Ruminating: All the day

I go through seasons of feeling as though nothing I write is showing up much of anyplace at all. They feel like desert patches, the sun bearing down and sand kicking up in my face when the wind blows. I think about the way the heat seems to bend the air, making it heavy and visible, making everything ahead appear farther away, more desolate, no consolation in sight.

It’s a little disconcerting to say the least.

Then there are times when it feels as though I reach an oasis. I have a little thing crop up there in the middle of the big nowhere. It’s a life-giving event, a life-saving event. Here’s the water, at last.

I have a new post up at Ruminate Magazine’s blog this week and I truly hope you have a chance to read it.

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It was a tough one to wring out, to be honest. It was tough because it touches on the grief I encountered recently when a pal of mine died suddenly. Reading it brings up all the sad again, it’s as though it reignites that grief in me even now, a few weeks later.

And I’m glad of it.

I have to be reminded of these things, these feelings, these losses. I want to remember. It’s easy for me to get caught up in my own brand of bullshit and crazy making. It’s easy to turn away from the people and the events that press in on my pain and in fact, it’s preferable in some cases. But I want to remember the people I’ve lost. It’s important to remember how much I loved (and still love) them. It’s how I know my own mortality, how I know my own heart, how I know my own fragile state of being.

So, I hope you read the essay on Ruminate and I hope you will be able to get in touch with your loss and your grief too. Turn away from your own brand of bullshit and crazy making just for a little while. Let’s remember together, how fragile we are.

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The answer to gun violence…

Yesterday a shooter opened fire at Seattle Pacific University, killing one and injuring several others. I sat forward in my chair when I read this because I have a number of friends who attend or teach at SPU. It was a strange feeling, two sides tugging at me; first about how unlikely it would be that someone I knew was involved and then the counter-thought of “well, you never know.”

We never do know.

Thankfully I discovered that my friends were safe. Consuming the information coming from my computer and television was about finding out this very thing. Are they safe? But I didn’t stop there. I kept consuming information that streamed out, long after I got what I needed. I was still hungry.

Or perhaps not.

There’s  a mindfulness aspect to eating. If I’m not careful I will sit and eat the food within arms reach without thinking. In restaurants I must move the bread basket far away from me to avoid it. Don’t even get me started on the “all you can eat” buffet. There’s a whole bounty of studies done on why we eat after we’re filled, after our body has what it needs on a physical level. We eat from boredom, out of fear, the loss of control, the specter of death. We are lonely and we are powerless and food is our savior and food is available. This fuel for our bodies can be our undoing. We eat until we feel nothing.

So I consumed the information and the pictures and the reports of eye witnesses. And I searched for articles on how and why it keeps happening because it seems as though it does just keep happening. Why universities? Why students? Why this university? Why these students?

Why?

We say that we do this in the name of change, in the name of reform and redemption but it’s ridiculous the amount of food set before us and the speed at which it is offered. When no good information comes quickly we are restless. We are angry. We are hungry.

Or perhaps not.

We think that this eating is about “doing” something, becoming more aware, solving the problem, knowing our place in the wide world, uncovering the mystery of “why.” But in that steady stream of meals eaten with no real regard for quality, nutrition or purpose we simply consume the information until we feel nothing.

The answer to gun violence will not come in the moments or the days after the tragedy from the banquet of information offered. It will not come out in steaming pans which sit under heat lamps ready for eager hands and mouths.  The answer to gun violence will come only when we experience the emptiness, when we sit in the grief of it. We forget our humanity if we rush from grief too soon. We forget what real hunger feels like, an aching inside, an emptiness, a weary body in need of fuel.

Perhaps we ought to back away from the table and just let that ache rise a while.

Memory eternal…

When we’d visit my Dad’s family in Dayton, Ohio the tiny house where my grandparents lived was always filled with people. My Dad had 12 siblings growing up and by the time we came along they were all married and most had children. I had so many cousins on my Dad’s side that I did not even know all of their names and the ones I did know I usually got wrong. The visits to Dayton were a flurry of activity in that house on Briarcliff lane. My family had lived in the house next door to my grandparents for a number of years before we moved 90 miles south to Cincinnati so it was always a little strange to come and visit and see strangers wandering around “our” yard. Still, we loved to visit, to meet up with cousins we rarely saw, to explore the field behind my grandmother’s house and see where she kept bees or where she grew green beans she’d can and serve to us for dinner that afternoon. If we were brave we’d find a way into the greenhouse just off the patio or sneak into jalopy one of my uncles kept in the garage there.

I would often confuse the names of my Dad’s sisters and brothers, forgetting which were related by marriage and which by blood except for Uncle Kenny. It was easy to see that my Dad and Kenny were brothers. They were close in age and looked alike to me as a kid. Uncle Kenny was famous to my friends because I was able to tell them that I had an uncle named “Ken” and with a last name like “Doll” that’s something. I liked my Uncle Kenny because he was kind. When I think back on those years and those visits this is what strikes me. He was kind. He always seemed to be jovial, happy-go-lucky, easy-going. When I think of him I always remember him smiling.

Lt to Rt -Chuck, Marge, Roger, Gary, Barb, Gene, Don, Sitting Lt to Rt-Jim Kenny, Irene, MaryAnn

Lt to Rt -Chuck, Marge, Roger, Gary, Barb, Gene, Don,
Sitting Lt to Rt-Jim Kenny, Irene, MaryAnn

I wonder if that is why the news of his battle with Alzheimer’s was so hard for me to hear. Having been through that struggle with my husband’s father a few years ago, I remember all too well how it hollows a person out, how it robs them of some essential pieces of their core personality. I remember the physical struggles Dave’s dad encountered but I remember more the emotional roller coaster and so, when I would see updates on Uncle Kenny’s condition it always hit me in a soft spot. My Dad had already lost 2 older siblings when Kenny was diagnosed so my Dad took the news of my uncle’s illness hard.

My Uncle Kenny passed away this week after a short stay in hospice. It felt too fast to me but then, I’m far away. I’m out of touch with the extended family (save for Facebook) being in Chicago with a family of my own. It’s been a long time since I saw my Dad’s family in person, a long time since we ran in the fields behind my grandmother’s house, since we rummaged around in her basement finding treasures, since we sat crammed around that table in their tiny house and listened to the stories Uncle Kenny would tell with that wide smile he wore.

It took a few minutes after I got word that my uncle had died to put things together. In some ways my life won’t change all that much. I won’t feel that loss as closely as my family who still live close to everyone there. Still, I found as I sat at my computer looking at old photos the family had posted that I was in tears, feeling that loss deep in me anyway.

Perhaps grief is the reminder of those past days, those absences we had not noticed before. Perhaps grief is what shakes up old memories so that we can hold them in our hands again, fingers wiping away the dust we’ve allowed to form on the faces in the photos, the moments we’d pushed aside, the kindnesses we’d forgotten.

Memory eternal, Uncle Kenny. You will be missed.

walk alongside…

I have a new post up on Ruminate Magazine’s site today. In a way it’s not new, it’s a further reflection on things I experienced and then wrote about a number of years ago. The decision to revisit those words and emotions comes as I look over the Facebook pages of friends who, only 5 or 6 years ago were still waiting, still struggling, still walking alongside. Time is so interesting. Maybe that’s what makes Facebook so compelling for me, to be able to see the progression, the steady march of time as it crawls up my newsfeed. But we have a better measure than social media, a long term measure, that comes in the friendships we make and nurture and keep.

Time has shown me how hard it is to keep up, how rough the waters can be, how much loss and how much love are possible in any given life. Time shows me the mistakes I’ve made and whether or not I’ve learned anything at all in the wake of them.  We depend on time, always marking the passage of it like lines on the wall to show how high the children have grown or marking the days on the calendar before vacation or a wedding or the hope of a baby being made. The Rolling Stones were wrong by saying that time is on my side. It’s not. It’s outside of us. Time is indifferent to our weird little struggles, it just keeps moving along and yet it’s necessary for that measure of our lives.Time is out of our reach even as we try to gather it in, even as we try to store it in our bellies and our brains. Inevitably, I suppose we hope that time simply shows us we are better for our struggles after all.

So, digression over…take a moment to saunter over to Ruminate today. If you have experienced miscarriage or walked alongside someone who has, this post is meant for you. I hope you’ll share it if it hits you in the right place today.

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Letting go…

All four of my children will be in “real” school starting Monday. I’m having a bit of a freak out about that, I have to tell you. After receiving an email from the principal for my oldest son’s school, welcoming us, encouraging us, I broke down. It’s hard to let go.

We have been homeschooling in one way or another since about 2003. We brought our oldest home after a rough year in Kindergarten. She’s always been outgoing and friendly. She loved preschool and she liked Kindergarten, excelling in reading and math and general awesomeness but she got teased every day on the playground. She liked to play alone and the other girls in her school gave her so much grief about it she cried every day when I picked her up from school. Teacher meetings, parent meetings, long talks with my daughter, “grin and bear” it moments, all came to nothing. We’d already changed schools once going from the Montessori school to a school closer to our house. It was too late to apply or get into a third try for the coming school year, so we brought her home, always thinking we’d make a switch the following year.

All in all, it’s gone well, I have to say. As we added kids we just slid them into the homeschool routine. It worked well when we traveled, when we moved, when we were living on 18 acres in the middle of nowhere. We hung out, we asked questions, we made observations, we argued and we struggled and we cruised for a long time. For as long as I was holding things together it really was a phenomenal time and then life changed up and they all seemed to need different things, things I could not deliver with any expertise or consistency. Last year, my daughter, having been home for most of her educational life finally stepped into High School, real school, art school, as a sophomore. She loved it and it loved her back.

I wrote last year of my decision to send Henry to school. It was grueling. His way of learning was so different from my way of teaching and long story short, I was leaking out all over the place where homeschool was concerned anyway. I was losing my mojo, not keeping up with Henry’s needs, falling apart in the bathroom because I felt I was failing them. I finally enrolled him at the neighborhood school so that we could both get what we needed. He loved it and it loved him back.

We tried a “real” school with Chet last year too, thinking the “game theory” approached they offered at the Chicago charter school would be perfect for him but you know, there is no perfect and he had trouble adjusting. He did great with the work but the classroom was overwhelming for him and often the chaos in the classroom kept them all from doing the work, which was the only thing Chet really wanted to do anyway. He did not love it and it did not love him back so we brought him home and I spent last year swimming in the guilt of being unprepared, questioning everything I tried, worrying about the present and the future and the past and all the while poor Miles cruised along doing his own thing, a little lost in the shuffle.

As the youngest in our family, Miles has the cushiest position and yet the strongest opposition to falling into line. His reading lessons probably sounded like I was driving spikes under his fingernails because he hated it so much. I was already burned out and he was getting the dregs of what I had left to offer and the guilt about that gnawed at me daily. I knew I’d put them all in school this year and the pressure ramped up then to “get them ready” for it but the more the deadline approached the worse we seemed to do. It remains to be seen how things will roll when Monday comes. Even so, when I questioned him on it this week he said, groaning, “Geez, mom. I’ll adapt. I always adapt. I’ll be fine, you have to let go sometime.”

And so, there it is. I am letting go a little, reluctantly, expectantly, with great fear and trembling and excitement because I have no idea what this year brings for us all. I imagine it will be a new kind of struggle and a new kind of joy and a familiar struggle and a familiar joy too. I imagine we’ll have moments of great regret mixed with moments of great relief. I imagine that I will adapt and that I will be fine because I have to let go sometime. It’s what we do as parents. We wish for them and we hope for them and in it we are always teaching them how to be their own people in the world. Parenting is letting go, a little at a time- crawling to toddling to walking to running- hair blowing in the warm wind, face to the sun, into the future.

harvesting the air…

There is a wind farm on either side of I-65 near Lafayette, Indiana and each time I drive through that patch of interstate I pine for those giant turbines. One summer day, I vow, I will stop at a little place I’ve seen from the road, a picnic shelter overlooking a man made lake, surrounded by cars streaming by and wind turbines turning, great arms swinging slowly singing some tune I think I ought to know, some rhythm I ought to recall but can’t because I have someplace to be. And then, as quickly as it appeared it’s gone again.

I often wonder if they are as valuable to the scientific, environmental world as they are to me in those brief few moments while I drive by. I hope so. I hope they serve some utilitarian purpose because it’s my judgement that in general the world needs to see the material value in a thing, a practice, a person, in order to want to keep it around for any length of time and I’d be gutted if the wind farms came down before I have the chance to sit at that picnic shelter on a warm summer day and pray.

In my head I plan that trip with the hope that there will be simply one moment in which I will hear the wind being collected by those long arms harvesting the air, that I will know myself as that which is being gathered in and also that which is gathering. I don’t know, it’s a little crazy that all I really need from that picnic shelter is that one sweeping moment, the moment that feels like the sudden intake of oxygen that comes before I start crying in earnest and then the complimentary exhale that arrives when the grief is ready to recede again, for a little while, for a long time but never forever. I wonder if my cells become permanently altered by grief like the lines that take up residence around my eyes after years of living, worry lines, side effects of smiling and squinting into the sun.

I imagine then I’ll leave, reluctantly, nodding some silent or maybe quietly spoken ‘thank you’ to the windmills for their time and conversation, for harvesting the air I needed to breathe again just then and always.

daydream believer…

There is something about a celebrity death that always gets me in a soft spot. Regardless of how much or how little I might have cared for the celebrity who has passed away I still find that reminder about my own humanity, about my own lacking, my own legacy.

Davy Jones died today and it hit me hard, much harder than I expected. He was 66. He died of heart failure. My heart failed a little when I heard the news. I googled it to make sure it wasn’t a hoax. That’s been happening here and there on social media outlets. But it is true and I admit, I dropped into a full on sob when I discovered this.

Sure, there was the realizing my own mortality part of it, the loss of someone who is still so young, comparatively speaking, but it was more. The moment I read the news I was transported back in time.  I was 8 or 9,  sitting in my cousin’s basement listening to The Monkees, watching re-runs of the television show, acting out our own plots for the show, choosing up which Monkee we’d be marrying. I didn’t pick Davy. He was the easy choice. Mickey was too much of a jokester. Mike was too serious. I always picked Peter, he was kind of the oddball and I had a thing for the underdog I guess. Still, the loss of one Monkee, even if it wasn’t the one I planned to run off with, was a striking loss.

I had to ask myself what it is that hit me so hard. Why am I so moved by this particular loss today?

I’m tempted to say it is because it was so sudden but that’s not quite it. Unexpected is maybe closer. And then the image that came to me was that of a door being opened, a door that has been closed for a very long time. On opening this door a flood of memories come out, a flood of emotions, long-lost hopes and goals, young thoughts and daydreams.

Here then was my childhood, laid out before me all over the floor in the hallway. Each memory scattered there was a time capsule, a toy chest, a ticking clock. I saw myself at every age I can remember playing with dolls, reading books, running and jumping and then I saw myself systematically shelving of all the artifacts of that age. I was in a hurry to grow up. And I realize at that moment, I am no longer that little girl and then also, I am exactly that girl, even now, always.  I am not grieving Davy Jones but the girl who loved Davy Jones when she was 8, the girl that knew all the words and dance moves to the songs, the girl who really was a daydream believer.

There is something about death that opens a little door in each of us and spills out pieces of our lives into the hallway around our feet. It is, just then, our choice as to whether we’ll shovel it all back in quickly and quietly or stop a moment, sit down amid the mess and put our hands on each bit of pain and joy we have stored up all this time.

One small but important piece of my childhood passed away and that piece meant something to me, something I had packed away all these years. It spilled out at my feet today and that is why I sobbed into my pasta this afternoon and why I spent some time on the floor, sifting through the memory of who I used to be.

Rest in peace, Davy Jones. Thank you for reminding me of that daydream believer I had packed away.

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nowhere man…

My Uncle Ed died this week. He was about 75.

It came out of nowhere but not really.  My mom’s older brother was always something of a mystery to me. Growing up he lived with his little family an hour or more from us. He lived on a stretch of farmland that I don’t think he farmed. He lived in a trailer and he had a mynah bird and a layabout dog named Max. It’s strange what I remember from those years. I remember getting carsick on our way there to visit him after his daughter was born. I remember the little store near his place was owned by a man named Ed Morton. He had a lot of beef jerky and soda pop in there. I remember when he and my dad and Mr Morton opened a paint manufacturing business together out there in the middle of nowhere and I remember when they closed it, amid unanswered questions and quirky circumstances.

I remember the day he had packed up everything, following an argument with my grandmother and moved his family away from all of us. We did not know where they’d gone. I never overheard my parents talk about it with our extended family or with each other. I suppose as kids we did ask about him, where he’d gone but I can’t recall asking, I can’t recall hearing an answer.

He was tall and always tanned in my memory of him. He was an imposing figure with a deep, booming voice and loose-fitting clothes. He always seemed to be pondering something heavy, even when he joked he appeared to me to be carrying the weight of the world.  He may have scared me when I was growing up but I liked him a lot. I missed him when he left Cincinnati under that shroud of secrecy.

After a number of years my mom found him and his family. I think she’d been searching a long time for her big brother. I think she missed him more than she let on during those years. She found him because like his father, his namesake, he didn’t have a middle name, just an initial, “B.”  She found him before the internet and without a private investigator. To be honest it’s a mystery to me how she came across his phone number listing in Brandon, Florida but she did and then suddenly he was found.

We visited him in Florida not long after this. They were family but unfamiliar. Uncle Ed had lost something vital, something strong. He seemed broken to me as I saw him through my teenager lens.

I had seen him maybe a handful of times over the last 20 years. The dates and the occasions escape me. My mom kept in touch. She’d visit him, talk with him on the phone. I saw him after his son, my cousin, Scott, died of complications from his congenital heart condition. I remember Uncle Ed had lost a lot of weight. I remember him shuffling around the house, uncertain.  After his wife died suddenly several years later of an aneurysm it was if more of his soul chipped away. He soldiered on though and I lost track of him again. I was steeped in my own life by then, my own family, my own struggles and joys.

I like to remember him best by the stories my mom tells. I like to think most of my mom staying with him while my dad was in Vietnam. My brother was young and my mom was pregnant with me. I like to think of him driving my mom to the hospital at Wright Patt Air Force Base when she went into labor with me. I like to remember that he worked at Wright Patt, that he was a rocket scientist, that he worked on projects for the government and that he quit, for moral reasons, I thought. I don’t know if that’s true but I like to think it’s true.

I like to remember that he started a strange, entertaining tradition of sending the turkey neck from a Thanksgiving previous, to one of his siblings and that the siblings would freeze it and send it back to him some time later. I like to remember that he told great stories, that he smelled like scotch and cigarettes and that as a kid it didn’t occur to me that this combination was unhealthy.

When my mom called me to say he’d died of a massive heart attack, we think (we hope) peacefully,  in his sleep, I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel sad or empty or at a loss. Uncle Ed had always been something of a nowhere man, a story we told, a memory we had, a ghost of sorts. In truth, he was lost to me long ago.  Writing this, at this moment, I do have a sense of the grief. Writing this today is a way of filling up that space I’d been holding for him all these years and in so doing I see how important his story has been to mine. In writing this I can see the space between the stories we tell, the pain we hold, the time we wish we had and things we wish we’d said, the people we didn’t know we’d miss.

Goodbye, Uncle Ed. I pray peace and comfort to you after a strange, disquieted life. I pray peace for all of our family in the wake of our loss. We will miss you. We always have missed you.

Edward B. Thompson 

blame…

Is Sarah Palin responsible for the fatal shootings in Arizona that took place yesterday?

If you are reading me today and you do not know me in person you have probably reached this post because of a google search. I mean, it’s possible that is how you arrived here. Welcome. I’m glad you’re a person who is looking for the answer to that question.

I’m sorry that I cannot answer it definitively for you. I’m afraid that no one you find, writing about it on the internet, in the paper or speaking about it on television or in person, will be able to answer that question to any satisfaction.

Yes, we can all point fingers. It’s easy to point fingers. Point ’em if you got ’em seems to be the resounding chorus in our country these days.

It is a disturbing trend. Perhaps it’s not a new trend, perhaps we’ve lived this all throughout our history and I’m just beginning to notice it and subsequently, loathe it. Placing the blame has old roots in young parts of us, doesn’t it? When I was a kid I blamed a lot on my younger brother (sorry, Ed.) I may have gotten away with it for a little while but once he started to really be able to articulate things I’d be challenged on my finger pointing and then it would come down to character. Who is more trustworthy? Who is less likely to lie?

See, here’s the thing. I believe I do know who is responsible for the tragic events of yesterday and so do you. We are all responsible. We are responsible when we fail to speak out against acts of violence anywhere in the world, not just our own backyard. We are responsible when we fail to speak out against hate talk, violent imagery used to get a point across, extreme anger masked as righteousness, discrimination disguised as piety. We are all to blame.

The winds are always shifting, make no mistake. We are always and will always be the culture of change. We will fall, as a nation, when we stop taking responsibility for our actions, our words and even our thoughts. Is Sarah Palin responsible for the injuries and deaths of yesterday? Does she have some culpability?

I’m not a Palin fan, truth be told but I also have no ill wishes toward her. What I want most for all people is not failure but growth. I’d love for Sarah Palin to lead the way in being responsible with words and judgements and actions. I, for one, would like to hear her “woman” up about it…come to the table and speak the words, “this tactic was a mistake…” and perhaps “we need to change our national vernacular in political discourse…” She did not put a gun into this man’s hands any more than I did but we all are responsible when we cultivate a culture of fear and hate, violence and anger. I know I am guilty of buying into the rhetoric and the hyperbole and I confess my desire to slam down anyone who thinks differently than I do, I know this about me and I admit it. I am working on it. I don’t want to be that person and so I am not going to defend a wrong and hurtful position when I take it.

All I’m asking of all of us is to move out of our prospective corner toward the middle ground. Let’s meet there and talk about the bigger opportunity we have here. Put your finger pointing and proof texting and blaming away. We’ve had quite enough of that. Come forward and join this human circle where we all understand loss and grief, where we practice words of love and peace and integrity…and see where that takes us.

Cold Comfort

The other night my three year old woke up from a nightmare AND was experiencing leg cramps to boot. He was inconsolable. It was the middle of the night. He would not take ANY comfort measures from me; soft words, cuddling, kisses, gatorate, tylenol nothing. It was the worst feeling seeing him in pain and not being allowed to comfort him at all.

He just kept wailing and kicking at me each time I tried to pick him up. He looked at me and said, “I don’t want you…I don’t like you!” I knew that he didn’t really mean that….at least I knew that in my heart, my 2am brain was not so sure. It was hard to even imagine what to do next. All I could think was that he was still somewhat asleep and did not grasp the fact that I was there and that I was designed specifically to come to his aid at this point in his life.

I turned on the lights in the room nearly blinding us both. He continued to cry for a moment and then blinked up at me. Then his cry changed. He wasn’t angry anymore. He rubbed his calf and moaned “Oh, my poor, poor, leg.” At this point I sat next to him and asked softly if he would let me help him and he nodded yes. He was still in pain but he knew now from where his help would come.

That is where we begin. We cry out in pain, in anger, in desperation and in the dark. Sometimes comfort cannot happen while we are still a little asleep. Sometimes we need to really awaken and let the light nearly blind us before we can see that someone we love and trust is standing close, ready to love us. Sometimes it takes that awareness to move us from fear into comfort.