St. Francis

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(from a writing prompt, L.H. in NM: “Pay attention to something for 10 minutes, then write about it for 20 minutes”)

St. Francis sits stoic, almost wooden, on the stump of a tree. I could swear he was made of wood, for, were he really St. Francis, would not the birds who chatter in the branches overhead come instead to light upon his hooded head? His hands are folded, one over the other. Would St. Francis sit so still? Even the lines of age entrenched around his cheeks resemble the grains of wood, as though time had carved his face from the trunk of the tree he sits upon.

Most insulting, though, to me, is that he won’t even look at me. He stares beyond, with fixed gaze, as though some other bird were more colorful, some other bunny with a cuter tail. The deep lines across his forehead suggest worry. Compassion perhaps…not meant for me. I picture him like this, 20 minutes from now, unchanged. Should I stay, just in case? I picture him like this four months from now, the shoulders of his robe dusted in snow, his eyes still unblinking.

Me, I pray to be seen. Please St. Francis, God, my Father, my Mother, my brother, my sister, my lover, please, St Francis, gentlest of Saints, turn your gaze my way. Don’t make me sit in pretense anymore, don’t make me put on make-up, panty hose, a flowing skirt. Must I twirl and dance and flirt? I spent my life hidden in plain view, and I liked it that way. Better hidden than pretending. But I languished there in pain ~ between fully being and fully hiding.

(Whoa, St Francis! Did you send that fancy bird just now? Is that you? God? You surprise me in the most beautiful and unexpected ways!)

What was I complaining about, oh yes – the wooden church, the wooden parent, the wooden St. Francis sitting on a stump…

But God, the bird, the real, just flew into the late afternoon glowing sunlit tree with tail of deep red fire and wings tinted green, then dove down near my head and flew on by.

God is not wood. My heart will not become a stone.

Apparently, this is all the seeing that I need.

I’ll be damned, St. Francis, you of wood, what magic in those eyes….

 

2018 entire memory card 4717

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Something I Never Saw Coming

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(response to a writing prompt, L.H. in N.M.)

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I have entered the doors of Aging with great suspicion and trepidation. Suddenly, my body has started a slow and painful process of breaking down, on the way to its eventual disintegration. I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve been educated my entire life that this would happen.

Once, I had sharp memory and only occasionally forgot the location of my keys. Now, I forget what I was saying mid-sentence, mid-morning, mid-day, all day, oh, mid-dear! (my-dear) Where was I?

Oh yes, forgetting. The aging, the contracting of my brain’s capacity for memory. But also the loss of steadiness on my feet. I miss and grieve the loss of balance and agility; the jumping, leaping, climbing, bending, twisting, skipping of my youth in which I took joy and pride. The absence of lasting physical pain.

But none of that is the thing I never saw coming. As my pride falls away, as I am forced to accept help with simple things I used to do for others, something new emerges. A gentle humility. Something new expands, though my body contracts. Something beautiful increases while memory and agility decrease.

What I did not see coming was this sudden expansion of my spirit. A constantly growing capacity for love, understanding, compassion, and humility.  An ever-deepening appreciation for every second I still have my breath, my beating heart, my senses, and my consciousness, with which to be ever increasingly present to the beauty of this weird and precious living – to feel the expansiveness of the wide open New Mexico sky, to be able to see her colors and feel them all in the core of my heart, to be able to meet each new moment, each new person, each new place, each old friend, every experience, with this new breath, this new heartbeat, this ever-expanding consciousness.

This is how I accept with grace and love each new pain, each new suffering, each new loss.

This beauty, this, is what I never saw coming.

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Open

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Stay open

when the sun is out.

Let it warm my face with grace.

Pull in the petals

when the icy wind moves in.

Protect, I must.

But,

when the predatory wind

has thinned

to a gentle breeze,

and the sun again

searches out my face,

remember then, toward the light,

I bloom.

 

Kaleidoscope

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Simple little Chickadee,

clamped onto a slender twig:

I saw you,

thought you plain, and

wished you were instead

the elusive Winter Waxwing.

But you flicked one wing

into the air, and

backlit as you were,

made of yourself a prism,

so that

tiny colored jewels of light

trickled down

into all the unlit corners

of my simple mind.

Sweet little Chickadee.

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dedicated to Jill and Sheila

putting away the perfume

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Tonight my eyes were opened, something that seems so simple…how did I miss this?

Twice in the past few weeks, I found myself in positions that threatened my perception of being in control of my body and my space. I found myself in positions that instantaneously blind-sided me with frightening sensations I experienced in my teens, when someone I respected and trusted, looked up to, adored even, violated that very respect and trust. I found my feet again a couple of days after the first time. After the second time I went from functioning well enough to feeling paralyzed, barely functioning at all. Pretty damn close to just not functioning. I am not much for drinking or engaging in any behavior that is too self-destructive. And I didn’t, but I really, really, really wanted to.

I think what I’m finally beginning to see tonight is how desperately I’ve fought against, stuffed, compartmentalized, avoided. In order to keep functioning, I thought. So I could get back to work, to this meeting, that meeting, this training, that appointment. Sometimes crying quietly in a public bathroom stall, sometimes sobbing in the car between sites, then stuffing it in this pocket or that pocket and getting myself back out there. And it has worked, over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over ….and … sigh. Until it didn’t. Kinda like spraying perfume on shit, but never actually cleaning up the shit, then wondering why the smell keeps coming back.

I have to laugh right now. I am, really, hard-headed.

I have a really good therapist. A very patient therapist. It’s not like she hasn’t tried to tell me. I’ve been pushing back because I have not been able to see any value in talking about or re-living this experience.  All it has ever done for me is to trigger anguish all over again.

The fighting against, the stuffing, the compartmentalizing, the avoiding…all the quick fix strategies/survival skills I’ve employed…they do work, for a long or a little while. But she guided me through a meditation today that showed me a different way. A more effective way, I now think. It seems so simple: Allowing the discomfort, the sensations, and staying with them. The meditation used words like, “noticing it…letting it be…making room for it…inviting it in ….allowing …acknowledging …staying with … breathing with …opening up a space for the discomfort in your heart, feeling it, with compassion and kindness toward yourself and your experience.”

“Opening up a space for the discomfort in my heart?” You mean, it belongs in my heart? I mean, I’ve been scrambling like HELL to keep it OUT of my heart. OUT of my mind. OUT of my soul. I mean, that’s logical, right? If you KNOW that thinking about, remembering, feeling something again has caused you deep distress in the past, then logically, you are going to make every effort to prevent continued distress that could be brought on by having to think about or experience it again. Letting it in is kind of like drinking poison, right?

“Feeling it, with compassion and kindness toward myself and my experience?” What? Whoa.

But, you know what? That’s what I did. And it didn’t kill me. It didn’t make things worse. It didn’t trigger me and it didn’t leave me with a wide-open gaping wound, which is what I’ve been most afraid of. It was very hard for me to do, to stay with the shit, then to open up space in my heart for it, with kindness toward myself and my experience of it. And I wasn’t sure right away that I’d done the best thing by agreeing to participate in this guided meditation. I could barely even speak when it was done. But I became conscious on my hour-long drive home of feeling very oddly peaceful. Not wanna-be peaceful, but real peaceful. Real. 

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This changes things.