A Mystery Which Will Never Happen Again

For J as he goes

The first time I saw him was in the watery black and white sonogram image; there, like a string of pearls was his spine, curled inside the inky blackness that was me.

On a summer day when he was four, he ran across the green grass of the backyard, his brown skin as alive as any animal’s, and there it was again, that spine, so straight, so fluid, and there were no words, only a primal shock of recognition: something that was mine and not mine.

Later he sat upright at the piano, those straight shoulders and his long, deft fingers, so deliberate on the keys. Whatever he was creating was pulling him farther and farther into his own world, someplace only he could hear. It was like watching beauty become itself.

Now, I watch as he cycles away from me, then stops, turns back and waves, then rides on. He moves with this same lithe, fluid strength, not a boy, not a man, but some exquisite creature somewhere in between. That spine, those shoulders.

I can tell myself that I grew every cell of his body inside of my own, but I know that I am lying, and using words to bridge the unbridgeable distance that began to grow and widen the moment his cells began to divide, and divide, and divide, until they became everything that he would need to become himself.

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now all the fingers of this tree(darling)have

and now you are and i am now and we’re
a mystery which will never happen again,
a miracle which has never happened before–
and shining this our now must come to then

by e.e. cummings

 

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God Saw That It Was Good, Not Perfect

A few weeks ago, riding home on the bus, I saw a young Asian man waiting in line at the bus stop. It was the end of the work day and people wanted to get home, which, when you commute from campus to almost anywhere in CU, takes at most 20 minutes. But I suppose there is some degree of pressure around this time of the day.
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The young man was wearing a brace on his leg, as if perhaps he had recently injured himself. And as he moved through the line to get onto the bus, he hopped the entire way on his other leg. Hopped. It made me smile and feel quite sad at the same time, because I thought, “This is what we do, right?” Instead of just accepting that we need to WALK SLOWER, we hop, so as not to inconvenience others around us.
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Psychologically, mentally, emotionally–we choose to hop in the name of normalcy. “Nope, don’t mind me, I’m all good. No problems here!” Crash.
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It’s so hard to accept weakness, imperfection, difference, and whatever mental and physical oddities that separate us from others. But that’s mostly because we believe that they separate us from others. What a dangerous and lonely illusion.
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Last night, I ran into someone I’d been thinking about for days and I’d been wondering how to get in touch with her. Then I turned a corner at Meadowbrook Park and there she was. We started talking, and she started telling me about some of the things she’s been thinking deeply about lately, then she said, “I’m sorry to be so direct. I just feel the need to be direct.” I love people like this, especially since I did something so embarrassingly and disastrously public in the not so distant past, and it’s made me a bit intolerant of pretense. There’s just not enough time for it. We all have so many more important things to do, namely, the work of being ourselves.
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wimanI’m slowly making my way through poet Christian Wiman’s “My Bright Abyss.” It’s not easy reading, but it is tenacious and extraordinary, as is his story. He fell radically and deeply in love, then soon after was diagnosed with incurable cancer. Bill Moyers has done a few lovely interviews with him that I am happy to recommend.
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Below, one of my favorite passages thus far:
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“What you must realize, what you must even come to praise, is the fact that there is no right way that is going to become apparent to you once and for all. The most blinding illumination that strikes and perhaps radically changes your life will be so attenuated and obscured by doubts and dailiness that you may one day come to suspect the truth of that moment at all. The calling that seemed so clear will be lost in echoes of questionings and indecision; the church that seemed to save you will fester with egos, complacencies, banalities; the deepest love of your life will work itself like a thorn in your heart until all you can think about is plucking it out. Wisdom is accepting the truth of this. Courage is persisting with life in spite of it. And faith is finding yourself, in the deepest part of your soul, in the very heart of who you are, moved to praise it” (Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss, 29-30, emphasis in original).
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Faith is coming to praise the fact that there will never be one right way to do anything. Creativity expert Eric Maisel says that consequences are not the same things as mistakes. And R., currently occupying the place of chief angel in my life often says, “Goddamn, just freaking EXHALE, y’all!”
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And finally, Rumi, who I feel certain would strongly discourage hopping in favor of allowing one’s self to simply walk more slowly:
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“There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground, there are a thousand ways to go home again.” – Rumi
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Walk, don’t run. And above all, please don’t hop.
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All love,
Leslie
hands-waiting-300x208

 

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God Is a Street Fighter. With Sharp Elbows.

Poetry, like God, does not dwell in the periphery of life. And like God, poetry is “a street-fighter, with sharp elbows” (David Whyte). Both poetry and a relationship with something greater than yourself demand awareness. And awareness is essential to staying alive.

90WoundednessSo when I ask, “When was God present in your life today?” it is an unsentimental question. I am asking you when you felt the shared woundedness of being alive and the rawness of connection, without which, we don’t have a chance.

Was it when you got into a cab, and the driver, a woman you know, said, “I apologize for being late. I lost my son. I mean, he died. I mean, he was shot and killed. Two weeks ago. And I just, you know, can’t wrap it around my head yet. So just bear with me.” Was it then, when you prayed for something–anything–to come in and fill the space around such a precious, agonizing, searing expression of human experience?

Was it in the persistent kindness of a friend, someone whose insistence on reaching you finally made it through your self-absorption and woke you up, again, to the awareness that our most disastrous fuck-ups and heartbreaking struggles are also the openings that allow us to be on the receiving end of extraordinary kindness?

Was it when you confessed some huge, complicated, emotionally overblown nonsense that had taken up residence in your head, and the friend who was listening looked directly at you and said, “Girl, that is some sick-ass shit you’re doing to yourself. Just stop it.”

wounded heart

When did God show up and make it possible for you to stay here, right here, today, awake and aware? And where do you need help with this? Is it in the phone call to a sick friend you’re afraid to make? Is it in all the small things that, when combined, make your state of mind become a state of mindlessness?

Ask for help. Ask for courage. Ask boldly, as a “child of the king.” Help comes, breathing space into the impossibly tight corners, the frozen lungs. And in your own inhaling and exhaling, you will help someone else remember to breathe.

Enough

Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to the life/
We have refused
Again and again
Until now.

Until now.

by David Whtye

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Extravagant Promises

In what Alcoholics Anonymous folks call “The Big Book (1945),” there is a lovely passage about how life changes in recovery. These changes are referred to by AAs as “the promises.” One of the promises is that “we will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.” You really don’t need to be an alcoholic to get a leg up on this.

Of “the promises,” The Big Book says, “Are these extravagant promises? We think not.” The purpose of this statement is to reassure people in recovery that recovery itself is not extravagant, i.e., not beyond the bounds of reason or of what is deserved. That it is possible.

But recovery is in fact extravagant, in the very best sense of the word. In the same sense that Sacha Scoblic uses the word “lush” to describe her sobriety (her pun very much intended). Any life not deadened by apathy or constrained by fear is lush, luscious, extravagant.

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A Series of Open Windows

Being in early recovery from hard or traumatic things leaves you with a thin skin. The good thing about that is that it makes it easier for the miracles to enter.

1.

I was sitting on a bench last week waiting for a bus and next to me was an older man who, in a superficial sweep of his appearance, I assessed as either homeless or slightly mentally ill.  After exchanging the regular bus stop pleasantries (is the Grey West late again today? Do you think it’s going to rain?), he asked me what I did and I asked him what he did. He told me that he had gotten his GED and was planning to go to our local community college to study real estate.

sunmoonThen he told me that he was waiting for his woman, whom he loved, but she didn’t treat him right. “She’s out running the streets and she has other men in the house when I’m not there. I love her but I don’t think she’s going to change.”  They’d been together four years. I agreed that it wasn’t likely that she would change. He was thinking about ending things with her in December because he didn’t want to start a new year with her. Then he said, “I just don’t think you can love something and hurt it at the same time. That’s like living in daylight and in darkness.”

2.

copyright Daniel Ischenko

copyright Daniel Ischenko

A beautiful young woman spent the last several years drinking 2-3 pints of vodka a day until she realized that she was going to die if she didn’t stop. She also believed that it was possible that she would die if she did stop. Now, 18 months after her last drink, she is so radiant that it’s almost hard to make direct eye contact with her. She works as a gardener, and I believe it’s possible that her own energy causes plants to shoot up right out of the ground. She told me that even when it feels like she is living hand to mouth, her life now feels like “a series of open windows. Even when I see a door closing, the next window is already opening for me.”

3.

I recently had to disclose something about a very bad relationship decision that I made to a lovely, gracious woman who is 30 years older than me. I would have strongly preferred not to discuss this with her but I’m supposed to be honest whenever possible these days, and I really had no choice. As she sat sipping iced tea on my couch, I started in on a somewhat sanitized version of the not healthy relationship decision, then she stopped me with a gentle wave of her hand. “Oh, you don’t have to explain that to me, dear. I made the same mistake with my divorce accountant. And I didn’t even like him.”

People and their stories are the windows that open ahead of me; one small miracle at a time, we remember that we are on our way home, and are in very good company.

An excerpt from the song, “Everything is Holy Now” by Peter Mayer. Listen here. 

When holy water was rare at best
It barely wet my fingertips
But now I have to hold my breath
Like I’m swimming in a sea of it
It used to be a world half there
Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
‘Cause everything is holy now
Everything, everything
Everything is holy now

Read a questioning child’s face
And say it’s not a testament
That’d be very hard to say
See another new morning come
And say it’s not a sacrament
I tell you that it can’t be done

This morning, outside I stood
And saw a little red-winged bird
Shining like a burning bush
Singing like a scripture verse
It made me want to bow my head
I remember when church let out
How things have changed since then
Everything is holy now
It used to be a world half-there
Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
‘Cause everything is holy now

cardinal

 

 

 

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Keeping the Faith

“Recovery” is such a deceptively comforting word.

It is: “the regaining of or possibility of regaining something lost or taken away.

It is also: “the restoration or return to any former or better state or condition.

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Recovery is where you go after the trauma has occurred.

But it’s not always clear what happens when you get there.

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Someone once said that we are all in recovery from something.

The poet Wendell Berry wrote that we turn towards our addictions, whatever they may be, because we have lost one another.

But we also turn towards addictions because we have lost ourselves. And the only way to recover is in the company of others.

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To recover in the company of others requires tremendous compassion for brokenness because the secret no one tells you, the paradox you have to learn on your own is this: no one is coming to rescue you, everyone is broken, no one has the answers, no one really ever gets it right, and it is only by sharing your deepest vulnerabilities and accepting those of others will you ever become stronger. Your brokenness joined with theirs; that’s what gets you both closer to home.

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Recovery is not about returning to a former state of grace or wholeness. It is the possibility of growing into something completely new, which is equal parts terror and exhilaration. Recovery is not about going back to get something you lost. It is going forward to find that which has thus far eluded you–the ability to live as a human being among other human beings.

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glassheartThe wreckage of your life may never become whole. But when you pick up one of your broken pieces and offer it to someone else who is missing just that piece, it will become beautiful. And it will move both of you forward towards healing.

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You will recover if you tell people who love you about your most regrettable acts, and they tell you about theirs. You will recover when you let the love in their eyes, their hands, or simply their presence, their breath, penetrate the deepest part of you so you know, really know, that you are not alone, that you are good enough. And good enough is good enough.

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From Rumi:

I’ve broken through to longing
Now, filled with a grief I have
Felt before, but never like this.
The center leads to love.
Soul opens the creation core.
Hold on to your particular pain.
That too can take you to God.

nest

Growth can happen anywhere

 

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Never Again and Forever After

Twelve days ago, on Good Friday, my life fell spectacularly, publicly, heartbreakingly apart. After all of these past months of struggle, fighting and turmoil, everything in me gave up. I caused a terrible car accident in which, by the grace of God no one was hurt. But the aftermath, the wreckage has been incalculable.

brokenI ended up in the ER tonight because I have not been able to eat or drink anything for twelve days, despite the significant steps I’ve taken to start to rebuild whatever my new life will look like. My body just told me that it was simply not going to continue this way and it didn’t.

At the hospital, they were perfunctorily kind, suggesting that I perhaps try relaxation exercises, and brought in a very nice young man who asked me if I was considering harming myself. Since I believe that my life, and more importantly, my reactions to my life, to years of  deep misery had already done enough harm, I said “No.”

So they gave me some fluids, checked my blood work, watched as I shook, vomited up the water I couldn’t keep down, and then eventually sent me home. Lying there waiting to leave, I alternated between being terrified that this was actually what it looked and felt like when someone was truly cracking up, and then offering exactly what I was in those moments to God.

I thought that I had surrendered to God, but then I remembered that last night, my prayer was not to surrender but to want to want to surrender. I believed I had done this, but I hadn’t, until tonight. I surrendered because I had no choice, and a deep sense of giving in and giving up came over me.

Not of giving up my life, but giving up, entirely and completely, the struggle.  In that moment, in repeating to myself, over and over, “I’m done. I’m done,” I knew that I wasn’t done with my life. I was done with the misery of a life I’ve been living for such a long, long time. A river began to flow through me.

On the way home, I made a fierce commitment and that is this: “I will fight as hard as it takes for as long as it takes to recover.” Recovery of body, mind and spirit. That I never again want to live a life of relentless, undignified, useless suffering. And that no one and nothing was going to take anything else away from me. Or rather, that I was not going to let myself give any part of myself away. That I would fight for the life that God means for me to live, no matter what.

If you are struggling, remember this: Blessed be the warriors who are given the privilege of following this path, blessed be the suffering that leads us somewhere, especially somewhere bigger, greater and more meaningful. Blessed be.

See below, from Anne Frank, “As long as this exists…”


As long as this exists…

Anne Frank

“‘As long as this exists,’ I thought, ‘and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts, I cannot be unhappy.’ The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be.”

Love always,

Leslie

stripped

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