Sunday, April 28, 2013

On Loss

This weekend I massaged some kale, made my inaugural batch of granola, got a little bit sunburned on the back of my neck while sitting on a porch with my women's group talking about expectations,  walked all the way to the Co-op to buy a can of garbonzo beans, held a two-week-old baby, and arranged bouquets of flowers throughout my house.

And my roommate's mother died.

Have you walked with someone through death, reader? Have you been close to a person who has been reduced to their most basic in-out breath?

Now I have, and it's not an experience I hold lightly.

How to write about a friend's grief? A family changed in one final out breath? I have struggled to find the words to articulate the profound experience of standing next to a peer who is caretaking her dying mother, who is holding on to a life slipping away.

I know: my roommate is strong. She is nurturing. She is a heartbreakingly wonderful caretaker. (How I wish I didn't have to see this firsthand! How I wish this would have been a theoretical skill for most of her life!)

I know she seemed fearless; especially compared to my fearful entry into the sacred space where her mother was dying.

I visited last Saturday, loaded down with bags of groceries and a mountain of fear. Entering the home, I saw the corner of a hospital bed in the room off the dining room. It took me two hours of chopping vegetables, measuring ingredients, and washing dishes to finally take a deep breath and follow Rachael into her mother's room.

I barely recognized her. Though my roommate hadn't been to our shared home for over a month, had been sleeping in her childhood home and spending as much time as possible with her mother, I didn't fully understand how close her mom was to death until I entered that small room.

In a few months time her mother had aged decades: her hair was thin, her body frail, her eyes held tightly shut, and her skin nearly transparent. She wasn't leaving that bed, that house. She would die here, and it seemed imminent.

I watched as Rachael gently stroked her mother's hand and hair. Rachael spoke lovingly to her and mentioned my being there. Her body seemed a bit contorted and uncomfortable, so we slowly and carefully moved her body on the hospital bed. It took us twenty careful minutes. She grimaced a few times, and her eyes blinked open suddenly and then closed: small signs the spirit was not fully departed. Rachael massaged lotion into her skin and used a dropper to give her the smallest bit of water. I stood back and watched, with a heavy heart.

When Rachael walked to the kitchen to get muffins out of the oven, I wanted to lean over to her mother and say, "Rachael will be okay. She has people who will help her. I can be one of them. She will be okay one day. She loves you."

It was the wave of grief banging at my chest that needed to believe the vibrant and articulate woman I knew was somewhere inside that body, and that assuring her that her eldest daughter would get through this was what I could offer, what she had to hear.

In loss, people search for what they can offer to the grieving. Neighbors offered hotdish and groceries; her mother's coworker Sue offered the name of a pianist for the funeral; her sister's friends offered companionship and a sense of normalacy. I felt compelled to offer a promise I can't keep that everything will eventually be alright.

When I went over Thursday, the change was pronounced - her mother was more still, her sleep seemed deeper. When the call came Saturday morning that she had passed Friday night, I greeted the news with much sadness but not much surprise.

And today when I brought just my friendship to Rachael, and hugged her with tears spilling down both our faces, and saw the empty hospital bed, and felt the loss so strongly it was like I could hold it in my hand, I knew the promise I'd made to her mother was a long way off.  But I hope I can help keep it.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday Night Party

I have been reading about compost bins for the last hour.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

In Relationship

A few friends of mine have recently shared the writing and work of Dean Spade with me, and I found his essay For Lovers and Fighters especially interesting.

I encourage you to read the essay in its entirety and let me know what you think in the comments area, but here are some pull-out quotes that gave me something to think about:

"Indeed, the romance myth is focused on scarcity: There is only one person out there for you!!! You need to find someone to marry before you get too old!!!! The sexual exclusivity rule is focused on scarcity, too: Each person only has a certain amount of attention or attraction or love or interest, and if any of it goes to someone besides their partner their partner must lose out. We don’t generally apply this rule to other relationships—we don’t assume that having two kids means loving the first one less or not at all, or having more than one friend means being a bad or fake or less interested friend to our other friends. We apply this particular understanding of scarcity to romance and love, and most of us internalize that feeling of scarcity pretty deeply."

"One of the things I see myself doing in thinking about this stuff is examining how lots of people I know are really awesome, but then show their worst side, their worst behavior, to the person they date. To that person, they will be overly needy or dependent, or dominating, or possessive, or jealous, or mean, or disrespectful, or thoughtless. I have seen that tendency in myself as well. It makes sense. So much insecurity surrounds the romance myth and the world of shame in which sexuality is couched in our culture, we can become our monstrous selves in those relationships. I also see people prioritizing romantic relationships over all else—ditching their friends, putting all their emotional eggs in one basket, and creating unhealthy dynamics with the people they date because of it. It becomes simultaneously the most important relationship, and the one where people act out their most insecure selves."

"One of my goals in thinking about redefining the way we view relationships is to try to treat the people I date more like I treat my friends—try to be respectful and thoughtful and have boundaries and reasonable expectations—and to try to treat my friends more like my dates—to give them special attention, honor my commitments to them, be consistent, and invest deeply in our futures together."

"Sometimes while I ride the subway I try to look at each person and imagine what they look like to someone who is totally in love with them. I think everyone has had someone look at them that way, whether it was a lover, or a parent, or a friend, whether they know it or not. It’s a wonderful thing, to look at someone to whom I would never be attracted and think about what looking at them feels like to someone who is devouring every part of their image, who has invisible strings that are connected to this person tied to every part of their body. I think this fun pastime is a way of cultivating compassion. It feels good to think about people that way, and to use that part of my mind that I think is traditionally reserved for a tiny portion of people I’ll meet in my life to appreciate the general public. I wish I thought about people like this more often. I think it’s the opposite of what our culture teaches us to do. We prefer to pick people apart to find their flaws. Cultivating these feelings of love or appreciation for random people, and even for people I don’t like, makes me a more forgiving and appreciative person toward myself and people I love. Also, it’s just a really excellent pastime."

Running to catch the bus now, and I aim to look at every person as if they are my beloved.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Survival 101

Packing List for a Mad World

  • Consume media in moderation 
  • Question your sources
  • Look for the good
  • Withhold judgment 
  • Make eye contact with "strangers"
  • Question what cultural stories are causing you to classify other human beings as "strangers"
  • While you're at it, explore the definition of "security" and what makes you feel secure
  • Listen to wise friends who say "fear is a liar"
  • Hold your breath and hope the world will surprise you 
  • But if it doesn't, check your privilege

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Spring Cleaning

I've been doing a little spring cleaning today - three loads of laundry, my closet ripped apart to produce 1 bag of clothing to donate, the ol' lemon + baking soda trick to clean my sink, dust bunny removal, shreading documents (one huge bag filled with shreddings and one papercut later), AND the discovery of various "inspirations" I've stashed in piles throughout the house. Sometimes I really have to pat past-tense Sara on the back for her inability to throw away scraps of paper with what - in that moment in time - she found to be utterly beautiful/true/wise/inspiring. Good work, past me.

So before I share this particular inspiration, I will just say it's exactly what I needed right now. I was lucky enough to get to talk with not one but two of my soulmate-friends (Joseph & Hannah) this morning, and I heard myself wondering aloud with both of them What's next? I feel stuck but I'm fairly certain it's my own fear keeping me stuck. Even knowing it's me holding me back isn't enough to get me unstuck though - and that's the problem. 

This quote from Marianne Williamson - on a handout from last year's Passover celebration at Joel & Melissa's - really spoke to where I'm at and what I'm struggling with. Joel & Melissa prepared a beautiful, progressive seder and this reading is from a section called "The Four Adults" that is a response to the traditional seder section called "the Four Children." It is a way of reminding us how much we have to learn from youth by describing four types of adults: angry adult, ashamed adult, fearful adult, compassionate adult. We are reminded that to create a just world, with children and people who are wise, we need to learn from all of these adults. They all dwell inside each of us and we can only truthfully struggle for justice with an open heart, if we let ourselves hear the lessons of all of them. 

Marianne Williamson brings us the teaching for the ashamed adult. She writes:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate; our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. it is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually who are you not to be? You are a child of G-d. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of G-d that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Now, I'll be the first to say I have a gut reaction when I read about G-d in any piece of writing; and while my own "faith" struggles with a G-d concept, what resonates in this for me is the idea that our goodness and good work could bring out more of that in others, in the world. Our fear & shame holds us back, but when we embrace our power and our path ("destiny" if you believe in that sort of thing), not only do we experience freedom, but we free others as well. 

I am going to meditate on this idea tonight. I want to see if I have any more courage than I had this morning, as my voice shook and made excuses in response to not one but two friends telling me You are free. You are not stuck. 

I want to discover what is really filling with me fear. I wonder, is the fear of my own possibility what is really keeping me stuck? 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Food I Want to Cook & Eat

These beet burgers.

Possibly this labor-intensive lentil dish.

OMG, Yes.

And I am trying to seriously cut back on my sugar intake, but can someone please make me this chocolate pudding?

Eagerly counting down the days until I get to plant seeds and grow (and harvest) my own food again!*

*My blog can be as boring as I want it to be.