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Dear friends, please visit my new blog and community at this address.
Our Stories Today is a website community devoted to changing the narrative on women and aging one story at a time. Join us!
“Good hunting is no more about killing an animal than good sex is about making babies or good writing is about publication. The excitement, even the fulfillment is in the beauty of the search.” ~ Pam Houston, “The Blood of Fine and Wild Animals,” A Little More About Me
I don’t know what I am doing but I am in love. I am in love with the expressive adventure I’m on, the unknown, the countless photographs that may suck and the unexpected gems I will uncover. I am like a child at play. I love the sound of my camera when I depress the shutter, the experimentation and continued discovery of the relationship between composition, shutter speed, ISO and aperture. I sometimes think, this is the best part, the time when I am learning and expectation is not high and anything, everything, feels possible. In time, I will raise the bar, like I did with writing, and may become less forgiving of my stumbling around with lenses and settings.
My camera drives me to seek, to find, improve, learn and my writing drives me to dive more deeply into my images. My camera and words have become inseparable. I want to share what I see and hear.
As I approach 60, I know that if I were to die tomorrow, my deepest regret in life would be time wasted worrying about what others might think of my art, my writing, pottery, drawings, my photography, my voice. I regret the time I spent asking: Is my voice worth hearing? Are my images rich enough in story? Will my audience understand what I am trying to do? When would I be good enough, I thought? Good enough to share how I see, how I think, what I feel?
Worries like that are useless and stifling and yet every artist I know has had their share of them, including DaVinci. How could we not? We are vulnerable when we share our art, ourselves. How I choose to express myself will not touch or be understood by everyone. But this has never been the point. I write about and capture images to try to make sense of my own existence and invite curiosity. When my process inspires or comforts others, well, that’s an added benefit.
I spent 2014 paralyzed in a kind of panic that killed my creativity, the anxiety spinning my head in so many directions that I eventually fell to the ground exhausted, lonely, spent and empty. Quieting the very thing that has always brought me to my senses, my inner rambling voice, was a sort of death. My voice was quiet.
The time I spent worrying provided no fruit, no comfort and did little to avoid the truth of where I was at that time which happened to be broke and professionally confused.
I won’t do that again.
I need solitude and time without interruption to hear and see. Now I take that time. Art cannot be the thing I attend to when everything else is done.
My personal creative journey is to unwrap the journey ‘to,’ not the arrival ‘at.’
The thing that saves me from falling into the abyss of paralyzation today is my passion for discovery.
Every failure, every missed shot, is teaching me something. Sometimes it turns out that my ‘mistakes’ are the things I love the most. Every time I missed the mark or experienced failure, something was revealed. Like trying to write an essay I think is timely only to read my words and discover that there was another story begging to be told. Or the times I under or over exposed a picture or was using a slow shutter speed only to discover through a little editing that those images spoke to me.
Every beautiful thing I’ve written or created began as curiosity, bewilderment or confusion. And the stories I stayed with or the pictures I played with again and again fought their way into my conscience. I wrote or shot my way into the stories begging to be seen or told. By me.
I didn’t have to be perfect. All I had to do was see. Listen. Document. Let the process guide me.
On a sunny and chilly Saturday following Thanksgiving, my heart began to race and I found my brain racing to worrisome conclusions that I fought to push down, all due to a delayed reply from my daughter. I was texting my ex-husband’s wife and told her I was worried, and she asked why. I bit the bullet and decided to tell the truth, “Sometimes I suffer from anxiety.” She said, ‘that must be hard.’ I relaxed. I felt real, the comfort of not being judged filling my dark corners with light. I wondered why my modus operandi is an instinctual desire to hide my dark feelings. Why do I hide or not reach out for a friend, but instead choose floundering alone inside a churning sea just waiting to be spit out?
I’m thinking of this because recently my husband received word of an acquaintance who had just committed suicide. That makes five suicides that have affected people in our circle within the last few years. All men. Quiet and in pain. I cannot begin to fathom such despair despite my own periodic wrangling with darkness. And maybe the incident that caused me to write this post has little relationship, or perhaps, as I suspect, it has a tightly bound connection.
When I was a little girl, I remember that when I was sad or worried, the message given was that what I was worried about was really silly, that I was being too sensitive. I was, and am, incredibly sensitive. This sensitivity leads to a depth of feeling experiences that is both a curse and a gift. The curse causes me to sense painful nuances in interactions that can derail me. That hurt can cause me to pull away.
The gift leads me to my art expression. I write to understand and articulate my experiences, to find my way to peace. I take pictures and create art to see, to find and explore the things that bind us all together. These expressions are integral to who I am.
Over time I have become less ashamed of my sad moments, my worries, but I still prefer to hide. I am adept at hiding my darkness by excusing myself from phone calls, social gatherings or avoiding conversations. I prefer to be alone. When hiding is not an option, I either become loudly silent or put on a false facade, endure gatherings and then, exhausted, crawl back into the safety of my hole. I’d like to hide less. I am blessed to have a handful of real human beings in my life, those that can sit with me.
I don’t wake every day in a terrifying tizzy, downward spiral or frightened to death. Not at all. Anxiety has a long nail and she just scratches my back from time to time, startling me from a lazy happiness back into the ‘what if’ crazy-making thoughts. My husband is most privy to such moments, and loving regardless, but sometimes I hide from him as well.
Anxiety about the safety of my family, my business, my finances, about the current state of the world, anxiety about loss and anxiety about the consequences of being true and real in a society that welcomes expressions of joy and happiness and prefers sadness remain hidden so as to not disrupt another’s state of mind.
This darkness has the power to overcome us if we don’t talk about it.
The darkness presents itself in dreams, acting out our deepest fears, causing us to wake up in a sweat convinced danger is awaiting. I have dreams of being hunted regularly and I know it is my own emotions begging me to sit still and listen.
While working at a client’s retail business a few months ago, we were evacuated because the business next door had an armed man threatening a woman inside. The swat team came, armed men ran through our building and snipers were positioned outside. I stayed calm, but after the incident found myself blubbering like a baby. All had ended without anyone being harmed, but the ‘what if’ thought overcame me on my way home. I had no idea how stressful the incident had been until I called my daughter and left a message saying “I’m fine, but….” before sobbing hysterically.
My client offered a free session with a trauma specialist, and I took advantage.
The trauma specialist told me what I knew to be the most helpful, but don’t do enough to comfort myself, “talk about it until I don’t need to talk about it to trusted friends.”
Of course, this makes perfect sense, but it left me wondering why this is often so hard.
I think I know one of the reasons.
The first time we tell someone about our trauma, or our sadness and anxiety, they are usually thoughtful, caring and wanting to know how they can help. But over time, well-meaning friends push the conversation to a more comfortable direction or happier place, or worse become frustrated when we are stuck and continue to need to sort our trauma out. Worse are those we see regularly that never even acknowledge something significant that has happened in our life. We lose a pet, we suffer an injury, we witness a horrible accident, we are evacuated from our place of work, and yet nothing is said.
So we stop talking. Because who wants to hear?
And talking, for many of us, is the balm that soothes the soul. Not receiving advice, not stories from the listener, not a sharing of hopelessness and despair, and not judgment. Just someone who listens. Who can remind us of who we are, reflect trust in us returning to that person, who holds our hand who listens to the same story again and again. Someone who says, “I see you. I might not know what to say or how to help, but I see you.”
Everyone suffers at one time or another. My heart aches to think about these men who took their lives, to think of how alone they must have felt, how lost.
When a friend or family member talks to me about their worries and dark spaces, I consider it an honor. I feel honored that I am the trusted recipient of another’s pain and know that I have just found someone real I can talk to in turn.
Talk to me. I promise to see you. And I’ll talk to you.
I took out my camera for the first time yesterday, first time since Mexico, because I noticed that my sedum was growing inside a grouping of tulips, both plants simultaneously pushing up through the soil, although the tulips were near spent and the sedum was just being birthed.
My camera has been on a shelf because the more I played with it, the more I realized how inadequate my skill set is, how little I really know and understand this form of art and I became frustrated with my lack of knowledge and how clumsy I felt with my failed attempts to interpret what I was seeing. It was almost easier when I didn’t know what I didn’t know, when I was willing to be a novice, or an inexperienced photographer and was thrilled with each lucky shot. This is the exact opposite of what I recommend to growing writers, but it is real and something to be reckoned with.
So it was a powerful moment for me when I ran inside the house to grab my camera.
I had been sitting outside on one of the first glorious spring afternoons we have had in some time, weeding. Rain had hit Colorado for a few days and the soil was damp, making it easier to pull the weeds out by their roots. The sun was that perfect temperature of warmth, and the air still held moisture, something I celebrate being a creature of the humid northeast. Days of rain are some of my favorite moments, rare here compared to Boston. The sound of drops on our roof and the scent of water on asphalt, the bleak sky, encourage and provide permission to slow down and write or read or just watch television. Spring rains are the best, mid-wifing the embryos of nature, emerald green lawns, shoots of perennials returning for another visit, and the abundance of weeds trying to crowd them out.
When I spied the sedum pushing herself up through the middle of my purple tulips, I got that feeling I get when seeing something ordinary that is nevertheless extraordinary to my eyes. I must try to capture it. I am present, and my blood surges with new life as if I am seeing something that no one else can.
I began to wander in my garden and checked out my peonies which have not yet provided any intense blooms in three years. I had meant to transplant them last year, but forgot so though there are buds on both of them now, I suspect they will droop and die before blooming once again. Then I saw the ants.
Many, many years ago, my very first house was in Walpole, Massachusetts and when I naively ripped out many of the plants in the garden, with a desire to begin all over again, my new neighbor caught me before I pulled out the peonies. “Don’t you know what those are?” she said subdued shock. “They have the most lovely pink blooms every year.” So I was chastised and they were saved, and I loved them until one day I cut a few blossoms and brought them inside and ants began crawling out everywhere.
Ants love peonies. While I looked at the tiny buds, one little guy busily scrambled back and forth like he was in heaven. Maybe he was.
Nature rocks my damn world. She brings me to life.
I am enrolled in a course to learn about this beautiful Nikon, and to immerse myself in art for a week in October. The week-long course is in Santa Fe and I have been longing to take it for the last two years. Finally, I have the money and ability to make the time.My pictures cannot possibly capture the fragrant glory of plant life but this is not because I haven’t yet mastered my equipment. Yes, I must take this class to better perfect my artistic voice, but even then, nature will sing outside of the camera lens. Her pitch is not meant to be fully captured.
The air smells like a mixture of grape jelly, apple blossoms and violets and the fragrance of freshly mowed grass mingled with air almost foggy with spent dandelions makes my heart sing and swell with glorious joy. Spring is here. Spring is singing.
I’m singing with my camera too. Maybe off pitch, but it’s still my song.
The day she ran the marathon the weather was horrible. I had hoped it might just mist, a light drizzle that kept the runners cool, but this was a full-on storm. The rain never ceased and at times, it was a complete deluge, the kind where you can’t see too well, the rain is coming down so hard. The wind would be a headwind all the way into Boston.
Five years ago my daughter was running strong and less than a half mile from the Boston Marathon finish when the bombs went off. I ended up running against the runners that didn’t know what had happened yet trying to find her, hysterical and frightened, terrified that more might be coming. I was panicked that my daughter was alone without her phone and might be afraid or in danger. When we found her, she was still running and confused, angry that we were stopping her until we told her people had been hurt, likely killed and then all the glorious joy and excitement she had felt left her body and she deflated. We walked out of the area as fast as we could fielding phone calls and text messages until her now father in law, rescued us and drove us home.
Shocked, aware that we had been spared and others had not, the full weight of that day yet to come.
And it came in waves for days, weeks, months after that.
I hadn’t been worried about her at all in 2013.
But I was this time.
The weather was a ripe recipe for hypothermia, for pushing back any hopes for a personal best running time and kept some of the crowds away, crowds that have an enormous influence on screaming the runners home on the best of weather days.
But I am her mother and I hold both of my daughters worries and fears about what could go wrong so that they do not have to.
I worried that her drive in to the city to catch the bus to the start point with her running friends would be treacherous and that the wet roads might hide patches of ice. I worried that she would encounter traffic and miss the bus and not make it back to the start on time. I worried that she would not feel as positive and confident, but would succumb to the negativity that would be a death toll in an event this difficult. I worried she would become hypothermic and that worry amplified as we watched the wheelchairs and elite runners from inside the station where her father-in-law is now the fire chief and call after call came over the radio with hyperthermic runners before they even reached Mile 10.
How in the world would my daughter make it running outside for over four hours in this climate wearing soaking wet clothing?
We tracked her on the B.A.A app and went outside periodically to cheer on the wheelchair and hand cycle participants and then came back inside to warm up until our app showed her about 20 minutes away and we went outside until she arrived. Hannah spotted us and an enormous smile lit up her beautiful face as she stopped for less than five minutes to take off her rain poncho, grab her energy bar and was off again. I did not even notice the rain. Yet.
Nor did I notice the rain when we took the train to Boston to see her again and walked towards Boylston, just shy of the finish line.
We cheered on the runners, most of whom were runners for charities, the ordinary men and women who decided to do something extraordinary and did not give up despite epic conditions, the worst marathon weather in 30 years. The rain came in sheets with a wind that pushed it almost horizontal, but still wave after wave of runners ran down Boylston Street until our tracking app told us she had just turned the corner and we all watched for her. I saw my glorious girl and screamed HANNAH and her smile lit up the universe and I cried then, then I could finally exhale my worries and finally replace an old, frightening experience with a positive memory as my daughter ran right by us to the finish line to collect her medal. A medal that she earned. Boston Strong. Boston Proud.
We were meeting her at the Westin Hotel and had to backtrack down Newbury Street to Arlington Street to cross and that was when the headwind hit us and the rain and wind really let lose, though we didn’t think it could get any worse. All of us were dripping wet, soaked to the core at that point, any part of us that was not inside rain boots or hat or jacket now saturated and with the relief of Hannah crossing the finish line, I could finally feel the wet, the cold, and all I wanted to do was strip off the cloying, soggy material.
We had dinner at Rock Bottom Brewery, just making our reservation after a quick run to the car to change our clothing.
And then home to her house, where I slept, slept for over ten hours, slept in relief, slept in joy, slept in exhaustion. Proud of my amazing child.
I thought of all the runners, ordinary people like my daughter who had decided to take on an incredible challenge and do something extraordinary and I asked myself, “When was the last time you did something extraordinary, lady?”
And I realized it’s been too long, far too long since I took on a personal challenge of my own. I don’t know what it will be yet. But I do know it’s time.
Yesterday was a tough day. Days when we feel sorry for ourselves always are. Like you, I have my damn demons and they all decided to torment the fuck out of me in the afternoon. You know the saying, “don’t kick your opponent when he’s down?” Yeah. My demons don’t play by those rules either.
Injured body. Traveling husband. Beautiful weather while laid up. Boredom. No food in the house. Exhausted.
I cried. No. I sobbed. I mean I cried so hard, I had to sink to the floor (and when you are down one leg and one arm, that’s no easy feat). I let it all out. I cried so long my eyes are still red this morning. I feel asleep with a stuffy nose and the hiccups we get after hysterics.
For all you yogi manifest-ers out there who like to pretend we should not feel sad, fearful or pissed off, I’m here to tell you something: Bullshit. Sometimes things do suck and sometimes we should sit in this sucky space. Because when we let ourselves succumb to the emotions we are having, we get to possess something extraordinary when we come out on the other side.
I went to bed and slept all night. Solid as a rock.
And I woke up thinking, enough of this shit, girl. You’ve been down before, you will heal. I woke up ready to move forward. I accepted that I needed to let myself express those icky emotions first so that I could be real.
So I got out of bed deciding that I would put on my hiking boots, the ones with ankle support and walk the level path in the open space nearby and even though my injured arm decided to cramp up and the pain was horrid, I remained determined.
I was walking by the sink on the way to make some coffee when I spotted something extraordinary almost hidden beneath the dirty dishes and food waiting to be composted. It was the inside of a banana peel. A banana peel. And it was shining like some rare diamond in the trash.
I lifted the peel out of the sink knowing I had to photograph it, the inside showing the lines from the knife used to cut the fruit inside were dramatic and seductive. There was a message here I decided to explore.
The peel faded into our kitchen countertop so I placed it on the wood island and I saw that the inside of this peel looked more like wood grain than a jacket designed for fruit. It wasn’t until I finished playing with the photo edits that I took a step back and realized that inner passion and excitement had taken over the fear and worry I had gone to bed with.
If our soul was hidden beneath our skin and we could turn ourselves inside out, showing the world our real selves, our real wounds, our real fears, our real beauty, would we do it? Would you recognize your friends? Yourself?
Would I show you the knife marks from all the times others had hurt or disappointed me? Would I show you my unprotected underbelly and trust that you would care for it? Would I let my extraordinary and playful inner child take your hand? Would I let the unmasked version of myself stand in front of you without apology?
I’m not sure. But the older I get, the more determined I am to try.
I imported the picture of the peel into Snapseed and began my favorite part, the editing process where I get to decide what I want to emphasize and what I want to say with my images. No picture is ever taken and shared by me without an accompanying story. Sometimes I don’t know the story until I’m done with the editing, sometimes I discover there was really nothing I wanted to say and I delete the image, sometimes I am touched in the limbic portion of my brain and I only feel something deeply without the ability to use my words.
For me, art is like that. I never begin a writing or artistic project already wedded to a desired conclusion or outcome. The very endeavor is a seeking of what is lying underneath my banana peel, hidden, but real and deep. And important. Needing expression.
Funny how we human beings can go to bed in tears, feeling insignificant and lost, and then wake up and find inspiration in a banana peel.
Isn’t life fucking fabulous?
I’ve been here before. The place where I cannot move quickly, where the television is tempting and the couch calls, saying, rest, my dear, rest. Life slows down because my body calls uncle and the gift of time, the very thing I have been lamenting I don’t have enough of, is presented to me complete with a pretty bow. And yet I cannot settle into this space I have so longed for. I took a fall and now have an elbow that doesn’t flex enough for me to floss my teeth or cut my food. My foot is stuffed inside a bulky boot to stabilize the ankle and I’m aware that this could have been so much worse, so much, but that brings little comfort right now.
I began full time work with one of my favorite clients this February and two weeks into it I could see it was not the right fit for me. I was exhausted from being on my feet all day and being pulled into a thousand different directions. The evidence was clear, and clear quickly, that I am in a different stage of life now, space that requires I lower the intensity, slow down and devote full attention to the things I love instead of squeezing everything into the moments left over. After speaking with my client, we agreed to bring me back to contract work once my two weeks notice for the full time gig was up.
And though the letting go and telling my employer about my longing to return to part time was difficult, I felt I was releasing air after holding my breath for weeks. Turns out the certainty of steady employment and financial security was not what I most valued in my life.
It was on my last day as an official employee that I slipped and fell while making minor changes to the front of store displays. A turn to the left, a misstep and a fall onto the concrete floor and I knew it was not a minor fall. The barista helped me up and I instantly, and painfully, realized I could not put full weight on my left foot or my right hand. An urgent care visit confirmed that I had badly sprained my ankle and elbow.
My magical gift of time had arrived, but it didn’t look anything like my fantasy. I had hoped for freedom to do lots of yoga, push my body back into shape and walk in the woods before returning home to write or draw. My idea had been to devote some brain time planning the direction of my business. My idea had been to lower the stress. Minus one foot and one arm, these things became elusive.
But taking the job had taught me something important, that to me, time is the most valuable freedom I have, and I don’t know how much of it I have left. This crystal clear clarity in my priorities would not have been as apparent without my time being eaten up by other obligations. My children, my husband, my inner spirit, my extended family–the need to be present with these people, to be present with myself outweighs the worry and uncertainty of running my own business. I can live with the worry of what work comes next. I cannot live without time.
Before I made my decision about work, I fantasized regularly of a week on the beach in Sayulita, doing nothing but reading and writing, eating, drinking margaritas and swimming in the ocean or watching sunsets before dinner and waking next to the man I love with the sound of waves crashing. I needed to lower the intensity. I needed space in my brain, the kind of emptiness that creates magic.
After I fell, I sat propped on a chair with a dripping ice bag on my ankle, realizing that my elbow was actually beginning to hurt more than my foot and feeling grateful for the young employees of the store who were doing everything they could to support and encourage me. The reality of my situation slowly crept in.
The gift of time I wanted to give myself might not look exactly like what I had envisioned or come when I had planned, but I think the universe was telling me to slow the fuck down and I just hadn’t listened quickly enough.
I had intended to drive to Basalt the next day to work with two clients and meet with a potential one but as soon as I tried to straighten out my arm for the x-ray, I knew without a doubt I would not be going.
And, I cannot lie, though I had been excited about this trip, I felt relieved.
My body needs a rest.
So now I have time.
Darkness enters in the middle of the day on a Monday afternoon and we stand still. We stand, some looking up at the eclipse, others, like me, watching the darkness creep across the horizon, dusk coming just before noon. Street lights and sensor lights on homes turn on and the wind, which had been blowing hard enough that we added stakes to our shade shelter, died down. Quiet.
Totality never entered my vocabulary until a few weeks ago.
My husband had been excited about a day trip to view the eclipse in totality for weeks. He had researched a spot to experience totality that was a drivable distance and that might have us avoiding the inevitable traffic heading home. He settled on Alliance, Nebraska. We had a cooler full of goodies, even a camp stove to make my coffee once we arrived at our viewing spot because his plan was to leave the house by 1 a.m. and drive the almost four hours at night.
I’m a sleep whore, and the thought of just 2-3 hours of sleep was worrisome, but when you love your partner and he is this stoked, you jump in with both feet just to watch joy unfold. I slept the first two hours or so in the car, waking when he turned off one main road for another and we were suddenly in a deep soup of mist and fog with a defroster that couldn’t keep up with clearing the way unless we raised the temperature.
There are many kinds of darkness.
I wrote to a dear friend a few days ago and confessed, “Janet, I think I’m depressed,” the very confession providing relief and a lessening of tension.
There has been a darkness in my universe since last November, and Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night,” runs over and over in my mind. I think of how I’ve raged, raged, against the darkness and I am exhausted. The older I get, the more I long to save others, dogs running loose in the middle of the road, friends who are suffering, family members who have experienced trauma. It’s hard to watch this social nightmare unfold, knowing that my influence is so limited.
I told this same friend that I have been unable to write and feel I’m starving without some form of artistic expression so I’ve turned to my camera and try to be patient with my still-learning fingers as they attempt to capture what moves me.
My words drop like lead and I sit, hands on the keyboard, knowing that I am holding back from all the things I want to write about: the state of our country, the increase in racism and anti-semitism, fear over losing protected land, the awareness of time moving more quickly, the knowledge that the aches and pains I experience now will likely not be resolved, but will instead become woven into my older life.
I suppose I can write about these things, but they are dark and heavy words and they are far different from the light-filled seeking sentences of my past.
The eclipse, totality, lasts mere minutes but is powerful in its brevity, both for the erie creeping darkness and silence, but also for the sudden brightness, as if the darkness was a joke, or it never even happened. There is a dearth to the light, a flatness, an oddness to the shadows, when the wind quiets, and the temperature drops and I am grateful for my sweater, scarf and long pants. But the creeping darkness is followed by a new day, a new dawn, a new beginning.
There were moments where we could not see the light, but it was there.
Dare I be so optimistic again?
In the days that follow, many talented photographers share their images of a sun covered entirely by the mood with a corona so bright that even though it is safe to view without glasses, the light is sharp and hurts. The light comes, as we knew it would, but it startles in its suddenness and everyone gathered applauds and we wonder, did this really happen? I experience a complex series of emotions and realize I have been taking photo after photo of the faces of those I love and the shadows and coming darkness. I could not capture the oddness of the light that is almost monochromatic. There is a startling lack of contrast.
As I later edit the pictures of the faces of my husband my daughter I feel something different, just a tiny tug of a memory, and it is joy. Peace. Behind the darkness was a shining glimmer of life, of what matters.
So I, too, let go for a moment of the darkness.
We had work to do in the morning so after lingering in bed for a bit, we rose and got to it. I had some stories to frame for a trade publication, he had calls and in between working I did the laundry. The sun was fighting from behind the clouds and the weather called for a high of 69 so we decided we would quit around noon and enjoy the day.
Both of us have had things on our mind and the opportunity to call a day ours has been rare so Friday’s gifts were not unappreciated. Our individual businesses, learning to strengthen our partnership and marriage, the frightening political climate and its creating of an alter-reality has had us in between joy, anxiety and sadness. The life we share is good, but the big picture world is uncertain, our ideals about things we hold most dear shattered. Every social gathering touches upon this and it is important we talk and share and learn we are not alone, but it is also an intense burden that we are all learning how to carry with grace. We are all tired from fighting injustice and the moron that pretends to lead us and from the necessity of saying no, no this is not acceptable, so Friday we decided to say yes. Yes to us. Yes to what we have. Yes.
The prayer flags on our porch and the wild grass that borders our patio were beginning to blow and I worried for a minute that the wind was picking up, but we still went about the business of putting on our bibs and jerseys, grabbed some power food and water and set about to ride. Today was a gentle, easy, ride for Rob, but his easy rides are ones where I push myself just a bit.
Not too long after we left and turned to begin our first short climb, I was sweating and I felt the wind and I fought fear’s fingers. My heart picked up speed, but I took a deep breath because I know this is muscle memory and not reality, this is my body reminding me of that other time, the one where the wind shoved me a few feet into the road and the time when after fighting head, tail and cross winds, crazy winds that made no sense, I told my husband I was done and he rode back to get the car. After that, we argued about my need to take care of myself and his desire to ride and I cried and he felt badly and then we came closer once again to who we are, who we will be, in this marriage, as a couple, as best friends. The wind will always be unpredictable here in Colorado, and I’m trying to befriend her uncertainty and gain the strength to appreciate her playfulness, but my body reacts so quickly to her arrival that it takes time to lower the alert and trust in myself, trust in what I know, trust in what I want.
Rob can grow frustrated with my fear but he is learning patience with something he himself does not understand and today he made sure to stay at a pace I could keep up so I could find that beautiful pocket behind his wheel where the wind could not rock me. I love him for this, for the way he hears me and instead of telling me why I should not panic, his actions say, “I’m here.” His very presence lowers my heart rate and I ask him, “Is the wind really that bad or is it my panic?” and he tells me calmly, “It’s just because we are going faster that you feel it more,” and I loosen my hold and release the tension in my shoulders. I try to smile.
The ride feels good and when we return home, all sweaty and lightly touched by the sun, we sit on the porch and take off our shoes and decide to clean up and go for a motorcycle ride, the smell of the air seduces us with summer in March and the sun is bright and the pine trees in the mountains call us and I am feeling that loveliness again, the one of letting go, being in the moment, the one where every image shines like diamonds, almost hurting my eyes, and each inhale takes in life and joy and pain and we are moving fast on the motorcycle and yet time stands still, the memory encased in a space where all senses are engaged and I will not forget.
As we head higher, the temperature drops and the clouds block out the sun, but instead of feeling cold and asking Rob to stop so I can add layers and my scarf, I breathe in the sharp, clean air and feel ALIVE.
We ride through the mountains and then down Boulder Canyon, a ride I don’t think I could ever stop loving, ever stop feeling awe over, the light as it hits the canyon walls, the redness of the rock, the sharp angles and the organic way trees hold on in the craziest of ways, the climbers, the runners, the cyclists, the way the world comes together in a random moment and the way the road twists and turns–they fill, no they feed my soul. I smile.
We complete our day with a margarita on the outside patio of the Rio, bad margaritas and worse food, but blinding sunshine and people watching and then we walk the Pearl Street Mall holding hands before getting hungry for sushi. We share the chef’s choice of sashimi and the salmon is like butter.
Before heading home, we stop in my favorite place on the mall, the bookstore and though I have three books waiting at home to be enjoyed, I buy three more. There is pleasure in my hands as I hold each book and I anticipate the inevitable transportation of each story, the knowledge and awareness each one will heighten, the emotional journey I am sure to take and I smile. I know that when I get home, I will open each book, explore a page here and there and I will see which words speak the loudest to me at the moment and I will begin.
Our ride home is cold and when we hit the spot on South Boulder Road where the air smells like swamp and is at least 10 degrees cooler and moist, I smile again. It has been a very good day, a dance where we are perfectly in step, so familiar, and our feet are buoyant.
I smile. We are almost home.
We have a train that runs through town here and in the warmer months, when the windows are open we can hear the whistle blow and sometimes that whistle blows loud and long and other times it’s a short sharp warning and I like to hear the rumble of the train cars as they roll along the tracks. Some complain about the sound, but for me, the sound is comforting, like a distant lawnmower on a summer afternoon or a football game on the television on a crisp autumn day. The train has been somewhere and is going somewhere and it has not yet arrived.
And now, even though the windows are shut tight against the cold winter air, we have the sound of owls. I woke up this morning and though I had not looked at my watch yet, I would later learn it was 4:30. My husband turned towards me and whispered, “can you hear the owls?” It sounded like courtship and the sounds were comforting.
I don’t know much about owls. I know that when they fly, the breadth of their wings is spectacular and wide, and I know that children dissect owl pellets to understand the food chain, astounded at finding entire skeletons. Owls like seclusion, and they like to be left alone. I, too, like my share of seclusion and moments where I don’t like to be disturbed. I like living in a place where owls nest. I like living in a state where owls, coyotes, deer, marmot, elk, mountain lion, bear and moose are accessible.
I moved to Colorado in 2010, feeling pulled as if by a magnet, only knowing that I wanted to be in the midst of the mountains and live more life outside and wanted to surround myself with others who felt the same spiritual peace when immersed in the woods on a hiking trail. I was 51 and my move was the biggest adventure of my life with the exception of the birth of my two extraordinary daughters. I felt so young and free driving through the density of Ohio, Illinois and Indiana and when I hit Iowa, the rolling hills and endless miles of farmland, burdens I hadn’t even known I still carried were lifted and I began my new life weightless.
That drive across the country in 2010 reminded me how vast our world is. The road was always changing.
I moved to a townhouse at the base of the foothills in Boulder, and walked, ran and hiked daily. Sometimes more than once a day. My best thinking has always been while silently moving along a dirt trail and one day soon after I moved, I huffed and puffed my way up the hogback across the street and came to a high point where I sat and looked east, across the plains, seeing for miles and miles. Life slowed and I inhaled.
I can be anxious and self-calming has been a lifelong learning experience. Sitting on a rock that day, hearing only the wind, without a flock of others bearing down on me, I understood how my move had gifted me with more than mountains. My move had dropped me into the midst of nature, and her glorious silence, her immense skies, and the animals who lived just outside my door. I had not known the full power of the daily presence in vast outdoor space to soothe my soul.
When my previous marriage of 18 years had ended, I began hiking alone. Those hikes involved a smashing intensity of purpose and a desperate attempt at letting go of depression, anger and fear and included chaos in my head at the start of each solo journey. I was once a fast and steady hiker and the only thing that held me back at times were steep slabs or rock with nothing to hold onto for balance or rickety ladders that led up a rocky too difficult to climb.
I’ve slowed down. I needed to slow down. I liked slowing down. I see and hear things that I once was oblivious to.
My brother, his wife and their 16 year old granddaughter were hit by a drunk driver on New Year’s Day who was driving without her headlights on. Rich has two broken femurs, countless other injuries, was intubated for almost three weeks, remains unconscious, and his wife lost her spleen and their granddaughter has a head injury.
My brother almost lost his life in October after heart troubles led to a near fatal allergic reaction.
We are not close, differing in world view, politics, and lifestyle, but he is my brother, my first childhood playmate, there is a bond that distance, time and difference cannot eliminate. He is a kind and gentle soul and has had more than his share of difficulty and I think, he has cheated death twice now.
The pain I hold in my palms, as tenderly as possible, is the ragged pain of my parents. You cannot know real fear until you have children.
My parents have, in three short months, been notified twice that their son’s life is being threatened and have endured seconds, minutes, days, weeks, an eternity of fear that he might not make it.
This is not the natural order.
I recently returned from a business trip to Salt Lake City. The trip was to provide training at a trade show and the work was both rewarding and exhausting. I was walking back to my hotel for a quick mediation break, a moment of quiet before the evening’s events. As usual, my brain was full and my head was spinning with the conversations of the day and what was to come, when an unusual sound pulled me from my thoughts. I heard a pounding sound, but couldn’t place it until I noticed a woman a few feet in front of me. Her clothing was dirty and torn and she did not wear socks. She held a large rock in both of her hands and was using it to flatten a can. There was a bent and wobbly shopping cart next to her that held what looked like the beginning of her day’s work. She did not notice me when I walked by.
I only got a few feet past her before I turned around. I could not un-see her. I could not pretend she didn’t exist. I approached her with a $20 in my hand and she did not notice me standing next to her so I said, ‘excuse me’ twice before she looked up. Her eyes widened and I imagine mine did as well because at that moment, we were one person. We were both wearing our suffering.
Her eyes filled with tears, but I could feel a growing full-fledged sob in my throat so I turned around and cried my way back to the hotel.
I was profoundly reminded that we are all connected. We all touch the same earth. The owls, this homeless woman, my feet, your feet.
I can remember many tear-driven hikes and moments in the mountains where solitude and the earth provided me with something human beings could not. The branches of trees, the scent of pine needles, the musky undertow of decaying leaves, the impossible blue sky and the sound of the wind singing comforted and tethered me to my own life.
I have not been sleeping well and this troubles me, but the sound of the owls remind me how large this life thing is, how we all run together like water colors bleed together on paper and it grounds me in the universe, as did the eyes of a homeless woman on the streets in Salt Lake City.
Like the train that runs through town, I have been somewhere.
As have you.