This morning as I was waiting for my coffee to brew I took to looking at various photos and artwork that we have tacked up around–on the refrigerator and cabinet doors. Most of what’s up has been there for years. There’s the “It’s a girl” we put up when Leah was born 5 years ago, one of Omni with her dad on a field trip to Chaney’s Dairy, one of Ken and me taken back in 1998, I’m guessing. And there’s this, a drawing Omni made for me last year. I have loved this drawing and looked at it many times, but today was the first time I noticed the word “find” over on the left side.
As you can see, this is a welcome back sign my granddaughter made for me. Where had I gone? How long was I absent? The answer is shopping, and about an hour. This morning because I discovered the word “find” and now see a new dimension of the work of art. It’s not just a pretty design with flowers and bright colors. It’s also a puzzle. Who will be the first to find the two “I love yous”?

And now that I look even closer I see there are actually 3 “I love yous”–one vertically down the center in the middle of a red ziggly-jiggly, one above the G of “Grandma,” and of course one along the bottom, with “find.”

Our friend Tsering would say that this is a most auspicious way to begin the morning. It would do no good to say, “Today we are to discover something we have not noticed before,” because once it’s a rule and we go off with our magnifying glass as if it were a scavenger hunt, then it’s not really a discovery, but more of an uncovering, a revealing of what’s there. For it to be a true discovery, we have to stop looking for it to be so, and just look. Or listen. And the more everyday the listening and looking are, the more likely discovery will happen. Part of the joy of discovery (as opposed to uncovering) is the story that snaps to.

In this case, the story has many chapters and scenes–in fact, Omni has written a fair number of stories on pieces of paper that are folded and stapled. “The Mean Teacher” is one I recall, and another about a girl with no parents who went off on a quest, meeting strange creatures and no small amount of danger along the way. But our story goes back to 2004. We have a pictures of her (and her cousins) around the house, and I remember this one of the first time Ken and I saw her together, when her mother, who we knew a whole lot less well than we do now, let us take her out for a couple of hours. We went to a park in Daytona Beach and she examined the bolts on the picnic table. Even as a little tyke, she exuded her trademark intelligence, curiosity, trust, and beauty.

Some rules are good, however, and I think we might be a better people if we did more drawings for people we care about, cards with “find ‘i love you’ two times.”

Unexpected gifts: my boy

Today was a satiny, blue-ribbon kind of day. I will save the best for last, and all of it is good.

First, I got to introduce new colleagues in my department. I was feeling good about what I was able to say about them, and then, glancing around the room, saw smiles on people’s faces—people I hardly know but are in my College. It was like they couldn’t help it. I hadn’t realized how good it must have been to hear about our wonderful new colleagues, their commitment to scholarship, teaching, and social justice–every one of them. I sat down and three people at my table smiled and said, “that was great.” Now this has nothing to do with me. I was merely the messenger, sharing other people’s good work. I made it a point to quote from each one–one quote was from A–‘s application letter, another was something J– had said. I kind of fudged her quote, but when I looked at her with a “was that okay?” she nodded and grinned.

Something else happened at my table, with the person I was sitting next to, but first, another good thing:

I went and got a massage (deep tissue with some Swedish) from the Jacque at the Preston Center. She pried until it hurt a little, but in an okay way. She is wonderful, gentle and kind in her touch. As I lay on my stomach, my face pressed into the face-hole, snot gathering in my sinuses, I was overcome, had to press the sheet to my face. I don’t know if she knew, as I tried to be as unobtrusive as I could.

Then I hurried home for a pre-semester “judgment free” party at my house for about 17 women. We sliced and roasted and ate together, I made my new hibiscus lemon drop especial, we sat in or by the pool with our food, and laughed and shared. Everyone seemed comfortable. The affection that I saw circle among them made me feel extraordinarily at peace.

I really don’t know why some days are so blessed. The whole day was an unexpected gift, and this is where I tell you about the really special thing that happened. It’s the kind of gift you’re hungry for but don’t know until someone places it in your hand.

I am grateful to you, Jill B, for handing me the folded paper and saying, “I found this picture of Casey and wanted you to have it.” She then told me about the day he helped her on International Day. It was in 2008. I asked her if she would email me the memory, and she did.

Casey was in my World Regional Geography class in the fall of 2008. The students in the class were required to do an engagement project related to course content. One of the options was to work at the BG International Festival. Casey signed up for the first shift, 6:30-10:30am, for set up. I remember asking him if he would be able to get there that early on a Saturday morning. He said, “Yes, I have a baby. I will be up earlier than that.” When I arrived he was already there waiting for me to unload the car.

And here he is, that bright day in September 2008, when he was a student at South Campus and the world was his.

Casey, International Day 2008

Casey, International Day 2008

And now you know why that massage, someone gently getting to me at the muscular and tissue level—while I lay vulnerable and trusting—brought forth in a rush the mingled grief and joy and gratitude at the unexpected gift. My boy handed to me . . . in a folded piece of paper, an act of kindness and intimacy in a setting that could have been just another university function; something she had planned, knowing that she might see me, this day, almost four years later.

Thank you, Jill.

To chiropract . . . or not

I come from a long line of chiropractor-doubters and have myself been to only two——once several years ago when my 1982 whiplash was seizing up. I finally went in, sometime in the early 2000s. The chiropractor hooked me up to a machine that felt like little hooks were tugging at parts of my back and shoulders–in a nice way. Stress was so bad at the time that I could feel a cold-fisted clamping at my neck that made it impossible to turn my head more than an inch or two. The treatment helped, and I stopped going after a couple of months. I haven’t felt stress like that before or since, and I was completely helpless to know what to do. I went in desperation.

Then last week I went again to someone new, this time about the lower back.

My mother would have have given me her suspicious look.

My cousin just a couple of weeks ago gave me her “no f#cking way” look (in case my granddaughter reads this). “I think it’s best to go to someone where the weight of research is on their side. A doctor.” She’s a nurse who uses a Chinese treatment for her back.

And yet, last week I went to this “real doctor” chiropractor (he’s a real doctor) who has turned to alternative medicine. I’m not going to spill the various diagnoses he gave me, or the cautious success I might be feeling after two visits, but let’s just say that going to a chiropractor when your mother (may she rest in peace) has taken a seat out in the waiting room and is now flipping through a golfing magazine . . . well, it’s enough to make you tiptoe out of there.

Going to the chiropractor is for some of us like taking a bungie jump. We know the success stories, but the internal voices are like, “Warning. Danger, Will Robinson.” It’s like a dirty little secret——when it turns out you can stand on your head or do a double flip off the high dive, and people are asking how you did it, you can let it out. Until then, you’re scurrying from the car into the old house where his office is, your big floppy hat down to your lips.

This summer my cousin and I took a wonderful retreat up to Yellow Springs, and on our last day we each got a massage. Terrific! Our masseuse was an alternative medicine walking encyclopedia. When we came back we looked up some critiques of her a couple of her recommendations, and Quackwatch pretty thoroughly trounced the cleanse she stands by. Was all her advice crap? She made too much sense and was too good at the massage and reflexology to shut her out completely. We simply had to work our way through what we could accept and what not.

I guess that’s really the heart of it, isn’t it? Not just accepting what we’ve been handed (especially when one side so distrusts the other that you can’t even talk about it without sputtering and eyes rolling). Listening to our bodies——another whole topic.

I never did like playing by Hoyle, at least not religiously. Maybe my next trip will be to the iridologist. But I’m not telling anyone, certainly not in a blog.

Big melons and rice crackers

This is the best summer for fruit and vegetables. Here, for instance, are our melons–actually I took these awhile ago and picked and ate our first one today. Last year you’d cut your foot on the grass if you walked barefoot outside. This year, sun by day, rain by night, making for one heck of a time to stay in to eat. Today I made rice crackers from scratch, thanks to my friend Barbara, who gave me her recipe….but first, the melons:

First, the infant, all fuzzy:

Fuzzy melon babe

Fuzzy melon babe

Then the first-grader:
Little bit older, less fuzz

Little bit older, less fuzz

Here’s one ready for its driving permit:
Getting there...but not ready for pickin

Getting there…but not ready for pickin

Here’s what they look like, hiding in the green. You walk up to your sea of green melon vines decorated with yellow flowers and wonder when the edibles will appear. You bend down and separate a leaf or two, and lo and behold, you’ve got 5 round husky fellas!
How melons hide

How melons hide

What do melons have to do with rice crackers? Today, they have today in common. Ate our first melon (sorry no pictures) and made our first batch of gluten-free rice crackers.

Barbara’s Recipe for Rice Crackers:

Rice Crackers

325 degrees

1. Cook 1 c short brown rice in 3 c. water (or if left-overs, 2 c.)
2. Add 3 T sesame seeds and process thoroughly
3. Add 1 t kelp and ½ t salt and rice flour as needed to knead
Or add 4 T pecan meal and ½ t salt
4. On marble or wood cutting board, form rectangle, pat out and add rice flour or pecan meal to flatten. Use a rolling pin well floured.
5. Cut into squares and put onto greased cookie sheet (not silicone or parchment paper)
6. Bake 25-35 min or until crispy and dry.

Note: before last roll/pat add a favorite seasoning:
• Garlic/herbs
• Chipotle pepper
• Cracked black pepper

Here are the visual enhancements:

Processed raw pecans (I had the 4 T and enough for next time)

Processed raw pecans (I had the 4 T and enough for next time)

Mix it all up with brown rice flower

Mix it all up with brown rice flower

Voila! Bon apetit, Julia Child!

Voila! Bon apetit, Julia Child!

Meditation and the Great Blue Heron

I am spending the weekend with my friend B, who is nearing the end of radiation treatment. She lives on a small farm on a two-mile gravel drive, which they share with a handful of neighbors, each a half mile to a mile away. This morning I woke up early, unable to sleep–presumably due to repetitive worry over things not all that important that I can do nothing about–but now I think perhaps because I was called from sleep to don my sneakers and quietly slip out the door for a morning walk.

It rained last night and all the blades of grass, leaves, petals, edges of bark, spiderwebs, and globes of fruit dangle with droplets of water reflecting and magnifying the lushness around.

Pine trees lit with rain along the driveway.

Pine trees lit with rain along the driveway.

Since I arrived a B’s I have wanted to see a deer and before I headed off on my walk, I had sat with my cup of coffee in silence on the deck waiting for one to show up. Now, crunching down the road, my footsteps declaring “Stay away,” I give up my dreams of large fauna coming to say good morning. The sky is soft gray, and along with bird song is an intermittent but regular sound of raindrops falling. The colors are muted and I try to breathe them in down to my toes.

Yesterday, B asked if I’d been to the pond and I said not in a long time, so I head up the hill thinking that if my shoes get wet, I can always take them off. This is the kind of random thought that’s easy to brush aside.

First sight of the pond in the misty morning.

First sight of the pond in the misty morning.

Now this is just lovely, I think, then see that there are benches in front of me and a small deck with a ladder descending. Further to my left another 100 feet or so, is another sitting area that B’s neighbors have carefully established for . . . well, I suspect for a place both to sit and reflect and to watch the kids swim safely–I deduce this because there’s a water gun tucked into a bit of siding behind where I lower myself. Will I get wet sitting on the wet bench? Brush that aside, too.

I sit for a few minutes then decide to go ahead and try my meditation, thinking what better place to be mindful and to let go all that clutter that kept me awake last night. I close my eyes, breathe slower, feel the air, begin to focus on the bird sounds in the facing woods, separating them. I move to metta, first myself then my dear friend, “May you live free from danger. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease.”

To my right the softest sound of something walking pulls my attention. I half open my eyes, cutting them to the right, just in time to see a Great Blue Heron pass at my side a mere four feet away. With barely a change in my posture, I reach for my camera and press the lens into an opening in the lattice behind me, just in time to capture the great bird walking away.

Great Blue Heron passes me on its way around the pond.

Great Blue Heron passes me on its way around the pond.

I turn around and tears fill my eyes. I can’t breathe. I don’t know what has happened. Is it a sign from god? A gift from the animal world? An answer to the metta prayer? My cousin would say, “It’s Casey, he came to say he loves you.” I don’t know anymore than anyone else what it means when grace wraps us up, only that everything stutters to a stop and for a moment we are left gasping.

Here’s the call of Great Blue Heron:

A little thing, a poem, a cross

It’s a little thing, this cross on a chain that I have worn now for almost four years. A friend of mine said once that of all the people to wear a cross on a chain, I am the last one people who know me would expect. She said this, I think, because she knows I’m not a christian and am suspicious of easy symbols that aren’t grounded in a heartfelt, sincere, “authentic” reality. It’s not that I don’t respect the importance of symbols hanging from rear view mirrors–mine sports a butterfly–or that cheap, store-bought trinkets can’t be beautiful in the context of someone’s personal sacred space–I appreciate and honor anyone’s private use of symbols. I also recognize the beauty and spirituality of public symbols in holy and sacred spaces. A Guadalupe candle, a little Buddha, a rose. (Please no hearts, though, especially ones that are broken.)

This cross on my silver chain does not mean what most crosses on silver chains mean.

My cousin wears a white dove on a silver chain. She’s worn it since her mother died of cancer many years ago, in her loyal care. She says she hasn’t taken it off since. I only take mine off when I’m preparing for a massage, or the doctor says so. For my cousin, the dove is a spiritual symbol, a sign of her belief in the possibility of communication between this physical world and the world beyond. Her mother’s presence always there, against her breastbone.

My cross is more of a medium, like the dove, since it belonged to my son, who wore it for its more expected reasons. He was a spiritually searching person, who was baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church, became a Muslim for a short time, then returned to Christianity. At eighteen he was reading Edith Stein’s Science of the Cross, underlining passages in the Bible, writing poem-prayers.

On retreat at Gethsemani Abbey, age 18

On retreat at Gethsemani Abbey, age 18

I’m reminded of the good-luck pebble that the Lieutenant Cross carried under his tongue, in Tim O’Brien’s great story “The Things They Carried.” It’s a beautiful symbol for his loneliness, I think, which he mistakes as longing for Martha, who has written him though they don’t know each other well. The pebble, carried in that warm place, is both a distraction from the dangers of war and a kind of reminder of their humanity, perhaps even their wish just to be happy.

Some few days or weeks after Casey was shot, we found his cross on the floor of the sun room, where it had come off during the night. I placed it on a red string that had been blessed by the Dalai Lama, and put it around my neck.

Blessed by the Dalai Lama

The cross is cool this morning
as I lean forward and it falls
against my left breast.
I will warm it there
the pretty silver T on a red string
blessed by the Dalai Lama.

We found it where you slept one night
when you must have turned and pulled
the silver chain until it snapped.

I try to see you as you must have looked
the night we lost you,
the moments it took for the bullet to enter
your shoulder and ricochet off your rib
and pierce your lung and heart and lodge against your rib.

Such a great spiritual leader—surely
his blessed string could have entered you,
could have retraced the path of anger
could have threaded its way
back, back, back
and closed the unnecessary hole
could have pulled the metallic smell of absence out.

At the time, the surreal nature of reality led to my imagining the impossible–ways that something so final could perhaps be undone. Now it seems, from the vantage point of nearly four years, that retracing to heal, closing the wound, pulling out some lingering “smell” is still what I think the Dalai Lama or someone like him could do if only . . . Or maybe all this threading is what we’re doing ourselves on this long road towards . . . recovery and recovering our beloved.

What is the smell of absence? Usually it’s more a sound, a booming silence. A smell, they say, is the most lasting of senses, the one tied most closely to memory. What is the smell of this absence, and is it still metallic, the smell of a heated bullet?