The Scar on my Chin

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f9c6fe4d4a30cfa37c6a0a6a97acebe5I tipped my head back, tiny make up mirror magnifying the geography of my chin, checking for anything that needed “tending”. There you were. I’d forgotten about you. Just out of sight, beneath the curve of my chin. There. The scar.

The wound that preceded this scar came at a tender 4 years of age. I was playing with my friend Punky on Columbia Avenue, the street where we both grew up. While I had a little red tricycle of my own, Punky had what I considered to be an uber-trike. The only similarity to mine was that it was red. Punky sat up higher and her trike had a little step in the back allowing a second rider who would stand, holding onto the driver’s shoulders. On a hot day in the summer of our 4th year, Punky invited me to step onto the back of her tricycle for a ride down the sizzling concrete sidewalk. I gladly accepted. Wheeling down the street, we passed our friends’ homes–Anna, Carol and Cathy, Paula…but it was in front of Holly’s house that our ride came to an abrupt halt. For in front of Holly’s house grew a graceful, majestic oak tree whose roots extended far in all directions. One root in particular was part of the landscape of the sidewalk, jutting up like an elbow raised to nudge passersby.  Punky hadn’t ever ridden this far on her trike.

We barreled down on the root, Punky’s front tire slamming into it, bringing herself and the bike to a quick jolting stop. I, on the other hand, flew over Punky’s head and landed on the concrete, chin first. With a glance at me through the blood and the tears, Punky knew she needed to get help and ran to get my parents who quickly made their way up Columbia Avenue to retrieve me. They carried me home, holding hands and crossing their arms to create a little chair where I could sit, sobbing, holding onto their shoulders as they walked. Home we went to dress wounds and soothe the tears.

I was ok but the scar remains on my chin, a little white line about 3/8 of an inch long, taking me back on each rediscovery to me 4 years old.

Amazing how these scars, seen and unseen stay with us through the years. We all have them–marking us, holding us, haunting us–like footnotes in the book of our lives. They live on our skin, in our minds, on our hearts. And while I don’t in any way suggest that my little white scar compares with some of the larger scars that mark us, for me it’s a visual reminder that that little girl I once was still lives in me. And it feels right to honor our scars as they call to us, tending them with an understanding that they are a part of us, part of our story. Remembering these scars in each other we must note that it is not up to us to define or compare, to decide that one is worse or better or more important than another. Rather, knowing that they are there, and treating each other with the tenderness that we all deserve.

From my father’s point of view

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I visited my mother last weekend, savoring time away and time with her in her little cottage on Lake Michigan. “A little piece of heaven” she and my dad used to say, when referring to their once summer home, turned full time residence upon retirement. They bought the place when I was in middle school, a little cabin they could get to in the space of an hour and fifteen minutes, making it easy to have weekends or even a day away from their home in Waukesha. My mom would spend whole weeks up there sometimes, with my dad commuting from the hardware store he owned in Pewaukee. They simply loved the place.

And I grew up loving it too, and my kids as well, attending “Grandma Camp” in the summers–a week with grandma and grandpa, roaming the woods and the beach, creating time capsules, making up endless games in this space of great imagination. My children, adults now, move in the cabin and the space around it as if wearing a comfortable sweater that they can find and put on with their eyes closed, it’s so familiar.

Though nestled in the woods behind a dune, the house affords a view of the lake through the trees, offering a protected vantage point to observe the lake’s moods which are many. Calm swells to crashing waves, brilliant aqua to steel grey, the lake’s face is ever changing and mesmerizing to watch. From the windows in the living room, my kids could tell if the waves were big enough to warrant getting out the boogie boards and throwing themselves into the surf.

The best views of the water are from the living room and over the years, we’ve each found our place in that room. I’ve always sat in a big down armchair, which I share with the dog, while my father always sat across the room in an old recliner that my mother tolerated. My kids shared the couch, battling over whether one of them could lie down, leaning on one another through movies and conversation. My mother floats, always a good hostess, to the unoccupied seat, making sure everyone else is comfortable. Since my dad’s passing in 2014, my mom has settled into a cozy chair which has moved once or twice to different locations in the room, always with a little old table nearby holding her journal and her books.

When I woke up on Saturday morning last weekend, I found my dog right in the middle of the seat we normally share, sound asleep. Coffee in hand, I made my way across the room, to the chair that now occupies the space my dad’s recliner used to hold, facing the east windows to the lake. It was early and the morning sun flooded the room. Once settled, I really let myself register my surroundings and for the first time, really took in the view that my dad enjoyed upon waking–the sunrise over the lake, the hummingbirds at the feeder, the dew glistening in the morning sun. I thought about the months near the end of his life when we made a decision together to move him home from the rehab center and engaged hospice to visit him there. He would sit in this space and drink in the view, endlessly staring out the window.

Now I see, I thought. This place filled him. A bright, witty gentleman, my dad’s tastes were simple but yet, looking out on the view that was so much a part of him, I understood the depth of that simplicity. This was all he needed–the quiet beauty, ever-changing, of the world around him, enjoyed from his seat in the cozy house, in a tiny cabin on the shore. He would check the weather and report in to my mom, who would record it every day in her journal. Passing barges were noted along with visits from deer and other forest neighbors. Together they would observe the detail of the natural world with its rhythm and variety, and that was enough.

And in that moment, as I sipped my coffee and shared my dad’s view, I knew exactly how it could be enough. A little prayer escaped my lips as I asked to hold this within me in those times when the world seemed to be moving too fast–let me hold this view, this beauty, this simplicity as a touchstone to bring me back to “enough”.

 

Finding our Way

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astro6You know how sometimes in a rush hour time you find that sweet spot?–that perfect timing that lets you slide right into traffic and move quickly to your destination against all odds? Yesterday wasn’t that day. Driving home from work–west side of Madison to the east–I stepped, or rather drove, right into it. Traffic crawled and me, along with it. I adjusted my radio to NPR for the day’s news and settled in. This was going to take awhile.

Leading the day’s stories was the coverage of Donald Trump, speaking from North Dakota, thanking those delegates who had helped him become the “presumptive nominee”. Six more months of this, I thought as he already took cheap shots at his presumed opponent, despite the fact that neither has officially secured the party’s nomination. Sigh. I am saddened beyond belief that our country has come to this–that someone who so embodies hate and divisiveness could potentially lead our country in this time when so much grace is needed.

But on to the next story.

Doctors Without Borders working in South Sudan, the next story focused on two doctors working with children. The reporter interviewed a Dutch doctor as they walked through the makeshift clinic, situated in a war zone with the constant sound of gunfire in the background. These children suffer mainly from malnutrition and many from malaria. They spend most of the interview at the bedside of an infant named Nyenyowni. Severely malnourished with a case of malaria on top of that, the reporter finds out later that this child of only 15 pounds is 3 years old. Later on in the story, Nyenyowni dies. The doctor notes that perhaps she should list “born in South Sudan” as the cause of death. The reporter can barely tell the story, crying at the scene, and the doctors step away from the microphone to take some time to breathe through the intensity. The story ends with the mothers of the children singing Sudanese songs outside of the clinic, singing and clapping for those who are still alive.

In the third story, a father and daughter are circumnavigating the globe in a traditional Polynesian canoe called Hokele’a, meaning “Star of Gladness”. The father is trained in the old ways of “wayfinding”–traditional navigation using the rising and setting of certain stars, the sun, the moon, passing birds. And when none of those is available, he relies on waves– the motion that the canoe makes as it climbs up over the wave, and he internalizes that as a rhythm. The story is luminous and well told.

I arrive in my driveway, changed by this encapsulated vision of our world. There are those who stomp loudly over everyone, concerned only with themselves, while the world suffers. People, corporations, capturing the media’s attention but certainly not reflecting the whole story. Working tirelessly is a cadre of those who step in to lend a hand in this tired world, saving one small life…or not…but they keep working–working so diligently, in fact, that they haven’t the time to talk about themselves or draw attention to their work.  And then, there are those who are the wayfinders, listening to the sounds and guidance that have led us for ages.

Let us be careful who we listen to.

 

Carried

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outstretched handI’ve been out of town for awhile. In Chicago with my son as he has (beautifully) navigates a complicated jaw surgery. We’ve known this was necessary for quite some time. We’ve listened to the list of risks and have taken it all to heart, knowing that while necessary, this surgery is downright frightening. Even in the days, weeks leading up to it I have felt myself preoccupied…drifting off to thoughts of what if’s and logistical questions–how’s this all going to go?

As a mother, even of a 27 year old man, this child will always be my little boy and the thought of putting him into a risky situation wakes me in the night, my brain a swirl of worry. But we needed to do it.

So I’ve been doing my best to align my ducks and prepare to be in the hospital with him, to let go of control and trust the gifted surgeon who would work with us. I’ve let go of schedules and obligations, keeping my eyes on the one thing that’s most important right now–helping my boy navigate this time in his life. There’s a dog to find housing for, there are responsibilities to delegate, there’s a busy nonprofit that needs to be tended in my absence. And knowing all of this, it’s necessary to be able to let go and trust that all will be well.

And truly, with each passing hour and day it’s as if angels are there, taking care of my boy and myself, helping us release what is not a priority and concentrate on our one job at the moment–helping him heal. As I sat in the surgical waiting room last Friday during the 8 hour surgery and additional 4 hours before I could see Alec, gentle nurse liaisons arrived and spoke with me, calling into surgery periodically to let me know that all was going as planned. During the 3 day hospital stay following the surgery, kind hospital staff and our normally fast-moving doctor sat patiently with us and helped us through the questions we had, acting as guides through unfamiliar waters.

At home people picked up the pieces of what I’d left behind. My dear friends took my little dog and when we realized that we’d be in Chicago longer than planned, another sweet friend stepped in and took over with Kyrie.

The Sewing Machine Project work moves continuously, with board members and volunteers working hard on machines and processes and new projects while I am away. When I touch base I am reassured that I’m where I need to be and there’s no need for worry.

It’s truly as if angels are just picking up the pieces of my life and carrying them, carrying us through this challenging time, leaving us free to concentrate on healing. I am moved so deeply by the words and kindnesses of so many and so very grateful for this time and the lessons it contains.

Considering Love

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hands and heartIt feels pertinent to look back as I set intentions for the new year.

Again and again, I find that the word that rises to the surface is Love.

In 2015 I learned a lot about Love. I learned that real honest love is messy–there’s nothing straightforward about it. I learned that love wears an endless number of faces–some that we recognize and many that are new. Love hovers around us patiently waiting, waiting for us to allow it to slip into the cracks in our skin. Love surrounds and holds us even when we don’t recognize its presence. Love buoys us when we’re drowning, slipping, clawing for the surface, asking only that we take its hand and allow it to hold us–not save us–but simply hold us.

Love can be huge and mindblowing. Love can be subtle and quiet. Love can be dirty and messy. Love can sparkle quietly in a phone call from a friend at just the right time, in shared tears at something beyond words, in a touch that moves us to the core.

Recognizing Love’s depth requires listening. So often Love is more in what is felt than in what is said and in order for the message to come across it’s necessary to listen with everything in us. Love is rarely flashy and obvious, in fact when it is, I become suspect. As we all wish for and need love, those forces that want our attention and allegiance, recognizing Love’s power, attempt to take on love’s attributes in order to hook us. They tell us what we must do to deserve love. Be careful there. Because those forces will also warn us what will happen if we do not follow, using fear as a touchstone.  But our hearts contain the divining rod that separates fear and love. Listen carefully, trust your heart, remember that everything you need is already right here and that you always have a choice between fear and love.

I have learned a lot about love this year…the biggest lesson being that I have a lot to learn about Love.

Reset

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IMG_0166“How are we so busy?” a friend and I said to one another recently, “how is it that we cannot seem to find time to sit together and catch up?” We had to laugh at the thought. We are not high level executives, not running from meeting to meeting. How is it then that we find ourselves too busy?

It’s been going on for a month or so on my end. And all that’s happening is good. Of course, “good” in my book can mean new invigorating ideas and it can also mean deeper looks inside myself and contemplation of difficult situations shared by friends. But to me, it’s all life. It’s all important. It’s all good.

The problem is within my own head. Somehow these ideas and situations and commitments and yes, meetings start spinning and they become confusing and in some ways debilitating. The noise becomes too much and I am unable to focus, to concentrate, to think clearly. Meditation helps for awhile but then the noise picks up once again and the din gets close to unbearable. It hit a peak about two weeks ago when sleep was elusive, when my replies became clipped and the thought bubble above my head contained a pretty snarky array of comments.

It was time to hit the reset button.

An introvert through and through, I knew I needed time alone to do this. So I spent the weekend slowing down. This is not to say that I did nothing. It was more a mending of those foundational elements that add a nudge of angst to daily activities–physical work that needed to be done but also left room for my mind to loosen up and my heart to soften. I updated my computer’s operating system–it now runs faster. I washed all of the windows in my house removing dust and cobwebs that had accumulated for far longer than I’d like to admit. While I worked I let my mind wander wherever it wanted to go, and I had to smile as I moved from window to window for in removing the film between me and the outside world I did the same thing for my mind and heart. As the day wore on and the light shown in from the bright fall day I became lighter as well.

Achieving reset is often more difficult than it sounds. And there is no “right” way to do it in fact, I’d guess that there are as many ways to reset as there are beings on the planet. And beyond that, each of us finds many ways to reset depending on the circumstances we face. Sometimes it may call for a solitary space, other times, a walk in the woods. Perhaps sitting around a table with friends. It’s up to us to sense what we need and answer in a way that feeds us but even as I write this I know it’s not that easy. The tricky part is that we can often sense that it’s necessary, we can see the signs as they build, but so often we struggle to find the heartspace or space in our calendars, that alchemy of body, mind, spirit and time which allows it to happen. It’s almost as if our hearts and minds must get to a breaking point, somehow moving us to stop and go deep instead of forward. And once we recognize the need we must find the time and space to allow ourselves to be mended.

My daily prayers take on a higher level of meaning when I hit these raw places for in asking for clarity of heart and mind I need to ask for help in removing the barriers I seem to erect which block spirit from moving through me. Because that’s what it is, isn’t it? We build up these barriers, shouldering on, assuming control, but in building these walls we push spirit aside and try to do all of the work ourselves and everything gets caught up and spinning rather than flowing through us.

By yesterday evening, my windows were clean, the 100 year old glass showing off its wavy pattern etched by rivers of time. Showered and wrapped in a blanket, I sat on the front porch and felt the peace that I’d been missing–mind quiet, heart softened.

And I am grateful that this weekend of resetting worked for me. Sometimes we step away, take a break, only to find that din still murmuring in the background. As I move into this new week I take this renewed openness received through resetting, and I find that the world looks brighter, more approachable, and more possible through my open heart and my clean windows.

Mimi

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Mimi

She came into our lives as a surprise. We weren’t in the market for a new kitten but as she gazed out of the blanket in the doorway of the Humane Society, a tiny gray striped face, we couldn’t help but fall in love.

So Mimi came home with us and stayed for 15 years.IMG_0566

An indoor/outdoor cat, it always seemed that Mimi wanted to be where she wasn’t. Balanced on the narrow rail outside the back door she would stare at me as if willing me to open the door. Once in, she’d sweep through the house, checking her favorite nooks, and having learned to let herself out, she would push the porch door open just wide enough for her sleek gray body to slip back outside. She would balance on the windowsill outside of the front porch window as we sat on the porch, meowing as if to say “hello, can’t you see me? I want to come back in now!”

Mimi was a hunter, felling chipmunks, bunnies and birds from an early age but fortunately, never bringing them to the door to present to us. She was a private cat and kept her hunting quiet, making us squirm as she’d toy with an animal that most certainly would end up as a meal. Neighbors would ask if she was available for hire, a natural predator to keep their gardens free of pesky rodents.

But Mimi was a free agent. She went where she pleased when she pleased, whether lolling on the neighbor’s patio, much to the dismay of their indoor cat, or blithely loping across another neighbor’s yard, causing them to call the local police and having her picked up and tossed in the clink. There seemed to be no taming Mimi…

…and yet…

she would rub up against our legs with an audible purr. She would relax into our arms, cradled like a baby with her legs all atangle and eyes meditating at half mast.IMG_6263

We were a team, Mimi, Kyrie and I. Every night when Kyrie and I would take our final walk around the park, Mimi would follow along, slipping in and out of the shadows, yowling if we left her territory. On longer walks I would coax her along, and free spirit that she was, she’d follow at a distance so as to appear disconnected but letting us know when we needed to slow down and wait.

When Mimi suddenly stopped eating recently and dramatically lost weight I checked in with the vet and there, in her stomach, was a mass, an aggressive tumor that would surely take her down soon. And so, together with the vet, we decided that it was time for Mimi to go, rather than allowing her to linger in pain. There, on my living room floor, we gathered around Mimi, caressing her tiny body, and telling her again and again what a good kitty she was. Kyrie rested quietly by her side. And with the vet’s help, Mimi quietly and peacefully passed.

Courageous hunter, curious explorer, free spirit, Mimi we miss you.