Thursday, December 26, 2013

"You shall love your crooked neighbour with your crooked heart."

As I Walked out One Evening
by W. H. Auden
As I walked out one evening,
        Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
        Were fields of harvest wheat.
And down by the brimming river
        I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
        "Love has no ending.
"I'll love you, dear, I'll love you
        Till China and Africa meet
And the river jumps over the mountain
        And the salmon sing in the street.
"I'll love you till the ocean
        Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
        Like geese about the sky.
"The years shall run like rabbits
        For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages
        And the first love of the world."
But all the clocks in the city
        Began to whirr and chime:
"O let not Time deceive you,
        You cannot conquer Time.
"In the burrows of the Nightmare
        Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
        And coughs when you would kiss.
"In headaches and in worry
        Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
        To-morrow or to-day.
"Into many a green valley
        Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
        And the diver's brilliant bow.
"O plunge your hands in water,
        Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
        And wonder what you've missed.
"The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
        The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
        A lane to the land of the dead.
"Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
        And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer
        And Jill goes down on her back.
"O look, look in the mirror,
        O look in your distress;
Life remains a blessing
        Although you cannot bless.
"O stand, stand at the window
        As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
        With your crooked heart."
It was late, late in the evening,
        The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming
        And the deep river ran on.

This poem has made me "insane with love" to borrow a phrase from a long-ago journal of a long-ago Jonny Strange. It's stunningly depressing how preoccupied my mind is with aging lately. Guaranteed to make those little rabbits scamper even faster. I'm all about foreboding joy, but I am also beholding my little ones. Chai is so funny and sweet pounding on the drum I gave him for Christmas. I want to drink him in, his sweet smelling hair, his little "Hmms" for yes, his "Are ya comin' downstairs with me?" Sparrow stalked and toddled around the living room while we opened "sibling gifts" and felt all fancy with her jingle bell bracelet. She has warmed up to the Ogden folk but is still a huge sassy pants and stamps and shakes and howls all the time. We watched Emily's GOTH for my mother, a slideshow of all the pictures ever taken in all our lives. What a weird world, where I can still see the Peckerbeak shadow on the ceiling as I drift off in this ice cave. I asked Sparrow if she loved me and she nodded. I am so grateful for my sweet goons. For the work of listening with a kind heart. For having a social life, however humble. For having someone to dream sweet dreams about.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Trying to bat cliches away from my face

I should have grappled with impermanence
In my adolescent brain,
instead, I fretted how to best break the good news.
I planted a tiny furtive garden
salting the soil with expectations of second chances.
Safe inside the confidence of a ceaseless spring,
I cradled my sweet fragile blossoms
and inhaled the scents of belonging,
of existing always,
of nothing lost.
and now my adolescent brain is frozen in terror:
winter is a gate we walk through one by one.
This garden will be repossessed.
What will we become when we finally melt away?
Will anyone find my words one day?
Everyone believes youth will always shine from the mirror
It can't be real, watching your own face wilt and droop with autumn
Going numb piece by piece
I leaned on your steady chest and thought,
this heart. this heart. this heart.
I don't want it to ever stop beating.
You made me alive, peace by peace
Early summer in our garden today
We hum, and sing, and gather
Across the river, we can see the lights go out
gunfire, brainfire,  lay waste
Til we all lay, waste.
When that final hour comes,
If we are lucky enough to recognize it
I want to lay my wounded head on your softening chest
this heart. this heart. this heart.
this heart.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Autum Healing Circle (letter to my missionary sister)

Hi, Cow!
Your thoughts about Buddhism in your last email were really fascinating. I hope we can talk more about it in a few weeks. I love how much you treasure your experiences. You should! They are precious! I think you have a gift of savoring the abundant pieces of life and acknowledging their depth. I'm glad you have that gift. I'm glad you have been able to connect and feel for so many people. There was such a rare chance you would ever see their faces, and there you are...

I haven't even journaled about what happened last night, because I was so full of glory that I didn't want to commit to a single scrap of language, it seemed powerless compared to the tribal drum beating in my chest with such hope and happiness. I feel such resounding, deep fulfillment in my life right now. I woke up and thought, I bet Cow feels this way about some of the really powerful days she has--like you wish you could stop and just let that gladness reverberate and bask for awhile before having to have another sleep, another day, more packed chaos of life, another box of emotions to manage. Then you have this incredible memory of how you felt, but you have to stack new moments on top of it.

So I had my autumn healing circle; I invited the women in the postpartum group and some other friends I thought would appreciate it, and encouraged them to bring women who would benefit. It was so powerful. I'm really just so happy because I did so much research about healing ritual in other cultures and tried so hard to find ideas that I could adapt, but I ended up just deciding that the most important thing was to make the space for expressing sacred loss and pain, and to trust that the space would be filled, and that the individuals who participated would know how to do the work they needed to do. And they DID! I was so in awe of everyone's courage. I love this quote by Bruce Perry: “All people at all times, in all cultures, and in all places of the world have dealt with traumatic events and loss in the same way. They sat around the campfire and retold the story of the battle, the loss, and the trauma. Those closest to them bore witness to the story by saying “It is so”; while comforting and nurturing each other. They created songs, stories, and art to memorialize their feelings and thoughts about what had happened.
So today… Let us tell the stories; let us say it was so; let us dance and sing; let us break bread together; and let us hold each other.” -Bruce Perry

I ended up just creating most of what we did at the circle, using the experience I've had with blessingways as a tentative guide, but I felt free to combine therapy and art and meditation with other stuff I just made up...this is what I shared at the beginning:

"This healing circle is a soul-guided ritual. In light of this, we ask that everyone stay mindful, flexible, and speak consciously. We also ask that everyone stay present during the ritual, focusing on the work you need to do and sending others here your love and support. We all have a lot going on in our lives, so if at any time you become distracted by your own thoughts and feelings, please acknowledge them, but then put them away somewhere safe, so you can do the work you came to do tonight.
The purpose of this Healing Circle is to provide a space where you can do the work you need to do for yourself. You may have recently lost someone precious to you, you may be grieving what could have been, have experienced trauma, a dramatic life transition, a betrayal or serious disappointment, or maybe you are struggling to give yourself compassion right now. This will be an evening dedicated to the wounded, and we have all been wounded by something. We will “make the quiet” necessary to feel, weep, explore, or connect—whatever feels necessary to honor your loss. Because of the very intimate nature of the work being done, when you are asked to share, you have the option to do so silently if you prefer, and we will hold the space and wait with you until you have done the work you need to do.

A healing circle has the power to evoke very deep emotions. Should anyone in the circle feel the need to release tears, we ask that you please not touch them or offer them a tissue unless they ask for that. Though well-intended, offerings of comfort can actually shut down a wonderful release process. This healing circle is a no-fault ritual, so please don’t be concerned if you’ve never been to a healing circle before. In this safe and sacred circle, ALL your contributions will be honored."

I had asked them to write a 10-12 word "poem" describing what they feel they need to heal from (they could share it or not). This caused them to start doing some important work before they even came to the event because they had to think through their experiences and their pain and decide, make tiny choices, about what to express. I made the 10 word limit bc I thought people would feel intimidated by the instruction to write a poem, but THEY BLEW MY MIND. Most women just went ahead and wrote a full-on poem, and it was incredible to hear what they brought. Betrayal, abuse, death, heartache, self-loathing, fear, they bravely piled it in the center. The poems were unbelievably profound and so personal. After each women spoke, she went to the middle and added something to our salt bowl and mixed it in--oil, roses ("November roses") fruit, tea mix. It was so grounding to be able to push your hands into something solid and move it around after going to a deep emotional place. We sang together, we cried together, I saw people instinctively scoot closer and hold one another when someone was processing something particularly difficult. I invited a therapist I used to work with who is also a yoga instructor to do some body work and that was another incredible piece of the evening. Such beautiful, kind imagery she created. I wish I had written it all down, just taken notes instead of participating. My friends' mother came up to me and thanked me for inviting her because "she did things for me tonight that no one else has done for me in my life." And honestly, thats true for me, too--something subtle she said made me feel a glimmer of possibility that I could change the way I felt about an aspect of my body I've always despised.

y friends Wendy and Laura sang this song:
Low, lie low, my dear little one,
Under the starlight, under the sun.
Under the bluebells, under the grass.
Low,—lie low as the solemn wheels pass.
Yesterday, yesterday two little feet
Ran through the meadow, the wildflowers sweet.
Snowtime and flowertime cover you deep.
Low,—lie low as I lay you to sleep.1
Blessed, oh blessed the day of our Lord,
Blessed the dead—who rise at his word,
Blessed the angels who swing wide the door.
Blessed the time when I hold you once more.
Blessed the time when I hold you once more.

There were a lot of tears. But as everyone said afterwards, there was connection and honoring in those tears, not helpless sadness. Many women I talked to alone described feeling that they were moving forward. They said it felt so good to just be surrounded by loving people and to just be with what they were feeling instead of pushing it away, trying to walk around it, save it for a more convenient time.

Another cool moment for me was that a friend who lives in Maryland happened to be in town bc she is caretaking her sister who is very ill, and I invited her to come. I didn't know it, but another guest (my friend's mother) had grown up with this girl and has known her her entire life. I watched her hold my friend as she wept at one point and I was so astonished that this moment was happening and so proud of myself for trying to in my clumsy way to facilitate something that had do many reverberating affects. I saw my friend whose is experiencing a lot of pain in her marriage say "I am enough. I am worthwhile." Someone came with serious bitterness towards another person who was present and she  hadn't wanted to come, saying she didn't want to be around her. I encouraged her to do her own work. She did and she told me afterwards that she felt "truly purged" and she was ready to bury her weapons of war, as it were. We did many, many other activities but I won't tell you about all of them, because I'm hoping to do a healing circle for each season (so November, February, May, and August) and I would love if you could come to one sometime! I was actually wishing that you and Mary could have been there last night. I know you would have loved it.

Ah, thanks for listening! I just feel so grateful for this space I am beginning to carve out as a leader, as a wounded healer, as a creator of sisterhood/tribal connection. It feels so significant and genuine to me. There are no rules, I can just be myself and respond to my intuition. I love this! I feel it is so needed and I feel so good that for all my flaws, I have the capacity to put things like this together. It also makes me feel so hopeful for my relationship with my daughter. When I first found out I was pregnant, I felt like I had nothing to offer a little girl except for a long string of bad news. Now I feel confident that although I will surely keep evolving, there is a rich world I can travel with her.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Remember the time you drove all night, just to meet me in the morning?

I want so badly to write in a way that is evocative of the tender and bone-deep pieces of our lives without having to name them, list them. I know I’m not delicate enough; I squash them between my fingers with clunky words and maybe sometimes even accidentally stop the heart of meaning from beating. I want to back off, maybe not even touch, but just describe what I see. But I’m not sure how to do that here. I’ve never written this out before, and I know the farther away I get, the less I will remember.

This time of year speaks to me of courage and radical change. I remember the surest way I was ever befriended. And when the flame eased out of the leaves that year and we walked quietly into winter, I held that fire. I was not alone. October 27, 2009. Four years ago today I told Jonathan we could be ‘together,’ and that’s the story I want to tell today

Without getting wound up in recalling the treachery and angst of my dating habits, it’s crucial to know that my getting to know Jonathan and falling in love with him changed everything for me. This can’t actually be a post discussing the many ways I was a cruel and terrible person, or about the anguish I feel over working out my power and self-loathing issues with actual human beings with feelings, because I will totally distract myself. All you need to know is, I was pretty unhealthy and I was NOT in a place of wanting to put any real, honest work into a relationship, and the last thing I wanted was to be in a progressing relationship, in fact at the time I was practically phobic about progressing relationships and in the twisted venn diagram of love I had created, I was all about maintenance, equilibrium (see also: stagnancy) although at the time I might have called it “friendship” (false).

Fast-forwarding through the classes Jonathan and I had together in 2007 where we never talked to each other, our amazing first date where I wanted to tell him ‘all that I ever did’, our second date where FeministGate occurred and nearly ended it, the redemptive game night with his friends and spontaneous bonding at the Evergreen Conference (what better place to flaunt our heteronormacy right?!), late-night drives through Hobblecreek Canyon, deep and deeper conversations, watching him play guitar hero and being crazy attracted to him, the time he brought me kiwis when I thought I had swine flu, all the lyrics we posted on facebook, painting the walls of his friends’ house when he told me “you’re so damn cute!”, the book he left on my porch so I would find it in the morning, the night I gave him my journal from Romania…all of that…it was early October, 2009.

We were on the couch in my apartment, in the days where I still held a pillow on my lap as we talked. He caught me off guard by saying,
“So, I really like you, and I’m wondering if this is going anywhere.”

I distinctly remember being a little disappointed that he was so direct. If I had to have a DTR (they were to be avoided at all costs), I preferred that it be couched in really complex metaphors like a law of chastity lesson (tip--dontsaytip--: this also gives an out so you can pretend you thought they were talking about something else). I reflected that we were getting to know each other, that’s where it was ‘going’. He asserted that he wanted to establish parameters of the relationship. I fluttered away and said vaguely that I felt such things were best left unexamined, forever if possible. He restated his intentions and clarified his terms. What that sounded like exactly was this:

“I just need to know, if we’re going to be together, that’s cool, but I’m not really into doing some kind of group thing, so if that’s what you’re into, let me know, and we can just be friends.”

Some kind of indignation pinged in the back of my brain that he would dare to name my modus operandi: he’s not allowed to TALK about the ‘group thing!’ and my heart felt stung, we can just be friends???! Dismayed by this blasé display of healthy boundaries, I bartered for time to ‘think about it’—with the unexpressed thought that if cornered again, I would just ask for more and more extensions of time while (hopefully) we got closer and closer, and I’d never have to commit. He wanted to know how much time I needed, exactly, so we could revisit the discussion and either level up or else date other people. I was completely appalled by his lack of game, and part of me was devastated that he was so nonchalant about the possibility of not continuing to date. And to be fair, it wasn’t all arrogance—we really had only known each other a couple of weeks, and although I really connected with him, I didn’t feel like ‘myself’ around him yet. I couldn’t imagine calling someone my boyfriend if I wasn’t comfortable being silly with them. Another thing that held me back was the fear, or mejor dicho, the knowing, of what I would lose if I chose him. No more swinging free, I knew some people very dear to me might cut me loose. The thought of that was truly terrible, truly crushing. Jon and I had also never touched other than hugging goodnight, and I felt like it was a little soon to be together with so much uncharted territory, empty space…I tried to say these things. My voice felt small. He was determined. “I know I want to be with you. Just let me know what you decide.”

It felt so different from other times. There was no pleading, no poetry, and no elaborate promises to try to lift my heavy heart. Somehow the idea that a person like that—confident, self-respecting, would chose me, would want me, warmed me all over where threats of heartbreak kept me cold. I thought about him when I was falling asleep at night. I wrote, “I love how steady he is. I love the words he says that cast clarity on my own unformed thoughts. There is a lot to look up to. It’s good for me…Right now, today, I feel so happy, so hopeful. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I am hoping, you know?”

He asked me to spend a weekend with his friends at their cabin. I was frightened that with that much uninterrupted time, he would find me boring. I told him so and he said I was crazy, so I took a risk even though I was nervous. What I realized there was that boring had been the place I lived before him. I remember so well the almost dizzying wonder I felt starting to really get close to Jonny, holding the hot-heart secret thought that we could really be. Seeing him immersed in his own context, away from chaos of trying to “maintain the chain” in my own life, cleared away some haze of my insecurity and I really saw him: his intelligence and strength, his kindness, his competence and his affection for his friends. He was so naturally good. He was so clever. I quickly became enamored of everything he did. How he siphoned the gross water out of the hot tub while we were cleaning, sang “Grey Street” in the car with Brian, and caught my hand for the first time in the parking lot of Snowdragon. How we listened to “Pet” on the way home from dinner and they felt it so deeply it was like we were all inside the song. How he suggested we jump off the dock into the freezing pond and then run upstairs to the hot tub again. How when the movie started and I wasn't sure where to sit, he just pulled me onto the beanbag with him (!). How he kissed me on the forehead a few seconds later and then said softly “I’m sorry, I just—“ How all night he kept saying we shouldn't fall asleep together, but didn’t want to me go. “Just stay a little longer.” Then when he finally sent me up to the loft and I said goodnight, he called, “Can I come up there with you? Just for a minute?” Around 5 AM he asked me again, if I’d thought about it, (being together) and we talked hard, and I cried. I told him about the ones I was worried about losing, how much they meant to me. Now, I think I was crying in that moment because I knew I was already gone.

I waited for a few days to see if that feeling of glory would fade, if my gnawing terror of commitment would return (it did, later on, but that’s another story). I just kept feeling good. I was disjointed and fidgety at class, at work, etc, but when I went to see him I felt like I was home. I wanted to stay. Of course, even this was grounds for drama. I remember complaining to my sister that I couldn’t stand feeling so good about Jonathan, “What if this GOES somewhere?! I can’t I can’t I can’t!” She reassured me that I could just do one day at a time and said “What do you feel like doing today?”

I felt like saying yes. Yes to taking a chance on something that made me so happy. Yes to respecting boundaries and committing and trying to create something together. Yes to things I usually couldn't even bear to look in the eye. Yes to choosing this person I had already chosen. And I still felt that, the day after, and the next day, and the next.

Jon had told me before about how he answered a girl who had asked him to a dance—when you grow up in Utah you get to plunder those memories of elaborate invitations and gruesome puns—he sent her to the graveyard near his house and set a cactus on top of a grave with a message that said “I’d be prickled to death if I could go to the dance with you!” In homage to that specific creepiness, I scribbled him a note saying I wanted to try [being together] and drew a gravestone and cactus: “I’d be prickled to death if we could be together now.”

I was almost as excited to give that note to him as I was about my decision. I’m not sure what I was expecting—he held such a confident, staunch attitude all through the talks and negotiations. I thought maybe he’d joke or tease me. I waited while he read. I threw my arms around him maybe in a nervous attempt to bridge the awkward space of my vulnerability (sometimes eye contact makes me feel shy and holding someone feels better). I wasn’t expecting him to collapse against me, something like exhaustion, and something like relief. He was quiet. He held onto me. I said “Are you happy?” and he said “I am so happy.” We were still. My heart was beating so fast. He whispered, “I didn’t think you would.”

So we began that evening, in a place of reverence, of tentative joy. We held hands and I remember thinking, “This is my boyfriend, this is my boyfriend!” The next day I wrote these lyrics all over my notes in my child welfare class: "And you said it was Strange, you said everything changed/, you felt/
as if you just woke up...I don't know where I am, I don't know where I've been/but I/ know where I want to go."

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Little boy lost

I was sorting through the boxes of kids' clothes tonight and it was startlingly sharp to uncover baby Chai's clothes and feel as though he'd suddenly gone away. "Where is baby Chai?" He's sprawled out inside a lanky two year old body now and recovered from his cold long enough to run outside in the rain and kick the ball with his daddy. I watched them through the window while listening to Pam England talk about "what kind of mother were you, before the unthinkable happened?" I thought he looked just like a little boy. Tonight after I finally got Sparrow to sleep I crept to the blue armchair where he spends many hours perched and plugged in and I rested my head on his belly and he said "You sad?" and I said "I tired. I so tired." He touched my hair and said "You not sad anymore."

Setting aside clothes for my nephew Jesse made me feel more confident in letting some of them go, but in my secret heart I am saving that box not for future babies but for the ones who are already growing up. Jon teared up when he saw "the red jabbies" and said "I miss my boy. My little boy who crawled up to me when I came home from work."

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Prouder Fox

TW: You might not want to read this story if you are currently pregnant or have recently suffered a loss: there are some intense images and content.

This is what I remember: Wendy went into labor on Saturday night. I had seen her just a few hours prior at PF Changs for Israel’s birthday and although she was surging away the entire time, she was feisty and hilarious as usual. She told us how she had changed the words of a primary song to “I know that my mother loves me.” Laurel predicted that Wendy would go into labor that night: “Did you see the way she was walking?” Sure enough, the text I’d been waiting for since week 39 came around 3 AM. I thought about going back to sleep, but once the idea was in my brain that Wendy’s baby was on its way into the world I didn’t want to be anywhere else but at Casa Rush. Mary and I dressed quickly and made our way in the dark of the night up to Orem. On the way we talked about how excited we were. I recognize that I went into this experience with a lot of my own hopes and expectations projected onto Wendy. I was hoping that Wendy would experience something powerful enough to vanquish any self-loathing she felt about her body. I wanted her to feel the support and love that she had desired at her previous births and not felt. I wanted her to experience healing in whatever form it took. More than healing from her birth trauma, I hoped that the birth would resolve some pain she carries from family dynamics and strengthen her relationships with her husband and other loved ones. I wanted her to have all the attention that day. I wanted her to arise victorious, amazed at her own strength, I wished for an ineffably sweet greeting of baby in the birthing tub. I also wanted her to overcome the patriarchy and self-actualize as a human being, all in the span of a few hours. There was a lot riding on this birth! I know many others in attendance also carried hopes for Wendy. There were women who were not there who lit candles for her and sent her good energy and thoughts. She is so loved, I know that.

When we arrived at the Rush home, the energy was light and happy, almost giddy. Everyone was so excited that Baby Rush was finally on the way. Sarah had set out a sumptuous feast and the pieces from Wendy’s alter at her blessingway were set up as well as the birth tub. Their home was clean and perfect. Mary and I greeted Richelle and Kayte B, who had just come from another birth, and Laura, Jenny, and Laurel were there too. We could hear Wendy moaning through surges; in a few minutes she staggered out to examine the doula feast and greet all of us. She was wearing a fierce bikini top and we told her she looked like a sexy jungle woman. She had a few surges on the birthing ball and remarked how good the ball felt compared to the bed: “The bed is evil!” she warned us. “Worst ever!” Her surges seemed strong but she was fearless. She knew exactly what she wanted and instructed everyone. When each surge came four or five of us flocked around her applying pressure and light touch with dancing fingers. We played with her hair and rubbed her hands and feet. Wendy said she had felt relief when she realized she was actually starting her birthing time and wasn’t going to be pregnant forever. She was sassy and quick between her surges and we were joking and cracking up. Eventually Wendy suggested that she try to get some rest until the surges moved closer together and sent everyone to get some sleep. Dave, Jenny, Laura and Laurel stayed with her until the morning. I curled up on the floor under a “hideous blanket” and slept for about four hours while Mary slept next to me on the couch. Every once in awhile we could hear Wendy yelling “I hate the bed!” and moaning through surges.

I remember waking up in the cold pale light and feeling so excited. I climbed onto the Rushs’ bed with the group of people gathered in that room. Laurel told me that she and Dave had made a Wendy sandwich during the night and we joked that this was a new service she should offer to all her doula clients. Wendy was in bed looking a little weary and was using her vibrator during surges (like a boss!) She said that she had been able to rest a little; that surges had slowed down but were taking a lot of effort to get through. She said firmly, “I’ve done all of this myself. I haven’t had any checks…I’m completely untouched. I’m doing everything I wanted to do!” I think it had been a dark night of the soul for Wendy. She was still steady, but there was something more childlike and bewildered in her face. I crawled behind her and held her through a few contractions as she moaned and rocked. I thought, my friend my friend, I’m with you, I love you. Richelle suggested that she start moving around to get the surges to come harder and said “Let’s go have a baby!” so we left the bed and returned to the living room. We didn’t have any reason, then, to think she wasn’t close. It wasn’t fair to her, that we thought that, and said things to that effect, but we didn’t know, we didn’t know.   

Wendy’s movements were so painfully familiar to me, her tentative steps and arms reaching softly for Dave, for her mother. Like if she moved too quickly the surge would roar up and tear her apart. I remembered during my son’s birth feeling like I was too far away from the floor and would shatter and fall unless someone held onto me. Even though I wasn’t experiencing Wendy’s surges as Laura seemed to be, there was a dull ache in my body from the memory. I wished I could share them and take some of the force away, soften them, but she had to bear it all, every one. The wave would crash into her and we all let out our breath so slowly, hoping it would go soon. One less to get through, one closer to the baby coming. We rocked with her, flocked to her every limb, supporting her arms, her knees, her back, tying her to the earth with our soft hands. We swayed together like a six-pointed star. We were one creature with unknowing arms and a nucleus of fire. Dave wrapped his arms around Wendy as tears slid down her face. Silent tears. I could tell that seeing this vulnerability gave him such a tender heart for her. The first time she knelt in the tub, he patted her back and said fondly, “You, you’re really tough, you know that?” He was always at her side; even in the thickest and deepest places of pain she instinctively turned her face towards him. He heard all her whispers, her hands continually searched for his.

The giddiness of the night before had stilled into a solemnity and our presence in the room became a vigil. A time came when the breaks between the surges were stretched out to minutes (later they figured this was because of the short cord and Wendy’s body struggling to get into a consistent labor pattern). During those breaks the flurry of fingers and intense words and eye contact were relaxed and Wendy rested with her face on the edge of the tub, eyes closed. She was so lovely, so far away. We were still and so present with her. The refrain in my mind was sweet lady, please let her be done soon, please let it be over soon. Later, Wendy told me that from within that silence she was re-living the anguish from her previous births. She was also conscious of frightened, panicky feelings that something was not right, but she felt paralyzed and couldn’t express that. She described it as one of the darkest times of her existence. She felt very alone, and no one could follow her there.

Richelle broke the silence and sang:

“Come, baby, come. Come, baby, come. Mommy wants to hold you, Daddy wants to name you, come, baby, come.”

It seemed like such a Richelle thing to do. I wasn’t sure how Wendy would respond from the sub-cognitive recesses of birth intensity,--would she be annoyed? but she lifted her head slightly and mumbled “Keep singing…please keep singing.” The memory of this brings tears to my eyes. In an instant we were all singing. Everyone in the room slipped into Richelle’s song and it spiraled naturally into a round and was so clear, loving, perfect. Holy tones, committed tones. I knew that in those moments, any of us in the room would have given Wendy anything. Touching wasn’t comforting her; she was beyond affirmations that were sincere but clueless, but we could sing to her and remain with her that way. I remember feeling relieved that I could at least sing, and by that act bear witness to my love for my friend, and maybe help ground her, remind her that there was something beyond the dark helplessness she was feeling. We sang to Wendy and we sang to Beckham and it was one of the most meaningful, sincere acts of my life. There was nothing casual or performance-like associated with that singing, it was about survival, it was pure soul. (Out of respect to Wendy’s atheism I wouldn’t sing the line “Daddy wants to bless you” but instead sang “Daddy wants to know you.”) Haha.

Next we sang “Rose, Rose, Rose” and how do you describe beautiful tones? I can still hear them. They swayed into and away from each other, lovely, haunting, powerful. I remembered what Wendy told us the night before about changing the words to the primary song and we sang:

“Whenever I hear the song of a bird, or look at the blue, blue sky Whenever I feel the rain on my face, or the wind as it rushes by Whenever I touch a velvet rose or walk by a lilac tree, I’m glad that I live in this beautiful world, that my mother created for me.

She gave me my eyes, that I might see the color of butterfly wings She gave me my ears that I might hear the magical sound of things She gave me my life, my mind, my heart, I thank her reverently… For all this creation of which I’m a part…yes I know that my mother loves me!”

It was one of the sweetest moments. It felt like we were describing to the baby the beauty that awaited him, as well as honoring Wendy’s gift of giving him that life. I don’t remember if it was Laurel or Laura who started singing “Homeward Bound” but it was heartbreakingly beautiful and the words crushed me. It’s a song about finding your way, coming back to who you really belong to. Jenny sang and cried as she reached over and squeezed Wendy’s shoulders; Laura was next to her, threading her fingers through Wendy’s hair. I thought, these women, what they’ve been through together! Wendy leaned against the side of the tub and sang with them, eyes closed: “Bind me not to the pasture, chain me not to the plow, set me free to find my calling, and I’ll return to you somehow…” The room was filled with longing. I was aching for Wendy. I was remembering my own losses. That song conjured up in all of us the ways we had been chained, the ways we wanted to be free. The way we wanted someone waiting when we ‘found [our] calling,’ to understand, to see us. I looked around and everyone in the room was openly weeping. I thought, “She is chained to the plow!”

Next they sang “Turn Around” and then “Lullaby and Goodnight” each of which made me cry harder and harder. The Lullaby song also seemed to deeply affect Melody Rush. When the refrain ended, she kept singing to her son, chin quivering, eyes overflowing, she sang the lullaby to her grown son who was sitting on the couch, head in his hands. “You are my darling, my Davey,” she sang. “Mama will always…take…care.” He looked up, blinking, his own eyes teary. “Thanks, Mom,” he said shakily, smiling. “I wasn’t expecting that.” She reached for him, pulled him into her arms, held him and cried. I don’t know how to describe that moment without crying myself, again. It was so poignant, horrible and beautiful, in her mind she was remembering when he was the baby, and she herself the young girl in pain and in love with her little boy, and he accepted that song as her child even though he is a father now and has his own children. We always remember. We are the same. We are so connected, just a scattering of a few years determining when we take our turns in the circle. I cried for Wendy because I was sad that she had to hurt and was discouraged, but I was so happy in that moment to be alive and to be with others who were living and reliving the deepest moments of their lives. I had chills all over my arms and I kept thinking, this is real, this is real It felt like everyone’s humanity was hanging in the air like something shimmering, we could touch it and hold it and marvel at it. It felt so good to sing to my friend, it was all I could do, no one could reach her, we made beauty ring in the air but she was still so alone.

Richelle encouraged her to talk to her baby and to her body, beg it to open. At one point Wendy puffed out her cheeks and moaned, “This is really hard.” Laura said, “Just DO it, Wendy! Get the baby out!” Wendy snapped, gritting her teeth, “I. Don’t. Know. How.” Sarah Asay brushed back Wendy’s hair, peered piercingly into her eyes, seized her face in her own hands and encouraged her to fight.

Wendy pushed out her lower lip and narrowed her eyes, like I saw her the first night I met her when she was infuriated with the government—her mouth twisted into a pout and she began to confront her surges. “Okay,” she breathed, climbing up to her knees and slowly shaking her head back and forth, trying to dispel the dizziness grounding herself. “Let me tell you somethin’…I’m gonna swear, and that’s just the way it’s gonna be. So I’m sorry if that offends anyone.” She paused, and then as the next contraction came: “You wimpy little surge, you think you’re gonna come around here, and make me hurt, and make me cry…Fuck YOU! “ She started growling through the surges. Everyone encouraged her. “Keep getting mad, Wendy!”

“Fuckin’ hurrrrts!” She bellowed. Wendy described this time later as when she became “officially pissed.” What was happening didn’t make any sense to her. It was confusing to witness; much more so for her to experience. She didn’t understand why it hurt so terribly. Why the surges weren’t getting closer together. Why she ever wanted this in the first place. Her rage and frustration erupted in cursing and pleading for help. She was calling out Goliath, calling out the Minotaur. She fought and shouted until her voice was raw and cracking.

Someone (Dave?) turned on Jonsi and numbly, bravely, Wendy threw her soul into that music. She started out rocking and singing, squeezing her eyes shut, clutching the edge of the birthing tub. She said later “I knew if I kept singing I wouldn’t lose myself.” Then she was standing. Holding her belly and lunging. Shaking her head. Singing loud. I was stunned by her beauty, power, colossal and sacrificial energy. She was in such pain. It was tearing her apart from the inside and still she stood, she sang, she danced, she dipped with her heaving belly, she stood and swayed in the tub, a being consumed with fire from within that the gentle water couldn’t touch. She appeared to me more than human in that moment. I remember thinking, who is this? This is the little girl who loved to sing, who felt second-best, and who so badly wanted something for herself. She never would have dreamed of this moment in her life. The music floated over us like soft sunlight. Outside, through the blinds, I saw the Lowe boys milling around in the front yard, eating pizza. It seemed absolutely insane that they were doing something so mundane while Wendy was dancing through her agony. I had never seen someone so completely surrendered and courageous. She held nothing back, she kept nothing for herself.

I thought of how I’d seen her at Richelle’s earlier that week when my appointment was right after hers, and she had wanted to sneak out so no one would see her crying, until she saw it was me and Jon. She seemed relieved and comforted to see us that day. I held her then and told her it must be so hard to be 41 weeks pregnant. She was wearing her blessingway necklace that day, clustered with dragons and elephants and symbols of her strength. I felt like we were friends and I had something to give her. Now I was ashamed of my empty hands, my confusion. I wanted so badly for the baby to just come, so she could rest.

At some point someone decided to let Dave and Wendy retreat to their bedroom and try to rest. Wendy asked to be checked and got the miserable news that she was dilated to around a 7. The next time I saw her was a few hours later.

She was shaking by the bathroom sink, looked up at me with dull eyes from the floor of the tub. “Have mercy,” she whispered, “have mercy.” There were no words, so far beyond fair, so far beyond control, so lost in this unrelenting labyrinth of pain. She stepped meekly and wetly and tenderly down the hall again, Dave and Richelle clasping her hands. Richelle was murmuring more firmly that it was time to have the baby and Wendy whispered something about the hospital. Dave told her no, firmly, that it was time, and she said “what about a spinal, or something?” They helped her move her exhausted, convulsing body into the tub for the last time and she started pushing, so painfully that she almost gagged. No one could have known that as the baby inched lower, the too-short cord was yanking on the placenta. It must have been excruciating, but she kept going. It was more than birth, it was more than anyone should have to experience.

 Richelle gently informed her that she was doing great but that it was going to take a little more time for the perineum to stretch—Wendy faced Richelle and asked for an episiotomy. Richelle hesitated with the scissors in her hands, stammered, “Wendy, I really think you can do this, you just need more time—“ I remember placing my hands on the chair in front of me and thinking white, short thoughts, almost bargaining not to breathe again until she was done. Please Please Please, no more. The midwife must have checked the heart rate again, but I don’t remember that. Suddenly Richelle was putting down the stethoscope and in her quiet, firm way told Wendy that she needed to get the baby here right then. Wendy pushed; I could see her bearing down with every minute muscle in her face, neck and arms visible above the water. She pushed hard, and I didn’t know it at the time but she put her hands on her own flesh and made way for her baby. That same skin that was assaulted and cut by strangers, that she wept over and had such hopes for; she did the impossible and chose to part that flesh to make way for her baby. She pushed as though she were throwing all her weight against an enormous boulder to move it out of place, and cried out this brutal scream of raw despair, and it moved, and oh God, he was there, he was there, little floppy white boy was in her arms cradled close to her aching flesh, and he was out and real and so white and limp. For a brief instant we were flooded with relief so sharp it stung. Wendy announced, voice shaking, “It’s a boy!” and there was a flutter of excitement and happiness before Richelle seized the baby and sealed her mouth over his. “Come on baby, breathe,” she muttered between breaths. What? At first I thought Richelle was just taking precautions, just in case, but he’d cry any second now and we’d all laugh and say how freaky that was and how for a minute we were worried something was actually wrong. Right? I saw Dave Rush put his hand over his mouth and the smile slowly disappeared from Wendy’s face. He wasn’t breathing?

I remember I couldn’t feel my body, was I still in my body? “Turn the fan off!” Richelle snapped at the people behind her, laying Beckham on the floor, continuing filling his little chest with air. Turn pink turn pink, turn pink, this isn’t really happening is it? This is happening. Just cry just be okay, oh baby please please be okay! For the first time that day, this felt too private to watch, and I knew I had no right to watch this, but I was paralyzed. At some point Laura ran outside and Julia followed her. My phone was buzzing with Mary demanding updates from work, and I had just texted her “It’s a boy!” and she wanted more details. The universe was spinning out of control and it felt like a scene from the Serengeti was unfolding right there in the Rushes’ living room, reminding us of what the events of the last day had been screaming at us, but I guess it still hadn’t quite sunk in—how frail, how mortal, how fragile, how precious we are.

Richelle was still methodically giving the baby breaths. Dave was sobbing into his hands and Wendy was leaning over the edge of the tub staring fixedly at her baby, speaking clearly and forcefully. “I need you to breathe. I need you to breathe for your mommy. Breathe for your mommy. Breathe for your mommy!” Crystal and I crept closer together instinctively and as soon as we touched she flung her arms around my waist and sobbed into my side. I put a tentative hand on her head, I would have stroked her hair but I couldn’t comfort her, I didn’t know what was going to happen, I had to see, before I could move at all. Dave kneeled on the floor above the little guy, begging him to breathe, holding the oxygen tube near that tiny nose, crying. Laurel lay on the floor next to the baby and called cheerfully, “Wendy, his heart is still great! Wendy, he’s pinking up. He’s a fantastic color. He’s going to be just fine. Wendy, everything’s fine, he’s just taking a second.” Sarah echoed her reassurances and I thought they must be mad to be so confident. I remember thinking wildly “HOW DO YOU KNOW!” but she was right that Beckham had turned rosy and soon he made a gargling little cry, which made my knees buckle, and opened his eyes. Ohhhhhh! Soon he was screaming. My arms came back to life and I squeezed Crystal, and Julia ran in and announced that Laura’s water had broken (not) and the room began bustling with more Lowes and fussing about getting Beckham situated. No one knew that Wendy had begun to hemorrhage, that she’d been so focused on the baby not breathing that at first she hadn’t realized she was slipping away. She said later that it was a bizarre feeling, like she might disappear completely. She was as pale as the baby had been. They moved her to the couch and cut off a piece of the placenta to place under her tongue. She chewed methodically, looking around thoughtfully, and asked for the baby to be brought to her. “I want my baby, bring me my baby,” she said quietly. I remember his sweet face and trembling lips. He was finally safe in his mother’s arms.

It seemed like a thousand crises were going on at once (they were) and everyone’s hands were full of some task or overflowing feeling. Kayte showed me how to cut up the placenta, I wanted to be helpful, but I wish now I’d told Katie Loveless to take a picture of it first. Wendy had been so excited to see it.

There was a lot of chaos in the room. There were so many tears. What happened the day Beckham was born, it shoved us out of where we were comfortable, reminded us of the things we don’t like to look at, bore witness to the fragility and wonder of life. But he lived. And although he was screaming painfully with a tight white belly, he was breathing. The next day, when they explained about the short cord, my heart broke. The blithe fairy tales I’d spun about birth melted into something wiser, stronger. It wasn’t my story to work through or pull lessons from, I’m not the one who gets to decide what it means, what Wendy did that day. I know how it makes me feel about her. I know I saw human strength that day that I’m not likely to see again. I had to process my complicity as a member of her support team, upholding a narrative that wasn’t ever possible. I felt guilty for my ignorance. I realized though that some specter of pain lay at the end of any path Wendy could have chosen that day. “It hurts—it hurts either way.” I stood with her on the path she chose, and I’m so glad I was able to be there. She was the “prouder fox” who walked free. I love you, Wendy!

An Emblem of Two Foxes (and a third fox, Beckham Fox)

Simply to breathe
can make him bleed,
the fox whose leg is trapped,
whose will awaits the kill.
Why should he flail?
Moving hurts,so he lies still.

Around him walks
a prouder fox,
his severed leg a homily
on going free,
as if to say
it hurts, it hurts either way.

(Barry Spacks)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

We'll come clean

Today was healing. I feel so much better! It was a slow dizzy morning and it's been getting hotter.  I took Chai to the library before work. His smile and halo of bright hair just melt my heart. He fell in love with the fountain outside the library, joyfully filled the river with rocks, and was devastated when we had to leave.

Jonny and I visited his parents tonight. They were both in higher spirits and Jay played with Chai and they both marveled at his vocabulary and sharpness. I love seeing them enjoy him! Jay wanted to see Sparrow turn over, and she did, and she rolled around and gimbaled on the floor liked a sweet juicy peach. She is so delicious and luscious. I love her eyes and her soft happiness.  

Later we went to Laura and Israel's to "speak heresies" and to feed the birds, bitcoin a bag.

We talked, really talked, while we were driving, and Jon kissed me in the car. I always wish for that and when it happens I feel my heart can stop happy.  

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The nights of all my youth pressed into one glass of water

Tonight I'm doing better, but today was rough for me. So rough and raw and eggy and sad. I miss Jonathan. This year has carved out more than a pound of flesh, how can I be left with so much flesh? I sobbed in the car all the way to work and made my eyes look like my makeup on my wedding day (ugh) and had a deep talk with Joy, which was nice of her since she'd just had dental surgery. We talked about staying in my primary emotion. The primary colors of my emotions? I'm afraid, and sad, and lonely, and hurt. I feel rejected. Even though I hate it when P!ink makes a good point, I told myself "We're not broken, just bent" can apply to me, too, and I told myself the story of how I begin to remember: even when sometimes it feels like the babies have taken something away, I know that the brightest light in my life shines through them, even the piece of myself that they reflect back to me.

I am so proud of my beautiful births and my own strength and the love in my life that was so evident in those moments. I glow when I think of them. I took another walk tonight with the babies. I am exhausted, Chai got up early and freaked out when I was nursing the baby. He's been hurting. We've all been hurting. But Summer is SO beautiful, that dear curve of the mountain, even the horses right now (the brown and white spotted and blond one) and the glorious sunshine and the taste of melty chocolate cookies and kombucha, I love. At work a little boy built a house and he said the best thing about it was that his mother was there.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Pretty Ling Thing

I'm saving the long wind for someday the waves. My life is a series of vignettes anyway. Well, my enter key no longer works, so there's that. I love walking with Chai in the sun, and today before work we visited our bovine friends down the hill ("I running! I running!") and they were eating and he yelled: "They eating FOOD! They eating GRASS! They eating DINNER!" I went to work and lately the summer is so sweet I want to stay with the babies, but I like so much being there when I'm there, and I like talking to people and tenderly unfurling their stories. I went to a planning meeting for Sarah's event and Ruthie and I joked about subliminal intactivism via pens printed with the slogan "pen is retractable." Today was so fast, it was like flushed down the toilet. I want time to slow down. My girl is a plump juicy peach.

Friday, June 7, 2013


Oh my oh my oh Chai my Chai!

Today was your second birthday. You are two and I’m exhausted. I can’t believe it’s only Saturday tomorrow. We have been crazy busy with birthday shenanigans and you, your sweet sister, and my lack of organization have completely worn me out. But you won’t remember this birthday either, so I need to tell you about it. Last night we went to the Art City Days carnival. You get so much energy from being around people. I love to see you so happy and running around! You kept trying to escape from us and you’d run as far as fast as you could, darting through the crowd. You threw yourself into the splash pad, soaked your clothes and started shivering. Your daddy held you and we wrapped you in the moby to keep you from dying of hypothermia. 

We met up with “Dabid and LarLar” and you and Scarlet rode the swings together for awhile. I tried to take a picture but both of you were too quick. Emily and I took you on the merry-go-round and I held onto you while your horse moved up and down. You were beaming, and you kept crying out “I did it! I did it!”

That night when I put you to bed, I was telling you all the things we did that day, and you told me my eyes were blue, and said “What color—MY eyes?” You patted my chest and held my hand while you fell asleep and sang out “Baby Sehwow, oh, Sehwow, oh my Sehwoh!” I watched you stretched out all long and sleepy and I was amazed at how you could be so long and how much has happened in the 2 years since you were born. You are growing and glowing and you live so beautifully and intensely. I kissed you and kissed you. 

When we woke up you were more cheerful than usual and you shouted “Good morning!” back to me. I kept telling you it was your birthday and I know you didn’t understand exactly what I meant but you were nodding and repeating “Birthday!” By midmorning you were shouting “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” and clapping for yourself. You were mostly sweet to Sparrow today, but I did catch you waking her up from her nap by tapping on her head with a drumstick. You love drumming! I’m sure it was just a coincidence! On your birthday you get the benefit of the doubt!

We took you to Wheeler Farm to see the animals and meet up with some aunties and uncles for your party. Your Daddy and I both got nervous because you refused to take a nap before we left. And Chai, I’m the worst at organizing things and sometimes I feel really bad about that, but I kept thinking, you probably won’t remember this day at all, and I didn’t want to make it more about me than about you.  Somehow, despite not taking a nap, you remained in good spirits. I got you a red balloon and you were overjoyed. You kept waving it and laughing, and when I climbed in the backseat to nurse Sparrow, you kicked your legs and yelled “Money, Money!” Chai, you loved the farm. You marched around and petted all the animals and when a chicken pecked your hand, you looked up at me and said “Whoa!” but you didn’t cry. The goats gave you a lot of feelings. You did that thing where you start dancing in place, waving your arms and squealing. “Goats!” you yelled. “I love you, goats! I LOVE MY ANIMALS!” 

You loved the tractor maybe even a little more than the goats, and you and Tanner climbed up there together and you pretended to drive. Right before we had pizza you ran off and when you saw Daddy had almost caught up to you, you diverted him by hurling yourself into the stream. He couldn’t stop laughing. You spent the rest of dinner naked from the waist down wearing a shirt from the DI box in our drunk, but you gloried in opening your presents and drank your juice like a boss. You were excited about new books, Sesame Street stickers, sidewalk chalk and bubbles. 


I can’t believe how smart and good and funny you are, and that I’ve had you in my life for two years. You are my dear little friend, one of my best friends in the world that I didn’t meet until I was 27. Sometimes when I look at you my heart breaks for the time we didn’t get together and for how much this winter hurt us both, but most of the time I just feel so lucky to know you and be able to hug you every day. Your life is full of flawed people, but our love for you is so genuine and tender and I hope you feel that pouring in on you all the time and that you continue to feel the freedom you do to explore so wildly, always buoyed by that love. You mean so much to me. Happy 2!

From facebook: My goon is two! We had a beautiful day celebrating Chai's cleverness and ceaseless energy by visiting odoriferous and wondrously loud farm animals, chasing birds, scattered applause, and enjoying Chai's attempts to avoid capture, which included throwing himself in a creek and spending the rest of the time at the farm with no pants on. I love him so much, he makes me laugh on average every 10 minutes and brings so much magic and oxytocin to my life. Way to rock your birthday with no nap, little man! Thanks aunties and uncles for coming and loving our boy!