More on Alligators and Unwilling Self-Exposure

One thing most women of a certain age know is that the search for a bathing suit requires extensive online research (going to an actual shopping establishment is torturous and laughable), along with a potential bank loan to finance the cost of the suit. You have to pay for coverage, slimming and enhancement, and no price is too high, especially as a bathing suit is something you will be forced to wear during the warm months.

alligator1A year or two ago, when I knew I had to deal head-on with the burdensome and unavoidable weight problems caused by my anti-nervous-breakdown pills, I suffered through the purchase of two bathing suits. To be honest they were more like bathing costumes, and that was just fine with me. They cost approximately $8,000 each. When I went down to visit my parents in FL last month, I knew I’d need the bathing suits because my son would want to go in the water and I would, against all my desperate longings, have to accompany him.

I forgot the suits at home. Mostly because I packed at 4:00 in the morning on the day of the flight, and my head wasn’t quite right. But I arrived in Naples with a dilemma. I needed a suit, but was highly unwilling to pay the exorbitant fee one involves, nor could I face the trying-on process.  So my mother, who accused me of forgetting my bathing suits at home on purpose, which was ridiculous because they are worth more to me than gold, frog-marched me into Wal-Mart with the sole purpose of acquiring a bathing garment, along with, I desperately hoped, a large cover-up.

The first cover-up I found met with maternal disapproval: “That looks like a shroud!” “Perfect,” I thought, and tossed it into the cart. As far as the bathing garments…suffice to say that when you are looking for something well-cut and flattering, Wal-Mart is the last place you should even consider going. Unless you are a 16 year-old size 2, it’s best to interpret the old person’s greeting at the door as, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

I found a cheap and on the edge of just-possibly-not-utterly-horrific bathing article, and we left the store with these hateful garments and a ton of sunscreen.

When it was time to go to the water park, I lathered Gabe up and then retired to the bathroom to squeeze, yank and shove myself into the horrible bathing garment. I immediately covered myself with a floor-length dress, which my mother promptly forced me to abandon for the shroudish cover-up. And then, in the car, the final humiliation came.

I was wearing sunblock, but as I had not been exposed to sunlight for six Midwestern winter months, I was looking forward to “getting some sun.” “You need a hat, ” my parents said. “The sun is very strong, you need something to keep the sun off your head and face.”

“Absolutely not,” was my first thought, as I have a number of gorgeous and exotic beach hats at home. I could see nothing like them within reach. But no sooner could I turn around when a white GOLF visor was being shoved on my head. A golf visor. A white one. Not even black. I felt like a land manatee in a bad disguise.

When we got to the water park, I had to shed my outer garments because I needed to actually go in the water with Gabe. But it was actually quite fun, the playfulness, the pleasure he was experiencing. However, out of the corner of my eye I was stealthily watching my father, who seemed inclined to want to capture these moments on film, and I knew without question that if I saw him even reach for his iPhone, I would slap it out of his hand in a heartbeat, right into the 4-foot deep kiddie pool.

alligator2There were no alligators at the water park, but their repulsive, fearless presence from the day before haunted me. People down there say, “They are more afraid of you then you are of them. No. No, they are not. (click to watch).

Now, the thing about alligators is that they give occasion to experience a deep, primal fear. Alligators can and will come after you. The bad thoughts in your head about the size of your stomach or thighs will come after you too. But they don’t have to kill you. The time that I spent in the water with Gabe made me feel light and free and playful. My body felt like my body again.

Alligators are a constant reminder of the predatory nature of depression and desperate, panic-ridden thinking. It’s said in research literature about self-development, fear, and growth, that the worst decisions we can make come from the “reptilian” part of our brains. That is our basest level, the one most preoccupied with self-preservation. The poet John Donne said that “When a man is wrapped up in himself he makes a pretty small package.”

My parents, who are tremendously great sports, got in the water also, especially my Dad who took Gabe down the waterslide tons of times. We all went on the lazy river, which was very relaxing, except for the weird 20 year olds with multiple tattoos whose tubes kept bumping into mine. (One of my major problems with public pools is that you are practically naked at very close proximity to total strangers and this is not okay with  me.)

Dad1I had been feeling quite down earlier in the day. Having to “be on,” i.e. go to a water park dressed as an entirely unfamiliar version of myself seemed almost beyond my comprehension and my psychological capacities. But it turned out fine. Seeing Gabe smile and play, and feeling the love and effort of my parents was a type of buoyancy. As I said, my dad went down the water slide over and over with Gabe while I stood on and watched with pleasure and gratitude (and fear of the trips to the chiropractor if I myself went down.)

If love alone could cure any of life’s problems, I would be running marathons and writing novels. But swimming in the kiddie pool with my son was a triumph of love and fortitude that was made possible by the steadfast presence of my parents.

As hard as it can be to even, as Andrew Solomon, author of Depression: the Noonday Demon, says, to take the concept of other peoples’ suffering on board when one is in its depths, I truly believe that is the only way out. Being aware that there is pain in the world, and that our own suffering gives us something to offer back to others in the “same boat” (or the same inner tube) is what helps us pull each other out. It brings us back to life.Gabepool

 

 

 

The Green Alligator
By Sidi J. Mahtrow

There’s a green alligator.
Lying on the bank out of the water,
His (or her) hide, a bilious green
And as it dries has a certain sheen.

Some would say that’s most un-natural
But I reply that’s colors, factual.
Brought about by being in a water that’s
Filled with chlorophyll bearing plants
And as the gator swims along,
He can’t help but being tagged upon
By those single celled organisms that live there
In the primordial soup we all share.

‘Haps, this is his way
Of disguise from his prey,
But I prefer to believe
He’d much rather have a reprieve
From the pollution
In his watery bouillon
That coats everything large and small
From snout to tail and all.

But as he sleeps along the shore,
Covered by this slime and more,
I wonder if evolution will raise her head
And make all alligators green instead.
Then no one will notice this one apart
From others with the same colorant.

Regardless, it’s best to avoid the alligator, green
Lurking there, grey-black, or some shade in between.
He knows not why you’re there,
But for him, maybe you’ll become the daily fare.

One agator, Two agator, Three
Green alligators neath the tree,

Slipping, sliding, slopping,
Never stopping,
Green gators neath the tree.

Mouth open, teeth, a showing,
Just a grinnin
Green gators neath the tree.

Hides a glowing green
Doesn’t seem so mean,
Green gators neath the tree.

Into the water he’s a slippin
Just a dippin
One green gator’s not neath the tree.

Silent swimmin, easy going
Eyes and nose only showing
Green gator’s gettin close to me.

One agator, Two agator, Three
He’s after m….

Welcome to Florida!

Sidi J. Mahtrow

 

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Filed under depression, family life, happiness, humor

Time to Come Back

Hello and a joyful spring to any and all who still have even a thread of interest in this blog. I’ve been gone for a long, long time, but think of you often. I hope you will forgive the absence.

http://www.forestwander.comIs it spring where you are? Maple trees are budding here, crocuses and daffodils are blooming and I saw my first real dogwood yesterday, making a sparse but valiant showing.

If you listen to pop radio, you may be hearing Kelly Clarkson’s, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” and even if you don’t listen to pop radio, you know the expression “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” This is a good song to work out to; it is not, on any level, a good belief to live by.

Something that can kill you but doesn’t actually makes you weaker. A broken bone is weaker even after the regrowth; past injuries leave scar tissue and must be treated tenderly so as not to reopen or reaggravate wounds. Catastrophic illness makes you more susceptible to infection. Deep psychological pain, even though it can be and is survivable, does not ever truly leave your psyche. You are not made stronger.

This is good news.

Weakness terrifies all of us, but it is, without question what makes us most human, more tender, more vulnerable. My friend Ann says (I’m paraphrasing), “You’ve joined the club. It’s a weird club.”

My friend Mary tells me, after visiting a dying friend, “There is so much pain in the world. The most we have is leaning on each other.”

Mary’s heart is so open that when I am with her sometimes I feel like I am standing in it. Her tolerance for other people’s pain is a tangible, living thing.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey flanked by illiterate fisherman. He was not stronger than thepalms army of soldiers who greeted him. I’m struck again and again at how the language of the Gospels is filled with words like “passion,” “desire,” and “longing.” When do we lose this connection (if in fact we do lose it?) When do we forget that the ache, the suffering, the longing for respite in the face of tremendous suffering…the blood and body passion for life is everything that brings us closer to others, to God?

This is not original thinking; none of this is. But today I am having lunch with two dear friends, one who has survived colon cancer, and is now celebrating her last round of chemo for pancreatic cancer, and another who is living with the constant sorrow of losing her brother. And we will be laughing, joyful. Whatever pain each of us is carrying will be shared, even for a moment, even if we don’t talk about any of it. We don’t have to. We’re in the club.

Carrie Newcomer sings about living a “permeable life.”  Go and listen to her remind you that “there is room at the table for everyone.” Or perhaps read some Parker Palmer, especially the poignant and lovely, “Let Your Life Speak.”

Or maybe, best of all, go and find yourself one of those people in your life who’s part of your tribe. One of the weirdos who makes you feel less alone on the planet. Preferably someone who really makes you laugh. I’ve been making myself walk as often as I can lately (venturing outdoors, especially to do physical activity is an effort at the best of times, but it is a sacrilege to admit that because it is spring and one is supposed to love venturing outdoors.) But because we here in the Midwest haven’t seen the sun for about 6 months, and because I know I will feel hugely better if I walk, I do it.

And many people are coming out of their homes, blinking at the sunlight as if released from cave dwellings. I enjoy seeing this. As I was walking last week, an elderly woman on an enormous elderly person’s bike with huge tires rode past me, very slowly. She was smiling. She gave me a little first pump as she drifted by. “Good weather!” she shouted, in her elderly lady voice.

It made me happy that our paths crossed, so to speak, at that moment. But earlier in the day, something made me laugh, really hard. I’d recently been visiting my parents in Naples, FL, and they took my 8-year old son and me to the Everglades. I hate the Everglades. I hate strong sun and humidity. I hate tourists. I hate snakes, especially 20-foot pythons, and no, I do not wish to feel the python skin on display during the python naturalist talk. I hate alligators and alligators are everywhere in the Everglades, as bold and ugly as can be. People talk to them like they are cute little pets. They are not.

As I was recounting being in the Everglades to an acquaintance (by recounting I mean to say telling him that he should never, ever go to the Everglades because it is ugly and dangerous), he said, “Well, to me the whole point of becoming educated was so that I wouldn’t have to go outside.”

In that moment, I had met a member of my tribe. I laughed all day. It was breath. It was life. It was spring.

With much love and gratitude,

LC

To a Snake (by Jeffrey Harrison)

I knew you were not poisonous
when I saw you in the side garden;
even your name—milk snake—
sounds harmless, and yet your pattern
of copper splotches outlined in black
frightened me, and the way you were
curled in loops; and it offended me
that you were so close to the house
and clearly living underneath it
if not inside, in the cellar, where I
have found your torn shed skins.

You must have been frightened too
when I caught you in the webbing
of the lacrosse stick and flung you
into the woods, where you landed
dangling from a vine-covered branch,
shamelessly twisted. Now I
am the one who is ashamed, unable
to untangle my feelings,
braided into my DNA or buried
deep in the part of my brain
that is most like yours.

“To a Snake” by Jeffrey Harrison, from Into Daylight. © Tupelo Press, 2014

 alligators

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Filed under belonging, hope, lent, spirituality

An Imperfect Concord

“Somebody could walk into this room and say ‘your life is on fire. It’s all over the evening news, all about the fire in your life on the evening news…’” (Paul Simon, “Crazy Love, Vol. II”)

Words are like maps. You unfold them and they can take you to unexpected, delightful places. The word “imperfect,” for example, has etymological roots in areas ranging from law to botany to music. In music, one of the definitions of “imperfect” is: “a cadence ending on some chord other than the direct chord of the tonic, usually that of the dominant, and having the effect of a partial close or stop” (Oxford English Dictionary). I have no idea what this means, so I asked someone who does, and he told me to think of it as the combining of notes that are dissonant or inharmonious. “Is it a mistake or can it happen on purpose?” I asked. He sort of laughed and said, “It depends what effect you’re trying to have.”

The sound of a police siren or fire engine, especially the ones you hear in European cities (click to hear one) is an example of this kind of deliberate dissonance. It’s loud, irritating and disruptive, and it’s that way on purpose; its intent is to get your attention. Somewhere there is a problem, someone is in trouble, someone needs help. It might even be you. It might be your life that’s on fire.

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Pieced Together: The Strength of the Imperfect: An Invitation to Advent 2013

Welcome to Advent 2013 at From the Heart. This season I’m contemplating imperfection, and you are invited to join me. A very lucky fortunate thing happened to me a few weeks ago: I had an important dream, a guidepost dream, one of those dreams that feels like a visit with the force that knows what your life is meant to be about. I dreamt of broken things–boxes filled with cracked porcelain and shards of blue-green glass, rooms of strange pieces of furniture that didn’t belong together but were somehow beautiful, and people I know who are messy and flawed but authentic and deeply human.

The phrase that kept repeating itself throughout the dream was “pieced together,” and I dragged it with me through that time between sleeping and waking like a fish flailing and heavy on the line. Fully awake, I felt like someone collapsing on the shore with a kind of hard-earned sustenance in my arms.

“Pieced together” is what my life looks like right now–broken, scary, confusing, and somehow powerfully real. Perhaps the most powerful part is seeing more clearly how many of us live just this way–with jagged pieces of our lives that don’t fit together, that don’t make sense, that hurt, and yet must be held and carried right alongside the pieces that are smooth and whole.

okayMaybe it’s illness, or loss, pain, grief, fear–whatever we didn’t ask for but arrived anyway and can’t be shaken off. What I hope for this Advent is to believe that there is treasure in a pieced together, imperfect life, and to figure out how to find and share it. I hope you’ll be here with me.

Below, a lovely poem that recently appeared on the Writer’s Almanac, a hymn to Mary by, surprisingly, Edgar Allan Poe. Note the hopefulness in the request that Mary be present in both bright and dark times, and let it remind us that there is tremendous power in the humble act of asking for what we need.

Hymn

At morn—at noon—at twilight dim—
Maria! thou hast heard my hymn!
In joy and wo—in good and ill—
Mother of God, be with me still!
When the Hours flew brightly by,
And not a cloud obscured the sky,
My soul, lest it should truant be,
Thy grace did guide to thine and thee;
Now, when storms of Fate o’ercast
Darkly my Present and my Past,
Let my Future radiant shine
“With sweet hopes of thee and thine!

Edgar Allan Poe

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Nobody Was Meant to Do This Alone

So many hard things have been happening around me lately, some in my own life, some in others’, and then awful traumas like the Boston Marathon explosions. Several of my friends were there, luckily all are safe.

At work, one of my colleagues recently lost her young daughter to diabetes. Another friend just told me this story last week–one of her friends was in the McDonald’s drive through and she happened to look back and notice that the young woman behind her had her head down on the steering wheel and was crying. My friend’s friend paid for the young woman’s meals, just as small act of kindness. Well, the young woman followed her and asked why she had helped in such a way. As the two women were talking, the young mother started crying and confessed that she was in such distress, and suffering so much emotionally, that she had planned to bring the Happy Meals home to her young kids, go up to her bedroom and kill herself.

After talking more, the friend convinced to please get some help, and to even allow her to come over and help her get herself together and at least provide some respite for her and the kids.

Yes, this is a really bleak story. But one with a thankfully positive ending. And yes, things like this are happening around us, as we drive to work, as we sit in the next office to someone, as we say “thank you” to the check-out person at the grocery store.

When I saw my colleague who lost her daughter, it happened to be in the grocery store, and we just held each other for a few minutes. “You were such a good mother to her,” I said. “I still can believe she’s gone,” she said. And we both agreed that it is only the support of other people that gets us through times that hurt more than we could have ever imagined.

Please consider doing something kind for someone today, if you don’t do that type of thing already. It helps them but it helps you too, because it reminds you that you have that capacity to step outside of yourself, even if just for a moment. Be kind. Thank God.

My new Writing Coach blog is now at this address: http://leslieannecrowley.wordpress.com. I posted a new poem yesterday!

From John Wesley (June 17, 1703March 2, 1791), an 18th-century Anglican clergyman and
Christian theologian:

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all
the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all
the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
hands

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Filed under kindness

Just in Case You’re in Vienna, Maine…

My dear friend Colleen Crowley has been lending me her wonderful cabin here in Vienna, Maine while I get ready for what my new life is going to look like and it’s fabulous! No electricity or running water, but HUGE windows, the comfiest bed with flannel sheets and a down comforter, and a Coleman stove. Okay, and I have to tell you about the composting toilet. It is the coolest thing ever, doesn’t smell a bit, and uses NO water. Everyone should have one. Really.

I’ve fallen in love with candles and all of the (Virgin) Mary artwork that Colleen has all over the cabin. I want this print  called “The Annunciation” by Henry Ossawa Tanner SO MUCH. I look at it every morning and at the other lovely Mary images and artifacts that imbue this exquisite little place.The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

I’ll have more pictures to share when I return, but just wanted to say that in return for Colleen’s kindness in letting me stay in her cabin, I will be doing a free writing workshop at the Dr. Shaw Library in Vienna, Maine this Sunday, March 24 from 3:30-5:30 so if you’re in the area, come on by. The librarians are super nice and the theme is going to be Self-Compassion. Mostly though, we’re just going to talk about writing, journaling, poetry, and how amazing it all is.

Love to all of you, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of the kind wishes. They mean the world and more. I love you all too.

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The Endless Surprise of Kindnesses

For my exquisitely kind family and friends

Perhaps this is true of all poems–perhaps when you read a truly brilliant poem you realize that you didn’t truly get it before. Or, more likely, good poems are like life–they reveal more the more that you experience. After all, it was Freud who said, “Wherever I have been, a poet has been there before me.”

I’ve used this poem–”Kindness”– by Naomi Shihab Nye before, but I understand it so differently now. Perhaps it’s a gift of compassion to myself that, instead of feeling stupid and thinking, “How could I not really get it before?” I let myself experience it more fully. For I believe with all my heart that poetry gives you all that the human heart and psyche can truly give, and the more open you are, the more you can take it. Sometimes, when that openness comes from being broken apart, love and light have more room to enter.

The truth is, I didn’t know until recently what the first lines of this poem really meant: “Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth.”  I had no idea what she was talking about. People who’ve lost loved ones surely did; not me. I do now.

But I also didn’t know what the poet meant by her closing lines:

“Then it is only kindness
that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.”

But I do now. I do now. Thank you to everyone who has been so kind to me in the past few weeks.

Below is the full poem. With a heart full of gratitude.


Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the
Indian in a white poncho lies dead
by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night
with plans and the simple breath
that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness
as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow
as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness
that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day
to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Naomi Shihab Nye

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Filed under gratitude, poetry