My Decade After David (AD)

Purple flower growing on crack street, soft focus, blank text

April 18, 2009. It was a Saturday morning. One of those cloudless, vibrant blue-sky spring mornings in Virginia. The kind of morning that sends people outdoors early. To garden, do yardwork, see what’s growing that needs to be cut. And that’s where David was. Outdoors. Mowing the lawn.

It was also Easter week. Less than a week earlier, we’d celebrated the gift of resurrection and new life.

Springtime. Easter. A dying of what had been. Transformation. New life.

The symbolism of all that has not been lost on me.

This being the 10th anniversary, I wanted to take the entire day to do something special to commemorate this man in my life – a man who appreciated my sense of adventure, even if he didn’t always want to come along.

David SWEC
Can’t you just hear him saying, “You want me to go where?”

He was secure enough to let go and say, “You go, honey.”

And while I went exploring outdoors, he stayed indoors watching “the game.”

So, for today, in honor of David letting me be free to fully be myself, I planned a hike and quiet time in nature, bringing my journal along.

 

But first I had a mammogram. Something I’d scheduled months earlier without thinking about what date it fell on. Funny thing is, as I was filling out the paperwork at the imaging center this morning, I remembered the first mammogram I had done after David died. Only one month had passed. When I got to the line in the paperwork that requested an emergency contact, I stopped. My eyes filled with tears. Who would be my emergency contact now? I couldn’t put Davis. He had just turned 15. I thought of neighbors, friends, my sister in Raleigh. But I didn’t want to put anyone else’s name. I only wanted David to be there for me.

This morning, filling out the paperwork, it all felt quite different. None of that unbearable well of grief threatening me like an undertow. None of that sadness knowing I can’t go back to the way things were.

Instead, I felt happy with my new life. I recognized how blessed I am. How free I am to choose, every day, how I want to live.

That recognition in itself, of how far I’ve come, was worth the discomfort of the mammogram.

I used to think, especially in the beginning, why am I still here? Why did David have to die? Why couldn’t it have been me? In the midst of my grief, I would tell myself that Davis needed his dad more than he did me. It may seem silly now, but I genuinely felt inadequate for the task of raising a teenage son on my own. I felt unprepared – mentally, emotionally, financially. I worried about so many things.

Over time I’ve come to see that, beyond what my insecure ego was telling me, I do have a purpose. And it’s not simply raising Davis well. Although that was certainly extremely important in itself.

I am here to learn how to love. It’s a lesson I’ve been slowly learning. And I have a long way to go.

Organ Mtn Rock in shade
A rock in the shade – what more could you want?

During my hike I stopped to sit on a rock (what else can you sit on in the desert?) to write in my journal about David and the “deathless beauty” of love, as Jim Finley explains it.  How this love that can never die is pouring itself out as my life and everything around me. How that same love that David and I expressed for each other is alive in other couples I see caring for each other.  I especially recognize it in those who have been married a long time and have these little expressions of familiarity and endearment. The preciousness of it makes me smile. I’m thinking about this love when I get a text from Davis, all the way in Nome, telling me how much he loves me and his dad, and he’ll be thinking about us today.

Yes, love is deathless. No matter what form it takes. No matter how physically distant it seems.

It pours itself out infinitely. Encompassing everything. And 10 years later, I’m still learning to pause and take it in.

Organ Mountains April 2019
View of Organ Mountains on this glorious spring day
Advertisements

Midwife to a Soul

birth_seed_sprout

July 1st would have been Esther’s 75th birthday. This post is in honor of her.

The night I moved into the house on Grandview Avenue in El Paso, I questioned myself. Again.

What am I doing here, in this little bedroom? In yet another new place amidst strange surroundings? What can I bring to this situation at the border? What difference can I possibly make in the lives of these migrant families fleeing their desperate lives of violence and poverty?

It was December 14. Both Gaudete Sunday — the third Sunday of Advent marked by joy in the midst of darkness — and the beginning of Las Posadas — the reenactment of Joseph and a pregnant Mary seeking shelter the night her baby was to be born. Earlier I’d joined Esther and the Latino community in downtown El Paso, going door to door, asking the same question that was on my heart: “Do you have room? Is there a place for me here?”

The irony of the situation didn’t elude me.

But it wasn’t like I didn’t have a place to stay. Granted, it wasn’t “home,” but Esther had agreed to take me in, after all. All she knew was that I wanted to serve the migrants and refugees. She took a chance. She agreed to support me.

I looked out from my bedroom window — a high-paned glass that ran the entire length of the wall. Thousands of yellow flickering lights spread across Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, reaching toward the mountains. How many people out there are suffering tonight, I wondered? How many face a future desperately more uncertain than mine? How many are unsafe? In that moment, my life, my concerns, felt small by comparison.

And in that moment I realized, this isn’t about me. My being here in El Paso. It’s not about me striving to make something happen. To succeed at whatever it is I think my purpose is. No. This is about being willing and open. Willing to allow Spirit to use me. Open to whatever wants to be born in this situation. Open to allowing things to be as they are. I simply need to take my small self out of the equation.

Later that night I sat down on my bedroom floor and wrote this poem:

The Midwife of God
Emmanuel
God with us
Within me
Grasping my hands
As the hot pains of labor
Sharp and prolonged
Cry for relief
Searching my eyes
For the answer to one vital question:
Am I willing
To take on this labor
As midwife,
To be present to all that comes?
Am I willing
To support the life
Struggling to be born?
Day and night
The pain continues
Sweaty brow, clammy hands,
a raw dryness in my throat
Still I stand alongside
the moaning laborer
Rooted in solidarity
Committed to the cause
Until what emerges
Elicits a glorious light
Erasing the memory
And exuding hope
In the familiar darkness.

midwife_John-ODonohue-quote

Months later, questions remain. And I remember to look for signs of the Source of life in the uncertainty. Signs like Esther, who stood by as midwife to the seed planted in me in El Paso. Signs like the words of encouragement and praise from friends who’ve been inspired by my journey. Possibly inspired to give birth to their own seeds of longing sprouting within.

Signs like the light that came to earth so many years ago, that shone in the darkness of an otherwise ordinary night in the desert.

Beginning Again

The title for this blog hit me right between the eyes Sunday morning. I was checking my email for my daily “Inward/Outward” reflection from Church of Our Saviour and there it was. The perfect title. And the reflection’s message of how Jesus took the risk of “beginning again” when his early public ministry didn’t quite go the way he had expected clearly could have been written just for me.

I, too, thought I knew how things would go in my life, but have been “cast out into new lands.”  El Paso, Texas, for sure would fit that bill. Just walking around the neighborhood where I’m staying lets me know I’m not in Virginia anymore. The dusty, dry landscape, spindly trees, and expansive blue sky that stretches well into Juarez, Mexico and the sepia-toned mountains beyond are unfamiliar sights for one who’s accustomed to the lush, green, hilly countryside of the Blue Ridge Valley.

Image
A few of my “vicious” neighbors

Interestingly, the Sisters’ house, Casa Alexia, where I’m staying is also located in “the Valley”—an area of El Paso with a strong Mexican influence. But there’s nothing green here. Except for a few cactus. Streets are lined with single-story stone houses, some painted bright green, blue, yellow, or pink. And most are surrounded by chain link or iron fences, restraining the many dogs my neighbors seem to have. Just about everyone owns a dog. Some have two or three. I’ve learned to brace myself as I walk past fences, anticipating one of them suddenly appearing out of nowhere, jumping up against the fence and barking away as if I’m their worst enemy.

 

Front lawns are basically composed of dirt, or stones that cover the dirt. Everyone parks their cars and trucks in the front yard—a small plot of land usually cluttered with an assortment of items like old grills, upholstered couches, plastic toys, the occasional supermarket shopping cart, and—in the case of our neighbor down the street—a miniature Statue of Liberty.

Image
Miss Liberty shows up in El Paso

            Despite this being late January, some homes still display Christmas decorations and lights. I’ve spotted more than one plastic nativity set, half its figures fallen over in the yard. At night, a few houses switch on twinkling multicolored lights. Not sure if this is related to the Mexican culture or the strong impact of their Catholic faith. At any rate, it’s one of the  many unusual sights I’ve observed during my stay so far.

Truthfully, I had intended to write about my first week in El Paso days ago. But here I am well into my second week with a multitude of  experiences and inspiring people bulging inside my brain all trying to push their way onto the page. It’s strange how whenever I sit down to write, I have trouble forming the words. There’s so much I want to share, I don’t know where to begin. And it’s not as though I have huge blocks of time to write. After all, I’m really here as a volunteer; I go wherever and whenever the Sisters need me. So, each time I sit down to write, I feel as though I am beginning again, having to recollect my thoughts and experiences of the day, and hoping this time I’ll finish a blog post. I’ve been working on this one for several days!

Over the weekend I was given a special gift. An amazing woman named Pat Cane, founder and director of Capacitar (a Spanish name that means “to empower”), came to stay with us at the Sisters’ house for several days. Capacitar is an international program that integrates body, mind, and spirit practices to help heal victims of trauma and violence in more than 40 countries (check out the website at: http://www.capacitar.org/index.html). Pat was here to train a group in Juarez and for the final presentations and graduation of  trainers who have completed the program’s four modules in El Paso.

Pat’s story is quite an inspiration. Years ago, faced with a difficult major life change, she questioned herself, her purpose, her direction. She was forced to begin again. And from that place of uncertainty, she chose to devote her life to spreading healing and wellness practices through Capacitar.  Now 73 -years old—although her bright face and light-filled eyes make her look 10 years younger—Pat travels the world to implement this program in countries like Rwanda, Nicaragua, Ireland, and South Sudan, teaching and training others to bring healing to refugee camps, detention centers, human rights centers, and many areas impacted by trauma and natural disasters. Using tools such as visualization, Tai Chi, acupressure, and reflexology, those trained in the Capacitar program transform themselves as well as people in their families, surroundings, and in the work of their unique calling.  

Through what I can only call a synchronous event, I was invited to attend the two-day trainers’ conference and presentations. I say synchronous because when I heard about Capacitar while here last February, it intrigued me and I wanted to learn more. To be welcomed into this weekend as a participant was totally unexpected. As I listened to educators, counselors, mental health personnel, religious sisters, and community leaders give creative presentations describing the effects of Capacitar in their lives and of those facing stressful situations, from military personnel at Ft. Bliss to undocumented immigrants at detention centers, it was clear I was exactly where I was meant to be.

Some of the stories were heart-wrenching. Like the health care practitioner whose female client had crossed the border into Texas hanging onto one of many freight trains that travels up through Mexico. (Not an uncommon practice, by the way, for Latinas seeking a better life to risk jumping onto a moving freight train.) At some point the woman fell off and her foot was amputated. Now she could no longer fulfill her dream of finding work cleaning houses to support her family whom she’d left behind and for whom she was the sole supporter.  Somehow this woman will have to find another way to survive. Like so many people here, she too is beginning again.

Obviously the details of the lives I’m hearing about are much more difficult and challenging than mine. But our stories are intertwined. My questions, my fears, my doubts, my longing—these same concerns and feelings exist in everyone. They’re universal. Each of us has our own wounds that need healing. 

For the past several years I’ve done personal work to integrate body, mind, and spirit practices, which is one reason Capacitar resonates so clearly with me. Another is my desire to serve those in need. Putting these together seems like the perfect answer to my question of how to begin something new in this stage of my life. Where and under what circumstances that will happen continues to evolve. But as Capacitar so wisely claims: “healing ourselves, healing our world.”