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Suddenly there was a great burst of light through the Darkness. The light spread out and where it touched the Darkness the Darkness disappeared. The light spread until the patch of Dark Thing had vanished, and there was only a gentle shining, and through the shining came the stars, clear and pure. (Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time)

By all accounts, I was one of those unsettling children who look out at you from a child’s face, but speak with a tone, confidence, and vernacular far beyond their years. I was what people tend to think of precocious in the classical sense, and not as a thinly veiled euphemism for too-worldly.

I have only ever known what it is to be precocious, and therefore, don’t exactly have the same perspective on many things that others (who weren’t quite as precocious) have. It is now, as an adult woman, that I look and see what that precociousness meant and what it wrought for me throughout my life. It is as I watch children and see them interact with one another, and watch them blooming “on schedule,” or “ahead of schedule,” or “behind schedule” with adult eyes. (Who determines these things, anyhow?)

In retrospect, I see my own journey with some clarity. (Can it ever happen any other way?) I can see how I tended to lack true peers – I could play the game well, and “fit in” with kids who weren’t quite at the level I was, but it felt like a lot of work. I could speak to adults with the maturity of one of their peers, but it came out of a child’s mouth and was often disregarded because of that – and I lacked the experiences of an adult, so that was one more barrier.

You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you. (Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time)

I really wouldn’t say that I technically had a lonely childhood, but in some ways, that was very true. I realize now, that my love for reading and my passion for stories and books was partially inherent (I think we all come here with leanings toward talents and interests), and partially cultivated. I soon realized that having a book in front of your face gave you two things: a barrier and an excuse to not have to socialize, and something to talk about if you were made to interact.

When I was doing my student teaching internship, I happened to bump into one of my high school teachers. She remembered me instantly (having taught 168 kids a year, I now know how rare this is), and said that she remembered that I was never without a free reading book (again, having taught, I now know how rare this is).

Those books were my solace, my inspiration, and my shield. I was never really alone – I had a whole cast of characters holed up in my head. I was never really bored – even when I was stuck without a book, I could conjure one of the many stories I’d read to ponder.

I am going through the rest of the boxes I still have at my folks’ house, and I’ve come across some very old friends. I saved two things for last: my books and my genealogy research. Both are precious to me.

I share Einstein’s affirmation that anyone who is not lost on the rapturous awe at the power and glory of the mind behind the universe ‘is as good as a burnt out candle.’ (Madeleine L’Engle)

As I open these boxes, some for the first time in five years, I am transported. I remember the edition of Tom Sawyer that my mom’s parents gave us when I was about ten. I remember the huge, ponderous collection of Shakespeare’s Collected Works that my former mother-in-law gave me for my birthday one year. It has a maroon cover, and Bible-thin pages. I remember the copy of The Velveteen Rabbit my mom gave me shortly before I got married – a story that carries special significance in our house. The Bible my Aunt Margaret gave me for my confirmation. The canning books I bought when I thought it would be cool to make my own preserves (still planning on it, someday…).

The animal and plant guides I bought when I started to explore the complexity of our world… The poetry volumes I purchased as I discovered new voices… Philosophy… Spirituality… Religion… Life Sciences… My “Beach Reads”… Books from the Banned Books List… Classic Fiction… Eventually, I hope to have enough shelving to store / display them in some semblance of “order,” which will probably only make sense to me (which is fine, since I’m the one who’s into them all the time).

Then, this weekend, I came to some of my very old, very special friends. For Christmas, when I was twelve years old, my Uncle Dave gave me a series of books by Madeleine L’Engle, which I fell in love with. I’ve read my copy of A Wrinkle in Time so many times that I’ve loved the cover to smithereens. I promptly petitioned my parents for the rest of the series, and have read and re-read them repeatedly.

I am reading them again now, as an adult woman, whose precociousness, subsequent experience, and continually developing perspective, give me a new appreciation for the gift of them. These were the first books I’d read then, at twelve, that didn’t try to scrub the ugly things clean, in the way that so many people try to for children. They let the ugly be present, and they let the good and the beautiful be present, side by side, and gave the reader enough credit to make sense of it themselves.

Infinity is present in each part. A loving smile contains all art. The motes of starlight spark and dart. A grain of sand holds power and might. (Madeleine L’Engle)

L’Engle couched truths within fiction. I encountered God there, and science. I met with the age-old predicament of what I think of as can-or-should (as in, just because we can, does it mean that we should?). I entertained ideas of cosmic scope, and eternal reach, of infinite perplexity and infinite simplicity.

I lay on the couch last night, following Meg Murry through her troubles, her struggles, her challenges and triumphs. I walked along the path with old friends for a time, covering territory that felt familiar and brand-new at once. I spotted seeds of later-thought within the story – ideas that fueled the genesis of my spiritual questioning and my reasoning.

I lay there, at once twelve years old again, and brand-new to the world with all the wide-eyed optimism and belief in the possible – and at the same time, as I am now at 31 – older, a bit more cynical, a bit more hesitant, a bit more jaded, a bit less hopeful. I captured, for a bit, that sense of who I was when I’d read them for the first time – the wonder they awakened, the daydreams I embarked on, the debates they encouraged.

I like that girl I was, and there are days when I really miss her. In some ways, she was far braver then, than I am now (it helps when you don’t know all the facts of a situation, I suppose – it’s easier to talk myself out of things, or around them, now). Having got that sense of her – that essence of possibility and dreaming – I carry it forward into today. I marry it to my experience, and in that, I attempt to balance naiveté and experience.

I am grateful to Madeleine L’Engle for giving young readers enough credit, for having the guts to put it all on the page. I am grateful to Uncle Dave (and everyone else) for the gift of books – the gift of ideas, really. I am grateful to my parents for encouraging my precocity. I am grateful to my twelve-year-old self for having a courageous mind, and a questing heart, and an empathic way. I am grateful to have these thought-worlds to revisit, to rediscover, to recapture all the selves I have been. I am grateful, because they all contributed, and in this latest incarnation of self, I am especially pleased.

It seemed to travel with her, to sweep her aloft in the power of song, so that she was moving in glory among the stars, and for a moment, she, too, felt that the words Darkness and Light had no meaning, and only this melody was real. (Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time)

 

Try not to become a [wo]man of success but rather try to become a [wo]man of value.  (Albert Einstein)

I have never questioned the fact that I am here to be of service to others. I have, at times, questioned where the line between service to others, and disservice to self, lay. But, I have never for one moment believed anything other than that we are to be helpmates to one another. This whole concept has been popping into my screen for days now, and I find myself devoting a lot of time and thought to it. And then tonight, I read one of the blogs I follow, and her post drove it all home for me (http://bonesigharts.blogspot.com/2010/02/payments.html ).

I can remember a lot of times when my father gathered up his tools, and went to build something for one of his siblings. He never expected payment – he only knew that he had the necessary expertise, and willing hands. My mother has spent her life in service to others – to her family, to her extended family, to her friends, to her students. They cast a long shadow. Growing up, we were expected to do for others, and it was taken for granted that helping out is just what you do. Of the many gifts that my parents gave me, for this, I am the most grateful.

I went to Mount Mary College in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and one of the pillars their entire educational philosophy rests upon is service. Each class seemed to include some service component – in the course of pursuing my degrees, I have done an intense amount of fieldwork and volunteering. And I can remember wondering, when some of my classmates would complain, and argue that there was no educational value in these experiences – if they could see no educational value in reaching out to their fellow human beings in friendship and kindness, what on earth did they believe we were doing here?

I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. (Albert Schweitzer)

I am no Mother Teresa, I am no Gandhi, I am no great humanitarian. But, I look for the moments where I can be of service in the every day, in the small ways. The other day, I was on my way to lunch at work, and I saw a very elderly lady struggling to get her groceries from her cart and into her car. Without hesitation, I was there, like the stereotypical Girl Scout, with a “Can I help you with that Ma’am?” And she was really grateful. When I first saw her, she looked anxious and she was struggling – and when I walked away, she was smiling.

And afterward, I thought about the fact that I never even considered doing anything else. (I also thought about the fact that elderly people might be wary of offers of assistance, and that this was something that I was going to have to start taking into consideration, even though the entire reason for their wariness makes me intensely sad). And I realized that this was the kind of thing that makes life GOOD, and makes us feel GOOD about being here and being human.

Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within. It is not what we see and touch or that which others do for us which makes us happy; it is that which we think and feel and do, first for the other fellow and then for ourselves. (Helen Keller)

I’ve encountered all sorts of people who believe that we aren’t here to be of service to others, that God expects nothing from us, and that we are only here to experience happiness. I find that a hard bite to swallow. I find that line of thinking impossible to believe – if that is true, then I am bereft and adrift. If that is true, then why do anything?

I think what I am really getting at here is the concept of empathy. Of being able to feel what it is like to walk another’s path, and to reach out to them based on that understanding. I have always been an insatiable reader, and when I read, I joined those worlds, became those characters – I struggled with them, wept with them, laughed aloud with them. I sank into the experience of what it would feel like to be them. I think that this is what has really helped me grow my already empathic nature.

If you have empathy for someone, you have compassion for them – you reach out to them in a way that preserves their dignity, and honors the bond we share as living beings. This is different than pity – pity puts you on a pedestal, and others somewhere beneath you. Compassion is one person reaching out to another laterally, and with detachment.

In Milwaukee, a twenty-one year old man was shot and killed by the young men who were attempting to rob him, because he had no money to give them. They shot him in the back as he fled. At the trial, one of them turned and grinned at the murdered boy’s parents, as if to say, “This doesn’t touch me. None of this affects me. I have no remorse.”

One of my coworkers was set upon on his way home from work by a group of six young men, and they attempted to beat him – when he wouldn’t go down, they ran off. When they were caught and questioned, they said that they did it because they were bored. Things like this happen every day, and I cannot understand how or why. If these attackers could empathize with others, they would not do these things, because they would know that to hurt another is to really hurt yourself.

Great and wonderful acts of generosity and kindness and compassion happen every day, too – large and small acts of service, performed out of empathy and compassion. That is what I choose to focus on. That is what I choose to spread along my path. The final Reiki Principle states, “Just for today, count your blessings and be kind to every living thing.” This is one of the easiest for me to follow (not always the count my blessings part, but I’m working on that!). This is the one that I wish was indelibly tattooed on my forehead. This is the one that I want to permeate my being – and the one I most want to spread to others.

So, this week, I plan to make a special effort to honor myself by honoring others. By looking for all the quiet moments where I can be of service. By setting my foot soundly on the path with purpose.

Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile. (Albert Einstein)

‘Nuff said.

 

 

If you don’t understand how a woman could both love her sister dearly and want to wring her neck at the same time, then you were probably an only child.  ( Linda Sunshine)

There were no truer words written than that quote. My sister just left our apartment – and for the past several months I’ve edged far closer to the urge to throttle her than to just “love her dearly.” The confounding part of it all is that even as I plot her imminent demise, my heart is wrenching for her and because of her.

There has been no one in my life as controversial as Kate. There has been no one as exasperating, as infuriating, as utterly maddening as my sister. There has also been no one who knew me quite so well, so intimately – very few who saw inside the boxes I’d drawn shut against prying eyes, no one who saw so well into my darkest corners or who ferreted out my weaknesses or my secrets and shames quite so easily.

God help me, there is no one like my sister. She was born here in possession of a manual detailing exactly where to find each of my buttons, and in which combinations to push them in order to achieve nuclear fury. There is no one who has inspired me to walk the floors at night, a maternal vigil, worried sick, worried fiercely for them, like Kate.

I know some sisters who only see each other on Mother’s Day and some who will never speak again. But most are like my sister and me…linked by volatile love, best friends who make other best friends ever so slightly less best.   (Patricia Volk)

I don’t know if it has more to do with me being the oldest child or with the exact conditions of our childhood circumstances, but I have always been like a tigress about her (and about our brother – but he needed a different kind of sistering from me – a blog post for another day). Kathryn required someone strong enough to intimidate those who’d she’d riled up into refraining from giving her the sound trouncing which she’d earned (no matter the situation, you could put money on it – if there was drama, my sister was there). She needed someone calmer than herself – and who possessed sound judgment –who was determined enough to cut through her scatter and chatter to chuck some sense into the maelstrom from time to time.

No matter what has passed between us, I have tried to be a “good sister.” I have succeeded admirably at times, and I have failed horribly at others. And right now, her life is a minefield of her own making. I am finding it hard to carry on with the roles that we’ve adopted and lived since childhood. I am tired, and I find myself out of patience, and out of common sense advice, and out of synch with our hereditary patterns. I feel left-footed in our relationship, and I cannot regain balance long enough to resume the dance.

I don’t believe an accident of birth makes people sisters or brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at.  ( Maya Angelou)

All I can do now, is listen to her. Love her. And hope – hope that things will turn out okay, hope that she will find her way, hope that she knows that I love her passionately, even if I have a hard time showing her sometimes. All I can do is accept who she is, and instead of reacting to her way of being by changing my behavior, know that she and I will find a new way of relating to one another that leaves me feeling like the sane, rational being I was before she blew through my door.

Throughout our entire childhood, I tried to protect her, to shield her, as best I could from all the ugly things – whether they were of her making or not. That’s not working so well anymore, and it leaves me to wonder what role I am to play now in her life, if not as her champion and defender? As Dani always says, “Who would you be, without that story?” There are parts of me that are working at cross-purposes now: one part of me still takes pride in being her shield and sanctuary, and another resents it.

Who will I be if not the eldest child? The eldest daughter? Who am I without that story, and all of the roles I play in it? But then, who am I to step in and take her chance to be her own defender? Who am I to so little value her ability to decide for herself what is right? Because isn’t that what I do by incessantly charging in on my white horse, so confident that my way is the right way?

At what point do I take that step back, and allow her life to unfold in either joy or pain? At what point do I stop enabling her, and crippling her?

Like everyone else, we are evolving and growing. The old story no longer fits us – and we lack a new myth to live by. The only thing we can do, I suppose, is allow it to write itself in love and pain, in sorrow and triumph, over time and page by page. All I can do is open my door to her, and open my heart to her, and have faith that we will find our new myth, we will recast our roles, we will learn new steps to old music. All I can do is have faith that our sisterhood is strong enough to survive this and all storms to come, and know that even though the shoreline may be reshaped, it remains one strong, unbroken line between ports.

  

Man, this week is off to a rough start. I don’t know what’s worse — that my case of the Mondays leaked into my Tuesday, and is threatening to infect my Wednesday, or that I’ve had a pounding, crashing, pinching, blinding headache for as long. That’s a lethal combination, and I suspect both conditions feed off of one another… Hmmm…

It just feels like the Universe has been sending all sorts of “old” stuff my way — situations I thought I’d resolved, relationships I’d thought I’d dissolved, transgressions I thought I’d absolved. Every which way I turn, it feels like there’s something lying in wait, with bated breath, poised for the perfect moment to pop up in ninja-like fashion to throw me off my game. With a yelp and a shaky, “Well, hello there, didn’t expect to see you here,” I set off to figure out how it fits into a pattern of prior behavior, and to ascertain why (why, God, why) this is coming up for me again.

I’m starting to see how it all comes down to choices — I’ve made some very deliberate and clear choices in the past six months that were definitely life-altering (for the better) and which were far more in alignment with who I am and who I am choosing to become — and it’s almost like the Universe is saying, “Well, Carolyn. Let’s see if you meant what you said. Let’s see how much you mean what you said….” and sets me on a collision-course with a situation that is designed to make me choose between honoring myself or devaluing myself.

I find myself muttering, “Just for today, I will not be angry… Just for today, I will not worry…” a lot. I really feel like adding this to the Reiki Principles, in capital letters, bold-face print: JUST FOR TODAY, I WILL HONOR MYSELF. I think I will add it, actually (even though, if you adhere to all of the other tenets, you do honor yourself, it does me good to have that unequivocally stated).

The choices I’ve made up to this point have led me inexorably to this place, this specific square-foot of toe-bitten dirt on my path. I’m rather attached to this spot. Getting to this place demanded work, struggle, and shedding of that which no longer served me. It required me to look long and hard about stories I’d adopted or written that were designed to excuse things which I should never have accepted. It required me to rewrite those stories, and recast the characters.

It made me take a closer look at the plot — and how I wanted the main character (me) to grow and develop. How I wanted her to shine with the brilliance of the sun, instead of dimming her light to avoid standing out. How I wanted her to embrace all of her shining facets, her talents, her voice, her strength, her compassion, her creativity. How I wanted her to look at herself in the mirror and see herself as a moon-kissed dreamer, a bespectacled organizer, a goddess of both creative and destructive power, and to see herself as all of these things at the same time, and as more than them.

Just for today, I will honor myself.

Just for today, I will say no to others, so that I can say yes to me.

Just for today, I will break away from old patterns which no longer serve me.

Just for today, I will see myself shining with the possible.

Just for today.

Each fumbling step on this crooked path is fraught with peril and possibility. But I believe that I am supported. I believe that the choices I’ve made to this point have led me exactly where I am meant to be. I believe that I have the power and the strength to encounter these old foes and come out the victor. I believe that I have the wisdom and the power to make new choices which honor my becoming-self.

Tomorrow is a new day (a Wednesday, I hope) glimmering softly with the promise of new challenges, and new blessings. Tomorrow is a new day in which to practice my newly-amended creed, a new opportunity to find ways to honor myself.

 

 

They left me

with your shadow,

saying things like

Life is not fair

 

& I believed them

for a long time.

 

But today,

I remembered

the way you laughed

& the heat

of your hand

in mine

 

& I knew that

life is more fair

than we can

ever imagine

if

we are there to live it

— Brian Andreas,  www.storypeople.com

 

I have lived here all of my life and have endured, to date, thirty-one Wisconsin Winters. I used to enjoy them more (I also used to own and wear snow-pants). The older I get, the harder it becomes to look at brown, brown, brown for nearly six months in a row, to feel the shrill bite of wind on my cheekbones day after day, to see the sky shrouded in mourning gray for weeks on end.

It used to be that, around March or so, I’d finally get weary of the limited palette around me, and start to long for the verdant greens of Spring – but this year, I was already longing for them a month ago, daydreaming out the window and remembering the way that the first gentler breezes of Spring carry the smell of new life with them.

I’m not melancholy, precisely – it’s more that I’m inspired to be introspective during these winters. You can’t really help it – going outside is not appealing most days, so that means you stay inside – with everyone else who is also not going outside, together like this, for months. *Sigh*

I get a little maudlin. I start missing the people I’ve loved who’ve gone. Which leads me to think about all of the good times we had together (which is a good thing), but which makes me miss them so much that my skin hurts with the ache of it, and I cry in the shower so that no one sees.

And I don’t bemoan the unfairness of life, the unfairness of them leaving me behind (or at least I try not to). As Dani says, “I didn’t ask ‘Why me?’ when any of the good things happened, so why should I ask ‘Why me?’ when the bad things happen?” And she’s right. All of the ‘Why me-ing’ in the world has never brought anyone back to us, never undone a flat tire, never unspilled the milk.

So, instead, I try to be present in the missing of these people I love, and let my sorrow – my ache over the holes they’ve left in my life – be a testament to being human. To knowing, in the most inescapable way, brevity. I tell stories about them to remind the others I love that our sorrow is shared and that it is sacred to share the joy in the remembering, too. I let the Winter inspire in me a desire to spin tales out from the past, and bring them into the present, invoking the power of the love I have for my dearly departed in each breath.

And then I step back and realize that this is what it means to know that life is more fair than we can ever imagine – we get this shot at it. We get to make each and every day of our time here into whatever shape and color and tone and vibrancy that we want to. We get the opportunity, in each moment, to fill that space with a creation that comes solely from us, original and infinite.

The trick of all of it is to be present in it – to miss and mourn my loved ones, bringing them forth in time, and learning them anew. Feeling the pain and the joy of it as a part of what it means to be human, to be ephemeral, to be inescapably brief – but not to let it keep me from moving on and moving into the coming moments with vibrancy and awareness and intensity.

It means that, even in the cavernous yowling morass of the bitter Winter, when every time I turn around I see and hear another mopey-moperson bemoaning their fate from birth to today, I choose to turn it around. To feel the feeling in the moment, and let it be part of my present, and then let it go so that I can move on. To dial-down the volume on the moaners and the ‘Why me’-ers around me and recast my pain and my challenges in a new light.

To see not the oppressive steel-gray skies and scudding snow-laden clouds, but instead, see the way the Winter light falls soft on everything, turning the very air into shimmer and translucence. To see not the dour countenances on the pedestrians trudging past the window, but the child on the sidewalk in the bright red jacket whose mittens hang from strings threaded through her sleeves, face tilted up, mouth open, tongue out, waiting and giggling as crisp lacy snowflakes christen her face.

The idea of home has always captured my heart and imagination. I have always been fascinated by those people who are adept at creating inviting spaces where you immediately feel welcome and at peace. And being on the Path of Reiki Mastery, I was naturally led to think about the energetics of those people and the home-spaces they create.

My grandparents’ house was like that for me – I am certain that the love I felt for them colored my perception of all of it, but that has been one of the few places where I immediately felt a calm and sense of peace just walking through the door. Their home was in many ways, very World War II generation-ish, and maybe that held part of the mystique for me. More so, they had a loving home, and welcoming hearts, and when you walked in their door, you were greeted warmly and fed and coddled – no matter who you were.

I have not had that kind of home space since I first left my parents’ house. Time after time, I had this impulse to just wait it out and keep things in boxes. I never allowed my energy and self to fill a place in a genuine way. And for the past two years especially, it was more like prolonged “camping” – and in many ways I felt like a squatter in the apartment we shared with our roommate.

As Wittler and I prepared for our new glorious abode, minus the roommate, I started to give a lot of thought to what it would mean for both of us to create space where our presence was felt, and where each room was filled with welcome and warmth. And then I came across this from Denise Linn:

Our homes are mirrors of ourselves. They reflect our interests, our beliefs, our hesitations, our spirit and our passion. They tell a story about how we feel about ourselves and the world around us. A home is more than a place to lay your head and seek comfort from the elements. It is a place where you can interface with the universe. It is a crossing point in time or space that can attract or repel energy.

Your home can be a place of renewal and hope. It can be a sanctuary within which you can retreat and recharge during the changing times, and oasis of peace amidst turmoil. Homes can be places of healing and regeneration. Not only can your home help to strengthen and heal you, but your home can be a template of harmony within which you and all who enter can be invited to step up to a higher level of spiritual frequency.

…Like an echo heard throughout infinity, your home can be a transmitter of luminous energy. The energy radiating from your home can be like a small stone dropped into a still pool of the universe, whose ripples will be felt at the farthest shore of the cosmos.

(from Sacred Space, by Denise Linn)

And then, I realized that we were already creating that homespace together – Wittler and I – through our commitment to one another, our genuine enjoyment of one another, our similar commitment to acting lovingly in a sometimes harsh world … All of that combines with our optimism and positive outlook on things, our sense of shared burden and willingness to reach out to others. Our homespace is creating itself beautifully out of who we are, and who we are becoming.

Dani recently “reclaimed” her space at the shop, making it into a place that she found soothing and relaxing – a place that she found sacred. As she did this, I found myself really relating to what compelled her to do it, and to need it. And all of the people who walk into the store, or come for a group and gather in that space comment on it, and bask in it. When they do that, they are basking in her.

Instead of allowing worry about how our home appears to others, I am going to focus on wanting our home to appeal to us – and allow it to grow its own energy and beauty and peace out of that. And rest secure in the knowledge that this is how those homespaces I’ve so enjoyed were created, and know that we are creating ours with every moment and breath, with every shared laugh, with every conversation at the kitchen table, with every meal prepared and consumed in love.

And even more, we will bask in it. We will be at peace in it. And those who will enjoy that space will find us, and come to bask, too.

Today, I felt like one of the bespelled humans who finally emerges from Faeryland after lifetimes spent amidst the glittering throng, who sets foot on human soil, and has all of their years come upon them all at once – who in that instant is crushed by the sheer weight of the passage of time, and the pressure of reality returning. Is shattered by the magnitude of every memory of every laugh, of every conversation, of every person that they have ever loved and who has ever loved them – and with that, the knowledge that all of it is so fleeting, so transient, so ephemeral – that life is slipping past them all in inches and miles, and that they are powerless to stop it.

Today was a tough day. And a long day. And by the time I got out of work, I was done. I felt raw, and tender – as though the slightest hurt would reverberate within me like a bell’s deep sounding, echoing off the walls of my heart. I drove to my folks’ house after work to pick up a package, and in the car on the way there, I had a talk with God. (This actually happens pretty frequently).

I started off pretty much bemoaning our state of affairs and ending with a kind of whimper. Then I sucked it up, and mustered forth to my folks’ house (I hate them to see me like that – they’re worriers and me a sobbing mess would not help).

You see, Wittler and I have been attempting to build our empire out of the ashes of our old life, and one of our main issues is that if all of the dollars in our account were good little soldiers, it’s pretty much been like this: recruitment is down, and far too many others have gone AWOL. *Sigh*

It’s hard to build an empire – we’ve been scraping for awhile now, and all of it aiming towards the goal of reshaping our life together into something closer to what we’ve both been longing for. We saved and moved into our own apartment – the first time as a couple that we’ll have our own space and our own energy there, and no one else’s vibes to muck it all up. It’s been absolutely deliciously wonderful.

In the midst of all of this scrimping and saving, and what I irreverently refer to as “poverty rations” (no slight intended to those who are truly suffering…) – dinners that consist of instant mashed potatoes and biscuits out of the popping cans – was the hope that we would finally find ourselves a leg up on all of the challenges that we face.

But, no. first the brakes fell off my car. Fell OFF. I didn’t know that was possible, actually. Even in that situation, I had to look and see how we were protected, how we were held in the palm of God’s hand, even then. They fell off blocks from the shop where my uncle (the mechanic) works, and fell off when I was not in dire need of stopping the car, but when I was only pulling slowly out of a parking space. They fell off the car the day before our ex-roommate was due to give us a check buying us out of our old security deposit. Even amidst what appeared challenging, we were supported.

So, we weren’t a leg “up,” but we were “even.” And then Wittler’s car started behaving in a horribly inappropriate fashion – when he tried to back up, one of the wheels just locked up and wouldn’t turn. Joy. So, today, my uncle calls me with the cost of the parts to fix that brake problem, and my heart just sank.

The reality is that I have a crap-ton of student loan debt, both of our cars need replacing sooner rather than later, we had intended to get married this year (quietly and inexpensively), and the prospect of starting a family seems awfully far off. I just shifted gears into this new life path in the not-so-distant-past, and we just shelled out a ton of cake to move.

So, I arrive at my folks’ house, attempting to suppress the urgent need to bawl and have myself a proper pity party, only to see my beautiful niece dressed in half of a Disney princess costume and sweatpants and waving a plastic faery wand around her head, and dancing throughout the house. I see my father – whose presence is so comforting to me that I cannot not cry if the urge is there. And I scamper off to “look” for something in the basement (code for: I went down to the basement to bawl my eyes out, attempt to expel the demons, and return upstairs as though nothing had happened).

Mid-way through my bawl, I can hear Abby (my niece) calling for me, and I realize that I am too raw, and too far into the ugly cry to suck it up and saunter casually in there with these people who have known me my entire life. I get out the worst of it, and come upstairs. My mom’s asking me if I’ve eaten, and then they all notice I’ve been crying. And they want to know why. And I don’t want to say – I don’t want them to worry about me, about us.

And my mom follows me. There have been plenty of times in our relationship where we haven’t been able to meet one another on the same emotional plane, couldn’t be what the other needed in that moment. Today though, she just let me cry and spill out all of my worries to her. She just listened. She didn’t trivialize what I was feeling and going through by telling me that it would all be alright. We both knew it would be alright, eventually – the important thing was that right now, it was not alright, and that I could not see my way clear of it. And then she offered to help us out with the money, and I told her no.

And then we walked into the house and she went into their pantry and packed us a bag of food, and went into her “magic” purse and pulled out the money we needed to fix Wittler’s car. And I put aside my pride and my stubborn will, and accepted the help. I let her take care of me, because she needed to, and I needed her to. And because I am learning that I need to let people do things for me, to accept their generosity with grace, and thereby honor their gift and their desire to give it.

Sitting here in the kitchen of our new apartment typing away, with Wittler in the background learning songs to play for me on the guitar, I can see how even through the rollercoaster of the past days and weeks, I have been supported in all that I have done, and in all that has happened. I can see God in the timely handing over of a check from our roommate, and in the compassion and love my mom showed me tonight.

And I can stop my railing, my worrying, my fretting. I can see the way clear, in this moment, how to allow the empire to build itself, and to sit in the quiet knowledge that it may not happen in the manner which I had conceived – but that it will happen, and in the manner in which it must unfold. I can see that – of course, silly girl – there will be those along the path to help you out of the muck when you’re up to your ears and sinking fast, and that all you have to do is have a grateful heart, and reach out when they’re reaching for you.

I’m pretty sure that this won’t be the last time I encounter this little basket of conditions on this path I’m on, but that’s the beauty of it – to remember, to allow the weight of memory of what’s come to inform what I intend to do the next time.

 

Aaah, family.

There is simply nothing like the bond that you have with the folks you happen to be attached to by birth to make you absolutely lose your mind. My family? I call it the Gaar Family Circus. I tend to hesitate to bring new people around, especially if they have “tender sensibilities.”

My mother and father are still married, which I realize makes them a bit of an oddity. I am the oldest child, and following me are one sister – Kate, and a brother – Dave (a.k.a. “the boy”). The sole grandchild – Abby – is my sister’s daughter and my goddaughter, and puts the twinkle in my parents’ eyes.

The majority of my extended family lives within an hour’s driving distance. My people are totally “settlers.” Our predecessors got off the boat, got to Wisconsin, and here they stayed. Here we’ve all stayed to the present day.

There have been plenty of times in my life when I have definitely felt completely stymied by the seeming unchanging nature of this group of people. By the embedded traditions, and the expectations that accompany them. By the sheer weight and force of all of these people.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and we gathered at my parents’ house. I have a little joke with my folks, now that I live elsewhere – an elsewhere that manages to be pretty quiet and peaceful most of the time. When the circus starts up, I walk into the glass-fronted pantry, and close the door behind me, and every single time, my dad starts giggling.

My parents do strange things, now that I don’t live there. They bicker and tease one another. They have a different and cool relationship – they have their own secrets and stories again – ones that don’t include us. It’s pretty neat, actually.

My sister is a Gemini. That should explain everything. I always say that her picture should be featured in the dictionary next to “A.D.D.” – she doesn’t really have it, but having a conversation with the “two” people inside her head is maddening. First, you have to realize that as the Sign of the Twins, she can’t help it – there are two people having a conversation with you. Second, you have to learn to play both sides of the issue with her, and know that in each moment there is a part of her that is in complete opposition to what’s coming out of her mouth (hint: that’s the part that talks next). Kate is also incredibly irreverent, and hilarious.

The boy is taciturn and amusing by turns. He’s the youngest and the only boy. He had a hard time of it with us girls – a team and a force to be reckoned with – but he’s relatively well adjusted.

These people have shared moments with me that have made me cringe with embarrassment, grit my teeth with rage, cry with pain or joy. They have watched me walk through some of the darkest moments of my life, and they have seen me shine at my best. We have dealt one another some of the worst blows we’ve ever faced, and provided the strongest support any of us has ever received.

And yesterday, we sat down at a table together and broke bread. All of the drama melted away for just a little while. The three-ring circus emptied, the lights came down, and we just enjoyed one another.

My mother said it best, “I am grateful for my family. I am grateful that we are all here to eat this meal together today.”

Simple words, powerful words.

I am grateful for my family.

Happy Thanksgiving World.

Come have a look through my kaleidoscope eyes. Come walk with me, as I make my way down the Path of Mastery (complete with fits and starts and pitstops and potholes). Our very impermanence is what makes us burn so brightly, and struggle so valiantly, and feel so deeply – it’s what makes us seize the day, and the moment. Come in, settle in, share a moment with me.

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"Who are YOU?" said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, "I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then." (Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 5)