Monday, September 26, 2016

The Ranch. More than Land; a Legacy of Love.

"The Ranch is sold." my dad told us the other day. I hadn't really thought of what this would mean to me all this time it was on the market. So when I heard these words of finality, I was stunned. Change is inevitable and there is nothing any of us can do to slow the river of time.  Still, I find that I am full of profound and mixed emotions as I think of this big change in the history of our family. It brings me some peace to know that the new owners intend to restore the old homeplace to its heyday glory, the woman who is buying it having spent her youth riding her horse past the fields full of frolicking foals. It seems she is as romantically sentimental about it as I am, and for that I am grateful. The Ranch will retain her wild, casual beauty and will continue to offer safe harbor to horses and those who love them. 

If one place on this earth could be called my home, it is The Metro Ranch. It is a small place, compared to other spreads that bear that grand title, its footprint barely covering fifteen acres. But to me, and to all who found shelter from the harshness of life under the ancient cottonwood trees and in the company of Mimi while sipping iced tea on the porch swing, well, the Ranch was much more than what a casual onlooker might see.

The Ranch rests at the foot of the Rocky Mountains just north of Golden, Colorado and a bit south of Boulder. My grandparents, Mimi and Papa, bought this place to put down some roots and draw an end to the somewhat nomadic lifestyle they had lived up to that point. After decades of zig-zagging across the nation as Papa's baseball contracts dictated, they wanted a place for the family to feel at home, for good.

In the early days, this area was an outpost for horse and cattle folk. Smallish homesteads peppered the landscape in a patchwork of corrals, pastures, fence-lined lanes, barns, dairy and beef operations serviced by old pickup trucks and tractors. And, of course, there were the animals; cows of every breed and horses of every color, it seemed. There were rabbits, llamas, goats, and donkeys living good lives in the fresh air. No suburbs encroached on the wild and scrubby wilderness that framed these farms in green and yellow-gold. The view to the front range of the Rockies was unimpeded. And to my eye, the Metro Ranch shined like a beacon, a bastion of modest excellence, quiet pride, open-doored friendliness, earnest hard work -- and the unconditional love of family. 

I came home to the ranch from the hospital after I was born. It is the first place I called home and to this day, the Ranch is part of my very being. Winemakers tell us how grapes take on the qualities and taste of the earth they grow in; they call this effect "terroir." Well from day one, my feet were planted in that soil, and no matter where I would later roam, the Ranch seasoned and influenced the flavor of my life. I am a Coloradoan, raised on The Ranch. I grew up free and loved and unfettered in this safe harbor, protected by the family's love and a million blessings showered upon my head from the cottonwood trees above. I was a country kid raised in what was, then, a flyover state. I knew the clean, tangy smell of hay and horse sweat and dung in the hot summer sun, the sound of lazy flies buzzing and the sound of horse's tails swooshing them away. My nose learned to smell snow coming and could tell if a warming chinook wind was on the way.  I knew the deep love and bond of family as I played countless make-believe games with my sisters and cousins under the bright, blue bowl of the Colorado sky.

The family flexed and grew and the Ranch stretched and grew to accommodate all our needs. My dad had inherited a bit of a nomadic spirit, no doubt left over from his early days of life, so we moved around quite a bit. But we always seemed to land back at the Ranch in between adventures. Mimi and Papa welcomed us with open arms, even if there was some question of how to make it work. One time when we came back our family was too big to stay for long with Mimi and Papa in their house. There were three of us kids at that time. I was seven, and Sumati was four, and Lakshmi was three.  So, the project to remodel the old milking barn into a dwelling began, in earnest. When Papa, Dad, and Uncle Mitty finished their work the new place was dubbed, The Bunkhouse. True to its history, upcycling and new purpose, that little building had personality, and that's for sure. There used to be two big sliding barn doors that would let the cows in to eat at the milking stanchions. One of the doors was left hanging, but sealed off to become a wall, and the other door was left working. It opened out onto a concrete pad (perfect for biking and roller skating!) that sat on the edge of the back pasture. Papa and dad knocked the stanchions out with sledgehammers. By the time they got it done, there was a slope in the floor that ran the length of the room. It was quirky, but we kids liked it. We could slide on it in our slippers. Kids are more interested in fun than in flat.

The concrete block walls made the house hard to heat in the winter, so we wore warm pajamas. Sometimes we would wake up to find our blankets had frozen to the wall! But we didn't care. We just got up and jumped into our clothes as fast as we could or, if was a Saturday and there were cartoons on TV, we'd settle in the living room wrapped in our blankets. Our ears would prick up when we heard Papa outside feeding the horses, and often we'd go out and help him with the chores. He'd sing, and we'd skip along behind him.

The giggles and shrieks of little girls filled the air at the Ranch as we were almost always outside. We wandered around fearlessly barefooted and barely dressed, like aborigines, from the moment we left the house until mom called us in for supper. There was a line of cottonwood trees that are probably as old as the planet itself that ran the length of the Ranch along the ditch bank. The ditch bank was a high berm that was broad enough to drive a truck along and was controlled by a water authority. Mostly we liked it because the earth was soft and easy to dig in as we basked under the shade of those big ol' trees. Usually, there was a cluster of horses following us around to share the shade with us. We climbed fences to look into the deep brown of a mare's eye and pet her soft nose. We'd feed them handfuls of grass or clover that we'd pick and we'd laugh when the huge animals would gently pluck these sweaty offerings from our grasp.

There was a line of old box cars that ran down the center spine of the Ranch. These were more than merely horse shelters, to us they were access to the top of the world. We'd climb the sides of the boxcars because they had ladders built-in, to run across their tops and we'd leap from car to car like you see in the movies. We didn't know then how lucky we were for the absolute freedom we felt on those days. Never ones to miss a chance to build a fort, we'd drape sheets or towels over the tree branches that hung over the top of the boxcars and would eat peanut butter sandwiches in our little abodes. We were literally on top of the world here - our world, anyhow. And that's all that mattered. When we were up there, we could see everything for what seemed like miles.

On one side of the boxcars were the paddocks and the lane that ran from the main house to the bunkhouse. On the other side, there was a marshy area that we were not allowed to play around. The marsh drained into a little pond where we were allowed if we were careful. We plucked cattails and broke them open delighting in the billowy seeds that burst forth and then blew away on a breeze. We caught frogs, newts, pollywogs and garter snakes and brought them home to be pets for a day. We found out just how dangerous the sucking mud that surrounds the pond could be when a couple of horses sunk into the ooze and had to be pulled out with the neighbor's tractor. That scared the crap out of us, and we were more cautious around the pond after that. But that didn't stop us from strapping on ice skates in the winter when the ice was thick and the air was frigid. We'd go round and round that tiny ice patch until we nearly had frostbite and then would run home to huddle in front of the propane heater to warm our toes.

The winters were white and windy with snow drifting like meringue along the lane that connected the bunkhouse to the main house where Mimi and Papa lived. We would wade through it, our breath puffing out in clouds while the cold air made our nose hairs freeze. It was quiet in the snow, the sounds of horses chuffing and even our own usually shrill voices muffled by the white insulation. We tramped up and down that lane to and from the bus stop each day. There was hardly ever a snow day in Colorado. They put chains on the buses and away we went.

When the earth turned in her slumber and spring came it was mud season! Everything was drippy, wet, soggy, sloppy and cold. The icicles that used to hang on the horse's manes in February melted away in March, replaced by mud stockings that went from hoof to high above their knees. As messy as this was, we didn't mind. The snow melted into the earth, filling the underground aquifers and the grass in the glade began to look green again. But what was even better about spring for us at the Ranch was the baby horses! In the quietude of late winter, the mares had given birth. There is nothing quite so sweet as the nicker and whinny of a foal. And because we lived in the bunkhouse on the edge of the back pasture we got to see them every day. Baby horses are curious, and because the mares knew us so well, they'd let the foals come right up to us so we could pet their velvet noses.

As years went by, we eventually moved away from the Ranch, landing in other places that added their terroir to my life.  We moved on, and it was someone else's turn to find shelter from life's storms at the Ranch. Everyone lived in the Bunkhouse at some point; all my dad's siblings and their families, if they had them. My aunt came with my cousins after her divorce, my uncles both lived at the bunkhouse with Geoff staying on long after we'd all gone to continue helping Mimi and Papa. Some of us grandkids even came to the Ranch as young adults, in between chapters of our lives. There are countless stories of hardship and sacrifice as each of us landed at the Ranch in need of a place to get our feet back under us, find our way or make a new start. We weathered family squabbles that melted into family forgiveness and happy reunions.  We helped with the back-breaking work required to run the place, when we could, out of appreciation and gratitude for the gift of this haven bestowed upon us by the patriarch and matriarch of Clan Metro.

I came back to Colorado virtually on the eve of my 21st birthday, penniless, but strong in body, rich with ideas and full of aspiration. I found shelter at Mimi and Papa's and with Uncle Geoff in the bunkhouse. Geoff, being only four years older than me, was more like a big brother. We had a blast hanging out with his friends, riding dirt bikes and shooting bows, cooking out and fixing cars in the shade of one of those, you guessed it, big ol' cottonwood trees. Geoff and I shared the responsibility of taking care of the place when Mimi and Papa went traveling. One summer I repainted the sign out front for them as a coming home surprise.

The late winter and early spring brought foaling season. For a couple of seasons, I slept in the barn next to Mimi so I could help her do her most important work; bringing those foals safely to life. We cleaned stalls and fixed new paddocks for the moms and babies to feel cozy. We administered shots and oral medications which usually involved me or Geoff rolling in the mud with a 150lb foal while Mimi deftly gave the shot. At the end of the day, we'd retire to the house, cook supper and get ready for another night in the barn waiting for the next foal's feet to hit the ground. As spring warmed up, Mimi and I would sit on the porch swing sipping coffee or iced tea, depending on the time of day. We'd watch the squirrels and birds scamper about in search of the corn she'd thrown them. Papa would usually be cutting wood but sometimes he would join us in conversation. These were peaceful moments before the next flurry of chores that kept the Ranch thriving and alive. We fed it so that it could feed us. 

For fifty-five years this little patch of earth has been the real and metaphorical beating heart of the family. It remains a fixture in our memories as the place where we, The Metros, were established, grew strong and bonded so tightly together. I know I romanticize how I feel about Christmases here and playing hide and seek in the hay barn. But that's okay. It is a romance. I love this place, the memories and the way I felt when I lived there. There is not one single place on this earth, well until George and I built our place, where I laughed, loved and lived more fully. In no other place did I learn more about myself and what kind of person I would be in the world.

To this day, when a summer storm rises out of the west and frames sun-limned trees in stark contrast with deepest periwinkle purple, I smile from my very soul. I am transported to my youth and those carefree days on the Ranch with the sound of horses running before the storm and the cottonwood trees singing as the wind blows through their leaves. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

For Thor - 67 - Death. It can ruin a life.

Last night I was up. Lady had to pee, and I was restless. I wandered around the living room and kitchen for a while, and Lady wandered around the bushes in the yard. Both of us roused from sleep in search of relief. Happily, for her, a patch of grass that smells just right will do the trick. For me, well, I'm not so lucky. I'm churning through the rough emotional seas that rage and swell inside me like some ill-fated tugboat in a storm.

The light switches remained untouched; there was light enough to see by coming from the single perpetual candle that glows like a beacon from beside the box that holds your ashes. In these small hours of the morning, I feel your presence around me more strongly, and the warm glow of a candle envelops me like a honeyed hug. In the small hours of the morning, I don't have to ask, "Where are you?" You're just here, waiting for me to be still enough to listen, to feel, to know. I exhale once, twice and a third time before I feel my shoulders fall, and my chest expand. When I sense you near, the tears spring from my eyes like a well-spring that waits just beneath the surface.

A month of milestones has come and gone. Three birthdays and an anniversary have seen the sun rise and set without your smiling face to celebrate with us. With so much activity, it's been hard to find time to settle down inside, just to be with whatever comes up. A buzzing feeling grew in my chest over the past week as I tried to focus back on work. By the time Friday came around, I was agitated and cranky, off-kilter and seriously questioning the intelligence of universe that has my feet walking this road. The day had many demands of me, too; it was a marathon of back to back networking events meeting with important work colleagues and new potential clients. The events ranged from professional casual to high-level political to music festival tech mixer. By the end of the night, I was a mess - and I still had and hour to drive home.

Saturday brought more opportunity for fun and distracting activity. Shopping, picnicking, friends, music, another party without you here. Another family event that you would have loved, but no. You're gone. You're gone in a way that I still can't get my head around. Starr and I talked about this, we both keep thinking you're gonna walk in that damned door one day. I keep thinking about all the close calls that I've had in my life, that you had in your life. From fevers and ambulance rides to you being a two-year-old trying to drive the dang backhoe and countless hours on the road in stormy weather. We escaped tragedy so many times. Grace smiled upon us and carried us safely to the next moment of life. Even the scare of your birth and wondering if you were going to breathe or decide to join us in this life was a close call. And then came that night when it was no longer a close call, there was no deliberation by the Great Umpire in the Sky - you were clearly out at the plate. You left the game, left us to play on without you.

So many people tell me how strong I am, Thor. I say I don't feel strong. I feel tired. And crabby. And like a failure at times, too. I pray for Grace and peace and love to radiate through me. But those prayers are sometimes choked by bitter tears and a mother's broken-hearted longing. Is it the strength that keeps me waking each day and showing up? Maybe. Some other friends tell me, "I guess you have no choice but to…be strong." To that, I say no, I do have a choice. I can choose to ignore how I feel and bury all this pain deep inside then wrap it up in some numbing coping mechanisms. I could decide to shut out the thoughts that make me wonder "What the hell were you thinking when that truck went airborne? Were you scared? Did you know you were going to die at that moment? Did your life flash before your eyes? Did you cry out for help? For me?" I could choose to walk away from the memories of your sweet life because it causes such pain to contemplate that this is all we get of you. I could want to shut-down, shut-out, shut-off from anything that makes me feel too much. But I don't. I don't because I know making those choices is how death can ruin a life. My life.

My life is full of purpose and meaning. I know that. I just don't know what it is at the moment. Your death delivered me a new agenda with new priorities and a new direction; the details still hidden. The work of establishing clear interiority and reconciliation continues. The world tugs and pulls at me with all kinds of possibilities for distraction, opportunities for involvement and some of them resonate as possible pieces of my new life. It's hard to engage in anything with any seriousness when the world is so temporary and fleeting. Life is short, and all that matters is love. My questions about how to spend my day are "Does this bring love into the world? Does this bring light into the world? Does this make my heart feel light?" I have to muddle my way through sometimes. Because like this past month, the pace is fast-moving and the emotional waves are high. I feel like a blind whitewater rafter; I know the rapids are fierce and laden with deadly boulders, but I can't see them. The current of grief rages, tossing me in random directions.

It's true; death can ruin a life. Will I allow it? I say no, that is not what you would want for me. I choose to walk toward the pain, learning to smile through the tears and gain strength from each day I survive this agony. I lean into the grief and sink with it to the bottom of the well, where the spring of love flows with sweetly with sustaining succor and solace. I just have to remember that I need time, time to settle in this space. I need to remember to unplug and retreat when the buzzing agitation has me restless as a fly-stung horse.

This is when it's best to be still, in the small hours of the morning. I listen for you in the deepest chambers of my heart to tell me it's going to be okay.  I remember that all I have to do is keep showing up, with an empty cup. It will get filled up. 

Have faith, Mama. Just have faith--and patience.

I love you,

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

For Thor - 66 - Kayak

People keep asking me what I want to do for my birthday and I can't answer them. I feel myself withdraw from the question as my awareness turns inward looking for something that sounds fun or festive or celebratory. The fact is, none of those things are how I feel right now. Celebrating is not in the cards. I don't want to celebrate the fact that I've lived another year, through the most painful experience a mother can endure. Singing and candles and cake and gifts for me seem so incongruent with the deep sorrow that is prevalent in my heart.

What do I want for my birthday? I want you back. I don't want to have to keep living with this horrible burden. I am tired, Thor. I am tired of trying to rise above it and look for the silver lining and always staking out some ground to stand on to declare "I'm doing better today." It's exhausting because I always fall back. One step forward three steps back and maybe one or two off to the side.

What do I want for my birthday? I want to run and run and run and run until I outrun this fucking pain. I want to stop crying all the damned time because my broken heart bleeds out of my eyes in salty tears. I want to see your face again and hear your voice. I want to worry about you and fuss at you for making the brash decisions of the young. I want to dance with you in the kitchen and eat a pile of nachos while cheering on the Broncos.

What do I want for my birthday? I want for your dad and me to be able to love, live and talk again without this vast gulf of grief between us. I want for your brothers to live free without the specter of your death hanging over them. I want to smile from my heart and through me eyes again; not being blinded by tears and choked with unspoken sorrow.

I know, I know. I want a lot. But that's nothing new.

I look at the road ahead of me, still strewn with the rubble and in ruins from your death. It makes me tired to think that this is never going away, that I'll have to figure out how to live with a hole blown in my soul, heart, and life. How do I continue to pick up the pieces and arrange them anew when the wreck is so devastating? Nothing is the same, all my relationships and understanding is different because I am completely altered.

Aunt Radha told me she was more concerned about me around my birthday than on yours. I had thought that to be odd, but I accepted it since she seems to have a good handle on this grieving thing. And holy smokes, your birthday was so difficult for me. I felt like a fly-stung horse inside of myself, unable to settle into any solace or comfort for very long before the sting of loss had me in tears, again. And that agitated agony has only ratcheted up in the days since. Four milestones in a row with little to no time to process in between has me on the ropes and bleeding today, and we're still two days away from "My Birthday" I just want to hide. In a hole. For like, a million years. I wonder if that would be enough time to feel "better"?

Nana must have sensed a tremor in the force because she called yesterday to tell me she is free on my birthday to be with me, whatever I want to do or don't want to do…or whatever. We attempted to make some plans for the family to come together, but they dried up like dust when I consider doing any of it. How can we celebrate me and life when you are dead? It feels so inadequate or unimportant or even wrong to light candles and sing when I am at the very bottom of the well of grief where there is no air, only sorrow.

I am grateful for the lifelines that tether me to the sweetness of gratitude and divine grace. I can feel how I feel without the fear of being stuck here forever. Sometimes this well is more like a raging sea, and I am swamped, sinking to the bottom where there is still something to be learned in this airless, sorrowful place. So I cry and scream and want to outrun the pain, but I know that it's pointless. No matter where I go or what I do in this life, there will be one agonizing fact; you died, and nothing is the same. I don't know where I am going or what the new landscape will hold. The certainty of walking with the weight of grief is so tiring that I just want to curl up in a ball and sleep for a long, long time. The uncertainty of what my life will look like in the days, months and years to come is equally draining. The only way for me is forward, through the rubble that cuts my feet. You can follow a trail of bloody footprints through my heart from where I had to wake up on that first horrible morning with the ugly reality that you are gone, to now, nine and a half months later and that same ugly truth is still staring me down.

What do I want for my birthday? Resilience. Joy. Peace. Solace. Comfort. Love. These don't come easy, and we can't buy them at Amazon Prime. They take work, cultivation, practice and patience. It takes mindfulness to monitor my thoughts and emotions so I can recognize and release them. The key is to allow for their full expression, with compassion and self-love. So that is where I am…in the bottom of the well, feeling heartbroken and exhausted. I am experiencing these things from the space of Trust and Love, which is a safe space for me to just BE SAD, which is the emotion that arises today.

What do I want for my birthday? Dad said he'd like to get me a kayak so I can be on the water. Being near the water, I can more readily experience Joy, Peace, Solace and Comfort. I feel Love more freely when I am in nature and being near the water is like sitting next to a huge generator of emotional healing. Your dad and brothers and I could go out together and have some fun fishing and paddling across the rippling waves.

Hmmm. He might be onto something there. Ok. A kayak. I'd like a kayak for my birthday.

We'll see you on the water, Bubby.

I love you,

Sunday, September 11, 2016

For Thor - 65 - A Gift from Thor

Today is 9/11. I remember this day fifteen years ago when I sent you and Chaz with our friend Linda to join in the weekly homeschool co-op in a nearby town in western Pennsylvania. Your brother Xan was just two weeks old, and we had just celebrated your fifth birthday at Mimi and Pap's house. You got a go-kart and were over the moon!

I settled on the sofa to cuddle your little brother, watching the end of Good Morning America when the usual signing-off banter suddenly stopped, and they played that first video of a plane striking the North Tower. We watched in horror and tried to make sense of what we were seeing; the speculation ranged from it being a misguided military plan to being a disabled plane that crashed to being a full-on attack. We didn't know about the other flights in motion. We didn't know that our nation was under attack. But the hairs on my neck stood on end as I sensed the horrible truth.

When the second plane struck, the reality of what we were seeing clunked into place. I immediately picked up the phone and called Nana in Virginia to find out where, exactly, in NYC was your Aunt Radha and Aunt Poorna, who lived there. Nana had already clicked off her morning news and started her workday. They didn't know anything was happening. I told them to turn on the television and CALL RADHA! CALL POORNA!

Meanwhile, we got reports of other planes across the skies crashing like missiles into targets. Your dad worked in downtown Pittsburgh, and when news came through of Fight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, they were going to close all the tunnels and bridges which would have stranded your dad at work fifty miles away. I called and told him that America was under attack and that he needed to get home, now!

I put Xan in the car and headed out to the homeschool co-op. I wanted my family to be together. If the world was going to blow-up, it was going to happen with us all holding each other. I ran into that school building, tears streaming down my face and found Linda. I told her "We are under attack!" and I shared what I knew at that point. I gathered you boys up and went back home, counting the minutes until your dad walked in that door.

I was glued to the television talking to Nana as she watched, too, when the first tower fell. Our hearts fell with it. We still hadn't heard from Aunt Radha. Her subway stop, her office, her friends, and co-workers were all right there - her place of work just a block away from the towers. Had she been caught in the rubble? Had she even made it to work when the collapse happened? Did she get stuck in the subway? We couldn't find out anything since all the phone lines were overwhelmed with traffic, much of it from the doomed individual souls spending a few moments on the phone to say farewell to loved ones as the horrible truth was made clear; these would be their last moments on this earth.

We eventually got word from Aunt Poorna and Aunt Radha. They had a scary story to tell, one that gives me chills to think about. Aunt Radha was lucky. After being trapped in her building by debris and the dust cloud, she and others from her building made their way through the basement to emerge on the opposite side of the structure. She and Aunt Poorna joined the parade of gray-walkers, those people who staggered, hollow-eyed and shell-shocked out of Manhattan and away from Ground Zero covered in the ashes of the fallen.

That day gutted us and galvanized us, too. We grieved, together. We cried, together. We shook with fear as the illusion of security was revealed to be just that, an illusion. But we resolved to carry-on even if we were afraid. We united and reconnected as a nation out of one of the darkest days in our history.

How do we recognize darkness? It is the absence of light that allows us to appreciate even the subtlest rays of moonlight. How do we recognize a blessing? It is because we have known the hunger and thirst driven by hardship and strife. How do we know love? It is because we have felt the utter cold of being bereft and feeling alone. How do we know faith? It is because we have experienced the terror of fear. Without contrast, we cannot comprehend that Grace. Sometimes these darkest moments are what sets the stage for real transformation.

Out of the darkness emerges the seedling of hope, light, truth, love and joy. Living through the hardest times pushes us beyond our human limitation so we may experience Divine Grace. We must allow our hearts to break so that they are no longer too small to contain the blessings of life; blessings that are so vast it defies comprehension. But even more than that, we need to be grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow, to see and make changes, to be trusting and faithful.

Nine months ago, my life plunged into darkness. My heart shattered, and my world blew up. When you died, that single moment changed me, sending me on a new trajectory. For the rest of my life, I'll carry the wound of losing you, and this makes me vulnerable in new ways. I could walk in fear; the fear of death, the fear of loss, the fear of living at the mercy of Life. But I choose to turn toward love and compassion. I wish to embrace and allow room for blessings to take root, grow and blossom in my heart. Like sunflowers rooted firmly in the dark earth that reach for the sun, I allow Grace and Love to overshadow fear and doubt.

This past spring several of the women in the family came together to do the work of picking up the pieces of our shattered hearts to seek a path forward out of the rubble and into the Light. We had been given a gift from you in the form of a posthumous message that came through a friend of ours. In this message, you challenged us to use the tragedy of your death to learn to love even more. You invited us to allow our sorrow to create a heart opening through which we could bring more goodness and light into the world. You reminded us that our family could more fully express the divine light that shines through us all. Then you told us that our family is an energy base that needs a charge, and that we could do that by experiencing this new heart opening. And you said that this heart opening is open and inclusive; it is for anyone who wishes to embrace and share LIGHT, it is for anyone who wants to cultivate a state of being that allows for a greater experience of LOVE. It is an opportunity to live fully, fearless, trusting, loving and free.

But how to do that? How do we take such a Call-to-Action and turn it into something that we can embrace and integrate into our lives? I remembered a beautiful wisdom-sharing experience I had participated in before you were born. The Native American Medicine Wheel provides a profound means for us to explore and express collaboratively for the benefit of all. We came together for weekly for a couple of months as we examined a single question from the multiple "lodges" or perspectives -- represented as the cardinal directions on a Medicine Wheel. The center of the Wheel represents the clear sky and access to Spirit, God or the Universe (as each of us sees fit). The East, where the sun rises is the place to illuminate an issue, to shine the light of the sun upon it and talk about it. The South is the lodge of youth and strength where we consider our question through the eyes of a child or a young person. As the Wheel moves into the West, we turn inward in contemplation of the emotions. How do we FEEL about the question? Swinging North we begin to take all that we have learned in the previous lodges to form an action plan. The final lodge in the North-East is where we determine - unanimously - if the action decided is beneficial not only for us but for seven generations to come.

We first had to home in on our question which we formed together. "We choose to reconnect from our individual vantage points. Like facets of a crystal, we radiate LIGHT together. How does this look?" This is what we carried around the Wheel from week to week, through the Lodges and visualizations to gain insight into how we can walk into the heart and shine LIGHT. From the perspective of strengthening the family "base", it was clear that we are like a crystal, with many facets that through which light shines brightly. It is when we spiritually and energetically connect to that base, allowing that divine light to shine through us, that the crystal's illuminating strength multiplies. We shine brighter together, but individual gifts are important, too. We just have to envision reconnecting to that source of life that we all share to discover how easy it is to shine collectively in light and love.

Since contrast often helps us see what we are looking for, we explored the concept of connection through the lens of being disconnected. How had we drifted apart? What keeps us together? What makes us feel trusting or not trusting in the family? What is needed to stay steady in connection? How can we remain uniquely "us" and still be part of the whole? What are the blockers to trusting and forgiveness? How can we be more compassionate? Let me tell you what, Thor; this was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Perhaps because my heart is so wide open from grief, I can dive deeply into these questions and answer them with total honesty.

At one point it became apparent that creating a prayer or blessing would be a goal of the Medicine Wheel work. We already know that saying a blessing together has great uniting and empowering strength. Ours is a family that holds hands and prays. Writing a new blessing out of the directives shared from you could help us experience a more loving, real and compassionate way to live. It could lift us up if we are feeling weak, reconnecting us to the energy base of the group. It could, as blessings are proven to do, transform our lives and the lives of those around us.

We carefully selected each word, weighing them all and agreeing, unanimously, before moving on. Each line and couplet were read, felt and considered through the insights learned in the Wheel and lens of seven generations to come. We felt that future generations might be agnostic or atheistic or Buddhist or Christian or Hindu or maybe something entirely new that we don't even now of, yet. The Blessing needed to be universal and compelling, truthful and engaging. It needed to represent the momentous circumstances through which we created it; your death and the surge of sorrow and love that swept through our family core. More than a rallying cry and memorial, the blessing is offered as an expression of our love for you, your life and the lasting legacy you've invited us to take up.

We kept The Blessing private for a while to give us a chance to say it individually. We wanted to roll it around on our tongues and feel it's truth before we shared it widely with others. It is a gift granted out of the darkest hour of my personal life, and one of the darkest times for the whole family. It gently shines a light on the path forward out of the agony of sorrow and into the LIGHT for anyone who wishes to use it. We shared it, officially, with the family as we gathered on your birthday. We held hands on the top of the hill with the breeze blowing sweetly through the photos of your life. We said The Blessing together for the first time, all of us who were there. I felt you there, so strongly.

We created it with love and tears, out of hope and sorrow. The beating hearts of the women of the family used the pieces of our shattered hearts to create this blessing like a quilt, each one offering a treasure from the depths of our souls to lend vibrant truth to the Whole.

I have been saying this Blessing, which is definitely a gift from you, every day, several times a day for months now. It brings me comfort. It empowers me in moments of weakness. It reminds me that I am not alone, that I am part of a vast and beautiful Creation that is part of the Divine. It reminds me to be edgeless and melty in the world because there are enough sharp edges that cut and divide. Being melty came out of the Medicine Wheel as we shared how soft and loving we felt in the weeks after your death. We melted into long hugs from this vulnerable place in our hearts. The Blessing reminds me of the love shared with you, Thor, and with our family, extended family, earth family, and universal family.

Today is 9/11, fifteen years later and I am heartsore remembering that day. I am still heartsore from your first angel birthday just a few days ago. What better time to share a blessing that is purposely created to help us find our way into the LIGHT, than when the darkness draws close?

How do we know the LIGHT? We recognize its brilliance best when we've been in submerged in complete darkness.

Wherever you are, Bubby, here it is. I think of you whenever I say it, and I know you are close.

Our Family Blessing
~A Gift from Thor

With a great, full heart for all that is,
We are thankful for our many blessings.

We choose to reconnect
from our individual vantage points.
Like facets of a crystal,
We radiate LIGHT together.

With our feet firmly planted,
We are present and aware.
From our authentic state of Being,
With Love and open hearts
we find compassion to forgive
ourselves and others.

We aspire to be melty,
Allowing us to be
trusting, vulnerable, humble and kind.

In Service of the Highest Good,

I love you,

Thursday, September 8, 2016

For Thor - 64 - Happy Birthday in Heaven

Hey, Thor, my sweet boy. On this day twenty years ago you made me a mom. Your entry into the world was intense for everyone including you. We weren't sure you were going to stick around. You didn't breathe right away after you were born like you were trying to decide about taking on this life. I remember watching in stunned horror as your perfect little body, blue from lack of oxygen, lay on the towels while the midwife worked to stimulate you. After pushing for nearly three hours, I was in an other-world state of exhaustion, not comprehending what was happening. All I could think was "Take a breath! Just breathe!"  And you did finally hiccough and sputter to life. As your little lungs filled with air, the blue tinge faded away. You turned a lovely shade of bright red within moments. I nearly collapsed with relief. 

You had decided to be here with us. I didn't know then it would be for such a short time.  But if I did know, and there had been a choice of having you for nineteen years or not getting to have you in our lives at all, I would choose the first. Over and over again. Even knowing I would have to walk this road of mourning and grief; knowing you, loving you, being your mom and having the privilege of your presence in my life is worth all the agony of loss.

I never really knew what love could be until I had a child. You opened my eyes to a new kind of selflessness and unconditional love that had not bloomed in my heart until I saw your eyes. I love your dad, fiercely, but there is something different about the love of a mother for a child. Children are born of and by us. You are of our bodies and are a piece of our souls. You embody all the hopes and dreams for life that we imbue you with as you grow in the womb. You hold our hearts in your little hands from the very first second of the very first breath. We fall into the depth of your newborn eyes never to be seen again as our former selves, for now, no longer who we were before; we become your mom. This transformation is total, and it happens in an instant. 

The first time I held you was awkward. I had held babies before, but this time, I was responsible. Adapting to the new role of mom took a little while, but you were a good teacher! You'd let me know if I was doing it wrong with a forceful cry that sent me scurrying to figure it out. When I got it right, you rewarded me with the sweetest little smiles or you would settle peacefully to sleep on my chest, nuzzled up and cozy.

I sang to you every day, little ditties that were our secret lullabies. I made up a version of The Carpenter's "Close to You" and modified "Pretty Irish Girl" from Darby O'Gill to be love songs for you. For about a year and a half, I was the only one who could settle you to sleep. You reached for me with those little hands seeking the solace of Mom; a place all humans long for and treasure. As tired as I was from sleepless nights walking the floor and no-nap days that meant I couldn’t get anything done, I loved it that you needed me.  

Gosh, you were a smart, sweet and funny little guy. You loved to read books (at least early on). You learned your ABC's, could read fifty words and could count to 20 by the time you were one year old. You were fascinated with guitars, tractors and trucks. You loved Tickle Me Elmo and would belly laugh with him over and over. For the longest time, you wouldn't eat cheese - on anything except for mac & cheese. This put a crimp on pizza night! Eventually, you came to like the gooey stuff, but it was so funny how much you hated it at first. You had the most precious long curls that framed your sweet face.  As you grew into boyhood your kind heart and inquisitive mind really began to express themselves. You loved to help your dad, pap and grandpa with anything they were doing. You were curious about the way things worked and would watch with rapt attention if any machine was being taken apart. You loved anything with a motor and speed. Hunting, fishing, camping, mudding, jetskiing, dirt bikes, name it, you were up to your eyeballs in it, having a blast and getting dirty and hungry. 

Cooking for you was a joy. Your appetite for good eats was as big as your appetite for living life. You liked anything I made, but you had some favorites; chicken & dumplings, chili, london broil on the grill, beef stew, my homemade dinner rolls, fried chicken and mashed potatoes, collard greens and gumbo! I made a pot of chicken & dumplings in your honor last night for supper.  It was a really good batch.

Today is your first Angel Birthday. I hadn't ever heard that term until a friend shared it with me, but I like it. I awoke this morning to a September 8 that is forever transformed for me, again. It marks the day you came to us, and also is a poignant time to realize that you're gone from our midst. I like to think that you're celebrating your birthday with other family and friends who've left this realm. In my heart's eye, I see you playing guitar and singing for the joy of everyone. Nana and Pap Anderson, Nana and Pap Stish, Papa, Aunt Sue, and so many others are gathered around wearing angel wings and radiantly beaming with the love that connects us all. I know you're taking the opportunity to jam with Jerry Garcia, Merle Haggard, and David Bowie, too.  You're an angel after all, and you can do whatever you like.

I sipped my morning tea today and leafed through several photo albums. I started with a photo your dad took of my very pregnant belly on the day before you were born and went right through to the very last picture I have of you - the one where you and I are dancing in the kitchen just a few moments before your final exit. I am so grateful to have these images of your life, of your splendid and happy life, to keep me from despairing too much. Tears are falling, even as I write this note to you. It's a thoroughly bittersweet day. Sweet for all the delicious and wondrous celebrations we shared in your life with us. Bitter with regret that there will be no more to add. I don't think that will ever go away. 

I stood on the porch as the dawn sky shifted pink and purple hues and I sang "Happy Birthday" to you, a couple of finches and crows joined in the chorus. Wherever you are, I hope you heard me. I hope you feel the love I have for you, that we all have for you, on this day and every day, Thor. 

Happy Birthday in heaven, Bubby.
I love you,


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

For Thor - 63 - You, Your Dad, ZBB and me

Your dad and I went away this past weekend, to celebrate our anniversary. We needed the time together, just the two of us. Just like I did so I could be joyfully present for Xanny's birthday; I cleared room in my heart for this experience. I rooted myself in the moment and went to Norfolk determined to be light hearted, easy going and loving on our trip. The conversation rolled smoothly. We didn't talk about anything heavy or intense, both of us understanding that a respite from the intensity of our lives since you died is what we needed. The past nine months have taken a heavy toll on us. We are different people than we were, the forces of death molding us into new versions of ourselves. The world looks different.

Several months ago, Nana and I were hanging out at her house. I was in a particularly heart-sore state. We turned on some music to ease the moment; my go-to favorite, The Zac Brown Band. The songs played, and I sang and cried along with the lyrics that express my heart and soothe my soul all at the same time. Then there are the songs that were your favorites; the ones you've sung for years. To this day when I hear "Chicken Fried" or "Toes," I hear you playing guitar and singing along. I see you in my mind's eye on the couch in your pj's picking out the notes and tapping your toes. I think of you and your Pap driving around in PA listening to ZBB and laughing it up. My heart breaks for your dad who loved playing guitar with you, these songs among the favorites in your duo repertoire. But it is "Bittersweet", and "Remedy" brings me to a special place inside; that place where the brokenness and sorrow meet Grace and Hope. Nana insisted that I must see ZBB live - to be there in concert and feel the music in my bones. She gave me cash to buy tickets for my birthday. So, I did.

Last summer I was excited about the new ZBB album, and I enthusiastically encouraged you to learn some of the new stuff to play for me; "Homegrown" being at the top of that request list. You said you would get to it, but that your favorite song was "Sweet Annie." You were already learning to play that one, for Starr. Well, a mama knows when she has to take a spot in line behind the woman in her son's life. So I would wait. It wasn't too many days later that you and dad began picking out the first few notes, strumming and singing along to Homegrown. My heart smiled. Heck, my whole body smiled, all the way down to my liver.

So, last Sunday night, the day after our anniversary, Dad and I went to the Zac Brown Band concert in Virginia Beach. I felt so many emotions all at once that I couldn't contain them all. Daddy took exquisite care of me, even though I know it must have been hard on him, too. I told him that when the tears came (it was inevitable) that it's not because I'm sad. It's just the wholehearted expression of all the feelings; Love, Joy, Sorrow, Remorse, Longing, Remembrance. I gripped his hand tightly and rolled with the ride. I kept thinking how much freaking fun you would have at this show. And I know you were there, but, well you know. It's different and pales in comparison having you there in spirit and not in the form I've loved all these years.

The concert set list changes from show to show. I didn't know what we would hear, but I knew it would be good. It is ZBB, after all! There were some cool, surprising cover songs, like Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic" and The Who's "Baba O'Riley" and Mellencamp's "Jack & Diane". But it was the classic ZBB songs that took me away."Tomorrow Never Comes" felt like an anthem which rocked me hard and had me out of my seat. 

And then they played it. When the first notes of "Sweet Annie" pulsed through the air I knew you were right there. I sang my heart out through the tears streaming down my face. Then something funny and kinda wonderful happened. Right in the middle of that song our next-seat neighbors passed me a bottle of Fireball. Dad had told this sweet young couple why I was crying. She handed me the bottle with tears in here eyes and said, "He's here." I had to laugh. I could hear you plain as day saying, "Mama, this is all for YOU. Have fun! Dance! Sing! And for God's sake, woman, do a shot!" So, I did.

The show was excellent, but I felt blown-out and tired afterward. So many emotions exploded inside me all at once that I couldn't tell what I felt. Dad and I made our way back to the hotel bleary-eyed and ready to get some food and sleep. I couldn't process the experience, yet. We were still in anniversary trip mode. I stayed steady (a sign that I'm getting a bit stronger), and we shared a lovely day meandering home on Monday.

Monday night everything came crashing down. The grinding truth of your death with your birthday looming large overwhelmed me with sorrow once more. We are on the doorstep of this milestone.  The biggest one to me. Your birthday without you here. I cried all night on Monday and woke to puffy eyes and a tear-stained face on Tuesday only to have to buck up and head to Richmond for a meeting. I managed to keep it together, somewhat, on the trip into town but the ride home was not so great. The utterly devastating agony of your death hits me sometimes and it is ruthless. I had to stop several times along the road to breathe and blow my nose. I even stopped in to see a friend at her office in search of some advice; she's walked this horrible road and would understand. She was not available at the time, but getting out of the car and talking to other people gave me enough of a break to make it safely home.

One moment I am up where the air is clear. Where I can feel connected to the rightness of this life and all its expression. And the next I am plunged into a dark and swirling sea of grief.  That's the way it is. 

It's the eve of your birthday and I find it hard to breathe today, Bubby.

I love you,