisdom, its courage , and its hope; reminded me that my heart also contains the strength and the love of my ancestors, who survived great eras of difficulty. That strength, that wisdom, that courage, that love is within me too. 

My heart can embrace it all.

Jack told the story, which Thich Nhat Hanh has shared, about the Vietnamese refugees on the boat. How it was that, when confronted by pirates or storm, if everyone panicked all would be lost, but if just one person remained steady and calm it was enough. That steadiness showed the way for everybody to survive. He reminded me that I too can be that One on the boat. Even as I can hold the collective anxieties and fears, the confusion and sadness, which I see and feel, so can I hold hope and love and peace.

This perhaps is the way I can help (as you know, I have been feeling so utterly helpless) by remembering this. That I am stronger than I think. That my heart is more capable than I believe. That my people need someone that can hold them; perhaps this is the way that Julian eased hers.

Going out to donate blood this morning also helped. There was something about leaving my house (going out from my self), driving down out of my little village into the valley below, into that bright dome the sky (into the light) and then literally pouring out my blood for the sake of another. I prayed that someone might be healed by this pouring out of my heart.

I came home exhausted. I was told to rest and to eat. A lesson for me- after pouring oneself out take time to rest, to nourish.

A phone call with a friend in Canada. How has it been just a month since we were together. It feels like the world has turned over 30 times since those precious days. A group conversation with my ‘sisters’ this evening. Such a full spectrum of humanity, shared. So much fullness. So little time. Later, a text from a dear friend who had needed to contact Crisis Intervention for her child. Another phone call from my daughter…

All of these

Life-giving. Heart-breaking. In the same breath.

Time to rest.

*title refers to this poem, written in 2007, around my first reading of Etty Hillesum, at a retreat, when the I repeatedly saw the painting on the wall at the periphery of my vision as a crown of thorns, when it was in ‘reality’ a basket full of flowers.

A crown of thorns, a basketful of flowers

Oh you wounded God,

You come to me

with your yearning

            to be seen as beauty

with your longing

            to be held

just as you come

in your contorted face

in your scarred and twisted body

you can no longer hide

i see you

your crown of thorns, a basketful of flowers

my glands producing tears and milk, the same

this copious flow of blood,

concurrent dying, birthing

sacred and profane

these drops of pain, compassion

which your hungry mouth now opens to receive

from this, my breaking open heart,

a womb

to receive your penetration

oh

i tremble

at the terror of this tender touch

as i open wider to receive

the whole of you

and stretch to deliver you

in this pregnant moment

full of pain and joy

time for etty?

I am find myself needing to squash the passion of Etty in me, this yearning in me to stomp down to Westerbork Camp and be a balm to my people, the ones who are facing these traumas, to be hands of compassion, knowing that even as I do so I am putting myself at risk. She could have hidden away, after all. I am not afraid for myself.

And yet to do so, I put many more at risk perhaps than I help. This is the utter helplessness that I feel. It is an existential paradox for me.

So, this is perhaps not the time to turn to the heroics of Etty. Though her wisdom that Beauty is present, that God is present, that Love is present within and alongside ugliness and suffering and horror is a much needed balm, the pouring of herself into the midst of her people’s suffering is not wise. A more submissive (as in surrender one’s will for the sake of the other?) role is required.

And so, I turn to Julian of Norwich, with her window on the world, to learn from her how I can Be in this time. My window perhaps is this laptop screen, where the suffering and fear of the world pass before my heartbroken eyes. I need her wisdom this day. I need to know how it was that she kept herself walled up. How she offered hope and extended compassion at that window to the world. As the plague passed by her window, evidently multiple times, she watched and prayed and heard that all shall be well…

It just doesn’t feel like enough. 

embracing our vulnerability

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going.  No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousnes.

Give me your hand.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke ~

Dear Ones,

In this ever changing landscape, this is what I see today.

Down there, in the valley where I stood yesterday, I see my own feelings of helplessness, bundled up in my longing to DO something to help ease the suffering I see all around me, feeling chilled by the thought of just standing by, watching it all unfold without a thing I could actively do to help, but to stay in place. Perhaps this is what spectator guilt feels like.

Over there, on that ridgetop I see persons, feeling equally helpless, crying out, “What have we done to deserve this?”, shaking their fists at the heavens, their anger buffering their own broken hearts. They perhaps climbed up there to find safe footing, for when things fall apart the very ground beneath our feet feels frighteningly unstable. The earth shifts and we react from our fear, seeking out all sorts of high places.

In that village below, I see folks who clambered up onto their rooftops in the middle of the night, stunned and in shock. Waking up this morning, their eyes filling up with the destruction around them, they are beginning to fill up their heads with blame, seeking reasons for the suffering they have experienced. ‘How did this happen? What could we have done to prevent this?’ is their own sort of expression of raw helplessness. They have already begun hurling their stones from up there. “If only…. then this would not have happened”!

This is our understandable human response to trauma. When something beyond our ability to control, happens “to” us, we look for fault(s) (sometimes in ourselves) hoping to find some way to prevent the uncontrollable from happening again, the horror from revisiting our doorsteps. In this way, we are relieved from feeling the full brunt of our vulnerability, for it is terrifying to accept the idea that we are truly powerless, to believe that the only thing ever within our own contol is our response (and sometimes even that feels impossible!)

“But This did not have to happen!”, they scream. Although maybe it did. And maybe there is nothing at all we could have done to prevent it. Maybe, just maybe, we cannot control the earth like we thought that we could. Take the human out of the equation, if that helps, my friends. Call it a natural disaster, if you will. A biological one. Does that help just a little to stop blaming ourselves and our fellow human beings?

Yes, there are things we got wrong. But we also cannot control the fallibility of humanity. We mess up. We falter. We fail. We are imperfect. We are blind. We learn. We grow.

We forgive and we Love.

Blame is a natural stage of grief, and much that is precious has been lost for all of us — human life, trust, security, naivete, identity, to name just a few. Anger, blame, denial (running away), and even the settling down into sadness are all ways we seek solid ground in response to trauma or tragedy, when the earth is trembling beneath our feet, when the winds are uprooting our homes, when waters are washing them away, when wars are ravaging lives, when death steals our dreams, when horrors fill our eyes, when love breaks our heart, when hope disappoints.

How can we possibly let ourselves simply feel the heartbreak of this, our shared vulnerability? How can we surrender to the reality that to be human is to be broken (and hopefully broken open), so that the energy we use in resisting and railing against one another can be redirected to coming together, to sharing our mutual grief, to holding our tender humanity, to doing whatever we can to heal, even to encouraging and celebrating the goodnesses we see – the ingenuity, the remarkable responses of caring, the human stories of resilience and compassion, the love songs of our neighbor.

We are stronger together. Bonding together will help us all to feel a little less vulnerable.

I wish that you all could see me as I see you. I’m just over here, waving my arms, singing my lovesong, on the top of this hill, on the other side of this screen.

You see, I need you too. I need the energy of your passion, as you perhaps need the energy of my compassion. I need your call to action as you perhaps need my call to prayer. I need your head as much as you need my heart. I need your plans as much as you need my vision. I need your practicality as much as you need my imagination. We need the whole of humanity to make ourselves whole again. The songmaker. The planner. The builder. The challenger. The peacemaker. The artist. The helper. The researcher. The mathematician. The Poet. The priest. The healer. The seeker of justice. The seer of beauty.

Wont’ you join me?

PS. Who knows what horror or joys the morrow will bring. Perhaps I’ll need you to hold me up. Or to come down into the shadows with you. Perhaps I will be in despair and will as desparately need your light. Perhaps you will show me the way. Each day seems to bring some new revelation of beauty, or transport us into some unexpected terrain of sorrow.

May we welcome each other in all of our humanity, the strong and the weak, the frightened and the courageous, the sorrowful and the joyous, the deeply discouraged and the hopeful . May we welcome, as Rumi once said, it/us all into this Guesthouse of being Human.



this is hard. i feel it too.

Dear One,

It is day 21, I think, if I look back to the day that the governor first began shutting down the state, first schools, then businesses, then counties. We are all of us isolated from one another now, and oddly more connected than ever. It is a strange time, separating ourselves in order to save ourselves. Loving our neighbors by keeping our distance from them. When every instinct in our human species is to bond more tightly together during times of danger, we keep safe instead by drawing apart. This is not about self-preservation – there will always be those who hide and shelter in place in order to save themselves — but this for the sake of the other. It is a strange time.

My rational head understands this- the exponential charts, the biology of contagion, the economy of services and supplies. My soul, my humanity, my emotional being, the ancient wisdom embodied in my cells- however you want to name it — has more difficulty wrapping itself around this. And I must deny that particular wisdom in order to quell my urge to wrap myself around my fellow human in some physical way. To come together physically, to put myself in harm’s way for the sake of the other. And yet, I know (in my head) that to put myself in harm’s way in this case could also be to the detriment of many.

It is a paradox unlike any other. An existential crisis unfathomable.

Perhaps this lies at the seat of my sadness this morning. The sadness swept over me like a wave this morning, hitting me so suddenly that I had to come sit, put my head back, rest. Listen.

What is it?

It probably didn’t help that I stayed up late last night, scouring the local hospital’s website to see if there were volunteer opportunities or even temporary service type jobs — cleaning, laundry services, clerical- for when the surge hits our area– like a wave.

(Perhaps those charts all over the news media– of waves rising and falling, inundating and retreating- are fresh in me this morning)

I thought, perhaps I could help build the hospital pods, Certainly there will be bodies needed for that– though the military seems to have that in hand, and signing onto that boat passed me by. I find myself kicking myself that I hadn’t finished one single thing in my life that would make me useful– the RN program I left when my last child was born, for instance. Why didn’t I at least get the nursing assistant certification that I easily could’ve taken with my semesters of academic and clinical experience? Why did I never follow up on those urges to Midwife training? Something! I called the blood bank- I’d worked there once- perhaps they could use a helping hand.

I will give blood.

I want to BE of service. Instead I will just have to BE.

And that calls into question the existential nature of my being. What does it mean to be human? Embodied? Do I really trust in the unseen, the unknown, in a Power greater than 1 ? Do I really believe that Love is enough? That I can tap into that communion of Love – taking both nurture from it and contributing to it. That this is enough to hold this crumbling world together.

I expect this is some psychological response to trauma. I think I recall reading once upon a time during the aftermath of some natural disaster (is this what this is– ‘natural’ disaster?) that giving persons something to do to helped somehow with PTSD. It may have been something about moving the trauma out of the body so that it doesn’t lodge there. Something along those lines. I’m not going to look it up now, but I do believe there is something quite human in my distress, quite communal – this feeling of helplessness, of being asked to hold still, like being physically held down.

And I feel guilty even sharing such thoughts with the world. It feels selfish,-as if its about me. I feel like I should share instead words of comfort, words of encouragement, words of hope or peace. Something calming, something wise. To be the one to hold onto the vision that this too will pass. That goodness will come from this trial– as my soul knows it will. That all will be well- as my sister Julian has so often whispered to me, she who lived through several waves of the Plague ravishing her world, while enclosed in her recluse cell with her window on the suffering outside those walls. To be the midwife, able to see what those in pain cannot possibly from their vantage point, that birth is imminent after this pain passes, after this dark passage through this constricting space, that light and new life will be ours. That Love will bond us together.

Yes, my head know those things too. Perhaps even my deeper wisdom. But this space in between those two, where both my heart and my body reside, feels only the despair of helplessness.

Helplessness. Not hopelessness. This is a vital distinction, I hear. (Yes, I hear you, my soul.) For it is not lack of Hope here at all. I do trust in Love. I do trust that we are a part of a bigger story here – a human story, an earth story, a universal story, a Love story. This is but one page. One page that will turn over its leaf into the next, the gifts of which we cannot yet know, but can trust. The ancient wisdom in me knows this much is true. The indwelling Love in me — perhaps the same one that breaks my heart with compassion during these immediate days- also assures me that Love is all that there is– to do AND to BE.

And so, I will risk sharing these words too. Not to bring despair, I pray, but to express Love. Communion. Compassion (suffering with). For I suspect there are others like me, their hearts breaking, the goodness in them seeking outlet, feeling helpless in their confinement, as if straightjacketed. I can say to them, yes, I feel that too.

You are not alone. You and I are in solidarity in this, in these feelings of restraint- the double entendre of that word poignant.

Perhaps that is at least as necessary as any words of positive encouragement, peace, or calming blessings, can offer.

This is hard. I feel that too.

Be still. My heart.

good and tired

“Against every new outrage and every fresh horror, we shall put up one more piece of love and goodness….we should be willing to act as a balm for all wounds” Etty Hillesum

It was a long day today. I was up well before dawn and it is not almost 10, and I am just now sitting down here again.

Mostly I spent the day in the kitchen, drying and preparing meal packets. I’d purchased the ingredients some time ago, intending to prep for a dreamed-of 3 week wilderness journey this fall with Don. Whether that can happen now lies within the uncertainty of all of our days.

And it feels so trivial. I found the work today tedious, an unwelcome distraction, where often I have found it filled with creative joy for what it represents. Perhaps those dehydrated meals will be useful in some way if grocery runs become more restricted. However, there have been assurances that the food chain is healthy and intact and that going out for essentials will be allowed no matter. So, the work felt rather meaningless.

The subject of food brings me to the real reason for my fatigue. My daughter took herself to the food pantry this afternoon. It was so difficult for her to do, mostly because a friend shamed her for doing so (I think my daughter had accepted before that phone conversation that her loss of income was through no fault of her own, as businesses are being required to close by the government, and that the offer of food assistance was acceptable and authentic). There is such stigma around receiving help in our culture. It saddens me that giving and receiving compassionate care is considered disgraceful.

And so she cried. And so I held. And so she turned back, afraid. And so I cleared a path. And so I ‘walked’ with her. And so it rained. And so she received. And so she carried a chicken, a cabbage, cans and carrots, the box heavy and damp. And so she locked the door behind her.

And in the scarcity of work, even the yogi’s are competing. Still believing their worth is in capital, that both need and worthiness are scarce. The ‘airwaves’ (is that what you call it?) are overflowing with offerings, some authentic gifts, others screaming, ‘please see me’ (and in truth is that not also an authentic need?)

And she was finally standing on her own feet, ready to take off. Financially stable. Emotionally well. Seeing her life as possibility rather than failure.

She is but one story of heartbreak.

And she will survive.

Today I noticed the way that stress reveals unhealed wounds in human beings. Wounds like unlovability. unworthiness. not-enoughness, and more basic than that – fears of survival. Today I understood why there are wars over resources.

Today, I learned that the young man for whom we all had been praying did not have the virus. We all breathed a sigh of relief because his story had scared us all into thinking our sons and daughters might appear to be fine at lunchtime and on End Of Life care by dinner. As if our compassion was misplaced, I found myself apologizing to those with whom I’d shared the story, for unnecessarily frightening them. As if that was the only reason we all were praying for his recovery, or holding his terrified family, or encircling them in our prayers.

And so, I noticed my own vulnerabilities that were uncovered by the stress of it all, my own fears of being shamed. ( That childhood rhyme about sticks and stones isn’t really true.)

Mayor Cuomo reminded us all today that our greatest vulnerabilities are also our greatest strengths.

Said another way, our wounds are the root of our compassion. Being willing to expose them from time to time perhaps brings healing.

We are good.

And I am still tired.

Good night.

you too will find your way

Inside you are a thousand generations of your ancestors, who learned how to survive difficulties . Do not be afraid. You too will find your way. –

Jack Kornfield

My dear child of my children’s children’s children….

Here I sit again, predawn this time, seeking stillness in the midst of this storm, stillness enough to hear, let alone to jot down my feelings, my thoughts for you.

It is early in the morning, still dark outside my window, the only light coming from the lamp, one casting a soft glow over my shoulder. Music flows from the speaker, Gregorian chants, equally soft and glowing.

I dance around the opening of this doorway, uncertain what it is that holds me back at the threshold, keeping me from fully entering. Is it merely a difficulty in settling my dancing mind, in quieting my spirit, or is there perhaps something that else that holds me back. Certainly permission has been given to be still (‘shelter in place’ are the official words being used by government representatives as they plead with us) Perhaps it is the unknown that keeps my feet planted firmly on this side of that door, cracking it just a bit from time to time to peer into that darkness.

We do not know.

We do not know how long this pandemic will rage through us until it has spent itself. How many it will take into that darkness (or is it light?) with it. We do not know how long it will be that those of us who have not yet been exposed will need to be afraid of exposure, afraid for our own mortality, yes, but also, perhaps moreso, of inadvertently (because this thing is so hidden for so many of us) causing another’s demise. How long we must hold back, like the frightened huddling bird in the old Disney movie, Bambi, whose anxious inability to hold still causes it to fly into the hunter’s aim. How long until the scientific, medical, and govermental agencies can get a handle on this, prepare us for the onslaught of patients who will not be able to breathe. How long until there is a vaccine or a treatment or a cure… or a test available to the masses so that each of us can know whether we have been exposed, and so perhaps carry the antibodies that might be used for healing another, and freedom for ourselves. Freedom to help.

The randomness of this virus- in whom it progresses suddenly into urgent, life-threatening respiratory distress and for whom it is symptomless- adds to the swirling fear, like a hidden stalker. We humans are afraid of what we cannot see. Monsters under the bed loom large, even for adults. We are humbled by it, reminded of our vulnerability, and (blessedly) our humanity.

I have been coughing for almost 2 months now, since long before this virus was supposed to have reached our shores. I was sicker at its onset, with fever and chest tightness, than I have been as an adult. Could I have had it and so be safe now? Safe to help. Or, should I fear, because of the way that possibly lesser virus (flu?) hit me, that being hit with another respiratory virus would be all the more dangerous for me?

How our lives will look when this is over is another unknown. Will it be safe for me to venture into the backcountry again, miles and miles from medical help with a virus circulating that could make me suddenly critically ill without warning, in severe respiratory distress? Everyone has their own version of this – When will we feel safe again?

The desire in me to help is so strong. I have begun a neighborhood chain, so that each of us is not making too many short trips for incidentals forgotten or needed. That feels so small. I want to volunteer in the hospitals in some capacity. I want to help distribute food to persons suddenly in need. But it is one thing to put myself at risk, a choice I feel willing to make for myself, but I do not live alone and I come in contact with others who are vulnerable. The helplessness is insidious. We are being asked to ‘help’ by staying away. To just sit and watch, doing nothing. Tomorrow I will go to donate blood.

And perhaps that is why it has been so exceedlingly difficult to be still. My compassion will not allow it.

I worry about my daughter, isolated and alone in an apartment in Chicago, a large city that is more likely to be hit hard….

Okay, my dear one, it has been over an hour since I wrote that last sentence, because that statement brought me up out of myself and into compassion for her, into wanting to reach out and touch. I have spent the last hour connecting with all of my children, sharing my heart space, checking in on theirs, wanting to hold them, wanting to hold them together.

And that is the way that it goes.

And when fear comes to the door bringing flowers
acting as if it’s a friend,
it’s okay to not want to let it in.
It’s okay to lock the door—
it’ll make you feel as if you’re doing something.
Fear will enter anyway.
At least it won’t expect a hug.
It won’t wash its hands,
not even when you ask nicely.
And it is more contagious than any virus—
spreads without sneezes or coughs.
It won’t leave when you ask, but
there are ways to make it quieter—
like inviting a few others to join you,
preferably gratitude, compassion, love,
kindness, vulnerability. These friends
always come when asked, wearing
the loveliest perfume. They change
the conversation, the way lemon
and honey change the bitter tea.
They remind you who you are,
invite you to look out the window
and see how beautiful the world
when the shadows are long.

Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

Snippets

I have gleaned some of my texts, emails and posts, in order to capture a glimpse of these days. Each of these paragraphs stands alone, an anthology of sorts, in reverse order. I feel the desire to compile them in one place.

It is curious to watch how difficult it is for me to quiet my mind , like the rest of us I presume. From my vantage point in life, I know we will be changed by all of this. There will be no “getting back to normal”. It will be a new normal.

I pray for no atrocities, and try to hold up the goodness in human beings.

Some of the stories I read keep me awake at night.

My own traumas have informed me during this time . Sometimes triggering, but more often, I hope, giving me wisdom and calm. For many, this is their first feeling of loss — loss of control, loss of niavete, loss of how they imagined their life would unfold, loss of hope, powerlessness to something happening to them they did not choose, fear of the future. It’s like a mass trauma. A saving grace might be the shared nature of it…no shame, no feeling of “why me”.

The trick is to hold the feeling awful (compassion) alongside the wisdom that they will be deepened by this ..carved out, if you will. Of course, we do not wish suffering on anyone even when we have come out the other side and know the gifts it can bless us with, but it can be important to hold that vision for the other.

I have begun reading my way through Etty Hillesum’s diary once again. Her courage, her ability to find beauty, to love humanity and find the face of God in us, as a young Jewish woman in the midst of our atrocity, speak deeply to me at this time. This quote jumped off the page at me this morning, “If you have given sorrow the space its gentle origins demand, then you can truly say: life is beautiful and so rich. so beautiful and rich it makes you want to believe in God”

I am struck at the juxtaposition of the old and the new, by the way we are simultaneously thrust into old, slow ways of doing and being — quarantine as medical intervention, isolated nuclear or extended families relying upon one another, making lists and shopping in bulk rather than making convenience stops, cooking and eating meals at home rather than eating out, a generation of women experiencing being stay-at-home moms — while at the same time relying upon modern technology to do things in new ways- church services streaming, businesses meeting on zoom, social media connecting.

A story of a young man being struck suddenly and severely with the disease, one hour talking with his grandmother (a friend of mine) over lunch the next unresponsive and on life support has struck me deeply. It speaks to the randomness, the frailty of human life, the preciousness of a moment. The sharing of her story has redeemed social media connections, which some see only as shallow. Her words were “Thank you, thank you, thank you, for your loving presence via this. For us who are quarantined at home it is a huge gift to have this feeling of interconnectedness with all of you. Quite frankly, It is priceless”

This young man’s case also makes an important point about looking at numbers. The good news is that it appears the young man is rebounding from what the medical staff at first deemed “End of Life”. He will show up on data as part of the 20% hospitalized, and of them the ones requiring ICU . But he will likely not die. As a younger person he is more able to withstand the assault, which an older person wouldn’t. But stats don’t reveal how very serious it was for him and his family. Stats only show that old/vulnerable people are the ones who are dying (as if that is ok??) not necessarily the suffering that many (1000’s?) of others go through.
Stories like this give human flesh to statistical figures that say ‘x’ number of people will require ventilators. It’s not just machines. It’s human beings

” We can live out of love or we can act out of fear. We can anchor our response to the happenings around us in tenderness and hope, or we can live in a more hollow and grasping place of negativity and anger” – Claudia Cummins

“We are waves from the same sea, leaves from the same tree, and flowers from the same garden.” Roman philosopher, Seneca, posted on crateloads of masks shipped from China to Italy

‘Touch’ one person today with Compassion. It will spread exponentially

Perhaps this phenomena is something like the rush on toilet paper, except it is happening now in virtual space. We really don’t need that much after all, but there is something in us that grasps onto anything in times of uncertainty and becomes obsessed with it. Try not to add just one more, out of despair. The energy will settle here too…and we will be able to see what is truly needed, to choose only what is vital
There is the story of Indra’s net that always brings me home. In it, each of us imagined to be a jewel, called to hold our own place in the net. If we don’t do so, the whole thing comes unraveled. I think of that jewel, holding the threads that spire outward from it, as having maybe 6 strands. My job is to hold onto just those… and you to hold onto yours. That’s the way we hold onto one another. One by one. To try to grasp the entire mind-boggling vastness of that web would be an exercise in futility and exhaustion for me.
So thank you for all that you offer and hold. I trust that each of us, and all of us together, holding one onto the other will hold this fragile web together.
Find one thing you can do. One person you can attend to. One loving word , or prayer you can share. One moment of quiet. Small things. Great love

The same as I can’t control what is happening in the world with this epidemic, I also cannot control how others will feel or respond to it. I thought I was okay with the first one (even feeling a bit haughty about surrendering to that powerlessness) but I see now that I was not ok with the second — the inability to control the feelings, responses and actions of others.
That’s a completely different invitation to letting go.. Not everyone has to feel or act the way that I do. I’ll begin practicing that today.

Yes, you can

It seems to me that a midwife/doula is what we all need. Someone to remind us that we can get through this time of transition and confinement. In our culture, we’re not used to things happening to us, out of our power to stop, forcing our lives to change all at once…except, as women, we are.

This baby (new life, new way of living) is coming, no matter. That pain of transition is necessary. That adjustment to the new normal, the loss of social connection, (once upon a time post-partum days were literally ones of “confinement”), loss of our previous ways of life, loss of identity, loss of freedom, with no option to escape or to say ‘I won’t do this”, was reality

Just as in the transition stage of birth, we’re not used to pushing through difficult spaces. We want an easy way out, but life itself emerges from that discomfort.

And we did it. We stayed with the discomfort because we had no choice, until it passed into a new life. Until the new way of being felt both normal and blessed. Until we were transformed into someone new.

It feels hard, reality-altering, impossible at first..oh, those first weeks… but after the transition, life shifts. We think in our heads that it’s too hard, but living through it in our bodies, day to day, week by week, rather than escaping the discomfort of the moment into something we think feels easier, reveals unexpected, unthinkable, previously unknowable blessing.

Even if there is trauma, even if the birth ends in NICU babies requiring months if life support,, or special needs infants, or even tragedy, we rise, we are transformed.

We thrive. We become

It’s coming, it’s here, no matter what. Now push through.
Yes, you can

Awakened by the steady percussion of rain on the porch roof outside my window, early birds singing in concert, I was reminded that spring had dawned.
Later this gray day, Don and I walked about 5 miles on the trails behind our house. We were utterly alone out there We felt so grateful for our fortune, living where we do, having each other. The Earth was so mucky, fecund, we were also grateful for boots!!
The understory is aflush with greening buds, twigs are flushing red. Our mental health was given a breath of fresh air..

We want to know , always, but the truth is we never really do. Letting go into the unknown and living into our own humility really can lead to Peace, my friends. Stay out of the chaos. Choose Love.

“I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up.
Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now.’ -Danusha Lameris

Sometimes, humility is in order. Perhaps the time is now to practice deferring to experts, such as epidemiologists, who have years of education and experience, and authorities (local, state, federal, secretaries of health, healthcare institutions, medical professionals, CDC, Dept of State etc) who are being guided by that expertise, rather than blindly hanging on to our own biases and good opinions of ourselves. Sometimes it’s ok to realize and to say, “I don’t know” and to let go of that fearful conceit into something bigger than yourself.
I realize that trust has been broken in our society, and that its also hard to know what is true in this age of mass “information” overload, but fierce reliance upon your own opinion and your own self interest (I will only get a cold) in this case could put the lives of many at risk.
Greater good, folks. We need to watch out for one another.
And so what if we err on the side of caution. We can risk foolishness for the sake of another.

making meaningful connections

Each morning for over a week now, I have sat down, intending to write, and each day, I get a just few paragraphs down in my journal, before the distractions besiege. I suspect what I am noticing is more than simple distraction, though. Yes, I am having difficulty quieting. Yes, there is worry, obsession, and anxiety. Yes, my mind is racing. Yes, I am being re-minded (of my own cataclysmic, life altering experiences). Yes, I am afraid of missing some vital piece of information or connection. (FOMO overload) Yes, there has even been an overwhelming amount of positive offerings of human connection — poetry, art, reflections, spiritual practices, phone calls. Yes, I am being ‘fed’ with (consumed by?) so many ideas of things I could “do” to fill my alone time that there doesn’t seem to be any room in my bloated belly to just “be”.*

But this morning I had the thought that perhaps the inability to turn inward during this time, to listen for that still small voice within, is that my attention is being drawn outwards from my center for good reason. How can I withdraw from the world at a time such as this?

This has surprised me. I expected my introverted nature to relish the permission to practice isolation, though I prefer the word, solitude– and therein lies the rub, I suppose. It is, in fact, much more difficult to practice solitude, to fall into its grace and gift, during a time when we are being forced into isolation while at the same time being poignantly reminded of our interconnectedness, our shared humanity, and our need for one another. I find myself wanting to see, wanting to hear, wanting to feel, wanting to know, wanting to hold, wanting to care –about my fellow human beings.

So , I also find myself wanting to share my experience, not to inundate an already oversaturated world with more words, but to connect. I pray it is not merely self-centered indulgence to do so. This is after all a ‘shared experience’, unlike perhaps any other. It sometimes feels a bit like the sharing birthing stories. Mothers all have one– each one unique even in its commonality, each one needing to be told over and over — and those stories welcome us into the fold of motherhood/humanity, bringing intimacy and communion.

Something I began imagining a few years ago, after my first granddaughter was born, was that was iwriting to my great-great-granddaughters, and I have sporadically followed that nudging call. Once, that impulse rose in me while walking through a nursery bed of young hemlock, nestled together atop a ridge, which rimmed a valley carved by the poetically named, Love Run. At the time it was feared that all of our hemlock were dying from the pandemic of the day, the wooly adelgid outbreak. I felt such tenderness and hope for those young hemlock, seeded in the death throes of their mothers. In telling the story of them into the future, I realized I also wanted my great granddaughters to return to that place with me, to whisper back to me what the future looked like.

That instinct in me has risen again in response to this pandemic, speaking into the future of what it is like here today, imagining a future that wonders what it was like in those days for their mother’s mothers, when the world was different. How we felt, how we feared, how we were the same as them, how we changed the world through our Love for it.

But that letter will have to wait for tomorrow, because it is already 1 o’clock in the afternoon and the distractions(connections) have squandered(blessed) the morning away.

*I wrote about this feeling of being overwhelmed on a Facebook post. I have copied it below

Ok introverts, how are you doing. Feeling overwhelmed? Emotional and informational overload? Remember, an aspect of solitude is also simplicity. Try to keep from filling even this space with noise.
Information overload is perhaps an even greater concern when you are sheltering in place. And phone calls and texts to friends and family, while they can fill the day with vital connection and support for us, can also drain.
I’ve noticed even the sudden flood of generous connective offerings here on social media has begun to make me feel oversaturated. (I know from my years of watching my diet that gluttony can be a thing even when overconsuming healthy food!) so I’ve decided to wean, knowing I will probably miss some tender wisdoms, profound words of healing, connective offerings, thoughtful essays, elegant museums tours, shared experiences, new learnings, art courses, etc, etc, etc
But I don’t think my human brain is made to process this all, and I am trusting that what I do choose to taste will be nourishing enough, as will that which you find, even it comes from a vastly different food source. You really don’t need me to share the latest tidbit that I have found tasty or satisfying … you also will be led to what your own spirit craves. So, I can slowly savor that poem or newsbit without having to regurgitate its profundity for your benefit.
So, yes, I have decided to wean. I’ve chosen one news source to check in with twice daily for 10 minutes each. And just a few offerings of community. (For me, I’ve realized that if I have a previous connection in the real world with what is now a virtual community, that the offering feels more connective for me, rather than trying to plug myself in to a something new). I am seeking mostly spacious containers that bring quieting and peace.
For introverts like me, it is an intimacy thing, really. We do deeply treasure human-to-human connection but it has to feel authentic, slow, soft, deep, and never too many (at once, or in succession). However, I also believe this is true for all of us… we are not meant to be processing/consuming so much.
Perhaps this phenomena is something like the rush on toilet paper, except it is happening now in virtual space. We really don’t need that much after all, but there is something in us that grasps onto anything in times of uncertainty and becomes obsessed with it. Try not to add just one more, out of despair. The energy will settle here too…and we will be able to see what is truly needed, to choose only what is vital
There is the story of Indra’s net that always brings me home. In it, each of us imagined to be a jewel, called to hold our own place in the net. If we don’t do so, the whole thing comes unraveled. I think of that jewel, holding the threads that spire outward from it, as having maybe 6 strands. My job is to hold onto just those… and you to hold onto yours. That’s the way we hold onto one another. One by one. To try to grasp the entire mind-boggling vastness of that web would be an exercise in futility and exhaustion for me.
So thank you for all that you offer and hold. I trust that each of us, and all of us together, holding one onto the other will hold this fragile web together.
Find one thing you can do. One person you can attend to. One loving word , or prayer you can share. One moment of quiet. Small things. Great love

Hope in the midst of loss

I have been thinking about loss

Again.

Earlier this week, reminded of my own devastating losses by the flood of images of late-term fetuses appearing on the internet, in response to the current escalation in attention to abortion laws, I found myself revisiting those pregnancy loss experiences. (I have carefully chosen the word ‘reminded’ over the word ‘triggered’ here, because ‘triggered’ can indicate an irrational, uncontrollable emotionally laden response, and my attention to these images was more mindful- an intentional gaze). I wanted to see if my memory of those one-pound, 20 1/2 week babies – whom my body had failed, and for whom I had labored and delivered into birth and death, then reburied in the womb of the earth – was accurate (it was)—because, from stories I have been told, I seem to have lost a few weeks of my memory around those periods of time.

In my explorations, I learned that, while I have always referred to these losses as miscarriages, it is more accurate to call them stillbirths (although even that distinction feels inaccurate to me, as one of those girls lived outside the womb for an hour, or so I was told).  It was also satisfying to find that some of the stigma and shame has been lifted, that the understanding of and compassion for that particular grief has improved, and that supportive environments for that bereavement have evolved. There are women out there who are allowed to hold their dead 21 week babies for as long as they need. (there are youtube videos out there of this) No more propping of hips upon bedpans while the doctor swears under his breath because the placenta (not realizing its job has prematurely ended) won’t come loose, or sending a naïve candystriper, who has experienced a miscarriage, into the hospital room the next day because no one on staff knows how to talk to you when they come to administer the drugs to dry up your engorged breasts. No more having the room filled with medical students, gazing at the anomaly between your stirrupped legs, where the amniotic sac descended to blow up like a water balloon before it ruptured.

No more is the loss diminished as irrelevant.

I have digressed. (Regressed? Progressed?) There is a relevant point I wanted to make here, some connection made in my brain between these visitations I made earlier in the week and the expressions of sadness I saw flooding the internet last evening.

Yesterday, I watched women I love try to come to terms with, accept the new reality, and begin to openly grieve their own losses in the ending of Elizabeth Warren’s campaign.  Unlike the last loss, at the end of the election of 2016, which felt so traumatic and unexpected (like a full term pregnancy, so full of expectation and hope, showing no signs of distress one day and the next was suddenly over, leaving the emptiness and shock of stillbirth in its wake), this one was indeed showing signs of trouble. This time, there was (at least?) some time to prepare, emotionally, to accept that the hope for which you longed was dying.  Still, there comes that moment when the final blow comes -one minute there is clinging hope and the next it is stripped away- when the miscarriage is complete. Still, there is shock, at least disbelief. (It feels unreal for a moment). Then there is blame, anger, self-hatred… or, sometimes, even numbness.

There is always aftermath.

Watching them, I noticed the similarities, of course. The way we invest our hearts in a dream of a future. The way we fall in love with Hope. The way that it feels like a blessing. The way it fills us with promise and joy. The way we imagine a fresh reality. The way that we Love. The way that we feel connected, valued, important…. Beloved even.

It is right to grieve after a loss such as this. It is also good to hold onto that vision for as long as you need. … to drink it in, to count its fingers and toes…and then to let go.

I noticed in myself a deep disappointment, a sigh of sadness, but nowhere near the devastation I had experienced the last time. Perhaps the pregnancy hadn’t gotten to the point of viability for me? Wasn’t yet something ‘real’? Or perhaps I had withheld some part of my heart from investing, kept myself numb?

It is true, I have disconnected ( I don’t think the proper word here is ‘dissociated’ for, like the word ‘trigger’, it connotes a lack of conscious choice). In my own healing from the grief of the last election, I realized how swept into the narrative of devastation (and demonization) I had become. I needed to look for goodness in a worldview, which was clouded everywhere by the pain of that seeming volcanic eruption, in order to find healing and hope and clearer vision of humanity.   In my personal healing from the grief of pregnancy loss I had also needed to learn to rename and reclaim, to choose language that was healing and redemptive, to tell a different story. Hatred (of self or other or life itself), cynicism, the overarching sense of unfairness, and/or hyperbolic fear keep us stuck in the narrative of ugliness and despair.

We are meaning-making beings.  It is important to take care with our storytelling.

I don’t think it was exactly that I didn’t want to invest myself again in hope; rather that my hope- my sense of life’s goodness and possibility-  was not based upon a specific outcome. Perhaps I am blind to myself though (we all are, aren’t we?) . Perhaps I chose not to care. Perhaps I was numb. Perhaps I was burying my head in the sand. Perhaps I was afraid to feel the pain of loss again. But I don’t think so. This felt more like a choice to see beneath the ugliness and beyond the chaos, to stay centered within the storm. To know that Hope is always here.

The trauma of loss affects us all. Sometimes it makes us so fearful we won’t take a chance again, knowing firsthand the devastating consequences of the last time we hoped, the last time we felt safe. All fear, after all,  is not irrational or unconscious. Fear can also make us wiser (don’t touch the hot stove). It can also make us – to follow its consequence down through the spectrum of human response—more thoughtful, deliberate, cautious, timid, apprehensive, anxious, or even paralyzed.  If we let it make us wiser, we learn resilience (buzz word or not). We grow stronger with it. We grow bigger than it.  We know the story is not over, nor is it the totality of the story contained in that one experience. Our losses, failures and suffering teach us about our strength and reveal to us our beauty.

And, miraculous beings that we are, we try again beyond all ‘reasonableness’. To conceive again the image of a new life, trusting in our innate goodness and our ability to love (despite what the misplaced shame in our history/herstory wants us to believe about ourselves – our worthiness, potential, possibility or our ability) . We nurture the seed. We pump our breasts to keep the next preterm neonate alive. We even let the machines do their job.

We know that life goes on.

%d bloggers like this: