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melissa shattuck

And So It Is, Awe & Wonder

So Much Depends.

August 12, 2013

By Jen Pastiloff

Let’s say it’s like this: He leans over to talk to me. We’re at an airport. Let’s say we are at an overpriced fish place in the Los Angeles International Airport. Flight’s been delayed five hours. Imagine that both of us traveling to the same place: Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He leans over to tell me he’s been married 58 years and that he and his wife normally share dinners and would I like half of his? He lost 4 of his fingers on his right hand 45 years ago on a rotary lawn mower, has an adopted son who is 6 foot 10 and he’s a Christian. He told me to keep talking to God before he passed me half his trout.

He told me he’d “just met so many nice people at the airport.” He’d been there since 6 am. It was now 6 pm. While I was huffing and puffing at all the time wasted he was looking around for the miraculous in the mundane, in the faces of people searching flight status boards or shuffling through security, begrudging the fact that they had to take off their shoes or remove their laptops.

When I told him I was a Jew he grasped his heart as if the fact was astounding enough to actually pain him. One of our neighbors was Jewish and they were just the most wonderful people, he’d said. I laughed (it reminded me of when someone says “I like gay people. I have a friend that’s gay) and told him I wasn’t a practicing Jew. He reminded me that I was one of God’s chosen. I wondered if there were any Jews in South Dakota but didn’t ask him. I knew there was at least one family, his neighbors, The Wonderfuls.

I drank my wine as I watched him carefully cutting his fish and smiling as he scrolled through his cell phone (a Blackberry.)

The man has on this light red raincoat and as my red wine slides down the back of my throat, I think of William Carlos Williams:

so much depends

upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
 chickens.

He leans toward my table. This is a picture of my beautiful wife.

So much depends on how we react to things.

His fingers, for example. How did he react 45 years ago when he was showing his father the newest features on the rotary lawnmower and the blade just sliced his four fingers off like they were irrelevant as dead grass? Nothing more than meat under a glass case at the butcher’s. Hurry, I’m a rush. I’ll take a pound of American and a pound of provolone. Slice it thin, please.  He told me that when he’d lost them he quickly had to learn to laugh about it. I guess I’m going to have to learn to pick my nose with my left hand now.

I didn’t react well to the flight delay. I’d felt entitled and ornery. Ornery is a word that makes me think of old people but my hair is greying (not for much longer, I swear) and I had my glasses on and a face free of any makeup, so I felt like an old person. An ornery old person. Sometimes with my hearing loss, I would mistake horny for ornery. I tend to imagine each word containing parts of the other, like distant relatives.

Doesn’t this airline know how busy I am? Huff. Don’t they know I am trying to write a book proposal? Puff. I made a stink and rolled my eyes and couldn’t believe I had to wait. The flight was meant to leave at 2:40 pm (it didn’t leave until 8:30 pm.) I even thought about going home and canceling my workshop in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

I couldn’t cancel the workshop. People were driving 14 hours from Canada! They were coming from Minnesota! I couldn’t cancel simply because I had to wait a few (okay, 6) hours at the airport. I got my meal voucher from Allegiant Air. (I had also never heard of this airline before this trip. For good reason, apparently.) The meal voucher was for eight dollars which made me chuckle. because really, what can you get for eight dollars besides a half glass of wine or two Snickers bars and a pack of gum? With 8 dollars  (okay $7.69) I bought a New Yorker magazine so I could read the latest by Joyce Carol Oates and a story on the Steubenville rape trial and Twitter. (When did the New Yorker get so pricey?)  I took my eight dollar voucher and with a huge chip on my shoulder, a chip weighing as least as much as a small man, I headed to a restaurant to sit and sulk.

So much depends.

So much depends on where we are. Where we are born. Where we park our asses down to eat a meal. Where we sit to write. Where we lay our head at night. Where we find ourselves on a map changes the course of everything, and whether it’s literal and full of pushpins and highways and mountains, or an emotional one, you better believe that life is an exercise in mapmaking.

I get led to a table for one. There are two men on each side of me, also eating alone. Let’s say I get led to the bar. It then becomes a whole different story. The map is then green instead of red, perhaps.

So much depends on so much.

I was content on being pissed about my wasted time, all the while wasting more time. I got no writing done, no reading done, nothing productive to speak of. So when this older man leans his body towards mine and says something I can’t really make out but which sounds like something to the effect of I’ve been married for 58 years, you know, I smile.

Here, an opportunity for you to connect. Here, someone to talk to. Here, someone offering you his food. Here, some fish.

A red jacket. A red wheelbarrow.

So much depends on where you look.

I loved him immediately. He became my grandfather, my priest/rabbi, my meal ticket, my companion, my cartographer, my reminder to pay attention. He also wore hearing aids (like me! He also became my twin!) He was my fellow conspirator against the hearing world. I heard this story about a man who, after 40 years, finally got a pair of hearing aids, he told me, and ever since he’d had to change his will twice, he laughed. I’d thought he was going to tell me that the man gave the hearing aids back because not hearing had been better.

So much depends.

The fact is, when you can’t hear well you have to pay attention. Closely. You see that lady three tables over licking her fingers and although you can’t hear the slurp, you imagine the suck and the little quack it makes, and the man across from her? You see him eating his chicken sandwich without chewing even though his back is to you. You can tell by the way his jaws move from behind. You can see all this while your ears prick for any sound at all, and, when no sound arrives, your eyes scan the room and notice every painful exchange, every empty gesture, every goddamned chicken finger being picked up and put back down by every child in the world.

There’s nothing you can’t see when you can’t hear so you have to be really careful where you sit or you will see it all.

So much depends on where you sit.

His name was Dick and the thirteen year old in me wanted to laugh when he told me his name. He said dick! Haha, he said dick! He gave me his card and wrote down my name on the bottom half of his own meal voucher for eight dollars, which he tore off and put in his front pocket, next to a pen. Would we ever see each other again? Let’s say: no. Let’s say we leave it at that.

And that that is enough. One of those rare moments in life when we say I don’t need more than this.

The having had it happen. The exchange of two human beings in an airport enough to sustain you for a while. Let’s say that’s the case here.

He pays his bill and shakes my hand. I have a styrofoam container of fish sitting in front of me like a gift and I will remember him by it. The man who gave me half of his dinner. The man in the red jacket with the missing fingers.

He leaves his jacket behind so I reach over and grab it. I drape it over the back of my chair knowing I’ll see him on the plane and can give it to him then. I’ll carry the fish he gave me in one hand and his red coat in another.

For a few minutes I feel calm, as insular as a cave, as sturdy as the land I would soon be visiting in the southwestern part of the state of South Dakota. I am as protected as the Badlands I would be at in just two days time, that rugged terrain I’d dreamt of seeing again ever since I first saw them at 18 years old on a cross country drive I took in a mini-van. Mako Sika, translated as “land bad” or “eroded land”, my beloved Badlands, which beckoned to me with their otherworldliness and various personalities (how human of them!) I was part of them and no one could come close to me in the safety of my red vinyl jacket. I was on the interior.

My insides warm from wine, the red jacket a heart on the back of my chair, holding the world in place. Knowing it’s there enough to keep me sane.

So much depends on a red jacket.

Ah! You found my jacket, he rushes back up to my table.

So much depends.

Yes. I was keeping it safe.

Let’s say it ended like that.

We finally boarded the plane. A few rows up, he sleeps, while my legs shake uncontrollably (too much wine and coffee and too little sleep) and I rest my head on the shoulder of a stranger.

Do you mind if I lean my head on your shoulder?

The stranger was on his way back to Iowa. Football scholarship. Young. Polite. Kind. No, I don’t mind. Lean on me, he says.

So much depends on where you sit.

So much depends.

Let’s say two days later I am standing on the edge of the world, at Pinnacles Overlook right by Route 240 at The Badlands National Park, and let’s say I wished that right then and there I could ask that man in the red jacket if this is what he meant by talking to God?

**This essay is dedicated to Melissa Shattuck for having the chutzpah to get me to South Dakota. And to Dick, naturally. Red wheelbarrows. All of them.

(a p.s. to the story: after I posted about it on my Facebook, through the serendipitous nature of the universe, a woman commented: “The man in the red jacket is my dad!”)

Find the miraculous, even in the mundane.

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Dick. The man in the airport.

Dick. The man in the airport.

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Jen will be back in South Dakota May 28th for one workshop. Click here to book.

 

Guest Posts

Be Moved. Right Here. Right Now.

June 26, 2013

Wanted to share this email from my editor Melissa Shattuck who was meant to come on my Italy retreat but couldn’t.

“Italy. These were my first thoughts today as I woke up and saw my calendar. Italy is still written there. Originally this was the day I was going to leave so I could have a couple of days to walk the streets of cities I dream of being in!! 

And so I know I will never totally be a part of the group that is going as that is such an intimate space……but I already feel like I am on my way there:):) 

You are going to be great Miss Jennifer Pastiloff. I know it. And you will message me and tell me it’s the best group you’ve ever had! And I will be so happy for you. Sending you lots of love and energy as you change lives….as you inspire….as you empower people to live life to the fullest. Love. I didn’t write this for you to share necessarily if you were not called to…instead I wrote it for me to go to that space in my mind of courage I experienced in Maui. 

To those in Italy.

Less than a month ago I was laying in bed one night pondering what would happen if the call came that a deadly cancer had spread further than they could remove in my body. And though I didn’t reside there for very long as I have discovered many times over nothing good has ever come to me from swimming in fear, I am grateful for the thoughts that arose in that space. Being reminded of how precious each moment really is. And though I hid much of it well from my children, the truth is we all know that they knew and they felt what I was experiencing. And I know the idea that something could happen to me took it’s toll on all of us. And the idea that they need me to be here for them right now played into my decision to stay home with them this time. 

With that said, part of me is right there in Italy with you. I close my eyes and feel myself in a room of bravery, courage and love. A room of people who are about to embark on an incredible journey. 

Some of you have been on such an experience with Jen before, but some of you have not. And you have no idea what is about to happen for you. Everyone has a unique experience to be sure, but there is no way you will leave the same person you were when you came. And I already have tears of joy for all of your transformations, all of your growth, all of your courage, all of the love you can open to in your hearts.

There is no grade given. But if it were possible to fail at such an event, why could that be. I know for me before daring to open to all that is possible at such an event I can tend to fall into old patterns and habits of thought. I can sometimes believe that perhaps I made a mistake. Maybe this is meant for everyone else but not for me. Or maybe I fall into some idea that I already know it all and so I’m ready to find a little bit of fault. Maybe I walk into the room the first day and start comparing and judging myself to and against everyone else. I sometimes might try to gauge where I fit….or if I even fit at all. And most of the time I don’t feel that I do. Not right away. My fears begin to show up and the walls start to build a little around me.

If this sounds like anything you might do, do it different this time. Take the invitation. Accept the opportunity to let the walls crumble to the ground. Look around and see the faces and know now versus later in the week that these are your sisters and brothers. Trust yourself to open in whatever way that presents itself to you. Release any need to put on any mask. Feel the layers of past masks melting away. Be open to touching that space within you that holds the truth to who you really are beneath all the stories and conditioning and expectations and judgments and all the things we should or shouldn’t have done.

Breathe. Always breathe. 
Hug. Don’t forget to hug.
Be real and Authentic. If you forget, Jen will call you on it. Oh yes she will. 
And if you are tempted to hide in the corner like I was, that is when you most need to come forth and let yourself shine in the center of a room filled with acceptance. The most acceptance maybe you have ever known in your entire life. 

Who are you in the midst of complete acceptance and being seen? Are you willing to take that in and find out?

I close my eyes as I begin my morning meditation…..And I send you love for who you are and who you will become.

PS I have not been able to run or do much yoga since my surgery to remove melanoma on my thigh that now looks as though someone or something took a large bite:) And so I ask you one thing. Please run through a field in Italy for me……a dream of mine to do one day.”

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ps leave Melissa a comment below and she will reply. She is our editor and we love her.

Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration

Five Days.

February 21, 2013

photoThis morning, during my retreat here in Maui, we were talking about the ways in which we stop ourselves from having what we want. Our excuses, if you will. One of the girls here, an incredibly beautiful and inspiring woman named Melissa from South Dakota, shared with us a whole bunch of her excuses. (We all have so many, don’t we?) One of them was that she didn’t want to take up other people’s time and another was that what she said didn’t matter.

She had written something apparently that she wanted to share but (insert excuse here.)  I asked her to read it aloud, telling her we had all the time in the world. (We did. We do!) There were a few other excuses of hers that I won’t bother to share because, quite frankly, they don’t matter. What matters is that she got the courage and read this letter she had sent her friend who’d been having a hard time and didn’t think she could make it through. She read this piece aloud and I will spare you the emotion that took place in the room but what I won’t spare you is the piece. I asked her to send it. She is a gifted writer. To hear her read this out loud was a moment I will never forget and I wanted to share because I think it is by far, one of the most stunning things I have ever witnessed. I want you to read this raw and brave and awe-inspiring piece. Please connect with her or leave comments at bottom. I bow to you, Melissa Shattuck from South Dakota. 

Five Days by Melissa Shattuck.

I lived in hell for five days once.

At least it felt that way.

It started when they told me my baby was dead at a routine appointment. And it began to end when they finally removed her from me.

Five days later.

Why they thought it would be more beneficial to see if my body would naturally deliver has remained a mystery to me. I’m sure there is some logical reason. But, it was as though it was not odd to ask me to carry a dead body within me.

The first night I slept well from the exhaustion of it all. But I don’t think I slept after that. The nightmares that they had made a mistake and were going to steal my healthy, live baby from me were more than my mind could handle. And so I would lay there for hours at a time deciding who was to blame. Lack of sleep makes me crazy. Lack of sleep for days on end makes me into a monster.

My husband. My husband is to blame because we had a fight the night before the doctor appointment and it must have been too much stress on me. Wait. It’s the dogs’ fault. The fight had started when I told him it was overwhelming taking care of the two dogs when I was so exhausted from the pregnancy. Ok. That’s absurd. Fine. It’s my fault. I should have handled my emotions better, should have been tougher and sucked it up, should have rested more, should have eaten better, should have taken better care of myself, should have loved everyone more, shouldn’t have bought all those maternity clothes (jinxed it), shouldn’t have allowed myself to feel stress, shouldn’t have been angry ever, shouldn’t have made so many mistakes in my life. This had to be karma for something.

Yes. Me. I am to blame. I am the reason my baby is dead.

God. God is to blame. Nothing happens without God’s permission or ok. I hate God for causing me all this pain.

And on and on it goes. The patterns play in my mind for all these days. And noone it seems can understand. The people are all to blame. They keep saying well-meaning but seemingly stupid things like, “There was probably something wrong with the baby, so it is for the best this way.” “You will be able to try again.” “We can never know God’s plan.” “At least you have Alex. Think of all the peopel that are never able to have any children.” “The baby’s soul has already served it’s purpose.” “When you have another baby someday, this will be the soul that will come back.” The people drive me crazy. So now I hate me, my husband, the dogs, God, and all the people.

And all this time I have a dead body in me. A baby I had felt move once. We don’t tell Alex, who is 6, that any of this is going on yet. If I can’t bear the idea that I have a dead child within me, how could he handle knowing this? And so, in all his sweetness, he comes up to me several times and hugs me so he can hug the new baby that is one the way.

Hell.

I can’t stay in the house the entire five days. It’s become my prison. And so I escape and am not prepared for people to touch my belly and tell me how adorable it is. I want to scream at them, “The baby is dead!” Instead I say “thank you.” I go back to my prison and want to die. Five days is an eternity.

My body does not naturally got into labor. So they will have to take her from me.

~

A funeral home offered to cremate the body for free. We have to buy the urn. We do this hoping it will bring us some comfort in light of the fact we will never hold her. After the procedure I get a call that the tiny urn we bought is not big enough for all the remains and would we like to purchase something else. It seems incomprehensible to allow any part of my baby to go anywhere but with me, so I say yes. I will buy the small silver cross I saw that sits in the pretty glass case as well. Looking back that call seems very strange to me. But then it was all so surreal. The same with the small ceremony we held at a church. Our attempt at closure.

My body reflected the state of my mind. I couldn’t let go and looked pregnant still over a year later. People asked me all the time if I was expecting. “No,” I would laugh. “I just haven’t been doing my sit-ups lately.” And then I would go back home and cry. I believe I will never recover from this. Never say never.

One day it seemed as I kept moving through my days, my blaming began to let up. It had to. It felt poisonous to hate. And so, instead I just felt empty. Which for me was a step up from the pain. And it was in the emptiness I think that I opened to healing.

Looking back, I wonder if that’s forgiveness for me. And my body reacted in kind and began to let go too. I didn’t look as pregnant anymore. What or who did I forgive? All of it I guess. And I have no words for how it happened.

I don’t know if that makes sense. I don’t recall trying to forgive anyone or anything specifically. That didn’t work for me because I thought I was failing when I was still angry. I just remember opening in the quiet emptiness to another way….

Some people seem to think they know where she is now or what the purpose of it all was. I don’t have a clue. And I don’t need to anymore. There are things that are much bigger than me and my limited mind at work. And so to me, my precious angel, Gabrielle, will be 10 this year. Somewhere out there.

Or maybe just in my thoughts and in my heart.

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Connect with Melissa by leaving a comment below. Melissa is the editor of The Manifest-Station. 

Jennifer Pastiloff, Beauty Hunter, is the founder of The Manifest-Station. 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 (sold out) as well as Other Voices Querétaro with Gina Frangello, Emily Rapp, Stacy Berlein, and Rob Roberge. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

Click to order Simplereminders new book.

Click to order Simplereminders new book.

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