Browsing Tag

Bernadette Murphy

Guest Posts, parenting

The Last First Day

September 13, 2016

By Bernadette Murphy

The alarm goes off at 6 am.  It’s a sweltering Monday in August, the first day back to school for my daughter, Hope, and the last time I’ll ever oversee this annual routine.  Hope will start her senior year of high school today.  This time next year we’ll be leaving her at a dorm on a university campus yet to be determined.

For the past 21 years, I have been overseeing these back-to-school mornings, taking pictures of my three kids as they hoist on new backpacks filled with freshly sharped pencils that smell like sawdust, packed alongside clean binders and pristine notebooks, as they lace overly bright fresh-out-of-the-box tennis shoes, adjust new school uniforms and comb fresh haircuts.  My oldest, Jarrod, finished his Bachelor’s degree a year ago and is now in his first real job.  My middle son Neil is about to start his junior year in college and has been living away from home since we dropped him at his dorm three years ago.   And now, Hope’s a senior.

My job as a mother – a job that has consumed and thrilled and exhausted and tried and awed me for more than 23 years — is coming to an end. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, healing

This Is Your Brain on Knitting.

February 6, 2016

By Bernadette Murphy 

The New York Times recently focused on all the ways handcrafts like knitting and crocheting offer health benefits – from reduction in daily stress and to giving knitters a sense of purpose, to weight control, and even staving off a decline in brain function as we age.

Many have speculated that knitting itself constitutes a genuine meditative practice, something I was curious to explore. In the more traditional forms of meditation, those typically associated with Eastern religions, meditation is defined as a state of “bare attention.” As Ron Nairn puts it in What Is Meditation? meditation is “a highly alert and skillful state of mind because it requires one to remain psychologically present and ‘with’ whatever is happening in and around one without adding to or subtracting from it in any way.”

According to Psychology Today, the physical act of meditation can consist of sitting quietly and focusing on your breath, a word, or a phrase; the meditator may also be walking or standing.

The image we all carry of a person tied into lotus-position knots, sitting in a candlelit, incense-choked room, hands held upward, saying “ohm” in a low, sonorous voice may be a limited construct. There are countless ways, it seems, to practice meditation.

Researchers agree that the practice of meditation has untold health benefits–improvements that can be gleaned from as little as ten minutes of meditation (or knitting) on a regular basis. These benefits include increased alpha waves (the relaxed brain waves) and decreased anxiety and depression. Researchers at Harvard Medical School used MRI technology to monitor participants’ brain activity and learned that meditation activates the portion of the brain responsible for the autonomic nervous system (the regulator of bodily functions outside our conscious control) including digestion and blood pressure “These are also the functions that are often compromised by stress,” Cary Barbor reported in Psychology Today. “It makes sense, then, that modulating these functions would help to ward off stress-related conditions such as heart disease, digestive problems, and infertility.” Continue Reading…

Binders, Grief, Guest Posts

Of A Piece: The Days After 9-11

September 11, 2015

By Bernadette Murphy

It’s two days after the World Trade Center collapse and I am unable to function. I watched yesterday, with my kids as they hoisted on their backpacks ready for the school day to begin, scenes of destruction that I am still unable to fathom; it will be months if not years, I fear, before the scope of what’s happened can penetrate my mind. As the second tower imploded, live in Technicolor on our screen, my six-year-old daughter, Hope, ran to her bedroom to get her ceramic angel. The angel, which had been a baby shower gift when I was expecting her birth, used to be a nightlight, but Hope’s since removed the inner working and keeps the ceramic angel as a playmate. She came back to the television set just as CNN showed the first of countless repeats of the horrific scene. Hope held her angel to the television screen so that the angel could see the destruction, confident in the belief that the angel would be there with the wounded and dying. This image continues to haunt me; I wish I could believe today as simply as Hope believes.

Later, I tell my friend Marjorie about Hope’s actions. I e-mailed her because I’m as yet unable to talk with people about these happenings. Marjorie’s older brother has been fighting the fires at the Pentagon, the very place where her father, as a military physician, had worked until recently. Marjorie grew up an army brat on bases around the world; she’s also Arab- American.

“Hope was well named,” Marjorie e-mailed back, telling me she’s as stunned and incapable of normal action as I am.

I’ve been watching the news nearly nonstop since the attacks. When I get sick of seeing the same scenes before my eyes, I switch off the TV long enough to read every word of coverage from the Los Angeles Times. I can think of nothing else. It’s a huge relief when the school day comes to an end and I’m forced to turn off the television and function as a mother, if only at 10 percent capacity.

As a freelance writer working for myself, I have no clocks to punch, no bosses to appease; if I wish to spend my entire day in the pain and sadness of this tragedy, I can do so. In some ways, I think of this as a blessing. It seems vitally important to me, somehow, to be a witness to these events. To not brush them off and get back to normal as soon as possible, but to feel as deeply as I must the heartbreak and incredible grief that swamp me. While everyone talks of retaliation and patriotism, buying flags and making God Bless America signs, I can do nothing more than feel the huge, overwhelming pain of these events.

I don’t want to talk about why someone would do such a thing. I don’t want to analyze what America’s response should be or how our world is forever changed. To do any of those things requires an ability to intellectualize something I haven’t even begun to process emotionally. Some might accuse me of morbidity, but it seems important to be present with this destruction, to feel it deeply and honestly, to recognize how badly this hurts. Only when I can fully embrace my own sense of woundedness will there be any hope of determining how to move forward.
By the second half of the second day, I can do one thing other than watch the news and read the papers. I can knit. It seems stupid to think of this craft as anything important in the light of what has occurred, but still I do. I need to center myself again. It’s not fear I’m battling, though knitting is a good antidote to fear, but deep, abiding sadness, irreconcilable loss, the sense of things being torn asunder. A good friend of mine who’s a native of Manhattan (but now an avowed Angeleno) is grieving as well. We both agree that instead of waving flags, what we feel like doing is following the Jewish rite of mourning, which involves wearing a piece of black fabric pinned to one’s garment, fabric that’s been rent to show the irretrievable nature of loss. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Inspiration, motherhood

Knitting A Soul

August 12, 2015

By Bernadette Murphy

My twelve-year-old son, Jarrod, plays trumpet in a jazz group, and I’m usually the one to take him to the rehearsals in downtown Los Angeles. Often, I bring a knitting project to work on during the two or three hours he’s behind closed doors. A few other parents wait with me, though most drop their children and return later. The kids work with their jazz teacher in an almost completely soundproof room. When a piece they’re practicing becomes particularly loud, the slightest vibrations and melody slip through the soundproofing like smoke signals to let us know something wonderful is occurring in that little room. Hearing those sounds, I sneak up to the small five-by-ten-inch window and peer in.

I’m not the only one. Passersby, parents, people waiting for their dance classes to start: we all take turns jostling to watch preteen kids blow inspired, improvised jazz and blues. There’s something irresistible about watching people do something they love.

The rehearsals take place in a gorgeous performing arts school situated next to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), a stone’s throw from the Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and in the shadow of the amazing Disney Concert Hall, standing at astounding angles, huge sails of metal and concrete reminding Angelenos of imagination’s incredible power. The school is located in an area that’s both highly cultured and adjacent to great poverty; skid row is a few blocks away. It’s a place where art, music, and dance–self-expression of all forms–are actively encouraged and yet the implicit risk in such self-expression is tangibly present. The unspoken fear, at least among the adults, seems to be: If I give myself so fully to something I love, will I end up like that street-corner poet I passed while looking for a parking space? The woman was screeching her words at approaching vehicles, trying to call attention to her beliefs and experiences, only to be drowned out by the forward-marching parade of society. Or what about the homeless man outside MOCA, strumming his guitar, happy in his music yet oblivious to the rest of the world: Will I become like him?

One of the biggest dangers of giving in to art is that our values might change—or return to an earlier, simpler form. The perfect house, the right furniture, the great job, the designer clothes: Maybe those things don’t represent our hearts’ desires the way we thought. Maybe we’ll learn something about ourselves that we didn’t particularly want to know. Or maybe people will laugh at us. Maybe we won’t appear the way we’d like to.

Worse yet: Maybe we won’t be any good at what we love. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts

Eight Days in Paradise. By Bernadette Murphy.

April 25, 2014

Eight Days in Paradise. By Bernadette Murphy.

The air temperature on the island of Mo’orea in French Polynesia is 84 degrees right at this very moment. There’s a slight breeze blowing. The water, not a 30-second stroll from where I sit overlooking it, is 80 degrees, the most sparkling, crystalline turquoise I have ever seen, visibility measured in the tens of meters. I watch paddlers glide by in outrigger canoes. The occasional sailboat crosses the lagoon. Palm trees ripple in the wind. A flying fish breaks the placid surface. The day is nearly silent. A coconut bobs on the water.

Be. Here. Now.

I look at my feet – where am I on this planet? – and repeat those three mantra-like words. Because if I don’t, I will ruin the eight days I have left here in paradise, thinking about, wishing for, waiting for what has not yet, and may not ever, come to pass.

I have been living here for nearly three months, on sabbatical from my university teaching job. I’m here to write a book, to SCUBA dive and snorkel endangered coral reefs, get the closest approximation of a suntan I’m ever likely to experience, swim in the picturesque Cook’s Bay, visit sparsely populated atolls, wear a pareo around my hips and a flower in my hair, drink mango juice and eat papayas from the tree outside my bedroom. I have enjoyed my time here to the very core of the experience. It’s the first time in nearly 30 years I’ve been away from the pressures of daily life like this. I’m relishing everything I do.

Yet I want to go home.

And I want to hit myself upside the head for even having that desire.

When I return to my one-room above-a-garage studio apartment in Los Angeles next week, I will be go back to regular working hours, resume paying rent and commuting through traffic, have to schedule a dental appointment for what I fear is a needed crown, be required to deal with the sticky details of a nearly finished divorce and the sale of what had been our family home, issues I’ve avoided by my absence. Who wants to go back to that?

So why then am I counting down the days until I climb aboard a jumbo airliner and fly across the Pacific Ocean? I’m leaving, on a jet plane. Don’t know when I’ll be back again.

What’s next? That seems to be the question I’ve been asking my entire life, unable, unwilling to stay with what is, expecting whatever’s next to be better somehow than what’s happening now. The grass is always greener. Except that it isn’t. And I’m old enough to know better.

I remember being pregnant with my daughter, our third child (now 19) and the antsy-ness I felt at the end of the pregnancy. Can’t we just get this over with already? Can’t we move on to what’s next: to meeting this child and starting a relationship with her? There are times now when I wish I could go back there, to the impatient, tetchy woman I had been and sit with her, experience fully the last time she’d ever feel a child move within her. Or the last time she’d nurse a child. Or the last time the family she’d created would all live together under the same roof. But she can’t.

I can’t. I wished every one of those moments away, looking for what was next, and they are gone forever.

So why do I want to leave so badly now?

Part of the problem is a man.

I made a terrible error a little over a month ago. In doing research for the book I’m writing and looking into personality types, I happened upon a dating website whose concept of personality typology appealed in a vague way. In the year and a half I’ve been single, I’ve set up countless online dating profiles only to pull them down the moment emails started coming in. I couldn’t respond to a single one; they simply freaked me out too much. So, I figured, I could explore this online dating world from the distance of some 4,000 miles and then nothing much would be at stake. I could flirt like crazy – or more accurately, start to develop some flirting muscle after 25 year’s atrophy– and not have to meet anyone! It was the perfect training-wheels situation.

Except that I met someone. Only we haven’t met.

He suggested we become “pen pals” since I’d be out of the country for the next six weeks. I said yes. We’ve been writing and texting and emailing, sending photos, talking via the smartphone app Viber, exploring every form of long-distance communication possible. There’s something about the anonymity of the Internet that allows for a deeper intimacy to develop. But is it a false intimacy? Is this sense of connection real or only digitally enhanced? If he wasn’t so far away, perhaps I would not have been so forthcoming. If I wasn’t so out of my element, maybe I would not have wanted connection so much?

But here I am, having this exchange and enjoying the daylights out of myself. Our discussions are wide-ranging and interesting. He’s smart and charming and funny. And I want to meet him, which will require ending my paradise hiatus and the wholesale destruction of this innocent just-getting-to-know-you phase. And, who knows? In so doing, I may blow this whole fantasy of deep relationship potential right out of the water.

How mad I will be at myself if I return home to find out this vacation romance isn’t much of anything and that I squandered my last few days in paradise thinking about something that was only a flimsy form of cotton candy, an illusion! And yet, from this perspective, 4,000 miles away, it’s all so alluring. So tempting. So reach-out-and-touch-it real.

Be. Here. Now.

I know the truth: if it wasn’t for this romantic appeal, I would have found something else, some other “next” to draw me away from what’s here and now. I have always been a hopeless optimist, so sure that whatever’s coming is going to be better than what’s happening now. But it isn’t. Not always. Sometimes it’s mind-blowingly wonderful. Other times, tragic. But either way, things change. What was great at first becomes less great over time. What was skull-crushingly painful eventually heals. Nothing holds still. There will never be a day in my life in which every detail lines up in perfect harmony and then I can capture that scene and press it in a book for posterity. Or freeze it under amber. Life doesn’t work that way.

Besides, thinking about home is another way to distract myself from the pain of being awake. Being fully present, even in paradise, is not always pleasant or easy. The three months I’ve been away from my daily life have given me time to put things into perspective, to come to see who I am as a human in this world rather than the wife and mother I’ve been for the past 26 years. I have cried a lagoon worth of tears over the end of my marriage and how I should have known better, intervened sooner, been smarter, sexier, somehow changed the course of events. I have also missed my three grown children in a way that hurts when I breathe and that will be, I must remind myself, the new normal. I have struggled and failed to write the draft of this book I was so cocky I would nail when I got on that plane 90 days ago heading to the South Pacific, the very one I’m waiting to whisk me back home.

Be. Here. Now.

I have few plans for the next eight days. Some writing. An afternoon swim. A walk or two. Everything seems to be winding down and that’s the hardest time for me. I’m good at the planning stage, the “kids: let’s put on a show!” stage. I’m not so good at the seeing it through part. But that’s what I’m hoping to do now. To feel the water as it’s on my skin, smell the fruity air near the pineapple plantation, enjoy the warmth of the breeze and try not to wish I were somewhere else. Because we all know the truth: the moment I get home, I’ll start wishing I was back here again.

So I keep reminding myself of today’s reality. The air temperature on the island of Mo’orea in French Polynesia is 84 degrees right at this very moment. There’s a slight breeze blowing. The water is 80 degrees…

Be. Here. Now.

Bernadette Murphy-1 copy 2

Bernadette Murphy is currently writing “Look, Lean, Roll,”a book about women, motorcycles and risk taking, Bernadette Murphy has published three books of narrative nonfiction (including the bestselling “Zen and the Art of Knitting”) and teaches creative writing at the Antioch University Los Angeles MFA program.


Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, Salon, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, among others. She’s the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen’s leading a weekend retreat over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing for all levels. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site for all retreat listings and workshops. Next up is Seattle and London July 6.

Guest Posts

Tashlich. By Bernadette Murphy.

February 27, 2014

By Bernadette Murphy

Tashlich (תשליך) is a ritual that many Jews observe during Rosh Hashanah. “Tashlich” means “casting off” in Hebrew and involves symbolically casting off the sins of the previous year by tossing pieces of bread or another food into a body of flowing water. Just as the water carries away the bits of bread, so too are sins symbolically carried away. In this way the participant hopes to start the New Year with a clean slate.

This past fall I spent Rosh Hashanah weekend with a group of women in a rented house in Ventura, California, a beach town perched between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.  The plan was to have a simple Rosh Hashanah dinner together on Sunday night and then half our group would commute back to LA to attend services in the city and the other half – including me – would take a high-speed catamaran to Santa Cruz Island (one of the amazing Channel Islands dotting the coast) for a day of hiking and open-water kayaking, a way of communing with God through nature and starting the Jewish New Year.

This was one of the first outings I’d made since telling my husband of 25 years that I no longer wanted to be married.  Though John and I were still living in the same house, trying to make it to the time when our youngest of three children would graduate high school some eight months hence, things were tense.  When he’d dropped me and my friend Rose at the train station that morning and learned from Rose when I was off buying tickets that our plans included open-water kayaking– something we as a couple had long wanted to do but, like so many things in our marriage, had never occurred  – he left my bags at the station and took off in a huff, not bothering to say goodbye.

I am not Jewish, but I joined in the ritual meal that night with delight, asking questions about the food, the holiday of the New Year, the coming of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) and its rituals, asking why Jewish holidays always start at sundown when, as Catholics, we always started our holy days with the new day.  When this sundown rationale was explained to me, I glommed on.  I loved the idea of walking through the darkness of night, waiting for the light of the holiday to bring illumination and clear-seeing into my life.  That felt very much like the journey I was on – one of darkness and bumping around, feeling my way, stumbling, stubbing toes, afraid and trembling, waiting for a new day to dawn.

That night, Michelle, one of the women who’d organized the weekend, explained to me Tashlich, a ritual performed on Rosh Hashanah in which participants gather up leftover Challah from the meal and carry it to a place of running water – a stream, the ocean — and then cast this bread upon the waters, letting go of all the sins of the past year. The group wasn’t planning to undertake this particular ritual that night, but for me, it hit a spark.

Though I’d been no more sinful than usual in the preceding 12 months, I felt a deep need for forgiveness and asked the ladies if they’d join me in performing Tashlich.  We took flashlights to the darkened beach a block from the house, felt the sand that had been hot enough to burn our feet only a few hours earlier now cool and damp between our toes.  The moon was almost nonexistent and the ocean’s waves made a scrim of lace barely discernable in the flashlight’s dim glow.

I meandered away from the group and felt the bread, sticking together in my hand.  Reared in a devout Irish-Catholic home, I remembered making communion wafers out of Wonder Bread, its texture perfect  — soft, white, pliable – to form little body-of-Christ discs.  This Challah bread, though, felt different, with more edges and crust, sharp bits that bit into my palm like the pieces of glass that felt lodged in my lungs whenever I thought about leaving my marriage.  I tore the bread into little pieces, lots and lots of pieces for all the things I needed to let go.

First off, being a devoted wife.  I tossed a piece into the ocean, repentant. I had spent 25 years as loyal as I possibly could be, faithful, giving my heart and soul to my family only to find myself profoundly alone at the end of each day.  That hadn’t always been the case, but for the past decade or so, I could no longer ignore the low-grade ache of loneliness within the façade of couple-hood that never left, like a headache that eases on occasion but never departs.  I had wanted to be a good wife and had done all I was capable of doing in that way, seeking individual therapy for myself, working on my own issues, asking John to sign us up for couples therapy.  But after all that work, I found myself unable to be the kind of fully present wife I wanted to be.  To stay in the marriage and fake that devotion was to do us both a grave disservice. But I mourned the wife I had set out to be the day I made my marriage vows.

I tossed another piece of bread into the ocean – my desire to be a perfect mother.  Together, John and I raised three wonderful young people.  The work we did together as co-parents is a testament to our love of them and our desire to be the best parents we could be, a desire that I must admit trumped our need to be good spouses to each other.  Whenever I feel sad about the demise of our marriage, I remember the kids that are the product of it and I can’t stay in the sadness too long.  While we were unable to help each other in the way that I think the best couples are able to, to love and support each other as unique individuals, we had been fabulous parents together.  And maybe that’s why our marriage paid a price – always so focused on the kids.  But now that I was planning to leave, I knew I would have to give up the mantle of the good mother.  A good mother doesn’t leave her children’s father.  A good mother keeps the family together at any cost, is the glue that binds it all together.  My glue had long ago lost its stickiness.  And I had allowed it to.

I threw in bread for the marriage I thought I had been building all those years, for the household we’d created, for the house we’d lost to foreclosure 12 years earlier and the new house we’d managed to buy just a year-and-a-half ago.  I threw in a piece of bread for the many hardships we’d weathered together:  John’s near-death from a pulmonary embolism, our second son’s near-drowning at age three, that same son’s diagnosis with a severe anxiety disorder in high school, the death of John’s mother, the passing of my father.  We’d been able to weather those hardships as a couple – difficulties that might have ended the marriage long before this point — but rather than strengthening the bond, at some point, the troubles started piling on top of each other, saddling our relationship with a burden we couldn’t quite escape.  My sin, I suppose, was in letting it happen, in not speaking up sooner, in not knowing how to correct this trajectory.

I threw in bread for the young woman I’d been when I’d paired up with John –  22, wide-eyed, looking for security at any cost – and another piece for the older, wiser and more flinty woman I’ve since become, now staring down the barrel of 50.  Bread tossed away, like the hours of our lives, like the dreams and hopes we must relinquish in order for other, new ones to arrive. I emptied my hands of the Challah, letting go of all I knew.  My tears mixed with the salty brine licking at my feet.

A week and a half later, as Yom Kippur approached, I figured that since Rosh Hashanah had been so spiritually helpful, I’d observe that atonement holy day as well. I found it odd that Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, preceded the Day of Atonement, that the sweetness of the New Year came first, apples dipped in honey, when the fasting had yet to begin.  But maybe that’s human nature: we need a taste of the sweetness to lure us into doing the hard work.  I went to Catholic Mass in the morning on Yom Kippur – I know, an odd way to celebrate a Jewish holiday, but there you have it – and prayed my heart out. One of the things I’d learned about the Day of Atonement is that it’s a time to ask to be released from any contracts we were unable to keep in the past year.  And that’s what I prayed for: I acknowledged that I had entered into this marriage contract willingly and had said those words – till death to us part – of my own volition.  But I could see now how unable I was to understand their meaning when I said them.  I was, at the time, a woman with great emotional wounds.  The daughter of an alcoholic/mentally ill mother, I was an untreated alcoholic myself seeking in a desperate way a man who would keep me from going crazy as she had, and perhaps get me to tone down the drinking.  Now, with 23 years of sobriety behind me and the clear vision that comes with it, I see that I was incapable of making those vows that day in any real way, too desperate for someone to save me from myself.  I admitted this to God, kneeling at Holy Redeemer Church on Yom Kippur, asking divine forgiveness and love, requesting that I finally be released from those vows.  I didn’t hear any angels singing God’s acceptance of my request, nor did the heavens part and a dove descend.  Tears flowed, snot ran, sniffles ensued.  After I’d destroyed what seemed an entire boxful of tissues, I was cried out and left the church, my heart half a gram lighter.

Yom Kippur is a day of fasting, and as a Catholic, I’d always been a terrible faster, cheating every time I’d been given the chance, claiming hypoglycemia or whatever excuse I might dig up to support the fact that being hungry made me irritable, anxious and scared.  But this day felt epic.  I needed to atone for my part in the end of this marriage.  And so I fasted.  Oddly, it was not nearly the ordeal I’d feared and that told me something crucial.  The things I fear and run from are the very things, that when I sit down calmly and face them, are not nearly the boogiemen I’d anticipated.  Yes, there was a mild headache as the day wore on, yes, my stomach growled and I felt a bit weakened, but the hours passed.  I felt as if I were doing my part and that was reward in itself.

I broke the fast with the same ladies who had been with me in Ventura, the taste of food heavenly after a day of want, the flavors made richer by simple hunger.

A few weeks later, I moved out of the family house into a one-room guesthouse with a Murphy bed, a tiny kitchenette, and gorgeous west-facing windows that paint the wooden floors golden in the afternoon light.  I’d found out that once you speak the words “I’m done,” it’s nearly impossible to stay.  And more importantly, having undertaken these rituals with my Jewish friends, I’d felt strengthened and ready.  A person can only do what a person can do; I’d done all I could to make the relationship viable.  When I could not resurrect it, I’d had to acknowledge my limitations and make a choice.  Did I want to remain in a secure place, or was I ready to grow?

I’m grateful that I didn’t realize, before leaving, how amazingly painful and grief-stricken this transition would be.  I had foolishly thought that since I’d enacted these rituals and had undertaken boatloads of therapy and worked for discernment, that would be that.  I would walk away with a clear conscience and need not dwell on the past nor on what might have been.  But leaving children behind is never easy, even mostly grown children.  I feared abandoning them as my mother had abandoned my siblings and me.  And the grief?  I couldn’t have guessed there’d be so damn many layers of it.

My heart on many days feels like it is made of Jell-O, warm and creepy Jell-O that leaks all over me, staining my hands that indelible artificial red as I try to force it back into the shape of a heart, leaving a film of stickiness everywhere, a layer I cannot fully wash away.

Yet, now ensconced in my new place, a gift I can never repay, I enact new rituals.  I light candles and meditate and allow myself to feel as deeply as I can, to breathe into my heart the pain of this transformation, and to feel at that moment a sense of communion with all the other souls undergoing similar transitions.  I walk to the grocery store and buy only that which I can carry home, a reminder that I’m on my own now and need care for myself first and foremost. Give us this day our daily bread.  I cook in much smaller quantities – dinner for one – and am learning to find joy in doing so.  I live a block from my daughter’s high school and I lure her into joining me for homework or dinner or a sleep-over at least once a week; I drive to the family home to help her with college applications.  I’m learning how to be an active mother even when not sharing living quarters with my children.  And I ache in a new way – not the old familiar ache of loneliness within a coupled façade, but the bone-annihilating ache of reconstruction.  I remember reading about caterpillars turning into butterflies.  It’s not like the caterpillar gives up one leg – I can manage without this one leg this week – in exchange for, say, a wing, allowing transformation to happen little by little, piece by piece, exchanging one existence for another.  No.  The caterpillar basically becomes mush, he ceases to exist as a caterpillar for the time of transformation and becomes a pile of juice, a clump of nothing more than wet potential for as long as it takes to reform as a butterfly.  I’m in that mush state now.  Neither wife nor single. Neither fulltime mom nor absent mom.  Neither the scared young girl who said “I do” in a church all those years ago, nor the woman who is learning to live fully on her own.  It’s a tender-to-the-bone kind of transformation filled with ragged edges and messiness.  But it’s real and I feel genuine as I walk through it.  I’m grateful for Tashlich, for Rosh Hashanah, for Catholic Mass, for Yom Kippur, for candles and meditation, for my children’s willingness to try to understand my choice even though it hurts them, and for all the rituals – secular, spiritual, and motherhood-related — that are being redesigned to fit this new reality.  These are the elements that are carrying forward through this dark night, the ceremonies and graces that will one day deliver me into a new dawn that hasn’t yet arrived.

Bernadette Murphy-1 copy 2

Bernadette Murphy is currently writing “Look, Lean, Roll,” a book about women, motorcycles and risk taking, Bernadette Murphy has published three books of narrative nonfiction (including the bestselling “Zen and the Art of Knitting”) and teaches creative writing at the Antioch University Los Angeles MFA program.


Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It's magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email with questions or click photo to book.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It’s magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email with questions or click photo to book.