I Dream of Sweet Caress from You

One of the stranger aspects of the COVID life is the lack of connection and, especially, hugs. We have stopped shaking hands and hugging because we are all afraid of catching or giving this disease to each other. It seems we are missing something larger than just a hug.

AF Archive/AP Stock Photo

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a paleoanthropologist and moving to Africa to study the origins of humans. I read books by and about Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas. I loved the stories of the gorillas the most.

COVID, as of today, has killed 246,000 Americans and 1.32 million people worldwide. When I started writing about it back in March, that number was this boogey-man number that was thrown about by experts as our worst-case scenario. Now it seems like an undercount, or a lowball prediction.

Today I felt sad, it must be the time of the year, or perhaps just the lingering effects of the anger I felt the other night. I felt so lonely and so sad, and as if I am missing out on something living in the country and not the city. I miss my friends in Austin, but I miss them in the sense that I feel our lives may be shifting ever further apart, not just because of geography, but something else.

COVID is grating on all of our nerves. Raw, lonely, sad, disappointed, exhausted: everything feels worse than it normally would right now. I won’t share with you the various horror stories from around the country: suffice it to say, we are in dire straits. Our government seems to be in trouble and at the whim of a despotic man with the emotional age of a 7th grade boy in a fight, and the man coming in is quite wonderful but holy hell is he inheriting a mess.

I was thinking about the 90s yesterday as I was touring Lamar University: they were a totally different world. No smartphones, no white supremacist proto-fascist movement maybe trying to take the government and cast doubt on our elections systems, no global pandemic hitting us worse than any other country. It sure makes you wonder. What else will happen?

I miss hugs, and students, and sounds in the halls. I miss feeling connected to many of my friends. I miss my husband and myself not being so crabby sometimes. I miss a lot of things. I wonder how many we will gain back?

DATE: 15 November 2020

#Cases of COVID in the US = 11.1 million

#Deaths by COVID in the US = 246,000

Death Rate in US = 2.22%

#Cases of COVID Worldwide = 54.3 million

#Deaths by COVID Worldwide = 1.32 million

Death Rate Worldwide = 2.43%

Charity

Today, a friend told me that her sister’s name was Charity. I laughed a bit and said, “oh! She is a fellow virtue!” My friend agreed, and I started telling her a story from where I grew up, in Salisbury Cove, about the graveyard.

The graveyard sits at the top of the hill, and we “discovered” it as small children, crouching and crawling up the hillside that felt as big as a mountain in those days. At the top of the hill was a large pile of old timbers which we had to scramble over and were always afraid of falling between. Beyond the gravel drive was the small glen in which the graveyard lies.

All the old residents of Salisbury Cove are buried there, from the 1700s to two present-day people. My friend’s mention of her sister reminded me of Charity, one of the old citizens of the Cove, as well as Thankful and Eben, her husband. There are small gravestones and large ones. There are tiny ones for the babes that passed before they were even named. There are gravestones for men who fought in the Civil War, many miles away from this island in Maine.

The graveyard is always quiet, and the light is always dappled. If you go there at night, the quiet is amplified, somehow, as if the only sounds reverberate between the lichens on the stones, muffling them into a soft whisper that, I think, is mostly the movement of the needles of fir trees.

I have spent so much time there, tracing the names with my fingers, clandestinely smoking and thinking about my friends there buried, some for over two-hundred years! Someone comes and cleans the site, mows it, keeps it maintained and beautiful, although it always seems untouched and trapped in time.

It wasn’t until we were in college that all four of us realized that each of us had heard the people talking at the top of the hill. Each of us thought we were mad, or tired, or making something up, until all four were talking one evening about how, when you walk at the base of the hill at night, you can hear their whispers on the wind, rushing down the hill into your ears. You never hear what they are saying, just that they are saying it. Who is it to say that those that speak are they who are buried: perhaps it is their friends, visiting. Either way, it is a strange comfort to feel so many people around you, knowing that they walked where you are walking now. My favorite epitaph that I have ever found lies in the graveyard, and goes like this:

Behold, you strangers passing by

As you are now, so once was I

As I am now, so you may be

Prepare for death and follow me.

All the Boats in the Harbor

I grew up in the summers on a large island off the coast of Maine. If you are a longtime reader of this blog, you well know this. I grew up on Mount Desert Island, and lived there until about 5 years ago, when I returned to Austin, Texas.

Mount Desert Island (MDI) is a tourism community that attracts 2 million people in a normal summer; our year-round population is a smidge less than 10,000. There are many funny comments from tourists that islanders have to endure, and lately, one has been sticking in my memory.

I can see Bar Harbor in the summer clearly in my mind’s eye. There are pleasure boats, whale boats, lobster boats, and dinghies moored there, bobbing up and down in the water, as the currents and the winds shift. Bar Harbor is an open harbor so really is only used in the summer, due to its lack of protection from winter storms. Tourists often look out into that harbor and see all the boats on their moorings, with the mainland beyond, and ask: “how do they get all the boats to face the same direction?”

Whenever this particular question is uttered, we laugh, albeit inwardly. Of course, it is the water currents, not the mooring, that determine how the boats set in the water.

COVID has now been raging for months: it feels like forever. I remember I said I was going to write here every day, and that never materialized. I have now decided to be more patient and gentle with myself, and write whenever I feel that I can. There are all sorts of below-the-surface water currents at work, causing us all to drift on this invisible tide.

Right now, schools are supposed to open as normal, and there is no plan for teacher or staff protection. The President wants the whole country to re-open, and periodically shrieks about the stock market and the NASDAQ, as if that means anything to 15 million unemployed people. The Texas governor issued a mask order last week, in the midst of a fury of anti-mask propaganda. I canceled my Facebook account yesterday: well, I put it on a 7 day hiatus, but after reading articles like this one, I am fairly certain I am on the path to permanently deleting it next week. I was in a meeting last week and described the feeling of being in the Upside Down, if the Upside Down was made of molasses; it is as if we are in a crazy parallel reality where truth is not valued, science has been relegated to the side lines, and time seems to move very strangely.

I don’t know what else to say except that times feel dark, and strange, and scary, and it is very hot (at least we have air conditioning!). I have been sewing almost obsessively, and watercoloring scenes from my life for a new quilt. I will share some of those when I have a few more ready. Some memories are good, some poignant, some sad; very much like the life they reflect.

I have been emailing with an old boyfriend from 20 years ago, and I think we have been comfort for each other in these strange days. Cody and I seem to not be a consistent comfort to each other, but I read an article about that, too. I feel very grateful for my friends at this time, for my dog Oscar, for my family in England who I can FaceTime with, and for the myriad stories I can engage with on television and in books. I spend a lot of time in contemplation and reflection, thinking about all the stages of my life, and of other’s lives, and how many, definite chapters we all experience. Life marches on despite our existence in the vacuum of COVID-19.

In some ways, this time reminds me of working in the studio in Northeast Harbor very late at night in the winters, when it was so dark outside that I couldn’t see anything beyond a few feet out of the front window, where the lights shone. I remember the blackness of the branches of the trees, the sound of the winter wind, the deep glow of electric light in a sea of winter black. None of us can see where this goes or when it ends, although many of us would like to know.

Despite the looks of the boats in harbors worldwide, there is no one undercurrent pulling us in one direction or another. There is, unfortunately, tension and mis-management, megalomania, fear, the unknown, wishes, rebellion, new ideas, anger, and a bit of hope. I just bought some very bright fabric to make quilts for the many babies that I know are on their way into this crazy world.

Back to sewing. With love, P

Date: 8 July 2020

Worldwide Cases: 12,009,301

Worldwide Deaths: 548,822

Worldwide Mortality Rate: 4.57%

United States Cases: 3,110,000

United States Deaths: 134,000

United States Mortality Rate: 4.30%

Friday Reflection

View at Medium.com

The map is scary and sad, and yet, there are still lots of people who won’t take the virus seriously. No one seems to be talking about the overall mortality rate: all people talk about is social distancing and whether or not to wear a mask.

Today we went on a car parade all around Elgin to see our families and it was great. I have been so sad these last two days, and I couldn’t really tell you why. I realized, last night, that I miss the morning times of school: advisory time, when the kids come in and out to visit and hang out. I miss the bliss of ending 4th period and knowing I have 5th period and lunch off together, and the joy that is 6th period. 6th period was my worst class at one point, but they turned into my best through multiple exercises in vulnerability and that ultimate in teacher skills: parenting. They learned at some point, and then knew, had internalized, that I really really cared about them, and then, all 29 of them, magically, through a force of their own, decided, like a hive of wily honeybees, to behave as a whole. And after them came my bouncy 7th period computer science kids: 30 of the smartest, magic-jumping-beaniest kids in the school who came up with wonderful and realistic apps to address the impacts of the Coronavirus way back before the government even thought of this disease as a concern. Then my 8th period, my smallest class, my island of misfit toys with whom I get to round out each day: each day asking me question after ridiculous question and being mean to me just to be 8th graders. I miss them all so much it is crazy.

Being away from my students has made me think of all the students of years passed. Some are teachers now, some are married, some have kids, some are riding their own melt, and some have disappeared from my frame of vision. One of them sent me a photo of her sewing table last night because she saw I was sewing on my Instagram Stories.

We are shut down, our economy is cratering, so many people are unemployed it is unfathomable to me. Our schools are closed, and everything is weird. It all happened so fast.  I hope our new normal, after this has passed, is more reflective of our individual humanity and our scope for being people with each other. I hope we appreciate nature more. I worry that it will get a lot worse before it gets better. Heavy heart today: I hope tomorrow is better.

Date: 03 April 2020

Cases: 1,099,389

United States: 277,953

Deaths: 58,901

Mortality Rate: 5.358%

===========================================================================

Here are some articles about how to interpret the models that have been discussed over the last few days –

 

  1. https://medium.com/@wpegden/a-call-to-honesty-in-pandemic-modeling-5c156686a64b

2. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/04/01/824744490/5-key-facts-the-white-house-isnt-saying-about-their-covid-19-projections?fbclid=IwAR3wx7NSOwqJ-aFswK2SafUGLvRiUhCwF_H8L7XghgMnGqjti3dZDuUH9Pg

3. https://covid19.healthdata.org/?fbclid=IwAR089L2Ipds3BzCR-jC-obV0hzHgSci2lEywQFOfKDwBE3zVkDIK0QPZvKc

 

 

Quiet Afternoons

There are people out riding their bikes and mowing their lawns and it is Thursday afternoon. People are out walking, and making beautiful photos on Instagram, and cooking, and everything else. Everything else but….working.

According to the New York Times, 3 million people have filed for unemployment, the most people ever in one week. I don’t really know what that even means, it just sounds like such a big number. Never before have I been more thankful for my job: I am so lucky to have my job, that Cody has his job, and that we both are able to work from home and still be paid.

I feel that there is some sort of shift happening in peoples’ perceptions in terms of their own lives and livelihoods. So many parents have told me that they are so happy to be at home with their families. So many people are out on the streets walking around instead of inside, glued to screens. So many people are more kind to each other than they were. People seem to be sharing, pitching in, and working together. I am ignoring the government and all the crazy madness that seems to come spewing out of the executive branch each day: I cannot understand a president who places money over people. I do acknowledge that it is not just as plain and simple as that, and that we must of course think of the economy, too, but it seems not to be a choice between but a choice of both. Texas Monthly has a great article about this false choice .

The days are strangely long, but they pass into relaxing evenings and then into beautiful mornings, over and over, on a relaxed sense of repetition. I feel guilty sometimes about my peaceful experience of this pandemic, but I suppose it is just the way it is for me. So I send love out to the rest of you, and hope you are all ok.

Date: 26 March 2020

Cases: 529,591

Deaths: 23,970

Mortality Rate: 4.52%

Today the United States became #1 in infections

Today

Great Wave

Tsunami_by_hokusai_19th_century-2

Great Wave Off Kanagawa – Hokusai – 1829-1833

I feel so sad and I can’t tell you why. I just planted elderberries as part of my Victory Garden and tried to not think about it for awhile, but was still overwhelmed by a heaviness and a sense of frustration, anger and being overwhelmingly tired. I think of my friends who are immuno-compromised, my husband, my friends who are nurses and doctors. The old people like my aunts and the young people like the new babies: it just makes me want to cry with worry! And yes, you might say: you have no control over this, why are you so upset? And i would say to you: I have no choice.

I remember once in college when 9/11 happened and I felt like there was this giant weight or wave of humanity pouring out everywhere and there was nothing I could do but walk across the South Mall and feel it. I feel that way now. I have always felt that my heart is outside my body, not inside like other people. There are so many feelings. I understand why I used to push these away with drugs and alcohol and avoidance strategies that were so well honed they were indetectable even to me.

I imagine a giant tree in a forest in a storm. It is being hit, swept up, threatened, borne upon by forces of wind greater than itself. It whips around like the Whomping Willow in Harry Potter. The only time that I can control the feeling of that storm is if I am doing something active: walking, dancing, planting, painting. But I can’t do that *all the time*.

It is so fascinating that we are being asked to be so still in a time of such upheaval and uncertainty. Who knew that the best idea would simply be to stay at home and wait?

I am making a Spotify Playlist that is mostly aimed at being something to listen to when you are actively doing something: dancing, writing, painting, planting, walking, etc. I hope it is something that people like. I worry about my students. I will miss them so much tomorrow.

Paciencia, Paciencia – Part 2

I have known for a long time where I wish my ashes to be scattered. I have walked that stretch of beach, a cove within Salsbury Cove, just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from The Ovens, probably a thousand times. Maybe I have walked it more than a thousand times in the 37 years I have known it. Known its curves, its predilection for purple seaglass and mussels with pearlescent shells; the pads of seaweed at low tide that you can walk across if you are careful to feel out the rocks beneath with your feet. The tiny island that forms just beyond the point that *sometimes* has a seal on it, but more often, you see the seals in the water, watching you.

I have walked this beach for years of my life. I learned to skip stones in the water there, have taken countless pieces of driftwood to burn in their Aurora Borealis colors in a campfire: I have found bricks and glass and jellyfish and dishes and seaweed growing, attached to same, for years and years. When I was ill 21 years ago, I still walked down to this beach, and back up the hillside walk to the house on the return journey.

It was on this beach 5 years ago that I set off lanterns with Cody into a winter sky: a night sky so clear and so full of hopeful wishes from the both of us. Drifts of snow lay before us on that beach and we crouched, almost in silence, making wishes as we sent wasteful lanterns off, over the water.

So, I have long known this is the place upon which I would like my ashes to be sprinkled, which brings me to my latest update: the newest iteration of the blog.

I am in the middle of downloading the old, and rediscovering the need to write the new. I am finishing an old project, and beginning two new ones. I am editing and rewriting the first version of this blog into a book:  a memoir. I have learned, through reading many memoirs over the past two years, that memoirs are best suited to a specific,  certain time, place, and theme. Hence, I realized that I finished one at the end of my last post, and here I am beginning a new one about the understandings one has at the cusp of turning 40. I now understand all the strange “over the hill” comments of my childhood. I am, for the first time, more than likely, closer to the end than to the beginning of my life. Now, being a person who became very ill and almost died at 18, a whole other aspect appears: I wasn’t sure I would make it this far. Thank you for accompanying me on this journey, wherever it will take all of us, each of us, individually: after all, it is a one-person journey as far as I can tell, despite all the lovely people who dot the landscape of our lives.

Happy New Year.

A Fitful, Furtive Poem

So much sleep.

Sleep like puppies sleep; fitful, furtive, with frowns.

Strange noises come and tiny movements are constant.

Picking at clothes, slurred speech, the tiny rivulets of her hands formed by 88 years of experience.

When I look at her hands, I am reminded of another grandma’s hands: so deeply carved in sinew, bone and vein.

Drawn across the skeleton, skin so thin like an onion’s wrapper.

Tonight she wouldn’t respond to me, and I had to roll her little body over and do my checks, all the while letting her sleep.

No more medicine, no more doctors, no food for two days, hardly any water.

Today I spoke to her husband’s photo and told him it is time for him to come get her.

Taking Care of a Dying Person

I remember when I first met MawMaw, she told me to keep Cody on the straight and narrow. To be honest, she kind of scared me: this tiny, old person with a perm was clearly no woman to challenge. Over the years, though, I learned that tough exterior covered an extremely sweet person who felt herself to be much worse than ever could be a reality. She has given me and Cody so much, and so, when the time was right, we moved her in to our tiny, old house, and here she remains, in the slow and strange process of leaving the planet.

Last week was hard; it started with conversations with her dead sister Tootsie about Steve (her also dead husband) going out to the chicken coop in Bossier City only to discover a snake, would you imagine? We advanced to an admission of being afraid and a night of nightmares and everyone being awake trying to coax MawMaw back to our reality from one of her own. She sleeps with a little boy but doesn’t know who he is because she has never seen him. But, the last two days have been clear and almost normal. Her “symptoms” if you can call them that follow the pattern written out in the hospice folder. Perhaps we are within days, or weeks, perhaps not. No one seems to know anything specific about this mystery we call dying.

Taking care of a dying woman who cannot walk and who is bedridden while teaching 8th graders and trying to complete my first semester of grad school is very hard, and everything is suffering. I try to not take it all so personally: I feel defeated and grumpy all the time. I feel overwhelmed and sad and worried and anxious; I have a short temper with my students. I hope that will change, for their sake and mine. It is not their fault, after all, that they are teenagers.

She tells me funny stories sometimes, and sometimes I do nice things like give her a facial with lovely oils to soothe her “onion-skin” as her nurse calls it; paper-thin, almost translucent, and apt to dry out and tear if we aren’t careful. She still has her sense of humor and she winks at me when she is being wicked. I appreciate that very much. When she gets upset I ask her to tell me things about her children when they were little and about Bill (her husband) and when they got married, and how he built their house for $6000. Many times now, she doesn’t remember the details.

I have been watching her sleep and she reminds me of a puppy right now: moving, twitching, frowning and smiling as she remembers…something. I feel she is reckoning with her life at the moment, when both awake and asleep. She said the other day she wished she had been a better mother.

This process is slow, and it is also fast. Sometimes it feels like longer than 4 months, and then I realize how short 4 months actually is. So much has changed for us; our marriage is better for this experience as we actually have learned both to communicate and to take care of/appreciate the other one. We say “thank you” more and give each other breaks when things are hard: walk away even, or just kiss one another or hold each other’s hand rather than trying to prove something. These are good things.

As I type this, the north wind is blowing around the house, as it likes to do on some winter nights. I wonder how much longer she is with us, and if the wind will take her away one evening. I know the wind is a woman, and she a harbinger of change, especially in winter. We all talked about death the other day; we are all on the same page. We will be all right when it happens. Like she says, she has to get to heaven to be with her mama again, and her sisters, her brother, and her husband.

Such a mystery this life.

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I do not die.

– Mary Elizabeth Frye

The Power of an Autumn Cold

wild-horses-running

“Wild horses couldn’t drag me away

Wild, wild horses couldn’t drag me away

I watched you suffer a dull aching pain”

 

I caught cold whilst riding horses two Fridays ago; lately, I have been going riding with a few other families on Family Night at the local riding club. One of the benefits of rural life is that people get together to ride horses and have potlucks with wine and beer in the dark of a Friday evening; it is beautiful to watch all the teenagers racing their horses around the arena, teaching littler ones to ride horses at all, and then to, occasionally, get up on a horse oneself and try to conquer that lifelong fear of horses that was borne from being thrown at a Girl Scout camp all those years ago. We have been taking the teenager, River, because he told us a while ago that he really enjoyed riding horses. Two Fridays ago, the origin point of today’s tale, he told me he had changed his mind.

Have you ever raised a teenager? I have not, but I do teach them each and everyday and have done for many years. Next year is Lucky 11 in public school, and 15 in total. Anyway, I digress. River told me in the car, after mopily being convinced to ride bareback on a paint named Zoomey, that he really didn’t like riding because he had nothing in common with the other kids there. I asked if it was because they are all girls? He responded that they don’t have a lot of brainpower, and that all of his friends use their brains a lot. I asked, are you talking about playing video games? Moving on to the kitchen in which I was trying to restrain myself from, what Maw Maw calls, braining him while he told me that everything that Cody and I take him to do and everyone we introduce him to makes him uncomfortable, but when he is at home with his mother, he is totally comfortable, not shy and talks constantly. In this moment of teenage darkness, I chose the high road and told him I thought he should get out of his comfort zone and that we just want to make him happy. Inwardly, I was consumed with anger.

This was the beginning of the Transformative Autumn Cold: one that, even today, Sunday, nine days after initial exposure, still holds on to my lungs and nasal passages. It has a lingering force that can only mean one thing; I am supposed to learn something from it. So here’s hoping.

{Please bear with this tangent-filled exploration of my human psyche today. It all makes sense in the end.}

When I was 18, I became very ill which was, at that time, a mystery illness. I was hospitalized and was out of school for almost an entire semester. I lost most of my hair, had congestive heart failure, and an incredibly low blood count. It wasn’t until almost 20 years later, when I lucked into an amazing hematologist/oncologist who did a genetic fact-finding mission of my entire extended family’s bloodwork, was it discovered that my cousin Jackie and I both have agammaglobulinemia, a genetic disease that usually only affects males, but in our case, impacted two females of the same generation on the Blythe (paternal) side of my family. It was a crazy experience that was definitely transformative and taught me to appreciate every day of my life, and that my life had a purpose, although at the age, I didn’t understand what that was or even what that meant.

As I got better, slowly, and with the help of traditional and non-traditional doctors, I left home and moved to Austin, Texas to go to college at UT. After attending debate camp several times during high school, I had fallen in love with Austin and thought it was the bees knees of cities, and, I think, it was. A lot of people still think it is, as seen by the 150 people who move to Austin each day now. I would disagree, but I am able to as I now live in the country and like the slow life much better than the hustle-and-bustle-avocado-toast-trend-of-the-moment that seems to be the lifeblood of Austin these days. Oh, and not to forget all the music festivals.

I digress, again. Since getting sick two Fridays ago, I have experienced a lot of frustration. I was frustrated with River, and with the concept of blended families in general. I am not even sure if I would call ours “blended” as sometimes I think that Cody is treated like an afterthought, or a necessary chore, rather than an equal member and a father to River. (There goes that anger again!!!).

Digression.

In addition to raising a teenager in a blended family, Cody and I also take care of his aging grandmother, Maw Maw, who is in some sort of “rapid decline” as the medical people call it, but who, herself is in some strange space of denial-bargaining. She seems to think one day this will all stop; we know that it will, but not in the way that she wants. It is crazy disorienting to take care of someone who you “know” (?) is dying who herself has not acknowledged it truthfully to herself, except when occasionally she asks us to shoot her, throw her in the river, leave her out with the garbage, etc. (yes, these are statements that have all been uttered). I don’t know how to react to Maw Maw or tell her what I think. I just try to listen, keep her comfortable, and get her to eat something.

A few weeks ago, I took advantage of the in-house teacher counseling service at my school and went to a session with our school’s counselor, Mrs Williams. I talked about the struggles I have with taking care of Maw Maw at home, teaching 8th graders at school, and having a teenager at the same time. She told me to trust the universe and remember that Maw Maw’s age is a blessing, that each day is a blessing, and that I am there solely to make her comfortable and try to keep her happy. Other than that, I cannot fix or change anything and that it is really up to God, whoever I conceive of them to be. I agreed and had a mental image of my garden in the spring: full of flowers and butterflies and bees, and I remembered how happy being in the garden makes me, so I, at that moment, tried to consciously remember to shift my perspective from helping to supporting. That shift is a difficult one that I have to concentrate on each day, especially on days when Maw Maw won’t eat, or she calls me “that woman I live with”, her heart rate goes above 130, or whatever.

The last aspect of this current experience of transformation-via-autumn-cold is that my oldest friend and I are in a spot of disagreement, or perhaps a better phrasing is uncertainty about our relationship. I went to see her in India in June, and during that trip, said a lot of things that hurt her feelings, but she didn’t tell me any of this until an email I got last week. She works for the government, and lives in different places around the world for chunks of time, and then gets zoomed back to the US before zooming off again. She planned an amazing trip for us, and everything we did was beautiful and inspiring. Of course we didn’t get along every moment, but I have never traveled with anyone that I got along with every moment. Perhaps, most definitely, this says more about me than any friend that I have traveled with, but nevertheless, I was hurt by the fact that she didn’t tell me any of this while we were in the same space together, during which time we could have talked about this and she could have told me she thought I was being a jerk, and I could have told her that I was super worried about her and it was coming out the wrong way, and we could have found a place of peace. But now, she is about to zoom off to another country and the likelihood of us being able to talk about this in a meaningful way is quite limited until I see her again. And my takeaway from the email is that she doesn’t want to see me again, at least not for a while.

In this specific situation, unlike my frustrations with River and Maw Maw, I feel adrift. I am 100% sure I make mistakes, because I often do with people: ask anyone who knows me well. I can be harsh, overly-emotional, tactless, too optimistic, too domineering with my opinions, etc. These are aspects of myself that I was unaware of until I went through years of therapy to find out who I really was under those onion layers. Despite me *mostly* keeping those tendencies in check these days, or at least being very aware of them when they pop up and being active at fixing them and reinforcing the relationships they impact, occasionally they pop up especially with older friends, who have known me since I was 10, and knew me better when those layers were under wraps than now, when they are unwrapped and under psyche-scrutiny each and every day. My friend wrote to me that we are in different places in our lives, which of course is true; this is something I have been thinking of in terms of all my friends as I approach 40 years old. Some of us are single, some are married, some have kids, some don’t. Some live in far off places, some very close. Some have professional jobs, some have no jobs (lucky ducks — I think). Some are consistently sad or anxious, some are happy at their core, some don’t know how to be, some question themselves (all), some are blinded by ideas, and some see clearly. Some think they see clearly and yet are still blinded (all, again). Some are all of these things in intermittent moments: aren’t we all? While we are all in different places at this juncture that I call 40, but some friends may call 42, or 35, or 32, we can all be great friends to each other because we love each other and accept each other as flawed human beings who experience all the iterations (and more) listed above. Right? In what perfect moment are friends at the same point in life? I find it to be impossible, but more significantly, not important. I love my friends very much, and that force is much stronger than any job or house or partner, etc.

So, I sit here, at noon on Sunday, still sniffling, and wondering about all of these ideas. Teenagers, dying grandmothers, oldest friends who can’t really talk with each other; it is a quagmire.

Unless……

Yesterday, I moved a lot of wood: giant chunks, small branches, and a lot of in between sizes. They all came from cutting down a 236-year old post oak tree in our front yard that died. It was an amazing tree and we have many giant stumps to play with for the rest of our lives. It was hard for me to believe that its first year of life was in 1783: I have no idea what was going on here in 1783. Who lived here? Did someone plant that tree or was it just one of those magic, random occurrences of nature? I love that someone built our house just behind that tree and one more, as if they were planted for this house, when of course it was the other way around. As I moved all those chunks of wood, back and forth to the woodpile using the wheelbarrow, lifting heavier pieces just to see if I could, dumping them in loads, over and over again, I felt better.

I think the reasons I felt better were a combination of exercise-created-endorphins and an understanding of how I have changed in the last few years. Five years ago was the beginning of my last winter in Maine, when I lived in a cabin on a lot of land next door to a lovely neighbor and pig farmer who looked out for me. I heated my house with wood and really experienced solitude. I wrote many entries here during that time, whilst sitting at a round, pine table with my woodstove to the left and my sweet kitchen off to the side. There was so much snow that winter, and I lived on a property that felt like the target point of the whistling wind that came between two mountains across the road. Sometimes I would go outside in the evening to get frozen wood and would just wonder what the hell was happening? How did everything get so hard? It wasn’t until deeper in that winter that I realized two things: it had become that hard because I made it so, and that it actually wasn’t hard. I just wasn’t seeing clearly and especially wasn’t seeing all the people around me who loved me.

When I moved back to Austin the next late-spring, I was in a relationship for the first time in over four years, and really struggled with the same struggle. I asked: why is this so hard? Why can’t I run away? I don’t want to be here – or do I? Do I want to teach again? All of that time, I had these wonderful friends around and a lovely boyfriend who just loved me and wanted me to be happy. Cody had his own growing to do, but he did it, but in terms of me, he was always loving and encouraging. I had this barrier up that said something like…you can’t be happy because if you do, they will find out all these bad things about you and then what will you do? It was something like that, and was couched in my experience of getting pregnant at 15 and living in an alcoholic family with a Vietnam vet for a father who never let his own bad experiences go and a mom who sought to control everything at everyone’s expense. It is fascinating to me how we can get locked in our own psyches without our knowledge, because some series of experiences can be so painful or frightening. I was lucky because I did discover the key to my own salvation: forgiving myself, grieving for that painful experience, and finally seeing all the people around me who just plain loved me. It was then that I could love them, too.

One of my takeaways from my last 5 years is an understanding that I have no control over anything (I still struggle with this: referencing that convo with River, my issues with wanting Maw Maw to get better when it is not up to me, or being hurt and bewildered by my friend’s email). This popped into my head yesterday whilst moving all those loads of wood.

Another is that I have changed over these interim years, thanks to my friends, myself and cognitive behavioral therapy. It took years of talk therapy to get to the discovery of the need for CBT. I think it saved my emotional life. I realized yesterday, whilst in the woods, walking back to the front yard, that I am so valued and appreciated by people at my school, and I have the power now to recognize that and build on it. I don’t think I could see that clearly before, because I couldn’t believe that people would see me that way. I got divorced back in 2009, and I realized that the last time I felt this valued was just before the divorce; it was a great discovery to me that the experience of divorce, in the moment, set me further back on this journey. But then again, that experience was what spurred this self-discovery of the last 10 years, so there you go. I also feel so appreciated and valued by my friends. I feel terrible that my oldest friend doesn’t feel that I feel that way about her, even though I do. I think that old habits die hard, and apparently I crossed a line for her and can only hope she forgives me.

My last takeaway here is that life just keeps moving forward each day. I have found the key to juggle all of the dishes spinning in my life right now is to remember this in every moment I possibly can. My coworker Nicole says that nothing phases me right now, and my other coworker Tori says I have such a “chill vibe”. I think they are sweet, and definitely wrong about this sometimes (the emotional swings still happen!), but I love those notes of appreciation and I look at them at lessons in remembering to stay present whenever I can, in remembering impermanence and the lesson of trying to be equanimous. It helps me find peace in this chaos.

The only power I have in this situation is to love my people: love River especially when he makes me crazy. Love Maw Maw and try to make her laugh a couple of times a day. Love Cody and thank him for loving me, too. Love my friends and try to make sure they know how much I care about them, but not in a way that offends them.

I think I appreciate this cold now, can bless it and send it off into the autumn wind that is blowing around my house. Is that rain?

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