on animal wisdom, healing, and resilience

staccato the cat

Staccato, quite possibly the sweetest and gentlest creature I have ever known, is no longer able to roam free outdoors as he did for the first thirteen years of his life, due to serious health challenges involving his kidneys and heart. It was difficult and he was at first afraid and resistant, but he has adapted to walking outdoors on a harness with me tagging along behind. It means he can’t crawl into all his favorite small spaces, under shrubs and hedges. But he can touch the earth and breath in the wind, and today he walked straight to a patch of ground where the plant, Self Heal, has been growing prolifically for the past year. He sighed deeply and settled down into it, rubbing his face against the plant.

I sat down next to him and quietly observed his deep sighs, taking in the exquisite relationship between animal and plant, in awe of his seemingly innate wisdom to seek healing from earth. The animals are so wise, and so resilient.

the exquisite cycle

California MilkweedThe California milkweed is flowering, and it is glorious! The caterpillar, though, has apparently journeyed on. This morning I sat in the garden for a long time, listening to the sounds of baby Juncos hopping about and their mother’s nearby “clicking,” and bees swarming busily around the giant thyme plant, and squirrels chattering, and the tic-tic-tic of a neighbors sprinkler and, I thought, what a lovely place to be. Repeatedly, I leaned into the raised bed, squinting, hoping to see Frida, the visiting Monarch, somewhere among the milkweed. But there was no sign of her, nor on any of my visits throughout the day.

This afternoon as I stood peering into the garden a notion arrived about the beauty and purpose of feeding another being, about the utter magic of a caterpillar snatched up and swallowed into the belly of a bird or a wasp, and how that caterpillar’s contribution to a healthy ecosystem supports every creature who lives there. And how only humans see ourselves as separate from that exquisite cycle. Yet, still believing we can learn.

I thought how fortunate I am to sit among these incredible beings, to observe their behavior and listen to the sounds of so many living things working in tandem, and to notice the ways that nature ever-so-subtly invites me in as an observer so that I might come to understand that I am also, in some way, a participant.

This evening I am sitting in gratitude for the blessing that is this life, yours and mine, as part of an earth community that graciously and patiently awaits our awareness and right action. May we rise to the occasion and fully embody our highest and best potential. I believe in us.

a lesson in peaceful acceptance

Milkweed plantA couple days ago I planted the milkweed plant, careful not to disturb the resident Monarch. This morning I went to the garden to check on the caterpillar we are affectionately calling “Frida,” but it was nowhere to be found, nor was it immediately visible when I went out to check seven hours (but who’s counting!) later. Because I’m a human who becomes easily attached to the other creatures in my orbit, I already feel an attachment to this wee totem of transformation. Turns out, my visiting caterpillar was merely resting in the shade under one of the milk weed leaves, wisely out of sight and sunlight.

Unlike humans, Caterpillars are innately engineered to adjust to the circumstances of their brief yet brilliant lives. In actuality, only one or two out of 100 eggs become adult butterflies. Nature, in the form of predators and disease and parasites, kills 98% of eggs, hatchlings, and pupa, before they become butterflies.

Nature also kills a fairly significant percentage of humans at various stages of our development, due to predators and disease and, in many cases, due to our own stupidity (hello, gun enthusiasts), but we tend to think of these untimely deaths as the exception rather than the rule; as a complete and tragic loss rather than a change of state (or being).

Love comes with the inevitability of loss, through death or because the relationship just didn’t work out as we had imagined. Today’s little (big) lesson in the garden leads me to ponder ways I might hold what and whom I love with joyful gratitude and peaceful acceptance, and to keep my attention on the only moment that is certain.

caterpillar-on-plant

full circle

my-friend-MaryseAlmost two years after the auspicious meeting where I received the gift of Fred the Monarch, today I once again met my friends Maryse and Tom to catch up and share some exquisite wine in a beautiful place. They brought me another milkweed plant from their garden in Santa Cruz and, once again, we were delighted to discover the plant contained a tiny stowaway! Thankfully, it’s a very warm August and this Monarch should thrive in my outdoor garden. I love life’s full circle experiences.

Maryse-and-me

the butterfly has landed!

elliott-is-first-to-holdread-my-finished-book

At long last, Fred the Monarch is here! Holding the finished book in my hands for the first time, I felt an unexpected rush of excitement. And, in what can only be described as a divine synchronicity, my son showed up just moments after the mail carrier delivered the box. That he is the first to read my first children’s book fills my heart with gratitude and delight.

May the story of Fred fly far and wide.

fred-the-monarch-has-arrived

every life matters

Every animal I’ve ever had in my life, from childhood onward, has been a rescue. Cats, dogs, fish, the odd gerbil, and one badly injured field mouse my son picked up and carried next door to the ER tech who kindly splinted it’s tiny leg. I’m sure our kind neighbor knew the mouse wouldn’t survive the night but nonetheless took the time to model genuine care and empathy for an impressionable child. Because every life matters.

Fast forward: this sweet guy, Rocky, started life with an abusive owner who kept him tethered on a short chain for more than a year until, at long last, the scared pup was rescued by our dear friend, Michelle, who knew she couldn’t keep him but nonetheless chose to save his life. It took a year to find this precious boy a forever home with my son. He’s a wee bit rough around the edges, and needs a lot of training, but Rocky is pretty much the sweetest doggo I’ve ever met and our family is better for his having joined us.

rocky-the-rescue-angel-july-2022_orig

good fathers

Dad and GrampI was blessed with two kind and compassionate father figures; my dad, Ole Olsson, and my (maternal) gramp, Helmer Swensen. Many of my fondest memories include these two characters and a lively poker game. Happy Father’s Day, Ole and Sven. I like to imagine you somewhere out there raising a chilled glass of Coors, snacking on pickled herring, and playing a hand of Smear.

 


love’s echo

Mom and DadMissing my folks on what would have been their 61st wedding anniversary. Here they are in 1965, Ma holding baby Ike and Dad holding me; and thirty years later, as overjoyed new grandparents, Ma holding Ike’s baby, Ben and Dad holding my baby, Elliott. Love’s echo is eternal.grandparents

hope beneath my feet

table-leg-with-cross-on-the-rugThe veil feels thin today. This morning I padded out into the living room to switch on the lights and felt something rough beneath my feet. I looked down to see this palm crucifix and felt the hair stand up on my arms. I have no idea how the cross found its way to the place I encountered it, nor where it was before then; though I suspect, it had long ago been tucked into the pages of a book. I do know this, it’s been around a while. My devout Lutheran mother always saved a palm cross for me from the Palm Sunday service, tangible reminders of the faith community into which I was born. Somehow, this particular cross made its way to my living room floor and my foot made its way to the cross, today, on Palm Sunday. More than 10 years after my mother took her leave of this place.

While I did attend all the requisite classes during my childhood and adolescence I, unlike my dear mother, was not a particularly good student of the Lutheran faith. Nonetheless, I do know that Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of season of Lent, and that it signifies the beginning of Holy week, leading up to Easter Sunday, a celebration of the resurrection of Christ.

I remember that palm branches represent a kind of victory, in the Easter story, Christ’s victory over death. So I’m going to stretch and say that palm branches have a relationship to transformation and, as it appeared this morning on my living room floor, on Palm Sunday In the season of new beginnings, could be interpreted as a symbol of hope. And I rather like the notion that the spirit of my ma is doing her part, in death as she did in life, to wave those symbols at people who sometimes need to be reminded.


garden bed

Garden Bed

I have been engaged in a long, slow, layer by layer decluttering process that involves integrating the things I treasure into my life in practical and meaningful ways. These treasured objects don’t bring much joy if they are tucked away in a closet. This antique brass bed frame has been gathering dust and tarnish for decades; an homage to childhood sleepovers with my beloved grandparents, Helmer and Lila Swensen. Thanks to the handiwork of a neighbor called Henry who helps me with landscaping needs, my treasure has been re-purposed into a garden bed in honor of Gram and Gramp; who spent endless hours planting, tending, and harvesting the plants that filled our bellies, minds and hearts with the wisdom of nature. I think it’s perfect.

angel in my pocket

Throughout the years, many of you received one of these wee metal pocket angels from my ma, Yvonne. Today, while sifting through memorabilia as part of my ongoing decluttering process, I found the angel Ma sent to me during a particularly difficult time in my life. These sweet whispers from the universe never fail to arrive in perfect timing. She left so many wise, sweet notes to remember her by.

pocket-angel-from-ma

my mother’s hands

My sister and IIn these holy days I am flooded with memories of my mother, Yvonne; her hands, in particular. Hands that made hundreds of cookies, kneaded endless loaves of dough for bread and the sweet, cinnamon-y Swedish wreaths she made and Ole delivered every Christmas season of her married life. Hands that gently affixed a delicate manger scene and North Star to a mirror above the dining room table, careful not to tear the fragile foil shapes she had crafted in the long ago days when that’s all they could afford. Hands that hung the stockings and ceremoniously unpacked each handmade ornament while sharing a story of when it was made and by whom. Hands that cooked the Christmas Eve casserole and the Christmas Day feast, with always enough leftover so she could pack some for everyone to take home. Hands that eagerly opened the mailbox each day, savoring every card before placing it in the basket she would excitedly pass so everyone could read the news of dearly beloveds near and far.  Hands that carefully chose the yearly Olsson family Christmas card, always a depiction of the Three Kings who, according to the Bible story, didn’t arrive in Bethlehem until January 6th (Epiphany); thus, giving Ma a few extra days to complete her Christmas cards.

Hands that were once very young and not yet ready to care for a baby, but wise enough to find that sweet baby girl a mama who could.

Being the organizer that she was, Yvonne almost certainly played a part in bringing me together with the sister I never knew I had. And Imagine my surprise and delight when I noticed she has our mother’s hands.  Grateful. 


My mother at the holiday dinner table

ritual healing

Cat and the Christmas treeRitual never fails to pull me out of the doldrums. Happy Solstice Eve, dear people. Merry Yule! May the light within us help to illuminate these dark days, bring us hope, and inspire us to walk ever in right action and Love.


Swedish holiday icons on a the mantle

Our Lady in bunny slippers

​My lifelong fascination with the divine feminine began as a child while attending a Catholic church service with my mom. I was utterly mesmerized by the beautiful images of Mary throughout the church.  I asked Ma why we only saw images of Mary at our (Lutheran) church on Easter and Christmas. She looked down at me and said (with a wink), “because she was only the Mother.”
Today is the Feast Day for our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas, who is said to have appeared to Juan Diego as an apparition on the same ground where the Aztecs worshipped the great goddess, Mother of Earth, Tonantzin. If we peel back the religious narrative, these goddesses (and many others across cultures and history) embody the divine feminine as the healers and warriors who birth ideas, radiate guiding wisdom, and bring hope to those in despair.  
I adore this brilliant depiction of Our Lady by my dearest friend, Rosa Vela Sachs.
Our lady in the bunny slippers

lights of Christmas past

I recently hired Henry, a wonderful guy from my neighborhood, to help me with some pruning, and he asked if I would like him to hang holiday lights on the house. I felt emotional when he asked the question, which told me it was something I should do as a gift to my childhood self. I knew it was the right decision as I approached my house this afternoon on my way home from school and felt my eyes well up with tears again. I realize this is the first time I’ve had holiday lights on my own house as an adult, a little thing that has me remembering my dad’s yearly Christmas light hanging ritual with such fondness and wondering why it took this long to realize it matters to me. Next up: I think I might just dig out Ma’s old cookie press and take a crack at making her holiday Spritz. Missing my people something fierce, but in the best kind of way.​
Holiday lights 2021

it only takes one…

​Last year, out of the blue, my beloved teacher and high school choir director, Glenn Patton, called to talk with me after I mentioned (on social media) his significance in my life. He was 94, and looking back with gratitude on a life well lived.

We talked for almost an hour that day, me sitting at my desk on campus and he in his retirement home, educator to educator. He wondered, what was it like working with kids during the pandemic? Probably, he did not know the impact of that conversation on me. Probably, he was  just carrying out his life’s work as he had always done. Probably, he was just being the teacher he had always been.

Then, last week I dreamt about choir and awakened with memories swirling of our tour in Canada. I have a sweet little carved bird made of soapstone — which sat on the mantle in my folk’s house for decades and now sits on mine — a gift from my host family on that trip. So I sent an email, asking to connect for another conversation about teaching and music and life.

I hadn’t received a reply, which I thought curious, and today I read that my beloved teacher had died. He was the one who inspired me to become a teacher and modeled how to do it. It feels like a big loss to me and the whole world. A Mr Holland sort of loss. A Mr Patton sort of loss.

The formative experiences of connection and community which the great teacher, Glenn Patton, so generously bestowed upon his students, have informed my teaching, my relationships and my life. I wish I had told him that when he was still in a body. I had intended to, though, I suspect he knew.

As he taught us to sing the Irish Blessing: May the road rise up to meet you, Mr. Patton, and May the wind be always at your back. May God hold you ever in the palm of his hand. And give you peace. 

the-belles-of-erin-1980-sheldon-high-school_orig

50 over 50

Delila Olsson, author, with shawl

He started to follow me into the dressing room but, in a rare act of self-protection, I asked him to wait at the door. “Fine,” he said with obvious annoyance, then shifted his attention once again to the phone in his hand. “I need to see them all before you choose one!” he called out as I disappeared into the dressing room, a saleswoman trailing behind me. He reached out and grabbed her elbow as she passed him, whispering flirtatiously, “Please help her find something suitable for a musical gala,” careful to mention his position as conductor.

As the attendant zipped me into the first dress he had chosen for me, a black sheath with a high neck and fitted sleeves, a tear slid down my cheek. “Is it uncomfortable?” she asked. I nodded my head but, nonetheless, walked out to where my man sat glued to his phone. He glanced up and remarked offhandedly, “It doesn’t do anything good for your waistline.” The next dress he deemed “too low-cut for your weight” and, the next, “not particularly flattering” for my (then size 8) bum.

After my fifth walk down the runway to hell, The Conductor selected a basic black dress with a $350 price tag and told me he would bring the car around while I paid for it. I returned to the dressing room and collapsed in a pool of tears. The kind saleswoman plopped down beside me and lifted my chin with a gentle hand. She looked into my eyes and said, “You’re far too good for him, you know. What are you doing here?”

That should’ve been the end of it right then and there, but it was another six months before I was able to scoop up enough of what remained of my self-esteem to walk away from him and his incessant emotional abuse.

In the six years since then, I packed on 50 pounds of extra protection to make sure I would never attract another narcissist like him. Unfortunately, the weight gain also brought me face to face with something even more dangerous: the full force of a culture that holds its women to impossible standards of beauty that leave us feeling chronically insufficient.

My experience of becoming thin to please a partner — looking at myself in that dressing room mirror at Nordstrom, inconsolable, critical of the healthy body that had birthed a baby and run 10 k races and carried me through endless loss and grief — is not mine alone. I was having a universal experience of feminine trauma, at the hands of a man who couldn’t handle the strength of my spirit and therefore set about the work of breaking me down. At the hands of a whole culture devoted to tearing us down and then selling us potions and pills and gadgets to build us back up.

In our culture, women volunteer to have their bodies sliced up in order to meet some fictitious image of beauty. We surgically redesign our breasts, reshape our noses, chins, and thighs—to meet a set of aesthetic criteria developed by media companies run by men. Criteria that have nothing to do with real beauty, and everything to do with keeping us down. Making us small. Minimizing who we are. Robbing us of our power.

For so many women, the pressure persists to lose the rounded belly, to shrink the thighs, to smooth the wrinkles and the double chin and minimize the evidence of a body that has done good work, birthing work, strength work, carrying the emotional weight of a misguided humanity work.

If we are lucky enough to awaken to ourselves even if just for a moment, in a dressing room or any room, the media continues to remind us about all the ways we are imperfect. So, it’s easy to buy into this or that fad diet or new age affirmational bullshittery. Sometimes women laugh together about all the crazy things we’ve done to alter our sacred selves, to fit in better, to belong. Sometimes we even try the latest get-thin-quick scheme, because we don’t understand how this abandonment will inevitably harm us, how our spirits will sink under the weight of it, how we will eventually come to mourn the bodies we had once scorned.

Thankfully, my experience became a catalyst for my healing, a process that I suspect will continue for the rest of my life. It’s not easy to dismantle the patriarchal systems designed to keep women in our place.

This year, at age 58, after decades of dieting and therapy and agonizing moments with myself in the mirror, I accepted an invitation to participate in the 50 over 50 photo project. I rescheduled the first appointment because I couldn’t bear the agony of putting my body in front of a camera, but something profound happened when I finally made it to the studio. The photographer, Rachel, who reminded me a bit of that sweet Nordstrom’s dressing room attendant, gently convinced me that my curvy body would look stunning wrapped in chiffon. So I allowed her to take the photograph that proved it was true.

Delila Olsson, smiling with shawl

YES!

What an honor to be invited to write a testimonial for one of my favorite magazines, YES! The publication is filled with fact-based journalism and truthful storytelling at its best. On newsstands May 24th.

Why I Give document

honoring nature’s gifts

Yesterday, I watched with delight as mama junco flew in and out of her nest all afternoon, attending to her tiny hungry babies who are beginning to find their voices. I scattered some sunflower seeds nearby, but not too close.  All seemed well with the sweet family until just after dark when a loud thud sent me running to the front door, whereI discovered a neighborhood cat posted below the basket. The thud was undoubtedly the sound made by the cat lunging at the basket. I shooed the cat away, but there was no sign nor sound of mama junco. In the nest, tiny hungry beaks reach upward, waiting for mama to come. I had a difficult time sleeping.

Today, my heart sunk when I opened the screen door but didn’t hear the sweet morning song of mama junco. I peeked into the basket and discovered all four babies dead in the nest.

In the wild, even without domestic cats in the mix, hatchlings have a relatively low survival rate. That fact, while not particularly comforting, helped to contextualize the task of burying the baby juncos this afternoon. I buried them in honor of their wee but important lives, and because I needed a ritual to honor my unlikely friendship with their mama. I dug a small hole and laid them beneath the tall Doug Fir closest to their nest, where many other beloved wild and domestic creatures also rest. I decorated the grave with the best bloom from the camellia bush, and feathers I found nearby; perhaps, their mama’s.

I said a prayer of gratitude for the babies having died together, in their cozy nest, rather than in the jaws of the cat. And another for that sweet mama junco, who made her home at the entrance to my home; whose beautiful song came in through the screen door; and who taught me a much-needed lesson in acceptance. God bless the wild teachers.

Final resting place flower

the magic of new life

As I moved along the walkway toward my front door I heard mama junco’s soft, syncopated trill. I called back to her with the amateurish clicks I’ve been making to imitate her song. I wonder what she makes of my silly sounds?

I saw her hopping along on the ground, very close to where I stood. She then flew up into the camellia bush, and onto the edge of the basket where her nest resides. As she perched there for several seconds, it appeared to me, our eyes met. She turned and peaked into the basket, then flew back into to the camellia bush.

Whether real or imagined, I interpreted this as an invitation so I quickly peeked into the basket. Mama watched from the bush. The wiggly little mass doesn’t yet resemble birds, as eyes are still closed, but tiny beaks and some light feathery fuzz is visible. What a gift, to witness the magic of new life taking form just outside my front door. And a strong metaphor, too. Thank God for the wild things who teach us so much.

Mam junco in the camellia bush

hope has arrived

We have Dark-eyed Junco babies! Eggs were still intact yesterday afternoon, so the chicks must have emerged sometime today. Mama was peeking out of the nest when I approached, and watched from the Camellia bush as I peeked inside.

Junco babies crying for food

wise mama

Discovered the reason a sweet little junco has been chatting with me through the screen door. She’s made a home in my mail basket, behind the beautiful camellia, right beside my front door. I am honored.
Junco Eggs

a bigger story of belonging

Rosa and DelilaSome people come into our lives and stay a little while, others pass through very quickly. Then there are those who come in and put down roots in our hearts that, regardless of distance or time, anchor us to a bigger story of belonging.

A few months before graduating from Montessori training, in 1988, I travelled to Texas during Spring Break to interview for a teaching job I had no intention of accepting. That trip, which I regarded as a lark, profoundly changed the course of my life. During my school tour I met Rosa. We locked eyes, exchanged silly facial expressions, and simultaneously burst into the first of many uproarious laughs we would share.

Later the same week, I met the man who would become the father of my son and my partner for more than a decade. And a few months later, I found myself building a new life in Oak Cliff, a suburb of Dallas, thousands of miles from my Oregon friends and kin.

Rosa and I became fast friends; her house felt like home. Most of what I know about parenting, I learned by observing her with her two young sons. She demonstrated the necessity of nurturing one’s own creative and spiritual life while raising children, and she taught me where to find drinkable box wine (standards were lower in the 80’s). We traded clothing and trinkets and secrets, and we shared ritual and ceremony.

Following that year of close kinship, despite only having been in the same physical place at the same time on a few occasions, our souls connection has only grown stronger. Rosa is more than a friend, she is my kin. Fast forward 33 years, today I opened my mailbox to find this beautiful piece of art, a portrait that honors both my kinship with Fred the Monarch and my indelible bond with my soul sister, Rosa. I am blessed.

Book cover of Delila's Fred the Monarch

love is not a hoax

On my heart today:  My great grandmother, Hulda Swensen Mordal. In this photo from 1997, Gram is holding my son, Elliott, age 2, her great great grandson. At that time, Elliott was close to the same age as Hulda’s daughter, Thelma, when she died from Influenza during the 1918 pandemic.

Thelma died in Hulda’s arms, a heartbreak I cannot wrap my head around. I wonder how she might have responded to the notion that the deadly virus that killed her daughter was really just a “hoax?” Or to the idea that a potentially life-saving vaccine to combat the virus was a “conspiracy?”

Perhaps there’s something to be said for those simpler times, before television talking heads, evangelists, and internet gurus built their megalomaniacal fortunes on the denial of individual choice.

I believe we all have the capacity to hold opposing points of view with tenderness and love. To label my decision to be vaccinated a “hoax,” or your decision not to vaccinate a “conspiracy theory,” is to deny both our individual humanity… and our right to choose.

I think we can all do better. I know I can do better

Gram at 99 with Elliot

Easter

Many years ago while berry picking with my gram, I asked if she believed in God. She was quite for a long time before she replied, “God is in the blueberries.”

I feel fortunate to have grown up in a family where religious doctrine was rooted in a notion of God as all-encompassing and benevolent, rather than human-centered and judgmental.  On this beautiful Easter Day, may the Creative energy in the universe, regardless of what name you call it by, bless you with the hopeful promise of transformation.

Oregon grape

lessons in living harmoniously

Butterfly on a fingertip

I have been thinking a lot about the big, essential work of transformation. Flexing, bending, re-forming ourselves around temporary circumstances.

Amidst a steady stream of stories illuminating the potential viciousness of humans, and our desperate attempts to override the laws of nature, Nature herself invites us to connect with our better essence. We can learn transformative strategies by watching how other creatures do it.

Last fall a caterpillar teacher took up residence on my dining room table, giving me a front row seat for the transformation show of a lifetime. I learned so much watching the stages of metamorphosis, against a backdrop of human-created social injustice and viral chaos.

I’ve begun writing the transformative story of Fred the Monarch. May my heart, and yours, open to receive the wisdom and infinite hope of bees and butterflies, trees and rocks. Bless the wise creatures who show us how to live in harmony with our nature rather than in resistance to it.

wisdom of fathers and trees

Forest Ferns

In the fall of 1988, adjusting to the oppressive heat of Dallas, Texas, where I struggled through my first year as a Montessori teacher, I longed for the coolness and kin of my Oregon home.

My always wise and practical father suggested spending more time in gratitude and less in self-pity and offered to send me the daily prayer with which he began and ended his days. That was the first and only letter I ever received from my father, a man of few words but enormous heart,  and it became an anchor in my daily spiritual practice. I carried that yellow piece of paper around in my wallet for almost thirty years, until it nearly fell apart, and still carry a copy of the original. Over the years, Dad’s words merged with my own as my spiritual practice evolved.

In recent months, as the pandemic rages on and more and more people face hardships of health and well-being, I find myself in prayer throughout day. Several times a week I visit an old, towering Western Red Cedar tree in Tryon Creek Forest, where I lean in close for wisdom and comfort. This morning, snuggled up against that old familiar tree friend, having finished prayers in which some of you were included, I surveyed my view of the forest and allowed my heart to open to the vast beauty in which I am held; and through which we are all connected, all the time.

unhurried

Moss on tree branch

Eight months in, I’m living out of time. There are endless things to worry about, and almost continuous anxiety during waking hours, but very little to be done about these concerns. Other than staying home and avoiding others.

Time is unhurried, now, with plenty of opportunity for nature gazing and journal writing and barefoot walking, and grieving. Contemplating an uncertain yet probable future inspires me to bask in the intricate beauty of moss.

a message from home

A handwritten note from mom

My mother died on an autumn evening in October, 2011. I don’t think there is a way to ready oneself for the experience of saying goodbye to the person who carried you into the world. In Ma’s case, it came upon us quickly. She and Dad called one day near the end of September to say “please come;” a late-stage announcement of the hideous disease that stole her from us.

In the years since my parents departed this place, he just eight months after she, I’ve often longed for their familiar and comforting presence and words of encouragement but never as much as in these last few months.

Preparing for the possibility of evacuating, a few days ago I opened a large stack of letters from my mother. I set aside a few and tossed the rest into the recycling bin; because it seemed silly to hold on to so much of the past. This afternoon as I emptied the recycling, one card had stuck to the bottom with its message staring back at me like a prophetic proclamation. “Try not to get so stressed out,” my mother wrote on March 3, 1988. “after all, you are a Rabbit!” (referring to my Chinese zodiac sign).

I laughed and I cried. My devout Lutheran mother was a complex person who followed both the scriptures and the stars. Thanks, Ma, for showing up with a much-needed message from home.

what love looks like

Helmer and Lila Swensen, my beloved gram and gramp, were happily – really truly, happily – married for 74 years. I like imagining them out there somewhere, married now 86 years, sprinkling a bit of their extraordinary love into a world that is desperately in need of it.

Swensen Marriage Photo

searching for words

Yesterday afternoon I heard a commotion out front.

I opened the screen door to see three young teenagers, maybe 14 or 15-ish, standing at the end of my driveway yelling expletives and pointing at the [Black Lives Matter] sign in my yard.

I stood there, mute, and a little afraid. “That’s fucked up!” they said. Then they saw me and began walking away. I felt so angry, but tears came and I barely got out the words “hey, that’s not ok!” They didn’t even look back, but I could hear them laughing and snickering.

I stood there sobbing for those children whose hearts have been filled with hatred through a hideous cycle of generational racism. And also for the shame I feel at having stood silent in a moment that called for grounded words and presence.

Black Lives Matter yard sign

holding hope

Amidst suffering and grief caused by a raging virus, and an equally virulent pandemic of social injustice and fascism run amok, my spirit is buoyed by so many passionate expressions of activism and hope among us. And by the natural world in which we are held through it all.

flowers in glass pitcher

what matters

Holding HandsTo walk in the world with
compassion and empathy,
thinking first of Us, not me.

To live lightly,
finding joy in simple things;
Experiencing, rather than consuming.

To Love generously
and with an open heart,
rewriting the stories that keep us apart.

To be Grateful
for each moment, blessing and breath,
fully alive yet ready for death.

that which is bigger than us

Zoom screenshotWhile the world feels completely upside down, I just participated in a remarkably hopeful and intimate graduation ceremony – where I received a hard-earned Master’s degree in Education- via Zoom.

I didn’t expect to be alone on this day, none of us did. Ironically, in the physical space between us I was reminded that separation is a narrative that can be rewritten. Today my colleagues and I bridged the physical distance by connecting our hearts to one another and to something bigger than all of us; our work as educators who can affect the future of humanity, one child and family at a time.

In the big picture, perhaps this gathering of souls is a small thing. To transform bigger, deeper, older separation gaps requires gigantic presence and commitment. I get that, and I’m not diminishing the collective pain of this moment in history.  At the same time, I am proud of us.


patience pays off

A dear friend gave me this French lilac in 1997, in memory of dear great-grandmother, Hulda, who died that year. I lovingly tended the little bush but for five years it ceased to bloom. In 2002, I dug up the lilac almost as an afterthought and brought her with us to the new house. I wondered if she would ever bloom. All these years later, on her own timetable, she is awash in gorgeous, fragrant blooms.

It seems a good metaphor for these times: Patience pays off.

French Lilac

a view from my window during the time of the virus

We left campus on Friday, March 13th, believing we would return in a couple of weeks following an extended Spring Break. We were naive about what COVID-19 came to teach.

During the early weeks of COVID-19 lockdown, a lovely person on Facebook started a page called View From My Window. It quickly went viral, with people posting glimpses of their isolated worlds which, regardless of station in life, have become necessarily limited; small. The posts are like a balm, reminding me that we are all together in this giant web of belonging even as I feel so alone.

Lake Oswego tree

cycles

flowersWhile many human activities are “closed,”
the beautiful salmon berry flower, following it’s ancient cycle,
​is just now opening…


gift from Spirit

Honoring Necklace

(1973, “honoring” necklace)After my near drowning, I asked my Sunday school teacher if God ever spoke out loud. Sometimes, she said, our minds play tricks on us, making us believe we hear or see things that really are not there. “You may have wished God would speak to you, so you imagined he did.”I felt sad and ashamed for having asked.

The following year, my mother hosted a gathering in our home for a group of people from an outreach ministry in another town. Among the guests that day were a Native American woman and man who were part of the community being served by the ministry. Intrigued and attracted to their beautiful beaded necklaces and turquoise jewelry, I settled down near them. They explained the significance of some of the stones on the rings and belts and necklaces they wore. A metal medallion on the man’s belt buckle, inlayed with turquoise to form an intricate design, symbolized what he described as “the afterlife.”

I asked if they had ever been to the afterlife. Looking surprised by my question, they laughed kindly and said, no, then, teasingly asked if I had ever been there. Maybe, I said, and told them about what happened the day at the water slide. They listened intently until I had finished my story and, after a bit of silence, the woman looked deep into my eyes and said, “You were very blessed to receive a message from Creator.”

Not yet having had the opportunity to process my near-drowning experience, the Lakota woman’s words made me feel seen, heard, and understood.

A few weeks later, the couple showed up at our home unexpectedly. As the grownups sat around the kitchen table drinking coffee, the Lakota woman waved me over and placed a small pouch in my hand. Inside was a beautiful, delicate necklace strung with tiny seeds and rings of pink and blue beads that looked like flowers. She told me the pattern was called “daisy chain.”  The necklace, she said, honored me for all I was learning and what I had still to learn. My ma looked confused, but I felt deeply acknowledged. That was the last time I saw those people, but the necklace remains with me today.

The Navajo couple modeled a way of being present to children, of listening, seeing, and reflecting back their value and worth. Looking back, I see how that way of being stayed with me, guiding me to my life’s work.


life and death: a spiral path

river cutting through rocks

When I was nine, I nearly died by drowning.

It happened during my first-ever overnight camping experience, on a day when camp counselors had taken us to beautiful place where a steep, natural rockslide led into a pool of deep water and an underground spring. Unlike the other children in my camp cohort, I did not know how to swim; though I was too painfully shy and embarrassed about my inability to express it aloud. Instead, when we arrived at the rockslide, I said I was tired and would rather watch, but other children teased and coaxed until I conceded. “Don’t be a sissy, just hold on, you’ll be fine,” they chided. I sensed it was not safe but, rather than calling any further attention to myself, I stepped into the freezing cold mountain water, sat down on the slippery stony surface, and wrapped my arms tightly around the waist of the boy in front of me.

The train of children began moving downward, slowly at first, over the slimy stone, picking up speed as we neared the river below. The counselors were splashing in the water nearby, and one was on the bank. As we reached the bottom, the boy I had been clinging to disappeared into the water. I was alone, trying to find my footing on the slippery bottom, then falling backward, struggling against a maelstrom that pushed me deeper and deeper into the pool of water. My arms flailed wildly, grasping for anything to hold onto. My screams erupted from beneath the water. I struggled, choking and terrified, gasping for air, until I could not struggle any more.

After the struggle, which ended in a deep exhale, my body floated freely, my voice mute. Cradled in invisible arms, glimpses of home flashed before my eyes like a movie: my family, smiling and laughing; my dog; my books; and my pink dresser, littered with feathers; rocks; and dandelion wishes I kept in a special jar. I reached out my arms toward them, but they disappeared as quickly as they arrived. A warm white light appeared in the distance, where the images had been, like a full moon hanging low on the horizon. Gazing into the warm light, my body completely relaxed, floating easily toward the light. I felt content, at peace.

I do not remember what happened next, but I later awoke to feel the warmth of stone against my cheek. My body was leaning against a large rock, my legs outstretched. Without lifting my head, I could see children standing around me, peering and whispering. I felt sad and disconnected from them. From somewhere, I heard a deep voice, like a whisper in my ear: “Now is not your time to go, there is more for you to do.” I turned to look behind me, but the hand on my back was attached to the young female counselor from my cabin. “Who said that?” I asked.  She was moving her hand up and down my back in a soothing way, but she did not reply, so I asked again, where was the man who had spoken to me. She looked at me with a confused expression and said, “Don’t worry, it’s just us here, you’re safe.” I leaned against the warm stone and cried. Another counselor said it was time to board the bus, and the young woman behind me wrapped me in a towel and carried me to my seat. I did not feel “okay.” I buried my head in the towel and sobbed.

My mom was there waiting when the bus returned to the church, and I tried to tell her what had happened, but she dismissed me with a wave and the words, “you’re fine.” I could tell she felt afraid.

A few weeks later, in a whispered voice, so as not to alarm anyone else, I told my Gram the story in great detail. She listened intently, putting her arm around me and lightly scratched my back–a universal expression of love for the children in her life. I looked up to see her face when I suggested that maybe God has spoken to me.  She smiled, squeezed my shoulders and said, “Sure! Why not?”  Gram said she understood that after something like that I would never be the same again, and that maybe I would be even better than before. Then she told me a story about how the road of life is not a straight line, but more like a spiral, and the twisty parts are both the hardest and the most important.

Many years later I realized my underwater ‘dream’ was actually a brush with death. And decades later, Gram’s words were echoed by a therapist who integrated indigenous wisdom and rituals into her counseling practice. Situating my near-death experience within a framework of indigenous teachings, the therapist described life as a spiral path wherein we return again and again to experiences that build upon each other to help us learn fundamental lessons. What was the lesson, I wondered? “You’re here.” she said, “to know yourself better.”

From my near-death experience I gained a sense of certainty that the doorway to the next place, wherever that may be, is bathed in a light so warm and inviting that one may willingly, even eagerly, merge with it.

I now regard the voice I heard as something not apart from me but, rather, within me.

tick as teacher

tickIn the summer of 2016, mysteriously and without warning, my body seemed to go on strike. Minor aches turned into chronic swelling and pain; even the smallest movement was agonizing. I felt sure I was dying. A few times, I wished I was dying. Twice, I prayed for death. Once, I thought about helping it along. But, remembering my son, I thought better of that.

I went through a series of tests and, finally, Lyme Disease was determined to be the cause. The doctor wanted to know where and when I may have been exposed to ticks.

Three possibilities came to mind:

At age 16 I picked up a tick, likely while lying in the grass along the banks of the McKenzie River during my first sexual encounter; a date rape. Almost as traumatic as the rape itself was the office visit to have the tick removed, because my doctor was also a family friend. “That looks like a tick,” he’d remarked as he lifted the sheet to survey my swollen derrière. There was an awkward silence then, during which I chose not to reveal any additional details. “That’s intense,” the doctor said, and I saw her type the words emotional trauma into her chart notes.

The next probable tick encounter occurred during a particularly tumultuous summer holiday in 1994 with my former husband, while visiting friends in Old Lyme, Connecticut. I felt alone with myself and also alone in the relationship, and still hadn’t processed my earlier sexual trauma. “Did you have a bullseye rash?” the doctor asked. No. She said the Lyme spirochete had likely been lying dormant in my body since then, which would upgrade me to the even more dire “Chronic Lyme” diagnosis. Tears welled up as I saw her type the word disappointment into her notes.

then there was a more recent possible exposure, just a couple of years before the symptoms surfaced, during an emotionally stressful month in upstate New York helping my then-partner prepare his family home for sale. The relationship ended just a few months later when, after I was injured in a serious car accident, my self-absorbed boyfriend, rather than coming to my aid, spent the evening with another woman. After typing the word grief into her notes, she suggested the accumulated effects of trauma, disappointment, and grief had played a significant role in the dramatic manifestation of my disease process.

She sent me home with a bag filled with medicine, reams of instructions, and this sober directive: for my body to fully heal, it would be necessary for me to care for myself with the kind of gentleness and love I had previously only offered to others. I began a practice of writing nice things about myself, to myself. It felt quite foreign, but I did it anyway.

Gradually, I began to remember who I am beneath my physical imperfections and disease symptoms and the silent suffering of a broken heart began its transformation and reclamation.

From Lyme Disease, I’ve learned that serious illness can give as much as it takes, rearranging priorities and bringing one instantly and fully into the one and only moment that is certain. From there, many things are possible.

allegro the beautiful

Allegro the cat

This is Allegro, aptly named by my son for his liveliness, who came to live with us ten years ago, a gift for my 45th birthday. The perfect gift, as we grieved the death of another dear old kitty, Spike.

A quirky and complex creature who inspired a lot of laughter and also exasperation, Allegro was always intense in his need for connection, preferring to be in my arms or on my shoulder at all times.

Like me, Allegro had asthma though, unlike me, his attacks often took a dire turn and required a trip to the veterinary ER. His was an intense of too-short life, during which he was loved intensely.  My heart aches at the loss of him.

He often slept on top of my body, especially when I was ill.  I always believed he was healing me then, with his purrs, perhaps giving me some of this own life energy when I needed it most.

May the healing energy he carried and shared so generously with me, rise up and remind us of his gentle, beautiful spirit in all the days to come.

Thank you, dear Allegro, for all the ways you have blessed our family.


heartbreak as an inherited trait

family photoI recently celebrated my fifty-fifth trip around the sun. I’m forever taking my glasses off and putting them on again to accommodate the annoying vision changes that come with age, along with too much time in front of computer screens. I’m not as adept at multi-tasking as I once was but, still I don’t resonate with the notion of midlife as a crisis. Until I hit my head, that is.

I fainted at work, which resulted in a literal and metaphorical blow to the head. The last time it happened, a car accident left me with both a serious concussion and a conclusion that it was time to remove myself from an emotionally abusive relationship. What was I overlooking this time, I wondered?

The attending ER physician, noting that my heart seemed stable and all my vitals were within normal range, sent me home with a list of symptoms to watch for and said to call 911 at the first sign of them. I live alone so, for the next several nights, I slept with my phone on and asked a nearby friend to sleep with hers on, too.

Before going to bed that first night, I wrote medicine instructions for my cats and put a load of delicates in the washing machine. In case I croaked in the night I didn’t want someone else to be stuck with dirty underwear or sick cats. These are the kinds of thoughts one has to consider when living alone and worrying about heartbreak as an inherited trait.

While my hardworking, endlessly giving, saint-like father took his leave with complete grace and gratitude, brokenhearted is a cycle I aim to break.

paradox

ivyPerhaps, she teaches the lesson of caution; beware of beauty’s entanglement. She speaks of possibility, and of the path that is revealed as the vines are woven.

Pumpkin Patch

pumpkin patch flowerYesterday I walked out into the yard to discover my favorite rose bush awash in crimson. Her name is Pumpkin Patch, and she has a story to tell.

​In early October 2011, less than a week before she died, my mother stood at the bedroom window staring out at her beloved rose bushes. They were planted in whiskey barrels and, even so late in the season, were covered with blooms.

I wondered if the faraway look in her eyes belied sadness, or if she was lost in the mental fog caused by the cancer pressing on her brain. “What are you thinking, Ma?” I inquired.   “We need a rose for that empty barrel, don’t you think?” She said, pointing to one that had stood empty for many months; an indication of her decline.

By this time Mom was incredibly weak and unstable on her feet, even with the walker, so I was surprised when she yelled to my dad who was resting nearby in his easy chair, “Ole, get up! We’re taking Sis to the nursery to pick out a rose!”

Dad and I tried to talk her out of it, but she wouldn’t be dissuaded. Dad drove and I sat in the back with Mom, whose eyes scanned the landscape along her favorite county road. “Remember that nice farm stand, Deed?” I nodded, recalling many times we traveled that road together in search of an estate sale, or explore the antique stores in Coburg, or walk through the pioneer cemetery. I squeezed her hand as the memories washed over me, hoping she didn’t notice my tears.

At the first nursery they told us their rose crop had been wiped out by a pest. Dad and I exchanged worried glances through the rear-view mirror. “Drive to Bloomers, they’ll have what we want!” Mom directed. Dad had barely stopped the car in front of Bloomers Nursery when Mom flung her door open, heaved herself out of the car, and began pushing her walker across the gravel driveway. I ran ahead to clear a path. Dad followed behind, anxiously pushing his own walker over the unsteady ground and yelling, “Sis, stop her before she falls!”

But there was no stopping her. In what would be a final burst of energy my mother, with her signature tenacity, hoisted her walker over a railroad tie and came to a stop in front of a bush covered in gorgeous deep orange blooms. “This is it, don’t you think?” she said, grinning and glancing at me for approval.

She appeared to sleep on the ride home, but as soon as Dad pulled into the driveway Mom sprung back into action, barking orders from her perch on a rickety bench: “get my trowel from the wheelbarrow; bring that bag of garden mulch and there’s a box of bone meal in the shed; be careful as you remove her from the container, her roots are fragile; fill the hole with water and fertilizer before you put her in; take your time, don’t hurry, give her roots time to settle.

Everything I know about roses, I learned from my mother. She’d walked me through the steps of planting, transplanting, pruning and feeding many times before. This time she recited every detail as it if were the first time, though I imagine she took such care because she knew it would be the last.

Later, I came into the bedroom to find my mother once again standing at the window, peering out at the patio. “She’s a beauty, isn’t she?” she said, motioning to Pumpkin Patch. “She’s just perfect,” I replied.

Afterwards” she said,  “you’ll take her home with you, okay?”

And every time she blooms I’ll think of you, Mom.


all hearts are sacred

statue in gardenOne Saturday afternoon, my friend and I meandered through a tag sale at local farm, perusing antiques and  dusty nostalgia. I found a pitcher like the one my aunt poured from during childhood visits, two blue Ball jars just like the ones Ma used to store flour and sugar, and delicate embroidered doilies like the ones draped over the arms of chairs at my grandparent’s house.

I picked up a bell jar and carried it around until I realized my attention had slipped into the past. On my way to return the jar I spotted the Sacred Heart of Jesus in statue form, draped with an antique rosary. “You must be Catholic?” the owner asked, adding that it was the last of a very old collection.  “No,” I said, just a collector of hearts.  


Bless my efforts…

Love DadIn August, 1988, I moved from Portland, Oregon to Dallas, Texas, where I began my career as a Montessori guide. It wasn’t long before, in a state of heat fatigue and home-sickness, called my parents and tearfully recited a litany of reasons to quit my job and return to my Oregon home. “Now, c’mon sis…” consoled my mother before quickly passing the phone to Dad, who responded to my whiny diatribe with a stern invitation to “tell me about the blessings.” I thought it insensitive when he explained how daily prayers of gratitude had transformed his life. “I begin and end every day by giving thanks,” he said with a tone of mild annoyance, and suggested I give it a try. 

A few weeks later, an envelope arrived; the one and only letter I would ever receive from my father. Inside, on a sheet of yellow legal paper, the kind he always had on his desk, Dad had written his gratitude prayer. It began, “Thank you, Dear Lord, for this day. Thank you for all of my blessings;” and ended with, “Bless my efforts that they may be good, that they may be productive, and to thy glory.”  I put that paper by my bedside as a reminder to recite the prayer morning and night, gradually replacing some of his words with my own, until the twice daily ritual unfolded automatically. Then, I tucked it into my wallet where it stayed for years; until the yellow paper began to disintegrate. I still carry a copy of the original. And we had a copy printed on the order of worship at Dad’s funeral, scattering his blessing a bit wider and further.

A few nights ago I awakened from a dream dialogue with my dad but, by the time I’d located my journal and pen in the dark, only this fragment remained within conscious reach: “You have only one responsibility in life and that is to listen intently for the voice of God, and allow it to show you where you are needed most. It is through the care of others that we evolve.”

In life, my father was all about service so his sage advice echoing across the veil wasn’t surprising; I hear from him now and again.  Still, I found it quite profound to receive this particular message in the early morning hours of my 54th birthday. Particularly because the night before, slightly in my cups, I’d written a very long journal entry about my wishes, hopes and dreams for the year ahead.

It is only through the care of others that we evolve… as souls.

It’s easy to fall into an internal dialogue around an unrealized desire; or to become attached to a romanticized notion of a person, place or experience. Such thoughts may distract from the reality that what tethers us to this place is neither the gravitational pull of earth nor the hands we are blessed to hold along the way, but rather the invisible thread to Spirit from whence we came and where we will presumably one day return.

If we are very blessed, we may experience fleeting moments of sheer bliss in relationship to another, or to nature, or to art. In the presence of this kind of love, one cannot help but want to hold it close; letting go feels counter-intuitive.  Bless my efforts…

Near the end of my father’s earthly journey, in 2011, my son and I were able to capture a few moments of him on videotape while sitting in the office where he continued to go almost every day until he died.  He was shy about the recorder, but reluctantly agreed when I said it was important for his grandchildren and their children.  In that dialogue, Dad recited a list of guiding tenets which he credited to his own father and other mentors along the way. What follow is that list as well as a brief excerpt from the interview:

1.  Work hard – nothing worth having comes easily
2. Be grateful for what you have – even if it doesn’t seem like enough
3. Tell the truth – even if it means losing relationships
4. Invest in people – join with those who share your values
5. Avoid going into debt – be a good steward of what you have
6. Allow relationships to grow – and take time to nurture them
7. Don’t be afraid to say no – clear boundaries are necessary

And remember to give thanks every day, at least twice.


feeding ma’s crows

Ma's CrowsThis morning while walking in the forest I heard crow, who reminded me that today would have been my mother’s 81st birthday. My ma, like her ma, had a deep connection with animals.

Crows gathered daily in the backyard of our family home, waiting for my mother to bring out the heels of her homemade bread, or crusts saved from heir Friday night pizzas from Papas.

A few days before she died, Ma took my hand and said emphatically, “Remember to put bread out for my crows!”

Today I’m feeling grateful for the spirit of my ma, who carried me into the world, and for the other strong women who carried me as long as they could, and for crow and the other creatures who continue to walk me through it.


A Jar of Wishes

Glass jar of wishes

As a child, I would lay for hours beneath the big cottonwood tree in the backyard, staring up into its branches and eavesdropping on the private conversations of crow and squirrel. One day, a beautiful, glistening object glided down to rest in my hand, lightweight and fragile. I gently cupped my hand around it and went inside to find my mom. “What?” she asked, without looking up from the kitchen table. I carefully opened my hand to reveal the delightful little shimmering ball inside, to which she said, “Oh, that’s just a weed … it’s from a dandelion. Take it outside, make a wish, and blow on it. Maybe something good will happen.”

I thought it the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, that wish. In my bedroom, the movement of my hands opening sent the shimmering seed upward, dancing above the bed.  I made a wish, for more wishes. When it came to rest on my pink dresser, I carefully placed it in my special jar on the highest shelf.

I wasn’t good at making friends with other children, but I found companionship in the wishes that accumulated in my special jar and in the crows and squirrels who called out to me from the big cottonwood tree.

Sometimes I opened the jar and released the wishes into the room. Dancing the dream of my wishes, I forgot about my shyness and fear, and my spirit floated to a happy, magical place.

One summer day, my mom said, like it or not, I was going to camp. When the day came to board the bus, I begged to stay at home. My cries were met with admonitions of “Don’t be silly; it will be good for you. You need to make friends.” As I waited with the other campers, I caught sight of a glimmer just above my head. A wish! I reached up and grabbed it, without calling attention from the other children, and tucked it into the outside pocket of my overnight bag.

The next day, we arrived at the place where stony outcroppings created a rocky slide into a clear green pool of water. I sat down in the grassy space beside the water, explaining to the counselor that I preferred to watch; I was afraid to say I couldn’t swim. But other campers coaxed… “C’mon, don’t be a sissy! You’ll be fine!” I didn’t believe them. I knew better. It wasn’t safe.

Trembling, I eased my body into the freezing cold water, holding my breath and wrapping my arms tightly around the waist of the boy in front of me. Just then, I noticed a wish floating above the water… out of reach. As I watched the wish float up and away with the wind, the train of children began moving downward, sliding more and more quickly over the rocks. In the next instant, the boy I had been clinging to was gone. I was alone. My arms flailed wildly, grasping for anything to hold onto. My screams erupted from beneath the water; I struggled, choking and terrified, until I couldn’t struggle any more. My body floated freely, my voice mute. 

Cradled by the same invisible arms that had carried me into the world, glimpses of home flashed before my eyes: my family, smiling and laughing; my dog, my books, and my jar of wishes. A bright light in the distance drew me into its warmth. I wanted to go there.  I wanted to stay there.

When I awoke, I felt the warmth of stone against my cheek. I had been propped against a large rock in the sun, and my bare feet rested on the earth. I had glimpsed something extraordinary and magical and wonderful; a place that felt like home.

As I grew, so too did my jar of wishes. They appeared on gentle breezes with messages of hope whispered in my ear. Some followed me home as I ran to escape the jeers of a school bully. One wiggled its way into the pages of my favorite storybook. Another appeared on my bedspread like a twinkling light to calm my fear of darkness.

I carried the jar into adulthood, introducing my son to the magic of wishes and giving him his very own wishing jar. On the day Gram died, a wish went into his jar. Another went in on the day his papa moved away. More came as we restructured our family. We collected wishes while searching for lost kitties and going for walks. A few landed in the little white basket on the front of his bike, while others flew in his bedroom window on summer evenings. 

After joyful celebrations of graduation and his passage into adulthood, my sweet boy left for college. I was alone then, really alone, for the first time in decades. Silence, which at one time had been such a comfort to me, now felt suffocating. In my grief, solitude, and loneliness, I wasn’t sure how to go on, or if I even wanted to. 

Friends, concerned about my isolation, began to organize potential matches. I hated the idea of dating but I went along, reluctantly. One afternoon, I arrived to meet a tall, handsome, dark-haired man who “would be a perfect partner,” according to the well-intentioned matchmaker.  He was so engrossed in a loud telephone conversation that he nearly ran me over in the restaurant lobby. “Be right with you, honey,” he said. 

I knew I should go right then, but before I could take a step toward the door, in one broad gesture he dropped his phone on the table, threw his arm around my shoulders, and swooped in to kiss me on the mouth. I was stunned. Despite his boorish manner, a fondness stirred within me as he regaled me with stories of his brilliant musical career, his awards and travels and adventures.  He recognized me as a member of his “tribe,” he said. I assumed that meant he was spiritual. 

I dreamt of him that night and awakened with a jumble of feelings and a dull ache in my belly. When he came calling the next day, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He noted my ability to really “see” him; I noted that something about him felt familiar, like family.

Within weeks, I had fallen completely in love.  I was charmed by his laugh, his sharp wit, his talent, and the fierceness of our lovemaking. I began to abandon my life at home in order to inhabit his world; I changed plans to be with him, cheered at his performances and giggled at his boyish antics. I naively accepted his infidelities as evidence of his broken spirit, and I believed him when he assured me he was working to heal that fractured part of himself. 

A few months into the relationship, in a brief moment of clarity, I realized I had begun to lose myself in him, to disconnect from things and people who had once been so important to me.  Tending to his broken spirit was breaking mine.

One morning, as we lay, bodies entwined and speaking in whispers, I bravely opened my heart wide and blurted out my deepest desire:  “I want your presence and your partnership.” I told him I wanted to get close enough to explore every inch of each other, inside and out. “I want your commitment,” I told him, “and I want your devotion.”

Saying those words aloud felt so liberating and exhilarating. But he pushed away from me, wide-eyed and speechless. Soon his words began tumbling out, tentative at first but with a tinge of what sounded like anger.  He loved me, he said, more than he had ever loved anyone but, still, he wasn’t certain that a life with me would be the most interesting adventure of all.  He asked me to be patient, to stay and support his process of self-discovery; he said he’d like to marry me someday.  I vowed to stay, to accept him, and he praised me for my openheartedness.

One winter morning, watching a beautiful leaf from the big maple outside his bedroom gliding gently to earth, I was overcome by a feeling of deep contentment. The veil of sadness covering my spirit seemed to lift a little as the sun streamed into the bedroom window. In the months to come, we spent long hours talking about the life we could build together, traveling together, planning our future.  Those were moments of intoxicating happiness for me, and it was easy to associate the brightness of my spirit with the person in whose arms I lay. 

When we weren’t together, though, I began to feel anxious and unsettled again. It became more and more difficult to overlook his leering at other women, to keep up the pretense of partnership.   Driving home one rainy afternoon, I was overcome with deep sadness.  Through my tears, I didn’t see the car stop abruptly in front of me.   The crash was deafening.  I couldn’t catch my breath. The woman from the other car pounded on my window, screaming for me to get out.  

Sobbing and shaken, I stood beside the smoldering wreck of my car, pondering the shuddering wreck of my life. The paramedics said I should not be alone that night, so I called my love from the tow truck, explaining what had happened. “Sweetie, I’m so sorry,” he said.  “Can you call a friend?” he said.  “Mary and I have already rescheduled once,” he said.  “I’ll call you in the morning,” he said.  “I love you,” he said.

The tow-truck driver dropped me in front of my house, where I made my way to my favorite fir tree and collapsed there.  In the pouring rain, I cried out God and Goddess, angels and ancestors, begging them to quiet the chaos of my heart.  

There was no turning back after the crash. When he called the next day, my voice erupted with passion, venting months of stored up disappointment and rage, confusion and sadness. I told him how his emotional abandonment and selfishness had worn away at my self esteem and caused me to doubt myself, how it had eroded my trust in me and in him.  

“I showed you who I was from the beginning and you refused to accept me! I loved you more than anyone, but it wasn’t enough!” he screamed, and hung up. He was right; he had shown me who he was, in so many ways. I had refused to see him, and he didn’t have the capacity to see me. His version of love felt so familiar, like home, but there was no hope of redemption there.  The object of my desire, the man I regarded as beloved, was just another version of the mother who shamed me; a hungry ghost feeding endlessly on the energy with which I showered him; a broken, frightened little boy in a grown man’s body.

He was the star, the prince in my fairy tale of idealized love; a brilliant, beautiful catalyst for my awareness and healing.  

I reached into my pocket for a tissue and found a crumpled wish.  Holding it gently, I climbed to the high shelf where my jar of wishes sat, neglected for years. Carefully carrying the jar down and dusting if off, I opened the lid and blew lightly to release the wishes into the room. I waved my arms and began to dance, closing my eyes, conjuring distant memories of expectancy and hope.

I danced for a long time, and gradually clarity danced along with me. It was time to accept what my heart had known all along, to reconnect with the magical, wise little girl within. In the months that followed, amid oceans of tears, I discovered the core of my own inner strength and wisdom. I left behind notions of fairy tale princes and princesses, of true love and happily ever after, and I began to assemble the pieces of myself that had long been scattered.   I met and embraced the little girl who had been the keeper of my wishes and dreams, the one who so desperately needed protection and who sought it in all the wrong places. 

I learned to draw on my own inner resources to protect her, and to assure her that she would never be abandoned again. And, finally, she and I began to walk in the world as one. 

Ever since I was a child, my wishes, those gentle messengers of spirit, had offered me glimpses of my own divinity and illuminated the deepest knowing of my heart. Their sacred purpose had been revealed in the expectancy of a little girl who needed to believe in her voice long before it arrived, and in the hope of a grownup girl whose longing for love eventually led her back to the hearth of her own heart.

 Armed with a reservoir of gratitude that had, at last, grown stronger than my fear, and with a wish tucked in my pocket, I took my first tentative steps toward the greatest adventure of all: a love affair with my own mythic journey. 

Remembering

​I see your heart
through the lens of lifetimes;
too many to count.

I breathe in your spirit
recognizing your laughter;
the echo of those days.

I feel your embrace
and remember your wisdom;
strong and clear.

I see you again and again
dreaming, so I remember;
in waking time.

When we meet again
I will know you by your heart;
your spirit, your embrace.

And I will love you
better than I did today;
by remembering.