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Memorial Day: Remembering Two Lakes and Two Men

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  Now booking our fall 2018 Haven Writing Retreats! From book writers to journal writers and everything in-between, Haven will meet you where you need to be met! Come find your voice in the woods of Montana!

September 19-23 (FULL)

September 26-30 (one spot left)

October 24-28 (still room)

4:00 am.  Montana.  May.

I awake to a hard rain and a deep longing.  I’ve felt it all day and can’t quite place it.  But the rain drums on the metal roof like it’s my skull, and scares it out:  I have been longing for a lost and very old feeling…of safety.  Of being held.  And I know that I have to listen to the rain on the roof of my longing.

It’s not a rational longing.  I know that I live a life that is for, all intents and purposes, safe.

It’s my heart that forgets.

It happens this time of year when winter so rapidly wakes to the greening and blooming of May.  With the robin eggs hatching and little yellow beaks pointing to the sky– puffed up red-breasted daddies poking at worms for their babies.

It especially happens this weekend, when my son was born and my father died.  Memorial Day weekend.

Remembering hurts and I don’t want it to.  I want it to bring me the solace and salve that their love gave me–my father’s open arms, carrying me up the stairs each night when he came home from work, my son’s eager limbs, letting me carry him until he was too big and a snuggle on the couch sufficed.

I lie in bed at 4:00 am, the dawn-soon birdsongs maybe staved off by the rain, and I wonder:  Where is this heart-safety now?  I can’t see it in my tomorrow—not the way I want to.  I’m losing the people in my house, one by one.  My son is about to go to college.  And soon it’s going to be just me.

I lie here and let the longing out, letting myself imagine what it would take to feel like I did in my father’s arms and with my baby boy before he became big.  When we’d sit on the porch and nurse, while the robins fed their babies.  I lie here and let myself want that tender pause time, where I felt tucked in to the promise of those particular loving arms.

But I have to feel it.  Not just long for it.  It’s still in me.  It must be.

Now the rain bats, adamant, and I reel through the places of my life, trying to land on that warm, cared-for, safe feeling.  To use this tender time between consciousness and sleep to re-create it, and let it lullaby me through ‘til morning.

And I land.  I land on lake.  Two lakes.  Two men.  One me.

073db487f4c4c2354d17ccad8d24eb24Trout Lake.  Wisconsin.

Here, I am baby, child, little sister.  Here I am safe from suburban swimming pool rules and an un-swimmable 1970s Lake Michigan.  Here I dare the cold clean Wisconsin water, staring into it, pretending that it is thick glass, that I am that brave, that powerful, that in need of this particular water.

I’m not scared.  This isn’t a swimming lesson and there’s no winning or losing.  I pray my hands water-ward and go with a grin, slicing through, cast in Muskie-kissed water.  I float down until my hands lay flat on the sandy bottom.  Here I am lake baby, invisible now to my other self as long as I can hold my breath from leaking tattletale air bubbles, listening to the zing of the ski boats on the other side of the swimming ropes.

I like the sound of ski boats in my ears.  It’s the day’s Reveille to the night’s loon Taps.  You can’t have one without the other, as far as I know.  But I don’t think a lot here.

Here I pick up lapped-at stones along the lake shore, but not forget-me-nots.  I have a pact with them:  If I don’t pick them, they will remember this me, while I am back doing suburban Chicago things.

While the others nap, I sit on the screened porch and polish the rocks with Baby Oil so they look wet again– amber, sienna, umber marbles.

Dad comes in to admire my collection.  “I think it’s even better than last year’s.”

“Will you make sand castles with me now?”

He puts on his excited face, and I can tell that he only pretends to like making sand castles, but I can also tell that he loves how I want him to play with me.  That he longs for it.  Always this pressing, this knowing, that this is all so fleeting, fifty years my senior.  Maybe I make him feel as safe as he makes me feel.

“Carry me!” I beg, and he puts on the same pair of Ray Ban aviators he’s worn since World War II and hoists me up to his sunburned shoulders.  He smells like Sea and Ski, not like newspaper and the Chicago Loop.  He warns of rogue tree roots.  Leeches.  Black bears.  But we both know that this place is safe in all the ways that count.

We walk toward the lake, looking for chipmunks as we go, and he tells me stories of the one chipmunk who is always here, all winter when the cabins are empty, and screened doors don’t slap.  This one chipmunk who knows my heart and who knows me, and who will look over the little polished rock cairn that we leave under the cabin before climbing back into the station wagon for home.  This creature will keep my wonder safe and my father will remind me of it at bedtime, every night until we are back.  But we both know that it’s my father who holds my wonder.

On Memorial Day in 2004, I am standing at the end of his bed.  I hold his feet while he takes his last breath after 86 good years.  My son is four.  We go to the lake after that.  It’s been a long time.  No rocks under the cabin.  The forget-me-nots help.

073db487f4c4c2354d17ccad8d24eb24Whitefish Lake.  Montana. 

Here I am mother.  Here I am teaching the littlest of two children to dive from the dock.  He doesn’t want to point his hands to the glacial Montana lake.  He wants to do 360 Moonshine and mid-air Karate kicks and see how big the splash.  He wants to do it again.  And again.  And again.  He wants to see how long he can hold his breath underwater, but he is anything but invisible.  There is no suburb to wash off of him.  He lives here.  His screened porch door slaps all year long.

He collects stones too.  Flat ones to fling across the water and see how many times it will touch before it falls, counting the ripples.

“Watch, Mom,” he says, not caring if I do.  But I always do, and he knows it.

“Sixteen times!  You have one heck of an arm, son!”

He beams and I grab him and hold him to my hot summer skin.

“1…2…3…,” he shouts and takes my hand and we jump in the lake together.  And for a moment I lose him, and then I feel his arms under me, and his extraordinary face emerges.  “Look!  I can carry you!”

Don’t forget this, I think.  Do NOT forget this.  And I let him swim me to shore.

“When you get big, do you promise that you will still let me play with you?  And hug you?  And that we’ll swim in the lake together?”

“Of course, Mom.  Of course!”

And I can’t help but think:  He looks just like my father.

5:00 am.  Montana.  The first birds.  Robins.

He’s graduating next week.  And then he’s leaving for college September 1st.  There’ll be a lot of baseball through to August and for the next four years.  Leftie pitcher.  Heck of an arm.

I lie in bed, tears melting into my pillow.  But I’m smiling too, remembering.  I have held and been held.  I feel it, lying here.  And I wonder:  can I feel held by myself?  That’s what I truly long for.  That’s what I truly want to feel.

I decide that this year when the robins leave their nest on the porch lantern behind, I will take it and place it on my mantle.  I won’t fill it with anything.  Instead, I’ll study its woven grasses and mud, moss and twigs.  I’ll study the holding.  It’s my turn.

With so many of you enjoying Memorial Day, likely at lakes and on bodies of water across the country, I hope that you will let yourself feel held by the waters of your heart, where you can always find loving arms.  Your own.

Love,

Laura

Come write with me on Lake Superior this July at the Madeline School for the Arts!

This program will be very different from my Haven Writing Retreats in Montana.  For more info, 

Click here ! 

MISA

 

 

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Ask Your Mother

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Well it’s Mother’s Day. I am ever aware of how grateful I am for mine, and for the honor of being a mother too.  Not everyone feels so great on this day.  I have a hard time on Father’s Day.  But for all of you, no matter what…there are people you love, who are older than you, and who have inspired you.  Here’s a list of questions that bring out a lot in those people.  We are honored to have the answers of my mother, and two mothers of Haven Writing Retreat alums HERE!  Pour a cup of tea on this fine morning, read, enjoy, and learn.  It’s all about the questions, after all.  (list of questions at the end)

Love,

Laura

Questions to Ask Your Mother:

Virgina 

1)    What would you like your descendants to know about you?

My whole life I’ve felt secure.  I’ve been very lucky.  Not everybody has had wonderful parents, and two wonderful marriages.

2)    What excites you?

I like the feeling of performing and meeting people’s expectations, whether it was my mother, or my teachers.

3)    What is your idea of a perfect day, from any time in your life?

I was twelve and it was my birthday, and my mother and father gave me a watch and a hay ride for my birthday party, and that stands out as one of my most favorite days. In Glenview, IL.  A gold watch—with a little black band—made out of a twisted woven sort of material.  A HAY RIDE IS SUCH FUN!  AND IT WAS A SURPRISE!  That was 74 years ago!

4)    If you could ask your mother or father one question, what would it be?

I have a genealogical question I would ask them:  Who was Seth Aldrich’s father? (Spencer, MA—married Mary Knight (Holly), married in 1804, and had Jefferson, who had William Elliot, who had Hilan Duane, who had Jefferson Elliot, who had me.

5)    When they say, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” what specific small stuff should I not sweat?

You should sweat the small stuff.  I’m a perfectionist.  And I haven’t changed what I want to be perfect in my life.

6)    What are some things you spent a lot of time on in your life that in hind-sight weren’t worth it?

Nothing.

7)    What is your favorite swear word?

shistervonboodlebottom

8)    What should I look for in a friend?

You want someone you can trust, who is loyal, who loves you, and has your best interests at heart, and who would never want to hurt you, and who cares deeply about you.  And there are not many people like that.  You’re lucky if you have three friends in your life, who you would do anything for and they’d do anything for you and you’d stop your life for them.  They remember my anniversary, and details, and they care.

9)    What should people look for in a partner?

Someone who has a belief in God, and who you can trust.

10) What is your advice on marriage?

Marry someone that you can trust.  Who you know adores you and you adore them.  Who you would do anything for and they would do anything for you.  And they would make the effort to make sure it lasts forever, and would never do anything to hurt you.  Someone you admire and respect.  You have to give all of yourself—you marry someone for better for worse, and you don’t give up.

11) What is your advice on aging?

Try and take care of yourself, exercise, be more flexible, because things don’t go the way you wished as you age.

12) When in your life have you been most happy?

Being married to your father.  I loved when he walked through the door.  I adored your father.  Just to see him and be with him, knowing he loved me, and he’d change his clothes and take the kids, and have dinner, and go outside and garden.  I could count on him.  I could trust him.  He would take care of those topiary trees.  He was always working to make sure that things were just perfect.  All of our friends hired gardeners and we never did.

13) What is the value of school?

To learn all that you can to help you in life later on.  Two examples:

In 7th grade, Miss Lawrence who was very demanding, and was my English teacher.  I felt challenged and supported by her.

There was a woman at Bennett name Miss Cody, and also expected you to do the best you could do.  She scared the hell out of me.  I wanted to do what she wanted me to do.

14) What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Knowing all that I have to do.  I’m a day person.  My friends say that I do five times what they do in a day, so I have to get up early to accomplish it all.

15) What is your advice to parents:

Make sure that as parents, you are honest with each other and in good communication.  And are a united force.

16) What is your advice on money?  Save it or spend it or a little of both?

Be as wise as you can be about how you spend your money, but knowing that you’re not going to live forever, you might as well do what you want and travel.  I try not to order the most expensive thing on the menu.  Know how much money you have.  You don’t want to be in debt.  We were never trust fund children, so we had to borrow money.  That’s why I started my business so I could make extra money to support us. I might not have started my business if I had more money.

17) What are three places I must see on this planet?

Israel—knowing that Jesus was there

Thailand—so exotic

Africa—looking at all the animals free and in the wild

Nepal—rode elephants to look for tigers

Loved going to Norway and all the Fjords

Alaska—islands

India was too dirty.  Liked Agra.

18) What are some words to live by?

Be honest.  Do your best.  Be all that you can be.  Be kind to others.

19) What makes me special?

You’re able to support your family, be everything for your family, and you work so hard and you are amazing and I don’t know anyone who can do all that you do.  I don’t know when you sleep.

20) When I am your age, what should I strive for?

To be somebody who people respect, and to have done the best job you knew how to do.  Your father used to say that on my gravestone it should read, “At least she tried.”

21) What are your hopes for this planet?

That we never have war.  That we have peace.  That people will love each other.  And we can be environmentally safe.

22) What would you like your legacy to be?

To have people remember me with love.  And that I was the keeper of memories.  I had a different color photo album for each child.  I didn’t put your photos in a shoebox.  I tried!

23) When you get to the Pearly Gates, what will you say to God?

I hope I’m worthy to be here.

Haven Writing Retreat Alum, Kim Smith’s mother:  Madalenne 

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1) What would you like your descendants to know about you?
That I was loving, kind, and generous. Unless you’re giving me bad service – then I’m a bit of a pill. But, otherwise, loving, kind, and generous.
2) What excites you?
Projects and challenges! Keeping busy and staying productive is so important - there’s really no age at which that doesn’t hold true. I’m currently the volunteer librarian at a local Catholic high school, and am thoroughly enjoying putting their library and their textbook dispensary in order. The Dewey Decimal System is a thing of beauty!
3) What is your idea of a perfect day, from any time in your life?
The first time I became a mother is the closest thing to a perfect day in my life that I can recall.
4) If you could ask your mother or father one question, what would it be?
“Can you please tell me the details of your family history?”
5) When they say, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” what specific small stuff should I not sweat?
Someone else’s idiosyncrasies! Remember that you, too, have idiosyncrasies, and that you cannot change someone else’s behavior – it’s a waste of precious energy to try. So, as the young folks say “Just chill!”
6) What are some things you spent a lot of time on in your life that in hind-sight weren’t worth it?
Trying to change someone else’s idiosyncrasies!
7) What is your favorite swear word?
While I may, or may not, have used the colloquial word for bull feces once or twice in my life, my “go-to” expletive is “numb nuts!”
8) What should I look for in a friend?
The best friends possess a magical combination of kindness, loyalty, intelligence, and good humor. When you find them, do all you can to cherish them and keep them close. They, along with your children, are life’s great treasures.
9) What should people look for in a partner?
Love. Generosity. Fidelity. Shared interests and goals. A sense of humor.
10) What is your advice on aging?
Keep your sense of humor (are you sensing a theme?!). Stay busy. Stay loving and caring, and focus, as best you can, on your blessings, and not your burdens. Choose happiness.
11) When in your life have you been most happy?
Having lived a life rich with happiness – in both small moments of quiet joy and of overwhelming bliss – I cannot isolate any particular time or year, and call it my happiest. Having said that, the years we spent on Chicago’s North Shore, raising our children, being involved in rugby (and so many other things), and making lifelong friends, was a very special time for me.
12) What is the value of school?
The value of education is incalculable. If you aim to be a happy and productive human, capable of enriching the lives of others, get thee to school! The best education inculcates not only knowledge, but also character, compassion, and integrity. And NEVER stop learning. Never, never, never.
13) What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Prayers, projects, and challenges. Also, cortisone shots and a not-insignificant amount of Motrin.
14) What is your advice to parents?
Demonstrate, every day in every way possible, the following qualities: love, positive communication, thoughtfulness, compassion, patience. Be kind and respectful to everyone you come in contact with, and there is a far greater chance that your children will grow up to be kind and accepting as well. Remember…they are always watching you, always listening to you. Show them the kind of person you’d hope them to be.
15) What is your advice on money? Save it or spend it or a little of both?
Are you joking?! I am the last person anyone should seek financial advice from.
16) What are three places I must see on this planet?
Oxford, Florence, St. Petersburg.
17) What are some words to live by?
“Nothing is worth more than this day.”
18) What makes me special?
The inner beauty you have always possessed. Your kindness and thoughtfulness. Your intuitive understanding of family, friends, and associates, that enriches them all.
19) When I am your age, what should I strive for?
Humor. Activity. Acceptance. Serenity!
20) What are your hopes for this planet?
The return of the Messiah. This is what I devoutly wish for this troubled, wonderful, singular planet of ours.
21) What would you like your legacy to be?
My legacy is a living one…the jewels in my crown, my extraordinary children, Kim, Paige, and Richard, who have already made this world, and the many lives they’ve touched, a better place.
22) When you get to the Pearly Gates, what will you say to God?
At Last!
Haven Writing Retreat Alum Cathy Kenworthy’s mother-in-law, Lucille

1.  I would like my descendants to know I love them more than anything in the world.
2.  What excites me – A good Symphony or Opera
3.  One Mother’s Day with my Mother and three children in a little mountain town. And my 75th Birthday in NY.
4.  If I could ask my mother or father one question what would that be? Do you wish you had had more than two children?
5.  Don’t sweat what you cannot change.lucille_in_maine
6.  In hindsight I would not be jealous – ever.
7   My favorite swear word is s___.   Sorry about that.
8.  In a friend I demand loyalty.
9.  In a partner – same thing but unconditional love.
10.  On aging – enjoy the benefits, forget the tribulations.
11.  I was most happy when my three children were in their teens.
12.  I don’t know what I would do without school.  I enjoy learning.
13.  Time of the day gets me out of bed in the morning.
14   Advice to parents – Know what is going on with your children and care about it.
15.  Advice on money – spend it!
16.  Two of the places I must see on this planet I have already seen – Italy, Great Britain. Would like Galapagos.
17.  Words to live by – Golden Rule.
18.  What makes you special:  There are many things– you are exceptional.  Bright, beautiful, caring.
19   At my age – don’t change what you are striving for – same as what you are striving for now.
20.  My hopes for this planet – environmentally in much better shape than it is now.
21.  What I like my legacy to be – a happy family.
22.  When I get to the Pearly Gates I will say I am so glad to have made it there – instead of the other place.

THE QUESTIONS.  Call your mother today if you can.  Ask her some of these questions.  Cherish the moment.  Keep the answers.  And if your mother isn’t available, ask someone else’s mother, or mother-in-law, or your father, or an elder in your world.  It’s a gift to them too.

1)    What would you like your descendants to know about you?

2)    What excites you?

3)    What is your idea of a perfect day, from any time in your life?

4)    If you could ask your mother or father one question, what would it be?

5)    When they say, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” what specific small stuff should I not sweat?

6)    What are some things you spent a lot of time on in your life that in hind-sight weren’t worth it?

7)    What is your favorite swear word?

8)    What should I look for in a friend?

9)    What should people look for in a partner?

10) What is your advice on aging?

11) When in your life have you been most happy?

12) What is the value of school?

13) What gets you out of bed in the morning?

14) What is your advice to parents?

15) What is your advice on money?  Save it or spend it or a little of both?

16) What are three places I must see on this planet?

17) What are some words to live by?

18) What makes me special?

19) When I am your age, what should I strive for?

20) What are your hopes for this planet?

21) What would you like your legacy to be?

22) When you get to the Pearly Gates, what will you say to God?

Now booking our fall 2018 Haven Writing Retreats! From book writers to journal writers and everything in-between, Haven will meet you where you need to be met! Come find your voice in the woods of Montana!

September 19-23 (FULL)

September 26-30 (one spot left)

October 24-28 (still room)

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What to say when someone dies

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Now booking our fall 2018 Haven Writing Retreats! From book writers to journal writers and everything in-between, Haven will meet you where you need to be met! Come find your voice in the woods of Montana!

Click here for more info

September 19-23 (FULL)

September 26-30 (still room)

October 24-28 (still room)

I’m re-posting this in honor of Haven Writing Retreat alum, Christine, who lost her husband Brian in an heroic, and tragic accident over spring break.  Our whole Haven community sends you love.

No one really knows what to say to someone when their loved one dies.  You can say, “You’re in my thoughts and prayers,” and maybe that’s true.  Maybe you actually know what to think or pray on that person’s behalf.  Personally, I’m never sure. 

You can tell them that you’ll be there for them—that you’re their middle-of-the-night-phone-call friend, and promise to sleep with the phone near your bed.  You can write them a With Sympathy card and let Hallmark say something in lofty cursive and sign your name with love.  Or make a digital card with organ music to have a more flashy effect.  You can go to the funeral and wake and talk about all the good memories of their loved one, memorialize them with a slide show, give a toast, even ease the pain with some good jokes. 

You can bring them soup.  Bone soup, if you’ve been there.  If you know how hard it is to eat when you are in emotional triage.  It gets physical fast.  And every bite needs to hold health.

You can use social media to show support, post by post.  But do you “Like” an announcement of death?  Do you “Share” it?  Do you “Comment?”  It’s all a way of observing your friend’s loss.  But in the same place you share about what you ate for breakfast? 

You can give them books:  A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, in which the minister rages against the loss of his beloved wife, himself, his God, and Who Dies, by Stephen Levine, especially Chapter 8, where he goes deeply into Grief as an ultimate vehicle of liberation, saying, “We are dropped into the very pit of despair and longing…an initiation often encountered along the fierce journey toward freedom, spoken of in the biographies of many saints and sages.”  But most people are not open to that journey in the first place, and certainly not when their hearts are shattered into splintered shards.

The truth is, and it hurts in the worst way…that ultimately, the mourner will be alone in their grief, and who wants to say that?  Who wants to bear the news that soon…people will stop Thinking, and Praying, and Liking, and Sharing, and Commenting, and bringing soup, and sending cards and emails and books.  Even the phone calls and texts will fall away.  The unspoken reality is:  People go back to their lives and you are alone.  You are in a club that you never wanted to be in.  And that’s when you watch Renee Fleming singing “Walk On” over and over on youtube as loud as you can.  And eventually…you do.  You absorb the grief.  And you start to see the “golden sky” she’s singing about.  But you never get over your loss.  Never.222

There is the opportunity, however, to use it.  If you’re in the club, you might as well be a steady and gracious club member.  I’m in the club.  And recently, one of my dear friend’s beloved husband dropped dead out of nowhere.  She’d lost her grandparents in their old age.  No one else.  She was bereft.  She asked me to write her a list of things that would help her, based on a phone call we’d shared.  Her mind was in a triage fog, my words were helpful to her, and she wanted to remember them. 

Here is what I wrote.  I offer it to you, if you are a new member of this club.  You are not alone.  And I offer it to you if you are one of those people wondering what to Think, Pray, Say…do: 

Hello, beautiful.  I am thinking of you non-stop.  Thank you for calling on me to be in your circle at this impossible time.  I am not afraid of this, so I’m glad you called me in.  I will be there for you.  The books you asked for should be there by the end of the week.  I will write some of the points I made on the phone here, since you asked for them.  If my words on the phone were helpful, it’s only because you are open to them.  I truly hope they help.  Here is what has helped me and some of the people I know who have been through deep loss: 

  • First of all:  Breathe.  I mean it.  That’s your most important tool to stay in the present, out of fear, and to sustain yourself.  You will find yourself holding your breath.  Try to stay aware of your breath no matter what and keep breathing…in…out…in…out.  Deeply if you can.  Little sips when deep is too hard.
  • Lean into Love.  Wherever you can find it.  In your God.  In friends and family.  In yourself.  Let it hold you for now.  Call on friends and family to give you what you need.  You cannot offend anyone right now.  Let us know what you need and tell us how to give it to you.  “Bring me dinner, please.  Come sit with me.  Read to me.  Sing to me.  Rub my back.  Draw me a bath…” 
  • That said, be careful who you bring into your circle.  Stay away from people who say things like, “He’s in a better place,” or “Everything happens for a reason.”  They’re trying to help, and maybe those things are true, but right now you need people who are not afraid to hold the space for your pain.  You need to find the people who feel easy and safe and not necessarily wise.  Keep your circle small for now.  It might be that you call on people very different from the ones you habitually have in your life.
  • Make sure to eat.  Even if you want to throw up.  Please, eat.  And drink a lot of water.  You don’t want to block your natural energy flow.  Your body actually knows how to handle this immense pain.
  • Lie in bed with your feet up. 
  • Take a walk if you can, every day.  Even if it’s short.  Just get outside.
  • Take Epsom Salt baths.  Lavender oil helps.  Keep some in your purse, put a few drops on your palm, rub your hands together, then cup your hands to your nose and breathe deeply when you need grounding.
  • Write.  If you can.  Just a little bit.  If you have it in you, at some point sooner than later, it’s incredibly useful to write down your vision of what was “supposed to be.”  I heard those words come from your deepest place of sacred rage and I believe that to write that story, as fully fleshed out as possible, would be an important step in one day sending off that “supposed to be” into the sea of surrender.  So that you don’t have to hold it anymore and you can live into your future.  Letting the supposed-to-be go doesn’t mean that you do it injustice or that it no longer exists in dreams and heart.  But it’s important not to have it become armor of some sort.  It’s not time now to surrender it.  But I do believe that it would be helpful just to write it out with great details as a way to honor it.  And one day…yes, to let it go.  Writing is the most transformational and therapeutic tool I know and I think it should be up there with diet and exercise in the realm of wellness.  Keep a journal by your bed.  It helps.
  • When the terrifying, claustrophobic, impossible thoughts come, do not let them multiply.  Literally put up a wall that keeps them on the other side.  They are not your friend.  There is no making sense of this loss.  Unless your thoughts are loving and forgiving and helpful, banish them.  If you have to shout “NO!” then do it.  What you let into your mind should feel and act like the very best friends and family who would never let you entertain fear, but only shower you with love.  Love yourself.  There is no thinking your way through this.  This is a time to really find what it is to just…be.  Breathe.  Breathe.  Breathe.  In out in out.
  • There is no check list right now.  There is nowhere to get.  There is no goal other than to fully live in the present moment.  You can’t skip steps with triage, grief, or healing.  Grief attacks at will, it seems.  Be gentle with yourself if you feel graceless around it.  You have to feel it to shed it.
  • Go slowly.  Be careful.  The only real wisdom I have gleaned from Grief is this:  Grief is one of our greatest teachers because it doesn’t allow for hiding places.  When we open to our sorrow, we find truth.   Your tears then, are truth.  Honor them.

That’s enough for now.  The main thing is to be gentle with yourself.  I love you so.  And the love you two shared will never ever go away.  He is Love now and he is all around you and in you.  If you can’t feel him, feel Love and you will be feeling him.

Hope that helps.  You can do this.  I am here for you.  I promise.  If only just to listen to your tears and let you know you are not alone.

Love, 

Laura

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Ladies, We Need to Talk Money!

Haven-4-1024x1024There’s nothing like 4 am for all the good haunts, money being at the top of the list.  This morning, I realized:  We need to start talking about money.  Period.  Throw aside your east coast cranky Yankee “T.J. Max’s finest,” your mid-western farm-stock “Hand-me-down,” your mountain-mama “Made it myself,” your mildewy PNW, “5 bucks at a thrift shop,” your southern belle, “Oh, this old thing?”

This is a call to action!  Especially to women.  Especially to single women.  Especially to single women of a certain age:  we need to start talking about money!  (Yes, even you, my WASP sisterhood.)15-my-two-cents.nocrop.w710.h2147483647

The other night, I spent two hours on the phone with a dear old friend  of mine.  We have a very specific and special friendship.  We were roommates for a semester in college in a foreign country.  We have never lived near each other.  We have never had mutual social engagements or group interactions.  It’s always just the two of us on the telephone, hashing it all out.  We go deep, fast.  And because of that, we also go months, sometimes years without talking.  It requires a large window.  But we figure—this sort of friendship is rare.  And we don’t get to see each other in real life– I think we’ve seen each other three times in the last two decades in person.  And still, somehow, we love and trust each other like sisters.  Sisters who need each other.  All of a sudden.  When the shit hits the fan.

So our friendship is based on these epic phone calls, when we both have a wide open window.  And it’s usually when we’re both in pain and really need a friend.  We are both, at age 51, financially independent women.  No hubbie taking care of us.  And whatever’s in the bank, has everything to do with our ability to put it there by mining our talents, creating businesses, and being highly adaptive.  In other words, neither of us has done it the way we were “supposed to” do it.  And that has had its rewards in spades.  Just not necessarily in dollars.

“Can we talk about money?” I said to her.  “Like really talk about money?  In all the ways we need to, but aren’t really supposed to?”

“Yes.  Please!  I need it.”rosie

I went past everything I’ve been taught, and launched in.  I told her what I have in savings.  I told her what I have in my business account.  And I told her what I have in my personal and retirement accounts.  I told her how much my house was appraised for and what I pay for my mortgage every month.

And then I added, “I’m alone in this.  And even though I have great people on my team…I’m really doing all of this alone.  And it’s all been baptism by fire.  I really had no idea what I was doing when I started my business.  I didn’t even know what a mortgage really was, never mind the word amortization.  I still don’t have a clue what that is.”

It was her turn.  She told me her versions of all of the above.  It felt positively liberating.  I trust her.  She trusts me.  And we’re not lying in bed talking about boys and dreams.  We’re talking about the shake down of all of that.  The other side.  The raw reality that we are both faced with.  Will we always be alone in this?  Will we ever have other people in our lives who help us financially?  Will we get a break or will we be the sole generators of income for the rest of our lives?  How can we fortify our financial future?  Our dreams?  Can we even afford to dream?

What I love about us is that we are still those little girl dreamers we once were.  But we now have seasoned reasons why some dreams are worth wrangling right now for sanity’s sake than others.

“I’m so glad we’re having this conversation,” she said.  “Women need to have this conversation.  And I can tell you:  most of them aren’t.”

Why, I wonder?  Is it shame?  Is it that we think we are weak when we speak our truth, especially about money?  Do we think we’ll be judged?  Do we think being stoic is powerful?  I can tell you…it’s not.

What would it take for women to have these conversations?  A completely non-threatening woman in your life who you’ve never had to compare yourself to in waistline or social prowess or cocktail party cleverness?  Someone you never shot the shit with in the school pick-up line, or with whom you felt the pull of gossip or push of bandwagon or zing of local political divide?  I hope not.3333_are-women-more-risk-averse-investors_1

I hope that we can have this conversation with exactly those people you’ve rolled around with in your town, in the local heartbreaks and purchase.  I hope that at your next gathering, you can grab a woman who you know is going through the exact thing you are—divorce, re-invention, empty nest, troubled kids—whatever, and pull her into a side room where no one’s listening and say,

“Sister.  We need to talk.  Are you okay?  And I don’t mean just your heart.  I mean…do you have your affairs in order, financially?  Because I learned baptism by fire, and I have a great financial advisor, and you need to be on top of this.  There’s no shame here, and if there is, it’s time to chuck it out the window.  You are going to be old one day and we live in a country where our Social Security is not enough to live on!  You’ve got to be smart.  You’ve got to plan.  The future is going to happen, if it in fact happens, and you have to be prepared.”

I frankly cannot believe these words are coming out of my heart and mind and onto the page.  Even as I write them, I feel loath to push Publish.  What will my mother think?  What will my WASP kindred say if they read this?  But I don’t want for you what happened to me.  The cold hard reality is this:  The rugs of life get ripped out from underneath us.  No matter how perfect we think our lives are or how hard we’ve worked to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s.  And we need each other.  We don’t have to do this alone.

So ladies…take a deep breath, gulp, even roll your eyes a little…but think of that friend you can trust, and call her.  Ask her if she’d be willing to talk money with you.  And if she says yes, then get in that mosh pit together and roll around in that mud until you come out knowing you’re not alone, with some pretty good ideas, and a very good plan.  Rinse.  Repeat.  Because that, is priceless.

My dear friend is here.

Here’s a piece I wrote about how I re-invented, in the former editor-in-chief of More Magazine’s  new brain child:  Covey Club.  May it inspire you to mine your passions!

Come wander in your words at a Haven Writing Retreat in 2018! You don’t have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker who dearly longs for your voice.

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You Need a BREAK!

Haven-4-1024x1024

Come wander in your words at a Haven Writing Retreat in 2018! You don’t have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker who dearly longs for your voice.
Now Booking Haven I Retreats 2018! Click here for more info.

February 28-4 (full)
April 18-22 (one spot left)
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September 19-23
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October 24-28

You give yourself a break.  Time away.  You get to feel new ozone on your skin and wander streets that might have you fall between the cracks, and you like it that way.  Your life needs more cracks and more possibility and maybe even more danger.  Things are too plum, shored, sealed up tight.  You need to be sloppy.  Irresponsible, even.  You maybe even need to turn a heel in a crack and fall. Mostly, you need to bum around and forget about things.  You need to stop in a café and have a cappuccino just because why not.  You don’t really drink coffee but a cappuccino looks so good.  You don’t really give yourself those little gemstone pauses these days and you need to.  You need to sit at tables in public and watch the world go by.  You need to get away from your routine—all that sitting alone staring at a computer.  You need to get away from your list—that never-ending list.  You need to get away from that voice which stands behind you with a megaphone, blaring at you all the time and even when you sleep, to do it faster, better, best.  And p.s…you’ll never do it as well as you should, or could or were supposed to.  And the worst of it:  This voice is YOU.

At 4 a.m. you actually sit up in bed and shout, “ENOUGH!  STOP!  Go away!”

And that’s what you need:  you need to go away.  Maybe she’ll stay at home and make perfect grilled cheese sandwiches and remember to pay the property taxes on time, and make sure to have a dozen eggs in the fridge no matter what.  And write thank you notes and send Christmas cards before Christmas and remember everyone’s birthdays and get the driveway plowed at just the right time, before the storm, before the thaw, UNLIKE you…when you fail to consult Mother Nature, and the whole world is an ice-skating rink, and no one has control over their cars or footing.  And it’s all your fault, because you didn’t deal when you should have, could have, were supposed to.  In short, you suck.  Either way, you suck.  So you might as well leave.

Enough!  I’m out of here!  You stay here and do it all right.  I’m going to go get a little, or a lot, lost.  There’s an extra set of keys in the little drawer next to the stove.  Oh, and the propane bill is late.  Hope you have heat.  The woodstove is exceptional.  But there’s zero wood on the front porch, and the path to the woodpile isn’t shoveled, so good freaking luck!

And lo, you find yourself in Mexico.  In a little hill town.  Thin, cobble-stoned streets, full of fallen women.  Just like you.  Divorced.  Middle-aged.  Artists.  Sad.  Looking for happy.  But in the mean-time…just looking for…looking.  They are you and if that’s true, you’ve never looked more hopeless in your life.  But at least you’re not at home.  Staring at your computer.  And at the snow.  And at February.

You need to just…sit.  And let the world go blurry.  Lose time.  Have that one cup of coffee be your only goal.  And maybe you won’t even drink it.  It will just sit there getting cold.  You have no commitment to it.  You can leave it untouched and it will hold nothing against you.  Maybe you order wine instead.  At noon.  And decide you want to sit in a church after.  And then on a park bench.  And then take a nap.  There’s a weight on your back that you need to shake.  It feels like a feral dog and it’s about to grab you, jugular, all the time, unless you keep going and going and going…email by email, buttons– so many buttons, screens, phone calls, gas, bills, heat, groceries, school and sports event after event, parent by parent.  Are we all really doing this so well?  Is anyone else about to be slain by February?  If anyone asked, and if anyone answered, the whole thing might erupt and send ash for miles, across states, to the sea.  So no one does.  We slog.  And we say, “How are you?”  And we say, “I’m fine.”  Are we?

I had to leave.  I had to stop.  I had to get off the orbit and float in space.  I took a week.  I wrote for hours every day in my journal.  By day six, the dog was finally off my back.  I heard it growling around a corner, but it was growling at someone else.  Another person.  A running person.  I was sitting in a church with wine breath and it decided I wasn’t worth it.

A week of this– no 4 a.m. haunts for seven days.  And on day six, I was free.  And I was new.  For one day.  I slept until 11:00.  I sat by a pool and read Vanity Fair (my porn).  I thought about nothing but whatever was in those pages, like some kidnapped socialite who wrote a memoir, and I didn’t really even think too much about her because she looked okay in her polka-dot dress…until I fell asleep in the sun, getting my last fix of Vitamin D.

And then I got my notice from the airline that it was time to check in.  And the dog began growling at me.  Not that other person.  Me.  I warded him off all the way through a four hour wait in Mexico City and nine hours of flights.  And I came home.  And it was all still there.  The very opposite of the green green grass of my vacation.  No one shoveled and we had 20 inches.  The mail stacked up because I forgot to have it held.  The mailbox creaked a refusal when I pried it open.  No one set mouse traps and one (or a whole family) have taken up real estate in my pantry closet—seems they really like pancake mix.  My truck was dead on arrival with a low front tire, at that.  And my homeowner’s insurance is a month late.  Oh, the satellite got turned off too.  I must have had what Holly Go-lightly calls The Mean Reds.  And I don’t feel so new anymore.

I’m up at 4 a.m. again.  Sleeping with the dog.

I have a few more months of this, before the birds come back and promise that the world will melt to color again and myself too.  I look out at the still-snow, deer paths labyrinthine from my blanketed garden to my blanketed front door, as if they too are sick of it and want to come in by the fire.  And I know:  I have a choice.  I can welcome this last rash of dormancy.  I can accept and allow this no thing-ness, this negative space of winter.  I can try to take small sips of that getting lost feeling even with my stacked-up responsibilities.  I can even try to take the dog off my back and let him run around in my Montana field and get all his growling and barking out of his system, at least for a few hours.

And if that’s not true, if the cruelty that is February this year, is not shakable in my own neck of the woods…then I have learned nothing in my life.  And I know for certain that’s not true.  I wrote a whole book about happiness being a choice.  Thank you, February, for giving me practice.  Lots and lots of practice.  I don’t know if practice makes perfect, but I do know that the next time someone asks me how I am, I’m going to suggest that we both answer what is really true.  And I give us both permission to say, “Not so great.  Want to go have a cappuccino?  Or maybe a glass of wine?”

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Haven Winter Blog Series: My Haven

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 Come wander in your words at a Haven Writing Retreat in 2018!

You don’t have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker who dearly longs for your voice.
Now Booking Haven I Retreats 2018! Click here for more info.

February 28-4
April 18-22
May 16-20
September 19-23
September 26-30
October 24-28

Every year I give my blog over to my Haven Writing Retreats alums for a week or so, and ask them to write on a theme. This year it’s this question: What is your haven and how do you show up for it?

Here is my answer.

You Are My Haven

Laura Di Franco

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You are my haven,

my safe space to be

me.

 

You’re my shelter

in a storm.

The only one

who sees.

 

You feed

my soul,

wrap your arms

around my heart,

hold the pieces

broken apart.

You

are the glue.

 

You’re the mirror

for my soul

how I know

myself

my essence

my purpose

my worth,

get acquainted

with the light

and the dark.

 

You help me

shine

remind me

there’s no more time

to be afraid.

 

What you say

sits softly

in my core

twirling

a magic wand

creating a song

from the shadows

there.

 

Finding you

like a jewel

just lying there

all sparkly and blue

in the mud

saying, “scoop me up.”

It’s like you

were dropped there

from heaven.

My haven

is you,

the calm

the fire

the peace

you inspire

the strength

I feel

in my bones

how my mind

feels light

and free.

 

Thank you

for giving those treasures

to me.

Thank you for

treading

gently,

holding me

firmly,

keeping me

still,

forcing me

into

the healing.

 

You

are my haven.

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Haven Winter Blog Series: My Haven

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 Come wander in your words at a Haven Writing Retreat in 2018!

You don’t have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker who dearly longs for your voice.
Now Booking Haven I Retreats 2018! Click here for more info.

February 28-4
April 18-22
May 16-20
September 19-23
September 26-30
October 24-28

Every year I give my blog over to my Haven Writing Retreats alums for a week or so, and ask them to write on a theme. This year it’s this question: What is your haven and how do you show up for it?

Here is my answer.

The Chapel

Jennifer Revill

Chapel 1

Amidst the crowded terminals, the sensory assault of the checkpoints, and the rumble of shuttle buses at the curb, there is a place that breeds calm. On this day, I am alone at Our Lady of the Airways chapel at Logan International Airport.  The midday Mass is over, and the dim, brick-walled, low-ceilinged sanctuary is quiet. A decorative wood grid ceiling floats above the rows of pews. (There’s a local joke: it’s appropriate that the pews at the airport chapel have insufficient legroom.) Rows of colored votive candles glow.

When it opened in 1951, this chapel was the first at a US airport, and the first Catholic one. But like many airport chapels throughout the world, it has become nondenominational of necessity. Below one of the Stations of the Cross, there is a neat stack of prayer rugs and a diagram with an arrow pointing towards Mecca.

During my thirty years as a facility manager at this airport, I’ve observed millions of travelers. What they do can be amusing, even endearing, but also aggravating, sometimes downright distressing, and, every so often, illegal. These people want and need many things: a craft-brewed beer, a cinnamon latte, a place to nurse their baby, to charge their phone, or to shed a tear in private. Though they are travelers, they are vulnerable human beings first, who exhibit the complete range of human emotions while under our roof: dread, fury, despondency, anticipation, joy.  Always, they want to feel secure, and to feel certain about what’s going to happen next. It’s my job to help them succeed in this.

I was at Logan on 9/11. That morning, a colleague raced out of his office, shouting, “An aircraft just hit the World Trade Center!” Was this possible? And then he said, “And they’re saying that the plane left from here!” This was downright terrifying. Within an hour, not knowing much more than the rest of a shocked nation, a team of us had gathered at the airport hotel in preparation for…what? This was not an ordinary crash that we were trained to handle. That day, we could only watch the tragedy unfold on television. Holding hands in that hotel conference room, we watched the North Tower collapse, many of us weeping.  The airport chaplain stayed with us all afternoon, tendering comfort and prayers.

Eventually, amidst the uncertainty, we set to work. We received and comforted the families of the crew and passengers on the two airliners that had been lost, who showed up at the airport for lack of any other place to go. Every building, parking garage, tunnel, and rooftop were inspected. We also needed to close and secure every terminal at Logan for the several no-fly days that followed the attacks. Airports are not designed to be locked. This had never been done. It seemed impossible.

But it wasn’t impossible.  How do any of us ever do the many impossible things that we are all called upon to do in a life? Starting from a place of security helps; but if we don’t have that, and we don’t have certainty, we simply stumble forward in faith and hope. As vulnerable human beings, we set to work, doing our best and trusting for grace.

This chapel is my Haven. I come here when I need respite from work stress, or a moment to expand my heart. I think about life, the loss and pain of it and the exultation of it. I say thanks for the people who feel their way through life beside me. This little chapel helps remind me that so much is possible.

My Haven

Natasha Kasprzyk

As a high school English teacher, I’m used to being asked questions.

A lot of questions.

Most of the time, the questions allow for reasonable answers:

What’s a semicolon?

Why does “pneumonia” start with a “p”?

How long does this have to be?

Some questions have answers, but they’re never satisfying:

Why did Candy let Carlson shoot his dog?

How could the jury convict Tom Robinson?

But those are nothing when put up against the mother of all questions:

What does this word mean?

How do we know what a word means? Do we consult the Rosetta Stone? Urban Dictionary? Connotations from 1972, 1986, or 2015? How my nephew names his toys? Is there a “correct” meaning for any word?

Take “haven,” for example. Merriam-Webster’s primary definition is “harbor, port”. So…where a sailboat hangs out when it’s over summer tourism and needs to introvert extra hard?

The secondary definition of “haven” is “a place of safety: refuge.” I don’t get why that’s the second definition. Was it 26 votes shy of taking first after the dictionary gods found themselves deadlocked and handed over the reins to Survey Monkey, letting plebeians make the final call?

The older I get, the more strongly I believe that to truly honor a word, one should pick it apart, turn it inside out, see how it looks next to last year’s favorite sweater, the hurrah of this year’s 4th of July fireworks, a hot mug of tea…and how it fits inside one’s heart.

Or, in my case, how one’s heart creates space – becomes a haven – for another, and for itself.

In March 2011, my heart was beating too fast, working too hard, and becoming too full of what didn’t serve it. If I couldn’t realign its purpose, I didn’t know how much of my original self I’d be able to save.

In one grateful moment, I realized that in order to be me, to be my true self, I needed to take care of someone else.

I’ll never forget the afternoon I brought him home. He just stared at me, his brown eyes boring holes into my soul, wondering if he’d be safe, loved, protected…and, perhaps, what my expectations of him would be.

Don’t put him in bed with you, they said. He’ll never sleep in his own bed, they said.

We’ll be fine, I said.

Seven years later, we’re still fine.

I’ve shaped my life around him. I make sacrifices for him. He can drive me absolutely bonkers for three days straight, but as soon as I have to turn my back and leave him with people who love him, I miss him.

He is my everything.

This is how I show up for him, my haven: I make room in my heart because I love him so much.

He radiates joy when we go to the park, as he runs and spins in circles until he’s out of breath. He brings joy and smiles to friends and strangers because, really, he’s just that cute.

And, at the end of the day, he curls up in my lap, nudges my legs with his head, lets out a deep sigh and a soft smack of his lips as he settles into sleep.

To love him and see a brighter, more interesting world through his eyes — he is my haven, he will forever be the primary definition for that word in my personal dictionary, and I’ll show up for him for as long as he’s here and years after he’s gone.

My baby boy.

My first love.

My first dog.

Sully.

Steamboat Sully

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Haven Winter Blog Series: My Haven

 Come wander in your words at a Haven Writing Retreat in 2018!

You don’t have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker who dearly longs for your voice.
Now Booking Haven I Retreats 2018! Click here for more info.

February 28-4
April 18-22
May 16-20
September 19-23
September 26-30
October 24-28

Every year I give my blog over to my Haven Writing Retreats alums for a week or so, and ask them to write on a theme. This year it’s this question: What is your haven and how do you show up for it?

Here is my answer.

Lost Haven

Anne Arthur

“What’s your Haven?”

Shock waves running through my body, my brain scrambling for an immediate answer. What…where’s my Haven?

Blank. I am running blank, turning my attention to some other topic, avoiding the response to such painful question. Too painful.

Slowly, over days, memories flash through. Each having its own effect on my heart, my body. I still refuse to let them all in. Until, finally, I allow my thoughts to face reality.

Sweet summer days on the steps leading to my childhood home. My favorite place to play with my cuddly cat, while tiny red beetles hurry through, contouring my dirty little feet barring their way. Haven.

Roosted in the tree’s branch fork, munching bell-apples, contemplating my oh so confusing teenage life. Haven.

Years later, I sit on my terrace perched high on a hill in Haiti, feet resting on its balustrade, facing the green, wide plain surrounded by chains of mountains, bordered by the Caribbean Sea. The soothing peace is always instant. At the beauty of this spectacular view, all stress of downtown’s busyness, of slum’s ugliness, of people’s harshness falls off me. Breathing, inhaling the sweet smell of tropical flowers, my heart stills. Haven.

Another terrace, another European life. Snow has fallen, the world is silent. Stars twinkle in the dark night. Wrapped in a cozy blanket, I breathe the crisp air. Refreshing my soul, soothing the heated arguments that are part of my days. Stilling the ache, healing the scars. Haven.

In a whirlwind, I was back in the tropics. Another island, another terrace. Wide space, filled with enormous pots of Bougainvillea, Jasmin, tropical flowers of any kind. Lush, green grass in front of me. An old white wooden bench in a far corner, shaded by pink-blooming orchid trees, their long branches swaying in a light breeze. Far away, the Blue Mountains, majestic, impressive, beautiful. I sit on the comfy cushions of our royal-blue bench, a cup of finest Blue Mountain Coffee beside me. Dreaming, sighing with content. I craved a new life. I found it. Topped off with a light-filled dwelling in a quiet street amidst busy Kingston, with views to soothe away any storm of my life. Haven. Twelve years later, I returned to the room of my teenage years. I moved my old table to the bay window, observing the change of seasons, enjoying the gift of this year-long stay in the village. Spring and summer long gone, this Fall was special and beautiful. The trees that just donned bright autumn colors now wear mounts of snow.

I look up from my laptop. The contrast of sparkling snow and blue sky is stunning. Christmas is coming. An eventful year will soon end. At this table, I am writing the account of these past months, yearning to spend a last Christmas with my mother.

I bought a smaller sized Christmas tree and placed it at the foot of her hospital bed. She enjoys the lights and the tinsel, while her own window displays the snow-covered front yard and village street.

Some withered red roses still hang onto branches of our large bush, each dressed up with a hat of snow. Mami hangs on too, often dozing off, her strength fading.

I return to my own window, at peace. Our time together is a long bitter-sweet goodbye, but a good one. We are both seeking, Heaven and Haven.

Back in Haiti. At last. Forging yet another new life. Unexpected, unsettled, it’s future unknown. Still restless.

Today, I am floating. Shocked to realize that I haven’t found another Haven yet. I am seeking, still.

Ocean

Kathleen Majorsky

Myhaven

Here I sit. Next to my haven, the Pacific Ocean. I’ve only lived here for a minute, but every morning we greet each other like long lost soul mates. Like somehow we’ve been tethered together for many life times yet only now is the perfect time to experience each other’s presence.

I’m home. Home to the natural beauty around me.

Home to myself.

Finally.

Take a breath.

Welcome.

Like soul mates do, we share. Deeply.

Me, I tell her things I don’t share with anyone in human form: my fears, my dreams, my deep soul longings. I trust her completely. We both know she won’t tell.

For her, the stories she shares are less secrets to keep and more sage wisdom she’s swept up along her shores over time. Dispensing it freely, and when I need it the most.

She tells me to roar when the situation demands it. Roar for the pain and suffering in the world. Roar for joy. Roar for myself.

She tells me to dance often. Dance to her rhythm. Dance to my rhythm, my heart beating in time with her waves.

She tells me there will always be high tides and low tides. Her advice to handle them? Flow.

Her vast presence alone tells me to be humble. Every morning, I stand on her shore and wonder how people cannot believe in a higher power when she so gently reminds us of our smallness.

She tells me to persist. No matter how often the shore sends her away, she keeps coming back. Always.

She tells me that there is a time for stillness and listening. Skills that get honed and shaped on her shores, for me, daily.

My spiritual connection to the Pacific Ocean runs deep. I have a lot to learn from her. Our time together is imperative to my well-being, and it is non-negotiable.

The Pacific Ocean.

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An Empty House: This I dread


Haven-4-1024x1024“I’m going to be fine in empty nest.  Don’t worry about me out here in Montana in my farmhouse.  I’ve got my writing.  I’ve got my writing retreats.  I’ve got my horses.  I love my land.  I’m going to travel the world.  It’s time for me again.”

That’s what I tell people.

That’s what I tell myself.

Inside, I’m terrified.  It seeps in at 4:00 a.m. when I wake most nights, when the fears are immune to my internal motherly “hush now.”  My mind isn’t just racing, it’s hauling ass down every dark alley I am able to avoid in daylight.  It’s trapped in this labyrinth of panic by Fear incarnate and it wants OUT.  And it’s not bills and health and aging and the other usuals.  It’s this dwindling last flame on the last wick of my motherhood.  And it’s the last light out of this Fear-mongered labyrinthine haunt.

How am I going to do this ‘being alone’ thing?  How am I going to feel secure without that last child’s room full?  That boy who wakes up in the morning and wants an egg sandwich, and a lovingly filled lunchbox– his sandwich cut in half and a Honeycrisp apple, not a Gala. A little bag of carrots and that note that I sometimes write, but not usually anymore, because I don’t want to embarrass him around his friends. Or make them feel sad that they don’t have a mother who does that for them.  I’m letting my motherhood go. I feel it.  Some mornings I make his lunch the night before, and put out cereal on the kitchen table with a note:  Have a nice day.  And I peek my head into his room in the glow of computer and cell screens and say, “I’m going to sleep in tomorrow.  I have a long day of work and I need my sleep.”  But what I’m really saying is, “This thing is crushing me.  I need to prepare.  I can’t go cold turkey.  I need to know that you can do this on your own.  I need to know that I can do this alone.”073db487f4c4c2354d17ccad8d24eb24

And he can.  Of course he can.  I always said I was raising adults.  Flexible, adaptable, adults.  I let them use knives early.  I literally touched their fingers to the hot stove so that they would learn.  On my terms, I guess.  I wanted to get it over with.  But what about me?  Am I going to take to my bed?  Am I going to have long dark nights of the soul like I did after my father died? I can’t bear those.  Will I feel unexplained joy, the way you do when your motherhood gets served to you in surprise heaping plates—when they crawl into bed with you on a Sunday morning, all six feet of them, and want to just “hang out?”  When they come into your office and sit down in the same chair they used to when they were little, and start talking about their day, on and on, knowing that you care, that you’ll listen, that you are their only and forever mother?  Are those moments all over now?  Will I have to manufacture them on the phone or on vacations?  The mundane, the holy mundane, of my motherhood is going in five…four…three…two…

You know when you are about to leave a relationship or a place, and you start to look at all the things you can’t stand about it?  How you’re going to be better off without it?  “Never liked that neighbor.  I’ll be better off without all that ridiculous traffic.  Can’t stand the way he eats.  Never wanted a cat anyway.”

I’m doing that with my motherhood.

And I think my son is doing it with his childhood.

We’re butting heads where we usually can find humor.  We’re finding fault where we normally make spaciousness for each other.  I’m getting rip-shit-mad over dishes in the sink.  I don’t get rip-shit-mad as a rule.  I am a Talker-through-er.  A Let’s-sit-down-and-have-a-heart-to-heart-er, kind of mother.  Some would say too lenient.  But I have always set my sites on trust and not blame.  Trust is what will bring my relationship with my children into the future, fortified and stalwart.  My go-to line:  “We all screw up.  It’s how we act around it that matters.”  I know that when people get rip-shit-mad it’s because they’re afraid.  So here I am…being afraid.  Apparently dishes are as scary as that dark 4:00 a.m. Fear monster.

I remember my daughter acting this way her senior year. Nothing I did was right.  And when your offenses are small, it’s like, “I can’t believe we have to have lamb chops again.  And why are they always medium rare? And why do you have to have that stupid jazz on in the background?  And why do we have to go to Belize for Spring Break when all my friends are going to Cabo?”  And now, neither of us can barely remember that blip in our relationship. Now it’s all humor and love and forgiveness and open-heartedness. I have every faith that it will be that way with my son.  He’s ready to fly.  I know.  I know.  But still…

073db487f4c4c2354d17ccad8d24eb24Last night, I lay there at 4:00 a.m., the Fear chasing me down those dark alleys:  no more boy in the house.  No more impromptu dance moves around the kitchen—and he can finally dip me!  No more “Let’s meet in town and have a special dinner, just you and me.”  No more “Mom, I have an orchestra concert. You should come.”  No more baseball.  So much baseball.  I’ve measured my life in innings every spring/summer for the past twelve years.  I love it and I loathe it.  My life is already so sedentary as a writer.  All that sitting.  My back is already a wreck.

And my eyes blinked open wide.  No more baseball.  Hmmm….

What else is there going to be no more of?

Well heck— might as well.

And I grabbed my journal from my bed-side table and went for it.  It’s raw, but I’m sharing it with you.  Maybe it will help you.  Don’t judge.

No more mayonnaise at 7:00 a.m.

No more moldy lunchboxes showing up on the counter.

No more “Sign this form. It’s already late. Hurry.”

No more fifteen pairs of sneakers strewn in the breezeway.

No more being ignored for the glow of screens.

No more “Why don’t we have any food?” when there’s an entire freezer and pantry full of it. (#malepatternblindness)

No more “I forgot my cleats.  They’re under my bed.  Can you drop them off at the office?  Like…in ten minutes?”

No more “Can I stay out until 1:00 am?”

No more “No way. Midnight, latest.”

No more “Calm down.  Everyone else is allowed to stay out until 1:00.”

No more “Will the parents be there?”

No more “I think so.”

No more “Midnight.  Drive carefully, please. The roads are icy.”

No more “I’m okay, but the car isn’t.”

No more teenaged lumps lying on couches until noon on a Saturday, eating pancakes with hooded sweatshirts on and sometimes a thank you.  Sticky plates in the sink.

Who am I kidding.

I’m going to miss those sticky plates.  I’m going to miss those thank you’s when they come.  I’m going to miss driving in to school to save the day.  And yes…I’m going to miss baseball.  I’m going to roam around those stands when he’s gone, and wish I could sit all day in the blazing sun hearing all that “Go kiiiiiid” and “You got this, kiiiiiiid,” and “Bring ‘er home, kiiiiiiid.”  Who am I kiiiiiding.

It’s morning.  It’s Sunday.  He’s on a bus going to an Orchestra showcase in Bozeman, Montana.  Probably with his sweatshirt hood over his head, drooling on his baseball pillowcase, headphones on.

So I call him.  And he answers.

“How are the roads?”

“Not bad. But it’s snowing pretty hard.”

Quick prayer to the bus driver. “What are you doing?”

“Trying to sleep. Listening to tunes.”

“I hope not Rap.  And not too loud.  You’re going to ruin your ears.”

“Calm down, Mom.  I’m listening to the Brahms song that we’re playing.”

Gulp.  “Brahms wrote the lullaby I used to sing to you every night.”

Silence.

Not gonna cry.  Not gonna cry.  “I’m really going to miss you next year, you know.”

“I know.  I’m going to miss you too.”

“We going to be okay.  We’re going to be better than okay.  Onward!”

“Yeah.  Onward.”

“Text when you get there.”

“I will.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

So now what?  A Sunday morning in early February.  I’m alone.  In bed.  Propped up in old smelly pillows.  What’s left of my tea is cold.  The snow is gently falling.  Do I sob?  Because you can bet, I’m crying writing this.  I could sing that Brahms lullaby and spend hours bawling my eyes out.  But I don’t think I will.  Not today.  I have a book to write.  And a quiet house.  All day.

A quiet house.

So I go downstairs to make my second cup of Earl Grey tea, sending a whisper to myself next February.  You’re going to be okay.  This isn’t going to hurt as much as you think.  Go cup of tea by cup of tea, page by page, word by word, gentle (and yes motherly) thought by gentle thought.  It’s time to mother yourself now.  

But for now…I’m scared.  And I’m taking all the advice I can get from those who have been here.  Comments appreciated!

Love, Laura

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Come wander in your words at a Haven Writing Retreat in 2018!

You don’t have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker who dearly longs for your voice.
Now Booking Haven I Retreats 2018! Click here for more info.

February 28-4 (full)
April 18-22 (still room)
May 16-20 (one spot left)
September 19-23
September 26-30
October 24-28

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Haven Winter Blog Series: My Haven

 Come wander in your words at a Haven Writing Retreat in 2018!

You don’t have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker who dearly longs for your voice.
Now Booking Haven I Retreats 2018! Click here for more info.

February 28-4
April 18-22
May 16-20
September 19-23
September 26-30
October 24-28

Every year I give my blog over to my Haven Writing Retreats alums for a week or so, and ask them to write on a theme. This year it’s this question: What is your haven and how do you show up for it?

Here is my answer.

A Natural Haven

Donna Bunten

tree journaling

I am not in a wilderness, not on a mountain top, not by a rushing river. I sit nestled in the lap of my Grandmother Tree, a kindly old western red cedar, surrounded by nettles and vanilla leaf in a patch of urban forest.  I can easily hear the four-lane highway a half-mile away and the college kids on the soccer field nearby.

Yet Nature is all around me.  The soft breeze dances in the branches of red alders and big-leaf maple trees.  The woods are full of unseen Swainson’s thrushes, their ethereal flute-song the only clue to their presence.  Kinglets and chickadees and warblers twitter endlessly as they flutter in the leafy tree tops.  Everything is vibrant and glowing, urgently re-creating leaves and fruit and feathers.

All I have to do is pay attention.  No binoculars, no field guides, just the sense organs I was born with:  eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin.  I bring my journal because I like to write about what I’m experiencing, but it’s not necessary.  Enjoying my haven starts with “being,” not “doing,” with awareness, curiosity, and a willingness to be still for a short period.

Being in Nature (at a sit spot, on a spirit walk, or sitting on a patio) supports us.  It’s where we came from.  Our primitive brains evolved out there to collect data about our surroundings for our survival.  But now all the demands and distractions of modern life, especially our computers and smart phones, put a real burden on our brains.  Our brains were designed to sip incoming data through a straw—now we’re trying to drink from a firehose.

Journaling in my natural haven helps me slow down and connect with the joy of being 100% my authentic self.  I do it for the sheer joy of it.  Sitting still, opening my senses, paying attention, I feel my tight mind and body loosen. The act of writing pulls my body further into the experience—my hand is moving.  Writing the words causes me to pay more attention to detail. I move from being lost in worry about tomorrow’s dramas into an immediate sense of aliveness in this place, this moment, with simple observation and plain words.

Tom Brown, Jr. says, “A person without a past has never seen a tree, a mud puddle, or a blade of grass.  A person without a future is free of worries and fears and open to whatever may cross his/her path.”  Beginner’s mind.

What if I could see my life with fresh eyes, like the person seeing a blade of grass for the first time?  What if I allowed for the possibility that things are not what they seem?  Maybe my stories of how I think things are would lose their energy.  What if that energy was now available to me for other purposes?  Who knows what might cross my path?

Parker Palmer advises that if you want to see a wild animal, don’t go crashing and thrashing about in the woods.  Sit down quietly against a tree—listening, watching, and waiting for the animal to reveal itself when it feels safe.

Like a wild animal, my soul feels safe as I lean against the Grandmother Tree.  Free from stories, safe to come forth and experience life with curiosity and wonder.  Beginner’s mind.

Portability

Mary Novaria

Haven Photo 2018

When asked how I like living in Los Angeles, my usual response is that it’s a “like/hate” relationship. I hate that L.A. is so far from our former home and family in the Midwest, and that the traffic can be absolutely soul crushing. I like the plenteous sunshine, palm trees, and the creative energy and community here.

I even love L.A. a little if my day involves walking on my favorite, rugged, rocky beach, or hiking with my husband and dog in the Santa Monica Mountains. Those are among the places that have shown me that the concept of a haven, for me, is about intention. With my body, mind and soul present and open and spontaneous, my haven is portable. It travels with me, available to switch on, inspired by nature and creativity, or by the need to escape and rest.

A few years ago, I had a blissful haven experience in the café at the Tate Modern. It was a Sunday—Father’s Day—and I’d walked miles around London before strolling through the galleries. Despite the bustle around me, when I picture myself that day sitting at a tiny table with a cheese plate, a glass of wine, and my journal, I am utterly and blissfully alone, in retreat with my thoughts and words and a meditation on how my late father had instilled in me his great love of art.

Recently, I drove up the coast for a personal retreat. My hotel was dreary, but near the beach. I made a little altar of sorts in my room—a shell and a rock I’d found on the sand, a piece of amethyst I’d picked up in a wonderful shop along the seaside, a fragrant jasmine blossom, and a copy of Rumi. I sprayed the room with a feng shui spray called Sacred Sanctuary, whose label suggests: “Create your own realm of light and delight.”

For two days I wrote and read, meditated and rested, having turned that lackluster space into my haven. During that time, I was inspired to create a sacred space at home—a refuge from my usual perch on a bar stool at the kitchen counter.

For the two-and-a-half years my husband and I had lived in this house, I’d ignored the cozy deck off our guestroom. It’s a full story above the ground. The height and seeing the earth through the wooden slats of the floor gave me the willies. I had to get past it. It helped to put down a rug. I found two old wicker chairs on Craigslist, lined the railing with hanging candles, and put up a few whimsical pieces of art.

The first day I sat in this new haven of mine, I dubbed it “The Tree House.” I can see the blue sky through the branches, and hear the thrum of a hummingbird and the Scrub Jays and squirrels rustling in the fallen leaves below. In the morning, when the sun is on this side of the house, the dog takes her morning nap. She, too, is haven for me in all of her senior dog sweetness.

Now, I hardly ever think about the height as I sit with my laptop or meditation music and a cup of tea. The visceral aura of this haven is portable. With the right mindset and openness of heart, I can close my eyes and fly away, imagining myself a bird in my own wee tree house, wherever I may be, creating my own realm of light and delight.

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