I Ran Away on Mother’s Day

I ran away to the Oregon coast on Mother’s Day week-end.

I am not so fond of this day that singles out and demands we pay attention to mothers. For one thing, I think when mothers are loved, they know it. There are a multitude of signs families provide all year long, their deep affection expressed in comments, a touch or a look, small gifts of time and random treasures offered. The day commercializes what should be a celebration any old day. I believe random acts of love are better than ones that happen on a calendar basis.

But the main reason is that this day is a time of melancholy reflection for me. A longing rises up and grabs hold of me hard. Tears soften my vision and I pause.

My mother died a few days before Mother’s Day in 2001. The funeral home viewing was held on the date meant to enjoy our living mothers. I remember most her hands from that day. In peculiar repose when I knew them so intimately as hands that created and worked every day, they were still lovely. She lived a robust, demanding life into her nineties and was possessed of a quick mind, a vivid imagination and a generous soul. Only when she could abide no more discomfort did she slip out of flesh and bones.

I still miss her, as daughters always do miss their mothers when fortunate enough to be loved by them. To have shared stories with them that last long after the leavetaking.

So off I went to the sea. Edna Kelly Guenther did not like water very much, at least not moving, spirited water. From a distance she admired its power; she could not swim and feared drowning. But I am drawn to it in every form and when the forest gathers around it, I am pulled even more. My husband and I have been staying in humble, old-fashioned cottages near Yachats, the emerald coast village, for twenty years. We were happy to return last week-end.

Every year I do things in memory of my mother’s dauntless curiosity and joie de vivre. She was fascinated by natural history, botany, entomology, and geology as well as the creative and domestic arts. As I roamed, observed, rested and hiked I felt her presence. It was a soul-satisfying time, even with bittersweet moments.

On childhood trips we stopped at wooden bridges often. This one was built in 1918, 9 yrs. after my mother was born. The wind in the trees and the river made gentle sounds.
Wild iris on one of the trails. Her favorite flower.
A strong athlete in her youth, she would have been as impressed as I by the wind surfers.
At Cape Perpetua, a look-out built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the Depression. She loved the grandeur of nature.
She’d have found this visually interesting, and wondered over the great distances wood travels before adorning the sand.
I can see her place her index finger on her lips and gaze at the horizon: more presence of God, she would have thought. Like me.
We sang the old songs for you, mom, like “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” I love you.

Two of Many Women

I was inspired by a colleague this week. I watched her work with someone nearly broken, a woman who still says she cares for the man who harms her. She is ambivalent about what to do. I had thought my co-worker might be soft-voiced and exceedingly careful but was illuminated by her ways and means. They are of a different culture than I am and I had asked for assistance, her insight so I might better understand. I watched her at work.

She was first polite, with few words. But soon she became bold and frank. She was insistent while respectful in her pleading for change. She didn’t cover the truth with easy lies or elaborate good will. The reality is: this person could lose her life to domestic violence. My colleague had seen it happen and so she was clear: “Save yourself, your children. You are a good woman and you need to stay alive.”

And then there is another client I work with whose face has visited me all week. She is slipping back into a lifestyle that demands violence as a ticket to live. It is this or possibly not survive, and she mostly believes it can still work right now. It is what she knows, and it is her default when she wants to give up. With her I am calm and gentle. I have to wait. I note the signs of her anger and speak about the depression that keeps her numb and listen for the moment when she will stop fighting life, herself, me, everyone. When she will remember how much she wants a little peace, a small kindness. Then she may look at me with eyes unguarded, the door open a crack, for at least an instant. I will have to be ready to respond. It has happened before. It can happen again. I know who she thinks owns her; she is hostage to this belief. But I am not afraid of her anger , just for her weary and scarred life. I am patient as one must be with any badly wounded creature, so that she will raise her head and see a hand not to maul but to accept.

So, four women, two of whom care and want to make a difference, two of whom are riddled with confusion but have so much to offer this world.

Later when I took a long walk after work and saw the century old trees shimmer in the light and heard the birds carousing, I thought, “this, this, this wonder!” But then the women came to me with their sorrow and need and a poem made itself with each step: This this this wonder that you survive….

Two Women…

This this this!

Wonder that you survive brutality.

I see you kneel:

your heart like a cup dipped

in shallow bitter waters.

But the well is so deep

you cannot see the bottom

where light spreads itself over the universe.

You have been tricked with blindness

that dark fruit of ceaseless disregard.

Let me see you stand

and reach into the sweet unknown

pull up that mysterious power that loves you.

It speaks your lost, blameless name.

This this this

wonder that you

survive brutality.

I see you kneel,

one day will see your cup running over

I will see you rise up

with blazing-white wings

and your eyes will not weep

o yes your eyes will so shine

                                  Love should not hurt. Help stop domestic violence.

The Solitude Which Longs for Me and I, It…

Last week-end, I did  something wonderful that I so often do: I took to nature and filled up. I was hungry for the smallest mundane and stunning wonders. It has always been vital to move within a canopy of trees and meditate by running or still waters. To lay my head upon flower-jeweled grasses or lay my hand atop the chill, ancient bulk of rocks that line a trail.

Sometimes it is more crucial than others.

All the work-week long I sit in small rooms and attend to people who bring me eruptions of tears; stories that unravel like epic histories with no beginning or end; silences that throb with such swirled feelings and accompanying consternation that all they can do is… wait… for more language to tame the rawness of the telling.

Grief they carry in on their backs and then hold it tightly as though afraid it will vanish and leave them lonely. Invisible murderous things done by word and hand. Gaping voids where love once lived and then was misplaced or forgotten or ruined.  They seek healing, small stitches over wounds that feel good instead of bad, like fine, strong embroidery that will hold for a lifetime and eave no more scars. They hope for magic, the one key that will make the doors spring open and reveal the reward for the suffered moments of lives derailed.

And I am only one woman sitting in a chair by the window, the light falling across folded hands, my eyes seeking theirs, my heart by turns breaking for them and beating strong. I can honor their tellings with respect and attention. I can assist them with escape from lifelong addiction into new freedom from slavery. I can lay compassion before them and hope it is discovered, caught, taken home at the end of the hour. But I am only an ordinary woman sitting by a window, the delicate spring light falling across my shoulders, illuminating their bewildered faces. I listen because that is what I choose to do. I do not flinch, unless you count the closing of my eyes when the pain requires a prayer for mercy. Anyone knows I cannot save lives, unlike the EMTs or surgeons and others fitted with skills and tools I do not have. The only answer my clients receive is that they can and will learn to save themselves. Or will not, as they ultimately decide. I can and will stand watch over them. Steady them when they allow me close. Tell them: risk this step.

I wait to see who braves the 0bstacles in order to move toward a richer life. And who does not. The suspense keeps me alert, drives the quiet detective work. It keeps me awake some nights, revisiting clues, the storylines of these wandering souls: Let me be a good, sturdy signpost, I pray.

And so when the weekly work days are done, I go to the woods or the marshland; the hills and mountains; the coastal spaces. When I call out from my center, the waters answer, mountains echo, and  creatures like salamanders, crickets or redtail hawks, deer and coyotes take note but continue their work. I am coming for cleansing, for replenishment and to learn, a pilgrim on my own journey. They see me arrive before I see them; they hear me as I slow to interpret flowers and currents. My breathing quiets. Their noses test the drift of air and find me there.

And I am welcomed.

I  finally can stop thinking and begin to emulate a mossy hillock or a luminescent stone caught in seafoam. My ragged life rises and falls with my steps, gets stronger, brightens with refocused vision. It slips along the edge of a pond and stretches in the sun beside snake and snail. It is put on pause by orange starfish clinging to a basalt wall. Yet, too, my life becomes blissfully smaller, is condensed and rolled about so that it changes. I can feel it. The dirt, ferns, bees let me pass over trails. The brush of wind against arm and cheek lifts my spirit above treetops. My feet familiarize themselves with sudden ruts, delight in empty shells or broken branches; they greet valleys or agate-strewn beaches. A banana slug ignores my dance around its path. The birds offer a lyrical call and response and it is as though God, yes, God actually breathes Breath into emerald-hued air.

As I move through shadow and light, all that I brought here, all that is compressed by sorrow, distorted by anger–all that makes humans haunt each other and themselves–has been left to the ether. It has abandoned me to the deep solace of an earthly refuge. I am anonymous, unimportant, yet held close as though I belong just as spider and trillium. And as in that other life–the one that is full of people who create both good and ill will–my intent is to do no harm, to meld with the design.

A  moment longer by a river. The water tells me: Do not let the thorny banks encroach. Let life open, soften, deepen you. Bring your thirst, fill up, for there is enough for all. This holy solitude longs for you as you for it. Rest. Then be fearless in love.

The music of the gentling waters comes to me like a symphony and I reach within to a still, small point. Vanish in plain sight.

Then through the lattice of branches and leaves flow many voices: children making their way and laughing, grown people finding their footing. Locating beauty and being amazed. I move quietly and disappear into the sun-dappled sanctuary, taking with me the pleasure and sanctity of many living things, and peace renewed. Reluctantly, I turn to go. As the world returns to my consciousness with all its transformative, difficult knowledge, I am ready. Until I seek the embrace of solitude once more.