These are vague thoughts, early first draft notes for something deeper that’s been asking to emerge. Threads of experience asking to be woven into something new.
So much has happened – more than I will ever be able to express. It’s all internal. An expansion – a dive that I’ve taken into an etheric world of shadow and light where people all over the globe are staring at screens, blinking: Hello…
Is this good for me?
I don’t even know. I crawl through the twisting rooms and passages of the Internet- architecture of illusion and mirror – where I feel more real, more found, more seen, than at any other time in my life. How can this be? Is it the anonymity? The river of voices murmuring, like an invitation…
At the same time, in a universe just 20 miles away, my mother stares at the television – a box of light she has always despised – ignoring the sunlit painting studio where her work sits, waiting for her, just ten feet away. Ten months since the open-heart surgery shattered her mind, my mother shuffles to her kitchen, up the long hallway tethered to an oxygen tube that follows her like a green snake, from room to room.
She is starving for stories of the real world, the world outside the apartment where her weakness and a cascade of illnesses, have confined her far too long. When I visit, she tells me about her childhood, in painstaking, vivid detail. She asks me about my life but doesn’t seem interested. She can’t relate to my stories about websites, Twitter, a friend she’s never met with whom I talk every day.
I have stopped being hurt by this.
My mother is on a journey toward something important – something that she hid a long time ago, in one of those dim passages of memory.
And here is one of those threads. One of those vague illuminations, asking me to follow it into the maze: How is this world that I crawl through here, encountering people in Minnesota, Florida, Australia, England different from the rooms that my parents are crawling through as they, sitting in separate houses – my father in a nursing home, my mother is her apartment – sort through their memories, revisiting, reorganizing them like index cards?
And how does this relate to the birth and death of stars – the ones that I read about in the links that I follow?
Today, a woman told me about the expanders that were placed under the skin of her chest to make room for the implants that would, when her skin had expanded enough, replace the breasts that she’d chosen to remove, just in case.
The death and birth of stars
And of course, this is none of my business but this kind of thing sounds so insane to me that I laugh out loud. I don’t mean to be insulting – and I understand WHY women are doing this – the new gene that is “predictive” of breast cancer, the ticking time bomb. Still, I couldn’t help it: I laughed. Because how is this thing gonna work now? Will we cut off every piece of the body that MIGHT get sick … just in case? How does living like this, turning our bodies into enemies, living in this world of fear, make us feel safer?
Oh, turn on the damn light!
Five days earlier, I fed my father pureed lasagna and a bottle of mocha Frappuccino that I’d purchased a week before and left in the top drawer of his dresser. He told me he’d been longing for it all week but had not, until I came, been willing to request assistance.
He could not open the bottle’s twist off lid, could not lift the bottle from the drawer; could not, i think now, even open the drawer by himself. And, because he doesn’t want to telegraph his increasing disability – and the increased vulnerability it would bring if staff knew, he does not ask for the help he needs.
“Each day,” he told me. “I lose a little function…. but,” he continued, “I am finding great comfort in books. They are taking me places I never knew of.”
All of this is all jumbled together inside of me, weaving and weaving – having its way with my heart
And now, I have a question: What do we mean when we call something real, when we call something else, imagination, or memory? How is this world of touching things, of feeling this slash of sunlight on my arm as I type, different from my father’s world of written experience, or my mother’s world of vivid memory?
Oddly, strangely, my father and my mother, who have not seen one another for months, have both told me recently, “There’s a way that I never quite felt real.”
“All you do is work,” my daughter said. “You don’t live.”
When I asked her to explain, she said, “You are thinking your life, observing your life and writing all the time. But you are not living.”
Ah, but I am
I am just doing it in here, in this back room around the corner. (The room where I sit, surrounded by these heaps and heaps of straw, weaving…
Last month I told my husband, “I am not the same person any more.
“I want a different home, a different way of living. You can come with me if you want to, if you can; and I’d love it if you would. But if you can’t or won’t move out of this clutter, out of this mess, I am going anyway. A white house is calling to me – a house with screens in the windows and a garden and a bedroom. I can see it. I have walked its hallways and rooms. It’s time to inhabit them.”
He smiled and said, “I am going to surprise you now. I am going to answer your new voice in a new way.” And then he did, surprise me, I mean.
Anxiety, spirituality, perfectionism.
Things are in motion. Things are moving all around. Last summer, my yoga teacher told us the story of her 25-year-old nephew, a beautiful spirt who had lived his brief life without complaint – as a teacher of love, unconditional, bright and bursting love – even though he had Cerebral Palsy, even though his body didn’t work like everyone else’s did. A young man who’d literally died of joy – and a seizure – at an amusement park. As I listened, I remembered my promise to God (and to myself) to go and visit my father (who also has Cerebral Palsy) at the nursing home every evening at 4:30, to just drop in and, you know, feed him, because he can no longer feed himself.
And it broke me apart; it scattered me like dust across the day. Tears collected in the back of my throat and I thought: I cannot burst into flames right here in front of everyone. I will just quietly roll up my yoga mat and walk through the door and up the hill to my car. I will unlock it and climb in and close the door.
And then I will cry.
But my yoga teacher said, “Lie in Shabasana,” and though she did not say it, I heard: Stay. Don’t run from this. Don’t turn it into an excuse or some pathology – a migraine, an invasive blood disease – or some philosophical principle. (“His suffering is his own”) so you can push it away. Stay, she offered. Lie down while the class moves around you. Lie down on your green sticky mat with its tiny splash of white paint. Stay.
So I stayed. The class moved around me – through Warrior pose and Warrior Two; through Triangle and Artichindrasana, my favorite pose – the one where Suzy sometimes says, “Shine, shine out like the sun!”
She didn’t say it then but I heard it.
I lay on my yoga mat and let myself think about my father, who has struggled with CP all of his life and has not – was he supposed to? – taught everyone around him about unconditional love. Though he has turned his big fat lemon to lemonade. Or so it looked. Amazing, people were always saying, seeing him. So special.
“That’s their perspective,” Dad scoffs. “Don’t put that shit on me.
These past five years as the CP and its new pal, spinal stenosis, have worked on him, twisting his spine into a pretzel, Dad has changed. At first he was fierce, fighting with the team who evaluated his case, who stuck him in a ward for hopeless cases, assuming, because his body was bent over, that he had Alzheimer’s and getting himself placed in a beautiful, carpeted private room.
As the former Director of Self Advocacy programs for United Cerebral Palsy, knowing how important it is to keep pushing, keep asking, he’s reached out to administration, to social workers, to medical and support staff for the support that he needs. But this last year, he’s gone quiet.
“For me, it’s been like this: I just wanted to be normal, to get along, to be able to walk down the street and no one stared; no one nodded or looked away or stared at me in that way… I just wanted to fit in. That and I really wanted to play professional baseball – and later, to drive a cab.”
And then, last Friday night, after I’d made the hour-long drive to deliver that bottle of Frappuccino – Dad told me, “I can’t feed myself any more – and I’m feeling anxious because I am going to become, soon, one of the more needy residents and I’ve seen how they are treated and I am putting that off for as long as I can.”
That’s when, on the way home, I made that promise. I knew better than to promise him, “They never have to know. I’ll come back and feed you every night.” After three years, I know that I’d never live up to that. But I couldn’t help it. On the way home, out it came. And then, lying on my yoga mat, I saw how every day since then, five so far, I had broken that promise because I was keeping a different promise, to myself.
A promise to walk through this room that I find myself in and see, hear, smell and taste what is here. To live to live to live. A promise to take the gifts that both my parents have given to me and use them to shift the whole family toward FEELING, toward living, toward life.
Then, I stood up and rejoined the class and did Legs Up the Wall, instead of Shoulder Stand, and that was enough.