in memoriam

In one of the stars, I shall be living. In one of them, I shall be laughing.
And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing when you look at the sky at night.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery  The Little Prince

three goodbyes in one year’s time

A year ago, our humble little condo floor was covered in small, washable rugs and we had a cat- scratched sea foam 50’s era sectional in the living room. It smelled like a mix of old dog and pee, and we didn’t care. Our geriatric cattle dog Emma was still making her way in the world, despite having no control of her bladder and a limited ability to walk further than a few blocks. She still had a spark in her eyes, though, and we were glad to have her around. A year ago, we spent a good portion of every Sunday drinking tea at our elderly friend June’s house. We spent hours and hours listening to stories about The Great Depression, hidden places to find booze during prohibition in Seattle, and sailing the Puget Sound. June enjoyed spinning a yarn with her stories and loved nothing more than an engaged friend or two who were willing to make a pot of tea and sit with her. A year ago, I was waking up early every Monday to dash off to yoga class, but not before hearing the phone ring and chatting briefly with Reen’s mom Patsy who called like clockwork at 7:00 am. Patsy had a gift for gossip and a wickedly good sense of humor that I cherished. Even in a few minutes on the phone, she created a connection that many people can’t craft in hours.

Funny how so many things can change in one year; the absence of a canine companion, the adjustment of furniture, the shift in Sunday schedules and the silence of the phone on Monday mornings, to name a few. One year passed, and three beings who meant so much to our days and weeks are gone. One year passed, and we aren’t the same people we were before.

Emma died at home this spring and we were fortunate to be there to hold her paws and kiss her sweet fur as she breathed her last breath. Patsy died in the same hospital she retired from as a psychiatric nurse so many years ago. She suffered a brief but painful decline at the end of summer, leaving us with the scent of fallen leaves as we departed New England for Seattle with tear soaked cheeks. Our dear tea companion June died just a few weeks ago while her husband and I held her hands and talked her into her next adventure. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to read June her favorite Truman Capote story A Christmas Memory the day before she died. I like to think it brought her comfort. It certainly brought that to us.

heart stretching, soul expanding, life altering grief

2012 was a year of major losses and a year that taught me more about love and of spiritual connection than any I have had so far. Even my dealings with cancer could not prepare me for the heart expanding experience of sitting vigil with our beloved dog and with two women who taught me in immense ways about love, faith and friendship. Even nine years of experience working in grief support with a hospice agency did not prepare me fully for the immensity of my own grief and the ways I would be physically, mentally and spiritually stretched by these losses. That’s the thing about grief, though. Every loss is unique. Every person is unique. Every situation…unique.

One of the many ways my yoga practice has helped me in the past year (aside from my little bits of midnight asana and meditation in the confined space between the hospital bed and the radiator) was to recognize that it doesn’t help to judge any experience or any thing or any one as fundamentally good or intrinsically bad (and yes- I need to remind myself of this often). Sometimes things are just the way they are. And the one thing that can be counted on, thank goodness, is that every experience, thing, and person not only can, but will change.

So, here’s to a new year of experiences and connections, losses and gains. As much as I love new beginnings, I also love pausing to think about how I’ve been blessed and transformed by the souls in my life; living and deceased. Right now, I light three candles and pause for Emma, Patsy and June. These three remarkable souls brightened my life and reminded me in equal measure to listen from the heart, to laugh from the belly, and to get up from time to time to shake it out and play.

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fuel for nostalgia


popsicles on the porch circa ~1978

it all started at the gas pump

Today I watched a disheveled young boy and his younger-looking tomboy of a sister fighting over who could wash the dirty rear window in their dad’s station wagon. Even from behind the gas pump, I could tell that the boy had the idea first, but that he was overtaken by his sister’s enthusiasm and desire to show him up. They struggled for under a minute, grunting, tugging and whining inaudible words at one another while the father stood at the side of the car pumping gas and smiling in apparent amusement. The brother lost the battle rather quickly, standing with his hands in the pockets of his wrinkled pants, looking down at his shoes in disbelief. He gazed up to catch me staring directly at him, recognizing a moment not too long ago when I looked up to my older brother and sister and did everything possible to prove my worth as an equal.

I looked away from the scene, thinking that everything from the grungy outfits to the older model vehicle and scruffy looking dad seemed familiar in the way that made my gut ache and tears well up. It all made me miss home and family and youth; the long, idle days of summer when the most important thing seemed to be driving my older brother crazy while begging for any bit of time from my way too cool for school sister. And look at us now. Too busy with our own lives and families to worry about what the others are doing and waiting for the next obligatory holiday or birthday to reach out with a text or the all too rare phone call.

Standing there at the gas pump with my keys dangling in my hands and my debit card firmly gripped between my lips, I had a major case of nostalgia for my youth. I missed waking up at dawn to scramble toward the beat-up green Suburban in hopes of sitting in the front seat next to my dad as we took to the road in search of the perfect lake for a day of fishing. I pined for the lazy summer days when all I did was lay around reading library books and avoiding my chores of weeding the vegetable garden and dusting furniture. I longed for the days of lounging with my cousins on the front porch of my grandparent’s farmhouse with homemade popsicles dripping from our sticky fingers. I even missed the hot summer days spent sweating in the bright green and yellow kitchen as my mom and grandmother gossiped and giggled over the stove and directed us children in preparatory tasks for canning our fruit bounty.

When did life get so busy and complicated? How did I move into this phase of multitasking and overbooking my life into the next decade?  I so often forget the fact that life is fleeting and fragile, and I wrongly believe all too often that people, places and things will stay the same while I truck on. Unfortunately, this is all too untrue, and everything continues to change to the point of my own image in the mirror reflecting as strange and perplexing. Everything changes. Nothing stays the same.

Purnam: take away the Whole from the Whole, the Whole remains

Everything changes except, perhaps, the divine spark from within that connects the Infinite/Whole. The idea that everything, even those apparently scraggly broken parts, is connected as a part of the whole and is perfect. It all makes me think of the idea of Purnam: wholeness, completeness and ultimate perfection. I am all that came before me, everyone who I have ever encountered, everyone I will ever encounter, the people, places, and things I know and don’t know, and nothing all at the same time. I am whole with and without all of these people, places and things, and beyond my ego, desires, flaws, memories, innate goodness etc., I am connected to all and therefore irrelevant and relevant simultaneously. I find this concept equally perplexing and comforting.

The verse that I learned at yoga teacher training that I continue to work with in my own practice stems from the Santi Mantra of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (translation by one of my teachers, Stephanie Sisson):

Purnamadah Purnamidam
Purnat Purnamudachyate
Purnasya Purnamadaya

That is Whole, this is the Whole;
From the Whole, the Whole arises;
Taking away the Whole from the Whole
The Whole remains.

In a nutshell: everything changes, yes. Our experiences in these bodies and this life experience are finite; and yet, according to this theory/mantra/teaching, we are all part of the infinite Whole. The messy little girl that I was with scabby knees, uncombed hair and a propensity for dramatic shifts in mood continues to be a part of my own Wholeness which is a part of your Wholeness and the Divine Wholeness. My desire to grasp onto the source of my “me-ness” is merely my own human desire to connect to the Whole, when in reality I am larger and more immense than my memories or even this very body. We all are. Which makes us all that much more fascinating, really.

Metaphorically, our lives are like compost- all the moments and connections contributing to the fertile beings we inhabit right now. And we have a choice. We can be fertilizer, flowers, edible little veggies or blossoming trees, or we could be empty plots of space. We can represent growth and goodness, adding to the oxygen that we all breathe and the nurturing that we all need or we can choose chaos or stagnancy or anything in-between. Because no matter what we do, it’s impossible not to have an impact on someone or something, but we can choose the type of impact and the type of connection we have to the Whole.

Through all the sorrows and sufferings of life,
This message of the sages glows bright
In my heart:
‘The Immortal Being manifests himself in Joy.’
To prove the contrary is nothing but empty cleverness,
Trying to belittle the Great.
He who sees Supreme Truth
Beyond Time and Space, in its entirety-
For him alone has life a meaning.

~Rabindranath Tagore