Archive for the ‘From the Inside Out’ Category

She read this morning the words of Pearl Cleage and the gist clung unflinchable like a stray hair. Mothers have deep and rich interior worlds. What daughter doesn’t want to know the deep lessons learned while navigating?

Her own children believe she is magic. That homemade dresses, meals and clean floors simply appear. That she is Glenda the Good Witch and they are Dorothies in red converse and flip flops – sparkles optional.

There is no magic here, only life in its great clawing rawness. She wonders if sharing the how’s and why’s will help strengthen the wing feathers and strong roots she is creating. Will it provide a bigger vision?

She shovels clothes into the rush of water, pulling the bright pink t-shirt from the white of socks and summer dresses.

Are these quiet details as important as the recipe for Christmas morning cinnamon rolls? Or instructions to properly load a dishwasher? Or honing the skill of finding the perfect Katherine Hepburn pants that have good drape?

She chuckles “Or this?” and reaches for lavender scented Downy so mundane chores smell like fields of memory and dream.

Pearl Cleage’s daughter didn’t think so. She believed they needed to remain intimate to those who participated in them.

She sits quietly at the kitchen table. Outside the window, a honey bee searches the blossoms of the wilting Ballerina Roses for missed satisfaction. Inside light piano music mixes with screams of “Ow-ow-ow” and “Stop.”

She picks up the pen next to the day’s list.

Dear Children,

Once upon a time is the way the most fantastic stories open. Those of good and evil, of great love, loss and big skies. This one has the added bonus that it is true or as we say around here: “I’m for Real.”

Once upon a time, a man came after many prayers were lifted. He liked the way I twirled in dresses and didn’t mind how my laugh unfurled in a room as if on wings. We became friends. And the air and light began to move differently.”


A nod goes to Story A Day for the prompt Epistolary Stories. Also to Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lessons, Lies & Love Affairs by Pearl Cleage.


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My brain is weary of those bullet pointed resume words customized daily. It is squishy, I know. It is no longer the taunt and fit muscle that hunts for dots to connect, that draws pictures in starry skies.

The stumble occurred on a random May morning over coffee. Story A Day. My interest perked but there were other more important things to tend. I left. I customized.

I don’t believe in coincidence – perhaps this is the open window, the rabbit hole filled with adventure to follow. I returned. I read and gathered. I chewed slowly for a month.

The prompt: Epistolary Stories.

I read or heard a story about a poet who telling of her craft said that sometimes words rush at her like a freight train when she’s in the garden. She drops the hoe and sprints to the house for pen and paper. Sometimes she makes it in time so the words ink themselves as gift, no thought, no editing. Sometimes her foot catches on the top porch step. She is late and the train rushes through her as if she were a tunnel. At which point, the words come perfectly backwards.

The saying goes like this: “It’s either a light at the end of the tunnel or a freight train coming.”

“No worries,” I whisper to self while opening a blank page. “You like trains.”

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I thought it would be audible. The click.

I didn’t expect so much a flash bang sound like those thrown in movies before entry that are resplendent with bright light, loud voices & a battering ram.

Nor did I think it would be something consistent moving closer like a woman’s stilettos measuring time on hard polished floors before entering & sitting down at the wide table.

Both of these give that Darwinian sense of fight or flight in a belly, don’t they?

It just came so quietly. The click.

It was almost like the fault line gently sighed so a quake was felt in middle Illinois like it did once in 1987. I remember that day how I watched the window awning quiver and knew something had happened, something was not the same, but I didn’t know exactly what until later. I guess that’s how it happens sometimes.

I was standing there in brown leaves that held neither winter crackle nor spring promise. The children were behind me talking. Their lift & lull heard at distances further than mine. The smell of yesterday’s firewood lighting that day’s rose in white smoke when suddenly my world’s wind came hard. And I simply stood looking up into a looking down that demanded me to mend and make right.

I felt my face tighten with the weighted adult look & nod. I felt my head bow down as something changed. I felt myself float away knowing yet wondering  what was different in this shaded light here when the circumstance & expectation was familiar. It was just geography after all.

It wasn’t until later, the date kept and given by another who marks & measures using sticks & the like, that I realized I felt the answer move through artery & vein with a gentle strength. It wasn’t until then I found the words of no more and enough formed in marrow deep. It wasn’t until then I felt fully the depth & breadth of the air I took in daily. It wasn’t until I relived that I realized I caught a glimpse of the bluest sky between the green oak leaves there when I looked up, before I walked away.

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It was a competition. Truly at its core it was a competition, but not like the ordinary learned competition – that of man against someone or some thing bigger outside like in barfights or bear attacks or in a boat on the ocean during a hurricane. It was more simple that than and more complex. It was woman. It was me.

It was the fourth, officially day 1,460 of yes acceptance in good and bad, in sickness and health, in tripping over shoes in the living room and struggling for a Windex sparkle clean and words to express. It was a long day for me, filled with spreadsheets, floor plans, impossibly small font and the task of weighing and measuring not just these. And I thought at 4:30 that I must do something. Tangible. With a bit of whimsy silly. A bit of sentiment. A bit of filling up gently, steady. A bit of saying something without using words. Something to bridge the growing gap and buttress a weariness also growing.

With an ordinary pot roast, something we Midwesterners serve on a busy Tuesday, a few candles, scrap wood, yard roses so different from their shop cousins because they show the wear of wind and rain and children bumping past and through, and honeysuckle vine dripping sweet nectar on an generic fruit filled tablecloth, I stood slowly to the challenge against self, pulling up from the boot straps snug around weary ankles to create a celebration. From all I had within my grasp, I set about to create feast.

And I could feel myself lift from the cheap seats of whatever-world to the field. The girl’s eyes were alight. The small boy smiled shyly. On a Tuesday.

And I spun rose petals so the bruises were hidden on the bottom.

And I tucked vine around and through candles gathered from other rooms.

Once, I thought, in a fit of silliness, candles dripped down the front of long bureaus and into drawers. Was that pre-ring? Or early-ring?

These wicks enflamed and sizzled the dust away.

As I fixed plates, the children asked questions of why and how on a Tuesday. And I told truth.

I told of how God made Adam and Eve to create the first covenant. I told of how children added texture and depth and how they were brought into this covenant to bear witness, to learn and grow it bigger. This glory is what is craved, I said. To create like this and spread wide. I told of how the commandments said to honor it in so many ways. And that right now I was trying so hard, with all that I had in my bone, to gather the pieces of fumbled days and celebrate. I smiled at them and told them open over potatoes being mashed that I hoped I was doing a good job as a bride, as a wife, but was fearful so I prayed those places away which is what one does, I said, when an ache becomes searing, when something must be done. And this brings glory too, I said. To pray. To lean.

And I said all of this in that way that comes hushed because of the absence of flourscent light over kitchen island. In candle light, all feels like a secret revealed, doesn’t it? Something mysterious maybe? Something sacred? And they pushed in and they blushed and got out the ketchup.

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When he stated fact in church on Sunday, I remembered it took 42 minutes.

I know this because when I walked through the screen shoulder & heart heavy, I looked at the steady green numbers & stood quiet before stepping leaden from the kitchen sink to the oven to the refrigerator until finally I surrendered to a slump. Into an orange jewel painted chair, like a bird, I thought, to remind me of feathers & wings & soaring great heights.

He said 70% of human waste is expelled through the lungs, through breathing. Through something we take for granted, I thought.

I remembered how I looked out onto the winter worn yard filled with twigs and branches strewn by weeks of storms. To walk across it barefoot would be ridiculous, but the mud and wet leaves would feel like cool silk to my toes and soles weary. But I didn’t move. I sat.

He said he thought that our bodies ridded ourselves by other means. People laughed in that pitch that showed their wonder at where exactly he was going with this.

I don’t know when I realized how sharp my breath felt moving in and out  but the shallow jagged motion gathered my attention.  Tiny shards of glass like frost, I thought. I imagined the tiny molecules snowflake shaped and spinning moving into and throughout lungs hardened by the sheer force of the heart center also hardened.

But what if it was simple? What if this slightly chilled air coming through a door that pushed itself open was like the mud and leaves? What if it was silky & smooth to breathe in and out?

And I followed the trail of air into my lungs, each aorli opening like blossom sending tiny puffs of dander and dust out with each exhale. I saw in my mind’s eye the jerking pump of muscle plateau out as if the climb was over for a moment. I felt the freshness feed veins and arteries down through arms to fingers, legs to toes and swirl in the dance of ribbons here messy below navel where I can see the pulse of all.

He gave the direction that today was the day to fill with God. To breathe Him in and exhale the disappointments, the morning, the week. To breathe in God and know Him.

It’s His name, isn’t it? Hebrew, unrecognizable even there. Something I learned in college after a walk across frozen grass to the basement classroom. Then I relearned in my late twenties. Then fought to learn in my thirties. And here again.

And his face brightened as if in sun and the eyes rimmed red in awe and I wanted to touch my friend’s arm gentle because I was relearning, remembering it again. It was brought to my mind too, days earlier. That to know Him is like breathing in and out with intention.

This is when on Friday I looked at the clock. This is what I have carried with me.

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I made a promise, after hearing & recording all that was said, on that old bench. I used the words ‘never’ and ‘ever’ and closed the door & dead bolted.

Beforehand, I battled it out loud. I used words like atonement for, jealousy of & lording over. But I was weary & the wind was too strong. So like a house of cards, I toppled. It is best to lie still lest the beast be further aroused, I thought. Silence can be golden, I consoled.

In my mind, the facts flared. After all, I had done the calculations in the early morning hours. I made lists, cataloging the whole against the slightest mention into one column, then flushing it further into positive & negative. I knew these darts slung while I sat slumped were myopic, knew in black & white the wrongs, but my soles were sore from treading, my muscles tired of strain.

So I willed it. I vowed the quit.

And instead of scraps scrawled and tucked away, each time a phrase rose gentle swift, each time a verb turned in dance with the sun or a stray leaf, I spun around resolute & refused to note. I refused to embrace & my arms ached deeper.

Then came the reminder of who I was in brotherly laughter. Then came the sharing on a bold twirling whim, one I had back spaced out of many times. Then came the question of “why not” & the honest answer & the retort “ridiculous.”

And I girded & I wrote & stitched & slept because all of this is what was needed in one day.

And now I offer fumbling apologies for delighting in wonder at how far exactly ants dig & why the sky is so blue some days. For my need to relive in order to understand. For my need to document the search in order to finally arrive.

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I offer my presence up in the way of certainty, in the tone of “of course” experience. No one should travel to a funeral alone. A hand needs to be held. A warm familiar body needs to stand and sit beside.

Then I begin the drive and I want to take it all back. Because there’s an ache unexpected in my throat and in my hands gripping the wheel. I don’t want to answer the phone. I want the sound of loud music to rise and fall. I want those drums and that bass to replace the pound of heart in my ears and soothe the crashing in my chest.

I dawdle in heavy evening traffic, following the lead, but not too close. I sing. I stretch my fingers. I look at the clouds. I wonder if my clothes, chosen with a care rarely present, are appropriate to honor the deceased and the survivors, all of whom are strangers to me.

I listen and look as people are pointed out from a pre-me time. I smile, stay close. I want to memorize this. I see the span of ages – friends of parents, friends of brothers and of the deceased, the man’s children, others’ children. This is the only time this particular group of people will be together.

I watch the way a brother clicks the pedal for his guitar, tunes then nods “just right” before playing up to a his brother.

I follow the lights, explained as tribute to a man, who designed stages and sets harnessing light to create beauty. I listen to the accomplishments. I listen to a thirteen year old boy tell of clouds and chemistry, explained as it was by his father, in a parking lot.

So much grace, I think. I feel it move in like a mist onto the shore where grief has been crashing for months of prolonged illness.

I see the way a mother’s skirt of black and white ovals perfectly patterned clings lightly to her husband’s pant leg when he stands familiar close. It wraps around the leg of a man she remembers as boy, just as her arm does. My heart tells me she’s done this before too.

But this way she smiles comfort and warmth to those brave enough to approach her, the way this skirt catches the chair when she leans heavy onto its back, this is new, I know. After long pain, this kind of floating along and wrapping around for the love a son and gratitude to a room full of friends and family is foreign and unnatural. And yet so beautiful to me, two rows back watching.

I wonder if I have grace like that swirling, like a long skirt, when I mourn. I think of the lightest of fabric, of the shimmer given with each turn to the next face, the next hand, towards the sink to place dirty dishes and in the bend to pick up stray socks in the living room. I think of the need for time and space free of judgement, filling with spirit.

Perhaps it is this. Perhaps it is the spirit moving here, folding into her and others. Like the mist rising not disturbing or consuming but instead wrapping around so gentle and cool, like that on a shore line. Suddenly one is surrounded by it. The waves are heard and the wind is steady and sure on skin but there’s a new breathing where the crispness of mist is taken in and released, like a burning balm that meanders its way to tender heart places.

Grace must be present like this, I think. I want to wear long silky skirts and feel the mist rise about and rest in it beautiful.

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