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Wrinkles

A tangled mess of lines,

creases of joy

and sorrow impressed

into the palm –

they are not

beautiful.

dun and chapped,

as tools

for mending,

they have no

delicacy

or soft

edges.

They brusquely sit, forms

isolated

by their harshness, broken

by the years. Yet,

as our fingers entwine –

this austere act of

completion –

they are

perfect.

 

(Many thanks to my high school English teacher, Scott Gilbert, who helped edit this piece. I hope you are still well wherever you are.)

Flood

After a trauma, a disaster, however big or small, there is a tremor that does not just jar the psyche in the present moment, but is connected to all past experiences. The larger the tremor, the deeper the fissure and the self begins to turn inwards.

This disconnect from the senses feels engulfing. And, if the mind is at all clear, it begins to cry out for some buoy or raft to float upon. What should I do? How will I make it out alive? These questions echo across the all encompassing ocean of despair seemingly without answer.

When the waters are there though for weeks on end, we begin to wonder what the self is at all. In these moments, one forgets the most simple of things, such as the taste of a favorite food or how a certain song creates a great urge to dance.

In time, we may hear a response amidst the chaos. Something that reminds us of who we are, if we begin to ask the question. Perhaps, it is the friend who comments how much they’ve noticed that you like baths. Or, maybe it is the acquaintance that texts you the quote you remember reading years ago with tears in your eyes.

And, at first, sometimes it can feel as though your body is foreign. But, as the waters subside, you find yourself again, clinging wet and gangly to whatever small item you’ve found to hold onto, may it be faith or a practice. And, whatever that thing now found in your hands becomes a seed.

Holding onto a seed can be an experience of clutching or caring. A seed is a small thing. It is not large and it is not heavy. It is both delicate and fiercely strong. Rest it in your hands of dirt. Let the sun warm it. Let the rain water it. Abandon attempts to control its progress or contemplate its usefulness. Allow its growth.

.
.
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This prose began from personal experiences with loss and working with clients who have acute stress and symptoms. I want to keep exploring ways the poetic imagination can discuss these experiences in metaphor and with hope. Thank you to those who have walked, and continue to walk, this journey.

I lose things.

I am continuing to learn how to identify grief as it comes, both in the small and simple and in the large and untethered. Growing up, there were not words used to describe the cold chill and aching that comes with loss. I only knew that losing became numbness.

When I was in middle school I would wake up crying because somehow in the night I had cut off the circulation in my arms. I would startle to a lack of feeling in my hands and terror would set in. I had no idea what was going on and my lack of understanding scared me to the point that I became panicked. But, once I began to poke and prod, the tingling would begin, a painful process of blood moving back life back into numbness. At times, the tingling felt excrutiating. Still it was the only way to regain the movement.

Our bodies know the way to heal themselves, but our minds fight it. 

Grief does not play favorites. She visits each of us, and if we ignore her, her cold presence begins to chill us without us noticing, slowing our connection till we can’t feel at all. Her visits vary in length and if we are present with her and ourselves, we begin to notice that her story is valuable. She is telling us what matters to us. She tells us of our deep caring and deep strength. 

I feel her most in the aching of my arms even now. I fight her in the heaviness of thoughts that are attempting to repeat the past with a different ending. I sit with her in salty tears as I wait for her friend Acceptance to arrive with the comfort of ginger tea, the last sip of honey a balm for my hoarse and tired throat.

I am learning my place in the world is not to prevent loss, but to attend to love.

When I try to keep the pain from coming, I only keep myself from noticing the love that is present with me now. Even amidst the pain. When you’re used to the cold, the warmth feels strange, and may even create discomfort. Notice the tingling and anxiety; take another step. Keep going; it’s the way home to yourself.

Meditation II.

Today I saw a red leaf
calling by the tire of my car;
it had already fallen
and
I could see the brown creeping up its spine as it struggled to hold the life,
as it slowly exhaled,
letting go.

I don’t want to talk about
change,
so I’ll talk about how the leaves fall
even when I don’t want them to.
I’ll refer to the layers of sweaters, scarves, and gloves
till all you see is my nose;
my breath.
I’m still alive under all this.

I’m noticing the air is getting much cooler
and with it,
a thrill,
as well as something somber.
We are all preparing for death,
preparing for something
new.

Patty Griffin

August 4th, 2011

Why are you silent? Because I’ve watched the way you watch the way I watch the way you watch me. We’re just watching. And, I dare not speak the words that ache to pass from gut to throat to tongue to teeth. They are vulnerable. They are questions. You see, they’re not safe. They don’t wrap nicely, brown paper, scotch tape, a little string to fold over, under and tie tightly. And, we worry what will happen if we speak, if we choose, if we make a move too soon, like we were playing an eternal chess match. Like one misstep will create a chasm deeper than hell itself. We build boxes to make ourselves taller, so our voices seem more confident, built on forms of cardboard and air, enforced by judgement, when all we’re doing is whispering the same doubts underneath. So keep watching. My lips cannot continue holding in the provoking thoughts of the reality of love. And, maybe I’ve got it all wrong. And, maybe we both do. But, the passing of air back and forth is about life itself, not victory.

A few years ago I took a trip to a Patty Griffin concert on my own. I stood in the crowd as she sang a note that rippled the chords in my heart. I scribbled this around then, and I made the specific date up. I don’t know if that’s when I wrote this or exactly what it was about but it feels like a fit as much now as I guess it did then. What gets in the way of a proper love poem, I ask myself?

A month ago I spent an entire day in between sand and water. I watched wave after wave come over, was tossed by the ocean, and came up sputtering. Air, sweet air. The in-between is exhausting. When you don’t know if you live in water or on land. When you live in both. It seems easier to pick a side, and plant a pole. It seems safer. But, our bodies are made of both water and material, and we wonder why we struggle in a world that hopes to hold us to some particular reality. As if we could really only be one.

All that metaphorical, vague language is just an opportunity to remind myself movement will lead somewhere as long as I still have have air in my lungs. I’d prefer the sea and salty kind. Breathing is a part of the process.

This building trust takes time. It takes minutes and hours and years. It takes floorboards in shambles and windows, bricks, and mortar. And, sometimes when we start, we can only think of whatever the next step is. And, some days we don’t want to. And, some days we knock down walls. And, sometimes we leave. Whether it’s for something bigger, or something easier, or something really far away. And, the sad thing is that sometimes these lots sit empty, a shell of life. Some buildings take years for us to return to and sometimes we never return. But, sometimes we do. And, sometimes we stay. Our backs ache and muscles are sore. We have dirt on our faces and blisters on our hands and we’re still here. We are stronger. And, maybe we look back and realize, yes, we built this house, but this house also built us.

The Road

We were on gchat. I wonder if years from now, I’ll start this story and my curly headed child will look up at me confused about some archaic structure, “What’s gchat?” in the same way that kids do now when asking about a time before cell phones. Still, I remember when gchat started, that blinking box, connecting our conversation across continents, states, or even the same room. We were on gchat and she had moved to DC and calls were difficult to come by. I’ve always had a hard time on the phone. The box blinked. “Let’s run a marathon.” I’ve been a runner since high school and do it for the sheer joy of the wind and the pounding pavement. A marathon was a challenge feeling seemingly impossible, but a good goal. “Ok.”

I never thought I would actually do it. I wanted to think I could do it, but I had also given myself an out even at the beginning to not go through with it. Still, I told her “Sure.” I mustered excitement about how it would be incredible. We imagined the scene. Two years later we signed up. We planned to do it together in DC and I started training in Atlanta. The hours it takes to train start small, but then they get longer. Five mile runs turn to nine miles, to thirteen miles, and you plan your life around the next three hours you’ll spend with the road. As the day got closer, I struggled with a challenging job and other life variables and then made the choice to run alone in a race in my own city, rather than with her. I told myself I could still give up. I didn’t have to do this.

I started running cross country my junior year of high school. My coach was a wiry old man, white haired and no time for excuses. He had lived a lot of life and appeared to expect us to embrace the pain and thrill of it. This meant he expected us to run every day of the week. It was his proven method. It was his holy grail. He expected it because he was also out there running, every day. That fall, I planned my life around this assumption: that if I got out there, every day, it would change me. So, I made sure I got plenty of sleep and ate during classes to carb load before runs in the afternoon. My weekends were treks that started before the sun was up on buses to old horse racing trails. Even on race days, we trained. We ran a mile before our race and a mile after and we always sprinted the last 100 yards. Over and over. Regardless of how I felt.

I loved running. I hated running. And, it slowly became the place I found myself. I went there to think. I went there to cry. I went there to laugh, to fight, and simply to be. I could feel whatever I needed to. And, I could keep moving. Running became my solitude. The road doesn’t care what you look like or if you failed your last assignment. She doesn’t care about the fight you just had. She doesn’t care about your promotion or the little money you have in your bank account. The seeming good or the bad. She asks you to get out there and accepts whatever you’ve got. She just asks you to show up. 

When I ran that day, I had a couple of friends who followed the course and met up with me along the way, at the parts I felt like I could barely continue on. When my phone died and my music gave out and they let me swap with theirs. When I had a particularly long hill. And, just to say, “You can do it” and then “You did” when I finished, tired and overwhelmed with emotion.

If you ask anyone who has run a marathon about what it felt like to finish, I wonder if they’ll struggle with the sentences. There are few words to really speak when in the midst of a victory. Nothing really does it justice. When you’ve put every last ounce of energy and hope into something and then it’s done. The pure joy and utter exhaustion.

As a counselor, I think about how I feel sitting across from someone who is fighting for their life; like they’re running a marathon, and I couldn’t be prouder and more honored to be there with whatever they bring. I want to see their face and the triumph as they show up through the pain. I want to be there when they get to the other side of that finish line and find the person they are and the strength they have. That’s what the road hopes for. That’s what she taught me.

Crawling Home

At the end of December, I found myself sketching sofas. I was sitting with friends, a crowded room, laughing and planning the year to come. We do this every year, gather together bringing this past year’s joy and hurts, victories and failures, scraping our plates for the last taste of what we have been given, savoring gratitude. Then, we speak into existence our hopes and goals for the dawn that will rise as the new year unfolds, our best intentions and ideals. Or at least that is what I like to imagine it as. As I looked at the blank page in front of me, I slowly started carving out the white for deep lines and folds of penciled fabric. They felt comforting as if I was creating something safe to hold me, a nest that I wasn’t ready yet to leave.

It’s the middle of March and that couch has absorbed a lot of tears. A salty mess of uncertainty, fear, hope, and sadness. In less than two months, I will graduate. I have already accepted a job that I never thought possible. As that looms, I have tried to imagine what will be next. I look back on those short months before when I wrote these things. The future, well it’s terrifying. Funny how something with so much wonderful potential also leaks of so much possible hurt. And, because I am afraid, I practice devastation. I rehearse it as if then I will have some power over the pain. 

I watched a TED talk the other day by Elizabeth Gilbert about this continuum we exist in. She supposed that perhaps both success and failure are the same in the way we experience their powerful sense of altering self. The potential or realization of either throws our balance off. The resilient continuously relocate their center. They crawl their way back to what they love.  Today, I sit again on this sofa, my bones weary from the constant back and forth of miles in my mind and emotions. There are still so many unanswered questions. Today, I crawl back to this sacred space surrounded by pages and prayers. I write my way back to this center. There is a red tulip on the counter that is begging to open. And, the sunlight is coming in, cautiously, through open blinds. My laundry is rolling around in the dryer, humming to the tune of consistency. It is the sound of coming home again.