Fealty: Definition 2. Faithfulness; allegiance

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I am often jolted from sleep, words blazing in my brain, sometimes whole phrases or poems that demand their places in my notebook. I obey, lest they slip away to the vast hinterland of dreaming once more. I hope they will stay in place on paper, releasing me so I can return to rest, but they often pursue me until given the gift of freedom. Which means: a life to call their own. This ultimately requires my attention in the waking life. The day has begun and I am glad of it.

But this morning was the sort of re-entry into daily life that I would rather avoid. I rose from murky consciousness toward a sheerness of wakefulness as sunlight tried to illuminate my thinking. My eyes remained closed against the morning as a weightiness threatened to hold me hostage. Unbidden words passed through the darkness under my eyelids: The music is over; your voice was lost. Too much means less and less. Travelling alone without one good compass ends good journeys. Who can even see your footsteps upon the earth?

All the things I don’t like and who among us would? Uncertainty, the remnants of loss, weariness, old hurts that reconvene like a war council. Unease remained as I pushed out memories that can still haunt me, the times when problems didn’t resolve despite earnest effort. The errors of judgment that hollowed out places where defeat still can burrow. I called on God of all, of east, west, north and south, God within and without, Jesus who finds and comforts me, reminds me of revolutionary love.

Capture all old tears and bring them back to me as shining orbs. Set me straight. Let me see again, a woman without misgiving.

My eyelids flickered and the room in its blueness came forward. The variety of pictures greeted me. Morning was grounded as light slipped over my hands and feet. I let the scattered threats fly away. But not before one more word lodged itself where the others had lain in wait.

Fealty. I knew the word from somewhere. Fealty. Didn’t it have something to do with truth? Or…money?

It presented itself many times as I prepared for the day. With a fragrant mug of tea beside me, I picked up The American Heritage Dictionary. I opened the volume.It was there, the word, right on the page before me. Out of all the pages that might have been interesting to read first, the dictionary opened to this page.

I read the first meanings: “1. a. The loyalty of a vassal to his feudal lord. b. The obligation of such loyalty.” I immediately recalled watching an historical drama, “The White Queen”, the previous night and believed I heard the word there. But, wait, a second meaning: “2. Faithfulness; allegiance.”

I sat back, held the mug between both hands and sipped. The words ran through me. Spoke to me. What am I faithful to? What loyalties means the most  and what am I called to do? Where is the allegiance that matters no matter what? My family, yes, of course, and friends. Then, as though unearthed from beneath the unwanted sourness, came this: Divine Love. Compassion and the causes of mercy and enduring hope. Celebration of all that the Creator gave us. And this fierce passion to write.

How foolish I can be, a small soul making my way through the unbearable and marvelous phantasmagoria of life. Fortunately I am still teachable.

This is the life I most care about, the one I choose. This morning began as a puzzle tossed into disarray, then reassembled in one swift movement. The day and my place in it came together again. I have my  compass. I have notebook and pen. A guiding Hand, an angel, a sudden crack in the dark that allows the right clues admittance to my heart.

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In Good Time

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We had been talking as we walked near the edge of a cliff, catching glimpses of the Columbia River muscling its way through rocky landscape below. It was hotter in the mountains than I’d expected, and there was a steady stripe of sweat from my neck to my waist, a rim of damp on my upper lip and forehead. Carissa seemed cool as can be, walking briskly, her white flats clicking on the asphalt. I couldn’t believe she had worn a dress, a pretty one at that, as though she was attending a garden party. Well, I could believe it. She’d be perfect at a table set for tea and scones. It was just her. I wondered if she had another set of clothing in her trunk for the hike.

I was anxious to get off the walkway and tackle the trail to the waterfalls. We had waited a more than reasonable, red-hot hour. I’d shared my water bottle since she had forgotten hers. Matt and Grant had said they’d join us for a little prayer, a good work-out on the trail and refreshments. I’d packed four peanut butter sandwiches and Fuji apples and was getting hungry already. Carissa had brought trail mix just in case but the chocolate drops had started to melt all over the almonds. Still, it took a strong will to not grab the baggie with the mix from her and scarf down a couple handfuls.

She frowned and wriggled as I swatted a spider from her shoulder.

“I wish I knew why they weren’t here, Margo. I tried hard to accommodate their schedules. I know Matt worked this morning but Grant…well, he always wants to see me.” She turned to me with the smallest smile, like she was embarrassed. “It’s almost a problem.”

I shrugged. “Grant can be a nuisance but he’s okay. I think it’s all that wavy blond hair accented by baby blue eyes. He likes attention and you just give it to him.”

“Well, I didn’t say it was a bad problem. Just an inconvenience at times. But you would think the least he’d do is be here on time.” She looked around. “Just be here with me, us…”

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I sat under an ancient, gargantuan tree and fanned myself with a trail map. After a big gulp of water, I handed it to Carissa but she declined, leaning back on her hands, ankles crossed. Tiny scratches crisscrossed her feet and calves. They looked mean on her ivory skin.

It was Matt, Grant’s twin, I tried not to think about. He was as much like Grant as a plum was like a pickle. Broad of shoulder and big of spirit, he had what my mother called color. Everything he did was either fun or verging on sly. Carissa said he was a scamp. I thought he was a bit like a bee, flitting flower to flower, but hopefully no pollination was going on. That would have disappointed me. But you never knew with Matt what the consequences of his choices would be. It kept it interesting as far as I was concerned.

We had all been schooled in what was important in life, what was right and wrong. Even I didn’t always know what it all meant and my uncle was a minister. If truth be told, I was inclined toward very human thoughts and doings yet I never doubted my security in the good Lord’s arms. Uncle Travis said it best: I had an understanding with God from birth. That meant I felt close to God and tried hard to live up to expectations but I had questions and ideas. If I failed anyone, so be it. God kept the door open from what I could tell. I wasn’t prone to much rugged worry.

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Carissa, though, she had a fear of things, of spiders and eating too much and sneezing loud, or giggling in the middle of church. She feared not getting on the honor roll, wearing one item of clothing twice in the same week. Once she was upset she had left out the butter so it began to liquefy. I didn’t understand it and I had known her most of our lives. Still, she was a good kid. I was older by ten months and bigger so naturally I felt protective.

So when she started to fuss as time hemmed and hawed and stretched into an hour and fifteen minutes but still no boys, I took her cool hands in mine and said, “Look, let’s hit the trail. It’ll be cooler down in the trees and we can sit by the waterfall and eat. They couldn’t make it, I guess. We could try calling them, but…”

“No, let’s go.”

She smoothed back her wispy bangs and lifted her chin. I worried about her flats and told her so but she was unconcerned. We started down the incline gingerly, the gravel rolling off the dirt. I was in front and twice she grabbed me as she slipped. I hesitated. All we needed was an accident, her dress ruined, shins fully bloodied. The path soon leveled off and was beaten hard so we kept on. My t-shirt was soaked in back and my chest felt prickly. A mess is what I was, but the woods were thick with greenness and everything glowed in the afternoon light. The ferns, slugs and mushrooms, the lichen clinging to nurse logs, the breeze sweetening: I was in heaven. I fell into a pleasing rhythm and forgot to watch over Carissa.

It was a good trek into the dappled cool of the forest. As we descended towards the snaky creek and rounded a curve, waterfalls seemingly dropped from the brilliant sky, parting the rocks. They called out to us with happy music. I could see one fall mixing with another and wished I could slide right down them into the sapphire pool below.

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At the bridge I turned to Carissa. She was leaning against the railing, staring into the creek.

“I came here to celebrate another day with the Lord, but nobody’s here…” she said in a near-whisper.

Really, I thought I heard her wrong. I studied her perspiring face, the corners of her downturned mouth, her chest heaving as she tried not to cry. What I saw shook me up.

“What?”

“No one came.”

“I’m here, Carissa. I’m always here, if you think about it.”

She propped her chin in her hands, then squeezed her eyes tight. “Yes, but…”

“And God’s here, right under your nose. ”

“I guess. Yes, of course. Still.”

The water roared like a playful creature. I found I couldn’t hear Carissa anymore. I crossed the bridge, climbed up thirty-two railroad ties with muscles straining so hard I thought I’d have to stop, but didn’t. I had to keep going. Finally I arrived at the top platform overlooking Bridal Veil falls. My heart was banging but I felt strong, good, like I had gained stamina along the way. I stood alone but it didn’t bother me at all. Here was creation and it was amazing to behold. It hit me that I was at home, where I belonged.

When I finally turned to see if Carissa was joining me, I heard my name called. There came Matt running down the trail, just Matt, his hands waving like crazy at me. Carissa stood alone at the bridge, her mouth open, arms wide, palms up as he passed her by. It made me sad to see her there in that pretty aqua dress and dusty flats. But I guess the right time is when things happen of their own accord. That’s how God sends us a little message. At least, that’s how I see it. Carissa–she’ll find her own faith sooner or later. I’ll likely be around to offer her a hand if she wants it.

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Attending to the Essence

DSCF7871There are surprises that occur while living with a disease that may have exclusive rights to my final demise. One is that life is still a great open stage and I can do with it what I want. And I am still granted opportunities to decide what stories to direct and participate in. This is noted despite the fact that I realize I can be struck down any moment.

I had begun to think I was a bit of a puppet, as we can at times suspect. It seemed I was not infrequently subject to the unreliable winds of life, the whims of confounding, surly natured, occasionally dangerous people who crossed my path. It appeared I shared these experiences with many others. But I wondered if I was purposely situated in poorly designed scenarios despite my goal to explore only the very best. By my late teens I decided I had been duped. Too many hard things occurred, and not only to me, to convince me otherwise. What was this being human?

Victoria Trip 7-12 398But, then, I grew up in a world of culture and classical music, Sunday dinners generally shared with intelligent, kindly people. Duly civilized and all. There was much to love. But it was also like being a hothouse flower (with a few toxic influences thrown in) and then set outdoors, exposed to the rawness of real atmospheric influences. My first visits to Detroit and Chicago were terrifying and fabulous. I suspected there was much more to learn and wanted to get to it. And gradually I figured out bits and pieces, some useful and others discarded. Then I started to lose power along the way. I misplaced that critical, pervasive sense of a life-sustaining essence. The thing that gave me both gravity and joy. One can come to doubt enough that rescue has to occur; a decision must be made to stay alive. The years seemed full of exigencies and I did not understand as much as I believed.

Not everyone is fortunate to have more than a couple of cracks at life. But people who cared, along with a few angels (reader, you know I claim them), dragged me to my feet before I went down for good. God waited until I found a better foothold so transformation could begin. I gathered clues to better living long before that forest hike commandeered my heart and took me down to the dirt. It’s a good thing I had helpful life skills because employing any victim stance again required more energy than I could squander. But it shook me up, that ton of pressure on my chest that left me reeling. I barely, with my husband’s help, made it out of the trees. I have decent intuition, sometimes very good, but it took me until the next morning to understand my heart was getting ready to kill me. And I needed a lot of mental and physical stamina to devise a new game plan. When I cold-called cardiology offices and found Dr. P., who listened and knew exactly what to do, I found liberation. A damaged heart, yes, but freedom was in the making.

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My scheme included full-on healing. Not the sort that exercise, heart medication and diet support. All very good, but not enough. I took three years off work and began to re-learn how to be fully present in my body, in the moment, in my life. Dare I say it? Prayer and surrender. Expectation of health. Call it meditation if you like, call it conscious development of an awareness of Spirit. Call it Step 3 if you attend AA. But I needed a reminder and I had gotten it: personal power begins with surrendering stupidity. Well, perhaps more accurately the tyrannical ego that is constructed from lifelong illusions. What a mess it can make.

So, if my heart was to become strong, harmonious organ, didn’t it make sense to heal it from the inside out? The bitter words still echoing in the night, regrets that soured more with time? What is the value of vilification in the end? How about the lost passionate teen-aged love that was just that–a love that served adolescence, not this time, this person? Or the worst of the lot: nightmarish assaults and a legacy of addiction that hurt my family, my several failures to thrive and achieve, the grief that bound me still to the burden of living, not the sheer joy of it. The list of things that haunt and damn us. In truth, we are missing the ancient campfire to swap our troubles and then sing it all away.

Still, you wouldn’t have seen this at a glance. You would have found a woman competent and quick, hard-working and accessible. You could count on me. Yet I was a woman also driven to exhaustion, bruised to the marrow though a believer in hope–which was given to others, not so often to myself. I had to unclench my hands and let my own tears flood them, then fall away. I had to make a nest in mercy. Room was needed for the purity of wonder left behind in childhood. Space big enough for the essence, for life-giving light. I did not want a life lived and coming undone, like ruined skin peeling off. Impotence did not appeal.

I had to change, fast, before there would be three, not just two, stent implants or worse. Work began in earnest, because that is the only way I have ever known how to live. Intensely. Now. The panoramic experiences that wanted my embrace lay before me. I felt I was asked to take a step into, at best, intriguing but hazy possibilities. And because I have always needed to see what is around the next bend, I stepped forward despite becoming unmoored from my known life. Oh, the beauty I found. The way life insinuates the fibers of our being with its beneficent force. The elegance of faith that will not shake loose despite setbacks. When in mid-stream and the water keeps rising, float. What I have found is that there is no end to what we can manage and discover and in the process of discovery, act upon and give.

I did go back to my chosen field, counseling the mentally ill and addicted. Some folks advised against it–too stressful, they said. But the truth is, it has always been a calling. It was a fulfillment of a promise made long ago to be of good use to those with too little hope and resources. After more years I stopped working and threw caution to the wind again. This time to write every day. Stories were intruding on work, or perhaps it was the other way around.

Our hearts know us first and last, beat to cavernous beat. It knows us best although we try to hide. It will remind us important things we have forgotten, secrets we thought we might never know, avenues to God and ways to live on earth in full, unadulterated color. Every moment has potential magic. I feel this in its primal rhythm as I rest, sweat, play, ponder. So when I awaken, I do wonder what scenario will unfold today. What will I bring to the fore and let recede? Maybe directing is not so much the need but narrating the story is. As a child I wrote plays and poems. I rounded up a motley neighborhood cast and crew and we threw it all together for ticketed performances, all in the name of fun. It was so easy to create and share the pleasure. So now, here, I will hold on to this recaptured essence that infuses my living, without hoarding the wonder.

Let me traverse the path with eyes wide open, unflinching; look for the whole truth which can be perfected only with compassion. I want to hold an ongoing conversation with humanity as well as the starry canopy and beyond. I care to live within the transducing power of life, its wild center, until the very last moment here. Let me not hold back one good thing.

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Dragonfly Glass

IMG_2868It had called to me from the shop situated in a mountain valley: a sturdy clear glass, pleasing of shape, with good heft. But most of all, the dragonflies that were in relief near the top brought a smile. I am a fool for insects of all sorts (even scarier ones), and dragonflies intrigue me with their grace and short lives (one to six months) in temperate zones. They love the water but do fly elsewhere. They rarely bite and don’t break the skin if they try. They have been with us 300 million years. If that isn’t a wonderful bug I don’t know what is.

But enough about dragonflies. The glass grabbed my attention and I pondered the price, which was more than seemed reasonable. Still, it was small enough for juice, a good size for a quick drink of water. I turned it around in my hands and visualized how it would look with my sturdy Desert Rose table ware. But such extravagance. I walked away. And back again. I left the shop with two cheerful glasses.

Today it was more summer than spring with a cloudless aquamarine sky and sweet breeze. I sat on the balcony and sipped chilled tea. The glass–the new favorite. It had held water, ginger ale, apple juice and iced tea. I admired it’s combination of ordinariness and decorative good sense. And then I held it up to the sunlight and the thought that came forward was a surprise. It looked like a glass used for a stout mixed drink or rich-colored wine, not tame juice or water. It was the right size, and its heaviness ensured it stayed put when set down. But to contemplate all this took me back.

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Way, way back. You see, none of my glasses have had a lick of alcohol in them for twenty-two years. That was when I stopped drinking. something I write around but have never stated bluntly. Now it seems I want to speak of it.

The day I last drank has been, perhaps oddly, increasingly less a subject of daily personal interest than professional, as I have counseled and educated chemically addicted persons for twenty of those years. Yes, I have attended plenty of support groups. But after awhile something happened to my thinking. It was like the clean, unmistakable click of a lock’s mechanism disengaging to full unlocked position. The door that opened led to the life I had always wanted but could never fully discover or create.

I became free of not only any desire to drink but also of significant feelings about it. I didn’t and don’t hate alcohol and its undeniable power to alter even ordinary people’s responses to others and themselves. It is a power that the alcohol-imbibing public still doesn’t fully respect. I had a quite short drinking career revolving around too many goblets of wine and stiff mixed drinks, resulting in some harrowing tales. It would be dishonest to not note that a family member asked me to make a will when I was still pretty young. There is a common misconception that it is how much you drink that identifies whether or not one has an alcohol problem. In fact, it is more simply how it chemically impacts a person physiologically, emotionally, mentally. It didn’t take so much as you’d think to provide experiences I don’t care to live again.

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So, I didn’t long for alcohol when I was finally done.  I detached from it while keeping clear the reality of what worked for me in life and what did not. Alcohol was definitely on the negative side. Recovery has remained number one every day despite not thinking of it all the time. The reasons are simple: I want to stay alive, live well and long, and be true to who I am–none of which alcohol could support. A drink–or a drug, for that matter– will eventually rob an addicted person of everything good and fine in human life. I reclaimed my own power to live more freely and richly again. Over time, I integrated what I knew about my unhappy relationship with alcohol into a broader understanding of my worldview and beliefs, as well as my authentic needs (not those society dictated) as a person.

All this sounds relatively easy, perhaps. It has been, in a real sense. Of course, there have been moments when holding tight to one moment of sobriety was the goal for the day. The painful events of life, physically and emotionally, didn’t back away or even lessen much when I put down the drink. But the good news is that as humans we are provided with an amazing array of solutions and aids to help us live intentionally, in peace. Our brains manufacture chemicals called endorphins (among others) to help us with bodily pain and even heartache. Our free will enables us to make many kinds of choices that either nurture or undermine who we are and want to become. Out of the caldera of the past, we can construct a Spirit-shaped life that is a wellspring of clarity as we imagine, act, speak, love.

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It all completely works, I told my clients; you just have to try it and then keep at it. I perhaps did not tell them I am a good case study with a complicated history (which we all seem to have) coupled with an early onset of sedativism precipitated by prescription drugs. This made me a sitting duck for alcohol problems later on. The whole journey was a strange one that no longer haunts me. It was one of those dead-end roads. I got off (with much timely help), surveyed the options and took a different direction. Such liberation had a revolutionary feel; it stays with me to this day.

I return to my humble dragonfly glass. It holds peppermint-tinged iced tea; it cools and soothes on this magnanimous May day. And I hope to enjoy it for many years–at least all the days that are given to me. I consider the myriad wonders of life and know I am fortunate. The important parts of the puzzle of living fit together, and I fit there, too. I ask you this: what is not to love in this very moment? I thank God for this ordinary and bountiful life, come what may.

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“What is to give light must endure burning.”
-Viktor Frankl

Being Here is a Dream of Love: the first story

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“Remember when you could take a step and be carried above the clouds? The worlds below and above would change into something new as you travelled. It seemed like a giant safety net was always there. And all around us were others, moving along, some flying and diving. And we spoke nothing but understood.”

Radya chattered away as she inspected the tiny yellow petals of a dandelion she had found by their shack. She shouldn’t have picked it–there were no others around–but it was so homely, but she liked that. Bright and round, like an orb of sun, it was worth admiration.

She found Lanay shaking out the extra water from a shirt. They were at the river the second time this week, washing themselves and their clothes. There had been more rain than usual, so everything had been muddied.

Radya reached up and tucked the cheerful flower behind her sister’s ear. “Guess we will smell good after all this washing.”

“This mess–just a nuisance,” Lanay said. “Yes, of course, I remember that much. But what we need to talk about today is the possibility of going somewhere drier and warmer. Dusty air would be delightful after so much mud and slime.”

“Back to our doomed Ketterin, by any chance?”

Lanay threw her a look. She knew she missed her ordinary life there, the school, the friends. So did she. Her younger sister was more naïve, but surely Radya had to know they were not going back there. Ketterin was the place they were least welcome, a city of scientific institutions and ideas that verged on militant, of technological wonders to dazzle the poor brain. People were getting used to plugging in every apparatus and entertainment to be functioning and alive. More and more were absorbed in the unreal of this world, whether electronics or other material magic. Whatever numbed them to the greater needs of this planet beckoned. She had watched friends languish in increasingly small and singular mind-body spaces and it scared her. She felt the pull, herself. It was so easy to forget.

“Ketterin? Of course not. The barreness made it too hot; trees were taken when it wasn’t necessary. Besides, you know why we left. It wasn’t safe. There is no turning back. No, I need good even heat. The rain forests here either block or absorb the sun’s energies. I feel less like myself. I want the sunlight to cover me like it used to–remember? Light that never diminished, even inside gradations of dark within slits, foldings and tunnels.” She caught herself then, and scanned the woods. There was no reason to believe they weren’t okay here, but who could be certain? Who that they didn’t discern might hear or see them trying to survive here? But nothing felt wrong. “South, maybe New Mexico or Arizona. But we need a pass first and that will take some thought.”

Radya dug her toes into the damp earth. “We are here because of me. I was not silent enough and the wrong ones paid attention. But I don’t understand why they can live without memory of home. I can’t stop thinking of it. They need to remember what they have chosen to forget. They know something is missing. We could all be happy…”

She walked into the green-blue Botha River; cold water nearly numbed her feet. The currents swirled between layers of rocks and left traces of sweetness. She picked up an oval grey stone and put it to her lips. The water sang to Radya of the mysterious spring and with that came otherings, those bright-winged bearers of kindness. The momentary entry into her soul’s home base clarified her mind.

She brought the rock to her lips, then took it to Lanny. She placed it on Lanay’s cheek. “Here, the elements kiss you and give you gentle heat. The water is well, sister. But not for long; it will grow sour. We need to leave before summer’s end. The pass holder is Jacques Armente. He will know what to do.”

The stone was so warm on Lanay’s skin it filled her head with humming. She took Radya into her arms and held her close. “Little light, thank you. I know what you say is true. But beware your words even here. We are growing in number but not yet enough. We never know who is our enemy.”

“But I do.” Radya pulled back and looked at Lanay deeply until their eyes blurred and became deep pools of shimmering space. She entered Lanay’s consciousness and took them beyond, to the spinning colors and most radiant darkness, music radiating from every even imagined movement, all beings of beauty connected by the universal family.

Remember, Radya intoned without speaking. Do not forget we are creatures of universes within universes. We have no enemies save who we decide to make enemies while we are here. This is a dream of love. We have been gifted these bodies to bring the One back into this earthly consciousness. We will find our way. Be at peace, sister.

Lanny felt her hands loosening their grip on her sister’s arms and she fell away, eyes wide but focused. “Stop, Radya! It hurts to recall what we cannot fully become here! Why must you still be in possession of the knowing? Let me be, at least for the rest of this day.”

Radya felt a heaviness shadow her, but she gave her attention to the woods and saw birds nesting and birds desiring to fly higher, heard  animals seek nourishment and rest, felt the air thicken and stir as more rain gathered on tails of wind. But she wasn’t ready for the music that roared in like a powerful chorus. Radya held her hands out to catch it as her human eyes sought the sky. Yes, she was young here but perhaps that was why she was less ready to accept defeat in this place. They still had ways and means; here there was time.

She pointed toward the celestial spheres that were not quite visible to the human eye. But she saw, and knew there were others, too, with their eyes raised, and some looking back. “Lanay, look.”

High above the trees spun a fiery circle emanating every color of the rainbow as it flared. It revolved, twisted and turned into the infinity sign, a manifestation of the One. It transformed into an everlasting and inestimable ribbon of light, then spun brilliant white-gold filaments that spread to every destination and soul, a phantasmagoria of light radiating perfect love.

They stayed close to each other but it was not fear that rose up, but relief.  The thrill of ancient joy. The energy they needed was coming through, was enlivening every sinew and synapse of their human bodies and brains.

Lanny spoke first. “I so easily forget I am more than this flesh. The veil lifts despite my stubborn resistance. I do remember why we are here. And we are responsible for what happens next on this path.”

“Yes,” Radya said. “We let love speak. We simply help the others to remember the souls we all are and will ever be. We are the fortunate ones; we can retain consciousness.”

Radya watched the last of the great light diminish and float into a far distance that, in truth, was so very near with its dauntless love. The eternal Presence invigorated her. She and Lanay could get on with their work.

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