Kalimba. The name rolls off the tongue like the music it makes, soft, soothing no matter the keys played, no matter the order. Harmony from chaos, soft music from hard metal keys, it speaks to me of life’s struggle to the ease of acceptance.
Kalimba. The instrument stirs my inner child, the tiny girl sitting at grandmother’s piano. Small fingers stroking each key and listening for the sound of the hammer hitting the wire, straining to get one foot down to the pedal to hear the music change. Thinking, I did that.
Kalimba. How luscious to cradle the smooth polished gourd in my hands. It is a perfect fit. My thumbs hover above the keys without strain to play effortless music. The notes wash over me like the soft breath of a lover, sending a shiver down my skin, a whisper in my hair. The space between the notes continues the song’s caress, echoing what my thumb has done. And I think I did that.
The sound of the rain splashing the leaves outside my lofty bed is a perfect backdrop to my thumb music. How lovely the rain is here. The trees intercept each drop, caressing it tenderly before guiding it on a safe path to the ground. An acorn hits the roof, bounces once, twice looking for a place to grow. From my perch I peer out the window and see the cabin roof crosshatched with twigs, acorns and leaves. Frosting on a cabin cake, the dusky scene enhances this meditative music, the music of dreams.
I sit in my cabin loft remembering days on the farm. Little children climbing to the hayloft, grabbing the stout rope and swinging dangerously close to the edge before flying back . Letting go and falling, falling to the hay, thinking how fun even though the hay scratched and itched. We were children. What did we know? Everything.
This little cabin loft makes me happy. Like a cat with a paper bag, I crawl into it, circling around to make myself small. Once again I am that tiny girl I left behind so long ago. I sit in the loft making thumb music.
Earlier in the month my friend Marilyn and I enjoyed Sunday brunch at a local raw foods restaurant. The idea of a raw food diet is not completely new to me. Juicing is a regular part of my routine and I avoid processed foods. I watch what I put in my mouth as I am gluten and lactose intolerant. The only time I eat red meat is when I visit Mom and she throws steaks on the grill or serves up roast beef with all the trimmings. I’ve always considered my diet to be very healthy but the raw food brunch was eye-opening. The offerings were craftily made to resemble comfort food like lasagna, burgers, ceviche, fettucini, and spinach pie. The brunch covered everything from soup to nuts and I ate it all up including the idea of introducing more raw foods into my diet.
I decided to start by cleaning out my system. Marilyn recommended a program she used called Blessed Herbs. I researched it on the internet and placed the order.
Day One, Wednesday 9/16
Anticipating delivery of the cleanse kit today I stop at the store after work to pick up a gallon of raw organic apple juice. When I arrive home the cleanse package is waiting at my door! The comprehensive kit includes a booklet to answer questions, a daily calendar, step by step instructions, and the herbal supplements for the program. I select the best of three options which is to do a nine day cleanse. This breaks down to three days of pre-cleanse followed by five days of liquid fasting, then wrapping up with a day of post cleanse. The other two options allow you to eat food but they take much longer to complete, almost up to a month. While I am excited to start the program I am also eager to get it over with as quickly as possible so I opt for the nine day cleanse.
According to the directions, on day one of the pre-cleanse, you eat your normal diet but take an herbal supplement before dinner and a dose of toxin absorber before bed. I opened the box before dinner and took the smallest dose of the supplement. Great! I was on my way! If my body responds appropriately tomorrow, then day one will be in the bag!
Day Two, Thursday 9/17
Cut out dairy, red meat, refined sugars, etc – all the bad stuff. Eat today but cut all portions in half. Take supplements in the evening. Okay, I can do this. I lift weights at the gym in the morning, knowing it will be the last weight training until this is over. I mention the cleanse program to my friend Pat and she expresses concern. I trade emails with Dan, my trainer, and tell him about the program. From his response it is obvious he is also not supportive. Doubt creeps in and I wonder if I am doing the right thing. I trade emails with Shantal. She wishes me good luck and tells me she is planning to do a cleanse in the near future. And my co-worker Scott is excited when I tell him about it. That makes me feel better.
My body responds appropriately to day one of pre-cleanse which means day two is officially underway!
The smell of roasted peanuts in a bowl on top of the file cabinet wafts over the top of my cubicle at work. I resist by drinking gallons of water and herbal tea all day to keep my belly happy. On the way home from work I feel a little shaky. My body is used to more than a half serving of baked veggies for lunch. “This is not a good sign.” I think. I resolve to keep option two as my back up plan. I get home and have more veggies. The supplements fill the gaping hole in my belly.
Day Three, Friday 9/18
The company brings in pizza for lunch today, something I don’t eat anyway. I stick to a small scoop of salad. Surprisingly, I feel okay today — no shakes, no light-headedness, no hunger pains. I keep drinking water and tea and make it through the day. Considering the small amount of food I have been eating I am surprised at how much my system is releasing. I am relieved, no pun intended, that so far this is easy. At home, I discover the small unopened package of raw food cookies I had purchased last week. Temptation! I push them to the back of the cabinet. I can’t quit now, tomorrow I start the full cleanse. Option two remains in the back of my mind.
Day Four, Saturday 9/19
I have a client this morning. Nervously I plot out the times of the doses, the first day of the full cleanse. I want to be sure my energy level is high for the 10:00 a.m. session so I wait until 8:30 a.m. to take the first supplement with juice. The session with the client goes well and I get back home in time for the second dose. I have errands but decide to wait an hour to tune in to my body. I feel fine! At 12:30 p.m. I grab my granny cart and head out the door. I drop off clothes at the dry cleaners and then walk the mile to Target for paper towels and detergent. I need another gallon of apple juice as one will not be enough to finish the program. I have to stop at Whole Foods. I dread going into the grocery store. I grit my teeth, ignore the sample stations and pretend not to smell the deli roast chicken. I practically run through the produce section with my eyes closed. I don’t feel hungry but boy do I miss eating. I grab a bottle of juice, cat food and a bunch of pastel pink gerber daisies. If I can’t have food in the kitchen at least I can have flowers! When I get home I feed Kitty then call my son to wish him happy birthday. He talks me through the process of fixing my garbage disposal with a broom handle. It works! This day is a success any way I look at it.
Day Five, Sunday 9/20
My belly is so empty! At least until the first dose of the toxin absorber, then it feels happy. Well, in this instance, happy is a relative term. Equilibrium Energy & Education Center is having its second birthday party today. They are offering mini-treatments making it a great opportunity to try some new things. My second dose is due around 11:30 a.m. I tuck a packet of supplement in my pocket and head out the door a little after 10:00 a.m. for the mile and a half walk. I arrive before the crowds and enjoy a 20 minute treatment in Hawaiian Energetics. During the treatment, the energy goes right to my gut as if to support and validate the cleansing effort. I check the time. The next dose is due but I push it off so I can get in a 15 minute hot stone massage. Aahhh! The massage is so worth it! I feel like a noodle. Sheesh! I have to quit describing things in terms of food or I will never make it through this. I quickly pay for my purchases and head back home. My belly is complaining so I run into Whole Foods and grab a small container of apple juice and a bottle of water. I stop and dump the contents of the packet into the juice, shake it up and drink it down. According to the directions I need to follow the juice with 16 oz. of water. I guzzle the water during the walk home. I spend the rest of the day housecleaning, doing laundry and worrying about the next day at work. I also sneak in a little nap mid-afternoon. Option two, the back-up plan, no longer seems necessary.
Day Six, Monday 9/21/09
Whoohoo! More than halfway done! The booklet advises that one could have a cleansing “reaction” but so far I feel fine with the exception of my baby toe. Someone stepped on it yesterday and this morning it is swollen. I don’t think it is broken, only bruised. Wearing a shoe hurts so I slip on my flip flops. I’ll have to hide my feet under the desk all day. I bring a supply of cleansing packets and a container of juice with me to work. Based on the schedule, I’ll do four out of the five doses at the office. My hope is to do this privately and avoid questions, but I immediately fail in that regard. Two folks are in the kitchen while I prepare the first one. I divert conversation to my baby toe which seems to work but later Sue comes to me with questions. I hope I can get through today, tomorrow and Wednesday quietly and avoid being fodder for the office grapevine. Mmmmm, I do love grapes. The clock approaches 1:00 p.m. I feel a bit sluggish. The booklet warned about this but went on to say that this period will pass quickly followed by a burst of energy. I look forward to that. I take a walk around the office to perk up. And, of course, stop at the ladies room. I look in the mirror. Is it my imagination or does my skin look super-good?
Day Seven, Tuesday 9/22/09
Two more days of cleanse. Option two is no longer an option. It is amazing to me that I have gone three days with only liquids and I feel fine. I am shocked at what my body is releasing. It is an incredible feeling to know this gunk is out of my body. Baby toe has rebounded and looks good too! Walked by the peanut bowl this morning and it had no claim on me at all. Great, great, great! My coworker Bob commented that the shaker jar looked like a jar for fireflies. I laughed! Catching fireflies is something I haven’t done in years. I feel like a firefly….all light, airy and ready to take off.
The Law of Attraction is working. I received an email from Bernadette, the Director of Equilibrium, stating that I won a raffle prize from the Birthday Party! The prize is Susan Smith’s book titled Recipe for Health Bliss Cookbook! Now that’s what I call affirmation!
Day Eight, Wednesday 9/23/09
In the words of the great James Brown….
“Whoa-oa-oa! I feel good, I knew that I would, now
I feel good, I knew that I would, now
So good, so good, I got you”
I feel like dancing, dancing, dance the night away! Okay, enough with the song lyrics but I cannot believe how good I feel! My skin is clear, my body feels strong and I‘ve released nine pounds of toxins that were lingering in my system. The constant slight edema in my left ankle is gone. My ankles MATCH! In the homestretch and I have an organic apple sitting in a bowl on the counter for tomorrow’s post-cleanse breakfast. I wish I had purchased a bigger apple.
Word filtered out to a few folks in the office about my cleanse. A small office, this was to be expected. What I didn’t expect was the level of interest! Lots of questions, serious questions, have come my way and a few people have asked for the website for Blessed Herbs. Is that a sign of age that we are so interested in our ability to poop?
Day Nine, Thursday 9/24/09
I placed the apple on my prettiest dish, the pink one decorated with white leaves and strawberries. I sliced the apple in half, then quarters, then eighths. I cut each eighth into three little pieces until the plate was covered with diced apple. I couldn’t resist. I popped one piece in my mouth right away before carrying the dish to the table. A single woman, I have the habit of eating my breakfast standing at the kitchen counter each morning, shoving it down quickly before heading out the door. So this apple was more than my first solid food after the cleanse; it was a first to actually sit alone at my table eating and enjoying my breakfast. I decided to be civilized and eat my apple pieces with a fork, chewing ever so slowly. The apple was an apple, no better or worse than any I have ever had before and the lack of elation surprised me. But there was a difference. Kitty sat next to me purring. I scratched her ears thinking to myself she’s right, this is a nice way to start the day. This is a nice way to start the next step to a healthier life.
Last Monday night was the wrap up of my writing group’s current 8 week session. At the conclusion of the night, our facilitator asked us to take turns acknowledging each other. Each person took a turn on the hot seat and listened to what the others had to say. My gut clenched. I have been in groups and seminars where we have done this kind of thing before and I find it so uncomfortable. I have absolutely no problem and actually welcome the opportunity to give others my heartfelt compliments. Giving is easy. Receiving is so hard. When you give, you are in control. When you receive, you are vulnerable.
My children know this about me. They conspire to teach me to receive. It is almost a contest with them, who can do something or give me something to make me cry.
At the age of 16, my son Matt surprised me with a long white box tied with a satin ribbon. Inside was a dozen long stemmed red roses for my birthday. Tears started to flow even before I opened the box.
Working long hours for weeks on end, one Sunday Matt walked into the kitchen and told me to shut down the computer.
“You’ve been working too hard Mom. I’m taking you to the movies.”
Now anytime “There’s Something About Mary” pops up on TV, the movie we saw that afternoon, I always sit and watch it remembering how we laughed that day.
There is a special gift I received in 2005. It was a few years after my divorce and I still felt the pain of knowing the impact the divorce must have had on my kids. I went to visit Jill who lived in Missouri at the time. When I arrived she told me that she had a surprise for me, a special gift for Mother’s Day.
“Get in the car Mom. We’re going down to the Lake of the Ozarks for a drive.”
I thought she might have found a quaint little restaurant or special hiking trail for us to enjoy and I felt excited. Lake of the Ozarks is vast and winding. The drive through the hills along the edge of the lake is breathtaking. Windows down, the springtime cool air filled the car with the soft scent of budding flowers and pine. Knowing it to be my favorite, Jill put on The Best of Van Morrison and we sang along off key to every song.
“Where are we going?” I asked periodically.
“You’ll see. It’s a surprise.” Jill answered.
The car slipped around a corner and I saw a sign. “National Mother’s Shrine 10 Miles.” I held my breath and looked at Jill. She smiled and I knew it was our destination. In a few minutes we pulled off the highway to the Mary, Mother of the Church Shrine. My watering eyes took in the lovely woodland setting. Jill turned to me and handed me a bulky envelope. I opened the package to find a gold book of remembrance with a one page inscription:
May the Spirit of Mary’s Son, Jesus, be with you always as you share in the joy of Motherhood.
Kathleen A. O’Dwyer
has been engraved in granite on the
Mary, Mother of the Church Shrine
Section B Block 12, Row 11
Lake of the Ozarks
Jill handed me some much needed tissues as we walked to the shrine. The statue of Mary gleamed in the sunlight and welcomed us with open arms. I touched the huge granite wall at the base of the statue, running my hand over the names of so many mothers and grandmothers, wondering what I had done to deserve this honor. Jill asked me if I liked my gift and I told her it was the best gift I had ever received.
Giving is easy. But thanks to my children I know that receiving is a blessing.
“Are you Louie? That was my Grandfather’s name.” The old man broke out into a grin.
“Are you Greek?” he asked.
“Yes, I am.”
“Where you father from?” he asked in his heavy Greek accent.
He was almost jumping with joy that our ancestral roots followed a similar path. Tiny and stooped from years of bending over a hot oven, I knew he was Louie, the owner of the bakery. Several months ago I had a similar conversation with him when I stopped in to buy a pound of his special double chocolate walnut cookies to take to my mother. Being a Celiac, stopping into a bakery is not something I do, but I needed a bottle of water and his shop seemed to be the only place open as I walked through Greektown.
“Luca” I said, not bothering to correct him.
My father was Irish, German and French. My maternal Grandfather was Greek and took a Polish wife, my Grandmother. They were a most unlikely couple in their day but they made it work.
“You go to Luca?” He asked, his grin broadening by the second. It made me feel guilty that the only thing I was buying from him was a $1.10 bottle of water.
“I have never been there but someday I will go.”
“I promise you this”, he said with his finger in the air. “You go and then, after you see the house of your father and how the people live, you go back every year.”
“Someday I will and I will remember you told me so.”
“Good day to you.” he said and I smiled back, “the same to you.”
I walked out of the shop and into the rain. Twisting off the cap from the bottle of water I took a long cold drink. Louie had not remembered me from our first encounter so many months ago. That time, when I bought the cookies, we had the same conversation, almost word for word. He was as excited to find out I was Greek then as he was today and it occurred to me that I might very well have been the highlight of his day. I imagined him at home, sitting across the table from his wife and telling her about the Greek lady with a relative of the same name. My Grandfather would have done the same thing.
Grandpa always brought me apples, the golden delicious ones that are sweet and soft to eat, bursting with juice. When I was young, he owned a tavern and restaurant at the corner of 95th and Western, right across from the A&P food store. I don’t believe he ever set foot in that food store, preferring to go down to the produce stands at the Old South Water Market to buy produce. He knew everyone there, after all, and the produce was the best, ten times fresher, bigger and brighter than what the A&P offered. It didn’t happen often, but every once in a while I would get to go to the market with him. He would take two brown paper sacks, one large and one small. Handing me the small sack he would tell me to pick out what I wanted while he busied himself filling the big sack.
I would run up and down the stands in excitement! The market smelled of water and greens, the puddles from the hoses used to spray down the fruit would splash around my ankles as I raced around. The produce sellers all looked the same with long, white bib aprons, skinny strings winding behind and around to tie in front over rounded bellies and Greek fisherman hats to keep the sun out of their eyes.
Stand after stand, the vendors would call me to pick their wares offering ruby red strawberries, slices of pale green melon and fragrant pears. There were tangerines, oranges and grapefruit as big as my eight year old head and weighing nearly as much. Grandpa would fill his sack with dandelion greens, endives, escarole and spinach, carefully shaking them to rid them of sand and grit while he chatted with the vendors. Green beans, onions and tomatoes, carrots, celery and potatoes, as I saw him put them in his bag I knew Sunday dinner would include those Greek roasted vegetables that I loved.
I loved wandering the market and always ended up by the stand of apples. Looking over the apples, I was careful not to touch until I was sure of the ones I wanted. I always picked the Golden Delicious. The red ones were good but the Goldens were the easiest to eat, the soft flesh easily giving way to my teeth. My tastes changed over the years and now I prefer the tart Granny Smith apples, but as a little girl I loved the sack of Goldens Grandpa would bring whenever he visited.
Cancer of the throat killed my Grandpa, choking him. It was hard to see this robust, hard working man weaken and lose his voice. The doctors cut a slit in his throat and inserted a tube to allow him to breathe. He couldn’t swallow food and liquid food was pumped through the tube in his abdomen to give him nourishment. Food is such an important and ritualistic part of Greek family life, I knew it saddened him to be reduced to baby food through a tube.
My aunt set up a family schedule to care for Grandpa in his final days. The tube in his throat would get clogged, cutting off his breath. When he couldn’t breathe he would ring a little bell in a bit of a panic. The night it was my turn to sit with Grandpa, I had him comfortably settled in his rented hospital bed. I stretched out in the next room on the couch with a book. As it grew dark, my eyes grew heavy and I fell asleep. Somewhere in my dream, from far away, I heard a bell ringing, ringing, frantically ringing. I jumped up and raced into the room. Grandpa’s eyes were wild with fright and he was gasping for air. I grabbed the saline solution and filled the syringe, carefully inserting it into his breathing tube, shooting the saline in only to have it squirt back out at me. The mucous and saliva had grown so heavy and thick that the saline couldn’t get through. I tried again only to have the same thing happen.
I saw the look in Grandpa’s eyes, the tears squeezing out the sides. My hands started to shake and I felt my face redden with stress. I grabbed the suction machine and placed it into the tube to try and suction out at least a small bit of the clog. Suction and saline, suction and saline, I kept doing it over and over, afraid to look at my Grandpa’s face while I worked.
“Don’t you die on me. “”
I silently prayed over and over, afraid to say it out loud lest Grandpa hear the panic in my voice. I wiped away my own tears with my sleeve in an effort to stay calm and work.
Finally, the saline broke through, dislodging the clog and I was able to suction it out. I repeated the cleaning process two more times to be sure I had removed all of the mucous. Pink came back to Grandpa’s face and I saw his shoulders slump as the tension released from his body. I readjusted his pillows and did my best to make him comfortable, washing his face and throat with a warm cloth, placing a fresh clean towel around his shoulders. I lightly kissed his head, placed the bell back in his hand then turned to set the workstation with fresh supplies. When I turned back to him, Grandpa was dozing lightly so I turned out the light and went back to the other room.
I sat on the couch burying my face in a pillow so my tears would not waken my Grandpa. The thought that he had almost died under my care was unbearable to me. He had eleven grandchildren but I was his first, the girl who loved apples. I shuddered at the thought that I almost let him down. A few days later he was rushed back to the hospital. He didn’t make it, dying an hour after he got there surrounded by family.
The Old South Water Market buildings are still here. A historic landmark now they have been converted into condominiums. After my divorce, as I searched for a place to begin life on my own, I stumbled upon them. Looking at the gleaming limestone façade, my mind traveled back to the old stands of fresh produce and the memory made me smile. I knew Grandpa had reached down from heaven, steering me here. It was home. It comforts me to live here and when I walk up the street I can still hear and see the loading docks, the trucks and the vendors hawking their wares from so many years ago. My kitchen is never without apples. An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but for me it keeps my Grandpa Louie near in my heart.
I give love, I live love, I am love. This is one of seven daily intentions that I repeat every day. Taking this intention and making it part of my being is so hard. I struggle with it every day, after all what exactly is love? How can I give it, live it and be it if I can’t even define it? I can sit here and tell you that I love all beings and yet today I walked past a homeless person ignoring his jingling cup.
Awhile back I was approached by a homeless couple. A gorgeous summer day with a blue sky straight out of a postcard, it filled me with joy. Heading east on Roosevelt Road to the lakefront, I intended to get in a good 10 mile walk. Nearing Wabash Avenue, a couple stopped me. Exceedingly thin, they wore mismatched clothing that had not been washed in weeks. The woman hid shyly behind the man and let him do all the talking.
“Miss would you spare a minute? My wife and I are out of work; we have no home and are staying at the shelter down the street. The shelter is wonderful to us, but we have three children and they don’t have much. We are out of diapers and we have no soap to wash our clothes. I know we smell, but until I get some work, I have no money for soap. Do you think you could go into the Jewel across the street and get us a small bottle of laundry detergent, a box of cereal and some milk for our kids?”
I was touched. Instead of asking for money, this man asked for a box of cereal and milk. His story rang true.
“OK” I said.
We walked across the street to the Jewel food store. Grabbing a shopping cart, the three of us walked the aisles.
“Pick out the cereal and milk you want. Pick out some soap.”
The wife scampered off. Her husband’s skin was chapped and he had the yellow teeth of a smoker. His sweaty, sour smell told me he had not bathed in quite awhile, and yet he stood tall while a stranger gave him charity. The Deli Counter offered a 10 piece chicken dinner for $12.
“What kind of chicken do you like?” I asked and he started to cry.
I ordered a mix of white and dark meat, some biscuits, fries and coleslaw and placed them in the basket. His wife walked up with a bottle of Tide, a box of Captain Crunch and a half gallon of milk.
“What else do you need?” I asked.
“Diapers” and I shook my head yes. Again, she ran off.
I never asked their names. The wife hovered over the bagger as he worked while her husband stood by quietly and watched as I paid. Picking up the bags, I passed them to him but he backed up with his hands in the air.
“No, no! They will think I stole these.” I pushed the bags into his hands.
“The receipt is in the bag. No one can stop you if you have the receipt.” I said.
We walked outside under the watchful eyes of store personnel. I turned and waved good bye.
“Wait Miss. I want to thank you.”
“That’s OK” I said.
“No, you don’t understand. I want to thank you for these things of course, but I also want to thank you for treating us like human beings. You treated us with dignity.” His tears were flowing and his wife joined him, weeping silently by his side.
“It’s OK” I said and lightly touched his arm.
I turned and walked away feeling good, thinking I had acted in a loving way. Two months later on my way to work, this same couple came up to me. Still thin, they were cleanly dressed this time and looked in better shape. As they approached I smiled thinking they remembered my previous kindness.
“Miss, may I talk to you for a minute? My wife and I are out of work and we are staying at a shelter up the street….”
I interrupted his prepared script with a curt “I can’t help you today”.
They did not remember me at all. I was one of the many marks they had hit up for food. This was their occupation, to walk the streets preying on the compassion of strangers. I felt angry and deflated. Angry I had been so stupid, deflated as I imagined them laughing later that summer day about the woman they had conned into giving them so much.
And yet, did I not do a loving thing? Did I not give of myself without any thought of return? Do I need some type of recognition for a loving act? If I do require recognition does that mean it is no longer a loving act but rather something akin to self-gratification?
It brought me back to my early 30’s, to a time I worked with special needs children and to one girl in particular. Older than her classmates, Pashawn was mentally challenged as well as autistic. At the age of 12 she towered over the other students in her second grade class. Together for months I worked with Pashawn on the same five vocabulary words. But Pashawn was not engaged in the process, preferring instead to sit across from me crooning softly while she rocked back and forth to self-soothe.
For three months, three times a week, I reviewed the same words with her over and over. And she continued to ignore me…until one day. Once again I spread out the five flash cards with the words printed on them. Pashawn looked down at the table and said,
“Dog, run, fast, tree, cat” pointing to each as she said them.
I was shocked! She read the words perfectly and with distinction. Three months of tedious work had come down to ten seconds. After three months of teaching I gave her five words. That was nothing compared to the lesson she taught me in only ten seconds. Pashawn taught me everyone is worth my time and love no matter the outcome.
As I think of Pashawn and the homeless folks that I helped that day, I am struck with a sense of profound humility. I no longer feel angry that those folks are likely still out on the street, searching for someone else to give them food. If I see them again, if they approach me again, I will give them a few dollars and thank them for the lesson learned, that giving must be enough in and of itself with no thought of reward or it is not truly a gift.
The toddler’s legs dangled from the seat of the cart in front of me. Cooing over the new drink cup in her hand, her bare feet bounced. I guessed her to be around a year old. Her chunky baby feet and round piggy toes told me she was new to walking. I was tempted to reach out and tickle her toes but restrained myself. I was a stranger after all. But she caught my eye and grinned at me from behind her pacifier. I smiled back of course, with a “Hi sweetie”. Who could resist those blue eyes and that charm? She kicked her feet high, delighted she had an audience.
Her mom was tired. Dressed in blue scrubs, two other small children in tow, I assumed she came straight from work, picked up the kids from daycare, then stopped at Target for toilet paper before heading home to feed her crew. Annoyed at first that I had responded to her baby, she softened when I said “She’s beautiful.” In reply she bent over and kissed her little one’s cheek and I was glad. She knew what she had.
This week’s writing group assignment was to write out five full pages of things I am grateful for and the impact of this assignment on my outlook. I handwrote six pages, actually about five and a little more than half. I will not bore you with everything in those pages but will say I am grateful I have large handwriting.
The first two and a half pages came with ease, the litany of good was a piece of cake. Then things got tough. I dug down and pulled up the imperfections. The slight ringing in my ears tells me I might end up like my Grandmother, hard of hearing and missing conversation. It makes me grateful for what I hear today. The premature grey hair came to my mind. On the one hand it likely makes me look older than my years, yet it can also be viewed as a sign of wisdom and grace, a definite reminder of two things I need to add to my list of aspirations. And I am grateful for a difficult marriage and divorce as it taught me that I am strong, resilient and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, well at least figuratively.
The list of imperfections went on for three more pages and to my surprise I managed to find a positive in each one. As I sat on my balcony, the breeze was warm on my face, the cat soft and purring on my lap, the sun brightened the flowers in the courtyard, a far away dog barked and I inhaled the scent of burgers and A-1 steak sauce cooking on the neighbor’s grill. And I understood the impact of the writing exercise.
I am present.
As I smiled at the little girl, as I sat writing on the balcony, as I write this piece, I am grateful. I am grateful for each and every moment in time. I know that each second is unique and can never be recreated as it is at that precise moment. The Universe affirmed this understanding. In synchronicity, I came across an Apache Blessing a few minutes before sitting to write.
May the Sun bring you new energy by day.
May the Moon softly restore you by night.
May you walk gently through the world and know its beauty all the days of your life.
The jokes flowed freely today at work as everyone teased a co-worker on this, his 39th birthday. He took the jokes good naturedly, but admitted that the thought of turning 40 in a year is not sitting very well with him. Today is also what would have been my brother Mike’s 53rd birthday – a birthday that he will never see. Memories of his funeral came back to me. Grief did not allow me to speak publicly of Mike’s life on that day. If I could go back in time here is what I would have said.
The third child of four, Mike was my father’s clone. Long and lanky, he was athletically graceful on the little league field and the playground. He struggled in school, preferring any type of physical activity to a book and my father always said with pride “that boy will work with his hands.” And, in fact, he followed in my father’s footsteps and drove a truck for a living. He was the son that my father called upon to assist with carpentry projects and to change the oil in the car.
Simple past times gave him great pleasure. The intricacies of pinochle escaped him. Poker was his game. He would sit and play for hours, smoking cigarette after cigarette, amassing stacks of dimes and quarters with ease. All dogs and a guy named Lippy were his best friends. He was his mother’s son and like her, bowling was his sport of choice. He threw the ball hard and fast down the lane scaring the pins into submission.
His off-the-wall sense of humor and loopy laugh made others smile. A happy kid, he also had a volcanic temper and would come out swinging hard when things didn’t go his way. My nose can still feel the sting of his fist to this day. But every Mother’s Day he planted Mom’s annual garden, setting out barrels of fire engine red geraniums surrounded by wavy white petunias and flowing vincas.
His wife Doreen was older than Mike and he was supremely happy on his wedding day. Their move to Sandwich and the transition to small town life agreed with him but the idyllic life was short-lived. Section after section of his colon was replaced with a colostomy bag, his health deteriorated rapidly but he never lost his cheer. At one point he thought he had it beat and refused further treatment. That was his downfall and the cancer, seeing its opening, moved in for the kill.
Mike died on May 10th, the date of my parent’s wedding anniversary. It also happened to coincide with Mother’s Day that year, forever making those occasions’ difficult days. Each Mother’s Day my brother Bob and I carry on Mike’s tradition, taking Mom to the nursery to buy annuals and plant her garden. I am sure we don’t do it to Mike’s exact liking, but still I feel he is pleased.
I knelt before Singing Man to receive his blessing. He took my hands and looked into my eyes.
“What is your intention today?” He asked.
“Grandfather, I had a dream the other night that left me disoriented. Spirit came to me, filling me with energy. But I did not understand the message. Today I ask for clarity on what Spirit is directing me to do.”
“You are a woman of balance and many look up to you. Be open and Spirit will provide you with the guidance you seek.” Grandfather gently gave me his blessing. His kindness prepared me for the sweat lodge.
The sweat lodge and its rituals are sacred. While Grandfather opens his heart and his lodge to all who wish to participate, out of deepest respect, I will not write of the specific traditions but know that I am drawn to these Earth Honoring traditions which are rooted in prayer, songs of praise and humility before the Great Spirit. And I can share the personal impact these traditions have on my soul.
The darkness of the third hour of our sweat lodge was upon us, a time of prayers for self, prayers for guidance. My cotton dress and hair adhered to my heavily perspiring body, mud and grass itched my bare legs and feet. My towel was of little use. I surrendered to the heat and steam rising from the glowing volcanic rocks. In right relations I listened as each friend spoke aloud his or her prayer request. No thought came to me. Clarity eluded me.
The great Eagle Feather passed to my hand. Although I could not see it, the feather felt soft and heavy in my hand, a reminder to me of the bird’s strength and power. What would I ask of Spirit? Surrounded by friends, emotions thickened by heat and darkness I thought truly what did I need? I had air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, a good home, friends and family, sunshine, flowers and trees.
“Great Spirit, this is Kathy. I am your daughter. You know me. You have already given me everything and brought me to this place in my life, fulfilled and blessed. Thank you for caring for my physical needs, thank you for the life lessons you have sent my way. You have blessed me with tools and talents to bring my life to balance. You have watched over me and cared for me all these years and I am grateful. I ask for nothing, knowing that you continue your watch, knowing you stand guard. Knowing if you perceive a need, you will provide. I am grateful for all you have given me and for all that you will continue to give me. I surrender myself and my soul to you, trusting that I am well cared for and blessed. Thank you. Aho.”
Later as I stepped from the sweat lodge, the breeze cooled my skin and refreshed the heat in my lungs. I gathered my things and walked to the outdoor shower. Standing under the trees, I flipped the latch to allow the cold water to pour over me slicking away sweat and soap. Washed and clean, I pushed aside the tarp and emerged from the shower dressed in fresh clothing. I stepped into my sandals and looked around, eyes opened wide to take in the crisp colors of the August afternoon. The land was pristine. Each tree in the surrounding forest, every blade of grass, even the tiny stones at my feet were distinct from each other yet all blended as one, each dependent upon the other for sustenance and support. And I thought “this day is a miracle”.
MorningStar came to me and said. “Let’s pick tomatoes.”
We walked together to the garden, bending down amid the vines to find plump red Roma tomatoes, meaty and firm. From the corner of my eye, a rabbit bolted, showing me his white tail.
“Look!” I said.
MorningStar grinned. “We have tomatoes bursting with seeds and the blessings of Rabbit. They bring us fertility and new beginnings.”
We walked back to the lodge bringing sun-warmed tomatoes to the waiting feast.