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

Saturday, July 26, 2008


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.