Browsing Tag

Ronan

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

Cartography for Mourners.

March 2, 2015

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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.”

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Always Be Telling Truth or You Should Only Be Happy.

March 3, 2013

My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. ~ Anne Lamott

I met my friend Robert Wilder yesterday in the lobby of the Inn Of The Anasazi in Santa Fe, where I had slept the night before. I’d stayed in the hotel room of my friend Katie from L.A., who coincidently, also happened to be in Santa Fe. Her trip had been planned. Mine not so much. Ronan passed away on February 15th and the memorial was chosen for this weekend so I booked my flight just a few days ago.

Robert asked how I knew Katie and I told him that she took my classes but that now we had become close friends.

Robert’s a writer (a fantastic one) and a high school English school teacher. (He calls his students High Schooligans if that gives you an indication of his cool teacher status.) The Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society kind of teacher, the kind you appreciate much later upon looking back at who formed you, at who maybe taught you to really love books and writing and expressing yourself. My “Robert Wilder” was Mrs. Lifshey in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, who I remembering running into when I was getting my hair done for my senior prom. I had been trying on a rhinestone pair of earrings and she’d spotted me as she sat getting her own hair highlighted. She bought me the expensive fake diamond earrings “anonymously” that my mother couldn’t afford at the time. (My mom knew and didn’t keep it anonymous. Obviously.)

Robert and I sat on the leather sofa in the lobby of the Inn of the Anasazi and he asked me Is it hard to be friends with your students? 

Is it hard? Well, first off, I don’t have students. He has students. He is an English teacher to teenagers. I write and teach yoga. I write things that people respond to. (Sometimes.) In no way do I think of them as my students. That feels pretentious  and sort of holy to me. I’d rather think of them as my tribe. Or not-student students.

But yes, it can be hard I suppose. Like being a person in the world can be hard or being a daughter or a wife can be hard. Like how anything you love can be hard.

Here’s why it can be hard with my not-student students: I am afraid to expose myself and have them see that I am a regular person who gets depressed and thinks she looks fat sometimes and drinks too much coffee and wine and doesn’t always walk the talk.

I write about all that (and more) but there is a difference in writing about it and then actually having someone see you in the flesh as the youest you there is.

My belief is that when you are telling the truth, you are close to God. So says Anne Lamott. Yet and still, my paper creates a chasm, a separation. A wall between me and everyone else in the world. There is a distance between the reader and myself even when I am being my most vulnerable and truthful.

There is a little bit of Us and Them when you are standing in front of a class. You are in a glass case and although everyone can hear you no one can really get in. There is a you can’t really see me even though you think you can.

When you are with someone in person over lunch that distance is minimized and then there they are right up in your face, their eyes all over you, their minds making up stories and facts.

Or not.

A couple months ago I went to Atlanta to see my sister and nephews and to lead a workshop. My sister mentioned to me that she had said something to my friend (who had started as a not-student student) something about me always being on my phone.

I was horrified.

I told my sister that she should have not said that to this person. That it made me look bad and that I had an image to uphold. (Ha!) Me always being on my phone suggested that I wasn’t present, that I was full of shit. How dare she say that to someone who takes my classes? She felt bad and said that she thought this person and I were really close friends. We are I said. But still.

But still.

There is no but still.

The distance was zippered up and there was no space between us anymore and it’s true I look at my phone too much. It’s an addiction. I didn’t want that side of me exposed because in my mind it was bad enough I was friends with my not-student student but now they would see all my faults and that I was full of shit and they wouldn’t be my student or my not-student student and possibly not even my friend. (Oh, the stories! The stories!)

I brought it up at the workshop that weekend in Atlanta where my sister and the friend/ not-student student were both in attendance. My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. I told the story and shared my shame and used it as an example of where I wasn’t living a congruent life. I also used it as a way to express what I felt about there not being a division between me and my not-student students.

They are people. I am people. The same.

I was terrified I would become some sort of fallen icon. As teachers of any kind, we’ve all had people become fixated or obsessed and tell us How Amazing We Are and then one day they get bored or decide you are a Real Life Human Being and you never hear from them again.

I was terrified that someone who sees me as an inspiration would realize I look at my iPhone too much and that I don’t pay enough attention and dismiss me.

My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God.

So yea, Rob I said on the couch there. It is hard sometimes.

But it’s only hard when I make it so. Yes, it is hard for me to be friends with everyone. (I am not special in that truth.) No one can be there for every single person nor should they be. I can’t get back to everyone. I can’t go to everyone’s play or class or band or whatever it may be, but, there are indeed some people that I meet because they take my class or read my writing or come on a retreat and who I know I want to have a glass of wine with. It is incidental to me that we met through my yoga class or my retreat or my blog. Why should I be any better than them or put myself on a pedestal because I teach them how to do a downdog or because they read an essay and feel inspired by something I said?

The only time it’s hard is when someone puts an unrealistic expectation on me or when I try to make everyone happy. I can’t do that. (I’d like to remember more often that I can’t do that. I’d like us all to remember more often that we can’t do that.)

But it’s also not hard I said. The most natural thing for me is connecting with people. When I meet someone that I want to know better it doesn’t matter if I am their “teacher.”

Look, everyone in my life is my teacher. You. You reading this. Everyone. (We should all recognize this more often.)

Look, I do want to do better.

I want to do better than yesterday at least. I want to be more present and not look at my phone so much and to never gossip and all the rest, but the people who learn from me are pretty clear that I am not a guru and I am as down to earth as they come.

Yet I also want to live a congruent life. That is what it really boils down to. My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God.

I tell people to pay attention and notice what fills them with awe and wonder and to write down their five most beautiful things and yet I am not present? It’s not that it’s because I am their teacher and they are my student that I want to be congruent or do better but rather I want to Always Be Telling The Truth.

ABTTT. Always Be Telling The Truth. And if my nose is stuck in my phone texting and I am not looking out the window, well then, I am missing my own five most beautiful things, aren’t I?

If someone takes my class and then we become friends and they decide they no longer want to take my class because the boundary has been crossed or because I curse or don’t do enough of my own yoga practice, well then, so be it. What can I do? They come, they go, they come again and all the while I am here ABTTT or doing my best version of it.

My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God.

The truth is that I can’t be friends with everybody. (Neither can you.) Nor do I want to. (Neither can you. Trust me.) Nor do you want to. So get over it. Not possible.

I can love as best as I can and I can keep teaching and writing but I cannot be friends with every single person who takes my class or reads me. It’s not humanly possible and that’s okay. The people pleasing days are falling away and the days of ABTTT are coming fast and hard.

Today is one year since my beloved Steve Bridges died. I came to Santa Fe on Thursday for Ronan’s memorial. I have been to Santa Fe a few times while Ronan was alive to visit him and his mom Emily Rapp, but this time was the first time I got altitude sickness. My heart woke me on Friday night beating as fast as a heart can beat before it explodes.

I thought I was dying.

I started to have an anxiety attack which may have been triggered by the racing heart or my monkey mind. (Take your pick.) My lips cracked and I was sweating and freezing at the same time which is as awful a combination as milk and soda. I am dying as I crawled through my friend Heather’s cute Santa Fe house in the dark in search of something that might save me. I found coconut water.

I forgot that it was the anniversary of Steve’s death today until his sister texted me It’s one year and then I realized it wasn’t altitude sickness at all. ABTTT. My body remembered as it always does even though my brain might not agree to.

My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God.

I miss him. That’s the truth. And yes, he started as a not-student student. I miss him and not in that way we say to everyone and their mother on Facebook when we haven’t seen them for a week. I miss you I miss you I miss you when we don’t really mean it.

I miss him. And I will never ever see him again. At least not in this lifetime. My body was rejecting the whole weekend. Ronan’s memorial, my husband’s cousin’s funeral Saturday and Steve’s anniversary of death. Too much it said. Too much! Too much my body whimpered.

So what does it matter if someone takes my classes and also eats pancakes with me? It doesn’t. It would matter if I was a vastly different person on paper or in class that I am in “real life’ but I am not. (To a fault I am pretty much the same.)

They are people. I am people. The same.

Most of the people in my life now entered via my yoga classes or my writings. I say Thank God for the not-student students who have turned into beloveds. Thank God I found you.

As I was getting on the plane (you guessed it, I am writing this from the airplane) I saw an old man reading an even older looking book called You Should Only Be Happy.

The book was written by a Jewish man and from what I could gather was a lot about Jewish culture (although you should google it because I could be way off and just making up a story.) I started talking to the man and he was an old Jew from New York  who now lived in Santa Fe. I chuckled as he held my hand. I said So are you part of the Tribe? (an oft asked semi-obnoxious question Jews sometimes ask one another) and he looked at me and said Isn’t everybody?

Isn’t everybody? 

So, is it hard to be friends with my students? Yes and no and everything in between.

Aren’t we all human? Isn’t, as my new airport friend put it, everybody part of the tribe. Isn’t everybody?

You Should Only Be Happy. Always Be Telling The Truth. Stop Looking at Your Phone So Much. Pay Attention. Drink More Water. Honor The Dead. Drink With Loved Ones. Eat Bread Baked By Your Friends. Have More Sex. Read Anne Lamott and Cheryl Strayed. Do Some Yoga.

Look, I could go on and on but then I would be sounding like a teacher. I would be sounding like I knew what the hell I was talking about.

They are people. I am people.

The same.

~~~~

Dedicated to Steve Bridges and Ronan and Robert Wilder and Emily Rapp and the old man in the airport and Heather and Katie and my sister and anyone else I have ever loved or crossed paths with regardless of how we met. We are the same.

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as always by simplereminders.com

as always by simplereminders.com

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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!

 

 

 
 
Beating Fear with a Stick, Inspiration, my book

I Am Not Afraid.

January 9, 2013
The-Things-That-Get-In-The-Way.
It was the theme of my yoga class this morning. Let’s remove them, I suggested to my beloved class. Their eyes got wide and afraid which I understood very very well.
 
They looked at me as if to say I just wanted to do a couple of downdogs and sweat, why do you have to do this shit, lady?
 
Of starting a new book. Of finding a partner. Of writing. Of becoming a yoga teacher. Of having a baby. Of leaving a partner.  Of traveling. Of quitting a job. Of getting a job.
Of being happy.
 
Those types of Things.
 
But then. But then, I will have nothing to hold me back. The afraid eyes widened.
 
May whatever is holding me back reveal itself. May I have the courage to release them, I suggested to the room before we took our first Ohm.
 
How scary it is to have nothing to hold you back anymore, to be so unencumbered. It is a thing of power and most of us are scared of power in the way we are scared of what we don’t understand: love, aging, death.
 
I was afraid to let go of my label of “anorexic.” Then who will I be? Anorexia was my set of crutches and I walked around town with them under my arms, and a small little limp, just enough to handicap me when it came to making a move in any direction whatsoever. I will not let go of these crutches I demanded as I slept walk through my life. They are mine!
 
I was not above beating people with them either. Anyone who came to close to taking them away from me. These are my Things That Get In The Way. Nobody can touch them! as I poked the offender with the soft end of the crutch. Gently, so it wouldn’t hurt. They would know I still loved them but that they could not take my crutch away.
 
What things get in the way of the small pleasures that wait for you when you wake up in the morning? Before your eyes can focus on the lampshade or on the other body in the bed, what things enter your mind as if they belong there? What heavy objects knock about in your chest before you even put your jeans on?
 
The things that get in the way are often real things, ordinary things, things that you will forget as soon as you sit down and bite into your sandwich. Then there are the things that are not ordinary, that are so not ordinary in the way that they have caused you to stop and take inventory on your life as you know it. 
 
For example: your baby dying, as is my friend Emily Rapp’s baby, a very real and horrendous thing to have to wait for. It will part the sea of you. One side of you will be on the shore with your baby son, and the other side of you immersed in the sea itself, drowning fast but not fast enough. What is getting in the way of you and your baby is a very real and unspeakable thing and you can’t even move, you are that split in two. Both drowning and not drowning at the same time.
 
Then there are the things that get in the way which are soft and malleable. And still very precise. They know exactly when to get you. They will leave no stone unturned and will leave you to bleed there on the table if you don’t pay attention. They know that right there, first thing in the morning, before your eyes can focus on the lampshade or the other body in the bed, that there’s the best time to get you. They know they can make you scared of what is going to happen to you, of what will people think, what if you can’t have a baby, what if this isn’t what you really want?
 
And your eyes start to come into focus and nothing looks like same. The carpet, the sink, the wall, the other body in the bed. You touch everything to make sure you are awake, and of this you can’t be certain. If you were awake wouldn’t it all make sense?
How you are right where you should be and that there can be no question of that because there is no other option. You were never not here. You were never not going to lead this very life. There is no alternative. As much as you try, you will never be able to wake up and have had a different history. You will always have turned right. You will always have chosen this.
 
So why doesn’t it make sense?
 
Because things have gotten in the way.
You have to grab them by the throat and let them know that you are not afraid. Say it: I am not afraid.
 
Two weeks ago, before I got my glasses in London, I dreamt I’d gone blind. In the dream, I’d felt around for things I would recognize, corners of tables I knew from bumping into them, people I loved and their shoulders and noses. Their smells. I was scared that darkness would be all I would know anymore. As if my own skin were falling over my head in a black hood.
I couldn’t remember what anything looked like in the dream. As if along with my sight, all of my memories vanished too. What a sunset had looked like or my father’s face.
Slowly, it seemed years passed in this dream,  I became unafraid. I started to remember what things had looked like. And they looked more beautiful then they had in real life. The sunset was the kind you swear you’ve never seen anything like it, not ever and my father’s face was real, and he was breathing, his nostrils flaring a little with each exhale. 
 
I’d woken up sweating and cold in our hotel room, but as soon as my eyes started to focus on the lampshade and the other body in the bed, I realized what the dream had been about.
 
That I was not blind. That I could see. That is what the dream meant.

And as soon as I say I am not afraid there’d be nothing in the way.

i__m_not_afraid_anymore_by_patu_
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.

 

There Are No Words To Describe This

Little Seal.

October 4, 2011

The following is a copy of my dear friend Emily Rapp’s blog post. I felt compelled to share it on my blog because I want each and every one of you to read it. Read it and share it. And share it again. I am flying to Santa Fe in an hour to be with them. Stay tuned for my own words on my trip, although they may just be empty and filled with air. 

Look at Ronan's sweet little hands

 

The Weight of Things  (originally published in The Nervous Breakdown)

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,

A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,

Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we

may see and remark, and say Whose? – Walt Whitman, from “A child asks, what is the grass?”

 

I am kneeling in the garage, sorting through a black garbage bag stuffed with Ronan’s outgrown baby clothes. I have promised to give them away to a friend of a friend who knows a friend who is raising a little boy on her own. I want to do this good deed; it makes me feel good to think about trotting off to the post office with a taped up box full of clothes for this woman I’ll never meet, a boy I’ll never know. But as I sort through the onesies printed with dogs and dinosaurs and stars, a green onesie with “Organic Baby” printed over the outline of a leaf; a cream-colored onesie with “I Am a Magical Child” printed in cursive over a picture of a unicorn and a dragon; a shirt that reads “Mr. Happy” and that I remember Ronan wearing on a day when he screamed for 24 hours straight; tie-dyed onesies with matching hats and missing socks and hand-me-down onesies and bear and lion and jungle animals onesies; blue and yellow t-shirts covered in stripes and stars and balloons; a fox sleeper in the orange, white and black colors of my junior high cheerleading outfit (foxes are an underused animal on little boy baby clothes); tiny striped shorts and long pants with more puppies and pandas; jean jackets and Osh Kosh overalls and corduroy jeans and cargo pants (what does a baby do with pockets?); the Pooh t-shirt with matching Pooh pants (yes, there was a poop joke); shirts that say “Doggone Fun” and “Surfer Baby” and “Handsome Like Daddy” and “There’s a Nap in my Future” and button-up shirts and polo shirts in different shades and textures and patterns and prints; a pale yellow cotton one-piece with a collar and a fire engine stitched on with a door that actually opens and closes, real snaps at the neck, even a little fabric flap for the firehouse dog who is wearing a red hat (this last outfit belonged to my brother), I shut the plastic bag and weep. I feel as though I have just peered into the deep pit of a grave. I can picture Ronan in every little outgrown outfit: the skinny-legged, newly born red-faced alien Ronan; the round bowling ball face five- and then six-month Ronan; the one-year-old Ronan with the light already fading, just a bit, from his eyes. The floppy toddler Ronan who is now double the size of these clothes and dying fast from Tay-Sachs, this ridiculous disease with no treatment and no cure. I could not give them away. Not yet. I’m not ready to let those clothes loose to live another life on another baby’s body. I’m not ready to even let them out of the bag, as if they are dangerous and if released might wing away and wound someone. I want them for myself. I want to get in the bag and eat the clothes like some starving animal, some desperate creature. I scold myself: these are just things, nothing more. Just objects, and, even more importantly, items other people need. I still can’t do it.

This is a sentimental moment, I guess. On a sympathy card there might be a bunny, a lovely, red-and-gold painted sunset, the dark silhouette of a bird flying over a beach, a shiny horse running free, a dreamcatcher and a hawk doing something symbolic. I don’t like this moment with the clothes any more than I like sympathy cards or funerals, which so easily and lustily dip into sentimentality. I feel dangerous, churning. This sentimentality masks a deep and terrible rage. Bunnies=Rage. The murderous kind, the bite-your-lip-until-it-bleeds kind, the kind of anger that makes you exhausted and yet howling for more, like a belly that can never be filled. The only appropriate card for this moment, on my knees in the garage, is an empty one, maybe one that screams when you open it – one great, long keen. Some deep-noted dirge; some furious, melancholic song full of discord and drums. The responses I found most satisfying – like a bell ringing out the hour — after Ronan’s diagnosis were these: I am so angry; I am thinking of you with grief and rage; I don’t even know what to say I am so angry; it is so unfair; I am sick to my stomach with sadness and anger; BLOODY UNFAIR!; I LOVE YOU and also, WHAT THE FUCK? RAGE! Sympathy cards are about as useless as candy cigarettes – just give me the real thing. I’d so much rather have an email that says something brutal and terrible and true than a sympathy card made of special-grade parchment and that’s soft to the touch, even the edges gently serrated and decorated with loathsome, uniform birds (there is a standard sympathy card bird; it’s like clip art) flying peacefully into the distance and a super shitty rhyming poem inside. (I do not even dare type them here for fear of expanding their odious reach.) I’d rather have this poem, “Matins,” by Louise Gluck, which is the one that comes to mind while I’m bawling into a plastic bag full of Ronan’s old clothes. I look it up later:

You want to know how I spend my time?

I walk the front lawn, pretending

to be weeding. You ought to know

I’m never weeding, on my knees, pulling

clumps of clover from the flower beds: in fact

I’m looking for courage, for some evidence

my life will change, though

it takes forever, checking

each clump for the symbolic

leaf, and soon the summer is ending, already

the leaves are turning, always the sick trees

going first, the dying turning

brilliant yellow, while a few dark birds perform

their curfew of music. You want to see my hands?

As empty now as at the first note.

Or was the point always

to continue without a sign?

Why can’t that poem, that little missile of grief, come printed in a card? I’d happily weep over it or frame it or burn it up in some meaningful ritual fire. When I open the pastel envelopes and see the birds and the sunsets and the birds scrolling into the gentle sunset, I chuck them straight away. I don’t even wait to see who sent them and I don’t care if this is cruel.

Who knows if I would feel so unaccountably devastated about giving away outgrown baby clothes if Ronan were not dying. I know plenty of moms who’ve blubbered as they’ve sorted through baby clothes; even if their child is a teenager, sulking grumpily in his man cave and playing video games and trying to watch porn or smoke pot when his parents aren’t looking. In any case, the baby stage is lost, gone for good.

And yes, they are just clothes, but just as the body carries physical and psychic weight, so do things: a favorite shirt of the beloved, obvious objects like wedding rings, but also random things given and received: a map my best friend made for me ten years ago that shows me the way from the train station to her house; the lyrics of a song written on a napkin that I sang at her wedding outside London, the paper growing damp and gooey in my sweaty palm; my DUKE sweatshirt that I stole from someone’s brother in high school and wore superstitiously for four years during finals week; a creamy flowered blouse that reminds me of France and a steamy night spent necking in a Strasbourg car park with that blouse in a pretty ball on the floor. Mouse-sized menorahs and engraved cigarette holders found in the corners of tenements and on display now under glass at the Tenement Museum in New York City, precious items that were tucked into underwear or satchels or shoes and that crossed continents and made it through the gauntlet line of checkers at Ellis Island (early, less technologically advanced versions of today’s snarky TSA agents) to be found, decades later, abandoned, in a corner. And things mattered more then, too, because people had fewer of them. Things are charged, they act as gateways, and we want to believe they give us access to the person who once inhabited them. We want to believe that they are doors to other worlds, portals to unknown stories that we intuit even if we don’t know them for certain or for sure. I have a cheap dress – blue polyester with red and white piping on the bottom and the sleeves – that puts me chain smoking in my office in Geneva on a blazing hot spring morning, the view across the garden thick with pink blossoms. My Doc Marten boots were my Ireland boots, trekking boots; I literally wore them out, the back soles were finished. When my mom was given her mother’s old cameo necklace from her cousin when we visited her farmhouse in Kansas on one of our summer cross country trips, she said “Oh,” almost mutely, amazed, her eyes filling as she turned the necklace over in her hands like a piece of delicate lace. I saw her seeing it on her mother’s throat, her mother who had been dead for 40 years and had been given this piece of jewelry, now falling apart, by an old boyfriend that was not my mother’s father, who was also dead. I restrung the necklace and wore it at my wedding to Rick. Things matter, things endure when people and relationships do not. Things: simply lasting, then/failing to last: water, a blue heron’s/eye, and the light passing/between them: into light all things/must fall, glad at last to have fallen. (from “Things,” by Jane Kenyon).

In Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, David Eagleman’s stunning, playful, and at times devastating book, he imagines all sorts of after-death scenarios: comical, heart-wrenching, unfair, unbelievable, wonderful. Here’s a snippet from Graveyard of the Gods, one of my favorites:

You begin to realize that the gift of immortality applies to things we created, as well. The afterlife is full of cell phones, mugs, porcelain knickknacks, business cards, candlesticks, dartboards. Things that were destroyed – cannibalized naval ships, retired computers, demolished cabinetry – all return in full form to enjoy and furnish the hereafter. Contrary to the admonition that we cannot take it with us, anything we create becomes part of our afterlife. If it was created, it survives.

Just after I turned fourteen, when we were moving from Wyoming to Nebraska, before my parents found a house to buy we stayed in rented rooms at the top of an old museum attached to Bethphage Mission, a residential home for mentally retarded adults, although I believe they were in the process of changingretarded to delayed. The museum had clearly not been visited in years, maybe decades, because although it was of historical interest, I can’t imagine anyone pulling first off the interstate and then off the dirt road to learn about the history of nursing care when this facility had been a straight-up mental asylum and not an assisted living home. And if they did, they’d be out of luck, because the museum was apparently open for exactly one hour each week, when the door was simply propped open with an old book. There was no entrance fee and anyone could have taken off with what was inside: mannequins with 1960s beehives modeling nurse’s outfits from the 1940s that glittered with dust when the hazy fall light fell through the dirty windows; cobwebs stretched across pointy chests as if they were part of the fabric pattern or bras worn on the outside of blouses. Old shoes – once-white clodhopper nursing shoes, one pair of fancy lace-up boots, a pair of square-toed, ratty heels – were piled in a corner. Carefully I roamed through those empty rooms, walking slowly through the bones of those other stories, scaling some falling-apart ladder of time. I felt I should hush my footsteps although I was alone, as if I were disturbing the things, which might have a life of their own. The rooms felt populated. A few windows were open and the air was typical of autumn in the Midwest – crisp and expectant, things turning and falling and changing – but no season was going to penetrate these unvisited and neglected rooms. You had to stick your nose out the window like a dog riding in a car to get a whiff. My breath practically echoed. I walked in the museum to scare myself, as a distraction from other concerns. “What are you DOING?” I’d hear my mom call from the top of the stairs leading up to our “residence.” I was fourteen; I ignored her. “We’re having beef stroganoff for dinner,” she called into the silence. “You’ve got ten minutes,” she said, and I heard the door click shut.

There were books and made-up beds, and a “model” of a room where “treatments” had been administered. An old wooden cabinet marked with a sign that read “surgical tools,” had apparently been plundered. The creepiness of the museum almost made it impossible for me to sleep above it; I was certain that all those things down there were alive. Those mannequins moved I told my dad. At night they walk around and do stuff! The feet of one of them moved an entire inch! I measured! The other story was that someone was outside in the prairie, a stolen scalpel in one hand, preparing to run up the stairs and plunge it into our unsuspecting hearts, one by one. Who would ever find us in the middle of nowhere Nebraska at the top of a museum that was NEVER OPEN? We never saw a single resident, as the museum faced the street and the “campus” was on the other side of the building. This was the end; I just knew it. We were toast. My middle-of-the night histrionics were draining my parents’ energy and robbing them of sleep. “You’re not a child!” my dad said, exasperated, all other logic having failed to convince me that we weren’t about to meet some inevitable and gruesome end. “Don’t let your imagination run away with you!” But run off it did, and I went with it. The need to find a house gained greater urgency.

I also got my period for the first time in the cold, institutional-feeling bathroom attached to our “rooms” (two twin beds in three plain, identical-looking rooms); and so I’d walk around, fingering the outfits on the mannequins, smelling the cold dust, slowly eating peanut M and Ms from a one pound bag, feeling the inside of my body buck and kick in a way that was painful but not wholly unfamiliar. I was a woman now, apparently, for whatever that was worth. In one dim corner of the museum, on a slightly raised stage stood an old-school crib with rockers on the bottom and a faded, ruffled top. Displayed on nearby tables were yellowed baptismal gowns, tissue-paper-thin, with matching hats, puffy like the tops of muffins, that were worn by some baby long ago, a baby who had lived and died probably hundreds of years before I walked by munching chocolate and bleeding. I sat in the empty, claw-footed bathtub and wrote mournful letters to my friends in Wyoming and yelled at my parents through the door. Then I got mono and slept in the car while my parents shuffled in and out of potential houses. Much to everyone’s relief, I no longer wanted to move or haunt what I was sure were those haunted rooms full of haunted things. Things with life, things with stories, things that breathed in their own lifeless yet very real way.

Things, things, things. I am a collector of things. I have a storage room full of books, a box full of artificial legs, old cotton cloth Esprit bags full of scattered photos from junior high, me sitting in clumps of girls at pizza parties and sleepovers, sticking out my chest in an effort to look busty and gregarious. (I was flat-chested and miserable). At least ten jewelry boxes stuffed with cheap and ruined jewelry, rhinestones and crystals and rusty charms shaped like tigers and elephants. Boxes of letters and three boxes of all the cards I got as a kid when I was in the hospital. A box of prom dresses and bridesmaids dresses, more boxes full of journals and math workbooks and yearbooks and notes that I passed and that were passed to me in junior high and high school. Someday, when my parents move out of their house and clean out their basement for good, I’ll have to reckon with my pack-rattish self. But not yet.

Since Ronan’s diagnosis six months ago I have begun adorning myself: a ring for every finger, an engagement ring that was my husband’s grandmother’s; a wedding ring from the same year – 1932 – that Rick and I found in a pawn shop in Los Angeles and that fit me perfectly – “a princess fit!” the saleslady cried gleefully, and the Cinderella sound of that pleased me; the claddagh ring I bought the day I arrived in Dublin in 1994 for five Irish pounds, pre-Euro; the ring my mother gave me for college graduation, interlocking loops of Celtic knots; a ring that says joy love hope recently purchased at an airport shop in Phoenix, hoping the words would rub off the silver and into my skin; a ring that’s a long sheath of silver with slits where the skin shows through; a dragon ring for my thumb. Around my neck a locket with Ronan’s hair and a picture of his face tucked inside, his birth date 3/24/10 engraved on the back below his cursive name, a gift from my mother for Mother’s Day. A silk chord swinging with my box of holy dirt, my Buddha, my Santa Nino charm from Chimayo, New Mexico, my power animal gorilla charm that a friend retrieved with a bobby pin when it fell off its chain and down a drain in Palm Springs. I want to close things around my wrists, shackle my hands. I need to feel weighted, close to earth, anchored. I don’t want to want to leave it.

Things matter, things count. I took the last/dusty piece of china/out of the barrel./It was your gravy boat/with a hard, brown/drop of gravy still/on the porcelain lip./I grieved for you then/as I never had before. “What Came to Me,” Jane Kenyon

In Spain, at a two-week writing residency in June, my leg develops an annoying squeak. I take off the piece that covers the knee, clean it of dust and dirt, put it back again, it still squeaks. I leave it off although it rips up the covering hose and any long pants I might wear. It looks like a cat has been at me, perhaps the two that fight horribly every night outside my window after dinner, their battle meows like human screams. I let the hose and pants rip; I’m tired of making noise when I walk through the silent farmhouse rooms with their black and white checkered floors that smell of lemons and foreign bleach. When I look down at my knees there’s a big sticker on the end of the metal knee that warns DO NOT TAMPER WITH. The knee cover seems to weigh ¼ of an empty coffee mug if my hands are accurate scales. Franz Kafka, skinny insomniac, on August 31, 1920, a Tuesday, went to a doctor in Prague and wrote “neither he nor the scales find me improved.” We weigh and tweak and size up. Decision-making language.

The Swiss sweep the homes of their citizens each year and count bullets to be sure the weapons haven’t been fired by any members of the peaceful, civilian army; the neutral moderators of the neutral army take out the neutral bullets and hold the neutral bits of steel in their hands. In 1994 a piece of a Viking ship was found near my apartment building in Dublin, which meant one less crane would be obscuring the skyline as the archeologists arrived with their books and enthusiasm, their special shovels and precision tools. There’s a pool of dark and tepid water in a wet well in Dublin castle that has been sitting there since A.D. was in the single digits. In one legendary story, Mary Shelley was given Byron’s dehydrated heart – by then a handful of powdery dust – in an envelope. In Victorian times you didn’t send a letter to your beloved through the post, you sent a lock of your snipped hair, like a pressed flower or a leaf plucked from a tree. The world of things seems to make people accessible; it’s what hierophany is all about, stones and other natural objects as portals to another world, another life. For a full year after my divorce I drove around with my engagement ring freed from my finger and rattling around in the glove compartment of my car before I felt ready to pawn it with a friend at my side at a seedy, sprawling shop in South Austin that I’d driven by three times in the previous six months. Once I actually managed to enter the parking lot and park for a minute before driving away. The ring was small and light and made me enough money to get my first small tattoo, a tiny, colorful flower carved in a place I hoped my mother would never see it.

Things. We adorn, we bedeck, we festoon. We search and select gifts for our beloved. I saw this and thought of you. A ring from Paris, a scarf from Wisconsin, a hand-knit sweater with your name on a tag stitched inside, a tattoo sleeve stretching from shoulder to wrist. A clutch of coins from countries you’ve visited, currency that’s useless in your own country that you can chuck into a big plastic bin for charity in airports in Madrid, London, Berlin. Marks, shekels, pounds, euros, francs, pence, lire, Canadian dollars.

When I see a mother walking on the arroyo path near my home in Santa Fe with her baby in the front pack I think she’s what, maybe eleven pounds? The premature nine-month-old twin girl in Ronan’s swimming class weighs seven pounds. The woman who sat next to me during a turbulent plane ride in the 90s, back when flying absolutely terrified me, said, “It’s virtually impossible for these planes to fall out of the sky. They weigh too much to fall.” (Too big to fail!) An artificial leg weighs between ten and fifteen pounds; an artificial foot weights about four or five; the “model” legs (like model homes) that are lined up along the walls of a prosthetist’s office are often lighter, the ones that hang from straps and pulleys in the back rooms, the ones for real people, are the weight they should be and of course these weights range – they are as individual as the people who wear them. When I was 18 I weighed 95 pounds; when I was breastfeeding Ronan I weighed 110 pounds; in Geneva I weighed 132 pounds; when I was married the first time (and the second time) I weighed 118 pounds. Now I weigh 120 pounds. Ronan weighed 6.5 pounds when he was born, and doubled his weight within the first three weeks of life. Now he weighs almost 24 pounds. An earthquake kit has water bottles, a transistor radio, a bright orange vest, energy bars, and weighs about 6 or 7 pounds. A baby tooth is practically weightless. When bald 6.5 pound Ronan was weighed next to a 12 (!) pound baby with a full head of hair at Cedars-Sinai in his first 24 hours of life he looked miniscule, a little terrified worm unearthed from the ground. When my St. Bernard hit 85 pounds the vet put him on a diet. A bag of outgrown baby clothes weighs 5.4 pounds. Grief weighs nothing but you still have to drag it around.

 

Emily and I last May

EMILY RAPP is the author of Poster Child: A Memoir. A former Fulbright scholar, she was educated at Harvard University, Saint Olaf College, Trinity College-Dublin, and the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener Fellow. She has received awards and recognition for her work from the Atlantic Monthly, the Mary Roberts Rinehart Foundation, the Jentel Arts Foundation, the Corporation of Yaddo, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Valparaiso Foundation. She was the Philip Roth Writer-in-Residence at Bucknell University and has received a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Los Angeles Times, Salon, The Sun, The Bark, The Texas Observer, Body & Soul, Good Housekeeping, and many other publications. She has taught writing in the MFA program at Antioch University-Los Angeles, where she was a Core Faculty member, UCLA Extension, the University of California-Riverside Palm Desert Graduate Program, the Taos Writers’ Workshop, and the Gotham Writers’ Workshops. She is currently professor of Creative Writing and Literature at the Santa Fe University of Art & Design in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is currently at work on a novel and a new memoir,Dear Dr. Frankenstein, which chronicles her life with her infant son, who is dying of Tay-Sachs disease. Excerpts from the book can be found at http://ourlittleseal.wordpress.com and you can visit her at www.emilyrapp.com.