Word

My night stand is like a cheap motel. Books of all sizes and backgrounds take up short-term residency. We have our thing. Edges curl under the weight of words. Spines twist and crack. Minds expand. Then, it’s over.

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One book, on a long-term lease, sits quietly to the left. It’s plain, unassuming and solid. Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart is a safe place, a treasure chest, a beacon of light.

It gives me this quote:

“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.”

For one year, those words gave me the strength to go on.

Here are two more quotes by Chodron:

“People get into a heavy-duty sin and guilt trip, feeling that if things are going wrong, that means that they did something bad and they are being punished.

That’s not the idea at all.

The idea of karma is that you continually get the teachings that you need to open your heart. To the degree that you didn’t understand in the past how to stop protecting your soft spot, how to stop armoring your heart, you’re given this gift of teachings in the form of your life, to give you everything you need to open further.”

 ________________

“Life is glorious, but life is also wretched.

It is both.

Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. We feel connected. But if that’s all that’s happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction.

On the other hand, wretchedness–life’s painful aspect–softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody’s eyes because you feel you haven’t got anything to lose–you’re just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We’d be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn’t have enough energy to eat an apple.

Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.”

____________

Eden asked.

I answered.

Open mic at a party. What words would you share?

Edenland's Fresh Horses Brigade

The scarf

My car trunk is brimming with things I don’t need.

My baby is no longer a baby.

My house is cluttered.

My neck is bare on this blustery morning.

I’m on my way to purge the trappings of a babyhood gone by.

Along the way I meet a woman with a beautiful scarf.

It is so beautiful I stop to tell her how much I like it.

So she unwinds it from around her neck, unfurling its swirled colorfulness. It’s like a great butterfly flapping about  in this autumn landscape.

Keep it, she says.

Oh, no, I couldn’t, I reply.

You must have it, she insists, it complements your dress.

We dance this way a few times before I lift it from her open hands.

An unexpected outcome.

Awkwardly I cradle its cottony softness. I listen as this woman tells me the story of the scarf.

She created it and many others. She sells them.  She has so many scarves, giving one away is nothing.

What’s your craft, she asks, because these days it seems everyone has some special gift.

I’m not sure yet, I admit.

We part with a handshake and a promise that I will visit her store. As I walk to my car I slip the wings of turquoise, indigo and emerald  over my shoulders. The colors caress my neck and cheeks as the wind tugs the scarf’s fringed ends.

On the way to the community outreach center in a scrappy part of Detroit, I steal glances of it in the mirror while stopped at red lights.

As I heft the stroller, car seat, safety gates, and bags of odds and ends onto the curb, the wind slaps my hair and face. I pull the scarf tighter around my neck, up to my chin.

It’s not that I needed another scarf. I have a closet full, a veritable rainbow of neck coverings. But I don’t have a scarf like this one.

This is an extravagance. This is a serendipitous scarf.

I start thinking about giving spontaneously. It’s one thing to hand off used items to charity. It’s quite another to relinquish something new and hand-made. I consider the idea that I am free advertising for her work. I also acknowledge that I meet creators of  beautiful things all the time and I don’t walk away with freebies.

I think some more about how much easier it is to give than it is to receive. Or is it the other way around?

It’s hard to receive randomly, to quiet the barrage of inner questions that follow the gifting moment.

I wonder what of mine I will give to a stranger.

My trunk is empty.

My heart is warm.

My mind is racing.

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How the story ends

Too little, too late.

Or, I did all I could and it wasn’t enough.

Or, this is life sometimes.

Take your pick. My head is spinning with these three phrases, deciding which one to apply to my Saturday morning. Here’s how it went: A friend and former co-worker arrives at my house so that we can carpool to the nursing home where another former co-worker and friend is in hospice care. It’s been a long few weeks trying to find this dying friend. Just when I had given up hope of seeing her, I received an e-mail with her address and the advice: Hurry.

That was Wednesday. Thursday and Friday were impossible. I had no child care and serious commitments all day. Saturday was the earliest I could make it.

Saturday was too late.

With the best of intentions we arrived early to a quiet facility along a busy road. We worked our way through the maze of hallways and nurses stations asking all along the way where to find our friend. Finally, at the end of the longest hallway on the top floor, we entered the hospice wing.

A nurse spotted us standing in the empty waiting room.

“Who are you here to see?” she inquired.

We told her.

Then came the look. Then the news.

“No one called you?” the nursed asked, noting that others had also showed up to visit our friend who had died the night before.

“Know that she passed on peacefully and surrounded by loved ones,” the nurse said. “She was never alone. Not for one second.”

After all that her family endured watching a mother, a grandmother, a sister slip away, the best final chapter of such a tale of suffering would be that she was enveloped in love and kindness and compassion. It was exactly how she lived her life. What she gave out in generous  portions in life: care, comfort, kindness and joy she received back doubly in the end. I’m sorry  her exit was so painful.

Now, please excuse me, I have a long letter to write.