20 March 2011

carrying grief on the first day of spring

Spring is a time of emotional extremes from the history of my life, times of immense loss and great change, darkness of depths unimaginable and restorative light. Every subsequent year is different. And the same. It's not that I forget how it is the most difficult time of year for me, it's that every year I think, surely this one will be different. But then the dreams come, vivid as ever, and time removed feels like yesterday.

In times of sadness, I have learned to reach back and call on moments that lifted me before—private moments, sweet joys, prayers. The first time I had opportunity to pray in a sweat lodge, perhaps ten years ago, it was a warrior sweat. On the banks of the Columbia River in sacred space at Celilo, I entered the lodge with trepidation and the heavy weight of unresolved family issues. With nothing to compare it to, I could not gauge the intensity of the conditions; I only knew how it brought me to complete physical breaking.

At the 17th stone, I wept. The woman next to me unexpectedly touched my hand and whispered, "Put your face on the earth, your mother." And so I did, and a peace came to me such as I had never experienced. The pain I carried into the lodge lifted in a way of power and beauty and deep personal awareness I continue to carry.

So with sadness and deep regret, I honor the memories of children lost to me, the deaths of friends and loved ones, and sorrows of irreparable harm. Respect the sorrow; allow it to be what it is. Without a tangible place to direct my grieving, I wonder for the first time if I need to seek one out to allow for something different.

At the same time, with gratitude and an astounded sense of awe I embrace this moment, this year, these feelings, my place in this world. After too many "burning down the house" years, my life was not restored—it was begun anew.

Ah, spring. I seek to find its middle path.


"Grief was the celebration of love, those who could feel real grief were lucky to have loved. But it was not grief that Olanna felt, it was greater than grief. It was stranger than grief. She did not know where her sister was. She did not know."

~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun

"The ranks of the stars move in progression, the sun and the moon shine in turn, the four seasons succeed each other in good order, the yin and yang go through their great transformations, and the wind and the rain pass over the whole land. All things obtain what is congenial to them and come to life, receive what is nourishing to them and come to completion. One does not see this process taking place, but sees only the results. Thus it is called godlike. All men understand that the process has reached completion, but none understands the formless forces that bring it about."

~ Xunzi (c. 296 -c. 236 B.C.)

07 March 2011


I feel a little tattered before spring. Not that winter's over, between downpour rain, sleet, corn snow and scattered sunshine (that's a real meteorologist's term here in the PacNW).

Gray is what it is, although that may be what I love most about the northwest skies—the million shades of gray. Add a million shades of green for the trees. Several thousand browns and blacks, and as it warms and spring pushes up through the dirt, all the rest of the Crayola palette for what blooms next: crocus, lupine, beargrass, pea, fringecup, fireweed, goat's beard, phlox, monkeyflower, larkspur, trillium, fern. Their names are music.

Next week the clocks return to regular time that makes the morning dark again for a while longer. The blessed season of introspection is nearly over for another year. It doesn't make me any less reminiscent—only warmer. In theory.

I could use a break about now. Perhaps some tea.


April Rain Song

Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain.

Langston Hughes

13 February 2011

rinse. repeat.

If it isn't already common knowledge, I'm a huge sports nerd. I don't mind admitting to it. What little television I watch generally involves a ball, puck, racetrack, birdie, or even a wicket—although I'm still trying to make heads or tails of that last one. Superbowl, World Series, World Cup, NBA Finals, Olympics, Stanley Cup—I'm watching. It also means I cry in movies of the same.

One of the other consequences is that I cannot answer any trivia questions about the latest reality show or be-the-next-greatest-singer-dancer-weightloser-topmodel-designer-cook-cakedecorator-nanny-housewife-makeover show. Somehow I don't feel like I missed out.

Back in high school after a workout on the track or gym, I would often run the seven miles to my house, the big yellow one out on Jameston Road. In the rhythm of pace, heartbeat, breath, the mind can go anywhere. Even touch nothingness. There's something deeply moving—intellectually, psychologically, even spiritually—about the drive that pushes through physical limits and beyond. Some of the dreams inspired in those moments are the same ones I carry with me now.

I recently heard Rachel Toor read a beautiful piece about her run from rim-to-rim-to-rim of the Grand Canyon shortly after the death of her mother. It was a physical challenge above and beyond and then perhaps the way to peace.

It's the aesthetics' pilgrimage, the personal "monomyth"—the hero's journey. It's why many of my heroes are thoughtful athletes.

Now that my knees are shot from years of activity and the shortcomings of my genetics, I access that place in different ways. Sustained practice has led to an awareness that has altered my thinking at a fundamental level. If I seek out these moments, they show themselves, coy as white-tailed deer by the river, beautiful as the mourning doves that come down from the roof like specters on hovering wings.

It's a powerful place, connected awareness, a state of mind that lifts me above my own pathetic preconceptions, fears and human foibles. Greater than us all. Call it god (or God), higher power, enlightenment, nothingness.

Crazy, you say? Touch nirvana with a jog around the block? I say, do whatever works. Figure out what that is, and then do it every day. Repeat. And if it stops working, find something else that does. It's that important.

Along the way, watch a good game of basketball now and then. Or cricket. That's what I would do.


"Beauty is not wasting a day. Beauty is noticing life's little intricacies and taking time out of your busy day to really enjoy those little intricacies. Beauty is being real, being genuine, being pure with no facade—what you see is what you get. Beauty is expanding your mind, always seeking knowledge, not being content, always going after something and challenging yourself."
- Jake Plummer, retired QB of the Denver Broncos, speaking at the funeral of his friend, Pat Tillman. "What Was He Thinking," Sports Illustrated, Feb. 14, 2011.