Wishing on a Dark Moon

Maybe because it involved fire, maybe because they all had something to burn, they said yes.

I’d never paid much attention to the cycles of the moon, how my earthly body might be in tune with this celestial body. I come from a tradition of sun-worshippers, but other cultures use lunar cycles to set time and give meaning to the changefulness of life.

The new moon, or the moment of darkness between waning and waxing, marks the beginning of the month in the Hebrew and Chinese calendars, and the Old Farmer’s Almanac says that it’s the best time to plant vegetables that bear fruit above ground.


Burn what no longer serves you, and say a prayer for what you want to grow, wise women suggest, because this is the order of the universe. One cycle fades, another emerges.

It was raining steadily outside. Diana and I had changed out of wet clothes into pajamas. The air hung with the perfume of ginger, garlic, and broth from the soup we had for dinner.

“You’re going to burn your enemies?” Luke asked me.


My list was two pages long. I ripped it out of my journal as the kids quandaried over what to put down. “I wrote about my fears,” I told them, “and thoughts that make me feel insecure.”

The new moon is also called the dark moon, because it looks as black as the night sky.

I didn’t expect the boys, now 13 and 10, to start looking for small writing paper in the pie chest. Diana paced around the playroom, reminding us that we weren’t going to tell anyone what we wrote.


They used to say this in church: Give your worries to God. Lay them down at His feet.

How did this work? I wondered. I was too ashamed to tell God things like, “I’m not even sure you exist.”

When I was about 8 years old, my Southern Baptist grandmother gave me a daily Bible verse tear-off calendar. I peeked ahead to see what message had been selected for my birthday. It was Matthew 8:26: “Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith?”

My life has been a dance of trying to hide what I was afraid had already been revealed.


Mark’s crushed paper ball made the candle flame muscle up and arc. Luke’s crumpled piece made a broad wall of light.

I scrolled my pages and touched them to the flame. They became a gray log, and I thought of fallen trees in the woods, bark peeling off in curls.

When Diana placed her squared folded sheet into the pillar candle, the schoolgirl blue lines stayed neat while frilly waves of sunset orange and night black advanced.

The earth knows how to transform, how to receive and dissolve. This beautiful merciful destroyer.


Wax came spilling down, running willy-nilly over the table. We put out the fires with splashes of water, then celebrated with rhubarb sauce over vanilla ice cream. Our table looked like a moonscape, or a funeral pyre. An after-party.

A few hours later when the last sunlight had leaked from the sky, Diana came downstairs, eyes blinking in the kitchen glare where Mark was making a poster on the Roman military. She said she was hot, but she pulled me close.

I climbed into bed with her, and she clutched my shirt with one hand, burying her head into my chest. “I said I wanted to give up being scared of the dark but I’m still scared,” she whispered. “Even more than before.”

“When you look something in the eye,” I said, “it can be more scary than when you were running away.” And I told myself as I spoke to her, “Sometimes we need to give it more time. Trust that it’s working even if it doesn’t seem that way at first.”


Faith is hard to hold in a place where magic isn’t real if it can’t be proven with test tubes and microscopes. When we can’t see all that is unfolding: the seeds that are growing underearth, the ghosts collapsing into the night.

“You should go,” Diana said when we heard my husband unlocking the front door and looking for me.

Dov’è la Mamma? he called up the stairs.

“He’s missing you,” she said. “I’ll be okay with the light on.”


My new moon prayer:

Take away my doubt and my shame, and replace it with compassion and trust as steady as the sun.

Show me how to stand in my own light, even when the world is bright and actionful.

Open my perception to the signs and symbols that are always here, pointing me where I need to go.

Amen.

Vaccinated but Still Vulnerable

The final battle with the coronavirus is being fought inside my body. I got my second Moderna vaccine yesterday, and as I lie in bed today, I can feel the struggle inside. Pressing against the backs of my eyes, the skin of my lips, the nodes of my knees.

From my bed upstairs, I hear the family discussing lunch. It’s Virginia’s turn to prepare, and Enrico doesn’t want the usual vegan bowl veggie melange. 

“But I don’t want pasta!” Virginia says. 

“What about tuna salad?” Luke suggests. 

“I can’t eat tuna!”

Eventually the discordant notes relax into a kind of rhythm, even though there are still flares (“Mark, what are you doing to help?”) and the sound of Kanye West singing “Through the Wire” jumbles through it all. 

Eventually the music gets turned off and everyone sits down. I hear the deep voice of my husband, this man who has taken care of me and our children for 20 years now, and I am not sure who I am without him.


By the time I got this second shot, they were practically begging people to come in. No more pre-registering on mysterious waiting lists, no more listserv messages that the MedStar in Georgetown or the Six Flags parking lot had extra doses. The D.C. Health Department was even giving away beers if you’d get a J&J shot in the arm. 

After dropping off Diana at a playdate, I stopped at the CVS on the corner. Before public schools went virtual, this store used to be swarmed with teens trolling for chips and candy and pop, but a renovation during the pandemic transformed it into an urgent care clinic with a convenience store on the side. The only one there, I received my shot in the new immunization suite, and then after walking past the rows of gummy vitamins and bandaids, I walked home by myself.

Now as I lie in bed with wool blankets wrapped around me and a cup of tea by my side, my joints are scarlet iron, my muscles bend as easily as metal sheeting, and my skull is lined with aluminum, registering the slightest electrical current.

The battle with this disease was once fought outside, with masks and distancing, sterilizing and shuttering. As I lie in bed while my cells are learning how to fight it, this feels like a private showdown. But I know it is a victory at the end a long war fought by others. Scientists and lab techs, doctors and nurses, pharmacists and trial volunteers, and all the people who told us with their lives: take care of each other. This is serious.

To be part of the human race is to be both gloriously soft and open to attack as well as inventive enough to outsmart the attacker. Every day I am supported by human beings I’ll never meet, who smooth the sidewalks under my feet, who hang the telephone wires above my head. Those who have come before me, and those who will carry on.


The morning after my convalescence, I am up for yoga. I feel my strength again, the beauty of a body that is alive and working. It feels like I have made it through a ring of fire. 

It’s so strange to move through a normal world again, to hug friends, to feel the wind against my face, to go inside people’s houses. And yet I know, even if it looks the same, we are different. 

I now know I am stronger when I take off my armor and stand here, small and bare. Underneath all the colors, the shapes, and various patterns of human beings, we are all the same.

Denying that pain and death are as much a part of life as joy and birth, as I once did, is to live halfway. When I open my heart to all that life brings — the suffering and the love, the anguish and the tenderness — I am wondrous at how it feels to be whole, and thankful to all the beings who have conspired to keep me alive.

Another Daughter Leaving

Virginia and I walk to the Indian place on the corner for our bi-monthly lunch date. They seat us at our favorite booth by the window, and I gaze across the table at her. She looks down, puts her napkin on her lap, and sneaks a glance up at me. She has made her eyeliner in a cat-eye style I remember doing, and the hair around her face is pulled up into a half ponytail. Matching her gold hoop earrings is a necklace that says “Milano.”

She’ll be off to college in 3 months. Only a few weeks ago, I felt crumpled by the task of raising a teenager. I’m not doing it right. I know nothing. I’m harming her instead of helping her. Now over Baighan Bharta and Aloo Palak, we talk about religions and the Enneagram, manifesting and desire, choosing college classes, and the time that I failed Physics for Poets.

What would the past 17 years have been like if I had been less fearful, and more loving? If I had not been ashamed of who I was? If pearls had formed around the grit of my regrets, and I had jewels to then press into her hands?


For Mother’s Day last week all I wanted was for everyone to go on a family picnic at the dairy farm. It was the first Mother’s Day that not all of my children were there. Sofia is in New Mexico working on a farm, and next year, Virginia will be gone too.

Standing on that pasture under the cold May sky, I felt smaller. Smaller in the way that you do when you take off a heavy wool parka that you don’t need anymore.

I tried to be who I was supposed to be — strong, sure, un-confusing. Then motherhood became a shield that helped me hide all of who I am.

The waiter with the shiny head and jovial eyes brings us a take-home box, and as we pack away the eggplant and tomatoes, the spinach and potatoes, Virginia tells me how every morning she goes over what she’s grateful for. “But if you don’t say why you’re grateful, it doesn’t work,” she tells me. “It just becomes a list.”

Who am I to her now, who is she to me? Once dancing in the roles that life had cast us in, we are now characters leaving the stage. I who made rules, monitored, and enforced. She who needed guidance, protecting, guard rails. What remains is something that cannot be categorized or explained. No teacher and no student — maybe we have always been both.


“You don’t realize what power the top bunk has,” I overhear Mark saying one night in his room while he and Virginia are trying to pull a fitted sheet around the hard-to-reach corners. “Monsters can’t get you up here.”

“You don’t think monsters can fly?” Virginia says, as she tickles him and tells the story about how she used to hang from the top bunk to make faces at Sofia, and one time she fell off, laughing and crying at the same time.


When she is away at work one night, I find her pine green fleece jacket inside out on the window seat, and intertwined in it, a strand of her golden hair.

There are only so many more vegan grain bowls she’ll prepare for us, only so many episodes of Master Chef we’ll watch together, only so many mornings her sweet-sad pop songs will billow through the house.

When she gets home, she’ll fix a snack and go down to watch The Sopranos until after I’ve gone to bed. In the morning I’ll coast by her as she cooks her oatmeal before logging into her Stats class. When she leaves for work, I will have already gone to pick up Diana. We go on with our lives.

A wave crests, and then it falls. The day unravels, night comes. Endings and beginnings, leavings and arrivals: they’re all bound into one unbreakable thing.

Mothers and children, grandmothers and grandchildren, ancestors and unborn babies, inextricably tied one to another. There is no end and no beginning. Yet in the heaving, tumbling middle, it feels like we are living through a million deaths and a million births.

Art by Florence Harrison from The Early Poems of William Morris

When Home is Not a Place

Sometimes the most modest things call to me — an oval beveled window in a vinyl door. A porch with a hand-made dog gate. A wicker settee under a tree.

What if this were my home? In that little nook at the top of the stairs, I’d write like my heart were a river. If that were my hammock, everyone would be my friend. In that cottage, peace would stay.


We have come to Annapolis to celebrate Enrico’s 50th birthday. From the brick patio behind this house built in 1834, I see a bird has made a nest in a windowsill. I catch glimpses through the glass door of Sofia browning butter for a chocolate cake, and Virginia, roasting carrots and crisping focaccia.

A ship horn blares. Country singers harmonize. And a hot rod revs along Duke of Gloucester Street.


Here the sidewalks are carpets of bricks undulating over tree roots. Moss spreads over stone walls. Pear blossom petals drift over children playing behind a school.

But under this holy sky, a private haze persists. My shortcomings hound me. My mistakes are never far away. There’s always something else I need to do.


Here in Annapolis row houses are shoeboxes stacked in shades of turquoise, pink, royal, and sage. Midshipmen and women in navy suits with brass buttons and white peaked caps wander among the weekend crowds.


We treat our selves as if we were structures that need constant rehabbing, renovating, adding on. Addresses speak of our value. New walls promise starting over.

The lights in the house hum as taupe stratus clouds spill across the once-clear sky. At the run-down house next door, Budweiser cans lie abandoned on a mirror shard. A paper lantern has fallen under the magnolia. Diana calls to me with wet hair and pajamas, “Dinner is almost ready!”

I am blessed. But if I look out into the world, there’s always a prize I’m missing. I am cursed.

When I get tired of myself, I rest.


In the channel of the heart, in the center of the body that grows up and grows old, there is a refuge. A place where love is unending and the search is over. I know if I can stay here inside, I will always be home.

In the Abundant Heart of Winter

In the heart of winter, sadness has given way to acceptance, and even gratitude. After the quarantines and social distancing of summer, the arrival of winter had felt like a grim sentence. Yet even within the suffering and anguish of the world, there have been gifts.

Once a year in my former life, I would drive for hours to some remote lodge where phone calls and newsletters and signup sheets couldn’t reach me. The flames inside took several days to die down.

I spent hours without talking, I took walks in the woods, I went to bed early.

I always arrived confused and broken. Fooled by the outsides of people. They who seemed so confident, so easeful, so strong. And I, a sea turtle following the city lights instead of the moon.

This winter we hung the bird feeder my father gave us last summer. Squirrels and sparrows and cardinals gather in our backyard. Sharing, stealing, racing and chasing each other over the top of the bench by the fire pit, underneath the new trampoline, past the garage with the weight machine my husband assembled with the boys, and the rock tumbler, tumbling and rumbling raw amethyst and tiger’s eye into gems for Diana.

The kids play for hours outside in the cold because this is how they can see a friend. Riding bikes, clutching sleds, climbing trees, and tossing footballs until the sky turns dark. When a door closes, another opens.

If it weren’t for the virus, would we have kept clambering for more — richer, taller, fuller, more?
Terrified of what would happen if we stopped. If we let things decline, decay, melt back into the earth.
Cancer is the name we give to what never stops growing.

I used to love silent breakfast at the retreat center. Naps in the dorm room.
I would watch the sky turn gradations of yellow and gray and taupe from my bunk bed and think, God must live here. I didn’t realize that this was the feeling of being at one with myself in the world.

This winter silence, this absence, this draining of color and noise. An abundance of stillness.
Time to reflect, time to paint, to sew, to read, to dream.
Destruction blowing on the embers of creation.

My children have been doing school at home for almost a year now. The crowds of people I’d see every day — men in suits, women in hose, getting on the metro after dropping off their kids — I don’t see them anymore. I always imagined they were rushing off to do important things. Science or Education. Congress. World Peace. And I’d go home to my writing room and try to spin straw into gold by 3 o’clock.

Our high school senior is now in that room logging into class on Microsoft Teams. I write in the bedroom with the cat, who always finds an empty nook in my body to find warmth. Down the hall, Diana does reading workshop, and in her breaks, shows me how fast she can type on Typing.com. The boys are in the living room below, and our college student has returned home, now getting ready for her job at the bakery.

Death and life are two sides of the same coin. Endlessly flipping, tossing, through eternity.

Some days, when my husband takes the kids out, all I hear is the faint rumble of a plane plowing through the clouds. A single car shimmering over the icy street.

I tell myself, surrender.
Be still, while you can.
Go deeper.
Rest.
And when you wake, do not let yourself be led around on a leash by your barking brain.
Be guided by the heart of you, that silent prow cutting through the uncertain seas of your life.

Suspended Somewhere In-Between

We couldn’t leave for our picnic until Mark was done with his Italian class on Zoom, but it was almost dark and Luke was still unpacking the groceries, a job he had been assigned an hour ago.

“I’ll give you 100 niceness coins and a ‘play with me’ ticket if you help me, Diana,” he said, a currency of dubious exchange value given that the chore was partly earned by being mean to her. When I was tossing the last items into the picnic bag, he was still pausing to unscrew the top of the paprika bottle, removing with scissors the plastic wrap around the tub of caramel chocolates, and examining the contents of a free sample bag.

It was Tuesday night and Virginia was working late at the juice bar, my husband doesn’t get home until 9:30, and Sofia is having picnics of her own on her college green, so it seemed like a good time to break out of the domestic container.

Just as we were closing the door, Luke slid the last box of cereal on the shelf, grabbed his Nike’s and jammed his feet into them on the porch. Mark ran to get a soccer ball, and we walked over tree roots through the edge of Maxine’s yard to Fort Reno Park, the highest point in D.C. and once a Civil War fort and a freed-slave settlement before it was razed to make way for lots of grass.

The boys wanted to hang out on the soccer field, but I convinced them to climb up to the high point next to the chain link fence with the signs that say No Trespassing U.S. Govt. Property. As we got to the top, I could tell we hadn’t missed the sunset. In fact, we had probably caught the best part.

Just above the tangled lights and chunky buildings of downtown Arlington, a slash of foggy red hung over the horizon line, diluting up into orange and yellow, green and turquoise, and finally a periwinkle blue that washed over the rest of the sky.

This was dinner theater, and before the show was over, I began tossing out grilled cheese sandwiches wrapped in foil. Steam escaped when we opened them, but the butter-fried bread was still crispy and the melted cheese had made the insides spongy.

A high school running group that had been doing calisthenics on the ridge below seemed to be dispersing. It was so dark on the hill we could only make out people dressed in white. A few pairs of teens sat along the fence, clouds of marijuana occasionally drifting towards us —nothing like the party that took place here every night in summer when the hill was colonized by young people, someone always bringing fireworks.

Behind the fence guarding a brick water tower and a cluster of buildings reputed to belong to the C.I.A., a flying thing swooped back and forth like a small plane doing exercises. “Look, a bat!” I said. After a brief exchange over whether it was a bird, it was agreed by all that it was indeed a bat. There is something different about the way they flap their wings, their flight path, they way you only see them at night.

The kids kept exclaiming and saying, “There’s another one!” as a handful of bats seemed to be surveying the sunset-viewing ridge.

We used to come here in March and April when schools closed and the virus was spreading like a laser through the country. We thought it was going to be a war-like experience as it was for my husband’s family in northern Italy. But here hospitals were never overwhelmed, and bodies were not collected in military trucks.

Ours was more of a slow death. The dying of a way of life, of buildings, institutions, stations, as if this were a game of Monopoly and an invisible player was winning, taking all the properties, hotels, and stores. A player who won’t let you have a turn, who keeps going around the board, collecting its pay, passing ‘Go’ over and over, methodically taking, emptying, clearing.

More than seven months later and no one has been able to stop its winning streak, even though it has slowed and now it wins quietly. Its rounds have expanded, like a mathematical roulette, making circles and eclipses that spin off into other territories, leveling, silencing. Now in Europe a spike of cases higher than the first is triggering a new set of curfews and lockdowns.

But it hasn’t taken this park. It hasn’t taken this sunset, this life, this family, these teens laughing and cussing when the bats swing close. The bats flutter like moths, they travel like messengers. What are they looking for — food, companionship, blood?


They say the coronavirus may have been passed to humans by bats. Bats pass diseases easily among their communities, sometimes numbering in the millions, because they are so highly mobile and social. 

“I can see through their wings,” Mark says, as we look up and watch them fly back and forth right above us, just as magical as the sunset. Sometimes I can see their ears against the blue-black sky.

“I wish it would stop right here,” Diana says, pointing to the end of our picnic blanket, “because I want to see what it looks like.”

I want to see it upside down, its webbed wings, its claws, its gargoyle face, its shape-shifting, its way of transforming into a creature both mammal and bird, charming and grotesque, of land and of air.


The man in the fancy pen store downtown watches as I try out rollerball pens by Cross and Faber-Castell that I can buy with the gift card my husband gave me last Christmas. I had to make an appointment to be here, and although I am the only one in the store, he is rushing around as if there wasn’t a minute to spare.

I comment about how one pen writes thickly and he says, “You press down hard,” the first time anyone has told me this, which would explain the callus I’ve had on my middle finger since I learned to write. I always thought it was ugly, but now I might see it as a pillow for my pen, the type of pillow that would carry a ring before the vows. Or a pillow that conveys a sword for knighting, a pillow to rest your head in the late afternoon in a private garden in Scotland.

Visiting the pen store was a chance to break out of the patted-down trail of my everyday life, the treads of our heart-pine stairsteps, the unsoiled sidewalks of our neighborhood. It was June when I was last down here for the thronging marches for racial justice, and with only 11 days until the election, I wanted to hear the voices of America, to see new metamorphoses, to stand in a place where the winds are blowing from all directions.

With my new black and gold Waterman pen in a little shopping bag, I walk down F Street by the Warner Theater and the National Press Club. The streets are so barren it’s like a movie where something has gone wrong and dawn is just breaking. I see the president’s name emblazoned on a grand hotel just a few blocks away from the White House and for the first time it seems odd. Lafayette Square, the core of the unrest in June, is sealed up with tall black fencing, and signs that protesters once punched in the air are now stuck there. A couple of police officers stand chatting on bikes, and a small group of tourists look like they are waiting for a double-decker bus.

Through a black diamond in the fence, I try to find the White House. It’s so far away now that I can barely make out the white columns beyond the statue of the rearing horse. Even the portion of 16th Street which has been emblazoned with ‘Black Lives Matter’ is completely empty. A solo guy with purple hair sits on a concrete barrier looking at nothing in particular.

I know I’ve missed something. I can tell by the pubs and churches boarded up with murals of Desmond Tutu and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It feels like the moment between pulling in a breath and letting it out. The yogis say that this time, between one breath and another, is when you can feel your soul.


We went back to the hill for a picnic on Thursday. It was so warm the kids wore shorts. Maybe it would be the last time we could come. The red of the sunset was muddled with cloud dust. Wispy clouds were painted all over the sky like a calligraphy written backwards. An explanation someone else could read. A message that would be covered by night and never seen again.

“Let’s lie down and look at the stars,” Diana says. The damp ground smells of mildew and salt. “The stars look so… so… What does meditation do?”

“You mean relaxing?” I asked.

“Yeah, relaxing but something different too,” she says. “Something else,” and she seems to still be searching for the words. I wonder if it’s something about their steadiness, their stillness.

“They feel like the sunset and the crickets and the ‘ee ee!’” she says, mimicking the distant sound of Mark and Luke playing farther down the hill, pretending to be monkeys.

“I hope a bat lands on us and talks to us,” Diana says, “and then lies down to see the stars with us and then we pet him.”

Bats are considered liminal beings. They occupy the space between two states. Mammalia and Reptilia. Fur and flight.

“I don’t hope it because I know it won’t happen, but I… I…” she says, again searching for the words.

In China bats are associated with happiness, joy, and good fortune. Here they make us think of darkness, witchcraft, and death. Everything is sacred.

“Dream. Do you dream it?” I ask.

To fly unnoticed in the night. To be in the nowhere space between sleep and wakefulness. Night and day. Between the angels and the beasts. A place of no limits. 

When

When your daughter comes down the stairs wearing a satin bustier under a Las Vegas jacket, you will want to say no but you won’t, because you will remember being 16 too. 

When you think refinishing the kitchen table will take a week, you will still be eating outside two months later, balancing dinner plates and glasses of milk on the porch swing.

When your youngest daughter loses her front tooth on the slide in the backyard, she will come rushing in with a radiant bloody smile and you will see her new again.

When you are thirteenth in line at the public library to read a novel loved by a friend, you will open the latch to the door of the Little Free Library and there it will be.

When your ten-year-old gets braces, he will let you hold his hand on the walk home and everyone will get butter pecan ice cream after dinner for the pain.

When your daughter’s college announces high levels of coronavirus in the wastewater, they will close the dining room and library, and she will eat alone in her room.

When Air Force fighter planes roar through the sky above you, your throat will blur and you will miss the child who believed there was something so powerful and so good.

When an ornery melancholy sits down inside you, you will try to convince it to leave, you will lean your back against it and try to push it out the door.

A friend will tell you to let the feeling rest. This will go against what you’ve always known, and you will be afraid it will stay like a squatter in an abandoned government palace in Madrid.

You will stop trying to find out who the squatter is or why he is here, and this is when you will see that it was you who invited him in, and this is what you have been waiting for.

Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock

Impermanence

A giant tree limb fell on our car yesterday. The car’s back looked like it was broken: roof crushed, rear end bent, tires kneeling to the ground. Black glass was spattered everywhere. 

It didn’t look like I’d ever drive it again.

That night Diana asked if she could give me a face massage and a hand massage and a foot massage after I tucked her in. She touched my eyelids and my eyebrows, pressed her tiny finger pads into my forehead, along my cheeks, the whole length of my lips. Everywhere she touched, a prickly metallic layer under my skin melted away.

It’s just a car, I had said when we saw it there. We have insurance, shielded as we are from the buffeting winds of misfortune by our position, our color, our nest egg.

Diana asked if she could hum when she was massaging my hands, and “Is it okay if it’s just a made-up song?” She stroked the tendons on the backs of my hands, squeezed the tips, intertwined her fingers in mine and wiggled the forgotten crooks. She squeezed the fleshy parts — the heel, the ball — parts of a body that work without being acknowledged.

It’s just a car, but it was the car that Sofia and I had just driven to her first semester at college. The car that had taken us on 5 Thanksgiving trips when all the kids were living at home, summer visits to the grandparents, Christmas pilgrimages, missions to Dutch Wonderland.

Diana takes my feet. Having my feet touched has always felt like being in the hands of Jesus. It touches someplace deeper, more sensitive, a place both loving and needy.

We were at the pool when the limb broke. I had wanted to give the kids something more than riding bikes around the block, and it would be closing soon. The rains come almost every day now, the cone flowers have all turned black, and every last day lily has bloomed.

Something is dying in me too: a hope, a brightness. An opening is closing. When will I be able to bear this? When will I know that this is what happens when something else needs to be born?

“Why does it feel so good to be touched?” Diana asks. We are part of a whole, I say, and touching makes us feel less separate. Touching someone else is like touching our own selves.

The broken car, schools closing, summer waning, blossoms fading — they are all here to show me, again, that nothing lasts. And everything is special.

long8614/Shutterstock

Diana asks if I could give her a face massage. I run the pads of my thumbs over her plump cheeks, around the backs of her ears, and over her scalp and behind her neck.

There’s something different about this type of touch. Unlike a hug or a kiss, it does not need to do the work of communicating. It conducts something that we can’t control, that we don’t need to control, that will flow whether we do anything or not. Touch recognizes what is in each of us and allows it, unfettered.

I say to myself that I’m okay with this loneliness, this quiet, solitary life. But the tension builds, the silent grief, the continual battering of what used to be, the howling of what needs to die but won’t. And the pain sits there in a parking lot, keys hidden under the mat, until a tow truck comes to take it away.

The last time I saw the car, an orange caterpillar was inching up the curve of the wheel. I wonder if it felt lost, or if it knew it was just finding another way.

Letter to Myself

When you are so busy throwing stuff into the shell of your body, you don’t realize that to feel fulfilled, you must simply stop.

The sound trickling in is not water rising to drown you, but the sound of your own self coming into its rightful space.

Nothing can replace this ‘being one’s self.’ That is why you keep running, seeking, rushing, doing — desperate to fill the emptiness you fear.

Your longing is the longing for your own self: your own love, your own trust, your own intuition. 

Sometimes you feel that you are an empty riverbed. A ditch that can never be brimmed, never satisfied.

Don’t be afraid of this blackness. It is what connects you to everything that ever was and everything that ever will be. It is what everything springs from and dissolves into. This is the power you are afraid of. The unknown, the endless, the incomprehensible.

Don’t fill the emptiness with small tasks and petty demands and a million directives from your in-box, your to-do list, and your self-help books — they will never be done, and you will never be full.

Don’t fill it with someone bigger, more powerful, more charismatic and brilliant than you — this person will leave and you will be alone again.

Don’t fill it with what you want to buy, become, create — if these things come, you will still feel something is missing. Even when your arms are full, even when you have everything you asked for.

These glimmering, brightly-colored, squeezable things — they are always morphing, growing, disappearing. You can never hold them and be done.

Only water can satisfy a riverbed. Only the part of you that is connected to all the streams, all the oceans, the lakes, the waterfalls, the floods and fjords that circle the world. The river of life that never ends and never begins. 

Jack Anstey/Unsplash

Let all other things be washed away, all that has blocked you, obstructed you, made it impossible to hear the sound of your river rippling, to taste the flavor of your own soul.

In the stillness, your breath is a wave, coming in and going out. The knowing will eventually come, flowing through you from somewhere deep inside, filling the space you thought was vacant.

Hidden Grief

All of Western culture is suffering from very profound grief. We are not comfortable with impermanence. We try to fix things in time and space, but because impermanence characterizes our lives in a very fundamental way, we are in a constant state of loss.

— Joan Halifax, American Zen Buddhist teacher