what if you were more?

images-1I am enough. This is the message emblazoned on cards, t’shirts, and letterpress posters. Women write it across their chests in marker and then post to Instagram; others tattoo it on their forearm so that they can remember this simple message all of the time.

It’s a good message. For sure there are many days and dark nights when my “not enough” voice is yowling. Not smart enough.  Not pretty enough. Not thing enough. Not talented enough.  Not successful enough ….

But I was struck today in reading a very beautiful poem — a response to an interview with the very kick ass Sister Simone Campbell — by someone I’ve never heard of and couldn’t find anything about via Google, Josh Draves-Kellerman, that there is more:

Today, I feel my life changing
I feel a burning in my chest.
What is that flame desires
I know my whole-heart holds.

Wind around me tells small tales
of unrest, my heart-body
hears love, laughter, life of many colors
while I sit and listen to the rain.

He feeds my third eye with ripe
fruits of labor and passion,
lays my path and holds me close
while I patiently align myself with I.

One clear day revealed the pristine
beauty of life outside me,
and my only words became
I am enough.

This is a beautiful poem that speaks to me; thank you for sharing it, Josh. But when I listen to Sister Simone, she is so clearly MORE than enough. She is full of humor and broad thinking. She is both exacting of others and forgiving of them — forgiving of Paul Ryan! I can’t imagine this woman writing “I am enough” on any part of her anatomy. This nun who lobbies against the economic disparities in our country.

“I am enough” gets us up in the morning. It gives us permission to be in the world, not holding back with fear or self-loathing but to matter sufficiently to be right here with everyone. I’m not sure, though, that “I’m enough” challenges us to do more. In fact, I have a sense that “I am enough” can even be a crutch:  we use it to get so far, and then we take a sigh of relief and go into maintenance mode.

Is there a next step? Can we heal into I am enough and BEYOND? How do we get to I am so full, so very very enough that I have love and presence to share. Because is what I hear from Sister Simone and other gutsy women who have pushed the envelope not just for themselves but for others.

I think of the families who spoke yesterday at the bail hearing of the shooter in South Carolina. “I forgive you,” several of them spoke to him. As viewed on my computer screen, it was such a surreal scene: Dylann Roof on a TV screen standing in the hallway of a prison, cuffed and staring straight into the camera; the families off screen; the judge the only viewable witness with his back to the camera; and then the voices of family members of the victims — “I forgive you.” What astounding largess of heart.

Sister Simone speaks of how the sin of the first world is of demanding security — whether feeling “safe” in global politics or needing enough clothes, enough food, enough gas for our cars. “It’s all illusion. rather, we’d be better off if we made peace with insecurity.”

So what if we made peace with the ways in which we’ll never be enough, always imperfect BUT ALSO with the ways in which we are so damned enough. Heal ourselves – it’s so vitally important — but be brave enough to imagine that we might not be enough like a cup of broth that just makes it to the top of the cup, but instead that we are ENOUGH like a bubbling cherry pie, spilling over the rim, bursting with flavor.

birth day wish for myself

IMG_1571Here is what I know this Birth Day. I know that spending three days in relative silence has been amazing for my soul and I need more of this. I know that I miss my kids but that they are out there shining their beautiful hearts and meeting new people and adding to their already deeply layered life experiences (even if one of them is doing so without a sleeping bag or a towel!.

I know that being outside supported by nature, digging my hands in soil, feeling the sun on my face is incredibly healing … and that i will continue to seek in the coming years for a way for this to be my daily life – not just three months a year. California, you live in my soul – a place of mystery and deep possibility. Don’t worry – I’m coming.

I know that I am blessed to be surrounded by the din of animals and kind neighbors, of a partner with a BIG heart who paints on a large canvas, of a family that spans traditions and definitions and supports each other, of a workplace that values People over work.

My body is an amazing gift. In a yoga class in Madison this weekend – an unexpectedly very HOT and steamy class – I just had to say out loud:  thank you thank you, I am soo very grateful. (The woman next to me either didn’t hear or felt the same.)

I know that the exploration is never ending. Open one door and a myriad of others appear. Ever deeper into the mystery. The mystery of pain and sorrow, of joy and discovery, but ultimately of resting in oneness. The Great Hammock of Oneness, stretched out in front of the Pacific Ocean beneath this blessed tree … that’s my vision for this beautiful year that is about to unfold.

Oliver Sacks: broken heart / full life / mending beyond imagination

imgresYesterday driving home from Madison and listening to Oliver Sacks in a recent interview with RadioLab. He is angry and ineffably saddened by the cancer prognosis that will shorten a rich life. Not surprisingly, he is working on multiple books despite being told that he has months left. He is also laughing, full of awe, and wholly himself. For me, Oliver Sacks is a longtime touchstone of sanity and the kind of generosity that blossoms from a creative intellect but expands far beyond the mind, emanating from the heart. If I could save someone, if I had the equivalent of a “Tim Gunn Save” for people I love, Oliver Sacks would be on that list.

Years ago, when I put together a list of people I’d like to have involved in my book about journals, I reached out to the good doctor. He is not an Artist, but he is the kind of creative person of whom I could imagine a visual journal being a regular practice. Somewhere in my house I have Sacks’ handwritten response. [Postscript: I came across this short letter, which was actually typed but with a charmingly messy hand drawn squid, literally two hours after writing this post; I hadn’t seen it in years and was unsure if I even still had it!] Kind-hearted and impish, he said how he wished he kept such a journal but regrettably he did not, and good luck with my project. It was a letter that could easily have never been sent or fobbed off to an assistant or dashed as an email. Its existence means so much to me and speaks volumes about how we can live our lives. In the interview — as in his new memoir — Sacks speaks of a life of romantic solitude.

Chastised by his mother for being homosexual and then rejected by two men he loved, he settled into a life of other pleasures that included weight lifting, motor cycle riding, swimming, hallucinogenics, and to their very great luck a wide ranging curiosity for working with the people who were his patients. After decades of celibacy, he fell in love at the age of 77. That this amazing soul was only loved and fully seen in the final decade of his life had me in tears as I drove through the green of southwestern Wisconsin with its deep cut-aways of limestone — a dissection of the complexity of the earth that we so easily forget.

Sacks had much success but he hardly had an easy life. As a kid, he and a brother were sent north from London during the Blitzkrieg where they went hungry and were abused by a teacher. He suffers from “face blindness” and acute shyness. Melanoma in one eye nine years ago is the root cause of his current cancer. For me, the lesson in knowing more about Sacks and the dearth of intimacy he had in his life is appreciating how he gave so completely from his heart despite his heart being so unmet. That he gave at all, much less so prodigiously in the form of writing, intellectual curiosity, and doctoring, is a testament to what lives in us despite deep wounds. Move forward – heal thyself – and give. That’s why we’re here.

birth

breakfast-in-bed-1897One amazing thing about giving birth to a daughter — and there are many — is that you are continuously re-meeting yourself. The circularity is intense – perhaps the most thought-provoking, soul-searching, and ultimately celebratory relationship of my life.

When I was pregnant, I didn’t want to know if the baby was a boy or a girl. I wanted to go in without assumptions about who this person was or would become. Leave the door wide open to grace. I took a tiny outfit to the hospital that had bunnies on it (I took the exact same one when baby #2, whose gender was also a mystery, arrived two years later). We painted the nursery sage green. And we waited for whatever being wanted to appear.

I can’t deny that I was elated when my doctor announced that she was a she. I wasn’t sure what I would do with a boy. Two years later I would find out – and that journey continues to be endlessly fascinating. My son and I crush on each other; push each other; crack each other up by saying “scrotum” in funny accents. But mainly I feel that I have the privilege of watching an alien species – a sweet, super smart one – evolve before my eyes.

Bella, though, is both the mirror and the road not taken. As a baby and toddler she was a reminder of the wide-open soul that I was, of a person who perhaps was not fully met in the world – not fully understood. Few of us are, but to feel that through her often helped me to care more for myself. As she’s grown, there have been moments when I’ve felt like I was watching myself – as she chose the topmost perch on the playground from which to observe all of the other kids, for instance – and others when I marveled at her gutsy choices.

Although she sometimes feels that life is hard, that she’s had a bad day, that she is small and slightly bruised, that people don’t fully see her or hear her, that her heart is waiting for something more juicy and beautiful than any of the options yet to be presented, she also taps down into a deep root and pulls up more self-knowledge than many adults I know. She intuits when to be still. When to draw. When to dance. When to commune with the dog. When to nap. When to leave a sport that no longer serves her. When to reconsider a relationship that doesn’t feel balanced. All of this takes wisdom. Because she’s always had this wisdom, she can’t yet understand how rare and precious it is.

There are nights — more than I’d like to admit — when I work out how many more years or months until Bella leaves home. I ache at the thought of it. She holds my ankles when my mind is going a hundred miles an hour in twenty directions, patiently finding my car keys, reminding me of what I’d meant to get at the store. And I do the same for her. We are yin and yang, with each of us taking turns.

But I also am so intrigued by the woman she is becoming and so in love with every bit of her that continues to morph and come into a new focus – her own being, separate from me but with lovely little hints – like an imaginative dish cooked from the premise of an old standard. If I am a roast chicken, she is a tagine with Asian overtones. I look forward to any possibilities to collaborate and dance together as adults. (A recent inspiration was this article about successful mother / daughter poet / painters, Susan Howe and R.H. Quaytman.)

Each May, I revisit that day of birth – hers and mine. Irises bloomed outside, but the chill of the day led me to draw a steaming bath. My water broke as I stood, the fluid from my body spilling into the tub. During the ensuring two hours in the hospital’s hot tub, I opened from 2 cm to 10 cm and then started to push — “But we didn’t practice that part!”. Standing shaking in a shower afterward, my ring slid from my finger into the drain. Wide awake at 3:00 AM, marveling at the experience, at this beautiful creature at my side, my doctor quietly sat next to me and held my face in her hands:  “And now you know you can do anything.”

Which is exactly what I want to tell my daughter. She binge watches shows – How I Met Your Mother, most recently – and loves sugary snacks. I wince. Part of me is (too) often nudging her beyond these habits into a more vibrant world; “There’s so much out there!” But I think of myself watching reruns of Hogan’s Heroes and eating Archway iced oatmeal cookies. Patiently, through crud and beauty and everything in between, evolution takes place. Not pretty nor for anyone’s daily edification, it’s a process of its own pace.

I chose a Mary Oliver quote for Bella’s birth announcement and I return to that poet now, an older woman who can be stridently urgent about seizing life’s beauty:  “I know, you never intended to be in this world. / But you’re in it all the same. / So why not get started immediately. / I mean, belonging to it. / There is so much to admire, to weep over.”

But she is also someone who appreciates patience and the process of becoming:  “Things take the time they take. Don’t worry. / How many roads did St. Augustine follow before he became St. Augustine?”

I am still becoming a mother. I keep learning more about this relationship of being one and letting go, of birthing and dying, and becoming one thing and then another. So many layers. Each one a blessing. My daughter my teacher and my student, my daughter in and out, near and far – each iteration a road into and beyond myself.

waiting for wonder

Could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy; and you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields. – Khalil Gibran

rhinocerosAt my grandmother’s last week. She is 94. Her iPad drives her crazy – Where do these ads come from? The news disturbs her. I don’t understand this Isis. Her breathing is difficult, raspy tufts of air that she pulls with effort.

I hope you never get this old, she says to me multiple times in our 48-hours together.

I know this is not what she means, but what I hear is:  I hope you don’t live much longer. I hope you never suffer. I hope life comes to an abrupt and painless end.

This scares me – as much as Isis. I turn 49 in June, and my thoughts are about living – staying healthy enough to travel, to have time for my creative being, to explore and grow.

Who are the 94-year olds who still possess curiosity for this world? How do you hold on to wonder all the way to the horizon line?

I plant little mantras in my own psyche. Keep looking at art. Keep exploring the earth, even if it’s by flying over its surface via the Internet. Identify questions — the dinner conversation that leads to, “You know, I’ve never what that is!” — and pursue them doggedly. Open your heart –  keep opening it – knowing that something has caused Isis to sprout, something is draining the water, something wants to kill the rhino. Some hate that needs love. Not simple – at all – but worth a daily effort.

I am oddly exhausted by my two days of sitting in her apartment watching CNN. Over and over with the Sanjay Gupta’s report on legalizing marijuana, the man who flew his little plane into the capitol, the gang rape on spring break. An endless loop of the surreal, the titillating. The same exhaustion that comes from sitting in a car for hours or waiting in a hospital. Waiting. That’s what it is – numb waiting.

“I remember horse and buggies,” my grandma says, taking off what she calls her “TV ears” to share an idea that’s occurred to her. “He would come and bring ice for our ice box.” She talks of men coming to the back door during the Depression, asking for food, and how her mother always had small jobs for them to do and then extra food. She tells of being the best clarinet player in her school but how each year the top award would go to a boy. “I told  myself that if I won senior year, I’d go to college and become a music teacher; but of course a boy won again. I shouldn’t have made that promise with myself.” She recalls how her husband said, “No wife of mine is going to have a job!” — and so she didn’t. I’ve heard all of this stories before, but it is interesting that in her entire life of stories, these are the ones that resurface.

———-

In Kenya there is one male white rhino left. One in the world. He’s been named Sudan and he is under 24/7 armed guard. The rhino species is more than 50 million years old. Imagine what lives in their species’ imaginations? their memory banks?

At the O’Hare yesterday, I watch the one rhino and the men with AK-47s who surround him. As though the Dalai Lama sat behind an electrical fence all day, surrounded by guards. Waiting. A few hours later, I’m at the grocery store and there on the shelf is a wine label with a rhino on it. In the moment, this feels like stepping on shards of glass. We can’t save this creature and his kind but we can sell wine with his image? We are all too good at this — failing the student, the planet, the animals, the water, our elderly, ourselves – and putting a clever label on it.

I come back to the Gibran quote that I read every day during my dad’s cancer. The daily wonder, the yin/yang dance of joy and sorry. Nurture your wonder every bit as much as you watch your diet or exercise or do your monthly finances. Maintain wonder and you’ll spread it to those around you. “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” – Rachel Carson.

Relics

teethCleaning off my dresser yesterday – an archaeological dig. Movie ticket stubs. Empty vitamin and medicine vials. A bracelet made by my daughter during a short-lived rubber weaving phase.

First, went the riffraff. Then I got serious, combing through the little bowls that hold jewelry. Into the garbage I scattered hardly-worn necklaces, misfit buttons, and orphan earrings.

Going deeper, I opened the small drawers at the top of my dresser where I put things for safe keeping, things that feel dear and yet without common use. There, I encountered harder-to-parse objects. The stocking cap my father wore in his final days and his hospital wristband. A single red leather shoe my daughter wore as a baby. An entire ponytail of my own 30-something year old long blonde hair cascaded from an envelope. I found teeth in a tiny manila packet, and in a tooth-shaped container, and finally in a ring box – a mingling of my children’s teeth and my own. There may have even been baby teeth from our dog Hannah. And then at the very back of the drawer, in a velvet pouch, the crunchy, soft remains of my father. Just a handful – most of his ashes were buried in the cemetery or thrown into the ocean off of Clogher Beach in Ireland.

My husband has been reading a book on de-cluttering in which the author encourages you to hold an object and ask, “Does this give me joy.” These human relics are not joyful – in fact, they are a bit melancholic. But they whisper of joy just as a seashell whispers of the ocean – of memories so sweet they sting.

These are the objects we save not because we’ll ever use them again – the ashes will not reshape into my father, the teeth will never take another bite. Rather, we hold them as reminders of our mortality. This will pass, they whisper to us. You will be dust. Your teeth will rest in a dusty box with lost buttons and single earrings. And that’s okay. Difficult, indeed, but okay.

to sleep – per chance to be adequate

Today I fell asleep with my forehead pressed against a doctor’s exam table. My daughter was seeing an allergist – a first time visit but the umpteenth attempt to try to figure out what’s wrong with her breathing. We arrithe-sleeper-1932ved in a flurry – always late, always in a flurry – me having rushed out of a pickle of a work day and her sliding out just before Spanish. They put us in a very warm exam room and after the first go round with the nurse and a longer one with the doctor – who was as perplexed by my daughter’s case as I’d hoped she would not be – Bella was given a skin test and we were left to await the results blooming on her skin:  Here – dust mites; there – molds; here – trees; there – pollens.

Bella laid on her belly and half dozed, half played on her phone. My chair was pulled up right next to the exam table and I pushed my forehead into it. I love pressure on my brow – supported forward folds with your forehead pressed into a block or even with your thumbs pressing into your brow are just about as gravy-licious as my world sometimes gets. (And hot baths. Yes, hot baths are worth a longer time on this earth.)

The room had that close, clingy too-warm feeling of a retirement home. I was wondering how I could possibly locate some caffeine … or whether it would be too weird to lay down on the floor … when a loud noise from the hallway jolted me awake. I couldn’t have been out long, but it was still unexpected. Had I drooled?

When my kids were very young, I once fell asleep while getting my teeth cleaned. Given how sensitive my gums are, this is akin to dozing during a gynecological exam. My kids are older now – so much so that I sometimes count years and then even months as to how long I still have with them. A large part of me thinks this is neither helpful nor true. Our relationships will simply continue to evolve, we’ll always be together in certain ways. Just last week, while I was out of town for a swim meet, my son and I co-edited a paper he was writing about Pompeii via Google docs. “This is a blast!” I typed – earnestly charged by the experience – and he typed back: “LOL.” That was not something we’d have done when he was younger and it seemed like an activity that could extend into the future.

They’re still exhausting – these people I birthed. It’s different. Not that crawling around on the floor exhaustion. Not that constant watching exhaustion. But the exhaustion that comes from criss-crossing across town in a car and sitting for 50 minutes in various waiting rooms. The exhaustion that comes with managing and remembering three people’s calendars – medical appointments, camp sign ups, teacher conferences. The exhaustion that comes with holding space for life’s ever larger aches. Boredom from life’s repetitions. Sadness at being left out. Frustration with school.

I can’t fix any of this. I can empathize. But it turns out that empathy is way more exhausting than the satisfying hammering of fixing. It means staying with someone even if your hands are empty. It means accepting the unknown. It means “good enough” and definitely not “perfect.”

It’s cold here in Iowa. So cold. And the part of me that counts how much longer until my kids are done with school also calculates if we could move some place warmer when they’re done. I keep towns in Northern California on my weather app and so I know that it’s been in the upper 60s and sunny in both Healdsburg and Inverness for weeks on end. Easy to dream of the next phase or life elsewhere. Harder to stay. To be good enough.

Tonight when Tobey tells us how frustrating it is that the good athletes in his PE class will never see him slay competitors in Dota, Bella and I look at him and agree – each of us sharing our own experiences of inadequacy and our quiet desires to be seen for the sparkling successes we are. Maybe in Healdsburg they’ll see me! Maybe in high school they’ll see me. Later, I’ll get chosen. 

“Good enough” is not a sexy chant. It’s not about being sparkly or fabulously improved. It has a work-a-day plainness to it. But I sense it’s all we’ve really got. One definition is “sufficient for the purpose or to satisfy desire.” I can live with that.