"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Every day, without looking very hard at all, I find amazing examples of courage in every corner of my life: 

My best friend cousin, Sal, who has survived two bouts of lymphoma and the chemo treatments that were worse than the disease itself. My hero friend who keeps living with integrity and purpose in the face of a body chemistry that seems determined to make her life hell.

My student whose parents' marriage is shredding before her eyes, and who still comes to school smiling and cheerful and ready to learn every day.

My best friend since seventh grade, Marcia, whose  incredible parents are aging, fading, dying as she does the best she can to support, love and nurture them. The role reversal is a costly one, and she bears it with such grace.

My husband who sticks with a marriage that looks nothing like the one he thought he was getting, and who lives calmly and mostly happily with the challenge of a spouse who cannot sit in the status quo quietly - who actually can do nothing quietly.

I just spent the weekend with a man who is among the most courageous I know.

My brother Mark.

Mark is the middle of the three younger brothers I grew up with. We are all in our fifties now, but I still think of them collectively as "The Boys". My sweet, tender quiet baby brother - the one I remember as being most adept at avoiding  our parents' wrath and snares, the one whose interests most paralleled my own, the one whose approval meant the most to me - that brother lost his way a few years ago.

Without telling his story for him, the time he spent in the wilderness cost him a high-powered career he loved, the wife he still adores, and his treasured status as grandpa. He has spent the last year rebuilding his life. He spent this weekend with me, in part to reclaim from a friend's house the last of his possessions from his life before.

There were many times this weekend that I blinked back tears as I watched him sort through photos of a marriage that is no more, artifacts of a life that he loved and destroyed, treasures that he accumulated in happier times and that will always be a reminder of what was and is no longer. Every now and then, he would stop after turning over a particularly poignant picture and say, "That was hard." Then he would go on.

In an odd way, the time we spent sorting through Mark's things was like being at a funeral. He said goodbye to the life that died. We said goodbye together. We celebrated the glorious and the mundane. We grieved the losses and the pain. 

And we laughed. At the stories behind some of the pictures. At us in the pictures - Mark grinning, wild and woolly; me wild, defiant and oozing sex. At the weird things he saved when he packed his possessions for storage - plastic spoons? post-it notes? an apple candle? 

In this last year as I've watched my brother rebuild his life from ashes, I have been continually amazed at his lack of self-pity or anger or bitterness. He accepts responsibility for getting to this place, believes that God is holding him in His Mercy and Love, and is grateful for the life he has. My brother Mark is a wonder. 

He has a blog, The Other Closet , which he has given me permission to share. His story is amazing, his writing powerful, his life a gift to anyone lucky enough to know him. He has come such a long way from the cave of his childhood. The Cowardly Lion has found his courage at last.

Photo from Flickr

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Road Between

I'm driving to work along narrow country roads with no shoulders. The school year is no longer new enchanting infant, not yet settled and comfortable adult. I'm bleary-soul tired from the weeks of full tilt preparation; the switch from elastic free-flowing no-clock time to blocks of tightly scheduled time crammed too full; my resistance to the current state of my life.

The almost full Harvest Moon lights my way from the western horizon and beckons its Sister Sun who is just beginning to send emissaries of light up from the eastern horizon. Old moon, at the end of its cycle. New sun, birthing a new day.

Flanked by softly misted fields where earnest ginger hens graze under the feet of placid ginger cows on one side and regal russet horses graze on the other, I travel alone between old and new. 

I love the moon and its ability to color night into dusky day. I love its tidal pull that calls my blood even though I am years beyond the evidence of those cycles. I love its unhurried exit from the stage that is soon to be flooded by fresh new light.

I think about the parts of my life that are old and full and on the brink of  waning into darkness. I love them, too. But I am achingly ready for them to settle beneath the western mountains.

The eastern sky grows brighter and brighter, dimming the moon's borrowed light with its brilliance. Faint blush of hinted day expands into softly translucent red that bleeds vibrant violet life into the gray between. 

I am ravenously hungry, deeply impatient for the light of my new life to dominate the sky. I've exhausted and frustrated myself in fruitless efforts to push the moon down and pull the sun up. As I continue along the road to school, held softly in air that contains both the lingering warmth of summer and the encroaching coolness of winter, I am grateful for the companionship of contrasts. 

The cycles have their own rhythm. Sun, Moon. Day, Night. Summer, Winter. Birth, Death. I can dance along or be dragged along. I cannot change the tempo or the tune. They will not - cannot - forget me or leave me behind. 

The moon will set soon enough. The sun will rise when it does. In the meantime, I travel a narrow road with no shoulders, kept company by chickens, cows and horses the color of earth, held in the arms of light and shadows. 

Monday, September 1, 2008


The three story school house sits in dark brick implacability, as it has for decades,  square in the middle of a town block. The perimeter is lined by buckled sidewalk, tired grass and ancient horse chestnuts. The flag pole is off to the right of  deep steps leading to  double doors that open onto acres of scuffed hardwood floors. For five years, from second grade to sixth,  I  sit with my classmates on these steps to have our group picture taken with our teacher. I am always the one with short bangs, long braids, and a smile I wish desperately someone would see through.

Whenever the wind blows, the metal clip that holds the flag in place clangs in a syncopated beat against the metal pole. My mind tells me that there has to be more than one clip, but it is only one that I ever hear. I don't know why that is. It is the constant song of the clip and pole that keeps me steady company for those five years. 

Some wind ghost has been playing the music of that flag pole in my head all week. Sometimes it's a real sound. The wind chimes in my back yard. Something banging against the old milk can welcoming visitors from my front porch. Even a particular metallic ring of a car door closing. Sometimes the only vibrations are happening somewhere deep inside of me.

It's lonely, this sound. When I hear it, I'm the only person on the playground of that old school. A lost little girl for whom life is bleak, and who waits for a time when she can be free. Being alone isn't all bad.  It means I'm safe from those who will hurt me. It also means I have no hope of being close enough to anyone who might love me.

It's compelling, this sound, full of longing and urgency. It promises something more, better, safer - if only I can hold out. It tolls like a bell marking the hours of my life, a life that can't start until I'm somewhere else.

It's heartbreaking, this sound. 

It's the heartbreak I feel now. The heartbreak of a child who will never know clean, unconditional parental love, and who will believe it's because of something wrong with her. The heartbreak of a child who survives the desolation of that loveless life by believing she can make someone love her that way - when she's older and in charge of her own life. The heartbreak of a child mind contained in an almost old body just beginning to realize that there is no way to have that unconditional love. The window closed long ago.

That child will always be alone in the schoolyard, imprisoned, and kept company only by the lonely music of the wind playing metal against metal.  Unless she can finally accept that her loss is real, and permanent, and in no way her fault. She's tired of the schoolyard and the lonely company of its ghost children and ghost music and ghost hopes. She longs for substance. 

I hear you, my dearest school girl. I'm here for you, with you, enfolding you. It is time to release the ghosts, to grieve the loss, to face yourself. You're ready. I'm ready. The wind is ready to carry us both up and away and into. Love. Life. At last.

This is my third  or fourth grade picture. I'm in the second row from the top, fifth from the left.