Seventy-the bridge to somewhere

sunset

sunset

It’s heartwarming to be welcomed home; to have people notice that Ann and I are more in residence in our community than we were a year ago. However, when well-meaning people inquire, “does this mean you’re retired?” something weird happens inside me that I have been sorting for months.

It may be my own outdated stereotypes of the word that are getting stirred up, but my unabridged Random House Dictionary of the English Language informs me of the following definitions: “retire; 1. To withdraw, to go away or apart from; to remove from active life,” or “retired; no longer occupied with one’s business or profession;” or “retirement, …2. Removal or withdrawal from service.”

This sure doesn’t fit what goes on around here where the work of sustaining island life is hugely augmented by volunteering and vibrant 60-70-80-year-olds—and my still volunteering and vibrant 96-year-old father!

Okay, I am 70 years old. We have publically and proudly announced passing our circle facilitation trainings to TheCircleWay.net. BUT— I am still teaching my memoir class, The Self as the Source of the Story, two times a year, along with selective mentoring with other writers. Ann Linnea, Deb Greene-Jacobi, and I are still leading our annual Cascadia wilderness quest. PeerSpirit, Inc. is still a half-time job.

writing w/ tea

writing w/ tea

Alongside remaining work commitments are family commitments, community service, gardening—writing—singing in the community choir, helping friends and neighbors in even bigger transitions than we are, and occasionally even relaxing over coffee/tea or dinner with folks we haven’t seen in way too long a time! The days do not feel “retired”—unless all this busyness IS retirement. If so, we need another word.

Boomers are trying to make a new word. “Refirement,” “rebooting,” “ruppies” (retired urban professionals)—cute, but not satisfying. I saw a man in the grocery store wearing a tee-shirt that proclaimed, “I’m retired, but I still work part-time as a pain-in-the-ass”— sort of funny, but also not the definition I’m seeking.

I feel myself on a bridge crossing from one stage of life to the next. It feels important. Not only to me, but to others in the generation of Boomers. We have been both championed and chastised for changing expectations about our lives at every stage of aging, from puberty on. The 70s decade is our last big chance to discern what remains for us to do.

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In my unwillingness to “withdraw from active life…to remove myself from service,” I am not yet certain what I expect of myself, or what the world hopes I will step into for another ten years.

When I was 21 and a junior in college, the head of the English department plucked me out of his advanced Shakespeare course and told me he thought I’d make a good English professor. I was flattered, but stunned—academia had never occurred to me. I blurted out at him (this was 1967), “I can’t do that, there’s a war on! I am more likely to be in prison by age 25 than in graduate school.”

It was a defining moment in my life: I chose the path of the outsider rather than the insider. I did not go to prison, though some of the men in my class went for draft resistance while others went into the draft. Before I was 25, I moved to California and worked for the American Friends Service Committee. I went to Europe and worked for the British Friends Service Council. I went to Gaza and Israel and worked with Quaker-based child and youth programs. I came back to the US and began figuring out how to be an activist writer. My mantra for all my work has been, “Inform-Inspire-Activate.”

I am still asking, what is my remaining life mission? I see the vibrant years of elderhood, (however long we have the health and energy to remain engaged) as an invitation to radical attention and thoughtful action.

Now, instead of getting ready to leave college for my work years as I was in 1967, it is suddenly 2016, and I am leaving my work years for my “X” years—a redefined involvement that goes deep, perhaps goes smaller in scale, and hopefully harvests my years of experience.

On this bridge to somewhere the world’s needs press around me as I contemplate my choices and I bow to the incredible privilege to have a life that supports choice. I want to stay more local, to support the next generation, to tend to the final years of our beloved parents, and the childhood years of our beloved grandchildren. I also do not feel done making contributions to the world outside my friends/family.

I am looking for what gestures I can make into the world’s need that will be most effective and impactful. I watch the events at Standing Rock, see things go by in social media, and I want to serve as a catalyst and supporter of catalysts as we go through this agonizing process of “changing our minds” about what we will tolerate and what we will save.

I vow to stay awake. I vow to listen to the pleas for justice. I will place my actions where I dare. I will use my elderhood as an opportunity for taking risk.

Join me?

Anyway you want.

Let me know your thoughts.

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Shredding & Honoring

This blog entry is dedicated to our magnificent office manager and colleague, Debbie Dix, who has been the third peer spirit in our office for 16 years, fully occupying her leadership chair.IMG_4406

 Ann Linnea and I arrived on Whidbey Island in March 1994, with two book manuscripts in progress, her two children, my first corgi, a small amount of savings and child support, and the idea that this circle process we were experimenting with was a gift we wanted to refine and offer the world. A mission actually, a sense that we had come together to deliver this gift, to make space in the world for circle. Ann rented a house for herself and her children, I house-sat up the road. I wrote the first version of Calling the Circle and tried to find a publisher interested in buying it.

A few months later, Ann’s book, Deep Water Passage, sold and the money helped us stabilize a way forward. That fall she bought a house with a little shed in back and rehabbed it into office space: 10 x 20 feet, two rooms: a back room for book storage and a mailing station, papers, files, and the growing accumulation of equipment for this work—from markers and flipchart paper to camping gear for wilderness experiences, boxes of collage materials, and three computers for our technological interface with the world.

In March 2000, Debbie Dix showed up seeking flexible work while raising her (then) toddler son and supporting her (then) high school math teacher husband. We hired her in 20 minutes and have thanked our lucky stars over and over and over. We could truthfully say, “We are a small, local educational company with global outreach.” There is a more detailed version of this progression in the preface to the book.

Twenty-two years have gone whizzing by. And now, having spent the past three years transitioning our circle training and consulting into the capable hands of dozens of colleagues and onto the new website www.thecircleway.net, we are taking the PeerSpirit office apart. (We will continue teaching writing and leading quests.)

Two four-drawer filing cabinets, six plastic storage bins of archived files, teaching scripts, remaining booklets inventory (as they are now transferred to e-booklets available on The Circle Way site and Amazon), and 20 hula-hoops used to demonstrate personal space at the rim of the circle. We are recycling all the office supplies we can. We are giving away the circle accessories we’ve accumulated on the journey. We are shredding the file contents that need to be safely discarded.

Sorting and shredding is actually quite an emotional process.

Shredding raises questions about what it means to carry a body of work that is basically invisible (the synergy of the space between people), and to let go of the documentation of that journey. There is no university archive waiting for “the circle papers.” We have little empirical evidence, just change of heart evidence.

Shredding requires that Ann, Debbie, and I handle every file, and in the midst of sentimental recollections, let it go. “Oh look, here is where we met Sarah, David, Holger, Linette…” or “Remember St. Pat’s church, 2003? The speech we gave at Brescia University?” Hundreds of consulting jobs, Circle Practica, phone notes from negotiations that seemed promising and stalled out, surprise connections: a life-time of work.

We three carry the experience and story of what it took to bring the circle into the world as we did. And as the boxes pile up, we witness that story, recite bits of it to one another, and let it go. Nobody wants all these details. Nobody but us could decode them into sense-making.

There is a moment when I wonder if we should be making a list of this history—but for whom? And why? Everyone engaged in teaching and practicing The Circle Way is accumulating their own experience and story. Circle is about interaction, not archiving.

The impact of circle will speak for itself in how lives shift. This is the great magic. We are sitting in the round. The circle pattern is called into place. A talking piece starts hand-to-hand. People speak heartfully. There is an energetic opening, often felt as a tiny “ping” in someone’s awareness. A bell rings. The group breathes, moves on. But that ping is morphing inside someone’s mind and heart. Checking out, s/he says, “I don’t know what it is about this circle stuff, but I’m going back to my office to interact differently to my staff. I going home to ask my family a meaningful question and see what happens at the dinner table.”

That’s the circle’s archive. That’s the proof.

A few weeks ago Ann took 10+ boxes to Island Recycle and put the contents through an industrial chomping machine.

 

 

 

Half-mast in sunlight

Friday afternoon in my little village by the sea. Second Street is closed for a summer market: flowers, vegetables, crafts, bread, the stalls are lined up and people stroll through. Dogs on leash are everywhere. Two friends have a new puppy they are carrying in arms. Sunshine and a refreshing breeze off the water.

My father and I are sitting at a patio table in front of the Commons coffee shop chatting about his upcoming 96th birthday. He wants a pizza party on our patio with his four children, three in-laws, a friend or two. He wants this—all this: a village around him, a street full of familiar faces, people waving to us, some stopping to say hi, to bring their own story into the ones we are telling each other. He wants this—his daughter, his daughter-in-law at the next table talking with friends from our decades of work and travel. We all want this—peace amongst acquaintances, friends, strangers, the earth’s abundance spilling over our shoulders. Ice cream cones and coffee. Our corgi, Gracie, wanders back and forth under the two tables seeing who might be eating something, who might have a dog biscuit to share or a cookie crumb. Safety. Peace. A couple of young musicians playing acoustic guitar and familiar songs about love.

It is a moment of complete refuge and beauty.

On the other side of us a group of several women and a man are finishing ice cream cones. One gives her waffle-tip to Gracie to finish. The man asks, “May I pet your dog?” Gracie snugs her back up to his legs and he begins massaging her: both of them blissed, his fingers in her luxuriant fur. A few minutes later when they are ready to stroll, he speaks to me again, “Thanks for letting me pet her.”

We really look at one another. I reach for his hand, strong brown fingers, in this moment his eyes bright with ease in a dark face. I am a seventy-year-old Caucasian woman: he is a middle-aged African-American man. We are in the village together. There is sunshine. Refuge. Beauty. I say back to him, “She loved it. You take care, now. Have a good day.” We smile. He’s gone.

My father and I look at each other. Tears rise in our eyes. What is happening in our country? In the world? In the unspoken chamber of my heart, I want to shelter this friendly stranger, be ready to push him under the table, wrap him in my white skin. “Don’t put your hands in your pockets. Don’t make any sudden moves. Don’t drive too fast or too slow or with a tail-light out. Don’t get shot.” In various ways, my father has worked for social justice all his life. My first memories are of living in downtown Indianapolis where he was a social worker in what was then called a “neighborhood house.” It was the early 1950s, Negroes were streaming North from the rural South looking for work and needing to learn the ways of the city. My brother and I, at four and two, unaware of race or skin tone or poverty, were just kids on the block, racing around in summer heat, days like this. Eating ice cream cones, our mother would strip us down to our white carter spanky pants so that she could just hose us off afterwards, not have to do a load of clothes. Little half naked kids, vanilla and chocolate, all sticky chested.

The seed of my gesture, white hand and brown hand, resides in those days. So do the seeds of our current violence. We talk about then, and now. I am facing the end of my work life. He is facing the end of his life-time. We have done and are doing all we can.

IMG_6408We walk slowly through the middle of the market toward the post office. The flag is at half-mast. Orlando?—where 49 died and 53 were injured dancing at the Pulse? Istanbul?—40 dead and 230 injured? Baghdad market?—where nearly 300 die from a truck bomb? This week’s police murders of black men: Baton Rouge? Suburban St. Paul? The sniper murder of five police in Dallas? The flag is at half-mast. My heart is broken for the world.

Social trauma at this scale is incredibly hard to hold. We are surrounded by problems for which there are no resolutions. How do we help one another not go mad? Not get utterly lost in despair? Find moments of sweetness such as this summer afternoon?

These moments exist in every life: when we trust the friendliness of public spaces, when we pet one another’s dogs, smile at one another’s children, hold one another’s gazes, smiles, and hands. This is what I call a stackable moment: a choice to remember something, to stack it into our memories. We can stack trauma: we can stack healing. We can stack violence: we can stack love.

I choose to stack this moment, to savor it, roll it around and around in my mind until I can call it back to sustain me. There was sunshine. There was my father alive in his stories. My beloved was next to me. There were friends. Dogs. Fruits and flowers. There was a kind man who trusted to put his brown hand in my white hand. We were in the weave together and the world was whole and holy.

The flag is at half-mast. My heart is broken—and open. This is how I stack the day.

 

The Thread You Follow

I recently attended the 3rd National Journal Writing Conference— representing a 25-year cycle in my life. Kay Adams, a dynastic/prolific author of journal writing books, founder of Therapeutic Writing Institute, Center for Journal Therapy, and several other entities devoted to writing practice, has three times called together a tribe of journal writers. In 1991, she and I, Kay Leigh Hagan, and Dan Wakefield were faculty at the first conference just as Life’s Companion was coming out, and just as that book and the power of circle were about to shift my whole life into a deeper path.

In 2008, just as Storycatcher was catching fire, I showed up again as the opening keynoter, and along with Tristine Rainier, it was the closest I ever expect to come to a “rock star” moment.

Now, Kay convened us again—a dynamic event at Kanuga Conference Center in the green and blooming hills of western North Carolina. Ann Linnea and I offered three pre-conference events: Ann did a lovely morning on “Writing Nature’s Wisdom” which included rocking chairs and lap blankets on the dock at lake’s edge; I did a circle on how coherent story-line/life-line emerges from the original chaos of journal pages; and both of us taught circle process for writing groups in the afternoon.

Western Carolina vista

Western Carolina vista

By observation, the group was 95% women, 98% white, 90% midlife and older. Some exciting research was presented on neuroplasticity, on reframing trauma, on advances in recognizing writing as a therapeutic modality. It was a sweet, deep dip into my own story, carrying around journal and pens, doing an afternoon of collage. My cell phone didn’t work. The rains held us to the page. The conversations were meaningful, earnest, held with respect. I saw former students and long-time acquaintances and friends in the field.

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Myself, with Sandra Marinella, teacher and author from Phoenix, AZ.

I wish there were more men. I wish there were more young people. I wish there was more diversity of all kinds. And it is what it is: this is a cadre striving to maintain a way of life where pen and paper are the primary tools of spiritual practice, where reflection is built into the heart of the day, where life questions are tracked with determination until their insights are revealed.

What I want to declare, to these mostly graying, mostly women, journal writers and journal facilitators, is to keep on trusting the value of the journal writing practice.

Keep holding the thread of meaning-making that emerges from time spent articulating your most personal experiences and the tumble of thoughts and feelings that follow. You are organizing reality: not controlling it, but practicing a resilience that comes from standing inside your story. The world needs people who can stand in the story of the times and help others around them make meaning and come to coherent action.

Be bold.

Be invitational. Share the strength of your voice and insight. Write in public: in cafes and libraries, in airports, in any setting where you have a few minutes to say hello to yourself.

Imagine taking the long flight home: the person next to you glancing at this odd behavior of spreading a notebook over the tray table, coping with the leaky fountain pen that doesn’t like the air pressure at 32,000 feet. Their eyes keep wandering toward your handwriting. You turn, and invite, “I’m writing in my journal. I do this several times a week to keep track of my life. Want to hear a few paragraphs?” They will be so surprised. They will most likely be receptive.

Read.

I heard you at the conference. I was in awe at the beauty of your personal voice, your courageous comprehension, your compassion for human frailty, the forgiveness of yourself and others. Deposit some chosen bit of that. They will hear you. They will catch the story. And perhaps their longing to know this much about themselves will awaken. Have an extra notebook and pen ready to give away. Have a question on a post-it note. Teach them five minutes of flow-writing. To put a few paragraphs of self-check-in on the page or screen could change their lives in ways you will never track. Someone did that for you…

Remember: William Stafford’s poem, “The Way it Is”–

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
….
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

(William Stafford © 1998)

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Pink Ladyslippers

 

 

 

My life is a full-time job

Just before heading back to airport.

Just before heading back to airport.

I emerge from two weeks of “Grandma Camp” and family time, and realize that it’s April and I’m about to turn 70 years old! The world is greening around me— asparagus is up, tulips are peaking, and our flowering crab apple tree is having a glorious bloom after soaking winter rains. I am profoundly thankful to be surrounded by this beauty; and I know it is impermanent, and I know I am impermanent.

The old tree still blooms

The old tree still blooms

Turning 70 is a big deal—and a privilege. Not everyone gets here… mortality is more real to me than in the decade behind me when I jokingly said, “Every year is like a speed limit—life seems to be moving faster and faster.” Well, 70 is a shift into the larger mystery. I intend to use it well—the day, the year, and (with health and good fortune) the decade.

Last August, when my friend Barbara Borden turned 70, I began thinking of the nine months preceding my own 70th birthday as a gestational time. Barbara and I proclaim that she was born on the day I was conceived, so I anticipated a period to reflect, assess, and set goals. I imagined the winter of handing on The Circle Way as a moment of breath and redefinition, exploring how our educational company, PeerSpirit might articulate its own transition. I began a correspondence with several friends in the turning-70-cohort exploring the meaning of this passage for us. I thought I could hang on to this thread, but life happened and took up all that contemplative space. Mom-care and other family concerns, the work and complex communication required to serve on the neighborhood association board as we face repairing the bluff/beach access, the ongoing transition needs of work, and and and…

It seems there   is no easy fix to anything anymore.

I want to think of this coming decade as a golden era in which I can bring together my two life passions of activism and story. I want to be a walking/talking/writing antidote to the frenzy of tweets and texts and fractured sound-bytes that stream off the devices we now carry with us everywhere. I seek opportunities every day to practice transforming experience into story and making a narrative that leads to greater civility and cooperation. Hey let’s just be us: listening, speaking, framing a world we can stand in together.

I am writing a book because the story keeps welling up inside me in spite of everything that calls me away and pulls at my time and attention. These characters are my birthday present. I don’t know what will come of it, only that I am dedicated to this particular story. I want to live long enough to tell this tale. I don’t know why it’s important beyond my own creative fantasy, just that it is.

When acquaintances ask, “So how’s retirement?” I don’t know how to answer. The word seems irrelevant and meaningless to my actual life. I don’t know what to say because saying anything is a much longer story than they may be expecting in a brief encounter, so I just smile and tell them, “I’m not retired. Being myself @ 70 is a full-time job.”

This blog entry is the beginning of a longer story that I intend to dip into this year: what does it mean to turn 70, to stand in the privilege of age and aging? What do I choose as I face into a decade that may well be my last full-on shot of contribution and energy? What remains mine to do now in regards to the larger issues around me? How will I expend and celebrate the strengths I have and admit the fading of strengths as I notice them? How do I come home?

Self @ 69...

Self @ 69…

To begin, Ann and I are heading into a five-day birthday retreat—off line, just us and Gracie, and a nearby island to explore. Alone and together, in silence and circle, turning a funky beach cabin into sanctuary. My gestational imagery returns… along with the labor of giving birth to myself in the new now.

 

 

Writing Time

Tuesday and Thursday mornings—it says in my electronic calendar: Christina writes… an injunction that spins out through the year and into perpetuity—purposely. This is my commitment for the foreseeable future: save time to write, and use it to write!

Yeah. Right. A review of the past weeks:

Tuesday: PeerSpirit Annual Meeting to set our course for the year.

Thursday: yay—WRITING.

Tuesday: Fly to Austin, TX with Ann to present a day of health care consulting.

Thursday: hanging out in Austin after teaching, visiting friends, talking about circle.

Tuesday: Fly home from LA, after adding a visit with the grandchildren to our business trip.

Thursday: taking my dad to the dermatologist—kicking off a lot of medical decisions about skin cancer abrasions.

Tuesday: over at my dad’s apartment, helping him get carpets cleaned and other tasks.

Thursday: yay—WRITING

Tuesday: Self as the Source of the Story Alumni group convenes.

Thursday: Teaching, consulting with students—and WRITING.

Saturday: WRITING all day—silent time at the seminar. Ahhhh.

Tuesday: Day after teaching: barely talking, writing only a few emails. Breathing in the satisfaction of the class. Listening for my own voice to re-emerge.

Thursday March 10: High winds and two inches of rain in an already saturated season. Ann is up at dawn to check the damage. She discovers water running down the neighborhood ditch has backed up flooding across edge properties, slurry over the bluff, very real prospect of losing our community beach stairs and bulkhead. High tide, high winds, destruction and hammering by water and drift logs against this precious access to our greatest spiritual practice—walking the water’s edge with Gracie.

I’m an English major, but I know impending disaster when I see it. The cliff is in danger of “calving” and burying our 77 steps to freedom, and the 70-year-old bulkhead. Ann has meetings over town we try to make a plan—get on the phone to someone who might know what to do.

My only writing of the day is an emergency email to the community warning everyone to stay away from the stairs and the cliff.

I call the project manager who has been helping us prepare a major repair on the aging bulkhead; he calls the county, the county sends two road crew guys and we all agree the overflow pipe right at the edge of the county road and private property is not working, is behaving like an artesian well. Yup. Water is everywhere. It just keeps rolling downhill the way water does. More rain coming. No other help from them.

I call a private drainage company. It is 3:30. Clouding over. It’s my writing time.

It’s my lifetime. A river runs through it…

This is how it goes.

Life is full of itself. Life demands. We make the best choices we can. We hold focus—and we hold relationship, emergency, replenishment, duty, love. There is an edge to things—people have to figure out how to go forward without understanding how it’s going to turn out. We have to make do with what we have, with what resources we can muster, with the folks within reach who can help. Oddly enough, this is exactly the theme in my novel, though set in another time and place.

My fictional story is full of people of the land, ordinary people who make extraordinary choices… and my reality is full of ordinary people making some extraordinary choices, as well. It took a while for the gravity to register. Water running where it should not run… so disorienting… and the idea that it would not stop running or unplug itself and then what to do??? Waiting on the county road crew, I stick my arm into muddy ice water all the way to my pit, feeling into the dark trying to understand the pipe juncture and where the blockage might be.

I call the young men of Apollo Drainage who have been up since 4:00 AM when the first frantic calls from the storm battered island woke them. They pump the water on long hoses over the bluff and down onto the beach so that the drain hole emerges… and eventually they find the problem, and unplug the drain and the river magically disappears back into its plastic tubing and safely over the edge. But damage has been done. There is a deep crack in the earth at the top of the stairs. There is a slumping slurry of mud on the south bluff face—it’s not done falling down, more rain is coming. The high winds, high tides, have ripped at our bulkhead, huge concrete pieces broken, logs ramming the fragile toe of the bluff.

The power of water rules all. I stand there thinking: you should know this, Christina… it was just a year ago you stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Water wins.

I am president of our homeowners association, Ann is secretary. We have a good board of four neighbors who face this crisis and inform 25 homeowners: the stairs are not safe. We put up Caution tape and buy and emergency lock. It is possible this shared asset is gone forever.

We bought this house because of the tree behind it and the beach access in front of it. I am grieving this loss of spirit and routine.

The storm passes. There is a day of sunshine, calm, rainbows. Another storm approaches. More extreme winds are predicted. It is now Sunday morning. It is pouring rain. We check the drain, watch the amount of flow coming off the neighborhood. We pray. We sing to all the trees around us to “stand strong.”

Writing time: my work in the real world is to accept challenge and change with at least as much equanimity and courage as the characters in my story. That’s why I’m writing: to use another time and place to make a story map, a model of pulling together instead of pulling apart.

A lot is pulling apart: I am focusing on pulling together.

I will post this now before the power goes out.

The community beach access--a river instead of a path.

The community beach access–a river instead of a path.

South of stairs, mud slurry and slumping already pulling down that part of bluff.

South of stairs, mud slurry and slumping already pulling down bluff wall.

Two foot crack  at top of stair landing. Predicted to break away that part of bluff.

Two foot crack at top of stair landing. Predicted to break away that part of bluff.

All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.

After water diversion, the old, buried drain emerges

After water diversion, the old, buried drain emerges

Drain unplugged, fixed, and capped.

Drain unplugged, fixed, and capped.

Calm presence looking across the yard.

Calm presence looking across the yard.

Double rainbow over neighbor's roof and Puget Sound.

Double rainbow over neighbor’s roof and Puget Sound.

Stardust, Black Holes, & Fog

Our mother always loved the open road. In the 1950s with three, then four, small children and not much money, she would pack us in the car and head west from Indiana or Minnesota to various family homes scattered throughout California, Oregon, Washington, and Montana. Two-lane blacktop in the era before Interstate highways and no air conditioning. Our father would stay and work, taking the bus to Montana to meet us at his parents’ homestead and drive home.

Now, her gypsy adventuring is confined to Chemainus Health Care Centre, and the only road ahead of her is the last stretch before dying. In the midst of her short-term memory loss and physical frailties, we who know her spirit are trying to help her make this stretch meaningful. Based on the rows of books on progressive theology, social justice, and conscious aging that I sorted out of her apartment, she was planning on navigating this passage with full mental faculties and an ability to educate those around her.

Instead, we deal with stardust, black holes, and fog. When embedded in long-held routines, she functions with surprising clarity as her church friend emailed: “Connie participated fully in the service.  …There was no doubt she felt happy and I was surprised how many people she knew by name.”

She knows these names and routines because they are encoded far enough back that she has a memory link for them. Memories have to make it through the fog, not get trapped in the black-hole, and then maybe turn into stardust—a point of remembering. Meanwhile, it’s a hard adjustment to live in the fog of new surroundings, routines, and people.

Later that afternoon, she managed to dial my sister’s phone and Becky emailed: “Mom called an hour ago confused about a lot of things… We talked again about the process that brought her to Chemainus. That it was her goal to be back among friends. That where her bed is not the important point. What is important is that her home is her community.

“Obviously she was very tired. She may be able to do well in the mornings but she gets more confused as she fatigues. She told me, “And I’m cold here.” As a nurse walked by she yoo-hooed out to her. When the nurse asked what she needed Mom asked me, “What did I need to tell her?” So I said, “tell her you’re cold.”

In a jumbled reality capacities are jumbled as well : she can delight her friends with glimpses of the dynamic woman they have known for 25 years and she requires constant repetition to frame what has happened to her. Her sequencing behavior is nearly gone: being chilled she can’t remember that the lap robe beside her could be wrapped at her shoulders. She has fallen 3 times just moving around her 8×10 room, forgetting to use her walker.

Yet, even under these conditions, she seeks to find a daily purpose: Why get up in the morning? Why breathe? How do I make it down this last stretch of road?

Every day I send her this message telepathically—it works as well as any other delivery method—“Mom, you can work around your foggy brain and find your reason for being. Bring bits of kindness to those around you—hold a hand, listen, help—and receive all these things in turn. Make music. Notice beauty. When you forget, just do it all again. You are safe now to wander in mystery from one moment to the next.”

The last day she was in her apartment, she woke from dozing in her chair and recited a poem she’d made up in her sleep:

“You see me sitting alone in my chair,

You think that I’m here, but I’m really out there—

Communing with angels, I’ll be with them soon,

Just after I learn how to jump over the moon.”

 

Learning to jump the moon—that’s a purpose. And however she makes that leap, she will be a teacher and way shower for her family and friends.

The photos here show our journey: 1946 to 2016… 1946

2015

 

 

 

 

and the video shows the journey moment of her soul.

Standing in Stardust

Until last Monday, my mother was living in Nanaimo, BC in a nice apartment in an independent senior housing community. She had moved there in May 2013 from her townhouse in Ladysmith and from her church in Chemainus… both small towns about 35 kilometers south on Vancouver Island. Though her impetus was to “take in more city culture,” the past three years have been a spiral into diminishing capacities: increasing short-term memory loss, decreasing mobility, breast cancer. As we, particularly my sister Becky, worked across the US/Canadian border to bring care around her, she was wobbling in a widening gap of services.

In early October 2015, she had “a frontal lobe incident.” Her health aides put her in hospital: her friends called for help. In the past four months I have spent 30 days in Nanaimo with my sister, my brother, or brother-in-law. In mid-December she started falling: cracked her forehead on the corner wall, to hospital for sutures; delusional and disoriented, to hospital for observation; hand puffed up, to hospital for diagnosis of cellulitis; burn on her shoulder blade, to hospital for culturing.

Early January, a Health Services committee cleared her for referral to government subsidized complex care. No one was making any prediction as to when this would happen, or where she will be sent. She was in the queue along with hundreds of other vulnerable seniors. As my sister, brother-in-law and I headed north, again, and I suggest to Becky, “prepare to stay on.”

And then a miracle occurs: a place opens up in complex care. The place is in Chemainus Health Care Centre, her first choice. All her friends live within a few minutes radius her church community is 6 blocks away.

And everything starts to flow! We are standing in stardust. Her friends prepare to welcome her home. We bring mom to see the place, trying to explain this move to a woman with almost no “now.” She does remember volunteering here and playing piano for the residents. Her former neighbor is the activities director. Everyone starts telling us how stable the staff is, how happy the place is, how good the care. We are gulping sighs of relief.

All weekend our mother asks, “Is something big about to happen to me?”

We say, “Yes. You are moving back to Chemainus. You are moving into nursing care, mom. You’ll have what you need to keep safe, and it will be a big adjustment.”

“What will happen to everything?” she gestures to her apartment.

“A few things will come with you to make your new home. The rest we will take care of.”

Sunday we take her for a long drive in the countryside up the coast. She’s too cold to get out of the car, but we enjoy vistas, get cake and coffee, and drive home to her apartment for a last dinner in the dining room. Mom and her daughters sleep in the apartment together one last time.

Monday—she goes “into care.” First night, she’s in a temporary holding room and looks at us like a baby bird peeking out of a nest. Walking away is heartbreaking. My sister and I hold hands and cry and drive north to take apart her household.

The next day she is moved into her own room, 8×10 feet, with a picture window—ocean view. We bring her clothes, artwork and photos, television, CD player and one small box of classical CDs. She has a room that is the right size for her brain and body, and a view that is the right size for her soul.

Over the years, she has read 20 books on conscious aging and dying. There is no reason to sugarcoat what is happening. We repeat and repeat until something gets through the fog that surrounds her and lodges in her mind on the other side of short-term memory dementia.

“Is this my forever room?”

“Yes, Mom.”

“I don’t have to move again?”

“No mom.”

“This is where I will live until I die?”

“Yes.”

“This is where I belong?” She stares out the window a bit.

“Yes. Your children will come visit and all your friends are nearby.”

“You can find me?”

“We know exactly where you are.”

“Who pays for this?”

“It comes from your pension. You don’t have to worry about money anymore.”

As I post this blog, it’s been a week. She is guided down the hall to play piano. She is taken to church among friends. She has a chair with view to heaven on earth. She is re-embedded in community.

She is tired and grieving and settling in—so are we all. I come home knowing she is still on her soul journey—that the mind and the brain work with each other, and sometimes have to work around each other. She asks, “What is my job now?”

I tell her, “Your work is to let love all the way in and to offer love all the way out.”

And so it is for us all.

 

A room the size of her brain, a view the sizze of her soul.

A room the size of her brain, a view the size of her soul.

 

Welcoming the stranger

In 1952, when I was six years old, my parents scrambled together a down payment on a chicken coop. that’s what we called the strung together shed-like building on half an acre in the flood plain of the Wabash River at the edge of Indianapolis. Linoleum floors, drafty fireplace in a small living room, funky kitchen, big yard, a few climbable trees. My parents put in a garden, bought real chickens for eggs and meat, and we began subsistence farming while my father worked two jobs, and my mother managed the harvest, the chickens, and sewed clothes for three little children aged 6, 4, and 1. We got new underwear for Christmas and one real toy. I thought it was paradise.

In the wider world, I was oblivious then to McCarthyism, Stalinism, nuclear arsenals, the Cold War, the subjugation of women, racism, etc. etc. I was a child in a pocket of relative safety in a difficult age. We all just held on as best we could. And then the Hofmann’s came to live with us.

In that tiny house, we absorbed Doktor and Frau Hofmann, their daughters ages 13 and 17, and their 20-year-old son. I was just learning to read and came home with my picture dictionary, seating myself between these big girls and teaching them basic English vocabulary and pronunciation. They had been living in a displaced persons camp since the end of the War—7 years in a railroad car. Dr. Hofmann had stood up against fascism and spent the war imprisoned and tortured; his son Christofe was so mentally traumatized he required the full-time attention of the Frau. Gisela, the older girl, did housework helping my mother, while Angela occasionally came with me, crammed in a tiny school desk, learning to read. Refugees.

Our family, borderline poor by American standards, was borderline rich by theirs. My parents, stressed and unsure how to make their own way in life, sponsored this family’s immigration and integration into American society. Soon they had an apartment downtown, clothes, second-hand furniture. Eventually the family moved to Iowa where Doktor Hofmann got a job as a medical assistant in a mental hospital, and, hopefully, help for his son. We got Christmas cards over the years, always thanking us for saving their lives.

I don’t know what happened to them (and their names are changed here for privacy). They were part of my childhood. They remain unforgettable teachers who opened my early awareness to the realities of the wider world. And it is through this intimate experience that I watch the current refugee crisis in Europe.

I acknowledge the social, political, economic, and religious complexities regarding what is happening there. I understand this unstoppable influx is overwhelming even the most welcoming countries and raises important questions about what it will mean to be “European,” as the continent becomes more and more multi-racial, multi-religious, and multi-worldviewed. The consequences of centuries, are swirling around: shall we increase the razor wire or increase the dialogue?

Our friends in Europe are on the lines in Austria, Slovenia, Germany, handing out food, helping to maintain calm among exhausted, stressed people who can barely speak a few words of common language, who are looking into one another’s eyes to grab a bit of trust and courage to stay on the path.

I have no idea how my country, state, or community, would react to 10,000 people crossing over the nearby Canadian border every 24 hours, walking down the Interstate desperate to get somewhere…anywhere…safe.

Even if there is “no solution,” there is choice in how we respond. We have turned into a new age and I believe we can show up for this!

What I know is that welcoming the stranger into our homes and communities makes them not a stranger. Six years after WWII, a German family needed help: they got it. They were no longer the enemy. Now people who are largely Muslim, largely from Syria and Africa need help: it is up to us, the white, privileged folks, to stop seeing them as the enemy, and to react with so much kindness that our actions breakdown barriers and misunderstanding.

I am well if you are well.

I am safe if you are safe.

I am home if you are home.

Dr. Hofmann, Frau Hofmann, I hope you had good lives. Christofe, may your suffering have been alleviated. Gisela, Angela, somewhere you are women in your 70’s, may you remember the little girl on the couch earnestly teaching you first grade English. I remember you.

 

For more information:

This video helps explain and calm some of these fears about immigration into Europe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvOnXh3NN9w

If you want to HELP– support the World Food Programme of the United Nations: wfp.org. They are desperately in need of money to keep feeding the millions of people displaced in the Middle East and elsewhere. This is not the time for them to go broke.

 

*** BESTPIX *** HORGAS, SERBIA - SEPTEMBER 07:  Migrants cross into Hungary as they walk over railroad tracks at the Serbian border with Hungary on September 7, 2015 in Horgas, Serbia. Thousands of migrants crossed into Hungary today from Serbia near Horgas. Since the beginning of 2015 the number of migrants using the so-called 'Balkans route' has exploded with migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then travelling on through Macedonia and Serbia before entering the EU via Hungary. The number of people leaving their homes in war torn countries such as Syria, marks the largest migration of people since World War II.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

*** BESTPIX *** HORGAS, SERBIA – SEPTEMBER 07: Migrants cross into Hungary as they walk over railroad tracks at the Serbian border with Hungary on September 7, 2015 in Horgas, Serbia. Thousands of migrants crossed into Hungary today from Serbia near Horgas. Since the beginning of 2015 the number of migrants using the so-called ‘Balkans route’ has exploded with migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then travelling on through Macedonia and Serbia before entering the EU via Hungary. The number of people leaving their homes in war torn countries such as Syria, marks the largest migration of people since World War II. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

 

 

A Summer Day

CBwrites

CB writes

whitebuck

White buck–local guy.

What a sweet local life I have. Waking with early light, I raise the shades to look at Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains. I make tea. I take time to write a bit in my journal. Sitting on what we call the facing bench, my partner and I watch Nature waking up around us. We talk about who is doing what on the list that accompanies our days. We talk about what is next, what we want to contribute in our island and global communities. Deer parade by.

The garden is erupting with greens, veggies, and fruits—salad for dinner every night. I’m home after leading a vision quest and two consulting jobs with long plane rides in June. Now, it’s summer and I want the world to stop being in trouble so I can relax. I want a compassion vacation, an engagement reprieve, and an awareness respite.

The mind that won’t leave me alone is my own! I am keenly aware of the delicate privilege of my life. Every day around the world, people wake to moments like mine: a sweet hello in morning light—and then life changes. Out of work. Out of money. Family crisis. Diagnosis. Death. Fire. Flood. Volcano. Earthquake. Violence. War.

WashingtonFire_062915_025

Wenatchee, WA on fire.

pintarist

Texas flooding

The world’s woes are stubborn and persistent.

“News” finds me—and it should. I want to know. I feel a responsibility to know. Events become part of our shared cultural experience, marker moments referenced in short-hand: “911,” “the Tsunami,” and now, “Charleston.” Most of these stories are depressing, but embedded even in horrific events is the uprising of human spirit. An extremist walks into a church, prays with a group of African-Americans… almost changes his mind, but ends up shooting 9 of them. This activates the racist polarities of our nation and words like white supremacy, Confederacy and its flag flood the Internet. And this outrage activates people’s determination to not be torn asunder, to cross the bridge together toward authentic racial understanding, to worship together, to walk side by side.

Whenever an act of hatred erupts, it is counter-balanced by acts of love, courage, and faithfulness. And in these past months with so much brutality, particularly the murders of African American men, making the news and the skin being torn off our white privilege, we have needed that counterbalance! Acts of kindness always happen: they are the uncounted on by-product of violence, the unintended consequence—waking up more and more of us, over and over. Do a Google search on “random acts of kindness following Charleston” and you will be reassured that this supposition is correct: good arrives to balance bad: love balances hate.

Obama

How sweet the sound

In this confidence, we may stand at the end of the eulogy, at the end of the service for nine faithful people shot while they prayed; we may stand with family and friends able to find forgiveness in their hearts before their beloveds are even buried, we may join the President of the United States in singing, “Amazing Grace…” and trust that, yes, despite anything—grace abides.