Friday, August 18, 2017

draft: the roses were not from her

More of the story of my birthday roses. My only child, and only family, lives in Illinois, in Chicagoland. I don't know where she lives for she has shunned me since she was 19. She is now 35. Chicago is my hometown but I raised Katie in Minneapolis. I don't know exactly how she landed in Chicago, for it happened after she dumped me.
I was out when my roses were dropped off in front of my front door. When I got home and saw them, of course I knew someone had sent me flowers for my birthday and I was happy to see the box. When I picked it up, I saw that the flowers had come from Downers Grove, IL, a Chicago suburb. Tears stung my eyes. I fought off my cursed hope that the flowers might have been from my daughter. I know she is gone for good, I feel it deep in my mothering heart, but I am an imperfect human and hope, as Emily Dickinson so aptly put it in one of her poems, hope is that thing with feathers. Hope will float up on its own.
As I rushed into my apartment, putting down my things, rushing to open the flowers, finding scissors and then eagerly digging around for a card to confirm who they were from, I kept crying even though my heart was like a stone, even though I knew they would not be from her.
They were from a dear friend, someone I love very much. Actually, my deep love for her was just as instant as my deep love for my child, the love I began to feel within days of her conception. This friend who sent the roses is special. I met her on an island in Puget Sound. We were both at a four-day, residential weekend retreat. At the end of the first, introductory evening, just about everyone stepped outside to ring a bell in the courtyard outside the venue. It was a tradition to ring that bell, one after another.
like those soldiers in the Wizard of Oz who march in line but then the Lion, scarecrow, and the tinman, who have stolen some soldier uniforms drop out of line to help Dorothy . . . and we can see the lion's tail sticking out as they try to blend in, I got in line to ring the bell but hung back, having no intention of going out. It was fall in Puget Sound so it was raining.
When I ducked out of the line, I noticed a woman I had met a few times before. She was always warm and friendly and I moved towards her, imagining she would be easy company while I hid from the bellringing. I thought she was alone so I walked towards her. When i got close enough, in the unlit room with darkness without, I saw another woman was seated with her. And she saw me. She also saw that I had begun to turn, to change course. I wanted to change course because I felt this woman's great power, great loving power and I knew she would see me.Really see me, you know? So I decided to pretend I was headed to the restroom. I smiled a greeting and tried to scurry away to avoid that amazing woman who, I was telling myself, was too special for the likes of me.
This too special woman, however, stood up and said "I apologize, Jo, for cutting you off, but a special being has just entered our midst and I must stop and greet her" and she introduced herself and asked my name, then began to introduce me to Jo but I said I knew Jo. In the big circle of forty or more, everyone had been asked to say their name to introduce themselves. I, for reasons I don't remember but were likely connected to my profound introversion, had declined to just say my name. so my friend said "I am Maggie. What is your name?" This friend would never call me Tree, only Therese. And every time I hear her say it, even when I only 'hear' her say it in my mind's eye, I feel blessed. I feel love. I feel bigger, brighter, holier when Maggie greets me. She greeted me, that night in Thomas Berry Hall as if I were just as special as she. I am. We all are.
So getting a dozen gorgeous roses from my dear, dear Maggie was totally wonderful. Totally.
And my Katie bruise still hurts. I would be hurting if the flowers had been from her. No roses can repair my damaged heart.
But roses from someone who loves me: a healing balm!
When I cried about my Katie as I opened my flowers, I remembered some of Maggie's losses and remembered how she has borne up so beautifully, growing in love even as she endured loss after loss.
I changed my FB name to Therese because that's what Maggie calls me and my heart feels fuller when I imagine her saying my name. That's a good reason, right?
Katie always called me Mom. My heart always felt fuller when Katie called me Mom. I cannot hear her saying it in my mind now, no matter how hard I try.

a strong, mental dandelion puff

My daughter left me when she was 19. She is now 35. I truly have no understanding of why she left. We rarely quarreled. I made mistakes as a parent, as all parents do but I was definitely not abusive. Perhaps my biggest mistake was overindulging her. And I think she hated that I am poor, have not worked much because of a disability (not my fault, eh?) and she might be ashamed of having a poor mother. But this is all guesswork and it is getting unusual for me to write such defensive thoughts. She left. I did nothing to deserve losing my only child. She's gone.

When she was about to turn 24, in 2006, I decided I would give her what she seemed to want. I had used versions of her name or my pet names for her for all my passwords, so that meant I was typing out names for her all the time, and trying to will her to come back. As a silent birthday gift, I changed all my passwords so I no longer typed any version of her name.

And, gosh this seems so long ago and in 2006 my feelings were so much more raw than they are now, I was getting pretty good at not longing for her.

For her 24th birthday, unbeknownst to her, I gave her my withdrawal from wanting her.

And on her actual birthday, and I planned this, I meditated for an hour. Then I held an image in my mind of a dandelion puff, all fluffy white seeds ready to be blown by the wind to seed new dandelions. My plan was to mentally blow away every bit of that dandelion puff and, in doing so, I hoped, I would be blowing away the way I was trying so hard within myself to hang onto her.

Consciously, I was fully committed to letting her go emotionally. And I really believed the dandelion puff blowing, which was something I made up. would help me.

I did not foresee that I would be unable, even in a mental image in my mind, to blow away many of the seeds on that dandelion puff.

I tried to blow her away. I tried to let her go. And my mind, or spirit, just could not do it.

And here I am, 16 years into her withdrawal from my life, and my longing does not abate.

I shared with a former acquaintance, someone I confused as a friend for several years, my dandelion puff ritual. When I told him that I had been unable to blow away much of the dandelion seeds in my mental visualization he said "That is one tough dandelion."

I gave little thought, back then, to the weed I chose. Now, laughing at myself and loving myself, I am thinking about how ubiquitous dandelions can be and how hard it is to get them our of a lawn. One has to get every bit of the stem and the stem is nearly always longer than one things, to get rid of just one dandelion. It is best to weed dandelions when the ground is very wet. It can feel so lovely to pull a particularly large dandelion and tug it just right and see the entire root come out of the wet ground:  it tapers down to a tiny point but often there is more below ground than above and many miss all the below ground bits, or most of the below ground bits.

say, maybe that was my mistake. Instead of blowing at a dandelion puff, perhaps I should visualize weeding a lawn or garden patch full of dandelions, visualize pulling them up all the way to the end of each root.

I will try this sometime. Sometime soon. I am tired of my grief. It is always hard near my birthday.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

that shit is biblical

Hymn by Sherman Alexie
Why do we measure people's capacity
To love by how well they love their progeny?
That kind of love is easy. Encoded.
Any lion can be devoted
To its cubs. Any insect, be it prey
Or predator, worships its own DNA.
Like the wolf, elephant, bear, and bees,
We humans are programmed to love what we conceive.
That's why it's so shocking when a neighbor
Drives his car into a pond and slaughter–
Drowns his children. And that's why we curse
The mother who leaves her kids—her hearth—
And never returns. That kind of betrayal
Rattles our souls. That shit is biblical.
So, yes, we should grieve an ocean
When we encounter a caretaker so broken.
But I'm not going to send you a card
For being a decent parent. It ain't that hard
To love somebody who resembles you.
If you want an ode then join the endless queue
Of people who are good to their next of kin—
Who somehow love people with the same chin
And skin and religion and accent and eyes.
So you love your sibling? Big fucking surprise.
But how much do you love the strange and stranger?
Hey, Caveman, do you see only danger
When you peer into the night? Are you afraid
Of the country that exists outside of your cave?
Hey, Caveman, when are you going to evolve?
Are you still baffled by the way the earth revolves
Around the sun and not the other way around?
Are you terrified by the ever-shifting ground?
Hey, Trump, I know you weren't loved enough
By your sandpaper father, who roughed and roughed
And roughed the world. I have some empathy
For the boy you were. But, damn, your incivility,
Your volcanic hostility, your lists
Of enemies, your moral apocalypse—
All of it makes you dumb and dangerous.
You are the Antichrist we need to antitrust.
Or maybe you're only a minor league
Dictator—temporary, small, and weak.
You've wounded our country. It might heal.
And yet, I think of what you've revealed
About the millions and millions of people
Who worship beneath your tarnished steeple.
Those folks admire your lack of compassion.
They think it's honest and wonderfully old-fashioned.
They call you traditional and Christian.
LOL! You've given them permission
To be callous. They have been rewarded
For being heavily armed and heavily guarded.
You've convinced them that their deadly sins
(Envy, wrath, greed) have transformed into wins.
Of course, I'm also fragile and finite and flawed.
I have yet to fully atone for the pain I've caused.
I'm an atheist who believes in grace if not in God.
I'm a humanist who thinks that we’re all not
Humane enough. I think of someone who loves me—
A friend I love back—and how he didn't believe
How much I grieved the death of Prince and his paisley.
My friend doubted that anyone could grieve so deeply
The death of any stranger, especially a star.
"It doesn't feel real," he said. If I could play guitar
And sing, I would have turned purple and roared
One hundred Prince songs—every lick and chord—
But I think my friend would have still doubted me.
And now, in the context of this poem, I can see
That my friend’s love was the kind that only burns
In expectation of a fire in return.
He’s no longer my friend. I mourn that loss.
But, in the Trump aftermath, I've measured the costs
And benefits of loving those who don't love
Strangers. After all, I'm often the odd one—
The strangest stranger—in any field or room.
"He was weird" will be carved into my tomb.
But it’s wrong to measure my family and friends
By where their love for me begins or ends.
It’s too easy to keep a domestic score.
This world demands more love than that. More.
So let me ask demanding questions: Will you be
Eyes for the blind? Will you become the feet
For the wounded? Will you protect the poor?
Will you welcome the lost to your shore?
Will you battle the blood-thieves
And rescue the powerless from their teeth?
Who will you be? Who will I become
As we gather in this terrible kingdom?
My friends, I'm not quite sure what I should do.
I'm as angry and afraid and disillusioned as you.
But I do know this: I will resist hate. I will resist.
I will stand and sing my love. I will use my fist
To drum and drum my love. I will write and read poems
That offer the warmth and shelter of any good home.
I will sing for people who might not sing for me.
I will sing for people who are not my family.
I will sing honor songs for the unfamilar and new.
I will visit a different church and pray in a different pew.
I will silently sit and carefully listen to new stories
About other people’s tragedies and glories.
I will not assume my pain and joy are better.
I will not claim my people invented gravity or weather.
And, oh, I know I will still feel my rage and rage and rage
But I won’t act like I’m the only person onstage.
I am one more citizen marching against hatred.
Alone, we are defenseless. Collected, we are sacred.
We will march by the millions. We will tremble and grieve.
We will praise and weep and laugh. We will believe.
We will be courageous with our love. We will risk danger
As we sing and sing and sing to welcome strangers.
©2017, Sherman Alexie