Friday, December 21, 2012


Oh Great Mother, tell me about Death.

What do you want to know, my daughter?

Do I have to die?

Shouldn't you be asking, Do I have to live?

But, Dear Mother, I love Life beyond words and this is why I don't want to die.

You know Death is only part of the Cycle of Life. The earth has given so much to us and we must give ourselves back to the earth.

Yes, I've heard it all before. What if there really is nothing beyond this realm? What if this is it?

Then, there is nothing.

But I'm afraid.

There is nothing to fear. You will simply come home to me.

But I'm having trouble believing in you. Believing you will be there for me.

I am here.

Are you?

Do you not feel me cradling your heart? Do you not see my breath whirling through the cedars? Do you not hear the voices of comfort I surround you with each day?

Yes, Great Mother. But isn't this merely the heart beating, the wind blowing, the birds singing?

I am here because you notice me.

But you haven't finished telling me about Death. I don't think I will ever be ready to die.

When the time comes you will be ready.

Are you sure?

I am sure

. And will you notice me, be ready for me?

I will, my dear daughter.

© 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012

From My Journal: A Culture of Guns and Violence

December 13, 2012: Another Mass Shooting. This time at our own Portland, Oregon Clackamas Town Center. My daughter works at another Portland mall and so this shooting hits home. She shared that her coworkers were extremely fearful and nervous the day after the shooting. The young shooter seems to have led a fairly normal life and yet he walked into a mall with an AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle and a high capacity gun clip and started randomly firing. More deaths, more injuries, more sorrow.

I'm sure most of us have been to a mall or to a shopping center parking lot. Other mass shootings have occurred at high schools, college campuses, and movie houses. My daughter was in an Eugene elementary school when the Thurston High School shooting in Springfield, Oregon happened. She attends college at Portland State University and has friends at the University of Oregon. We've all been to movie theaters. Certainly each one of us can think of a friend, a relative, an acquaintance who was near or at a mass shooting here in our supposedly safe and sane United States of America.

So what is it going to take for the public to demand more responsible gun laws? Oregon State Senator Ginny Burdich is reintroducing legislation that never made it to the floor in 2011: Banning high capacity gun clips. Isn't this reasonable? And do we need semiautomatic assault rifles in everyday people's hands? We don't have to be anti-guns, only anti unnecessary innocent carnage.

December 14, 2012: I just learned of another mass shooting: 20 children at a Connecticut elementary school were randomly killed. Are we going to allow this senseless violence to continue? Eighteen beautiful children killed!

© 2012

Friday, December 7, 2012

Child of the Cosmos

A neighbor, whose partner died a few years ago and who recently lost her mother, stated, “Now I am both a widower and an orphan.”

When my own mother died, I first had a similar feeling of aloneness. Then it occurred to me: this neighbor has never been a mother. It is my role as mother that keeps me hooked to the world. The line does not end with me, I remember reflecting. But now, I can see that the line never did begin with me. For I am a daughter of the universe.

In the beginning and at the end I felt close to my mother. In between lay an expansive bridge that neither one of us were able to meet upon. There was love, but not intimacy. So when my mother died, I already knew what it was to be an orphan. I had already sought love in other places.

I am a daughter of the universe.

On a pre-winter morning I stood upon our front deck sipping my coffee and hearing the crows cawing amongst the trees. I started cawing back at them, and then it happened. I watched as two crows and then three more flew from the top of my backyard incense cedar to the top of the front maple tree. Five crows, my magic number, I thought. Five crows. I let the light filtering through the darkening sky bathe me while I breathed in the stark beauty of the leafless trees. With gratitude am I standing here.

I am a daughter of the universe.

My edgy, independent daughter doesn't need her mother. In my twenties wasn't I also similar? I sought to uproot my origins and plant myself anew. I wandered near and far, and to my surprise, my roots grew wherever I stood. I became part of a wider world. And I discovered creatures and kin who needed my compassion and mothering. I gave and I received.

I am a daughter of the universe.

At times I feel alone. At times I get captured by the dark. At times I do feel motherless. Then I hear the cawing. I see the shoots sprouting as the leaves fall. I feel the sun's warmth. And I know I will never be an orphan.

I am a child of the cosmos.

© 2012

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Party

In the late spring following my father's death, we held a party in our house. This was no ordinary party. During my father's lifetime he rarely allowed anyone outside the immediate family into our house. I could say he was a shy man; I could say he was a distrustful, controlling man; but I can't say he was a bad man. My father's heart bled for his children; my father's heart bled for animals; my father's heart reached out weekly to his old coffee shop cronies. But his home, my father's home, was his self-fortified castle.

I was in my late thirties when my father died;all of us siblings were in charge of our own lives. With my father gone, my mother was living alone and finally becoming her own person. The house was filled with her music and her occasional books and her gossip magazines. She began redecorating and reinventing the house, room by room. The idea for a party festered slowly. My father's sister, Aunt Susie, had been contacted after his death. My father and his sister had had some argument way back when and hadn't spoken in over twenty years. She took the news in a nonchalant, uncaring manner, until a few months later when her own husband passed away. Being alone, she welcomed my company. Being alone, she began to share more family history and pictures with this extremely curious niece. Shouldn't our aunt be invited to the party?

Then there was my mother's older, bossy sister, Davina, and our two cousins, Billy and Nancy. Unlike Aunt Susie and Uncle Bob, who had visited us when we were small children, they had never been to our house. My dear Uncle Bill, my mother's brother, must also receive an invitation. I had fond memories of his sitting down at our piano and playing thrilling, dramatic piano chords by ear. With our now deceased maternal grandparents, he had come to our house and inevitably entertained us with his dashing debonair attire and wit.

To be honest, it's not that no one came to our house. But if they did so, the time spent was brief. My best friend Neilani came over once or twice, but the disapproving expression on my father's face was evident...he thought Neilani was a bad influence. We did sneak off to the two Beatle movies together, and we did eat ice cream and dance on our small city's sidewalks, and we did talk an awful lot about the meaning of life. She was indeed my best growing up influence. So Neilani was invited, and our next door neighbor Lorraine and her married daughter, Denise, my sister's childhood buddy, were invited.

My brother and I were by then living in Oregon, and my sister was in Arizona, so party planning happened long distance. We discussed party foods: my mother's favorite Scottish trifle and a jello mold, macaroni salad and vegetable/cracker dips, perhaps a home-baked apple pie. There would be coffee, tea and punch and, if we dared, a little wine. My mom would be able to use her best table cloths and dishes. She could polish the silverware she received for her wedding and get out the wine glasses. She could pick flowers from my father's beloved garden.

We flew in ahead of the party date to stay with my mother. The old house was spruced up beyond recognition, and the smile on my mother's face broader than I have ever seen. We had a huge living room, thanks to my father who took our small inheritance from the grandparents and had an addition built with a beautiful brick fireplace, bay windows facing his garden, and sliding glass doors to a patio. I know that it gave my father joy, during the times he sat there in his leather chair. And for this party, the spacious coziness would be perfect.

And it WAS perfect. Everyone came. Our living room was full of eating and drinking, laughter and shared memories, heart-felt grieving and renewed vitality. I spoke with my much older cousins and discovered life events I never knew about; my uncle, perched professionally on the piano bench, was splendid in his velvet jacket and red tie; my father's aunt was, like her brother, a loquacious storyteller. I stood in the middle of the room and watched my mom interacting with her sister and brother. They all looked so much alike. I noticed Lorraine give a warm hug to her daughter Denise as she spoke with my friend Neilani, who in turn, glanced my way and gave me a knowing grin. We've made it to adulthood, she said silently. My brother, who had his plate piled high with treats, was asking Lorraine about her son, Bruce, a friend of his who couldn't be with us. Our first-class, superbly dressed sister was marveling at the exuberant conversations and reveling as a hostess.

This was no ordinary party. When people walked through our front door, they transformed our house from one of sometimes isolated loneliness to one of joyous celebration. They filled the dysfunctional cracks and creaks with a soothing, happy, slurping buzz. A tidal wave of new energy rose from carpeted floor to dusty ceiling. Everyone hugged; everyone thanked my mother and us for one of the best of times. Our party had been a success.

© 2012

Thursday, November 22, 2012

From My Journal: In Gratitude

This Thanksgiving Day Dan and I will be alone. Perhaps this will be the first Thanksgiving without the daughter who will be with her girlfriend's family. We kiddingly referred to ourselves as Thanksgiving orphans when the daughter made the above announcement. “We've never gotten this holiday together as a major celebration,” she mentioned, “and we'll come to you for Christmas Eve and Christmas because that is our special time.” She's right, of course. While for many Thanksgiving is a time to spend with multitudes of extended family members, ours has been a three-some or an attempt to be with family members where cousins have totally ignored us or acted rudely. We've also had failed, miserable attempts at being with people we didn't know. So yes, this holiday hasn't been one of our winners.

Thinking to be mature and to strike out on our own, Dan and I tried earlier to make a reservation at a favorite beach bed and breakfast, but this was sold out weeks ago. Secretly we both hoped to have our daughter and her girl friend with us. While at first I felt deflated by our daughter's news, I have since recovered. I have decided to go beyond my illusive desire for community and family and to simply accept what I am given. Dan and I deserve a fine dinner with desert, wine and all the trimmings, and so we shall create one. Our cooking plans have commenced, to be accompanied by elegant place settings and candles, background music, and later activities such as hiking, movies, literary readings aloud. No doubt we could have searched for a place to invite ourselves, but for this year this feels right.

What the empty nest has given me is a compassionate understanding of how our American holidays are all about the “ideal” family, when this ideal is rarely met. Without children and their easy acceptance of magic and wonder, Winter Solstice has taken on greater spiritual importance to me than Christmas, which has become deeply crass and commercial. I don't want to become bah humbug about the winter holidays but I do want them to be more accessible to all, single, unmarried, Gay, straight, Native, non-traditional family gatherings. And I want to redefine love and gratitude this Thanksgiving.

I want to give thanks for being in a loving relationship for over thirty years. And what I want to remember is we raised a child to become an incredible and compassionate young woman, but we also raised ourselves to become giving, wiser, more humble human beings. We had a partnership before our daughter was born, and we have that partnership back again. We have helped each other grow up and we will continue to help each other become elders.

I give thanks for my daughter. That she made it through her turbulent teens and that she had support and positive resources for her “coming out” years. I give thanks she is a solid, mature human being with awesome people and navigating the world skills. I give thanks she is in a healthy, loving relationship. I simply give thanks for who she is: herself.

I may not always believe I have friends (this coming from my over-protective childhood) but I do. I have cultivated an attachment to a group of women who are thoughtful, sensitive, spiritual and caring. For all of them I am in deepest gratitude. They make me see myself as I might not see me - as whole and real.

I give thanks for the town I live in where people work damn hard for human rights and the acceptance of diversity and justice. Where many try to live sustainably through food gardens, biking and energy conservation. I give thanks my town is surrounded by Mother Earth's bounty: the oceans are in one direction, the mountains in another. Precious old growth trees encircle us and the seasons (including our abundant rain) replenish us. We are lucky to be living where we do.

What I have learned through the years here in the Pacific Northwest is the definition of family is a wider one. Family means community: neighbors, strangers walking down the streets, our own children and the children of others, students and their teachers, co-workers, friends. We all have similar needs and wants for communication, caring, shelter and vocation.

We are not alone this Thanksgiving.

© 2012

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval

My mother kept a clean house. How she did this with working full time and raising three kids is beyond me. This was the fifties and though a man's home was his kingdom, it was the woman who maintained that kingdom. My father, who also worked full time, would come home and plop himself in his leather chair, awaiting his dinner and a relaxing television dominated evening. “I'm tired; I've had a long day,” he'd assert. Mothers and wives were not allowed to be tired at the end of their long days.

My mother was extremely neat and organized. I remember discovering after my father's death a metal file box. Inside this box my mother kept all the house and insurance papers, the bill and tax receipts. Though my father constantly criticized my mother for being weak and incompetent, it was my mother who ran our household.

As most daughters vow, I swore I would never be like my mother. But women absorb their culture's values and pronouncements through their thin-skinned pores whether we are aware of this media saturation or not. If I haven't done the dishes the night before, every morning I have to do the sink's dishes before I can begin my day. And I have to walk around my house and pick up stray hats and dropped clothing or rearrange crooked pillows. When my husband and I first lived together, he'd drop his garments everywhere. This sent red flags flying from my psyche and I had to get him a wicker laundry basket.

I ran a home child care program for nearly eight years and every morning parents arrived to a tidy and orderly living environment. It's not to say that my daughter and the other children didn't make messes and have fun, but my days had to start “put back together” and anew.

My nest is empty now and I dearly miss the hub bub and chaos of those children years. I even miss our dog and her shedding hairs and muddy paws. I find I vacuum and dust less. And trying to remove the “Hausfrau” label, I allow books to pile on tables, hats to live off hooks and even clothes to hang on chairs.

Still I see how deeply I am like my mother and how deeply I have accepted the calling of the fifties woman: My home is my castle and my home is my soul's center. I have wondered at my obsessive-compulsive need to have dishes done daily and to keep everything in its place. Am I as a woman to keep my place? I have a man who doesn't care how far a field I wander and who respects my moods and my intellect. We raised a daughter who is both similar to her mother and my opposite: daring to be herself, not influenced by media fashion and feminine hype, not worried about cleaning or tidying her living space. She and her girl friend recently moved in together. Already they have been to Home Depot and IKEA. I can't wait to see what their apartment looks like without the benefit of gender and with the benefit of a more alternative upbringing.

Was housework for my mother a form of meditative escape? Was it a way of keeping her turbulent life with a semi-violent, angry man under control? Lately I have noticed I rush into cleaning whenever emotional chaos ensues. When time-passage fears and anxieties begin to crowd my mind, my wiping away of dirt, my putting things away is something tangible I can do to reestablish my center. When the conservative, non-compassionate leanings of our American culture and the world's non-stop violence overwhelms me, I can sweep my concerns out the door, shake the negative dust from the rugs, or furiously scrub the kitchen floor.

Throughout her marriage my mother had few friends and only a handful of neighbors and coworkers to relate to. No one came over for dinner; no one sat down at our kitchen table to share a cup of tea. Her neat home, her family was all my mother had. I sit here wondering why my mother kept her house so clean when no one came over. My sister and I rarely made our beds and our clothes only occasionally reached the inside of our closet. My mother's frustration was always evident, but growing up we never matched her demands for neatness. The fact that my sister and I are both extremely tidy now is a miracle. Or is it?

© 2012

Thursday, November 8, 2012

From My Journal: Faith Restored

November 5, 2012: For the last two days we have had a revival of our warmer autumn weather. People are wandering our Eugene streets in a daze - “What an unexpected surprise,” they exclaim. “If this is global warming, we embrace it.” An ever widening smile crosses my face. I'm looking up through the branches of our neighboring maple tree, watching the yellowish, red leaves floating to the ground. Our block is aglow with color and light. I can't contain my spirit indoors this morning. With my second latte I'm wandering down the streets, peering into Chris and Sophia's garden and seeing how secure Liz has made her house. She and Bill left yesterday for their winter sojourn in Mexico. How much they will miss by not being part of the rhythm of our Northwest seasons. Though I know I will complain about winter's darkness, I don't want to be far away from my home turf.

Why can't I absorb this light, store it like the squirrels store their nuts for the winter? My spirit feels so relieved when the light appears. I promised myself I would try to confront my shadows, look into my darker corners this winter. But what a fickle friend of winter I am. While the Northeast has been devastated by storm Sandy, we have been given a return summer treat. Do we realize how lucky we are? Do we embrace unexpected surprises with gratitude or take them for granted?

I realize the answer to my tendency to monotony is to be mindful of the ecstatic moments. And to confront my ever present underground fears. I want to keep adding jewels on the side of life's preciousness so it will outweigh the denser stones of life's pains. I want to chop up my melancholy into bite size pieces so they are more easily digested along side nature and every day's deliciousness. My new student called this morning...a student who did not show up for our first meeting last Thursday and who I had given up on. She apologized and appears to be ready to meet me. Again a sign of promise.

November 7, 2012: My faith in America is restored: What a victory last night with Obama winning reelection, more women, including the first openly Lesbian woman, being elected to the Senate and all four marriage equality state amendments passing. We won more easily than I imagined and the results were known earlier than I expected. Just as I did in 2008, as Ohio went to Obama I called my daughter. She was on mass transit heading home after three hours of Japanese and had been on pins and needles wondering the outcome. So my call was a positive one. We both shared our excitement and she and her girl friend were then going to drop by the free election party down the block at the Doug Fir Lounge. “What a great place you live in,” I said. “I can't wait to see your new home on Sunday.” And she and her girl friend can't wait for our visit either. With all its messiness, with all its chaos, I will miss this life, I thought to myself.

Similar to 2008 I had tears, though not as many! I was stunned actually and relieved. I have prayed and meditated constantly on this outcome. Obama's Victory Speech had his usual depth of wisdom and the knowledge that our future, our future as a humanity, rests with our diversity and our coming together in sacred community. He puts into eloquent words what I have so long believed.

Now I just want to rest my political/social mind for awhile in preparation for finding ways to strengthen my writer's voice and to give myself the courage to shout out my beliefs of love and connection while participating in community organizations that hold my inclusive, multicultural values. These next four years aren't going to be easy, but my hope is strengthened that more fairness and justice will prevail for all of us.

© 2012