Monday, May 13, 2013

blogging challenge, day 12: what I miss

     Day 12, Sunday: What do you miss? (a person, a thing, a place, a time of your life...)

      She is 92, and growing backwards each day. She moves slowly now, each step shuffling, her walker preceding her. Her white hair shades to dark gray at the back of her head and stands up like baby-bird fluff when she wakes up in the morning. Her daughter bathes her each day, prepares her meals, tucks a long white towel into her collar to serve as a bib. Her oldest son visited her home island a few months ago, and called early one morning to ask for the street address of her old home. She doesn't remember.</ span>
     Sometimes she doesn't remember how to brush her teeth and needs prompting. Sometimes she doesn't remember how to do her word search puzzle and needs to be prompted to look for the words in the jumble of letters. Likewise, I look for her among the jumble of memories. She tells her stories less and less these days - the stories of her father, who was wonderful with animals, had a dog named Prince, and worked with horses; stories of her mother being chided by neighbors for having "messy" hair when it was really just wavy (the same wavy hair that she inherited); stories of her mother making tofu or learning to bake Portuguese sweet bread on the plantation. The details erode.
      Her daughter told me, many years ago, when the dementia was just setting in, that she felt like her mother had died. They used to eat lunch just about every day together - her daughter talking about office issues and dramas, the mother knowing each person's name and what they said last week. It took me so many years to realize what she meant, because I now feel the same way. While she sits across the room from me, poring over the paper (thankfully, she can still read), I remember who she used to be. The woman who talked on the phone with her sister, eyes closed, laughing, while her grandchildren puzzled over the bits of Japanese mixed into her English conversation. The woman who would do her weekly Long's shopping on Fridays. The brown paper bags she brought home inevitably contained a  new Little Golden Book, which she'd read aloud to my sister and me before naptime. The woman who sliced and peeled apples for us - she said it was "brain food" - as we did homework at her kitchen table in the afternoons. The woman who taught me how to braid a My Little Pony's tail, bandaged scraped knees, and seemed to possess a never-ending supply of Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Cheetos, and more. Alas, she also seemed to possess a similarly abundant supply of dried prunes, kept in a glass jar in the fridge, that she'd pop into our mouths with a pair of chopsticks before we left her home in the afternoon, insisting it was good for the digestion.
           She used to make me lunch and bring me snacks; now I do the same for her. She no doubt followed me closely on my first faltering steps, close enough to catch me if I fell - now I trail her with the same vigilance.
           She mixes up some of her younger grandchildren, forgets what she had for dinner a few minutes ago. If I step out the door to get the mail and walk back in, she greets me with a cheerful hello because she doesn't remember that I was there just a minute ago. One thing she hasn't forgotten, however, is how to be thankful. She appreciates what she has, and will thank me - and anyone else -  for doing everything from bringing her lunch to putting the rail up on the bed to remind her to stay there if no one's around.
        A while back I noticed that I sometimes had a hard time telling her "you're welcome" when she told me "thank you." So I resolved to respond every time she said thank you. Doing this made me realize that in a way, I was angry at her. I was angry at her for not being angry about what she's lost, a loss that I feel acutely every time I remember who she used to be.  I rage about the mysterious conditions in her brain that have blocked her off from her memories. "There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief," Aeschylus says, and that's what I felt when writing this post. I grieve every day for the grandmother I've lost while she sits in the same room with me. As fast and as far as I shove the grief away, however, it circles back to hover behind me. I hover behind my grandmother in the same way as she shuffles to bed or her chair, ready to catch her if she falls. But I am afraid to let my grief catch me. I'm terrified that I will keep falling.
        There is a lesson here, and as hard as I try to evade it, it seeks me out. My hard lesson. I'm afraid that I won't learn it before she leaves us, and I'm afraid I'll learn it while she's here, and have to be borne down by the heaviness of the grief. Today, I silently resolve, I will be patient, and kind. I will say "you're welcome" each time she thanks me, I will appreciate each time she says my name, because it means she hasn't forgotten me yet. I will try to see the grace and strength of this woman who raised me wholeheartedly, who goes on living and seeing all the beautiful little things around her, despite being one of the last of her siblings who are still living, despite the loss of her husband (it will be exactly 6 years since his death on Friday).  Today, I will begin to appreciate the rare gift of spending a good part of the last two years caring for her, and I will pull my grief just a little closer to me, and learn its name - for we have been acquainted for a long time. 

Monday, April 1, 2013


"This [meditation] is a way to see yourself through your body,
 instead of your mind."
 - meditation teacher

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

pulling the world closer: my return to writing

        Before, many years ago, when I knew (not hoped for, or dreamt of, but knew) that I was a writer, I told myself that I never really knew what I thought about something until I had sat down with a pen and paper and written about it. It was dreaming in ink, tracing the constellations of my own galaxy, a way to pull the world closer to me and savor it one more time. I scribbled dashes and bits of  poems on the backs of my work schedules, sideways in my journal, in tiny notebooks I carried with me. Each scribble would be graced with the date and exact time - it was not 7:30 p.m., it was 7:27. The precise time and date thumbtacked each scribble to the interior map of my life.
      And then ... I spent several years living under a cloud, due to circumstances beyond my control and understanding. I did not write. My journal sat untouched and the old ones, crammed with words and wishes, questions and answers, sat quiet. I would go through the scraps of my stories and poems from time to time, wondering at who I had been, and if she would return. One of my earliest desires had been to see a book with my name on the cover in a bookstore. Whenever I visited Waldenbooks as a child, I wanted to buy a book, yes, but if you had asked what I really wanted, it would have been to see a book written by me, with my name on the cover, on the shelf. Although I emerged from the cloud years ago, I did not write. I told myself that maybe that childhood dream was something I had to leave behind, that this key part of my identity perhaps wasn't so important after all.
      2013 is turning out to be a year full of beginnings, of seeing old dreams from new angles. My scribbles are digital here, not the scrawl of ink on paper, but they're helping me get to know the writer who's been in hiding for so long.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

my brain is a fishbowl: beginning meditation

   I bow at the door and take off my slippers, lining them up neatly. Sunlight streams through the bank of windows along the room's back wall. On the wooden floor are two rows of pillows, topped with either two smaller pillows or one C-shaped cushion.
    As it gets closer to 8 a.m., people drift in, setting their things down along the walls. One of the longtime students gives me a crash course in proper meditation posture. Shoulders open, head up, half-lotus position with the left leg on top. Hands against your center. Place your gaze about 3 to 4 feet in front of you on the floor, eyelids at half-mast so you don't fall asleep. Most beginners count each breath, 1 through 10, then start the count again. Then we join the rest of the class in some stretches and gentle moves to prepare our bodies for the hourlong session. The teacher reviews proper breathing: in through the nose, over the head, down the spine, to our center, then out. He tells us that babies know how to breathe properly, and that meditation is a way to peel away the layers of the onion, all of the things we accumulate, so we can return to that perfect state.
     It's time to sit. I hang back a little, not wanting to take someone's usual spot. The teacher informs me that we gassho, or place our hands together, palm to palm, at about chest level, bow, and exhale before we sit. This, he says, clears our mind and prepares it for our next experience.
      We sit. The sound of wooden blocks being clapped together cracks the silence. A cup-shaped bell is rung.
     Did we start? There is no bell, no shouted "go," no flags flashing. But this is not a race, I remember. I suppose we've started. I resist the urge to peek at the people to the side and across from me. I focus on my breathing. To be more realistic, I try to. For suddenly, my brain is a fishbowl, and every brightly colored fish that darts and flits by is a thought. I know I should let them be, but they're hard to ignore.
     This way of breathing feels strange. I have the absurd thought that I'm not getting enough air. I have the absurd thought that I'm doing it wrong. It seems my doubting self, the shadow who is so quick to encourage hesitation and silence, has followed me here.
      I keep getting lost among the 1s to 10s. These familiar numbers, once held firmly like a bundle of twigs in my hand, have multiplied into a baffling, shifting forest. Was that my 8th breath? I think it was 8. OK, 9 is next, then. 
      The teacher walks on cat-soft feet, placing each foot as deliberately as someone stepping from  rock to rock to cross a river. He carries a long, thin stick, which he places silently in front of me before circling behind me to correct my posture. My back is gently arched, my shoulders opened, my head shifted. Then he moves on.
      In the middle of the class, we do a brief walking meditation. Hands clasped against our centers, we circle the room. Are we moving faster, or am I imagining things? I try to make sure the gap between me and the person in front of me stays the same.
      We return to our spots. I realize I can't remember the proper hand position - was it left hand curled around right thumb, or the other way around? I choose one. The thoughts return, tantalizing. They have things to do! They are on their way somewhere! Many times, I am lured away by their  flash and glitter. The breathing still feels strange. My posture is gently corrected again by the teacher. 
      But for a few moments, I am justhere, looking at the sun-washed wooden floor, but not tugged this way and that by thoughts of the past or dreams of the future. Justhere. These moments are as small and rough as grains of sand. I wonder whether they are the product of wishful thinking - is that what it is supposed to feel like? Or am I playing tricks on myself?
      The session closes the way it started, bringing us full circle. We stretch our legs in front of us, wiggling feet and toes that were starting to fall asleep. The teacher lets two students try ringing the bell. The sound is not just a sound, it's a vibration I feel in my body. The founder of the Japanese martial art aikido (Morihei Ueshiba) talked about the primordial vibrations. I can't say I understand what he meant any better, but I think I know the feeling he's talking about.
      How to wrap this up? I pause here to celebrate a first step, then prepare to take the second.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

1. this is my letter to the world

Fossil Sitting In Sun Light      

     I have several Internet abodes, but this one will be devoted to helping me manifest the life I want in 2013 (and beyond).
     A number of years ago, I rented a bedroom that had an odd nook with windows on either side. That nook became my quiet place. I decorated it with a painting of a lotus, a postcard with an image of Buddha, and a few tea lights in thrifted glass cups. I'd sit on my folding stool and determinedly try to think of nothing.
     Small spaces hold a fascination for me, the same wonder I feel when examining a tightly furled fern head or contemplating the twists of a nautilus. Sometimes we need to turn tightly, to curl into ourselves, to grow. For some, small spaces may seem claustrophobic, entrapping. But I see them as a reminder that wherever we are is exactly where we need to be, and that sometimes stillness and sinking into ourselves can be our best teacher.
   So, this is my nook, my seed-space. Welcome.