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March 2011

March 25 ~ Perspective

Do you ever wake up in the night with random thoughts that seem so profound in the dark, only to discover that they have lost something in the transition into daylight?

I haven't been able to write.  The last several weeks, I've felt like I was strolling through a mine field.  Not consciously aware of danger or mishap, but carrying the unmistakable weight of something looming large and ominous just over the horizon. 

We move through days, hours even, looking for sure footing.  We load the dishwasher and buy groceries.  We wave to our neighbors and applaud the first daffodils of spring.  I have explored new diet directions, put new batteries in the pedometers... yes the same pedometers that inspired such glorious intentions this time last year...raked last year's leaves, mowed the liriope and planted the leftover seeds from Justin and Bethany's wedding.  Still... I haven't been sleeping and I haven't been writing and when I look in the mirror, I am amazed at the wrinkles that lay in wait until I am at my most vulnerable, then stare defiantly, frighteningly back at me.

 ´╗┐Some days it feels like I'm walking through invisible tar.  Invisible and thick and waist high.  I imagine that I need to create a "sacred space" in my home to spend with God.  I pick up a book about "Finding Your Own Inner Light".  I wander.  Then it becomes about self image.  "How to Look Good Naked".  Then the book, "Writing a Winning Book Proposal" or "Finding a Literary Agent".  I'm foggier than usual.  Sadder than usual.  Hours pass with "Chopped" Champions and the "Top Chef" finale.  Maybe I need to paint or sew or clean.  Wander.  Wonderful time spent taking photographs of a lovely family.  Positive feedback.  More despondency. More wandering.  What is happening?

Sitting on our sofa, gazing across the creek to the garden, forsythia blooming, large pink blossoms on the tulip magnolia and finally the door to my awareness opens... in ten days, Shannon would turn 36.  There it is, my little girl would be turning thirty six.  I feel, for a moment, embarrassed that my sad bones have been knocking at my psyche, that  I hadn't recognized the beckoning.  I can't share what I feel because to most of the world, those who haven't been there, I might be  burdensome or self indulgent in this tenderest of times. 

Finally, I allow myself to be content to just be with Shannon, with my memories, without the mask.  I print the photos for the Angel Tree, of other 'Angels'.  I cherish those who understand without explanation because we travel the same path, and appreciate so deeply those who can't understand but stand beside you without judgement.

Much is said about being brave and taking risks.  It is part of growth.  An inevitable step on the path that we follow through life.  And that leads me to my midnight epiphany.

I've always personified inanimate objects, plants, animals... it's just always been that way.  I've often thought I might be a little crazy, except that in researching personification, I discovered that it is a natural part of being human... part of our survival instinct.  Maybe we think if everything around us has personality and compassion, we are safe, understood.

In the night, I wondered if maybe I am feeling what the caterpillar feels as she is compelled to weave herself into a coccoon.  One day she's wandering along the ground, surrounded by edible greenery.  Then compulsively she begins to search for something, a place, protected, elevated, safe.  Must weave.  Must sleep.  Must ....

Later she stirs.  Something is different but in the dark she isn't sure what.  She feels safe in the dark but hunger starts nagging. She stretches and manages a tiny peep hole.  Yes, everything looks familiar but something's not quite right.  So tired, but she needs more room.  Stretching, just a little more.  What's this?  What happened to my furry coat?  What happened to my legs?  Wet, long, unfamiliar unfolding. So frightened.  Unable to return to the safety of the coccoon, no longer small enough to fit, she crawls into the sun.  Ahhh, warm, wonderful.  With a courage that she didn't know she had, she embraces the risk that begins to lift her perfectly powdered, stained glass wings into the morning.  Her perspective, so altered, so unfamiliar, so beautiful.  Flowers and trees and birds and sky. 

The caterpillar could have stayed in her safe little coccoon.  She could have refused to risk venturing in to a world so altered by her own alterations.  A world unchanged and yet transformed by her own transformation.  She could have died.

Daff Is there a panic in the hearts of all beings just before they are reborn?   Does the tadpole fear its legs?  The eaglet, life beyond the egg?  Does the daffodil try to prevent the pushing into daylight,  try to hold back, restrain the pull of sunlight, preferring the safety of warm earth?  How dreary our world would be without nature's fearlessness.

Maybe I'm fearful of what I may be, because I was so comfortable with who I was.  So certain of my role as Shannon's Mom.  Competent and confident in my job.  No need for fashion sense in boots and blue jeans.  Strength that seemed to accompany being built like a fire hydrant.... moving through life like my little caterpillar.

Can I fly?  Can I find the courage to risk leaving a coccoon of my own creation to see what might happen with wings?

Yesterday I saw a display at B.J.s.  Colorful little butterflies in Mason Jars.  There is some magical force that causes the butterflies to flit within the jars when you tap on the lid.  I was mesmerized, until I realized that I was fantasizing about buying the entire lot so that I could set them free.  Even though I knew, rationally, logically, that they were not alive, their frantic flapping within the confines of a clear glass jar, overwhelmed me.

So you see, even though we are fearful of the unknown, unsure of our ability to fly, that tiny spark of the Divine that animates each of us, knows what we are capable of, waits for us to turn the lid, climb to the rim of our own creation and allow the dream of infinite possibility to lift us.

Maybe I could buy just one... and set her free?

Thank you for time to recollect ~ March 14

"Thank you for my stationery.  Thank you for letting me get on line.  Thank you for helping us find D's.  Thank you for a ribbon.  Thank you for the ability to learn from past mistakes, and to change the bad habits to good ones."     SAB       3-14 1997

It occurred to me this morning that I can  continue to be inspired by Shannon's gratitude journey.  When I came to the end of 2010, the end of my year through her journal, writing started to feel lonely.  No less relevant, no less necessary but without focus.  I've had more difficulty finding inspiration despite an over abundance of life lessons.

On January 17, I ordered some software on line.  I thought that I could be more creative in making the wedding album I promised to Justin and Bee if I had software specifically designed to create "storeybook" pages.  I waited three weeks before emailing the company when the product didn't arrive.  No response.  I waited another week, another email.  On February 21, the customer service manager sent an email saying that the DVD was put in the mail on January 19.  He apologized and said that he would put another in the mail, but it was all on their website and I could down load it and get started.  I thanked him but said that I would prefer to work off line and that is why I opted to make the purchase.  Another two weeks and several e mails later, still no product, so I wrote again, saying that the product had not arrived and that if I did not hear from them in the next few days I would be filing a claim with Pay Pal.  No response on the 4th or the 7th so I contacted Pay Pal on the 9th. 

Well, for those of you who don't know, you have to file a claim within 45 days of your purchase and it had been 50 so there was nothing they could do except refer me to the credit card company that I had used. 

So... now I'm mad with myself for waiting too long, mad at the seller for what felt like fibbing, mad at Pay Pal for insisting that I try to resolve the issue before getting them involved and then not being willing to help after I took too long, mad at the credit card company for requiring reams of paperwork... when I get an email from the seller telling me that I should have picked up the phone and called. Like it's all my fault for not thinking to call.

Maybe.... but then I would have had no paper trail of our miscommunications.   Of course the product arrived today so who knows when it was actually mailed.  And now what do I do with all of the angst and frustration.  Oh, and by the way, while I was flailing away with all of this consumer nonsense, I finished the album without the software and now that I have it, I have no idea how to use it.  No paperwork, no help file and when I put the disc in the computer... it opens the web site that I was trying to avoid using.             Deep sigh.........

I suppose it is all irrelevant considering the earthquake in New Zealand, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the rioting in Michigan, the Civil Rebellion in Libya... I suppose that's why it's easier to be grateful for a lesson learned than waste any more energy on trying to understand why I feel taken advantage of.  I am however, still trying to learn the lesson associated with feeling guilty when you say what you think, or require explanations, or expect to be treated the way you treat.

I need the textbook.  I learn better with words and highlighters and end of chapter tests!

It's that time of year again.  There are leaves on the  crab apple by the front porch. The grass is getting greener and the forsythia is brightening the corner with tiny splashes of yellow.  The birds and squirrels are nesting and there is a baby eagle in the nest at Norfolk Botanical Gardens ( ). The tulip magnolia has buds and with any kindness at all from mother nature, we won't get a late freeze, and the tree will be in full bloom for Shannon's birthday.  Shannon's 36th birthday.

The feelings are unmistakable.  I'm easier to annoy.  My patience is thin.  My mind won't settle for longer than six minutes at a time.  I walk from the kitchen to the laundry room and forget why I'm there.  I watch four episodes of "Chopped" lamenting all the while the things I should be doing but make no effort in that direction.  I know it's heartache.  I miss Shannon.  I know that the depth of it will pass, I will decorate the Angel Tree for spring, I will eat cake and remember.  I will love her in all the ways that matter even though I can't sit with her on the couch eating banana nut pancakes while we read "The Old Turtle".

I whine about life's trivial things because I feel helpless against earthquakes, tsunamis and wars.   I know that life will always have sorrows.  I know that it is inevitable that we experience the power and force of nature, and political and economic unrest, the tragedy of war and indifference.  I know that there are things in life that can't be changed no matter how desperately we pray... so we change our prayer.

We ask that Angels embrace the sick and injured.  We ask for understanding and open hearts.  We ask for forgiveness when we forget to be kind.  We ask that our leaders find strength and courage in open hearts and minds.  We whisper to Heaven with every siren and news alert and remember to be grateful that there are no threats at our doors.

We pray for soldiers in every country and their families in every home.  We imagine the feel of peace and plenty and smiles replacing tears.  I've always known that prayers don't require chapels or knees, or clergy or ritual or candles or beads... but I like all of those things on occasion.  I don't always get the answer I ask for, but I know that I'm heard... and I keep an open dialog.  Then I listen.

I'm not sure whether it's the return to expression,  the reality of my blessings or the unseen hand on my shoulder, but I feel better.  Again...   Thank you for time to recollect.


March 6

It's amazing to me just how often a single line in a movie or commercial, in a book or magazine, even in an advertisement or on a license plate, speaks directly to me.  Mom had her follow up with the cardiologist on Thursday and it went very well.  I'm hoping she can relax a little now that she knows that the hidden gadget in her chest is actually functioning well.  It has been referred to as her Guardian Angel and the tech doing the tests said that it was on 'cruise control'.  So my Mom's Guardian Angel is on Cruise Control, fun image.  On the way out of the hospital parking garage, we stopped beside an entering car with the license plate 'Miss Nan'.   It was like a wink from Heaven and made me smile.

The book is still transforming, distilling, while I try to allow what wants to be said to come to the surface.  It occurred to me that perhaps I should  put together a proposal, a suggestion made in most of the "Craft of Writing" books, if for no better reason than to clarify on paper what you want to say.  I ordered the 2011 Writer's Market and sat down with it over coffee Friday morning.  Jules and I were talking about my need for discipline and a schedule of sorts.  I explained to him that most publishers will only accept submissions from 'agented' authors and he suggested that I hire Denise to be my 'Agent'.  I looked through several more pages of publishers, trying to quiet the voice of the internal critic, reminding me of the number of rejection letters most writers anticipate, when Jules suggested that I look for an agent named Shannon.  At that exact moment I looked down and my hand was poised above the middle of page 123 in the Writer's Market ~ "Denise Shannon Literary Agency, Inc."   If I tried to imagine these things it would be impossible, and yet I find myself still, as ever, questioning the reality of my "Ghost Writer".  Silly me !

During the last few weeks I read the book about connecting with loved ones on the other side through a process of Lucid Dreaming.  I enrolled in a scientific study which teaches the basics of Lucid Dreaming and collects data from the participants. The next day I got my first, hopefully last, and worst cold of the season.  I'm not sure that Nyquil is the best companion for Lucid Dreaming (realizing in a dream that you are dreaming and taking conscious control of the experience), and although I haven't had that experience yet, I have started remembering and recording my dreams in a more consistent way.  The study continues for eight weeks so I'm hoping that by Shannon's Heaven day on May 1, I will have had the opportunity to visit with her and discuss writing, and photography and art.

I slept on the sofa last night.  Poor Jules has been sick along with me and the coughing spells that are lingering, seem to happen around three a.m.  After that, I can't go back to sleep, or dream, and since my first and only lucid dream with Shannon thirteen years ago, happened when I was sleeping on the sofa, I decided to stay.  When Sammy insisted on going out at five, I made coffee and turned on the television.  A sweet movie "Local Color" was ending, but not before the narrator discussed the magic of color.  "Every warm color is accompanied by a cool color.  The sun kisses the earth and leaves a breath of color behind.  The value of every work of art regardless of the medium, paint, music, word, is to remind us of the depth of beauty in the shared experience."

Most of that is paraphrased without the proper punctuation, but the essence is true.

I touched the "Off" button in slow motion, lost in the memory of Shannon's natural gift for seeing the subtle whispers of color that I always missed.  I could see her sitting cross legged on the floor of her bedroom, drawing board and colored pencils spread out around her, intent on layering the perfect reds and yellows with just enough purple and blue to bring a single leaf to life. EternalAutumn  I remembered the determined stride as she left the Dorothy Hart Community Center with "Eternal Autumn" tucked under her arm, having won the award for "Most Popular", so afraid that someone would want to chat with her, congratulate her or, heaven forbid, compliment her work!  She was so shy, so reserved... so amazing, and there are no words that can ever adequately express how her life filled mine.

I think I want to know that there is something waiting in the days ahead.  Something that feels like  Christmas Eve.  Something like Shannon's birthdays or weekend visits from college.  Something that fills me with joyous anticipation or that giddy butterfly sensation.  Once I imagined those moments coming in the form of planning Shannon's wedding, or holding her babies.  The look in her eyes when her husband walked into the room or tiny hands touched her face.  I imagined my life continuing happily, lovingly through hers.

Sometimes I think that she would be fussing with me if I could hear her voice clearly.  That she would remind me of advice she offered the day she was accepted at Mary Washington, "Okay Mom, now you've got to get a life !"

That's when I started taking classes too.  But now, I'm not sure of anything.  One day I feel that I have to find MY place in this life, that it's not supposed to be about things past, or things yet to come.  I try to envision joy in this moment but it's like standing in the doorway of a well lit room staring into the darkness of the unknown and I can't find my flashlight.

The last line of "Local Color", spoken by the young artist who is missing his mentor is, "I will always live my life in his heart."  I'm sure I haven't got it exactly right so I'll have to find it again and listen with pen and paper but the point is that this writer, this artist, admits without shame or embarrassment that someone he has loved and admired, someone who is beyond his conscious reach is still here.  Everywhere, in everything.  Perriwinkle Blue.  His heart has simply expanded to encompass everything of value and beauty and he will live his life within that precious heart.

Maybe Shannon isn't fussing after all.  Maybe she is simply nudging, as she always did, trying to help me to see myself through her eyes.  Reminding me that no one ever leaves us, we are never facing the darkness of the unknown alone. 

Maybe we simply need to remember how  to see the world differently.  Remember how to trust what our heart can see ~ even when our eyes have forgotten.