When

When your daughter comes down the stairs wearing a satin bustier under a Las Vegas jacket, you will want to say no but you won’t, because you will remember being 16 too. 

When you think refinishing the kitchen table will take a week, you will still be eating outside two months later, balancing dinner plates and glasses of milk on the porch swing.

When your youngest daughter loses her front tooth on the slide in the backyard, she will come rushing in with a radiant bloody smile and you will see her new again.

When you are thirteenth in line at the public library to read a novel loved by a friend, you will open the latch to the door of the Little Free Library and there it will be.

When your ten-year-old gets braces, he will let you hold his hand on the walk home and everyone will get butter pecan ice cream after dinner for the pain.

When your daughter’s college announces high levels of coronavirus in the wastewater, they will close the dining room and library, and she will eat alone in her room.

When Air Force fighter planes roar through the sky above you, your throat will blur and you will miss the child who believed there was something so powerful and so good.

When an ornery melancholy sits down inside you, you will try to convince it to leave, you will lean your back against it and try to push it out the door.

A friend will tell you to let the feeling rest. This will go against what you’ve always known, and you will be afraid it will stay like a squatter in an abandoned government palace in Madrid.

You will stop trying to find out who the squatter is or why he is here, and this is when you will see that it was you who invited him in, and this is what you have been waiting for.

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Impermanence

A giant tree limb fell on our car yesterday. The car’s back looked like it was broken: roof crushed, rear end bent, tires kneeling to the ground. Black glass was spattered everywhere. 

It didn’t look like I’d ever drive it again.

That night Diana asked if she could give me a face massage and a hand massage and a foot massage after I tucked her in. She touched my eyelids and my eyebrows, pressed her tiny finger pads into my forehead, along my cheeks, the whole length of my lips. Everywhere she touched, a prickly metallic layer under my skin melted away.

It’s just a car, I had said when we saw it there. We have insurance, shielded as we are from the buffeting winds of misfortune by our position, our color, our nest egg.

Diana asked if she could hum when she was massaging my hands, and “Is it okay if it’s just a made-up song?” She stroked the tendons on the backs of my hands, squeezed the tips, intertwined her fingers in mine and wiggled the forgotten crooks. She squeezed the fleshy parts — the heel, the ball — parts of a body that work without being acknowledged.

It’s just a car, but it was the car that Sofia and I had just driven to her first semester at college. The car that had taken us on 5 Thanksgiving trips when all the kids were living at home, summer visits to the grandparents, Christmas pilgrimages, missions to Dutch Wonderland.

Diana takes my feet. Having my feet touched has always felt like being in the hands of Jesus. It touches someplace deeper, more sensitive, a place both loving and needy.

We were at the pool when the limb broke. I had wanted to give the kids something more than riding bikes around the block, and it would be closing soon. The rains come almost every day now, the cone flowers have all turned black, and every last day lily has bloomed.

Something is dying in me too: a hope, a brightness. An opening is closing. When will I be able to bear this? When will I know that this is what happens when something else needs to be born?

“Why does it feel so good to be touched?” Diana asks. We are part of a whole, I say, and touching makes us feel less separate. Touching someone else is like touching our own selves.

The broken car, schools closing, summer waning, blossoms fading — they are all here to show me, again, that nothing lasts. And everything is special.

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Diana asks if I could give her a face massage. I run the pads of my thumbs over her plump cheeks, around the backs of her ears, and over her scalp and behind her neck.

There’s something different about this type of touch. Unlike a hug or a kiss, it does not need to do the work of communicating. It conducts something that we can’t control, that we don’t need to control, that will flow whether we do anything or not. Touch recognizes what is in each of us and allows it, unfettered.

I say to myself that I’m okay with this loneliness, this quiet, solitary life. But the tension builds, the silent grief, the continual battering of what used to be, the howling of what needs to die but won’t. And the pain sits there in a parking lot, keys hidden under the mat, until a tow truck comes to take it away.

The last time I saw the car, an orange caterpillar was inching up the curve of the wheel. I wonder if it felt lost, or if it knew it was just finding another way.

Letter to Myself

When you are so busy throwing stuff into the shell of your body, you don’t realize that to feel fulfilled, you must simply stop.

The sound trickling in is not water rising to drown you, but the sound of your own self coming into its rightful space.

Nothing can replace this ‘being one’s self.’ That is why you keep running, seeking, rushing, doing — desperate to fill the emptiness you fear.

Your longing is the longing for your own self: your own love, your own trust, your own intuition. 

Sometimes you feel that you are an empty riverbed. A ditch that can never be brimmed, never satisfied.

Don’t be afraid of this blackness. It is what connects you to everything that ever was and everything that ever will be. It is what everything springs from and dissolves into. This is the power you are afraid of. The unknown, the endless, the incomprehensible.

Don’t fill the emptiness with small tasks and petty demands and a million directives from your in-box, your to-do list, and your self-help books — they will never be done, and you will never be full.

Don’t fill it with someone bigger, more powerful, more charismatic and brilliant than you — this person will leave and you will be alone again.

Don’t fill it with what you want to buy, become, create — if these things come, you will still feel something is missing. Even when your arms are full, even when you have everything you asked for.

These glimmering, brightly-colored, squeezable things — they are always morphing, growing, disappearing. You can never hold them and be done.

Only water can satisfy a riverbed. Only the part of you that is connected to all the streams, all the oceans, the lakes, the waterfalls, the floods and fjords that circle the world. The river of life that never ends and never begins. 

Jack Anstey/Unsplash

Let all other things be washed away, all that has blocked you, obstructed you, made it impossible to hear the sound of your river rippling, to taste the flavor of your own soul.

In the stillness, your breath is a wave, coming in and going out. The knowing will eventually come, flowing through you from somewhere deep inside, filling the space you thought was vacant.

Hidden Grief

All of Western culture is suffering from very profound grief. We are not comfortable with impermanence. We try to fix things in time and space, but because impermanence characterizes our lives in a very fundamental way, we are in a constant state of loss.

— Joan Halifax, American Zen Buddhist teacher