I am Not the Buddha

The following quote by poet Tyler Knott Gregson came up on my Facebook memories this week…

“To begin again, sometimes you have to take life down to the studs, knock down all the walls, and pull out the insulation that kept you from the world. You must get dirty and feel the ache in the muscles you used to pull the house down around you. You must stare wide eyed and grinning at the mess you have made, seeing through the rubble to the clean floor that will emerge when the work is through.

Now, now is the time to destroy the foundations of fear and apprehension, the walls of waiting and wishing; now is the time to begin again. Laugh at the piles of the past you stand in, knee deep and smiling.”

I so loved it at the time I posted it. Reading it again brought me back to that moment in time. It was two and a half years after I had split with my husband and moved out of our home. I had – we had – torn it all down. It was not working. We were not happy, though we had tried and tried. I had already gone through the grieving, much of it while we were still together. I was, at that point in time, ready “to laugh at the piles of the past in which I stood, knee deep and smiling.”

The date was February 2016.

About a month later, my ex-husband (and the father of my two girls) came out as transgender. Nine months after that, my beloved father died suddenly. Nine months after that, my mother was diagnosed with BRCA and stage 3 cancer.

Let me be clear – I am not comparing my ex being trans with death nor with cancer, but I list it here because…well because when the person with whom you were in a relationship for twelve years reveals this kind of secret – when you realize you didn’t know, percieve, understand…have an inkling of something so fundamental about your spouse as his gender – it has the power to shake one’s foundation. As is, for my girls and me, navigating the outward changes of our loved one. When you think about it – what is more fundamentally true to a child, than that Dad is a man? (Or to a woman, that an ex-Husband is a man, for that matter?) Love is love…and what is revealed within that can still be a wall rattler; a soul shaker.

Once again I found myself standing in the rubble that was once my life. However, THIS time – I hadn’t asked for it. I had not held the sledgehammer in my own two hands and swung wildly, hungry to tear it all down. I had simply woken up one day to find a big hole in the roof, and then I watched helplessly as the foundation cracked, and the walls buckled, and everything seemed to crumble all around me.

The question I find myself asking is – Is it possible to approach the rubble we’ve willfully created in the same way that we greet the rubble we did not? The rubble we never asked for? The rubble we never saw coming?

The Buddhist answer would be yes – simply greet what is. Embrace it.
I can assure you, I am not the Buddha.

As I have stood in the piles of the past, I have grieved. Heavily. I have cut myself on the jagged pieces of the past as I tried to fix what was there. I have tripped and fallen as I tried to hold up the pieces that were still hanging on by a few desperate nails. When you never wanted the destruction, it is hard to accept the fact that nothing can be put back exactly as it was, in its imperfect perfection.

Whether the rubble was intended or not, Gregson was right about looking THROUGH it all, “to the clean floor that will emerge.”

Because it will. It is there, beneath it all. It is always there. Whether we brought on the demolition ourselves, or we helplessly watched as everything fell apart. Either way, we must rebuild.

We have no choice, as we stand there in the rubble, but to get to work cleaning up the mess and to begin again…and again, and again.

Such is life – learning to push up our sleeves and do the work…

The work we asked for, and the work we didn’t.

I still may not be able to greet both with a smile – to greet them equally with gratitude as bits of the house that once sheltered me cling to my hair and dust my eyelashes – but I do understand that it’s the building and rebuilding of my house that will teach me the most about myself.

Above all I must remind myself that I am not the house.
Its destruction never has to equal mine.

Day 327/365 “The Air a Library”

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my father.

Sometimes these thoughts wrap me in a blanket of melancholy. Other times they bring on a smile or even an audible laugh.

The stupidest things remind me of him – like my daughter asking me if I ever saw “Bedtime for Bonzo” (she was reading about Ronald Reagan). I never did see it, I told her, but Papa used to say that all the time as he corralled me up to bed…“Bedtime for Bonzo!” 

I don’t recall whether that expression was met with a giggle or a groan…but I remember him saying it…I can hear him saying it…with a grin.

Last weekend we got together for a family dinner at my mother’s house. All together there were eight adults, nine children and two dogs. It was a beautiful evening and everyone was outside. The children and dogs were running around in the late afternoon sun. As we sat there in one of my father’s favorite places – the terrace, under the wisteria vines – I just had a feeling that we were all thinking about dad.

Sometimes when this happens, I’ll bring a voice to it – I’ll say, “I really miss him.” 

Other times I feel it’s better to just sit with that sensation – that he is in the air all around us. We don’t have to say it out loud. It just is. 

I have the hardest time explaining how it feels sometimes – the sensation of missing someone so much, yet simultaneously feeling as though he is everywhere, permeating everything…especially in that house, on that terrace. 

I know those of you who have lost a loved one know what I mean…

They never really cease to be…HERE.

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I just finished a book yesterday…one of those books you are sad to finish. Below is an excerpt that I have read over and over and over…because it explains so perfectly this sensation of which I speak….

“Torrents of text messages, tides of cell conversations, of television programs, of email, vast networks of fiber and wire interlaced above and beneath the city, passing through buildings, arcing between transmitters and metro tunnels, between antennas atop buildings, from lampposts with cellular transmitters in them, commercials for Carrefore and Evian, and prebaked toaster pastries flashing into space and back to earth again. I’m going to be late and Maybe we should get reservations? and Pick up avocados and What did he say? and ten thousand I miss yous, fifty thousand I love yous, hate mail, and appointment reminders and market updates, jewelry ads, coffee ads, furniture ads flying invisibly over the warrens of Paris, over the battlefields and tombs, over the Ardennes, over the Rhine, over Belgium and Denmark, over the scarred and ever shifting landscapes we call nations. And is it so hard to believe that souls might also travel these paths? That [they] might harry the sky in flocks like egrets, like terns, like starlings? That great shuttles of souls might fly about, faded but audible if you listen closely enough? They flow above the chimneys, ride the sidewalks, slip through your jacket and shirt and breastbone and lungs, and pass out through the other side, the air a library and the record of every life lived, every sentence spoken, every word transmitted still reverberating within it.” – excerpt from All The Light We Cannot See

I asked one of my girls to read the above passage to me as I typed it out for you. When we were finished I asked her if she understood what it meant. She said no, so I explained it to her…

If we are constantly surrounded by words and information and messages of love that we cannot see…can’t we also believe that the souls and the words of the dead may also be swirling around us, all the time?

I could tell she found the idea of it a bit unsettling…that the souls of the dead are flying and flowing all around us.

I can understand that, especially if you imagine some of the less pleasant souls making their rounds, but…

To me, because of my father, it feels like love…everywhere…

“If you listen closely enough…”

“They flow above the chimneys, ride the sidewalks, slip through your jacket and shirt and breastbone and lungs, and pass out through the other side, the air a library and the record of every life lived, every sentence spoken, every word transmitted still reverberating within it.”

…the air a library…

Just…poetry.

Day 322/365 This Wild and Precious Life

As many of you know, my family has been taking the same spring trip together for over twenty years.

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If you have been an avid reader of this blog, you may have, in a sense, taken the trip with us last year. Coming just five months after my father’s death, it was hard. I tearfully joked that I felt we should have purchased an extra seat on the plane, for the grief we carried with us surely was too big to fit in the overhead compartment.

I shied away from family photos that year. It was as if I didn’t want to remember it. Not as if, actually. I didn’t. I just wanted to get through it, because he would want us to keep going there…and to keep toasting to him with each sunset.

Fast forward a year, and for months prior to the trip there was an unspoken worry –

Will Mom be well enough to go? Would we go without her?

Could we?

She would insist. It would be awful.

As the trip approached, we learned not only would she be able to come, but she would also be completely done with treatments. We were elated. I was on a high for about a week…until suddenly the pain of not having my dad there resurfaced for me.  In talking to my mom, the same thing had happened to her.

Elation…then, grief.

Perhaps, she said, we never had enough time to grieve him. Suddenly we were thrown into dealing with The Big C. Our grieving was interrupted. Now that that storm has passed, the grief returns…not yet through with us.

I found this thought incredibly frustrating. I know I’ll mourn my dad forever, but I so desperately wanted to feel light again. Life has been so heavy.

I wanted to stand on the beach with my toes in the warm sand, and to fully feel the sun on my face…literally and metaphorically.

Off we went to Boca Grande…

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In the end, aside from a few tearful moments, the predominant feelings I had throughout the trip were those of gratitude and joy.

Dad wasn’t there – but Mom was…and she had fought like hell to be there.

There we were – my big, beautiful family, in the most beautiful place.

There’s something I’ve noticed about the beach at Boca Grande. Every year it is the same familiar place, but there is always something slightly different about it, too. All of the storms throughout the year, and even the day to day currents and tides…they alter the landscape.

They expose new things, they erode coastline, they create sand bars.

Things never stay the same, and yet, it is always beautiful.

It is always Boca. 

In our lives we have day to day currents and tides that ever so slowly and subtly alter us. Sometimes there are big storms that ravage us, and we must rebuild. Sometimes the devastation is so vast, we aren’t sure where to begin…but we do.

We always do.

Life creates and exposes, erodes and rebuilds.

What remains, through it all, is fundamentally beautiful –

It is Life…or as Mary Oliver wrote…”your wild and precious life.”

And she asks…

What do you plan to do with it?

 

 

 

Day 302/365 No Words

Today was a hard day. My friend, Jaime, was laid to rest.

It was incredibly touching to see the community of support around his family, and to bear witness as we all tried our best to collectively shoulder the enormous weight of our grief.  Honestly, I was completely wrecked by his grieving children, who must live with the cruel paradox of having had the most wonderful father, but for not nearly long enough. 

Jaime was young and vibrant and had so much love to give. There’s more to say about that, but for tonight…just this simple bit of gratitude.

After the service (burial, collation…), I felt exhausted in the way that only emotions can exhaust a person.

When I got home, I told my girls (who had been home with a sitter) that I just needed to lay down for a few minutes.  I went into my room and laid on my bed, curling up on my side and closing my eyes.

Moments later, Beau came into the room. She climbed onto the bed, and laid down with her back to me, shimmying herself into the hollow I’d formed with my curled up body. Next, Ruby climbed in behind me, pressing herself into my back, and reaching for my hand.

No one spoke.

Then, for the first time in years – the three of us took a nap.

Tonight I am thankful for sharing my home with intuitive beings, who know when all I need is someone to be with me…to hold my hand, and to not say a word.

Rest in peace, J’aime.

The Thing About Jaime

The world lost a beautiful man last night. I struggled writing this, as it just seems so wrong…writing about him in the past tense. I kept writing “He is” and having to go back and correct myself…He was.

It seems impossible that someone who shone so brightly could leave us so soon.

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I remember a story about when Jaime met Melissa, his future wife. He told her that his name was spelled Jaime (rather than Jamie), because “J’aime” means “I love” in French.

Honestly, we had a good laugh about that, because – Come on! What a line!

But…the thing about Jaime was, although I’m sure he delivered this explanation of his name with a grin and a twinkle in his eye…it was the truth.

He loved.

The love and devotion that Melissa and Jaime had for each other was always plain to see. They really cared for and respected each other. They still looked at each other like people in love. They also had fun – they made each other laugh every day. Jaime was always quick with his wit, and Melissa loved that about him. Even when he was experiencing the worst days of his life with his illness, he loved to make her laugh.

They loved the life they built together. Melissa, and their children – Ryan, Gavin, Maeve and Michelle were the center of Jaime’s universe. He was so proud of each of his children. He always smiled broadly whenever he spoke of them.

He loved. 

His love was big enough for his whole community. He really cared…about everyone. If you were talking to Jaime, you had his full attention. He had a way of making each person feel like they were really important to him – because they were.

We all were.

Over the years I have heard so many stories about things that Jaime did or said to help others, and you know what….not one of those stories did I ever hear from Jaime. Not one.

He was so humble.

Nothing he did was ever for recognition or even for a thank you. It was because that was who he was. He knew no other way to be.

He loved. 

I am sure in the coming days and weeks, so many more stories about Jaime’s big heart will come pouring out from the community, because not only did he love…he was loved.

So loved. 

 

Day 280/365 The Wind (A Flashback)

Early morning, September 22, 2017…

Standing on my front porch with a warm cup of coffee between my palms, I assess the damage. Strong winds from a tropical storm off the coast have been lingering for days. The street is littered with small branches, and leaves torn prematurely from the trees. Trash cans are overturned in the street.

“Distress is the wind spirit of transformation” he’d said, when I had told him how I was feeling the day before.

As the wind whips the hair around my face, his words seem eerily prophetic.

I brace myself for the day (…weeks…months) ahead.

I have known of her diagnosis for less than two weeks. She kept it from us all, wanting to soak up the rest of the summer without being weighed down by sad and pitying expressions on the faces of her children and grandchildren. She still insists on keeping it from the kids. She doesn’t want them to worry.

“Mom, where are you?” I hear a small voice call from inside the house. Ruby peeks out the door and then steps out onto the porch. “Is it going to clear up today?” she asks.

Not today,” I reply.

“Are you okay?” she asks, searching my face.

I force a smile, “Of course I am! We’d better go, or we’ll be late.”

Moments later we arrive at the bus stop. I hug the girls, and watch as they climb onto the bus and find their seats. I smile and wave as the bus pulls away, suddenly aware I’d been holding my breath.

I exhale loudly.

I stand there in the parking lot, feeling raw and exposed to both the howling wind and the fearful anticipation of what lay ahead. I would be driving Mom to her first chemo treatment this morning.

I turn and see him standing there beside his truck, watching me…waiting to offer a hug or a few words of support. He’s one of the few people who knows of my mother’s diagnosis.

As I walk toward him he asks, “How are you?”

“Fidgety.” I say, looking down at my shaking hands.

We lean into each other. He wraps his arms around me. I try to relax into him, but it seems an impossible task. I step back to look him in the eye. “This is going to be hard,” I say. He nods, “I know.”

I notice we are holding hands. I realize don’t know if I grabbed his hand or he grabbed mine, but it doesn’t matter…neither lets go. I am grateful for this moment of comfort. I lean into him again, and he wraps his arms around me once more. I want to hide here, sheltered from the wind…and from what lay ahead.

Hours later I find myself sitting beside Mom in the infusion center…another loved one hooked up to hanging bags, tubes and wires. I startle every time the IV peeps…flashing back to January in the ICU with Dad.

In some ways it’s harder to sit beside someone who is conscious. I didn’t have to pretend to be brave or strong or optimistic while sitting beside my dad. He couldn’t read the fear and sadness on my face, nor hear it in my shaky voice.

I know I need to dig deeply for my inner strength…for her and for myself.

“I’m tired of feeling like a perpetual damsel in distress…”

That’s what I’d said, as I was telling him about my mother’s cancer diagnosis, right on the heels of grieving the loss of my father a few months prior.

“Distress is the wind spirit of transformation…” he’d said.

And so it is.

Day 278/365 Neither Here Nor There

Harveys are dreamers…literally. We tend to have very vivid dreams. I know I have mentioned this before, but…

It’s late, and I am up writing because Beau (my eleven year old) woke me up from a sound sleep by calling out for me, urgently. I went in to check on her and soon realized she was not awake at all. She said in a very distressed tone of voice, “She tried to hand it to me. I don’t know why…why did she do that?!”

One night when she was in my bed, she sat bolt upright and said, “Mommy…do you see them? They want to steal our toilets! The only way to get rid of them is to throw candy at them! DO WE HAVE ANY CANDY?!”

As I have gotten older I find that I don’t recall as many dreams in the detail I once did…and I miss it. When I wake up aware that I have been dreaming, the details often feel frustratingly just out of reach…like a name on the tip of my tongue.

I had a dream about my dad one night, not long after he died. We were standing in the rain outside a large office building. I was cold, and standing barefoot in my wet pajamas. He wrapped his overcoat around me…a coat I remembered as having belonged to his father too. In the dream I was aware that my father had crossed over, and that this visit with him was otherworldly, and desperately important. He tenderly placed the palms of his hands on either side of my face, as if to be sure he had my full attention, and then he spoke…

When I woke up I could remember the texture and the smell of his coat, the feel of my rain-soaked clothes…and I had this sense that what he shared was of powerful significance in my life…it was the key that would make it all make sense…and it was this…

I have no damn clue.

(That’s not literally what he said, though at the moment that strikes me funny as hell – The ultimate wisdom from beyond…”I have no damn clue.”)

Actually, I couldn’t remember what he’d said.

Oh, it’s the worst…when you wake up and you feel as though you could have solved life’s mysteries in your sleep, if only you had been awake enough to hear the answers.

I’d like to think that on some level, I heard him…that he did impart his wisdom. Perhaps I will unlock it at the right moment…or maybe I already have, somehow.

Maybe our dreams are where we can really connect with those who have passed on…we can visit them in a place that is neither here nor there.

Dreams can be beautiful gifts.

About a month ago, I had a dream in which I was at a party. I was standing in a crowd, scanning the room as if I’d just arrived and was looking for a familiar face. From across the room, I saw the unmistakable figure of my grandmother, Lynette. My heart leapt, for she had passed twelve years prior.

I couldn’t wait to see her…to hug her.

As I began to walk toward her, someone came racing by me from behind. It was Beau. She tore across the room toward my grandmother, and when she reached her, they belly laughed and wrapped each other up in their arms.

This was the most beautiful thing to witness, because…in this lifetime, they never met.