Dawn

you will be amazed
when the sky begins
to gray
over the sea.
a horizon
emerges
distant as never
before your eyes
that gentle curve of
now
blending into
always
dividing water
from air.

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Not to Hide

Silence

This is the end of a year of silence. I didn’t set out to experience a year of silence, but I also promised not to require anything of myself other than keeping my job and feeding the cats. A year of of much silence is what came to me. It was necessary and beautiful in a fearsome way.

Walking out of it, I feel nothing like the person who walked into it. I’m not sure how that happened, but it’s true.

 

2017

In 2017, I lost everything. Not “lost” like I don’t know where I put it–“lost” as in my whole life lifted off the planet like water vapor and disappeared into the sky. You know that story already. Until the beginning of June 2017, I had one life. It vanished and was replaced, first by another completely different life in a country with a language I barely spoke, and then replaced again. Replaced the second time by a life back in my familiar country but in a strange house with a reconfigured job, and a new silence.

So. Very. Much. Silence.

I learned to inhabit it.

 

2018

2018 has been a quiet year. Very quiet. Everything happened. Nothing happened. I don’t really know. If I try to make a cohesive, sensible tale out of all of it, my head begins to split down the middle, so I stop. It’s alright. I just tell you true stories as they come to me–maybe someday one of us will be able to make sense out of it all. Or at least some of it.

I have literally written volumes. Notebook after notebook, obsessively as if my life depends upon it. Maybe it does. Some of it is good, some of it isn’t–it doesn’t matter. I have to do it to keep from going mad. There is so much noise in my head and so much silence all around. Sometimes I start to cry and I don’t even know why. Sometimes I feel unnervingly happy. There’s just so much. So much everything. So much that is so important and so impossible. It’s a very big wind and I attempt to simply stand still in it. To take all of it and not fall.

And yes there is a book coming. Poems for the brave-hearted. It’s called “Certain as Afternoon.” Because everything that will happen is.

 

Fear

I’m not afraid.
I don’t feel weak, either.
I feel inexplicably strong.
Like one of those giant cenizaros that hum with bees when they bloom.
Like that.
A blooming kind of “strong.”

I literally do not know what I want.
Maybe I am afraid to want anything for fear of losing it.
That would be a reasonable fear for me to have, all things considered.
But I just said I wasn’t afraid, so what is this confession?
Not afraid, perhaps, of anything that can come from the outside.
But raw as as a fresh wound on the inside.
Yes.
That.
I’m more afraid of me than I am of you.

 

Resolutions

I don’t do New Years resolutions any more. When I used to do them, I always resolved the same things: to write more, to eat less, to be kinder. I don’t have any other ideas. But if I wrote any more than I do right now, I’d have to quit my job. If I ate any less, I would blow away in the wind. If I was any kinder, I seriously hope someone would tie me to a tree and go get help.

But maybe I do have a resolution for 2019. I resolve not to hide. Why do I feel like bursting into tears when I write that? Because hiding is safe and I am good at it?

Well I won’t do it.

I’m not broken anymore. Not most days, anyway. But I’m not sure I’m the same species of creature that I used to be. Something in me feels like it has the coiled strength of a waiting tiger–motionless and not at all delicate. And I’m pretty sure I have butterfly wings, playful, bright, and fragile. I don’t know what you call a thing like that. I don’t know how you be a thing like that. What does it eat? Where does it sleep?  Will people be afraid of it?

 

Water

It’s like surfing. Everything is. Life is. Every day you paddle out into it, whatever it is. Some days you wait and wait for absolutely nothing. Some days you get cold and you want to go home. Some days the sets are so big and so terrible all you can do is paddle straight at them with all your might and pray to God that the hit, when it comes, won’t be as bad as it looks. Some days you ditch the board and dive for the bottom. And some days everything is right, including you, and it all comes together so perfectly you can’t decide if you more want to laugh or cry. I like those days. I have some like that. I have all the kinds. You don’t get to pick.

You pick whether or not to get in the water.

I’m in.

Poem For the Cave

(A love poem for a dark place that ceases to be terrifying when it becomes familiar.  I call it The Cave.)

o deep black
space of silence,
place before time,
dark lung that
pulls us in with the air.
this is where we must
find our way
without sight,
the place where the eye
cannot speak and
only our crying echoes
to show us the
shape of our
sorrow.
the texture of air in our
clutching fingers
is so thin and strange.

Intermittent Fasting: Burn the Broken Chairs

So, let’s talk about something practical for a change, a useful experience I can perhaps offer the world that is neither sad nor entirely nebulous. I’m going to tell you about my 3 months of experimenting with Intermittent Fasting.

What it is

Intermittent Fasting, if you don’t already know, is including a “fast” within each day. You can do this every day, or on certain days—there’s not a wrong way to do it. Your fast starts when you finish eating in the evening and continues until you break the fast. Obviously. You can fast for as long as you want, but people working within this model often aim for a 16 – 20 hour fast.

This means that if I finish eating/drinking at 9 pm and I am aiming for a 20 hour fast, the next time I eat food will be at 5 PM the next day. Another name for this is the 20/4—20 hours of fasting with a 4 hour eating window.


What I was always told

I was always told what you were always told:
You have to eat 3 square meals a day in order to be healthy.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
If you don’t eat enough, you will feel weak and be improperly nourished.
You have to eat an amazing number of portions of certain types of food, or else.
If you don’t eat enough calories, your body will think it’s starving and you will get fat. (?? Thus, all the fat starving people??)
It’s ideal to eat 5 small meals per day.

Etc etc etc

 

What I am discovering

All of that appears to be incorrect, or at best, incomplete. I’ve been doing more 20-hour fast days than not since the end of August, and I am not: starving, fat, too skinny, weak, dizzy, ill. I can surf, ride my bike, run, do yoga and even though several colds have gone around the office lately, I haven’t gotten any of them. I got an infection in my foot from a thorn I stepped on and it went away without me having to take antibiotics. Doing pretty well, all things considered.

 

What made me try this

Two things happened simultaneously that made me so curious I couldn’t resist trying something that I was sure I would hate:

1. Riding along in the car with a friend of mine, discussing longevity in Blue Zones vs all-the-people-getting-cancer-nowadays, I watched him have a complete Eureka moment when I explained that in Guanacaste, the dry season ended in an epoch of virtual famine back when people lived off of the land, not the tourists. Could times of fasting/famine may be one of the Blue Zone common denominators? I saw how much this discovery illuminated him, and I understood that it’s worth paying attention to.

2. Listening to a pod cast this friend send to me later in the day, I heard an analogy that made all the sense in the world about how it is that fasting can be good for you—what your body does when it is hungry that can save your life. Let me paraphrase:

The body is like a wood-burning ship or train crossing the ocean or desert. The food you eat, obviously, is the fuel. So what happens when, in the middle of the ocean, the captain realizes that there is never going to be enough wood to make it to the port? He sends the crew through the ship, room by room, to check the furniture and haul out everything that is obsolete, wobbly, or broken. And they throw it all into the fire. Burn the broken chairs. That is the phrase that grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me. Burn the broken chairs. The extra fat cells, the unhealthy cells that can get out of hand and form tumors, tissue that is damage by too much sun or too much wine or too much whatever. Burn the broken chairs. God knows the closets are full of them. Stuff we save up in our bodies and our hearts because we don’t want to throw it overboard. Burn the broken chairs. When we get to the port, we can build new ones out of solid materials that will hold us up but not create clutter.

This is a link to the podcast.  There’s a lot of discussion in it of other, um, unconventional health measures people take, but don’t let that scare you.  No, I haven’t tried all of them!

I had to try it. I had to know. I’d spent 47 years believing that I could not live without breakfast, lunch and dinner, and actually experiencing very real symptoms of hypoglycemia if I didn’t eat “on time.” So? How in the world could this possibly work for me?

I do not know. But it does. I am not weak, dizzy, grumpy, miserable, or any of the other things you would think I would be. I am also not losing weight. This is ok with me because right now I do not need to lose weight–although many people who want to lose weight are able to do it this way. I kind of feel like a rock star.

 

How it feels to fast

You wonder, am I not starving hungry all day? I’ll be honest. I’ve been starving hungry since the day I was born. I love food. But I am not more starving hungry now than I ever was before. It depends more on how much I ate the day before than on anything else.  If I don’t eat enough food during my 4 hours of “feeding,” I can be pretty miserable by about 10 AM. I get terribly hungry, then I get distracted and forget about it. Exercise helps. Endorphins wipe out everything else. I’m the hungriest between about 2-3 PM, for some reason. When 5 o’clock finally rolls around and it’s time for me to eat something, I couldn’t care less if I have something to immediately start stuffing in my mouth, or not. It’s amazing.

And this fasting, as I mentioned in a previous post, has also (I believe) affected my heart/spirit. I absolutely believe that this has helped me burn the broken chairs in my heart. How, I don’t know. But if fasting has been a spiritual discipline for thousands of years, there must be a reason. I have not tasked myself with being the one to define it, but I will tell you that I do experience it. If you have shit to get rid of in your body or in your heart/soul/spirit—stop eating and let the employees haul out everything that doesn’t serve you well. Burn the broken chairs.

When I am very very hungry and I feel like I don’t want to do this anymore, I tell myself it’s alright to be hungry. It’s alright to feel that way. And I love proving to myself over and over that I can do hard things. Hell, this is nothing.

I feel like I “burn cleaner.” And I don’t even know exactly what I mean by this. If you do intermittent fasting, I’ll bet you know what I’m talking about, though. I feel more….sharp. More like I am made up only of essential elements. I mean my body and my mind. Because who are we kidding—we are all only One Thing. I’m done with those bogus separations. I’ve never been able to separate myself into compartments and I’m not interested in starting now.

 

Practically

Practically speaking, this is a difficult way to live. There are all kinds of occasions where you kind of can’t get out of fast-breaking social occasions. So, ok. I go out to breakfast and don’t fast that day. I go out to lunch and don’t fast that day either. It’s alright. There’s always tomorrow. You don’t accumulate a boat full of broken chairs in one day, anyway.

For how long am I planning to do this? I don’t know. Until further notice? Until I change my mind? For how long are you planning to eat the way you eat? Until I decide I have a better idea, I guess. For now, I like it. My body/spirit feels strong and uncomplicated. I also have zero problems with acid reflux, which I suffered from for 12 years. So, there’s that to consider. I am completely off the meds I thought I couldn’t live without.  As Pio would say: Fa’ti delle domande.

 

My takeaway

Let go of everything you thing you know; it’s all somebody’s best guess.  Let go of it all. Truth will arrive on its own to fill up the empty space.

Burn the broken chairs.

Dawning

Something is going on with me. After a year of what may have looked not-so-bad on the outside but was really deep mourning on the inside, something is happening. It is not something I am doing. I have done many things, but this one is not starting inside me and moving out. This one is coming to me from the outside in, and I am observing it, witnessing it.

To tell you you about it, here are 3 things as they were born from my pen into my journal on 3 separate days, all in the month of November. Turn off Grammar Correct. It’s choppy, but if you hold on, it will get you there.

 

ONE

I feel Pio. Calling me to be alright already. To be happy. To knock it off. To open and close and hold on and let go and be ok. To live. To open my closed hands. To honor him by being joyful and free and engaged with/in my life. With Life.

That is not coming from me. I want to hide and pine and ponder and pontificate and gestate and all. He says no. I am in between these two things, both pulling.

 

TWO

I went to an intense yoga class and then I laid on the floor and understood Everything.

Thankfulness. For Pio. For what we had. For what he was.

For Life that we have while we have it. And we all move into it and out of it, all of us. All. And it isn’t fair to sulk or to be bitter that someone moved out of it before we wanted, because we didn’t will them into it in the first place, and none of us belong to anything but Life.

Pio didn’t belong to me. He belonged to Life.

And when he is gone the world, the planet, cannot keep him. I cannot keep any more of him than what he has planted in me. When we are gone no one can keep us.

There is so much beauty moving in and out of our lives all the time. Pio wants me to experience the beautiful things and people that are with me now today in life, and not hate the space he isn’t filling.

It is inconceivable that he left his life and I am here, but I am because there are things I must do and be. In the end, no one remains unforgotten except Jesus and Shakespeare and Genghis Khan. So all of us–all of us–are like flowers and grass. We have to be beautiful while we can and that is our calling and our blessing.

And we must be open-hearted and open-handed and grateful for everything we have, and not expect not to lose things. Because everything is coming and going and only mountains remain to see it all.

I will never “find anyone like him” again because no one else is supposed to be like him. My beauty and happiness is mine, not created by him or by anyone else. It is mine and comes from me.

Things and people that I love and want may come to me. And go from me. Because my life is not The Main Storyline. The Main Storyline is so big and so long I cannot know it all.

 

THREE

I don’t want to call it a “rebirth” or “moving on” or any of the other words or phrases other people use. What is it? It’s like a fog lifting? No. The fog is there. It’s like developing a 7th sense to see/perceive through the fog.

Yes. Like developing a 7th sense. I guess that’s supposed to be 6th sense, ha ha!, but I think I already have #6. The 6th Sense is knowing on this plane, across time/space barriers. Maybe this really is Sense #7: a sense that can “see” through the fog and perceive the depth of time and space where you and the Lost One both are, but in different forms.

And this form is/was only temporary, anyway.

And no one ever really belongs to anyone else. All of us are Life’s gifts to itself. And where we came from and where we are going, who knows? But before our lives was Forever, and after is even longer, and this life was only ever going to be a flash in the pan for any of us. Whether it’s 100 days or 100 years.

This is dawning on me. That is all I can say. It is coming upon me slowly and silently out of out of deep night like a dawn. That none of us knew would come. Much less how or when.

But you have to Do All the Things during the night. You have to listen to the voice of the deep space and wait for the echo to tell you where the bottom of it is. The echo never comes, but you must wait. And while you wait comes the dawn.

I have a peace now and an understanding. It doesn’t wash away loneliness; it sits with it. This peace and this loneliness sit together. They form together in the dark like twins. There is no way to explain these things. The only thing to do is wait for them and when they come, take them in.

Walk. Stop eating. Watch the stars. Sleep with them. Pay attention. Do not stop crying.  Because you have to let go. Not of love or of pain. Of the illusion of belonging. You have to let go. Of ownership.  Nothing is yours. Nothing ever was. Even you are only being lent to your life for now.

He was never really mine. That much has always been clear if you dare to see it. He came to me to give me pizza and laughter and self-confidence and olive oil and the Italian language and 2 step-kids, a trip through the dark side and into the light, 5 years in Washington with my sister, and a motorcycle. But he would freaking kick my ass if he saw me sitting around crying for him now.

He would want me to have become more beautiful, stronger, more self-confident than ever before for having spent 14 years with him. That is what he would want. That’s what Life would want.

All of this is dawning on me. I am not doing this. I am passive; it is active. It is coming on its own over me. In the dark, I did The Work. Now it is dawning.

Yes I watched the tragedy of how he died. But if he was not angry and did not hold back from it, why should I? He told me he knew I would be alright. And I am. I feel in some ways ashamed to say it because I fear it might sound like I am falling out of love with him. I am not. But peace is coming to me like a slow dawn.

And we aren’t so far away from each other after all, are we, amore mio? Not really.

 

AFTERWARD

I stopped and cried a few times while I was writing that last one just the other day. They weren’t exactly sad tears, just the manifestation of tremendous amounts of emotion in the absence of adequate words.

The only reason I can think of that I should have been chosen for these things is because I am the one who will always bear witness, who will do The Work, tell the stories, carve the totem poles. For you. For the day a story will save your life.

Look, now. You see? The sky is beginning to lighten.

 

Pio in Mexico, on top of the world. Late 1990s.

Slowly Like Snow

you said take me home
to the sea and
i promised
i would

neither of us imagined then
on those last days of
pain patches and tireless visitors
the weight
of a carry-on bag
with ashes

i tried to lift it
into the space above
my seat on the plane but
couldn’t
the gentleman who helped
eyed me strangely

when the plane took off pointing
toward the endless Atlantic, i
reached for your hand
i really did
but your hand wasn’t there
it was in tiny pieces in
the overhead compartment
and i had only air
to hold on to

i cried then
as we lifted
everyone could see me

you said take me home
to the sea
and i promised

i went down into the water
with your teeth and
your bones pressed into
my skin
and watched
as the tiny pieces
fell slowly like snow
around me

Lambrate

Lambrate.

I find it on Google maps. It’s on the other side of Milan.

I’ve never been to a crematorium. The only picture I have in my mind of a crematorium is Auschwitz, and I know this is not going to be like that. But I know what happens in crematoriums and I know that my husband is there. His ashes are there. How is this possible?

I’ve waited for 29 days. 29 terrible days. First the sickness, over in 4 months. Then the death with the futile fight at the end. Then 29 days of waiting for ashes, for the legal papers that will release them to me for international travel. He told me and everyone that he wanted to go home to the ocean in Costa Rica after this was over, for the remains of his destroyed body to end in the ocean. So I wait.

I have an app on my phone that tells me how to get anywhere I want to go in Italy using public transportation. It tells me which buses and metros I need to take to get to Lambrate. The public transport system is easy. I’ve been in Italy now for 5 months–I’m not a beginner. I’m concerned about which side of the street to catch the bus on, but I have extra tickets so if I catch it going the wrong way, I can get off and wait for the same-numbered bus on the other side.  It would’t be the first time.  I am more worried about choosing the right stop to get off the bus. How will I know? And, provided I pick the right stop, how will I find the cemetery where the crematorium is located? I don’t expect giant signs to advertise it. Am I going to have to stop strangers to ask the way? What if I cannot speak?

I find the bus stop. It’s cold here on the shady side of the street. I’m early. I’m sick to my stomach–sick with fear that something will go wrong, that I’m supposed to bring some type of document that I don’t have. I have nothing in my hands except my passport. My brother-in-law told me that the funeral parlor said they have taken care of everything and all I need to do is go with my ID. Everything is ready. I do not have any faith that this is true. But I have nothing to bring. So I am empty-handed with an exploding heart and a knotted gut.

If they tell me I must leave without his ashes I will crumble to the floor and they will have to carry me out. I know it. I have nothing left. I can’t anymore.

My attention shifts back to the present. To the street corner I am standing on, to the thin stripe of sun I am trying to stand in, to the growing group of passengers around me waiting for the Lambrate bus.

Suddenly a chilly wave of relief sweeps over me, something warm like love kindles in the center of my frozen chest, and I know I am going to be alright. I will find the right bus and I will know the right stop to get off. I will find the cemetery and the crematorium.

I know this because I realize that I am standing in a growing cluster of old women. Furrowed faces, pea coats, gray hair, gnarled hands. In their arms, they carry flowers.

On this lost street corner in Milan on the last morning of October, my new tribe surrounds me. These are my people. Each of these grandmothers, one day, has done what I am doing–made her first trip to the cemetery at Lambrate. We are widows. We are waiting in the damp sun-striped shade to go to our husbands. I am the youngest, the newest. I have arrived earlier than usual to this place, to a bus stop on the route to Lambrate. There are men among us also, solemn-faced and wrapped in scarves, but largely, we are women.

The time is wrong. The place is right. I am in good company and will not be lost. I am not alone. My pain, perhaps fresher, belongs to all of us. I am home here in this unfamiliar place.

When the bus comes, I get on and stand in the aisle, allowing the seats for my elders. I stare out the window  at the ancient city as we travel, trying to breathe, envious of the serenity of the women and of the flowers. When the bus slows and the hunched passengers stand, I follow them out the door and down the street, through the gates of the cemetery at Lambrate, and follow signs to the crematorium.