Yesterday I was at Tennessee Valley Beach with Karen. As we sat on the sand, enjoying the waves, flotillas of pelicans flew overhead. I remembered when the work of Rachel Carson ensured their survival. We share a fragile time in history, and perhaps that’s always been true, but when I see the pelicans flap their wings overhead, I’m grateful for those who ensure clean water and air.
My sons are support as I deal with transition and grief. They hold a container for me. We three love the book The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. We read it aloud when they were young. Again, this morning I read the part where the robin directs her to the key and then to the ivy-hidden door.
I sit with that now, with gardens and doors.
I’m reading the Lost Children Archive, a novel, by Valerie Luiselli.
The book is about refugee children coming to our country to escape their own. They are children “who have lost the right to a childhood”.
The novel weaves a personal story with the horrifying and tragic plight of these children.
I learn of Stephen Haff, who has opened a one-room schoolhouse in Brooklyn. It’s called Still Waters in a Storm, and that is what it is.
His students who are immigrants, or children of immigrants, mostly of Hispanic origin, ranging in age from five to seventeen, are taught Latin, classical music, and how to scan poems and understand rhythm and meter. The children learn parts of Paradise Lost by heart and understand it. He and his students do a collective translation of Don Quixote from Spanish to English.
I learn of a little girl, eight or nine years old, arguing passionately over the “exact way” to translate these words:
“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams – this may be madness.”
“To surrender dreams – this may be madness.”
I learn about Steven Feld and Murray Schafer who “thought that the sounds people make, in music or in language, were always echoes of the landscape that surrounded them.”
“In Papua New Guinea, Feld had first recorded funerary weeping and ceremonial songs of the Bosavi people in the late 1970’s, and he later understood that the songs and weeping he had been sampling were actually vocalized maps of the surrounding landscapes, sung from the shifting, sweeping viewpoint of birds that flew over these spaces, so he started recording birds. After listening to them for some years, he realized that the Bosavi understood birds as echoes or “gone reverberations” – as absence turned into a presence; and, at the same time, as a presence that makes an absence audible. The Bosavi emulated bird sounds during funeral rites because birds were the only materialization in the world that reflected absence. Bird sounds were, according to the Bosavi, and in Feld’s words, “the voice of memory and the resonance of ancestry”.
Bird sounds – “the voice of memory and the resonance of ancestry”.
Those I’ve lost come to me as birds, my mother as a cardinal, my brother as a Great Blue Heron. My brother passed 79 days ago and still there’s an ache, a continuing awareness of what we shared. I listen to, and watch for birds. They line my landscape and open seams.
R. Murray Schafer, best known for his World Soundscape project, wrote that “hearing is a way of touching at a distance”.
I listen to birds, touched at a distance I might not be able to imagine. I trust in touch.
Each year I reverence this day, the last day of the first six months. I wake and listen – birds, silence, a breath of wind, the metal of the wind chime tapping slowly enough to separate its notes into a wholeness inviting me into my own.
I’ve purposely left this day open, open to what comes, with space between the metal bars of time, open so the wind can move through, twining, twisting, turning, evening out the breath.
I feel emergence from a tactile dome in which I’ve been feeling my way and now I come into spaciousness and light. There is breath, movement in and out, a landscape aware of and including me. I open shutters, let division go.
It’s the 78th day since my brother passed. I planned to stop keeping track but something draws me back in to the ups and downs and ins and outs and yet this morning all blends gently as one.
What moves in me now as I listen to birds call?
In reading one book, I come across another: As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh by Susan Sontag. The title is enough.
I look out on a redwood tree rising to fill my view, consider it as consciousness becoming flesh, needles sprightly in the softness of the breeze, branches rocked by the prancing rush of squirrels.
In this moment, I understand the words of Elias Amidon. “The love you are made of will breathe you in.”
This morning I woke aware of celebrating the moisture in my eyes. I couldn’t immediately put my contacts in. I sat with my sweetheart of a cat Bella and allowed the relationship between eyes, wetness, and eyelid to unfold. Far out? Crazy? Well, pleasurable, for sure. I gave myself time to wake. I touched each finger to my face, feeling the pulse of heart through fingers and face.
I came to the computer to read an article in the LA Times by Mary McNamara titled “Ignore Marianne Williamson at Your Peril”.
I was struck by this paragraph:
“All of which was pretty much in sync with what everyone else was saying. It just seemed a bit more, well, wacky when Williamson said it. Perhaps because she didn’t cradle every statement in a litany of statistics, use every opportunity to catalogue her previous experience (she may be Oprah’s spiritual advisor but she also founded Project Angel Food) or repeatedly trot out an example of how [insert topic being addressed here] was “personal” to her.“
When I was first asked to donate money to the presidential campaign of Marianne Williamson, I scoffed. Though I knew she was the original author of the words so often attributed to Nelson Mandela I wondered how many did.
Then I watched both nights of the debates and saw how she was ignored. I saw her made fun of for wanting to “sage” the planet, but today I sit with the definitions of sage. a profoundly wise person; a person famed for wisdom, someone venerated for the possession of wisdom, judgment, and experience.
Maybe that is what the planet needs right now. Love trumps hate, and as Marianne said before Nelson Mandela:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?
Anna in my little quartet group shared these words of Elias Amidon. “The love you are made of will breathe you in.”
Tonight I enter bed with those words massaging my lips, fingers, liver, and heart.
I wake to hear my cat Tiger breathing in my ear. He’s resting on the pillow next to mine. When I turn my head, I peer into huge owl eyes.
His eyes invite me into my own. I notice the layers, the delicate touch of lid on ball, and as I feel the layers in my eyelid, I feel rivers, banks, mountains, rocks, and sky. As Walt Whitman said, “I contain multitudes.”
Yesterday I flung a bright yellow tablecloth over our round kitchen table. I placed a softer yellow candle in the middle and lit it. I wanted to rise on a new flame, to let the grief of my brother’s passing 75 days before, and the grief of little Velvet leaving on Tuesday, rise into the sky.
Then, the sunset last night was bright red – fire, and now this morning I see soft, white clouds – layers layering the sky.
I’m reminded of the poem “The Layers” by Stanley Kunitz.
The poem ends with this:
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.
“I am not done with my changes.” Life beckons. I’m alive.
My friend Elaine is participating in a study at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, IONS. One question is: “Could you love a flower as much as you love a person?”
My first thought is of the transience of a flower. A flower’s life is short compared to mine and yet the petals fall and there is fruit. As we mature, do we feel our own petals fall? Do we feel ourselves letting go? I believe my father, mother, brother, and yes, little Velvet did too. Did they see the fruit they’d leave behind? Yes, and we who are left nourish on it now.
My heart blooms with love when I look at a flower, a mirror veining connection between mountains and rivers, life and death.