What is dying, Nina?

Cool sunrise over a fake lagoon in Chandler, AZ, oasis in the desert. A November day here will turn hot and we will go jump in the community pool. I have brought my teacup and journal to a little veranda to write and think about my mother who lies dying in the nursing home that has tended her this past year. I am in Arizona. She is in British Columbia.

My reverie is sweetly shifted by the arrival of my six-year old granddaughter. She is watching me closely this week as I am tracking with my sister & brother who sit at our mother’s side. In the vacation rental house where we are all staying during a reunion and family Thanksgiving, there is a flickering candle altar with photos that honor my mother and also her Uncle Brian who died three years ago. In this same three-year period she has also lost her great-grandfather and her other grandmother, her father’s mom.


She is twirling my hair, sitting on my lap. “What is dying, Nina?” she asks. “People get dead and then they’re gone.” I take a breath, she’s trusting me to give her something she can understand.ns

“People have two parts that make us who we are: the soul, and the body. I recognize you because I know how you look, and sound, and feel. And I recognize you because who you are shines out from inside you. When you are in your mommy’s womb, the body and the soul come together and you are born in one piece that is both physical and spiritual.

“Then you live your life—one beautiful piece of body and soul. Dying is when those two parts separate again. The body goes back to the earth, and the soul goes back to spirit.”

“Is that heaven?”

“Yes, heaven is one name for where the spirit goes.”

“Why is your mama dying? Is she hurt? sick?”

“She’s dying because she’s so old her body is tired and her soul needs to be free again. I am happy that she is going to be free, and I cry when I remember all the things we’ve shared and learned from each other.”

We look across the lagoon, and there is the metaphor made visible. “Look at the palm trees, Sasha… see how they are reflected in the water?” She nods. There is the tree that we see growing on the ground, and there is the tree that is reflected upside down in the water. The standing tree is like the body, the reflected tree is like the soul.”

Body & soul.

Body & soul.

“Oh… okay. Can I draw the picture in your journal?”

She takes a pen and begins to draw palm trees and us on the veranda. The day moves on. My mother still breathes. We wait in vigil, both near and far.

PS: The afternoon of this posting, November 27, 2016, my mother Connie died peacefully with my brother and sister present. Now she knows the “big secret”of what is dying. Hallelujah.

Breathing on shaky ground

I asked my 96-year old father how he responded when people ask him about the election, he said, “I tell them that we have just been through an earthquake of great magnitude. My house is still standing, but I have no idea what remains firm ground, where I can take a step.”

Exactly. The words pouring forth on every conceivable media stream, from Twitter to the NY Times, from blogging to pulpits, are our first attempts to discover firm ground and, hopefully, common ground.


Revered Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hahn teaches, “To wake up: take three breaths: One breath to let go. One breath to get here. One breath to ask, Now What?”

One breath to let go.

I let go of the shards of complacency, that my country was progressing, grudgingly or not, to expand our definition of ourselves as a rainbow nation, a diverse culture of broadening acceptance; that America was moving steadily toward leadership willing to address global issues ahead of national interests. That is my definition of a “Great America,” and it was taken off the table.

I voted for Hillary, despite her connections to Wall Street, to the establishment, to the corporatacracy, because she is a tough, intelligent, educated leader determined to break the mold. And if she broke the mold of a woman leading at the top—then she is capable of breaking other molds, including breaking open her privilege and re-evaluating parts of her past record. I continue to believe that she learns, that she reads broadly, that she is interested in evolving her positions. IF she had been elected, it was always my plan to help push her toward Bernie Sanders’ and Elizabeth Warren’s articulation of our collective needs.

I let go of seeking to find this leadership at the top of government. However, Congress is not off the hook!

One breath to get here.

I am here—standing in the jaws of the system that is deluding and killing all of us. No more wondering what will consume the rest of my life’s energy: this struggle will consume it.

I am here—an elder standing between lines of polarity to offer myself as a buffer: to get to “them” you have to go through me—this is the best use of gray-haired, white-skinned privilege I can imagine at the moment. I have the power of presence, of witness, of holding calm in the midst of chaos. My presence is a shield I offer to any moment of need.

I am here—in dialogue with family and friends who see the world and the ways to fix the world very differently. We the people of this country are in a huge moment where we can show one another the color purple—neither red or blue. A friend in North Carolina posted this Face Book message on the day after the election: “I am thrilled that Donald Trump is our President Elect. For both those of you who are not, and for those who are, I recommend Elizabeth Gilbert’s response that the only thing each of us can control is who we want to be in each moment.  And we can reach out with conversation, hoping to build consensus and understanding.”

I am here—trained by decades of dialogue and still fiercely in love with the world. The people who voted for him did so for many reasons, but only a minority of them for openly racist reasons, or thinking about furthering the end of civilized society… understanding that “why” (our votes and their votes) and addressing these concerns with one another is where we start. Sit down. Circle up. Listen.

One breath to ask: now what?

It is only the people who will save the people.

We have the opportunity to wake up and free ourselves.

We have the opportunity to find our own points of leadership and integrity.

This is a hugely creative time! We can we  astound one another!

This is all I know right now… it is only days into this changed world, and there is great confusion. There is no firm ground, we are riding the quake.

One breath to let go, one breath to get here, one breath to ask now what?

One breath to let go, one breath to get here, one breath to ask now what?



Apologies to the World

To those living outside the borders of the United States, the majority of Americans who voted on Nov. 8 send apologies. Our election results sent the message that we don’t care about you. I and millions and millions of Americans care about you.

Ann having tea in downtown Amersterdam

Ann having tea in downtown Amersterdam

Please remember that:

231,556,622 registered voters pre-election day

26% voted for Clinton—she won the popular vote

25.9% voted for Trump—he won the electoral college

2.6% voted for “other”

45.4% (105,195,013 registered voters) DIDN’T VOTE

Ann and Christina resting on a hike through southern Austria

Ann and Christina resting on a hike through southern Austria

Many of us are still in shock that this has happened. We are gathering in twos, threes, tens, and even thousands. This is NOT the message that WE send to the world outside our borders, to our future, and to the natural world. We are devastated that our country’s already “rogue nation reputation” has been exacerbated.

Ann and Christina and Ann's sister, Susie, visiting British Columbia's famous Butchart Gardens

Ann and Christina and Ann’s sister, Susie, visiting British Columbia’s famous Butchart Gardens

On election night a young friend from the Netherlands wrote to us, “so sorry, no retirement for you!” She could not be more correct. We do not yet know how, but we– millions of us– are wide awake and ready to march, lobby, write letters, and CHANGE what seems to be happening in our country.

Ann raking leaves one week after the election—preparing for winter and what lies ahead

Ann raking leaves one week after the election—preparing for winter and what lies ahead

And to the natural world, which is completely innocent of all this but in danger of irreparable harm, the deepest apologies of all and the fiercest pledge of activism.

Christina taking a photo of a wombat in Australia

Christina taking a photo of a wombat in Australia