Christin's Words from Sunshine Hill

If it is to be music
you must be present to it, must offer to it
a profound self-remembering.
-from Altar Music

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Jeans in the Closet--Socks in the Drawer

Seven months have passed and John’s still gone. This morning the half moon gleamed overhead and in the east a fiery dawn lit the clouds behind the mountains. I reflect now on how accurately Joan Didion described at least this part of grieving in her book, The Year of Magical Thinking. “John’s still gone” implies he will come back. “That the dead stay dead is a daily surprise,” says Jan Johnson in her book A Music No Longer Heard. Is this why his glasses are still on the dresser, his Lee Jeans hang washed and ready to wear in his closet, his socks are still in his sock drawer?

Is it really seven months I asked myself when I came back inside? I clicked them off on my fingers: April, May, …. Yes. Seven months. Then the thought: That I lost track of the months is actually a sign of progress. Widow-making is a slow process. The gestation period is slower than that for birth, and yet it is also a kind of birth into a new life. Some people tell me they hate the word, widow. I don’t mind it at all. It’s a very ancient word, going all the way back to the Sanskrit, vidhuh, meaning “lonely,” or “solitary.” It went on in close form to all the Sanskrit based languages right into the Latin viduus "bereft, void"), from base *weidh- "to separate" (cf. second element in L. di-videre "to divide." There’s a reality to the word that is hard to come by in day to day life. I mean, living it out is hard. But it’s a clean thing, pure. It’s a practice. It’s a kind of pregnancy during which I devote myself to giving birth to a new life.

But those 36/34 Lee Jeans still hang in the closet.

Nevertheless, I am re-creating myself and I can feel it. I changed my hair style this week. At first I did this because I dread styling salons which is why my hair grew so long for twenty years. John would trim the ends, and that was all. And now I’ve tired even of that trendy fashion I chose this summer. First, it requires a hair stylist. And besides, there’s too much blowing dry. Too much curling iron. I’m putting it back in a clip instead. At lunch yesterday my friend, Lynn, approved. “You look like a writer,” she said, “and those dangly earrings complete the image.” OK. That’s real.

And I’m writing a new novel. It’s a story I thought I might write if ever I found myself alone. Well…. AND during Advent I’m giving a talk at a church in Ashland, “Advent Contemplation: Prayer in Times of Darkness and Uncertainty.” Maybe in the future I will give workshops again--maybe even resume the practice of spiritual guidance I formerly did in Minnesota. Lynn and I have some ideas for projects we might do together.

I woke up this morning with thoughts of making a sign to hang at the entrance to the drive. Those artists/potters on the way up to Applegate Lake have a sign-- “Hummingbird House.” I could have one too. Maybe it will say “Sunshine Hill.”

Saturday, October 18, 2008

ORION IN THE MORNING

ORION IN THE MORNING

It’s hunting season here where wildlife still is taken for food. The young men who painted my house want to use my property to access the wild lands in the mountains above me. It’s the time of year to fill the freezers with meat for the winter. Venison and turkey. There’s no question of trophy hunting, the meat of the big buck is way too tough. The deer come down into my yard each night and eat the rose bushes. The young men noticed that.

Remembering how my father also was a hunter and how our family stocked the freezer every fall with duck and partridge and deer and moose from up by the Canadian border where we lived, I told the young men yes. The deer eluded them, but that’s how hunting is. I confess to a preference for the hunter over the slaughterer when it comes to taking the life of an animal for food. There’s an exchange of energy between the hunter and the deer. A connection.

But that is not the theme I intended when I began to write. I meant to tell you that when I let little Mo out first thing this morning Orion still was striding across the sky. I don’t see him yet at night, now that I’m going early to bed. Judging from his position this morning, midpoint in the sky, I suspect he doesn’t stride over from the east until about three A.M. He’s probably still up there now that the sun has risen, making his way towards the western horizon.

Grief is a hunter. That’s what I thought this morning. It will be seven months tomorrow since John died. I’m hunting. I’m hungry. Sources of food elude me. I’m striding the mountains, sword in my belt, seeking a kind of being I’ve rarely encountered -- the one who gives life without dying. The sword I carry is not to bring death but to cut through illusion. I’m hungry for reality, for the truth, for love that is available always and everywhere.

That sounds good, but I got carried away. Hunting is often an exhausting business. Grieving is also. Hunting consists in watching for tracks, for scat, for broken twigs, and many times results in returning home empty-handed and still hungry. Tim and Clint came down the mountain the other night, thanked me and said, “Nothing for supper tonight.” They can, of course, stop for an Arby’s on the way home, but it’s not the same.

I’ve seen the tracks of Being. I’ve wondered at the bent twigs of a perhaps knowing. A sudden cry in the woods can set my heart burning. But the hunt is still on.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

One Thing

I just came inside from a few minutes on the hammock. Little Mo and I had just made our migration around the yard, and I’d hooked his leash onto the hammock chain, realizing that I’d need to buy a longer, light weight rope for this purpose. As I lay there with Mo stretched out to his full eighteen inches underneath me, with Rita curled up on her bed in the garage, with Laila out hunting, and with Louie … somewhere, I don’t know where-- I tried to empty my mind for a space of time. Like Martha I’ve been busy with many things--most of them unimportant things or else important things over which I have no control. The sunlight shone through the oak branches. The leaves turn in autumn differently here than in Minnesota. Here the heat gets them. The dryness gets them. They curl and crinkle and turn bronze. In Minnesota the chill brought color even while the leaves still lived. They not only caught the sunlight, they let it through, tinting it.

The hammock was still, and I realized: I’m thinking. I’m comparing different times of my life. Is it because this new time feels so unknown? Am I prepared for this, or am I intent upon recovering past time? I pull my attention in from the oak leaves. You are living in metaphors, I tell myself. The leaves. The dogs. Minnesota. Oregon. Can you live in your own being? Can you be still? And even that is metaphor because right away it brings Eliot’s poetry to mind -- “We must be still and still moving, into another intensity/ For a further union, a deeper communion,/ Through the cold dark and the empty desolation, ... In my end is my beginning.”

During the first six months of grieving, I moved fast. Too fast. So much to do. Plans to make. Trips to take. Visitors to enjoy. Learning to do. A lawn to mow. And now the house to prepare for winter. It doesn’t seem like much, compared to past involvements, and maybe that is what fooled me into thinking that even with things to do, I wasn’t doing enough. I wasn’t moving fast enough. The family reunion and Krista’s wedding both put me on an emotional high that fostered the illusion that I must have completed the really hard time. But the hard time is the being alone and still. Winter is coming and that feels just right.

Liz told me yesterday that her chemo-recovery therapist told her to slow down. She had no idea she was moving too fast. She wasn’t getting everything done, so how could she be moving too fast? But the feedback monitors told the tale---yes, Liz was moving too fast. Slow down. We’ll never get enough done, I guess. None of us will. That doesn’t need to be a depressing thought. It can be a freeing thought.

Both dogs sleep a lot. They become alert, though, in an instant, when the moment calls them to action. There aren’t a whole lot of things to do. There is now. THIS thing. This song to sing. This room to clean. This sentence to write.

Why be busy about many things when only one thing is necessary? This moment. This stillness. This sentence. This communion.

Love always,
Christin

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Rose and a Bee

Dear Ones,
I’m on a United Airlines small jet, flying from Denver to Medford, coming home from a trip to Minnesota for my niece, Krista’s wedding. Outside the window the clouds are puffs of white between the plane and the mountains. I don’t really know where we are, except that we must be not quite half way from Denver to the little Medford airport. It was hard to leave Liz who, even just as I was arriving, told me that the visit was too short. There wouldn’t be enough time. There’s never enough time--have you noticed? This morning she looked at me and reminded me of that again, that she was right, sure enough--there wasn’t enough time. But she was tired today, not just from the wedding (which was a glorious, beautiful, loving, playful experience) but also from her chemotherapy treatment on Thursday. She’s into her fifth month of weekly infusions. No wonder she is tired.

And, oh my goodness, we did so much in these ten days! First there were the preparations with all those last minute wonderings about what was forgotten or maybe not clear to participants. And would all the bridesmaids show up??? And how would we transport the wedding arch we’d wound with multicolored autumn leaves and flowers? I can’t possibly describe the entire thing--and you’ve all planned or been part of or been guests at weddings, so let your imagination range to its most creative.

The wedding was at Lake Itasca, in northern Minnesota, at the headwaters of the Mississippi River. The groom’s father works for the DNR at the state park there. It’s pretty difficult to imagine a place more beautiful. Pure Minnesota--the way the lake reflects the trees and sky, the way water lilies line the shore, the way cattails grow along the roads, the way the water tumbles over rocks to begin its over 2000 mile journey to New Orleans.
We thought it might rain--which would have been ok, we admitted even while we wished it wouldn’t, because the theme of the wedding was a combination of autumn color and of life-giving water--the river, of course, as a symbol of marriage--but also of all kind of water: rain, tears of joy and sorrow, birthing water, the water that quenches thirst, ocean water…

Liz, Steve, David, Erika, little Varrah, and I all stayed right in the park (and Krista and Jeffry Karels had a honeymoon cabin there after the wedding). I had a little cabin to myself. Liz and the others were in rooms at Douglas Lodge. On the day of the wedding out came the sun!

Do you remember how John loved yellow roses? (and you must remember how much Krista loved her Uncle John). Well, I was performing the ceremony. Behind me was the wedding arch with brilliant yellow flowers at the very top. Krista and Jeffry were smiling as we went through the wedding words, and then all at once they were looking up above me and sort of poking at each other. I thought they were about to break out in laughter. “What’s up there?” I inquired just above a whisper. “A BEE, on one of the yellow flowers!” Krista grinned. It stayed there during the entire ceremony--and later, Krista told me that she figured it was her Uncle John. Well, maybe it was. Maybe he had his one word to say to them: “Be!” That sums up his philosophy of life.

When the ceremony was over, and pictures had been taken of Krista and her bridesmaids and flower girl up to their knees in the Mississippi, Krista took a yellow rose from her wedding bouquet and set it afloat down the river -- “for Uncle John,” she said. There’s a picture taken by her photographer. I’ll try to upload it once I’m home.

After the wedding Liz and Steve and I drove to their ranch in McLeod, ND. It’s on the very edge of the national grasslands. They have maybe 13 acres and a very old farmhouse. It’s a get-away for them: big sky, breathtaking land, a tiny town that has known Kensinger’s for longer than anybody I asked can remember. Steve’s father, Ken, is leading a project to create a museum so that the history of that place will not disappear. He spent an entire afternoon with me, taking me around to the various buildings and even out into the country where the beginning of the sand dunes of grassland can be seen…the sand HILLS, I should say. We all rode on his “People Mover,” a sort of large wagon (like on a hayride) to which he has attached seats from an old school bus to make it comfortable. He pulls it with a tractor. The wind blows through your hair. The prairie is all around you. I was entranced.

And later: guess what I did! Steve said to me, “Now YOU have to drive the tractor.” My first thought was, “Oh, I don’t think so. No, I can’t do that,” because it was BIG. And then the flash of my own little tractor lawn mower came to mind, and I heard myself saying, “Oh, why not?” AND I DID! So it just goes to show -- something. Something like we can do things we never imagined we could?

Afterwards, back in Burnsville, Liz and I did nothing for a whole day. We both were completely exhausted. I would have liked to see so many of my friends from Minnesota, but just couldn’t--not with my deep desire to be spending as much time with my sister as is possible. Last night David and Erika had all of us, including the newlyweds, over to their beautiful home in Richfield. Liz’s birthday came during all the festivities, and so we had a feast of love and food and family and little Varrah Claire who captured the center of attention.

My Jeff will be picking me up at the Medford Airport. He’s spent a week on Sunshine Hill--I hope it’s been a good experience for him. It turns out he can do his work from there--so he could also keep Rita, Laila and Louie company so they wouldn’t get too lonesome. I was gone a long time.

We are still flying over mountains. What a beautiful world.

September 14th -- morning:
I’m at home now in my writing room. It’s a brilliant day, and Jeff has already driven down the hill towards home in California. Me??--I’m planning to rest all day long. Thanks to Liz and Steve and the whole Kensinger and Karels clan for a wonderful time.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Bearing Witness

My cousin, Shirley, and her daughter, Jan, visited for a few lively days. Led by talented Jan, the three of us recovered the seats of the piano bench and four chairs that go with the game table in the living room. They all look fabulous! I’d bought the fabric for something else, but one day just before the family reunion I set it on the piano bench I saw how perfectly it fit in that room. Tiny changes are taking place in this house, and they seem integral with the changes taking place in me.

Most of John’s things remain exactly where he put them. Four pair of reading glasses, different strengths, lie on the bedroom dresser. Small tools still decorate the railing by the back door. A pile of US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT gets taller on the end table by his chair. I continue his habit of keeping track of rainfall (we had about 20 drops yesterday but I didn’t put those down. It’s “measurable” rainfall he tracked).

As the time goes on I change only a few things. A large change, even if I consider it, seems a betrayal. I know it isn’t so much a betrayal of John as it is of myself. There’s a specific time, fashioned from external circumstance and internal readiness, that must be observed. Change at the wrong time (too soon/too late) rips tendon from bone---tears at what is deepest, what we often call soul.

Death makes witnesses of those who remain. Death lays time flat out, scatters time with the remnants of those whose essential being has made the passage into timelessness. I’m learning the necessary task of seeing, of recognizing in the remnants a kind of language. “This is who I was in time. This is who you loved.” To bear witness is a task much like prayer. A contemplation. An act of gratitude and praise. An honoring of the wholeness of another person’s life. Each track a person made, each object created and produced, each act of bringing order to what felt chaotic--the way he placed his things inside a drawer--all deserves time and an open heart.

Given time and witness, the remnants yield up their secret truth. The heart translates the language. The remnant, that object of expression, has served as it was meant to serve. The spark of John’s life’s meaning ignites in the witness -- a fire in my own heart. The moment of change arrives. I can give away the jacket, move the picture from this wall to that, go through the stack of papers on his desk, remove his FAA issued sunglasses from the console in the car.

Death frays the weave. Witness binds it up again with new patterns. How will it turn out? Does it matter? Love weaves love.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Gold Finches In The Sea Glass Tree

I woke this morning to a flock of gold finches decorating the sea-glass tree outside my writing room window. (The tree’s not made of glass. It’s an ancient oak. I’ve hung multi-colored bits of sea-glass from it’s branches to catch the sun’s rays.) I woke from a dream about John, and it took me several seconds to realize that the dream was a dream.

Since those first morning minutes of thinking that he needed me to pop right up out of bed and go to him, I’ve been pondering what the dream means. It had something to do with the Weber family reunion. I flew home from Denver yesterday. But in the dream I was still there. In the dream I was about to go to town with nieces Lisa and Diane when I remembered that I hadn’t called John during the entire three days of the reunion. They continued down a path through the woods while I borrowed nephew Jim’s cell phone. It was very high tech as phones go, and he needed to show me how to use it. (This is pretty humorous--for those of you who don’t know Jim--as he could well be the most high-tech person in the family. I guess I must be impressed by that.) John answered and he needed me. It was his heart. During the reunion something had happened to his heart. I ran up the hill to the car so I could go to him immediately. That was the moment of awakening and springing out of bed to go to him, only slowly realizing that it was a dream.

If you’ve been following this chronicle, then you may remember that John’s brother Dale died almost exactly one year ago. Afterwards his wife, Donna, told me that it was so hard to come back from a trip to the house where Dale had been so vital and present and which now is silent. Maybe there’s a clue to my dream in Donna’s experience.

The family reunion filled me with life and so much love for the Weber’s. Reflecting back on the experience, I think I found John everywhere--little reflections of him in everyone. And I also felt the strength of him inside me--meeting everyone as not simply “me,” but as both of us in one. It’s only in retrospect that I’m interpreting my feelings this way. During the time in Denver I simply felt absorbed in family, happy with family, in love with each family member. There have been many wonderful reunions, but never before have I felt such a strong sense of belonging.

There, in the family, John is alive. He is so alive, it is as though he’d never been sick. Did I forget for three days that he’d been sick and had died? Something in me did forget--as in the dream. For three days I didn’t call up in my mind the illness and pain that can so haunt me. People asked me over and over how I was doing--and what could I say? I felt completely WONDERFUL!

During my sleep last night, lying in our bed where John used to lie--in HIS spot, not my own--my deep mind remembered. Yes, we let the ashes of the three brothers--John, Dale and George--mingle with the wind and the waters and rose petals. We spoke beautiful words. We sang songs. We laughed and loved and cried some. But something in me still thinks I need to go to him, still remembers the suffering. It’s a matter of the heart, the heart’s passion. “Something happened to his heart,” said my dream. A paradox happened. “Death and life in a strange conflict strove,” we used to sing on Easter. “The Prince of Life who died now lives and reigns.” Life does not permit me to forget either side of the paradox. Maybe I do forget for a moment, for three days -- but the love is most whole when the opposites are reconciled.

The gold finches fly past my window and light again on the branches of the sea-glass tree. I do need to go to him, don’t I? Every moment that is where I’m headed. The dream is true. Something has happened to his heart. Something healing, something whole. Nephew, Mark, also had a dream. May I tell it, Mark? It is so beautiful, I must tell it: John came to him--young, smiling, strong. They talked. How are you doing? Mark asked John. “April--that was a hard month.” John said. “But I’m past all that now. I’m feeling fine.”

Thursday, August 7, 2008

WINGS OF DAWN

It’s a smoky morning. Air currents are drifting over the southern Siskiyous from Happy Camp in California and bringing the scent of wildfire right to Sunshine Hill. Two firefighters died yesterday fighting one of those conflagrations. It was on the Medford news last night. They were, I think, from the Rogue Valley. I opened my heart to them and to their families and then turned off the TV to read. Suddenly our American authors are writing good literature again. I’ve been absorbing a new book every three days or so, something I’ve not done in years. While John was sick I couldn’t hold my focus on the page--not even on one sentence. Occasionally I’d find an author that could hold me on the pinpoint of his or her thoughts and images, but not often. And as John drifted closer to the end of his earth-life, my mind must have taken up residence inside him to intuit his wants and needs, and nothing could remain of me for books or even for myself.
This is a good sign, Christin; I told myself as I snarfed down the book I’d bought to take with me to the family reunion, and then picked up the alternate. This must be how you heal yourself. There’s wholeness in the beauty and order of a well written sentence. It’s a magic wand, a miracle of a thing. It touches the mind, and voila! I feel the shift of being in me. Annie Dillard wrote THE MAYFAIRS while I wasn’t reading. And Marianne Wiggins gave us THE SHADOW CATCHER. Ron Hanson took on one of my favorite Gerard Manley Hopkins poems, “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” and came up with the brilliant novel, EXILES. These and several others I thought I might take on the plane all have been consumed. So the other day after my doctor’s appointment during which I was declared healthy and with a clear mammogram, I stopped off at the used book store with a few paperbacks I’ll never read again (none of them among the above which will become a permanent part of my little library). I’d trade those paperbacks for some others that I could read during the flight to Denver. Almost immediately I found a new book by Mary Gordon--new to me, that is: PEARL. And what was this?: Sebastian Barry wrote a new book while I thought the good writers were holing up in their writing rooms with writer’s block: A LONG LONG WAY. Turns out the writers hadn’t stop writing; I’d stopped noticing.
I made my trade and walked out with the two books. They are in my carry on, ready to put under the seat on the small turbo prop out of Medford early tomorrow morning. First stop: Portland. There I have only 30 minutes to find the United flight to Denver. I’ll run. Also in my carry on are some of John’s ashes for our memorial. There’s a large abalone shell to mix his ashes with Dale’s and George’s before we scatter them. The last poem I wrote for him, an album of his pictures, and the words to “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” are packed as well. Weighed down with all that plus camera, iPod, cell phone, journal and personal items, the debaters in my mind have bets on whether I will actually “run” through the terminal! The voice that debated against taking my too heavy notebook computer won.
This trip will be my first alone since -- what is it the Hindus say? -- since John dropped his body. When the plane climbs through the smoke filled sky into the blue, I’ll think of all the flights of joy we had together, the flights towards clarity. I’ll think of the way aviation as a way of life for both my father and my husband has ended by giving wings to my own spirit. And I’ll breathe a thank you to the One who made all of this possible.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

THE ADVENTURE OF THE BLUE MULE

It’s a jewel of a Saturday. Early this morning the mountains to the southeast gleamed, or seemed to through these “new” eyes. I let the animals out of the garage after saying good morning to each of them, then stepped into the jewel and sang my morning prayer. Nobody hears me out here. I can twirl around in the driveway, arms out, head lifted to the sky, and no one sees. The cats and dog expect it now--they wonder what’s wrong if I don’t do some kind of morning dance. Only when I dance these days do they think I’m normal. Sometimes Rita sings along, howling and yipping down the side of the hill.

The Blue Mule is parked in front of the garage, now looking as though it belongs here on the mountain because of the dents in the tailgate. It was too spiffy before, Ken said, though he didn’t actually use the word, “spiffy.” That’s what he meant though. Now it fits with the other trucks around here. OK. I still feel bad, however--it was John’s favorite thing. The dents are my fault, of course, and are a constant reminder to be careful, to focus, to remember that really I am not so normal as I feel each morning when I’m twirling and singing in the driveway. No. I’m actually dangerous. Even when feeling joyous my mind is preoccupied. It’s a side-effect of grieving.

Here’s what happened: I took it down the hill to pick up the mail. Rita ran alongside as usual; she loves the race. She beats me going down; I beat her coming up. It all works out, and then she usually gets a milk bone. She was no where in sight, though, on that day, so I went inside to go through more pictures. I want to make an album to take to the reunion. Sitting on the guest room bed, 23 years of pictures spread out in front of me, I worked at choosing until my heart ached too much to go on. Then I thought, why not get a bottle of water and sit outside for a while.

I opened the front door and was stunned and confused to see the Blue Mule down past the electrical box, leaning precariously down the steepest part of the hill, caught on a tree. OH NO!!!! There’s that moment of feeling transported into a different world where everything is out of place and has achieved that misplacement by some sort of magic.

This was not magic. I’d forgotten to set the brake. I went down to assess the damage. If the tree hadn’t been there to crunch the tailgate, causing the steel to hug the tree trunk, the Mule would have careened way down the hill, probably tumbling over itself and making a terrible mess. While the reality of what had happened already was more mess than I wanted to deal with--still it could have been worse. The Mule would need to be winched, but I was pretty sure that was something I shouldn’t attempt alone.

Ken answered the phone and was over here in five minutes. Hum. We’ll need to winch it. OK, well at least I got that right. We hitched the winch from the Mule to the back of the Explorer. We’ll need two winches, said Ken, one on the side so it doesn’t tip over when we pull it up the hill. Good thinking to call Ken! If I’d tried to do this one on my own, the Mule would be half way down to Cliff’s house and just above the duck pond.

So Ken perched himself behind the wheel of the diagonal-leaning Mule and operated that winch as well as the steering wheel and the accelerator, and I operated the other winch from Ken’s vehicle which he’d attached to the side of the Blue Mule. Adrenaline!! The front wheel on the on the driver’s side, right where Ken sat, lifted two feet off the ground as the Mule strained and the winches strained to bring it up the incline. Finally, Success.

The tailgate was buckled and the bed was crumpled. “I’ll be back tomorrow and see if I can straighten the tailgate by driving over it.” He said. “Sounds fine to me,” says I. “I doubt you can make it worse.” And there I am, wondering if John’s spirit is watching, if spirits can watch, if he’s looking serious or is laughing, if he could see it starting to roll down the hill, if he noticed when I didn’t set the brake but couldn’t get my attention, if he felt frustrated or bemused or struck with hilarity. I’ll bet he laughed.

Ken rigged up an ingenious platform for the tailgate and drove over it with the big wheels of the Explorer. It’s almost straight. A dent’s there, sure, but like he said, it’s a mountain vehicle. He told me how to sand down the spots where the paint has chipped, where to get primer, where to get shiny black spray paint. He used a sledge hammer and big wrench to get some of the crumple out of the bed. “If you haul dirt, you’ll have to use an old blanket in the bed to keep it from falling through that crack.” The gate and the bed will never fit just right again.

It could have hit the electrical box had it rolled six inches to the right. It could have missed the tree and ended up at the bottom of the hill had it rolled another 18 inches to the left. Once it was rolling it would have been against the laws of nature for it to stop -- unless it hit a tree. Do you fancy that John might have been there at his old job of directing traffic after all? I don’t know. I imagine so. Maybe he hangs around out there where I twirl each morning and sing in the sunshine.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Going Nuts and Gaining Better Vision

Dear Ones,
It’s pretty quiet here today. My cousin Sally (Klimek) Benton and her golden retriever, Brit, left this morning after spending the week with me. What a gift both of them were: Sal with her amazing story-telling ability--a true entertainer, and Brit with her gentle ways and silky coat that is irresistible. Oh my! And it was the perfect time for them to come because the visit coincided with my cataract surgery as well as with a short time of going nuts just before they arrived.

This “going nuts” business is something, I’ve lately discovered, that can happen right about the third month of grief. Probably, even if I’d known about it beforehand, I couldn’t have stopped it from happening, because until it was over and I’d cried nearly non-stop for about twenty-four hours, I thought I was perfectly sane. Not so. What I was told by a friend, after the terrible tears experience, was that the third month marks the time when a person realizes that the beloved who died is not coming back. I thought I realized that before, but I guess not. I’d become involved in all sorts of distractions that kept me from that realization. And then, suddenly, the distractions no longer worked. Now that I look back I can see that I was in a sort of fugue state for weeks before the crash.

Today, July 19th, is the third month anniversary of John’s death. After Sal left this morning, I climbed on John’s riding mower and spent two hours mowing the lawn. “I’m everywhere around here,” he seemed to be saying to me.

This past Tuesday was my cataract surgery. It went well. Sam and Sal drove me in to Medford and went shopping while I got prepped for the surgery--about twenty different eye drops, intravenous sedative. They must not have given me quite as much sedative as they had with the other eye, a year ago, because I was aware of sensations in my eye. Nothing hurt, and the sedative seems to have the effect of creating interest but not anxiety. So it intrigued me immensely that I could see (I thought) my lens breaking up and being sucked out! And that then (it seemed) I could see the new lens being inserted. Of course, I have no idea what I was really seeing, and I’m sure now that I’ve forgotten most of what happened after that little initial experience. The next thing I knew was that the nurse was asking me if I wanted orange juice, apple juice or cranberry juice.

Sal took very good care of me all that day. I slept for most of it while she vacuumed and fixed supper--her Arizona specialty: chimichangas. The next morning, back at the clinic, I was pronounced in good shape after Dr. Schultz extracted a little build-up of fluid from inside my eye. “This won’t hurt,” he said, and amazingly I believed him. He lifted my eyelid and inserted a needle into the incision he’d made the day before. He was right. It didn’t hurt at all.

Each day since, I have had better vision, and today I can see all distances without my glasses. My experience with the other eye lets me know that that perfection might not last. It takes six weeks for the lens to settle in. But you never know. Maybe next time you see me, I won’t be wearing glasses. I’ve worn them since I was eight years old, so that will seem odd.

By now you probably know more than you ever wanted to know about both grief stages and cataract surgery. All in all, I am doing well. The terrible times turn into learning experiences that can instill a deeper faith and compassion when I am willing to cross whatever threshold is in front of me. The landscape on the other side is always wider than the one I left, and I expect it to continue like that for all eternity.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Sing in the Sunshine

Because of the late rains, the oak leaves still shine and look new as they did in May. The grasses have not survived the several weeks of sunshine so well, though, and bend in burnt gold around the dusty green of star thistle. The grass, which I am watering, looks to have grown to mower-length over night, and if I were not caught in a writing mood, I'd mow it before this afternoon's 90 degree temperatures have me closing all my windows, turning on my fans, and huddling in the living room easy chair to read the book Sandra S. recommended, Manuscript Makeover.

The simple fact that I am primed for this work is evidence to me that at almost three months since John's passing, I have entered a new stage of grieving. "The two of you shall be one body," we were told in the wedding ceremony. So what do you do when half your body dies? At first I didn't realize half my own body had died because I was completely focused on John's physical absence, whole and entire. Recently, though, every part of me feels that something is missing -- missing in my skin, my mind, my emotions, my thoughts. I had no idea how completely we'd weaved ourselves together. Barely realizing what I was doing, I began to behave like John; attempting to resurrect him, maybe? It went well for a while: mowing the yard, fixing stuff in my less than competent way. Nothing of me would do what was characteristic of me but only those things I counted upon John to do. But for a few weeks now there've been changes going on.

Something is stirring in me--something kept green by the late rains. Something hidden deep in my earth is pulling apart, getting ready to break though the dark soil. This beginning emergence is not without stress, as when one cell divides, pulling against itself the way it does, the nucleus stretching, popping apart. How does it survive its division of essence? How do you unweave all that has been woven? I didn't think it would come to this. I resist the fraying of the threads. I want the pattern to hold. But the pattern will change, says my mind. The pattern must change if you ever plan to join your beloved John. He's changing. Let the transformation occur. Let go of the past. Let go of your past self. "Behold," says the Christ, "I make all things new."

Last night until three in the morning I mourned this letting go. I am too weak for this, I told both John and God. "My strength is made perfect in your weakness," clarioned the Word within my mind. "ok" I responded in a tiny three-o'clock voice. "OK, then."

Know what you are, said Father Liam at Mass yesterday. The truth is, we are of this earth, of the humus, humble. That's the truth. Let not your reach exceed your grasp, says the old wisdom. When John died my whole being divided, became unwoven, pliant, liquid, fallow ground...all the metaphors for being that awaits new form. I will have moments of reaching towards the past, of trying to recreate it, of longing for this moment or that moment to return and confirm that who I was with John is what I will always be. But then I must bow down, because the past is gone, and John is out ahead of me. In each moment now, I am made new. Little hints are everywhere if I am willing to examine them. The new ideas for revising old manuscripts is a particularly powerful one. Then there's my tendency to walk around the house singing one of John's favorite old songs: We'll sing in the sunshine/We'll laugh every day./We'll sing in the sunshine,/Then I'll be on my way.