How is it that a visceral memory of thirty years ago sustains itself so vividly in both the body and mind? Such is my experience of whitewater rafting – a rolling, jaunting, thrilling escapade down some of the wildest water that still exists in North America, albeit dam-controlled. Thirty years ago, it was the West Branch of the Penobscot River in Maine. Today it is the Deschutes River in Oregon, and I could hardly wait to get to the mainland from our home in Hawaii in order to experience this kind of water, once again. I love the ocean’s waves, but there is something about whitewater that captivates the imagination.
We don’t have to be on the river until a reasonable hour of the morning. Still, there’s frost on the ground as we don wetsuits and neoprene booties. Teeth chattering, I throw on my long sleeved rashguard for extra warmth. This in no way prepares me for the shock, however, as, on the second rapid, I am jettisoned from the boat, along with two others, into the icy drink. My god, I think, it’s early September! How is it even possible for water to get this cold, this quickly? The guide remarks that we are the only ones on the river, and even a week before, there were dozens of rafts with hundreds of occupants, waiting in the eddies for a turn in the roiling current.
Forgetting how flexible a twenty year-old body can be – certainly compared to an almost-sixty year-old physique – I lurch forward and knock my two front teeth into the back of my daughter’s head. No harm done, save for a fat lip for a few days – but I become wary, a feeling that is asynchronous to the memory I spoke of earlier. I wiggle and tug at the good front tooth that remains, after having an implant replace the other I lost to Hawaii’s unpredictable surf twenty years ago. My arm still aches and is oddly dysfunctional after being torqued out of alignment during my surprise tumble. I shift to the other side of the craft; paddle with the opposite arm. Still, I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to strip out the pain with my other skilled hand. Eventually I am successful, but again I am uncharacteristically cautious, as I turn to the guide and whisper, Hey – I don’t want to bum the others out, but if there’s any way to keep me in this boat for the duration, I would really appreciate it.
The remainder of the ride is enjoyable, mostly because those I love are having the time of their lives. Vicarious pleasure settles in, and it’s okay. I have discovered balance, once again. My delts and biceps hurt less, but I remain chilled to the bone. I launched into this journey with a nagging cough, and cannot imagine how shivering all day is going to make it better. Still, the view from the river is extraordinary, and the water itself possesses a magic that is impossible to describe.
Fog kissed the perimeter of the inlet, awash in the salmon palette of dawn. Scratched across its surface stretched a long expanse of lumber, rough-hewn and weathered smooth by time. Blinking in the light, she placed bare lily feet upon its surface; padded silently to terminus; grasped the cool smooth knob of one of the braces – and waited. She knew it would come – as dependable in dreams as in the imagination.
Two this time, the orca and smaller grey companion, a dolphin. Churning up brackish water, they lashed back and forth in a display of invitation. And this was something new: before, the girl had watched. This time, it was clear she was to participate. But how?
Silent as wolves padding through forest mulch, all thought ceased. She simply slid into liquid, astride the expanse of ebony and ivory. The thrill of connecting her flesh to that of the creature proved indescribable. Grasping the shiny dorsal fin, quickly they submerged; and it occurred to her briefly that she might require breath. Instead, oxygen sprang forth from the living ocean directly into her lungs. All fear abated and joy swelled up as though her heart would burst from it.
What remained when it ended was magic. Logic would come later to the waking brain, but for now, a profound sadness remained. The young woman longed for the creature like a lover. Mourned the separation of earth’s land masses from her watery depths. Anguished, she stood mutely, shivering in her white cotton nightshirt, toes gripping the end of the dock. Unmoving. As if she could summon the orca back; as though with enough love, anything was possible.
Time passed. Then she noticed a long wake of water ridged up to break its surface. An amorphous form assumed shape; curled and arched toward her. The leviathan returned, head rising out of the sea. An offering, a twig, began to materialize from the creature’s mouth. Impossibly, she broke the stick into pieces with razor teeth. Fashioned them into a tree. Nosed the object in her direction, insisting she grasp the gift. Heart breaking, tears streaming, the girl achingly accepted. Returning to her world seemed a cruelty, despite all the beauty it offered.
How many books can be stacked atop a bedside table? Right now there are no less than eight; the ninth is in my hand.
Is it variety I crave? Or simply that I cannot shelve what remains unread – a steady stream of volumes I’ve yet to fully digest …
I won’t list them here, as they all change in time, to be replaced by other literary constallations of a different mood and temperament.
If you are not a reader, this kind of sentimentality will make no sense.
If you are not a writer, it matters even less.
But if you draw inspiration from the forming of concepts through the medium of carefully crafted words, perhaps you, like I, take comfort in these sentries of the night, flanking pillow and head – imparting magic and nourishment in the space between deep dusk and the dawning of the day.
When I was young I learned to pray in church. There was a specific protocol for prayer: gratitude always came first. Then I was free to do the asking. As a child in a home fraught with strife, praying for God to release me into a life I could claim as my own was something I could hardly wait to do. Repetition couldn’t hurt, as God must have been pretty busy and I wasn’t ever quite sure I was being heard – things at home only reinforced the sentiment, while strife in general escalated rather than calming down. I never did lose faith, however; never ceased communication with the forces of Creation. I held the epithet ask and ye shall receive closer still to my heart. And gobbled up that asking like jellybeans.
If I reflect on the thankfulness part (and I always strove to get the order right, being just that kind of person), I have to admit it slowly magnified in importance. As my independent life blossomed, along came parenthood and a few painful and profound life experiences. All served to deepen my understanding of gratitude. After all, there was much to be grateful for. When I better understood the cyclical nature of things; grasped the nature of ebb and flow – my thankfulness multiplied each time abundance chanced to spill into my lap. I realized it for the gift it was. Perspectives began shifting: that metaphoric Christmas longing to open as many gifts as possible transformed into a genuine love of giving, increasingly preferential to receiving.
I certainly know people who find it hard to express heartfelt gratitude – they are either too beaten down by circumstances or they do it by rote, like memorizing a mantra. Gratefulness can’t be forced – only life and life itself can grant us experiences which pry our hearts open, whether from sheer joy or from wracking loss. If understood for what they are, both stimulate humility – and if one is truly open to the gifts hidden even and perhaps especially in the swamp, it’s easy to realize that all are beneficial. From this understanding emerges profound gratitude. And the funny thing is that attitude of gratitude unlocks all sorts of doorways, until life itself is accepted for the miracle that it is. Nothing’s changed really – just a frame of reference.
[And if you crank up the volume on this link and move your body to the feel of the music, I don’t know how anybody could possibly feel anything but gratitude for life, itself. Peace.]
It’s already written that today will be one to remember … ~ Steve Winwood
I had to cry today. In fact, I used to cry all the time. Honestly, it got to the point that I wondered if I would ever cease weeping. Looking back, I view my life as a jumble of confusion – I did not know myself well at all, and less did I accept that I might hold any place of significance whatsoever in the world. This was of some importance to me when young and remains so unto this day: a feeling that merely marking time – simply taking up space on the planet – is a waste of life.
I am determined to offer something of value to the living, and it matters not if it is received by a single person or many. Whether dog or bird; man, woman or child – it’s the quality of the gift that counts. An intention and willingness to leave the campsite cleaner than I found it etches itself upon a guidepost instilled in me as a small child from my scoutmaster father. It takes nothing away to offer a smile or a moment of heartfelt sharing with another. In fact what is offered thus freely returns to me in manifold proportion, each and every day I draw breath. It simply consumes a bit of time to discover that inner fount, though it’s always longing to be expressed. I’m convinced it’s part of our essential nature.
As a child living in an urban environment likely too stimulating for her sensitivities, I proved too ebullient, too enthusiastic; in a word, too eager. These attributes were off-putting to boys I found interesting, and adults simply didn’t know what to make of an energetic, intelligent child who gazed deeply into their souls; who spoke freely and called them by their first names. Then again a few did take the time to satiate my abundant curiosity – answered my questions and sparked a dialogue, nose to nose. Remember too that this was a time when women were only beginning to come into their own – the nineteen fifties and sixties. No wonder I cried almost daily, wondering what was wrong that God made me so peculiarly.
Meanwhile decades passed before discovering a strong foothold in this life. And despite years of various therapies which I am sure were useful in their own way, the most powerful force of healing has been an immersion in nature. This included countless sunrises and stargazes but also encompassed giving birth to children – that primal, visceral experience which sealed my kinship to all mammals, from the tiny mouse to the great whale. I cannot say how many hours or days, months or years of observation it required to willingly assume my place in the scheme of things. I didn’t realize how out of touch I was with what is now essential to my wellness and functionality as a sentient human being until, bit by bit – like a seed bursting through its fragile skin to unfurl before heaven – I rose up steadily on two solid legs as if for the first time somewhere in my forties.
Now much as small children do, I marvel daily at the minutiae of existence as exemplified by all living creatures – the drive and determination of beetles and ants, squirrels and voles, marten and fox, herons and loons. Each seemingly independent and insignificant event has worked its way into my psyche bit by bit, granting me peace and gratitude for existence, itself. Perhaps the deepest wisdom lies in viewing adult experience through the guileless eyes of the innocent.
Indeed, while lying prone upon an acupuncturist’s table under geometric patterns of sensitively placed needles, I had to cry today. And it might momentarily have been a cry of mourning for another brother recently lost to self destruction. But when I wound into the feeling, spun it into the centrifuge at the core of my being right down to my toes, I discovered a wellspring of happiness – a joy in living that precipitated tears of gratitude that I am finally able to appreciate the tenuous threads that weave me into the fabric of life. My colors blend well into that tapestry, and I am content.
If you lose your money – great God, don’t you lose your mind …
Today I hear Eric Clapton’s voiceechoing through my mind in a brand-new way. Since I have decided to be happy – all joking aside – the pall of the ‘08 crisis begins lifting from my innermost being where it has been knotted up in places I didn’t even realize. Our house is on the market, and I’m more than okay with relocating to a smaller dwelling. It’s just that I’ve allowed the pressure of monthly obligations to wring me out like a pair of sweat-soaked socks, ignoring just how fetid and dry I’ve become. At the same time, I remain thirsty for the juice of human goodness and decency – and for once, I feel as though I’m receiving more than I’m giving out. A wellspring of gratitude percolates beneath the surface like a bright clutch of shimmering fish waiting for the tide to sweep them into deeper, bluer waters.
Like manna on desert sands, happiness beckons. And it’s no mirage. Joy is at least as palpable as fear, and given the choice, I am determined to discover how imbuing that feeling will play out. For years I have been highly suspicious of perennially sunny folk, especially while detecting strain around their eyes and in the purse of their mouths; knowing that what they say and how they act (and often react) doesn’t really seem to match. Thus I surmise that somehow they are trying to fool the world. (When and how is it my business to disabuse them of their theories? Haven’t I advised clients in the past to fake it ‘til they make it?
Now I am saying to hell with it – might as well give ‘er a try, myself – a sort of experiment in lightheartedness. Because the alternative is not attractive and I’m tired of feeling low and flat like a mechanic’s dolly wheeled beneath every damn thing, examining its underbelly for flaws. To what purpose and end I have executed this little exercise for some years now, I cannot immediately render, nor is there apparent or plausible justification. I only know that it’s time for a change, and I am ready to embrace it.
I havegot to wrap my mind around this thing called happiness. The Tibetans say that every human being wants first to be happy. I find this oddly strange. For doesn’t that desire arise simply in comparison to the option of suffering?
It’s not that I don’t feel like I’m happy, but it has never taken up residence in the forefront of my consciousness until recently. Before that, service to others lorded large, crowding most anything else out of the frame. It emerged with motherhood and ripened in my practice as a medical intuitive. But even prior to those times when I was young and care-free, was I happy? Was I, in fact, ever happy?
Casting back after I left the house of my parents and was on my own, I discovered a serious girl, save when she cut loose by partying. Somehow substances provided an excuse to lighten up, but I always felt horrible the next morning. As if I had trespassed onto some forbidden ground. A territory others could freely tread, but not me. You think I would have learned, but I suspect few of us do until we’ve had a few years and heartaches under our belts. Happiness was, after all, just a word.
Why now is my attention thus riveted? We run a guest house, among other endeavors. Last night I was speaking with a return guest who has lodged with us a few times in the past. Someone for whom we have quite naturally acquired fondness. If she’s fifty, I’d be surprised. We were talking about the stress we’ve all been under since the economic collapse, and she casually mentioned that she’s pulled all her money out of her retirement accounts, taken six months off work (as my mind reels with images of her as a derelict older woman living on a pittance somewhere) – and, oh. By the way. She’s dying. Of congestive heart failure. You could have heard my jaw hitting the floor. No recourse but a transplant at this point, and she’s decided not to go with that. Personally, I’m in accord. The heart is, after all, a place of our own feelings, not somebody else’s. And ever since Christian Barnard transplanted a baboon heart into a human being back in the ‘sixties, the whole idea of having another’s ticker beating in my chest has made my skin crawl.
Suddenly and profoundly, certain themes snapped into focus, while others that once held sway blurred into the background. Insignificant.
I believe myself to be optimistic, conveniently declassifying disruptive ripples of pessimism into cynicism. Again, distinctions are rapidly dissolving as never before. And I realize I need to be happy. I want to be happy. Perhaps the Dalai Lama is right, though I wasn’t aware of the significance of inner sunshine on my horizon until now. And isn’t now all we actually possess, moment to moment? We can’t hold onto the past, cannot accurately predict the future. All we can capture in our two vulnerable human hands lies in this very moment.
I think of Carly Simon singing in that large clear voice of hers, Suffering was the only thing made me feel I was alive. Thought that’s just how much it costs to survive in this world … Was that me? Is that really what I believed, up until recently? And now, at fifty-eight years of age, can I allow myself to feel something cleaner and more precious; less tongue-in-cheek – and still deem it authentic? And if not now – when time seems more fleeting and far less certain than in the bold days of my youth – When?
I think, Today I shall begin. Yes, I think I will. For there is no other time but the present shimmering squarely in my sights. There is, in fact, no other time at all.
I have been blessed to have several caring souls nominate me for various awards or keep me on their Blogrolls over the past year I’ve been part of this fabulous WordPress community. Have a Dream. morristownmemos. Partial View. All Write. So Far From Heaven. Vikram Roy. If I have forgotten you, please forgive me. I want to take the opportunity to offer thanks once again for that recognition and validation, and also to explain my lack of traditional response. Typically I offer posts to address some of the questions these awards ask a writer to share, as answering pat questions somehow doesn’t mesh with my brain chemistry. I’ve never been much for following diagrams or rules for their own sake. I leave that to my husband, a stalwart individual who can read a manual about anything and sort it out. (He once rebuilt a truck transmission this very way, having never had a mechanic’s training.) Thus while I greatly respect and appreciate these qualities in others – for better or for worse, I seem to march to a different drummer.
I’m always searching under rocks and behind walls to discover what lies beyond proscribed reality. Where my husband is solid, patient, enduring – I’m rather like thunder – lightning – fleet. I haven’t the patience the gods gave a flower to open. I am aware, however, that patience is a virtue worth cultivating. Almost everything that has been worth anything to me in this life has demanded I wait for it. Born in June and astrologically ruled by the god Mercury, I have come by my winged feet honestly. Geminis think – all the time: on our feet, on our heads, and no doubt to the utter consternation of many a partner, on our backs. And while I can slow this mind down and even capture the interstices between thoughts in contemplation, I’ve come to appreciate how easily inspiration strikes home. It then becomes about sorting through and sifting out – getting onto the page what first gathers as an amorphous mental jumble. For folks like me, it’s not about forcing or schedules. Instead what seems to work well is attuning to the subtle signs and cues while getting it written down. Harness the thought before it flies on through, over and out. Craft it later.
As for favorite colors, flowers or times of day, it is now and has always been nature’s ever-changing palette that enthralls. Again in that open-minded, open-ended, spontaneous way, a sunrise will awaken me from slumber to beguile with periwinkle, heliotrope, violet, purple-pink hues. A sunset will blend gold with a fiery melon, rose, cerise and finally indigo. How any of these colors could curry favor over another in my consciousness, I do not know. The magnificent nectar of magnolia blossoms, paklan, stemmadenia – all unremarkably white – any of which sends me straight to heaven.
Mention food or drink and I cannot begin to sort out the delight of the pure and simple: freshly picked and juiced carrot, beet, daikon, ginger. Squeezed Kona orange juice, often blended with that of giant tangelos. Press guava or lilikoi (passionfruit) or Calmonsi lime into half a strawberry papaya and I cannot imagine a soda or cocktail that approaches that kind of glory to the tastebuds. And don’t get me started on the virtues of organic unsulphured California Blenheim apricots. I am also a fair ethnic cook – I love Indian food and preparing it, from cashew or saag chicken to samosas and fried pineapple. A great coconut rice pudding. I love to bake, and making pies is about as easy as walking, for me. Fresh peach pie, tarte au fruite, blueberry, apple, lemon meringue. Throw in a Boston Crème Pie, though that’s not really fair, as it’s a cake with a thick custard in the middle, topped with melted dark Valrona chocolate. And so I might as well toss yeasted breads into the mix, sweet and plain – while longing to try sourdough.
I love creatures of all kinds, especially dogs and horses, with whom I share a gentle understanding. I love our neighbor Boolcow – his hard shiny nose and the way he sniffs and licks our hands in greeting with his long pointy tongue. And although I think of myself as too serious at times, I delight in small children who, even upon first take, seem to recognize the impish child that lies within me and respond to it favorably – giving me license to cut free a bit and be silly.
And finally, I am happiest among those I love who enjoy the things I’ve mentioned, and more. Sunsets. A long hike or a swim in the ocean. A bracing bike ride. A great meal. Quiet company. Gut laughter. Deep conversation. A good film. Touch. The warmth and honesty and undeniable goodness and heart-rendering satisfaction of proximity, one to another. Our time together is always too short. Then again, too much stimulation and I crave time alone. Paradox. Gemini. Me, in a nutshell.