Dec 03 2015

It Takes A Cat

I lost my beloved calico, CiCi, a year ago Thanksgiving Eve (2014). As a tribute to her presence in my life I offer my newest book written under my pen name, EsthersChild.

 

BookCover

 

 

It Takes A Cat

Self-Help: Inspirational, Pets: Cats

Trade Paperback: 7.5 x 9.25 inches, 112 pages.
Publication Date: December 2015
Available on Amazon.com and all major online book retailers. Soon to be available as an e-book.

 

 

 

 

 

It Takes A Cat is a collection of blogs and photos from CiCi’s Garden, which was written over a period of three years. Though some pages are verbatim, most have been reworked for clarity and coherence. Writing a blog is a relaxed endeavor; writing a book calls for greater diligence. It’s like the difference between a paper napkin and linen.

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Nov 19 2012

I turned down my mirrors.

A usually pleasant journey home from my son’s house was turning nasty –and not just the weather.

Foggy darkness coupled with slanting rain on a curvy road made the speed limit categorically unsafe. Rather than fast and faster, I drove slow and slower as visibility lessened dramatically. And it made a guy in a pickup behind me angry.

Turning on his brights he loomed dangerously close to my trunk, so much so that it looked like his headlights were sitting on it. Meant to be intimidating, it was. When I didn’t immediately pull off to the side he applied his horn. Now I was mad.

Not only was there no place to safely pull off, I was blinded by his lights in my rearview mirror even though I had already adjusted it for nighttime driving. To make matters worse, my side mirrors repeated left and right his blinding attack –making the inside of my car look like a football stadium lit up for Super Bowl.

Given two choices –drive into the ditch and die or drive on and get run over by his road rage– I did what any recovered-from-bullying-domestic-violence woman might do: I turned down my mirrors.

The results were immediate. Even though I couldn’t help but be aware of his menacing presence, I was no longer subject to his harassing beams of white anger. In fact, I was able to concentrate on the hazardous road ahead rather than becoming panicky or confused by his assault. A familiar calmness filled my heart in spite of obvious peril –though I admit to a whispered expletive.

Eventually he backed off. Perhaps he realized I was going nowhere but carefully onward. And somewhere between there and home the road behind me darkened, the fog dissipated and the rain let up.

Later, remembered lessons came to me gently: When self-esteem is low –turn down your mirrors! When unwarranted criticism threatens to derail self-confidence –do not allow another person to dominate. When bullied in any way that destroys self-awareness –stay firmly on coarse knowing that you deserve better. Do not retaliate, do not antagonize, do not lose your sense of direction.

I imagine my assailant made it home safely . . . I know I did.

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Oct 28 2012

Out of the writing loop

Out of the writing loop four months –well not completely, just no blog.

Amazing how much writing one does just as a matter of course with emails, text messages, social media. It all adds up, even allows the possibility for one’s heart to spill out in little puddle syllables. Not as satisfying as encasing cogitations in crafted metaphors or an eruption of syntactical phrases flung into verse. Nonetheless, a continuation of the diary of one’s life –snapshots, time ticks, intermission.

Four months. During that time the family went camping for four days on the coast, my youngest granddaughter started high school, a dear friend and her husband celebrated their 30th Anniversary –did you know that the OM symbol forms a lovely 30?

My oldest daughter had surgery, my brother turned 70, another dear friend who will turn 93 this December fell and broke her femur. And besides my regular work schedule I read several books, caught up on a few movies, continued to fall in love with birdsong, ocean surf, evening skies, my grand-babies –highlights on a long joie-de-vie list. I’ve spent time in CiCi’s Garden enjoying its persistent, simple loveliness, this playground/park-like panacea for my beloved cat sentenced to indoor life for her lack of claws.

Though content, I’ve been restless –alarmed by the political scene with all its ugly verbiage, haunted by the inequality and denigration suffered by women globally, sickened by the blatant disregard for human life in too many not-so-faraway places. Because, yes, I take it personally.

I’m offended that politicians assume nasty rhetoric will convince me their position is correct. I’m angry that so many men think religion gives them status above women (along with the right to dominate if not actually maim or kill them). I’m frightened not just by the violence in the Middle East or by atrocities done just south-of-the border. I’m worried by the fact that more and more of US (U.S.A.) are picking up guns and shooting family members, former employers, someone in a car that cut in front of us.

There’s nowhere to run, no place to hide, no way to fix things. So it comes down to what it has always come down to. We can choose to rise above the negative, the hurtful and, more and more, the dangerously hypercritical attitudes that are plaguing and polarizing our nation. In our own being, our own circle of influence, we can decide who we are and how we will interact with others, especially those closest to us, understanding that what we want and need in life does not have to look exactly like what we’ve always envisioned –that something better and more satisfying can exist if we’re not too rigid in our thinking.

I’m feeling again a poem I wrote years ago called The Way of the Eagle:

 Have you ever seen an eagle,

Attacked by birds of prey—

With wings all hurt and bleeding

Trying in the air to stay?

Its victory’s not in battling

For then can foes do harm—

Instead it flies still higher

Where other birds disarm.

Yes, eagles soar and spiral

Where other birds cannot—

When peril would assail them

More altitude is sought!

 

With these words I will pick up where I left off four months ago in July when I wrote about an intersection of providence with happenstance (What if…). Stay tuned.

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Jul 02 2012

What If . . .

It’s a yearly event –usually on Father’s Day. My son rents a pontoon boat on Lake Sonoma and up to twelve family members pile on for four hours of recreation. Usually we head right and go under the bridge, but this year we decided to avoid the jet skiers and so turned left.

Five children ages 13 down to 15-months and six adults settled in while we sped atop the bottle green water of the lake that, when full, has a surface area of more than 2,700 acres and 50 miles of shoreline After 30 minutes or so we found a cove and tied up to one of the bony-naked trees sticking up from a previous life before the construction of Warm Springs Dam in 1983.

We swam, ate our sandwiches and chips, swam some more, ate brownies and watermelon and thoroughly enjoyed being together. The weather was perfect, hovering in the 90’s with a lovely breeze keeping us from feeling too warm. These are the moments when it seems like life can’t get any better.

After awhile we decided to unhitch and go a little further since we hadn’t seen that part of the lake before. As the waters narrowed (relatively, since the lake is broad at every point) we began to pass large rock outcroppings where some swimmers were perched, ready to drop back into the lake. Friends on the opposite side of the shoreline were cheering them on.

We slowed our boat as we passed by the daredevil divers, not wanting to cause any extra wave action. It was then that my daughter spotted a woman halfway across who was swimming in the direction of the rocks. The women raised her hand apparently in greeting, but my daughter didn’t think she looked quite right so kept her eyes on her as we went by.

Then my daughter heard her say ever so weakly, “Come back.”

Obvious now, the woman had misjudged the distance across and was not going to make it. As we frantically turned around –not a speedy process for a pontoon boat –the woman turned onto her back in an effort not to sink. I recalled seeing a sign at the marina listing the number of drownings at Lake Sonoma this year so far. It read “0” but this woman was ready to change that. If she sank she would disappear quickly beneath the murky green water where the current would quickly alter her location.

As we threw her a seat cushion, several of her friends had dropped into the lake and were streaming toward her. Gathering it under herself she affirmed she was okay. We told her we would be back in a few minutes to retrieve the cushion, giving her enough time to make it back to shore.

There are so many “what if” scenarios that can alter or end a person’s life. What if we had chosen to go right instead of left when we began our trip? What if we had lingered an extra 10 minutes at our swimming cove? What if my daughter had not been alert enough to keep her eyes on the woman, even after she had apparently just waved in a friendly manner?

Fortunately, we did turn left, our timing was precise, my daughter was alert – and the sign at the Lake Sonoma marina still registers “0“.

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May 06 2012

Howard Stern

Howard Stern wants to interview me. He just finished reading my book Darkness Overturned and wants to know who I am NOW.

Finally, I think. Someone gets it that being a survivor of child abuse and, later, domestic violence isn’t an identity. It’s a beginning.

Oh, wait . . . it’s only a dream! Not the identity part, but I woke up this morning form this vivid dream about Howard Stern. Who would’ve thought! Just the same I feel deeply grateful, somehow, as if I was going to be given a chance to let a lot of survivors believe in the hereafter –the normal life they can have after being ground down to nothing.

I understand it doesn’t happen overnight, and for too many it doesn’t happen at all. Being a survivor can be addictive. People tend to hover over a survivor, to encourage them, to offer to do things for them –not a bad thing to begin with. But when a survivor attains a sort of celebrity in a community, it can be pretty heady stuff for someone who isn’t sure who they are anymore or who never had a chance to develop a healthy self-identity in the first place. A community that wants to be known as caring can inadvertently freeze-dry a survivor into a poster child for bravery, even heroism. It becomes who they are rather than what they’ve been through.

Writing my book was cathartic, not just for me but later for my children who sadly were drug under the wheels of my wagon. After the book won an Angel Award (under its original title) I was asked to tour with it. Having written it under a pen-name, I declined. I didn’t want my life to become a tabloid of sorts while my kids were still vulnerable. Later, having missed the opportunity to make a name for myself as an award-winning author, I felt cheated.

It took several years for me to realize that it was a blessing in disguise to miss out on fame at that time in my life. Most likely it would have freeze-dried me as a survivor and as the young, overly religious woman in my story. Now, some 20+ years later with several successful job identities in tow (editor of an alumni magazine for a 4-year liberal arts college, executive director of a community foundation, to name a couple), I know who I am. And though I choose to reach back to other women who have not yet found their way completely out of the shadows, it is what I do, not who I am.

This truth is reflected in my mantra:

I AM A POWERFUL, PASSIONATE, SPIRITUAL, LOVING WOMAN!

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Apr 23 2012

Birdsong

Early morning and at dusk I am especially charmed by birdsong. Sometimes on the way home from work, slowed by traffic on the two-lane road leading into town, I hear a riotous bird choir in a tree or their lilting calls over a vineyard. It always has the same affect on me –I am momentarily engulfed by gratitude.

Impulsively, I say “thank you” out loud to God, to the Universe, to the More that exists beyond earthquakes, tornadoes, global warming or any of the tragedies that plague humanity that are caused by (or helped along by) humanity.

Simple birdsong for me is magical, carrying in its resonant diversity tones of hope, verve, pure enjoyment. Throughout my early years birds were like little linchpins holding my shattered world together in spontaneous mosaic. When I heard them sing I was transported beyond trouble to knowing that being alive was an inestimable gift, that my story was unfinished, that for me beauty would prevail.

It was like their chirps and warbles were saying,

Look beyond what you perceived to what your eyes miss.

Life can be dangerous and at the same time sublime.

Cherish BEING. Live, live, live!

Perhaps a bird’s eye view of the world looks like this:

Tree Maiden

Swinging Monkey

               

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mice Staircase

Could you help but sing if you sat in one of these . . .

. . . or lived there!

 

For me, birdsong is excelsior every day of the year!

 

 

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Mar 13 2012

Lobbing the Scone

For thirteen years I have had occasion to take the short walk to our neighbor’s adjoining condo –a simple few steps from our door to his.

On the weekends my husband usually makes a trip to the local bakery then shares some of the goodies with our neighbor now into his 80’s and alone since his wife passed a few years ago. A couple weeks ago this pleasant task fell to me.

Or should I say, I fell to the task . . .

It’s one of those happenings you see in slow motion even as it occurs. A few steps from our neighbor’s door both my hands flew up as I went down, eyes fixed on the white bakery sack as it arced up and away from me. All I remember thinking was, I hope the scone doesn’t fall out!

 It didn’t. I successfully lobbed it unscathed into a tangle of dried roots a few feet away.

After sitting for a stunned moment, groaning and embarrassed though no one witnessed my tumble, I got up, retrieved and delivered the scone, returned home and took four Advil. Within a few hours, however, I realized my injury was not simple bruising. When my husband returned later in the evening, we drove to the local E.R. where I learned I had fractured my left elbow. Wearing a sling, icing, and now in physical therapy, it will take eight weeks for my bone to reknit.

Is there a lesson here for me? Our neighbor (yes, the very same one!) often says, No good deed goes unpunished! –but I don’t think that’s it.

Watch your step!  Be careful!  Pay attention!

Echoes of admonishments often tinged with reprimand. Guilty until you prove yourself innocent. Assumption of innate carelessness, thoughtless abandon, negligence . . .

Hmmm. Actually, I think the lesson for me is that there is no lesson here –just an unfortunate slip on the sidewalk on an otherwise perfectly lovely day!

In itself it has been a major lesson for me to understand that I don’t need to probe every event in my life with diligence so as not to miss valuable how-to-find-happiness clues. Obedient no longer to internal demands imposed by an unhappy childhood and troubled youth amplified by later years of false steps and disappointments, I am finally free to fall.

I have learned that life happens. Trading in my fears for uncomplicated, eyes wide open, authentic dreams, I may sometime fall or get caught in a downpour of trouble. And as long as life lasts I will choose dreams over fear.

Photograph by Shikhei Goh - 2011 National Geographic Photography Contest Winner

One of my favorite songs is sung by Josh Groban – Let Me Fall (From Cirque De Soleil). Some of the words:

Let me fall . . .
There’s a moment when fear
And dreams must collide

Someone I am
Is waiting for courage
The one I want
The one I will become
Will catch me

Won’t you join me in choosing dreams over fear? It’s a perfectly lovely day to do so!

 

 

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Feb 26 2012

Family

For the most part I am realistic about my connections to people. I don’t call acquaintances friends and I don’t mistake friends for family, however close we might be or how precious I count them.

For many years I was bereft of family. My mother shrank from relationships, shriveling emotionally until she reduced herself to a voluntary shut-in, even pinning cloth to the bottom of her curtains as if to ensure privacy. My heart ached for her and for the years of loss of family she engineered –not just for herself but for me.

The truncation of family intensified after my parents divorced when I was twelve. Not only did my mother retreat even further into her personal isolation, any lingering connection to my father’s family in Switzerland was denounced. Tight lipped and cynical, my mother’s words were consistent and final: They do not exist.

I understood her hatred of my father. Although I didn’t hate him, I feared him –but Switzerland I loved! So began my recurring dreams of me flying like Peter Pan’s Wendy. Except I flew high above alpine meadows over a land that to me was far more alluring than where pirates, Indians, little boys and a crocodile held sway. It would be fifty years before I was able to fly there in reality to reclaim a connection to the one remaining member of my father’s immediate family.

An artist and poet, somewhere in her youth my mother became wounded and fragile, then defensive and bitter. Wearing her pain like a garland of resentments, she inadvertently crafted a yoke of sorrow and rancor from which she never recovered. I was paralyzed by her negativity and could not find it in myself to try to connect to family while she remained alive. By the time she passed just before her 84th birthday, the trail was cold and even though I scolded myself, I remained inert.

A lovely peacefulness now resides inside me. I am surrounded by a vibrant and growing family in the persons of my children and their spouses and their children –my grandchildren. And at least one side of my roots is intact. I am in possession of a marvelous family tree upon which are written the ten generations of my Swiss heritage going back to the mid 1500’s. Only my mother’s side of the family remains unexplored. Though I have begun to try to trace them tentatively through Ancestry.com, it still feels like I’m reaching into an empty cookie jar –without permission.

I enjoy and value interactions with my neighbors, workmates, colleagues, and most especially my friends. Each person holds a unique place in my life. However, I do not splash them with colors not their own. Meaning that though I will forever miss not having a relationship with my mother that I so desperately wanted and needed, I am not looking for a mother figure to fill in for her. So I treasure my relationship with a lovely woman in her early 90’s as positively one of my dearest friends.

The only father I ever needed turned out to have many names, some of the most familiar being Jehovah, Yahweh, Elohim, Allah, Supreme Being –and my favorite as a battered and abandoned young woman: Abba, which literally means “Daddy”.

Though my sister died tragically before I could enjoy an adult relationship with her, I do not seek her replacement. Rather, I luxuriate in the present closeness shared with local women –who to a person acknowledges our global sisterhood with all women, many of whom remain shackled by unenlightened creeds and customs.

Lastly, my brother who is basically nonfunctional emotionally and physically, does not create a “brother space available” placard on the lawn of my heart. One of the online definitions of brother by Merriam-Webster is “one related to another by common ties or interests” –so I am adequately covered there!

Having said all this, at the end of the day as I think about family and friends I am reminded of a lovely quote by Ram Dass:

We’re all just walking each other home. 

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Jan 15 2012

Why I Do Not Cling To Truth

When I wrote my book Darkness Overturned (originally titled Light Through the Dark Glass) I was deeply religious, clinging to the reality of God as my Father –and to the church. I believed in the “straight and narrow way” and sought approval not just from the Almighty, but from church leaders and my brothers and sisters in the family of God.

Believing gave me exactly what I needed and had been sorely lacking as a teenager trapped in a history of familial abuse: a foundation upon which to steady my shattered life, a lens though which I might decipher day-to-day events often confusing and disorienting, and hope for a future free from the pain and despair that plagued my existence.

Where before I had been in free fall I was now encased by instruction and supervision, defined by dogma and association, motivated by revelation and prophecy. I was swaddled tightly as it were, and felt comforted and calmed since I had had no sense of myself before embracing religion. I moved into the house of God and loved its floors, walls and ceiling –albeit a confining space.

As my life progressed I was assailed by repeated false steps and domestic violence. I dug deeper and deeper into religion, finding Biblical meaning where earthly reality made no sense. My head was bowed to the floor and I pulled the walls in around me as close as possible.

Tortured yet ever hopeful, nonetheless I was learning to believe in something far less structured as religion and the church: MYSELF. Through church teachings the scriptures were directive and confining, but I was also catching a glimpse of my value –which gave me the courage to embrace self-worth. My view of myself began to change dramatically once I grasped that my circumstances do not define who I am. And in time I would need a larger space in which to live, one less confining than obedience and submission. The rest is history . . . a lovely awakening of my heart to the enormity of “truth” and its abundant, permeating presence throughout our universe.

The truth you believe and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new. ~Pema Chodron

I do not regret my embrace of religion –it was exactly what I needed and surely saved me and moved me toward normalcy. I am grateful, however, that I grew beyond clinging to its security. The fact that I am not captured by religious authority has not severed me from spirituality. If anything I am even more open to sense and experience the nuances of what to me is sacred, mystical, and endlessly evolving around me.

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Jan 02 2012

Golden Passages

On the day after Thanksgiving my husband went wine tasting. I went for a walk, needing to exercise after my blissful enjoyment of an abundance of sumptuous food. Happy inside and out, I wanted to experience the delightfully crisp air and gawk at bedazzling fall colors before the trees succumbed to winter’s ongoing blitz of cold and colder.

Energized by peace –yes, peace can be energizing– my thoughts orbited freely like the brightly colored leaves being tossed about by an intermittent wind. Leaves were twirling into piles beneath the limbs from which they fell, creating bright scatter rugs of red, orange and yellow. As I cut diagonally across the street to head north I gasped. Before me lay a golden passage perfect in unassuming beauty fit for royalty, a returning victor, a bride on her way to her beloved.

On the weekend before Christmas the family took our traditional ride on the Christmas Train from Willits, a pajamaed jumble of kids, parents, sugar cookies, hot chocolate, guitar music and Santa –a delightful version of the Polar Express! Afterward my daughter invited me to spend the night rather than traverse dark country roads quickly turning icy.

I arose early and headed home. It was cold and foggy outside but I was warmed deep inside, still feeling the sweet tumble of my grandchildren from the day before. The road was mine with only an occasional car coming in the opposite direction, lights blurred into rosettes. In the distance to the right I saw a large, reddish-yellow glow. Oh dear, a fire? Though it looked to be contained, it must be colossal! Negotiating several mist-swathed curves, I lost sight of it and was wrapped again in predawn murkiness. Around the next corner I was enveloped in blazing, pure gold light that seemed almost soft in texture. Sunrise –another golden passage!

Now it is the New Year. I didn’t get my book written last year, but I lost weight, started yoga classes and am staying healthy. My family expanded by one grandchild and I am feeling blessed. The future, as always, is a mystery –a present to unwrap one day at a time. Uncertainty must abide probability, insecurity will yield to self-reliance, and loss will be bested by abundance –of this I am certain. Because transient as life is, there are unbidden moments of glory that come to me, reminding me that my life is beyond price, essential, significant.

I am royalty, a returning victor, a bride on her way to her beloved. Enveloped in an internal sunrise I choose to walk in life through golden passages of LOVE, JOYFULNESS, and OPTIMISM.

I invite you to do the same!



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Oct 04 2011

Peanut Butter and Jelly

Happy Birthday, Austin!

You have the sometimes bemoaned distinction of being a middle child. Sandwiched in between a spirited big sister and a rambunctious younger brother

What role do you take in the family?

It has often been said that middle children have to try a little harder to be heard, which can sometimes make them feel insecure.

Do you feel that way sometimes?

Let me assure you, you don’t need to compete. Your natural inquisitiveness and enjoyment of learning and attention to detail will take you wherever you want to go.

Besides, you are so interesting and fun to listen to!

Being in the middle is not a bad place to be. Occasionally it gives you time to be alone in your private world where quietness becomes a canvass upon which to paint your dreams. I know you like to curl up on the top bunk in your room and read, to lose yourself in stories of brave lads who fight fantastic beings and bring peace to troubled places.

Do you ever imagine yourself being like them?

I believe at heart you ARE a peacemaker. You are careful, watchful, loving. I have witnessed this time and again –like last Christmas when you received a gift you already had. Instead of keeping it for yourself to exchange for something else later, you immediately gave it to your younger brother because you knew he would enjoy it.

Your pleasure in his pleasure was delightful!

I believe a middle child is like the peanut butter and jelly in a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich –a favorite lunch, by the way, for millions!

So, Austin, on this your 10th birthday, think of yourself as a peanut-butter-and-jelly boy. It isn’t second place; it’s a first rate, wonderful position to be in.

It suits you well!

Love, Grams



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Sep 24 2011

13 Rainbows

My husband was diagnosed with fast-growth prostate cancer when in his early 50’s. The doctor took me aside and told me he probably would be dead in five years if he didn’t do something –fast!

Far too young for such a prognosis, especially since we had been married barely two years, it was a horrible jolt to even begin to contemplate such an outcome. It was like being told, “Go catch a fish before nightfall,” without being given a fishing pole or even told where the lake was, let alone where to find proper bait or the best spot to succeed.

Fortunately a friend of mine’s husband, who was much older, had undergone a procedure called Brachytherapy that was not only life saving, but allowed him to avoid the dreaded side effects of incontinence and ED. So after researching this procedure along with all other options, my husband opted for this surgery. A few months later, over Spring Break he underwent the procedure from a doctor who had pioneered the method in the U.S. and had some 7,000 surgeries to his credit.

A couple of days later as we began our long drive home across three states I tried to cheer my husband, saying that we were on Spring Brachy. He was uncomfortable and as yet unsure that his life had been spared, thus was understandably cranky and did not appreciate my humor. He was also radioactive with 150+ seeds the size of ⅛ inch pencil leads that had been placed in and around his tumor. Nightfall I told him he would probably glow in the dark –again not received as particularly funny.

And so the PSA roller-coaster ride began: drops, spikes, further drops, another spike. A year later my husband was told he needed to go to yet another surgeon for a second biopsy to find out if things were going as they should. Half the distance we traveled the first time for his surgery, we began our drive in the opposite direction through drenching rain and thunder. The only detail that seemed compensatory for such a stressful trip was that we saw six rainbows. I was exuberant! My husband, though cautiously hopeful, remained anxious and fretful.

After the dreaded exam, the following day we began to retrace our steps, again with thunderstorms and heavy rain, again with the appearance of several rainbows –five to be exact. We had collected 11 rainbows in two days! Ninety miles from home the storms began lessening, the rain dwindling, when I had a thought.

My husband and I independently like the number 13. It was his draft number (he didn’t get sent to war); I believe in abundance (the extra roll in a baker’s dozen). Our wedding anniversary is on the 13th. Wouldn’t it be wonderful –a sign even– if we saw two more rainbows before reaching home. It seemed unlikely, but I decided to watch for them.

The next rainbow we saw was double, vividly brilliant with color!

“You know what this means, don’t you?” I asked my husband who had counted each rainbow with me up and down the freeway –up and down like his PSA. “You are home SAFE! You are going to be fine. You don’t have to worry about prostate cancer anymore.”

Ten years later it has proven to be true. And when my husband is faced with other potentially life interrupting phenomenon, he has a mantra:  I am the man with 13 rainbows!

When I need it, it’s my mantra, too –I have a man’s with 13 rainbows!!

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Sep 04 2011

The Coyote with Five Legs

The creature darted onto the highway just in time to connect with my brother-in-law’s front bumper. His daughter heard a thump but only saw a blur out of the corner of her eye, something hairy flying in the air towards the ditch.

“What was that?” Julia asked her dad as he quickly stopped the car.

“I think I hit a coyote,” he replied. “We’d better make sure it’s dead so it doesn’t suffer.”

Oh, yuk, she thought. This could be pretty messy. Even though she was a health caregiver, she didn’t relish the almost certain carnage she was about to see.

Stepping out of the car she immediately saw something on the road behind the car –a leg!

I’m not going to look at it, she told herself as she quickly walked by the limb, deliberately focusing on the ditch beyond. It must have been ripped from the poor animal upon impact. She could only hope that her dad would find it first and that it was already dead. There would be lots of blood from losing a leg is such a forceful manner.

Julia spotted the animal first. As she stared at its lifeless body she felt confused. It looked perfect, almost like it was just asleep. And it had four legs. She counted them twice.

“Dad, it has four legs!” she reported incredulously, still a little in shock at what had just transpired. “But I saw one of its legs on the road!”

“Well,” her dad responded, keeping the chuckle out of his voice as best he could, “he was probably carrying his dinner across the highway when I hit him.

So the leg wasn’t his, technically, unless possession is 9/10ths of coyote law.

As I heard my husband’s niece tell this story, I was struck by how traumatized she had been. How determined she was to see as little as she could, leaving her wide open to conjecture about having to view the gory details of a dismembered animal.

Julia can laugh, now, about the coyote with five legs –and we all laughed with her. But my mind wouldn’t let the story go so easily.

There was a time in my life when calamity and heartbreak, yes even tragedy, dogged my life like an unpaid landlord. Over time I found myself imagining events and outcomes of equal or worse devastation as were those that were really happening. Once I realized what I was doing I had to work very hard to stop these negative mental visualizations.

Perhaps it was then that I began choosing the direction I allowed my mind to travel –and understanding that there were always good things upon which to dwell. Contrasts between darkness and light, I chose light until darkness was overturned in my life.



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Aug 22 2011

Grape Orchards and Apple Vines

Today, in the 13th summer of my youngest granddaughter, she and I got into my car, put the top down, fastened our seat belts and sped away for a just-us time together. Sporting matching pink flower print hats with sparkly bling added for effect and curly pink ribbon ponytails, we waved picture-taking family adieu, heater on to mitigate a cool, misty morning. Even before we were out of sight the chatter began.

“I went bungee jumping yesterday, Grams! It was scary but soooo much fun . . .”

Watching her out of the corner of my eye as I drove through town towards the freeway, I smiled at her exuberance. She is thirteen-going-on-ten, not twenty. Good. There are too many thir-twenty-year-olds in this world –girls anxious to be instant adults, to experience life in advance rather than to allow their petals to open unhurriedly.

Only on the freeway briefly, we turned onto a winding road that would take us through farmlands, orchards and vineyards to the forest and finally to our destination –a funky, artsy, out-of-the-way little town rich in history and short on swagger.

Founded in 1876, it was a stop on the North Pacific Coast Railroad connecting Cazadero to the Sausalito ferry, and at one point was a center of the county’s “neo-hippie” movement. As we parked our car and began our meander through shops filled with uniquely crafted pottery, jewelry, clothing –much of which is locally made– we hugged often, laughed easily, enjoying our special moment in time together.

Oilclothed tables set outside on a worn-out porch was our choice of venue for lunch with forks and spoons that looked to be some great grandma’s kitchenware. The sun broke as we sipped mint chip milkshakes (organic milk, fresh churned ice-cream) and downed yummy sandwiches and homemade french-fries and asked the waitress to take our picture.

After visiting a Golden Retriever in the back of a pickup parked nearby and popping into a couple more shops on the other side of the street, we headed back to our car for the ride home. Full up with food, fun and affirmations, our laughter caught on the wind as my granddaughter mixed it up as we passed “grape orchards” and “apple vineyards” and clusters of “pink ladies” with naked stems.

Taking “wheeee” curves out of the forest we leveled out and caught sight of butterflies winging across cut field grass. Before long the backdrop of hills behind my son’s house came into view and my car momentarily sped along the freeway than slowed as we made our way back to familiar streets and home. Neither one of us wanted it to be over.

Actually, I thought–Sweetie, it’s only beginning . . .

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Aug 01 2011

Timekeeper, Gatekeeper

In our Women’s Circle of four, I have become the Keeper –mostly meaning that I am the one who keeps track of everyone’s birthday. But I also keep track of when we first started meeting and the number of years we’ve done so (eight years this past month).

We met a few days ago to celebrate a birthday, sharing Chinese food, laughter, and meaningful conversation. As is our custom, we exchanged small gifts. I was delighted to receive a set of little magnetic bookmarks, one of which was decorated with a Chinese symbol for ENERGY.

ENERGY

I have been feeling tired lately, so welcomed this symbol into my heart. Interesting how the universe reflects back to us our state of being –then offers counterpoint and restoration. It reminded me that I am also a Gatekeeper –a guardian of my own heart and mind.

As I choose ENERGY, my whole being awakens with renewed strength and resolve.

Through the years I have observed that what I focus on I become, and that it is much more difficult to guard the gate to my inner self when I haven’t been getting the rest I need. Then those predictable gate crashers –sadness, anger, confusion, distrust– charge the walls of my inner being exactly where I am the weakest, which is usually at points where life has not come to me kindly.

So, as I choose ENERGY and experience an immediate response of inner strength, I resolve to get more sleep at night and to continue to let go of past events –past meaning years ago, an hour ago, and everything in between.

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Jul 25 2011

From Grief to Gratitude

Even in a down-turned economy $1,000 goes a long way. But sometimes, when the $1,000 are counted in pesos, we Americans can momentary feel shorted.

South of the Boarder it costs around $99 pesos for a sack of dog food, $55 pesos for a meal at Burger King, and $49 pesos for a movie theater ticket. Not so bad considering it takes some $1,000 Zimbabwean to buy a jar of pasta sauce, a pack of diapers, or a small can of coffee –if available.

Our world is full of barter and swaps, not just monetary but social and personal as well. Buy 2 get 1 free, scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, tit for tat. Trying to stay upbeat most of us play along, cutting our losses, hedging our bets, trying to mitigate the results of less-than-best available choices. Our world view, our cultural bias, our education or lack of it, our financial footing –all impact our willingness and/or ability to negotiate.

Not long ago our beautiful redwood trees in front of our home had to be removed. I was distraught and angry at their loss. Only as I became aware of the resultant gift of light did I open my emotions to the future, becoming hopeful, than enthusiastic, even excited. We would look for a red maple tree to plant where the redwoods once stood –an exchange of sorts and much more suitable to the available space.

We found our tree in a small nursery. When we saw the Emperor One, a brilliant red setting it apart from all the other maples, my excitement blossomed into joy. A few days after planting this graceful beauty I was broadsided by feelings of disloyalty.

Was my proclaimed, deeply felt love of nature, fickle? How could I so quickly move from grief to gratitude –seemingly at the expense of our two magnificent giants turned into mere timber? Was I experiencing a kind of moral recession with the value of my emotional currency diminished? Inside my being I heard,

Crimson for crimson, foliage for wood, death of the giants, grief understood.

The gaping wound in my heart, left by the severing of our redwoods and gutting of their table-sized stumps, has been healed by the planting of a radiantly alive, red-leafed tree regally holding sway over the garden beneath its shade.

For me, grief has consistently given way to freshness of life. It is not a betrayal to embrace hope, to reach for possibility, to welcome perspective –and to move to gratitude. One of my favorite quotes is credited to missionary David Livingstone:

I will go anywhere as long as it’s forward.

Yes, I will go anywhere –anywhere! anywhere! –as long as it’s forward!

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