Just bitchin'

The Nature of Expansion

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“Your problems are so big compared to mine.”

Not really.

The thing about problems is their intense individuality.

There is no large.

There is no small.

The thing about problems is their ability to expand, to reach into every corner of your life.

Your intellect tells you that losing a loved one is so much more devastating than losing a job. But the heart engages on a different level. Both misfortunes expand, consume, fill. The sufferer’s life is colored; time divided into a Before and an After.

Lost loved one.

Lost job.

Lost pet.

Lost reputation.

Lost limb.

Lost opportunity.

Lost love.

Illness.

Pain.

Misunderstanding.

Unfulfilled desire.

There is no large and there is no small.

There is full, and there is free.

Use this knowledge of volume for compassion.

And for hope.

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Life Lessons from the Garden

IMG_1303There is a time in childhood when things seem magical. No matter what else is happening in your young life, you believe in things strange and enchanted. It doesn’t last very long.

As adults, we look back on it wistfully, unable to find our way back to that simple, easy faith that made the world such a miraculous place. I was lucky enough to spend much of that magical interval in Granny’s garden.

Shortly after I was born, my parents’ marriage began to flicker. It was only a matter of time before the light went out of it completely. I knew something was wrong.

But I had Granny’s garden that summer I was six years old.

While my parents sorted out their troubles, they sent me off to Granny’s.

I remember wooden floors baked honey-warm by sunlight streaming through windows with tiny stained glass borders of purple grapes and gold-green vines coloring the rays. I remember the quiet purring of Granny’s cat and the brown sugar scent of its fur. I remember an endless supply of home-baked cookies frosted in pretty pinks and yellows.

But mostly I remember the garden.

There is something to be said for living on the same piece of land for fifty years. You learn its rhythms, its pulse, its eccentricities. Bulbs naturalize in patterns only nature could paint. Perennials root more and more deeply, soaring to new heights of beauty each year. Annuals self-seed in new locations chosen by wind and chance, bringing colorful surprises each spring.

On fine, sunny days Granny and I would venture forth into the garden. I would spend hours exploring its wonders while she sowed and weeded and watered. Toward the end of each day, sunburned and berry-stained, I would watch her worn, brown hands as she performed each task with a peaceful kind of grace.

Sometimes she would tell me stories. Sometimes they were about my mother when she was a little girl. Sometimes they were fairy tales built around the denizens of her garden; the flower fairies. I was mesmerized by Jolly Holly Berry, Phyllis Foxglove, and Tiny Johnny Jump-Up, to name a few.

One day as summer was drawing to a close, I was sad, knowing school would start soon and summer in the garden would end. Granny was pruning back bits of my favorite rose. It was a vigorous climber, covered in tiny, pink blossoms. Granny said it was called “Fairies’ Blanket.” I took the name literally and was always peeking behind the arching sprays of pink to see if I could catch a fairy napping.

“The deer have been at it again!” she said, shaking her head. “See these bare tips where the flowers and leaves are missing? That’s deer-work all right.”

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I was uncharacteristically silent. The quiet snipping of the pruning shears continued for a while. Then…

“Child, you know your parents’ troubles have nothing to do with you, don’t you?” Somehow Granny knew what the root of my six-year-old worries were.

“I know…..but…”

“But what?”

“Nothing.”

Granny squinted into the sunlight, searching for more deer-work to trim.

“You know, I planted this rose the day your grandfather passed on.” With gentle fingers she loosened a spray of blossoms that had become tangled with its neighbor.

“Your Grandpa was the light of my life. And I was his. When he left, I thought there’d never be anything happy or beautiful again. So I planted this rose.”

“So?”

“So look at all the damage those deer have done. But once I trim it away, you can bet there’ll be more roses growing from the wound. It just takes time.”

She reached higher, using the shears to snag a tall stem and bring it closer.

“Some of the best parts of life have happened to me since your Grandpa died. You, for one. I didn’t know how happy grandchildren would make me. You’re a kind of rose. A different kind than Grandpa was, but still…a rose.”

She stepped back, squinting against the sun to survey her work.

“The point is, child, no matter what gets ripped away from you by things you can’t control, something else just as wonderful could be in store, waiting to grow from the wound. Just give it time.”

An awful lot of things have happened since that summer. My parents did divorce. I have my own home now. My garden isn’t near as nice as Granny’s was, but there’s a rose climbing up outside my kitchen door. It’s covered with tiny, pink, perfect blossoms from June to mid-November. I’ve seen a deer come and nibble on it from time to time. It doesn’t really matter. I prune out the damage to make room for new flowers.

It takes time, but beauty will grow from the wound. And it’s worth the wait.

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The Crack Life

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I have been living in a state of existence that is so pervasive, so ubiquitous, that I carry on under its influence in blissful ignorance. Can’t see the forest for the trees.

But that’s changing.

Awareness began to dawn when a tree fell in my yard. I scanned the local listings for tree removal and asked for an estimate. A burly representative came out the next day and surveyed the damage, shaking his head.

“Sorry, lady. The job isn’t big enough. Has to be a lot more to justify sending out a seven-man crew and all my equipment. Sorry.”

“Well, do you know anyone who’d be willing to come out and take care of it?”

“Honestly…no. Just one of those things that falls through the cracks, you know? Sorry.”

Hmmmm… I thought about it on and off, listening to the distant sound of chain saws as neighbors with more extensive needs enjoyed professional tree-removal service. I considered my position at the bottom of a crack as I gradually dismantled and dragged small increments of tree away over the next two weeks.

Then came the roof.

No big deal. Just needed an accumulation of pine needles blown off and the gutters cleaned. I’d do it myself, but I kept thinking of a friend who plummeted off of his, suffering permanent impairment. I contacted a reputable company and was told my job wasn’t big enough to be worth the time. Déjà vu.

The crack yawns wider; a dark jag hovering in my peripheral vision.

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I called another company. “Sure, we can do that. No job’s too small. I’ll be out tomorrow to give you an estimate.”

No one showed up. I called again. There was no record or memory of me or my roof. Another appointment was set.

Again, no one showed up.

I’ve decided to wait a while before trying again. Maybe summer is a busy time. Maybe falling through the cracks is a seasonal disorder. Yeah, that’s it. That’s what I keep telling myself.

Then came the mail delivery.

Or lack thereof. Days with not even a newspaper circular. Highly unusual. Beginning to feel suspicious and a little cracked myself, I called the local post office, just to check.

“Huh…that’s weird.” The employee in charge of my zip code sounded baffled. “Your mail’s here in a bundle. I don’t know why we’ve stopped delivering. Just kinda fell through the cracks, I guess. Sorry about that.”

The dark fragment encroaching on my life looms wider, emitting a sound that might be laughter. But…no…surely not.

Then came the doctor’s office.

A standard appointment made. No big deal. They usually call patients a day before as a reminder. No one called. So I got on the phone with them.

“I’m sorry…there’s nothing on the books. We don’t have any record of your appointment.”

I blanch.

The black jag on the periphery of my vision is spreading, widening, deepening. Turning from jag to full-fledged zig-zag.

When your address disappears. When the voice on the phone…isn’t. When you can’t find anyone willing to take your money in exchange for services…

…that’s when you look up and realize the sky has contracted to a ribbon of blue; it’s the view from the bottom. It’s all you can see…

This is the Crack Life.

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Diane’s Light

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She showed up on my doorstep with a shoebox.

Shielding it from the harsh beams of the summer sun, I could tell by her mischievous smile that she was bringing me treasure. Once inside, in the cool interior of my house, she set the box before me, revealing…

…six, tiny, perfect, baby bunnies.

Their mother had abandoned them.

For the next few months, she learned the art of caring for baby bunnies. But she already had the skills that mattered.

A heart filled with love.

A willingness to fight whatever unfair odds would condemn the small and helpless.

And more courage than anyone I’ve ever known.

When I wrote a story for inclusion in an anthology to benefit the American Cancer Society, I thought of her. I spoke of her when interviewed about my small contribution…of her courageous heart.

Today, she lost her battle.

But cancer didn’t win. It did not erase her memory. It did not destroy her spirit. It did not dim her light.

So I say again, there is light after death.

And hers shines on.

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Lessons from a Lummi

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Growing up, my mother had a friend named Mary Hillaire.

She was an outspoken member of the Lummi Indian tribe in Washington state. Her name was Anglicized from Hill Air, I was told. She was an activist, an educator, and instrumental in founding programs devoted to the study of Native American culture. She left her mark particularly on Evergreen State College in Olympia.

At one point, my mother helped her write some of her speeches. Mom had the secretarial skills, but Mary had the charismatic ability to make people listen. She was an extraordinary woman.

Her spirit visits me every Spring.

I remember her standing outdoors in our yard, breathing deeply of the still chill air. She would joke about it being mandatory, given her name. And then she would fall silent before instructing the pale child beside her, whom she couldn’t know would store her lessons for a lifetime.

She said that Spring was not a season so much as a feeling of life surging upward and forth from the frozen ground. She could feel it in her blood, like wine. Spring was a promise that was always kept.

She told me to follow its example and never break faith.

I thought of Shakespeare’s Juliet, decrying that Romeo would swear upon the moon, saying that the ever-changing, inconstant moon was a poor example upon which to base a vow. The seasons change as does the moon, but they are reliable in that changeability. Mary Hillaire took a longer view, and in doing so, revealed a deeper truth.

Mary gifted my mother with an exquisitely woven basket; an artifact of her people. It featured stylized deer circling the rim. Each stood forth on four sturdy legs. Except one. It only had three legs. She told me it was intentional. She said if all the deer had four legs, the basket would be perfect. Humans were incapable of perfection. To produce something perfect was to mimic the gods…a thing both disrespectful and dangerous.

One must always acknowledge one’s flawed humanity and remain humble.

I don’t know how Mom and Mary met, but I suspect they became friends because they shared a concern about the fragility of their respective cultures.

To this day much of my mother’s background is unknown, veiled in vague mutterings about political expediency and the KGB in Russia at the time. She mentioned how the Soviet Union was overwriting languages of the countries that became satellites, insisting only Russian be taught in schools. She dreaded the loss of so many cultures.

Mrs. Hillaire had similar concerns. So she worked tirelessly to make sure tribal culture had a voice and remained strong.

It was her life’s work and admirably accomplished.

But to me, as trees begin to burst with blossoms, Mary Hillaire is a voice on the wind, telling me to be human and flawed…and to breathe deep.

Because life, like the seasons, is a self-renewing promise.

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The Defrag Dance

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There’s a housekeeping function in the maintenance section of my computer. It’s called ‘defrag.’

I push a few keys, make a few selections, and…presto! I can watch some industrious, little genie sort through all the bits and bytes that have somehow been secreted in odd nooks of my hard drive, assembling them, reuniting them.

A graphic representation is provided that I assume symbolizes the actual defrag process. If it’s taken literally, then my hard drive looks like a Mondrian painting, composed of squares of color in varying sizes.

The little defrag elf sorts through this colorful landscape, moving all the squares of one color that have inexplicably scattered from their brethren back to where they belong.

I find this fascinating. Like the I-take-it-back command of ctrl + z, defragging would be a marvelous thing if it could be applied to one’s life.

It’s akin to a lost lamb finding its flock…

A prodigal being returned to his family…

A lonely soul reuniting with his tribe.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to press a few buttons and find out where you’re really supposed to be?

Yes, it would. But it’s just a techno-dream. The defrag elf collects the lost strays and corrals them together, but once the mesmerizing dance is done, my laptop is only a small mote of controlled chaos waiting to break free.

Soon the defragging will loosen its hold. There will be fragging.

Because I’m sure that chaos is the norm.

And life is a maze.

It might be lonelier, but it’s more interesting that way.

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