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Binders, Grief, Guest Posts, healing, Little Seal, loss

Cartography for Mourners.

March 2, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

By Emily Rapp. 

The power of grief to derange the mind has in fact been exhaustively noted.

– Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

 

Maps to Anywhere (Numerous)

I hate maps. I can’t read them, understand them, interpret them, or follow them. I have a whole drawer full of maps and pop-up, fold out street guides for various cities, and although I take them with me when I visit these places, I never consult them. Instead I tote them around in my shoulder bag, my purse, my backpack, and ask people on the street for directions.

 

Map to a Funeral (Hidden)

It is mid-winter in downtown Chicago, and my parents, sitting in the two front seats of a rented mini-van, are huddled over a paper map. Exhaust billows in gray and black streaks past the windows. Commuters look shrouded and miserable, hurrying over frigid sidewalks in the rapidly fading light. I’m in the back seat with my ten-month-old daughter Charlotte, who is strapped in her car seat, babbling and cooing. She doesn’t know this is a terrible blizzard in rush hour, or that someone – my father’s mother, my grandmother – has died. We are driving from Chicago to Pontiac in a storm that feels as thick and relentless as the sound of the word blizzard on the radio, which is turned up high. People are frenzied, worried and watchful, the way people love to be about extreme weather conditions.

My grandmother has died at 93 after refusing food or fluids for two weeks, which is some kind of record. My son, at three years old, lasted only a few days with the same restrictions. Ninety years difference – a literal lifetime – between their ages at death. I struggle to understand what this means or how to absorb it, but generate no cogent thoughts.

Beyond the city limits the interstate is a blur of red and blue emergency lights, car blinkers switching on and off in irregular patterns that compete with the holiday hangers on who leave their Christmas decorations up after the new year. The drivers in the cars stopped on either side of us are reading newspapers spread out over the steering wheels or tapping into their phones, having given up changing lanes. One woman is slumped over, face in her hands, weeping.

My daughter poops her diaper, and I unstrap her from her safety restraints and change her in the unmoving car. My parents are bickering. My brother is waiting at the airport. We’d gone to Soldier’s Field to see the Aquarium, but ended up looking at twenty-year old exhibits of stuffed animals: antelope and bears in permanent yawn, taxidermy tails stalled mid-air. I crammed us all into a photo booth in our last fifteen minutes, because I had an enormous glass of wine for lunch and because we need to laugh.

“We should never have gone.”
“Who could have known we’d get stuck in a blizzard.”

This conversation continues on endless repeat, my parents trading lines between them until I threaten to throw the diaper into the front seat if they don’t change the subject. “Don’t think I won’t!” I shout, and feel like a teenager on vacation with her parents: petulant and trapped, self-righteous and unhappy.

We make it to O’Hare and pick up my brother and my nephew. My dad argues with the security guard, telling her that the airport is designed to be confusing. I tell him this is certainly not true. Through the open van door I toss Charlotte’s diaper into a curbside trashcan.

An hour from O’Hare, far from any lights, wind, snow-thick, swirls white and erratic over the roads mainly clear of cars but still treacherous. My dad drifts between lanes, floats across medians. “You’re fucking scaring me!” I shout when he crosses a road without looking in both directions. My brother glares at me for cursing in front of his ten-year-old son.

We stop at a town outside Chicago, at a sports bar, where six men wearing orange vests sitting at a table turn to stare at us when we walk through the door. We have been in the car for nearly ten hours. When I tell my friend Gina, a native of Chicago, where we ended up for dinner, she tells me she’s lived in Chicago her entire life and I’ve never even heard of that fucking place.

A waitress accidentally spills a beer on my father’s lap.

“This day is shitballs,” I tell him, and hand him a stack of napkins.

“Yep,” he agrees, but he’s laughing. He leaves the apologetic waitress a generous tip.

 

Map to a Church (Unnecessary)

The route to my grandmother’s funeral service is a straight line from the hotel to the church down a road lined with two-story houses, all fenced yards and large wooden porches, the sidewalks stacked on both sides with fresh snow that blows away in sporadic blasts of arctic wind to reveal weeks-old snow covered in soot, stamped with boot and paw prints and pieces of dog shit. The church is near the town lake, where a group of geese huddle together looking stunned and miserable on ice the same color as the wall of cold sky that seems almost low enough to touch the frozen water. I think they’re geese. I know they’re not ducks. I’m not a poet. I don’t know my birds. I don’t know an elm from a poplar. I’m a little bit better with flowers. I know a blue spruce because there was one in my yard in Santa Fe, and it was the one pop of color on the gray winter day two years ago when my son died.

“Don’t they migrate somewhere warmer?” I ask. “Those geese or birds or whatever?” Nobody answers me. At the church, my brother and his son leap out of the car and sprint across the parking lot. The frozen lake reminds me of another frozen lake in Minnesota where I spent one weekend listening to Joni Mitchell records and writing bad poetry (I didn’t know my birds then, either) with a group of college girlfriends; another frozen lake in Wisconsin where I watched five continuous hours of CNN on the first anniversary of 9/11. Both events seem whole lifetimes ago, memories connected to my current life by delicate filaments that show their strength in the strangest moments.

I pick my way across the parking lot with a bundled Charlotte in my arms. Inside people are milling about in front of a funeral board: pictures of my grandmother as a young girl on the farm, on a horse, in the early 1940s with my father in a cute suit, standing in front of a flat white house, with her parents, who are expressionless and shaped like barrels.

My grandmother was cruel to me, and I am not sad that she is dead. I feel like 93 is a pretty good run. She was rarely sick. She had friends and was comfortable.

My dad speaks first, and he tells the congregation that his mother once told him that he could have searched the whole world over and he never could have found a better wife. This is for my mother, to whom my grandmother was also cruel.

The minister gives a dorky eulogy about salvation that doesn’t happen “in the big city,” but instead in “a little church in the prairie.” His language feels vaguely pornographic to me, all this talk of being “chosen” and “choosing,” and my grandmother saying yes to God, again and again she said yes. I can’t stop thinking, sitting in the back pew nursing my child where nobody might happen to see my breast, that there’s no way this guy voted for Obama.

The only time I feel moved is when my second cousin’s husband sings a solo, halting and occasionally off-key version of Beautiful Savior at the lectern. He struggles through all of the verses without looking up. In front of him, on a table decorated with flowers, my grandmother’s ashes are in a simple black box.

After the funeral we eat fried chicken in the church fellowship hall. My grandmother’s sister introduces me to a man who is clearly suffering from dementia.

“This is Emily,” my great-aunt says. “She wrote a book about her baby who died.”

“Who are you?” he asks. “Did somebody die?” He looks around the room. Someone is slowly releasing a Jell-O mold onto a plate in the kitchen. A woman in an apron dumps more chicken into a bowl on the buffet table.

“My grandmother died,” I say. “Lois died.”

My great aunt is frustrated. “Listen,” she says, tapping the table in front of the man.

He looks at her, then at her hands. “Yes? Who are you?”

“I’m Emily,” I say.

“She’s a writer,” my aunt continues, “and her first book is all about…well,” she says, and flaps her hand in the air. “You tell him how you was made wrong.”

Continue Reading…

Little Seal, loss, Steve Bridges, Things I Have Lost Along The Way

Getting Made.

February 15, 2013

This time a year ago I was leaving Mexico.

I was on a boat. I was on a boat leaving Mexico and if I knew that it was the last time I would be seeing my friend Steve I would’ve asked the boat to turn around and I would have gone back and back and back farther. All the way if I could where nothing was blinding and everything was dark and still in the way things are right before they go bad.

A year ago I sat on a plane, like I am as I write this, and I ordered a glass of wine as I looked through my photos of the retreat and I laughed at the videos of Steve and thought How I love this man. How I love this man.

A year ago I came back from Mexico and laid on my sofa feeling pancake flat and Steve texted me I am laying on my friend’s couch and I can’t stop thinking about our trip. I wish we were back there. Wow. I wrote back me too and in my pancake way I stood up and put on shoes to go teach my yoga class but I knew something had shifted, something was gone, and maybe that was why I felt flat or maybe it was natural after a trip like that to feel so much I want to be back. To feel it so much in your bones that they won’t even carry you. They turn you into a pancake. Pancake yoga teacher. Nothing. Flat. Pancake person.

When he died, I texted him I want to be back. I want to be back even though I knew he was dead.

We made videos the night before we left Mexico. Like little time bombs with messages on them that we planned to watch in a year’s time. When it was Steve’s turn he looked into the camera and said, That was fun. Let’s do it again next year. Hell, let’s do it again next month.

He died within the month.

This morning I got the text that I had been waiting for, the one I knew would come today or tomorrow or yesterday. Ronan died. One of my best friends, the beloved writer Emily Rapp, lost her two year old son this morning as I zipped up my suitcase to head for the airport for my Hawaii yoga retreat. His suffering is over she wrote. His short and remarkable life she wrote. I am numb she texted me privately.

I am numb too. I am on a flight to Maui and I feel nothing. I am hungry. I am not hungry. I am sad. Am I sad? I feel nothing. Where does the pain go?

Its floating up here on the airplane and I am sure will make it’s way up to my seat if we don’t crash. What happened? How does a mind process this? (I will have the cheese omelette and not the cereal, please.) Ronan died and it’s for the best says the very best intentioned platitudes. My friend Robert Wilder held him for an hour yesterday. I asked him what it was like. Everything he said. It was everything.

What’s it like to hold a dying baby for one hour? One hour in a short life is like ten years in a normal life span. (What is a normal life span?) What’s it like to hold a dying baby for ten years? He got to feel his last little oomphs right there in his arms (imagine that!) and hold his small fingers (maybe he intertwined them in his own?) He got to brush a few hairs from his eyes and pass him back to his grandparents or his mom and he got to feel a life right there in his arms which would disappear in less than 24 hours into That’s it and It’s over but he got to hold that and stop time for ten years because in a dying baby’s life one hour is equal to ten years. He got to do that and I am glad for that. I love him for that. For being there for Emily and Ronan when I couldn’t.

It makes you want to stop lying.

Why lie when this can happen? When a person can be born and then just like that It’s Over, It’s done. He’s gone.

Why tell untruths as if people care?

I keep having this recurring dream where I am driving and the brakes don’t work. The other night I had it again. I was driving in Philadelphia, over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. The brakes wouldn’t work. I tried pressing my foot into the brake and it only accelerated the car which wasn’t even my car. I swerved in and out of lanes so I wouldn’t hit anyone. It was all my untruths rushing at me. In the dream I somehow made it to safety and pulled out a paper where I had put a big X through a box that said “Brakes.” I had shut them off myself.

The greatest lie that was ever told was that you are safe. It’s the lie I still want someone to tell me though. (Say it to me?)

Say it to me.

Other lies have been both monumental and petty but with the news of a baby’s death comes a yearning for honesty. There is nothing else. I love you to all the people I love. I don’t care to all the things I don’t care about, and there are as many as the things I do care about. I am happy. I am not happy. All of it. Truths and lies and some half way in betweens.

Once, on a road trip, there was a deer along Route 70, just outside Cody, Wyoming. His eyes, the color of headlights. He recognized me immediately. (He was no stranger to regret and he spotted mine immediately ). And with his four chambered stomach and eyes on the sides of his head, I knew his type too. The cautious, the time-takers, the digesters.

Unlike him: I am impulsive as a flood.

But we knew each other, me and that deer. For the ten years or two seconds he stood there in the road in front of our car.

A basic law of the universe: the implications of what’s been said always mean more than what actually has been said. My deer understood this algebra, this economy of language and therefore didn’t say much. Me: I spit it out as I feel it when and if I feel it. Unlike my deer, I do not contemplate my cud.

I love you! I love you!

The lies I have told have mainly been to myself but others have been to save face.

There is no more of that. Do you get what I am saying? It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks because once you have held Ronan in your arms for ten years or one hour you see that what is important is the life we make, right here and now. You may not have been the one holding him in your arms for ten years but you get the metaphor. You get the as if. You can almost smell Ronan in his baby old man smell.

The life you make here and now. Not the lies or the I dropped out of college because I was half dead and freezing but I will lie about it so you don’t judge me. No one cares. It does not matter. It’s the life you make here and now because after you get the text that he dies you realize that all you ever had were the moments of holding him, the minutes with Steve in Mexico, the half-seconds with people you love.

I don’t know how fast it feels at the end, but my guess is that it feels like ten years.  Or maybe 6 months. Maybe less or more. But it won’t feel like much. It will feel like all you had were breaths and moments and a few snapshots with the sun in your eyes there like that. You will squint to remember the way the light felt in your eyes, to recreate that, and, everything else that was blinding and bright and yours.

I love you. The words alive like velvet antlers. Words made of bone. They need a way out! I must speak them. I must tell no more lies. The life that you make here and now. Here and now.

Words: make, here, now, love. Remember them.

The old deer had made it through once more, one more near miss across an ocean of cars, a scuffle of rain and a sky full of mistakes. He’d found a pair of eyes (mine!) to lock into before going back into the world, alone and foraging.

It makes you want to stop lying, to climb onto the wing of the plane and hang there if you knew you could and sob and swing and fall into clouds like you would if you were a cartoon and could always be safe in a cartoon-world. You could sleep on a nimbus cloud and wake up and ten years will be ten years rather than an hour. It makes you want to stop lying and run into the arms of all your beloveds (your lucky if you have a even a handful) and tell them to keep you there. Hang on to me, tight like this. Tight like this. Keep me here. It makes you want to admit that lying is worthless and dirty and that nothing matters, not really anyway so might as well buck up and say I love you or I don’t love you or I am so broken or I wish you didn’t die or Yea, I get that your spirit is with me forever but God-damn-it I want your body. Forget the spirit! I will trade it for your body and smell and fingers. It makes you want to forget everything and remember everything with equal measure. It makes you want to cry for days and beg the gods or the scientists or luck to leave you alone and leave everyone alone that you love. It makes you want to live like you were meant to all along even in the moments of self-hatred. It makes you all these things.

It makes you.

Emily and Ronan. Order her book by clicking the picture.

Emily and Ronan. Order her book by clicking the picture.

 

Please read this by Robert Wilder asap. Mindblowingly good.

 

Click poster to order Simplereminders new book via Simplereminders.info,

Click poster to order Simplereminders new book via Simplereminders.info,

Jennifer Pastiloff, Beauty Hunter, is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading one of her signature retreats to Ojai, Calif. over New Years. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Kripalu Center For Yoga & Health, Tuscany.She is also leading a Writing + The Body Retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch Jan 30-Feb 1 in Ojai (2 spots left.) She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

Little Seal, loss, love, poetry

The Art of Losing.

February 12, 2013

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Jen Pastiloff.

 The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant 

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

 ~Elizabeth Bishop from One Art

I read this poem in my yoga class tonight. It’s been calling me so I went and picked it up.

So many things lost. My friend’s baby is dying and tonight when I asked her what I could do for her she simply said curse the fucking world that would do this to a baby.

I have.

Oh, have you seen it? I have slipped. I have lost my yoga-teachery-ness, my belief in you attract every single thing in your life somewhere between Ronan’s deadly diagnosis and my nephew’s rare genetic disorder. Something has been lost.

Ronan is now on medication through a tube taped to his face, but no fluids. He will die most likely in 3-8 days, and so yes, I am cursing the world and I will spare you the photos of him because, most likely, you will curse the world too. The fucking world that would do this to a baby.

When things like this happen (as if they can be categorized as things like this) we lose the piece of ourselves that speaks in platitudes, that says everything happens for a reason. Because really it doesn’t.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master. Oh Elizabeth Bishop. So wise. 

I’ve mastered it. After Emily loses her son Ronan she will have mastered it. (Hell, she’s a master already.) There are a lot of us masters out here in the world. 

We are a tribe of masters.

I think of my grandfather alone in his old row house in South Philadelphia. The same house my mom and aunts were raised in and the same house he has lived in for 65 years when he wasn’t off in another country. It’s dark and now referred to as the “ghetto” but after my grandmother died a year and a half ago, my mother went there and cleaned it up. She painted and cleaned and hung photos and dusted and took plastic off sofas. It looked nice.

My grandfather spent most of his life in the navy. He loves to talk about it. He has books, yearbooks they remind me of, and he sits down next to his guitar and shows me them. He points to faces and maps.

The first time I went to LA, was on a Greyhound bus in 1942 when we all moved to Hayward, California. That was a long crowded trip from Effingham, Illinois to LA then up to Hayward.

I lived there till I joined the navy in 1943. Worked at Hunts cannery and a place called Gillig Bus Company. They made busses out of truck chassis. I also worked 5 nights and Saturday and Sunday at a skating rink….I was the floor manager and was a really good roller skater then.

We used to cash our paychecks and they would give most of it in real silver dollars then, they would be worth a lot of money now. And when I was stationed in Pearl Harbor  in Hawaii in 1944 we used to get paid with 2 dollar bills with H A W A I I printed across them. That was to show the complaining civilians how much money the military contributed to their economy. It seemed to work.

Do you have any of those?  I interrupt him. 

(I used to have some myself, Pop but I’ve lost them. I used to have loads of silver dollars and $2 dollar bills. I don’t have any now.)

That was when Hawaii was only one of the territories. I was only making about $50 or $60 per month then, so it wasn’t very practical to save the $2 bills. 2 or 3 bucks would pay for a night in Honolulu and sandwich before going back to the tent city in a mosquito infested cane field where we lived. Some fond memories. The mosquitos there were at least as big as humming birds and sounded like model airplanes in flight. I remember one night that 2 mosquitos landed on my bunk and one said “shall we eat him here or take him back with”  the other said “no, we better eat him here because if we take him back, the big ones might take him away from us.”

(Oh Pop, you’re making that up.)

So many things lost, so many memories, so many $2 dollar bills and silver dollars.

I wonder if I can find all the things I have lost. Do they come back or is that it? Just like that, gone.

The answer: gone.

I hope I didn’t make you want to stop reading, but it’s true. My grandmother died and she is lost to my grandfather although I am sure when he fell in the bathtub last month he called out for her. He was alone and sat there naked on the floor of the tub for hours, his head bleeding before he somehow reached the phone and dialed 9-1-1.

But, do you think he called for her?

Damn straight. And when they had to pick broken pieces of tile out of his head I am sure he called for her or at least wished for her even though she drove him crazy with her complaints and crosswords, he called for her because who else do you call for?

Why?

Habit? Yes.

Wishful thinking? Yes.

Love? Yes.

Fear? Yes.

Desperation? Yes.

It’s all I know? Yes.

All of it.

Look, when we lose things and we become masters it’s not like that means we accept it. It doesn’t mean we don’t pound our heads against the tiles and watch the blood drip down into the drain as we shiver and cry. It doesn’t mean that just because we are masters at losing that we like that or that we even know what that means.

You think Emily knows what life will be like post-Ronan? No. She doesn’t. Yet and still, she is a master.

The loss has already entered her and the silver dollars will never be recovered. The mosquitoes have made their way in and gnawed through everything.

There is nothing left but still the loss is insurmountable and unknowable and being a master means nothing.

It means you know how to bury someone or watch them die or get old or not get old but it doesn’t mean you are free. You were once a roller skater, true, but that holds no weight now at this moment in the bathtub with your head bleeding like that.

Like Bishop said: it takes practice. Practice losing father, losing faster. To which I say: No. Enough is enough is enough. I am done losing. So many things lost. So many keys and years and people. Enough. I needn’t any more practice. We may be masters but we are not lost.

This is an art that doesn’t take years to hone. It takes a minute (maybe less), or however long it decides when it takes what it is going to take, but let me tell you this: being a master isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I’d trade it on for the baby’s fat arms, for the silver dollars, for the father lying on the couch in his cutoffs, for the chromosone not to be missing. I’d become all woo-woo for you and yea, everything happens for a reason and you get what you deserve if you’d give the title “Master” to another. But that “another” would always be me. I see that. There is no this or that, me not you, you not me, your kid not mine, my kid not yours. The Masters is no insider exclusive club. There is no discrimination. It is all of us.

We are all the Masters.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

 

 

 
 
Little Seal, loss, love

Dirt.

January 10, 2013

I am sharing this again because it is so dear to me. Please read this. Please send Ronan love and prayers that he is not scared when he passes. He is a the end of his little life. Love you guys. Thanks for reading this one. Please share it.

The Land Of Enchantment.

A couple days ago, we took a road trip.

Emily, Ronan, and me. Two-year-old Ronan, packed in the back, his small, floppy head propped up with stuffed animals and socks, his face reflected in a crooked, little mirror, so Emily, his mom, could look into it every so often as she drove in case he had a seizure or stopped breathing.

Tay Sachs has its hold on this little boy. This perfect little boy making cooing noises in the back seat as we marveled at trees and patterns of light and talked about what it means to be happy and how even when you are happy, you are still a little bit sad.

Or at least I am.

Our first stop after we left Santa Fe was the The Chimayo Sanctuario.

It was hot when we stepped out of the car, hotter than it has been in Santa Fe. Gusts of warm wind blowing my dress around in a way that would normally make me laugh and feel sexy and silly, but this day, I immediately felt tired and wanted to lie down in the little outdoor church area. Growing up as a Jew, at least until I was eight, I didn’t really know what to call that little area, but I knew I wanted to lay my head down on it and rest as people walked by and snapped pictures or prayed. Some smoked cigarettes, which felt somehow unholy given the heat.

Emily had told me as we walked that Chimayo was the meth capital of the world. I watched the smokers in front of us and wondered what meth felt like. I didn’t really want to know, but we were in the capital and the heat made me tired and curious.

Emily had said that she loved Chimayo and that it had holy dirt.

She had me at holy dirt.

My hearing had been especially horrendous during this trip. As if there are things here that mustn’t be heard. Things of loss and heat and dirt and dying babies. Most of the things she told me during this visit I only half-heard, so maybe when she said holy dirt, she didn’t say that at all.

But there is holy dirt here indeed!

We entered the church and sat in the back. The art on the walls somehow reminded me of my mother, so I kept whispering to Emily how my mom would love it here. It was vibrant and colorful, its beauty simple and poor-looking. I knew my mom would love the folk art like Emily did. We traced our fingers over the woodcarvings and the blue of the pregnant bellies.

There were a few old women up front praying, their mouths repeating the same shapes over and over. Although I did not know what they were saying, I knew that they were deep in reverie, deep in connection, somehow sitting on the bench and yet also floating somewhere with a dead relative or baby or Jesus himself. Who knows? They were in a trance but also somehow aware of us as we walked by, enough that they smiled with their eyes and part of their lips without stopping the flow of prayer. It was like a magic trick. I felt weird to stare yet I did.

I mean, I suppose I went in there to pray in some way, although I didn’t know it until we walked through the door.

I didn’t even know what Chimayo was until we got there. But these women were praying with every ounce of their bodies, like they were born to do this and had waited in a long line of life events that included births and deaths to get here. I was just hoping Ronan wouldn’t suffer and that Emily would be okay. I didn’t even have a real prayer. I just quietly looked over at them and then to the front of the jaw-dropping gorgeous New Mexican church and sent a wish out to the Jesus statue in whatever language I could muster.

I think I put my hands together in prayer, like I do when I teach yoga, and asked him in sign language “Please let Ronan feel nothing. Please let Emily feel something.” 

We went to the room where the holy dirt was, and it clearly said No Pictures, but, naturally, being me, I took a few. I am like a thief when it comes to inspiration. Whether words or images, if I see it and it touches that place where things are born, I must capture it.

I took some photos and then Emily went in and scooped up some holy dirt and put it on Ronan’s sweaty head and his little feet where she had painted his toenails a gold, glittery color. I went in and did the same. I also took a little baggy of it for my sister or anyone else who needed holy dirt. Who knows, maybe I needed it?

We went into the Vigil Shop where they sold popsicles and chile and souvenirs. (They even ship chile! The sign out front boasted.)

We agreed, as we stood under a tree for a moment of relief from the sun, that the land felt different here.

I felt much like I do in Ojai, California, where I lead many of my yoga retreats. More connected to the land, more inspired and awake, like there was a current running through me that had been asleep but, upon stepping in holy dirt, was reignited. Like I became a person again after a long time of forgetting how to be.

Chimayo felt sacred in the way that The Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris did in July, when I went to see where Jim Morrison was buried, not because I wanted to, but because I was dragged. I went with my childhood babysitter, with whom I had been reunited after her only son, age nineteen, was killed in a drunk driving accident last August. It was her greatest wish to see Jim Morrison’s grave. I was annoyed at having to go, especially because it was half-raining, I was sick, and we got lost, but once we got there, it was like nothing else. All the tombs like little houses, each different from the next in the most beautiful ways. I wanted to lie down on them and see what it felt like—not in morbid way, but rather to be connected to such beauty. Rarely have I seen such beauty associated with death.

I felt like that in Chimayo—far from Paris, Jim Morrison’s grave, and Ojai but with the vast knowledge that the holy dirt was the same. If I tasted it in Paris or California, or if I knelt down in that little room in Chimayo, it would all taste the same. I would be healed or I wouldn’t, but it would be the same. I wasn’t really far from beauty wherever I was in the world at any given moment.

We carried on to Taos, and I remembered the first time I had been there.

I drove across the country with my mother, sister, and best friend at the time. I remember eating tuna fish from a can in the back seat and alternating drivers. I remember the colors in New Mexico being so different from what I knew growing up in New Jersey and California. In Taos, I had a flood of memories, which is good because I am writing a book, but I had to shake them off to be present for Ronan. What if this is the last time I see him? 

Emily says maybe it will be, or maybe not. No expectations is what she is working on. No expectations of what his death will be like, whether or not she should travel to Germany for a week in October (because it could as easily happen while she is teaching or at the store). No expectations of what life will be like after.

As we sat in the chapel, Emily told me of the pilgrimage people make to come to Chimayo, the last mile or two on their hands and knees so they arrive bloody to the church for their penance. I was in disbelief that people still did this sort of thing but also in awe at the sheer will and belief in what is possible, in miracles and magic and holy dirt.

There were children’s shoes and booties everywhere, left as offerings, which made me feel sad as I sat there with Ronan because he would never wear shoes to walk or run or to look cool for a girl on a first date.

He would never walk or crawl on his hands and knees to make a pilgrimage.

That’s when I decided that I would make one for him. That actually that is what we were doing out there in the hot New Mexican sun as we walked on bridges and stood in churches and sat in cars.

Here we were, eating holy dirt and driving through The Rio Grande Gorge as we listened to bad music. We sang out loud, and it was all for him. It was all so we could keep giving him these particular pieces of ourselves, these grains of holy dirt, to take with him wherever it was he was going.

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Please order Emily Rapp’s book. It will be out in March. I just finished it and WOW. Click here.

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Little Seal, MindBodyGreen

4 Things I Learned From a Two Year Old Who Is Dying.

September 19, 2012

My latest is up on MindBodyGreen. Please take a moment and read it. Leave comments there and not here please. Love you guys xo jen

Here is an excerpt…

 

1) How to be present

Ronan just is. He sits there in his stroller or propped up on his pillows and simply soaks up the energy of the room, a big baby sponge who sometimes has choking fits and seizures. He doesn’t ask for much. He knows when his mom is near. He knows when love is present. He knows when he needs to be fed. You feel silly when you find yourself worrying about the “what if’s” of life when you are in his presence, like he is some baby Buddha who has all the answers. He understands what it means to be still and also to have no expectations. He is present for his life in a way that is at once disarming and beautiful.

2) How to love

The love you feel for this child is impossible. Can’t you feel it, even having never met him? What if we let ourselves love in this way more often? Without any expectations, without regret, with only the here and the now and the open-hearted abandon that comes with knowing how fast the clock is ticking… how each kiss on his soft little face could be the last?

 

Continue reading by clicking here.

Inspiration, Little Seal, loss, love

The Land of Enchantment.

August 30, 2012

Today we took a road trip.

Me, Emily and Ronan. Ronan, packed in the back, his small floppy head propped up with stuffed animals and socks, his face reflected in a crooked little mirror, so Emily, his mom, could look into it every so often as she drove in case he had a seizure or stopped breathing.

Tay Sachs has its hold on this little boy. This perfect little boy making cooing noises in the back seat as we marvel at trees and patterns of light and talk about what it means to be happy and how even when you are happy you are still a little bit sad.

Or at least I am.

Our first stop after we left Santa Fe: The Chimayo Sanctuario. It was hot when we stepped out of the car, hotter than it has been back in Santa Fe. Gusts of warm wind blowing my dress around in a way that would normally make me laugh and feel sexy and silly but today I immediately felt tired and I wanted to lie down in the little outdoor church area. Growing up as a Jew, at least until I was 8, I didn’t really know what to call that little area but I knew I wanted to lie my head down on it and rest as the people walked by and snapped pictures or prayed. Some smoked cigarettes which felt somehow unholy given the heat.

Emily had told me as we walked that Chimayo was the meth capital of the world. I watched the smokers in front of us and wondered what meth felt like. I didn’t really want to know but we were in the capital and the heat made me tired and curious.

Emily had said that she loved Chimayo and that they had holy dirt there. She had me at holy dirt.

My hearing has been especially horrendous during this trip. As if there are things here that mustn’t be heard. Things  of loss and heat and dirt and dying babies. Most of the things she tells me during this visit I only half-hear so maybe when she says holy dirt she didn’t say that at all.

But there is holy dirt here indeed!

We entered the church and sat in the back. The art on the walls somehow reminded me of my mother so I kept whispering to Emily My mom would love it here. It was vibrant and colorful, somehow simple in it’s poor beauty, and I knew my mom would love the folk art as Emily did. We traced our fingers over the wood carvings and the blue of the pregnant bellies. There were a few old women up front praying, their mouths repeating the same shapes over and over, and although I know now what they were saying, I knew that they were deep in reverie, deep in connection, somehow sitting on the bench and yet also floating somewhere with a dead relative or baby or Jesus himself. Who knows. They were in a trance but also somehow aware of us as we walked by, enough that they smiled with their eyes and part of their lips without stopping the flow of prayer coming from them. It was like a magic trick. I felt weird to stare but I did, for just a moment. I mean, I went in there to pray in some way I suppose, although I didn’t know it until we walked into the door. I didn’t even know what Chimayo was until we got there. But these women were praying with every ounce of their bodies, like they were born to do this and had waited in a long line of life events that included births and deaths to get here. I was just hoping Ronan wouldn’t suffer and that Emily would be okay. I didn’t even have a real prayer. I just quietly looked over at them and then over to the front of the jaw droppingly gorgeous New Mexican church and sent a wish out to the Jesus statue at the front in whatever language I could muster. I think I put my hands together in prayer like I do when I teach yoga and asked him in sign language Please let Ronan feel nothing. Please let Emily feel something. 

We went to the room where the holy dirt was and it clearly said No Pictures, but, naturally, being me, I took a few. I am like a thief when it comes to inspiration. Whether words or images, if I see it and it touches that place where things are born: I must capture it. I took some photos and then Emily went in and scooped up some holy dirt and put it on Ronan’s sweaty head and his little feet where she had painted his toenails a gold glittery color. I went in and did the same. I also took a little baggy of it and put it in my bag for my sister or anyone else who needed holy dirt. Who knows, maybe I needed it?

We went into the Vigil Shop where they sold popsicles and chile and souvenirs. (They even ship chile! the sign out front boasted.)

We agreed, as we stood under a tree for a moment of relief from the sun, that the land felt different here. I felt much like I do in Ojai, California, where I lead many of my yoga retreats. More connected to the land, more inspired and awake, like there was a current running through me that had been asleep for a while but upon stepping in holy dirt was reignited. Like I became a person again after a longtime of forgetting. Chimayo felt sacred in the way that The Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris did in July, when I went to see where Jim Morrison was buried, not because I wanted to but because I was dragged. I went with my childhood babysitter who I had been reunited with after her only son was killed in a drunk driving accident at age 19 last August. It was her greatest wish to see Jim Morrison’s grave. I was annoyed at having to go especially because it was half-raining and I was sick and we got lost, but once we got there it was like nothing else. All the tombs like little houses, each different from the next in the most small beautiful ways. I wanted to lie down on them and see what it felt like, not in morbid way, but rather to be connected to such beauty. Rarely has I seen such beauty associated with death. I felt like that in Chimayo. Far from Paris and Jim Morrison’s grave and Ojai but with the vast knowledge that the holy dirt was the same, that if I tasted it in Paris or California, or if I kneeled down in that little room there today in Chimayo that it would all taste the same. That I would be healed or I wouldn’t but it would be the same. That I wasn’t really so far from beauty, wherever I was in the world at any given moment.

We carried on to Taos and I remembered the first time I had been there. Driving across country with my mother, sister and my best friend at the time. I remember eating tuna fish from a can in the back seat and alternating drivers. I remember the colors in New Mexico being so different from what I knew, both growing up both in New Jersey and California. Today in Taos I had a flood of memories, which is good because I am writing a book, but I kept having to shake them off to be present for Ronan. What if this the the last time I see him? 

Emily says maybe it will be. Maybe not. No expectations is what she is working on. No expectations of what his death will be like, whether or not she should travel to Germany for a week in October (because it could as easily happen while she is teaching or at the store), no expectations of what life will be like after.

As we sat in the chapel Emily told me of the pilgrimage people make to come to Chimayo, the last mile or two on their hands and knees so they arrived bloody to the church for their penance. I was in disbelief that people still did this sort of thing but also in awe at the sheer will and belief in what was possible, in miracles and magic and holy dirt.

There were children’s shoes and booties everywhere, left as offerings, which made me feel sad as I sat there with Ronan because he would never wear shoes to walk or run or to look cool for a girl on a first date.

He would never walk or crawl on his hands and knees to make a pilgrimage.

That’s when I decided that I would make one for him. That actually that is what we were doing today out there in the hot New Mexican sun as we walked on bridges and stood in churches and sat in cars.

That here we were eating holy dirt and driving through The Rio Grande Gorge as we listened to bad music through an iPad. That we sang it out loud badly, and it was all for him. It was all so we could keep giving him these particular pieces of ourselves, these grains of holy dirt to take with him wherever it was he was going.

 

Guest Posts, Little Seal

Closing the Exit Door. Guest Post by Emily Rapp.

November 20, 2011
The following guest post is by my favorite writer and dear friend, Emily Rapp. Many of you know her already because I talk about her endlessly. Some of you may even follow her own blog Little Seal.  Emily is a great source of inspiration and love for me. I urge you to take the time and read her words. Also, my Manifestation t-shirts are an effort to raise money for Tay Sachs, as well as Prader Willi Research. It is my greatest honor to introduce you, Dear Manifesters, to the brilliant and gorgeous Emily Rapp.

Closing the Exit Door by Emily Rapp

When I first learned that my son, Ronan, would die before he turned four years old of a rare, progressive neurological disease called Tay-Sachs, I felt too sad to live. I thought I cannot stay awake.

I thought I want to die.

All of the self-destructive coping mechanisms I had relied on in the past – binge drinking, starving, extreme exercise, overworking, impulse shopping – were no longer any use to me. There was no place to go where I did not feel pain. There was no method of transformation available to me, which is another way of saying that there was no exit door. For several months grief became my life, and for the rest of my life grief will be a major player in it.

How do people survive a world when every step forward feels like dropping through a trap door? Some people don’t.

In 1944 my grandfather, a man from whom I inherited my red hair and many other traits (I’m told), shot himself with a rifle in a hot barn. Nobody knows the full story; nobody knows why. Was it depression, addiction, or a combination of these? Did the same fate await me, the recipient of at least some of his genetics? He was a unique man in a unique position in a unique period of time: an Irish Catholic father of two who, if he had asked for help for his depression or addiction or other problem, would have had limited resources. Depending on what he needed he may have been judged harshly by his conservative rural community, maybe even been outcast. The fact that my grandfather took his life makes me much more likely (if you believe in statistics) to do the same. I understood this in the first thunderous days after Ronan’s diagnosis, and I was afraid.

I understood the deepest shadow side of myself.

But when I looked at my fear straight on, a strategy I learned, in part, from yoga, I found something I hadn’t expected – not an exit, but an entrance.

When I looked into the fire of my grief and despair, and then sat down in it, then got familiar with it (tasting, touching, breathing, smelling, eating it) I found a new coping mechanism – my vocation as a writer – to be the only one that offered any assistance, any help at all. I couldn’t have been more surprised. Up to that point, most of my life as a writer consisted of procrastination, spurts of inspiration, cross country trips to residencies where I spent the bulk of my time “getting settled in my new environment,” racing to meet deadlines, and hours and hours logged at coffee shops in Austin, Texas and Provincetown, Massachusetts, and then West L.A., staring at a painfully white screen and longing to write while simultaneously wishing I’d already written whatever it is I was attempting to write. Not anymore. Writing became (and perhaps it always was) a compulsion, a necessary ritual fueled by a desire as strong as wanting that next drink, that next award, that next expensive sweater, that next (and even lower) number on the bathroom scale, only instead of tearing my world down to its most destructive components, it made my world huge, massive, much bigger than I ever thought it could be. I wrote a book about my son to keep me in the world, and I’m still doing it. Writing closed that particular exit door. It kept me in the room of my life.

I try to imagine myself, years from now, without my son, and I try to envision what I want that life to look like: chaotic, filled with dogs and children and books and good food and cheap wine and brilliant friends and travel and hours of contemplative thinking time. Space. Room. Joy. Light. A life of the mind; a state of the heart.

Some may believe this is heartless or cruel, to fast-forward to my life without Ronan, to try and manifest a vision of this happiness, but without this future-directed act of manifestation, an activity I’ve learned much about from Jen’s yoga classes and from her presence in my life, I couldn’t imagine and I couldn’t write, and if I couldn’t write I couldn’t live. Without the hint of this promise, we look to our lives and see only ways out, doors to the outside, an overabundance of possible exits.

Yoga teaches us that we are both limited and enhanced by our desires, and the energy behind them can serve you – through breath, meditation, mindfulness. Sitting in a room with other people, moving and making shapes with the body is a kind of magic, but it’s also a kind of meditation, manifestation, a kind of necessary work that can last throughout your life and also help you live it.

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I hope you will all consider buying a t-shirt or spreading the word about them in an effort to raise money for research and to help with any costs Ronan many need.

Order one here. http://www.jenniferpastiloff.com/PayPal.html

Manifesting Your Life,

One Laugh at a Time,

Jen (JenPastiloff on Twitter)

Little Seal, There Are No Words To Describe This

That Which Brings Me To You. By Jen Pastiloff.

October 6, 2011

This is an older piece I wrote almost 3 years ago. Ronan passed away peacefully on Thursday, Feb. 15th at about 3:30 am in Santa Fe. He was surrounded by friends and family. 

October 6, 2011. Which Brings Me To You.

That which brings me to you. Here I am in Santa Fe, sitting on a love seat. Next to me, a sweet baby is propped up on pillows as I write, drool sliding down his chin, eyelids heavy and soft, purring like a cat every so often. A sweet dying baby.

Which brings me to you. It caught my eye, that book on the shelf in the office converted into bedroom, equipped with an air mattress for me on the floor.

Tay Sachs is that which brings me to you.  A dying baby is that which brings me to you, Santa Fe.

Ronan with his mom’s book Poster Child across his chest

It is cold here. Colder than I expected. There is an energetic shift in my bones that I recall from many autumns in New Jersey and New York. As if the person within the person of me comes out and takes over during this time. The person wears my clothes and looks like me. She is a more somber and introspective, melancholy. The light patterns change, the air demands attention and the sky meets you at the front door as you open it for a moment of season. They get season here, whereas L.A. lacks that. I appreciate the season as it demarcates the eras of my life. Without them, my life becomes one long weekend. Such is life in L.A.

The season here, however, is the same it has been since Ronan’s diagnosis.  I can tell the weather in their little adobe house has been winter dark for the last 9 months. December dark. Losing light at 4:30 pm and dead trees kind of dark.

Ronan is peaceful. He doesn’t know what is happening to him. It is hard for me to conceptualize that soon, could be months, could be a year or more, he won’t be anymore.

Right now he sits next to me in a plaid shirt, sitting in what looks like a lotus position, and just is.

I sound like such a yoga teacher when I say that. He just is. He doesn’t fuss except when he is very tired or his head flops over to one side, which it does quite often. His presence is comforting, the knowing he is sitting there next to me, like a fat baby Buddha making little hiccuppy noises every few minutes. He’s here now. In time, a short time, he won’t be. The mathematics of this equation refuses to register in my head. He’s here now and everything feels good on this brown couch. The rise and fall of his chest is a reminder of what is constant in the world, of kisses and baby things and deep full breaths of mountain air after you’ve been trapped in a dirty city way too long. He is so peaceful it is hard to imagine that with his death will come such an uprising, such pain, such a loss, that the word peace will have long left the English vocabulary.

The word ‘peace’ will be come extinct along with ‘fairness’.

It is colder than I imagined here. We went out to breakfast today with Ronan to Mavens. Emily, with her one leg, was one of the most dedicated yogis (and spin class addicts) I had ever met, and right away I knew I would be her friend. It was fast like that. Love at first sight, if you will.

At Mavens, I had a traditional Mexican breakfast of sorts and while Emily went to the restroom I snapped 15 pictures of Ronan with my iPhone. I pretend that if I take a lot of pictures and write about him enough that he won’t ever stop existing. A friend of mine emailed me yesterday and told me to “steal away a little of their pain.”

I wish I could.

Ronan gets startled easily. I crack my knuckles, a nasty non-yogic habit. A dirty disgusting habit I acquired at eight years old  when my dad died, in an effort to be like him. I crack my knuckles and Ronan startles. He may be dying but his intuition is still spot on. He cries when he is tired or hungry or annoyed or I crack my knuckles. I should stop doing it in honor of him.

His face is stunningly beautiful. So much so, that yesterday at a coffee shop in Santa Fe with Emily, I told her that maybe he was an angel. Corny, I know. The face of an angel  stares back at you when you look at this baby. No judgement, no fear, no lines of pain and a life lived, just beauty and quiet contentment.

We went into town while he was napping and looked at the chile shops and turquoise. I bought chile fudge and a watermelon juice and some dragon leggings. They have literal dragons breathing fire on them. It felt apropos.

Nothing makes sense so why shouldn’t I buy dragon tights and a watermelon juice on a freezing day?

I used to think perfect didn’t exist. Not the word, not even the idea of something so without faults that there was no room for growth or improvement. It does exist. He is sitting next to me. Whining just a little, so I know he is here. He won’t improve or grow. This moment is who he will be forever in my mind. He is perfect.

I felt embarrassed after my meltdown at the airport when they wouldn’t let me on my flight. I had thrown a fit. I went into a rage. Now as I sit here on this cold Santa Fe day, as Emily is teaching her university freshman writing class, I realize that I was right to fly into a rage. I get to have this moment on this couch, in this room, all by myself with a perfect purring baby. I was robbed many moments when I was rerouted to Dallas. I want those moments back.

Emily and Rick’s whole life is going to be filled with wanting those moments back. With wishing to never have gotten rerouted. I know I threw into that rage for them. I was indeed trying to take just a little of their pain away.

I sit here with Ronan as he snores lightly. It is a calming sound, one I could listen to forever, knowing Ronan was right here.

Rick comes and takes him to feed him his lunch. Ronan smiles slightly, but it’s there. A smile. He is still here. He can purr and cry and smile every so often. The science fiction like reality of what is happening to him is still far enough way, locked outside in the October New Mexico sky, pummeled to smithereens by his ability to still smile at his daddy.

That which brings me to you is death, yes.

But that which brings me to you is also your life, sweet Ronan. It is your presence in the world, which right now, at this moment, is as spectacular as a million meteor showers as you lie on your back outside and watch the night explode into light.

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Ronan passed away peacefully on Thursday, Feb. 15th at about 3:30 am in Santa Fe. He was surrounded by friends and family. In March of 2014, Emily and soon-to-be husband Kent Black welcomed Charlotte Mabel Eliot Black into the world.

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