41. Who We Are

October 29, 2018

It’s Monday. I begin again. First waking thought: I’m grateful for my life, grateful to be who I am.

And next, thoughts about how we are all, each in our individual lives, like a cell, with a “permeable membrane” as my physiology book says. A part of, but never apart from, the body. Each of us a conscious cell in the body of a conscious universe. And now, some of the most brilliant minds of our world have told us that there actually exist other bodies — other universes.

I think of us, each a conscious being, and yet how different. Like the cells of the body, each has a specific function and purpose for being. I have said we all come here to this mortal life both to teach and to learn, whether knowingly or unaware.

Myself, I have often blundered and stumbled, but mostly moved innocently and trustingly along. There have been some dark and painful times. When I came through them to the other side, I found that I was stronger and wiser because of them. There have been many times too, when I danced and laughed and loved, beautiful and young. In this lifetime, I think I  may have been too much alone, and yet I scattered my love anyway, like wildflower seeds, all along the way. As a child I rejoiced, running through the rain.  As an adult, spiritually, I still do.

One of my sisters (the family saint) has lived her whole life like a child, not consciously aware. But she is good and kind and happy. Ignorance can indeed be blessed. She lives in a tiny town, active in church and community. She is a simple flower in a small protected garden, never exposed to very much life. She is a daisy who believes she is a rose, and so she is proud and satisfied. Believing is the master key, and it’s the capacity that most shapes our physical life and experiences. Whether the belief is false or true, it becomes our truth, and our perceived reality. Our lives play out from these core-beliefs, most of them learned in the first 5 years of life.

My brother never knew who he was, and now never will. Not like anyone else in the family, he has always been unsatisfied, believing that life and people owed him much more than he got, and no matter how much life gives, personalities like his are never satisfied or truly happy. My brother spent his whole life, since the moment of his birth, supported and sustained by women even though he could not love them, nor his children, nor anyone. Always a parasite, always a clever manipulator, a bully, a controller, and perhaps unknowingly, a predator. Maybe he learned this as a primary life-lesson when he was a small child, but I wonder now if it went deeper than that. Maybe even a life-role decided by his soul before birth. If so, I am so grateful that my soul did not choose that life.

Our birthmother– my book is a hymn of compassion for her. Life was not kind to her, and she deserved better. I never really knew her and she never knew me, and it seems like her purpose in my life was to give me a physical portal into this world, and my first great wound, of unwantedness. There was no conscious decision on her part, no chosen intention to do either of these things.

And Mother, my rescuing Angel, who did not give birth to me, but gave me life. She was always meant to be my mother, and truly was, and is, and evermore shall be. I am so grateful for this immense life-gift of grace, my loving mother. My heart aches with joy at the thought of it, the remembrance of her love, and the certainty that it still goes on even now.

My Dad, a good man, beautiful both in body and soul. Always a private person, nobody knew him well, except Mother. Her love brought him out of his inner solitude into a new openness and expression of himself to all of us who loved him.

I could name, if I chose to, all the people who came and went through my “permeable membrane” of existence here. That would be too many books to write in this brief lifetime. Besides, all that they taught me, all that they gave me, is absorbed and assimilated into my Being now, some of it consciously, and some only into silent spirit.

Oh Life, what a magnificent mystery you are. with infinite numbers of stories. Some are beautiful and some are tragically not, and only Life itself, the Author, knows their full meaning.

40. The Darkness / Let It Be

July 26, 2018

After most of a lifetime of trying to be better than I am, stronger than I am, and refusing to ever admit defeat, at least not out loud, I finally got smart enough to say “enough!” And I learned to let myself cycle through the emotions that come, including the ones I don’t want, the ones that hurt, and the ugly ones that are unworthy of the person I want to be, who I know is the greater truth of me.

In the years of my life, sorrow, rightful resentment, anger, even hate, have taken hold of me more times that I dared to admit, and cramming them down into the dark bottom of my mind did not extinguish the feelings. Instead, it gave them the perfect environment to wretchedly squirm and fester in. That did not feel good, and it did not heal them.

After decades of doing battle with unwanted and unworthy emotions, I have finally come to the acceptance of the reality of my human state: I am imperfect. Huge parts of me have been wasted on battling the truth: I am only a traveler here, unwise but teachable, and we have all come here to learn.

I am abundantly flawed with attributes I wish I didn’t have, which provide me with learning opportunities to become less of what I don’t want to be, and more of what I know I can become.

The truest and best parts of me, and you, have never been sullied or changed by the upstart flashes of the worst parts. When I remind myself of this, it sets my feet on solid ground, and I can accept that in this moment’s storm of emotions of whatever kind, I am not stuck and God has not abandoned me. I can and will ride it out, and I will return again to the essence of me that is really who and what I want to be.

When I deeply need to rage for a while, I let myself. But I give myself a private rant, pity-party, or whichever is needed, and set a specific time limit (10 minutes, 24 hours, etc. as appropriate). Then when it’s done, I forgive myself for it, I re-set, re-boot, and start over.

Knowing that I will be stronger and kinder the next time, I begin again, but I make myself do it without holding onto any residue of shame or guilt. Forgiveness releases me and everyone else involved from the trap of whatever it was. The ugliness has vented itself and dissolved into the nothingness from which it came. It was a temporary flash of something that is not true of who and what I am at the depth of me, where the world may not see.

Each time I surrender to my sorrow, or my rage, or my resentment, or my self-pity, I might dissolve in tears for a while. I let myself. When my little drama of spirit, my dark night or dark moment of the soul has expressed itself and passed on, I comfort myself. I forgive myself and release all feelings of shame or weakness for these eruptions, the kind that I used to judge and punish myself for.

In my secret heart I accept, forgive, and pledge to love this part of me, even with its imperfections, just as I would forgive and love the little child within me who never really meant any harm, but just didn’t know any better, and has not learned everything yet.

With every honest acceptance, repentance, and forgiveness I give myself, it gets easier to love the person I honestly am, and the miracle of this is that I am enabled, almost effortlessly, to be kinder, more respectful, and more forgiving to almost every other soul-expression and mortal being that I meet along the journey of my days.

This does feel good. It does feel happy and stress-free, the polar opposite from those suppressed emotions I squashed down inside myself before. Now when those feelings come, I know how to handle them and they do not handle me. I acknowledge their realness and validity, and I accept that this is expressing in me, and I forgive myself for feeling what I feel.

I go to my private place where I can let the feelings come, I let them come, and then I let them go. They cannot stay, as long as I don’t give hidden harbor to them. I have learned now, that I can purge them. And so, for a little while, with a reasonable time limit, I can let myself rage. I can let myself cry. When that’s done, I get up feeling a lot lighter, and surprisingly clean and refreshed. And when I go on about the business of my life, sure enough, I do better.

39. Snapshot: Three Women

June 12, 2018

There’s a little photograph I keep on my refrigerator door that has three women it, sitting in a porch swing on the plain unadorned wooden porch of a farmhouse, somewhere in rural Illinois. The women pose with proper grace, smiling for the Kodak camera, with their hands folded neatly in their laps.

The house is quite small, made of clapboard neatly painted white. It’s summer, and emerald green fields of corn stretch out behind the house and seem to go on forever, all the way to the horizon. At the front of the house, two windows face the road, plain and functional, and there are no curtains. The porch shade is more than enough from the midday sun, and there are no neighbors near enough to look in.

It’s Sunday after church, and the women are my mother and my two sisters. They have traveled all the way from Dallas Texas to Bloomington Illinois for Mother’s 50th high school reunion. This house is a place Mother lived a long time ago as a child, and the current residents have welcomed her to the old homestead and invited all of them to stay for dinner.

In this small snapshot I can see through time, to past generations of strong farm women, practical, hard-working and generous. I love this little picture for its sweetness, its honesty and simplicity. Mother has left us now, gone from this earth to a higher calling. Both of my sisters still live in Texas, and both have grown children now. My own path has taken me from Texas to the East Coast, to the Midwest, and finally to the West Coast of Northern California where I call home, a long long way from Illinois.

I take the picture down from its magnet on the fridge door and hold it in my hand for a moment. I hold these women in my heart forever.

38. Grace, The Gift Unasked For

May 29, 2018

Sometimes we’re given an unexpected unearned unasked-for gift that is God’s Grace. For me, more than once it has come in the darkest hour, to rescue me when I could not help myself. Sometimes I’ve been blessed by Grace thru unknowing angels. Like the cold bright almost-spring day in Minneapolis when a young couple, strangers, passed me on the sidewalk They were striding along with their arms around each other’s waist, obviously in love. It was a time when my life was broken. I was just-divorced, lost and confused, and the loneliest I had ever been in my life. The hopes I’d had for that love, and for the career I had sacrificed for it, both now were nothing but cold ashes.

As the two young people swung along down the city sidewalk, they  both glanced at me at the same moment, and smiled. Their small gift lifted my heart profoundly, and that moment completely transcended the deep sorrow I was carrying.

My heart lifted like a small sparrow into flight, just for that moment, and I was changed. Somehow, I knew that life had not forsaken me entirely. There would be another day for me, and although I can’t say how, I felt it to the marrow of my bones.

They had no way of knowing it, but they had lifted me out of my deep sense of hopelessness with this simple openhearted act of spontaneously sharing with me, just for a moment in time, the love they felt for each other.

In the recession of the 1980s, I went through a time when my life was financially, physically, and spiritually at rock-bottom. I was on my own, out of work or working temporary part-time jobs, struggling just to survive. I lived on oatmeal, boiled cabbage, and brown rice, I was in danger of losing my apartment for overdue rent, and I wore my coat indoors because the cost of heat was a luxury I simply could not afford. I had been desperate for more than a year and I felt helpless, alone, and devastated. I couldn’t see any way out, no matter how hard I tried.

Tears stung my face as I walked home from the bus stop on a bitter-cold November day, after applying for another job that I knew I would not get. It would have been a steady job in a doctor’s office, a new field, a new start – too good to be true, but I didn’t have any experience. I was thinking about my life, and about Life “with a capital L” and I was unable to hide the tears of hopelessness tracking down my face. A car drove by. I glanced up and saw its bumper sticker that said “Expect Miracles.”

There are lots of those bumper stickers around now, but at the time, I had never seen that phrase before. It struck me like a bolt of lightning, and in an instant I knew that this simple message was intended for me, exactly at this moment in time, when I needed it most. It was not “by chance” and somehow I knew it. I was already at the bottom of my hope, and I just let go of it all. I felt a strange moment of peace, and a sense of release. I decided  to trust God for whatever came. A few days later, I did get that job, I began a new career, and my life would never be the same.

Coincidence? The book “A Course in Miracles” says “There are no accidents, and no coincidences.”  I had been given a little glimmer of Grace, through a stranger who never even saw me. He never knew that a mundane thing like his license plate had been used by God to bless someone crying in the dark, and to promise a beginning that would change my life.

Grace is the gift unasked for, and even undared to hope for. Grace is the often undeserved, but deeply needed and longed-for reprieve. Grace is the unexplainable moving of God to bless us in spite of ourselves. Grace is when God cheats a little, to help us pass the test, lifts us out of the quicksand we have blundered into, and sets us on a higher ground where we can have a better place to begin again.

37. Query Letters and Cowboy Boots

May 7, 2018

As I write my book, I’m putting together the necessary query letter for potential agents and publishers– the first level of approach and sales-pitch to get published. I scribble bits of ideas that come to me at odd times. Today sitting in my little neighborhood church in Oakland, I was not thinking about the book and certainly not the query letter, when a new segment of “my readership” suggested itself: gay men. And everyone else who has a sensibility that’s gentle and vulnerable, who probably has had to be on guard for most of their lives, even ashamed, lest that gentleness at their center might be found out, rejected, shamed, or abused.

Though this will likely be catalogued as a “women’s” book,  the fact of the matter is, all of us struggle to fit Who We Are  into What The World Expects and usually demands from us. That’s one of the themes of the book, and truth be told, we all spend most of our lives trying to understand who we are, and then find the courage to dare to be that. The hardest obstacles are the deeply-embedded untruths we were taught about ourselves when we were children, either by people who should have loved us but didn’t, or more often by people who did, but lied because they loved us, and thought they were protecting us from life.

My book is about a skinny little girl who runs through the neighborhoods and climbs trees and loves horses and fire engines. She gets repeatedly told by the big people “You can’t do that, you can’t have that, you can’t BE that” (almost all of the things she loves) because you’re a girl. And what’s worse, there is the powerful unspoken mandate: “You shouldn’t want those things.” 

“Who says?!” She demands, to no avail. Again and again she asks, “Why not?” and gets no reasonable answer. “Those things are for boys,” they say. What she hears clearly is: What you want and who you are is not okay.

It’s a big fat lie, and somewhere in every child’s heart we know this, but what can we do? We’re just a kid. Some of the same lies are passed along for generations.

When we’re young and vulnerable and trusting, just-learning about what life’s supposed to be, most of us get informed, either by words or actions, “You shouldn’t be who you are, you should be something else.” Or something better, smarter, prettier stronger, whatever. If you’re a boy, you’ve got to like guns and baseball, not art or music or poetry. If you’re a girl, you must like dolls and dresses and tea-sets, not mud and horses and fire engines.

I remember with crystal clarity the day my brother got cowboy boots. Daddy brought them home for him one day. I was crazy about horses, boots and spurs, and cowboy stuff, so I got all excited and asked, “Ooooh! Do I get some cowboy boots too?” My parents laughed and said, “Oh no honey, cowboy boots are for boys. You can have some pretty ballet slippers…”

I think I was three years old. “Ballet slippers?! WHO wants THAT?!” I begged for cowboy boots too. It didn’t do any good. Even now I can still feel the ache and sting of being so terribly wronged and cheated. I pleaded in my own defense, “I couldn’t help it I was born a girl! I didn’t get to choose.!”

I became a closet-tomboy, sneaking out to climb trees and roofs and fire-escapes and run around the city imagining myself as a fast beautiful racehorse. Eventually I grew up and turned out straight, which made things easier in Texas in the 1950’s. Had I been born gay, everything would have been much harder. I learned to “act like a lady” and obey the rules. I grew up and got married and worked two jobs, the telephone company and a department store, to put my young husband through graduate school. I was a good wife. He never noticed. I spent the 4 1/2 loneliest years of my life like that, until finally I realized that I had no Life, and I had no Self. I was living in his shadow, and whoever I was before had gotten sacrificed, lost somewhere. It was not his fault. We both played the roles we were brought up to play. That works sometimes for some people. Not this time, and not for me.

Leaving was hard, shattering. It was not just a failure, it was a death. The end of a life that failed. The end of the lie.

But I knew it had to happen. I left. I stepped off the precipice into a blind freefall into the unknown. I got a divorce. I took my life back. I bought myself a pair of cowboy boots.