Posts Tagged #inspiration
It’s your birthday, Mama. In the picture you’re about 12 or 13, but you did headstands for as long as I can remember. When I was a teenager, I lived in fear of your doing one when a friend was over. The other mothers didn’t do things like that.
I’m beginning at last to see you more fully, twenty-five years after your last earthly birthday. A truer picture emerges as I learn more about life, about myself—maybe it’s you coming clear or maybe it’s me? But the veils are falling away.
For a long time, I kept my memories of you behind those veils, blurring the edges and obscuring the painfully sharp details. The veils were garnet-colored, the blood-red of your birthstone. Looking at you through them softened the memories of you, made them pink and pretty as a sunset, and as distant.
The summer I was eighteen your anchoring roles were torn away. Your last baby (me) off to college. And then: Dad died. I still remember the grief, suffocating and thick as the August air. Suffocating because we were locked into pretending to be strong and calm, you and I.
At exactly the age I am today, you became a widow. And all these years later, I am a divorced woman. Funny how both of us emerged from long marriages, newly single at the same age. I feel a new kind of kinship with you. I guess our relationship isn’t over, is it? It’s true what they say: the people you love live on in your heart.
As I find myself, I unearth pieces of you, and you continually surprise me, Mama. You are not all fierce hugs and pots of vegetable soup, not just chewy raisin-oatmeal cookies and games of cribbage and piles of books and papers everywhere, though I see you in my mail stacks and my habit of saving the tiniest bits of leftovers.
I also find your “hot-spit” spirit in the shards of my anger, I find your ancient wounds, and mine, in my middle-of-the-night panics. I hear your voice sometimes in my dreams, and in shrill of my own voice, when I lose patience and boil over. Oh, I am fine, Mama. More than fine. Like you, I’m resilient and now: I don’t have to pretend to be ever-strong and ever-calm. I can just be me, roiling emotions and all.
The last gifts you gave me are the ones I’ve spent the last couple years opening. Remember that night in the kitchen after your chemotherapy, in the window of time before you grew queasy, how you and I sat and you told me some things that maybe you never told anyone else, because I needed to know them? Or maybe you told others, it doesn’t matter. You gave me what I needed to figure myself out. I didn’t quite know what to do with most of what you shared; I was embarrassed by your shame at your human failings. My own baby was stirring in my belly, and somehow I thought it best to push difficult things aside. Pretend it was all okay. I was afraid, you see.
I told you not to worry about the things you’d shared, things that were hard for you to say. Personal things, confessions of your weaknesses. I dismissed them all away with a rushed out thank- you-for-telling-me. I put those precious words, the evidence of your humanness, your stumbles and triumphs that were just you and not my mother, into the bottom of my very deepest brain-drawer when you died. And I pretended I was ever-strong, ever-calm. I was carefully incurious.
Silly, blind me. You meant to give me a shortcut, didn’t you? You were trying to let me know: it’s okay to be human, that falling apart—happens sometimes. That the key is trusting, and sharing, and connecting. Getting up, and forgiving yourself for falling.
And all of that starts with not pretending to be strong or calm when you are not. It means not pretending at all. It was like in the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy realizes she’s had the power to go home all along. Pretending to be what we are not, to deny who we are, drives us into very lonely territory.
This year, I finally learned how to do a headstand. Like mother, like daughter.
I’m so glad, Mama, that you are still here, in my heart, while I figure things out.
“under loss and under hard words,
under your heart,
it doesn’t matter. They can live forever.”
I think there are some feelings that are like thistles, that’s why Erdrich’s poem and the thistles along the sidewalk speak to me like an old friend as I ponder how some losses, some griefs, some pointy bits of the past never do entirely smooth over or disappear.
They simply die back for a while, and you think they are gone. Then you’re innocently snapping a photo, minding your own business, and they come back—sharp as ever.
But they are beautiful, thistles are. They endure for a reason.
You can read her whole gorgeous poem here:
Last year evaporated.
filled to the brim and
poured over the edges
leaving December behind.
The beauty and the un-beautiful
time escapes like steam from a kettle
screaming with possibilities
I want to find more magic.
I am digging.
Walking this weekend brought to mind a poem I remembered about Ginkgos. Their “yellow fluttering fans of light” never fail to inspire me. I attempt and fail to capture them in yellow/fossil/sucked-in-breath poems. They are the last of their division of tree (Ginkgophyta), all others being long extinct.
Ginkgo leaves are found in fossils dating back 270 million years, and though they are messy and somewhat smelly trees—they are my favorites at this time of year.I look up and get lost. Or look down and get lost, depending on which day I come upon them.
Here’s a stanza of the poem I had to come home and google around to find. It’s from “The Consent” by Howard Nemerov.
Late in November, on a single night
Not even near to freezing, the ginkgo trees
That stand along the walk drop all their leaves
In one consent, and neither to rain nor to wind
But as though to time alone: the golden and green
Leaves litter the lawn today, that yesterday
Had spread aloft their fluttering fans of light.
A poem for my neighbor’s hibicus
Furled for the night,
see? They’re rolled up tight,
like tissue-paper cigars in the moonlight
in the morning they will spin open
I’ll be walking past
I’ll be sucked in, again
will spin with them, six-and-a-half again
fairy dresses for princesses named
Hibiscus, Rosemallow, Swampmallow.
The white one, shining in a sunbeam?
Rose of Sharon, sweet savior of sinners—
This pink one, I’ll call her Roseasharn Joad
bearing what cannot be borne
blooming when heat swells
when dreams evaporate like raindrops
when petals unwind
magic tunnels in time
swallower of bees
I visited a heavenly place last weekend, where the breeze off Lake Michigan made the daisies dance, and the peaceful energy of the Bahai House of Worship filled me with hope. I don’t know much about the Bahai faith, but the tenets are inspiring: that no religion is superior to another, that all people are deserving of respect and justice, that racism must be overcome.
There are nine inscriptions carved above the entrances of the Temple:
– The earth is but one country; and mankind its citizens. (my favorite)
– The best beloved of all things in My sight is justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me.
– My love is My stronghold; he that entereth therein is safe and secure.
– Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner.
– Thy heart is My home; sanctify it for My descent.
– I have made death a messenger of joy to thee; wherefore dost thou grieve?
– Make mention of Me on My earth that in My heaven I may remember thee.
– O rich ones on earth! The poor in your midst are My trust; guard ye My Trust.
– The source of all learning is the knowledge of God, exalted be His glory.
The idea that we are put on the earth to seek justice and to love and feel joy resonates with me. I know there is a lot of work to be done and the world is full of injustice and rage, but it seems to me the starting point for healing is to find the peace within and radiate that outward.
I don’t know how I stayed away from the water so long. A (very) minor surgery interrupted my habit of swimming 50 or so laps in an indoor pool, a half-hour meditation for me, where I immerse myself, literally, in a flow of stroking, kicking, turning, pushing off, all the while counting out the laps over and over.
I swim as hard as I can. I am not a particularly fast swimmer, but I swim steadfastly. Speed is not the point. I concentrate on feeling my body in the water, on form, on breathing, on the dreamy beauty of the watery blue beneath me, on the mosaic-tiled black stripe I follow back and forth, back and forth.
Even so, stray thoughts inevitably bubble up, little silvery bursts, like my underwater exhalations.
They say when you are drowning your life flashes before you. I’m not drowning, but life has had its flooding moments lately. Last night as I pushed hard off the wall of the pool, the things I once was certain of flashed through me, more like a current of feeling than a vision, beginning with the childhood certainty that my mother would always be there to love me.
Certainty is an illusion, yet we think sometimes—most times—that illusion is truth. These illusionary truths, these certainties we cling to, like life preservers on a choppy sea, are the very illusions that will one day have us gasping for air, trying not to drown.
The last lap brought it home. Certainty is an illusion; Illusion is truth—So nothing’s true? I buried this tired and hopeless thought. I slept hard, and woke feeling fragile.
Then this morning, I heard a line from one of Gregory Orr’s poems, and I dove into some of his poetry and these stanzas floated up:
Grief will come to you.
Grip and cling all you want,
It makes no difference.
Catastrophe? It’s just waiting to happen.
Loss? You can be certain of it.
Flow and swirl of the world.
Carried along as if by a dark current.
All you can do is keep swimming;
All you can do is keep singing.
And somehow these words comforted me, and so to my swimming-mind puzzle there is now a hopeful ending (thank you, Gregory Orr):
Certainty is an illusion; Illusion is truth.
All you can do is keep swimming; All you can do is keep singing.
I’m not certain of hope sometimes, but I’m also not certain of hopelessness. Maybe uncertainty is truly the gift, after all? With that thought I turn, push off, keep swimming. It is just enough to make my heart softly sing as I kick and breathe my way through this watery December afternoon.