Shelley couldn’t believe Tracy had just left the chair in the back alley like that. That chair that had been her mother’s. She had sat upon that very chair for six years of college degree completion. The chair that after it’s first messy repair job had stayed out on the front porch and became Shelley’s smoking chair, until she quit when Brandy passed away. Shelley mourned the loss of the chair, and her only daughter, from her life three years ago when she put it out next to the trash can in a rage. She hadn’t really wanted to get rid of it but was purging everything from her life that had come to her before her daughter passed away. She only wanted to be surrounded by new things, not ones with countless stories tied up in the fabric and the wood.
Tracy, her neighbor until yesterday, had snatched up the chair before the trash truck arrived. Shelley saw her take it in through her back door. She felt relieved and betrayed at the same time. Relieved the chair wouldn’t rot in a landfill as soon as she had thought it might, and betrayed because the release she was seeking wouldn’t happen with the roar of the garbage truck condensing the chair into little bits like she imagined.
For three years she had watched from her kitchen window as Tracy was courted by David and then married. Tracy had given birth to their son, Cyrus, in their bathtub a little over a year ago. Shelley always was a polite neighbor, but harbored deep jealousy of the seemingly perfect life being lived next door.
One day Tracy had brought the chair to the back porch to sit in the sun. Shelley decided to pay it a clandestine visit.
“Hi, Tracy” said Shelley, “It’s so great to see the sun after all that rain, huh”?
“Oh Man, is it ever! I couldn’t keep Cyrus from jumping off the walls after the third of fourth day. He actually took a tumble off of this chair pretending to be a helicopter, and we nailed it back together just last night”
Shelley didn’t let on that the chair had been hers – that it was laden with so many memories.
“He didn’t hurt himself, I hope”?
“Nope, just a couple of little bruises. I swear that kid must be made of teflon”
Tracy cocked her head when Shelley said, “You know, household accidents are one of the leading causes of death of children. You’d better keep a close eye on that little whirlwind of a boy you got” She stretched her arms above her head and turned to walk inside.
“Uh…..yeah…..thanks for the warning”
Six months later Shelley began to hear Tracy and David fighting a lot. Every time it was something different – money, lack of sex, how to raise a toddler – all the usual stuff. Her kitchen window was placed strategically in such a way that if their windows were cracked even a little, she heard everything from their living room, kitchen and master bedroom. She took a tiny amount of pleasure in the fact that their perfect life wasn’t so perfect after all. She felt a little guilty about that, but it didn’t stop her.
Then yesterday, she saw the Uhaul trailer parked in front of their flat. She went out to investigate. Tracy said she and David were separating, and started to cry. Shelley knew this had been coming but, of course, didn’t say anything.
The next day the chair was out in the alley, nowhere near the trash cans. Seeing that chair, alone, sitting in the alley, next to the overgrown grass, and the beer bottle shards, Shelley couldn’t help but tear up at the thoughts of all the hours that chair had been useful to someone. She contemplated taking it back, making new memories with it, but decided against it. This time, someone she doesn’t know will take it and she won’t be bothered by the sadness. She could let it go now.
Calcification had been building here for aeons. Stalactites and stalagmites, and dripping pools of limpid water that never seemed to evaporate. I continued exploring the caverns and rooms, always wondering what I would see around the next bend. What I saw was slowly breathtaking – I actually did hold my breath when I realized what I was looking at. I wound around the tunnels and caverns, seeing that the calcification slowly had begun to crack away from what was apparently the massive body of a living thing.
Chunks of off-white, crusty layers that smelled astringent and desiccated were everywhere in piles now, and the walls had begun to breathe. That’s right, I said breathe.
What looked like limestone walls were, upon touch, pliable, smooth and expanding and contracting rhythmically. Slow expansion and slow decrease, I wouldn’t have noticed had I continued exploring the way I usually do, looking forever for the next turn in the road to satisfy my wanderlust. How to wrap my head around this stunning find? What WAS this body? What was breathing and slowly dropping hunks of what kept it firmly in place for so long, like shedding a dry, constraining skin?
It had been hours now, and I knew that I had to choose to stay here overnight or turn around and head out into the waning twilight. I chose to stay.
I went another fifty yards or so and found a large pool in a large room. Here, most of the encasement was already dropped to the ground and I could faintly hear a slow swooshing of air being brought in and expelled, from where I didn’t know. I decided to light a small fire and make a meal then try to sleep in this miracle of a place.
As I moved toward the water to put some through my water filter, I was surprised to see that the liquid was frozen. Perfectly glass-like on the surface and hard as rock to the touch. I chipped some out of the pool, hoping that there were no contaminates or radioactivity that I needed to worry about. As I put my small hammer to the work, the rhythm of the breathing walls all around me start to accelerate.
I put the chunks of frozen water in a small pan and waited for it to melt. The rhythm seemed to maintain the faster pace. In five minutes the ice in the pan had fully melted, I dropped in the freeze-dried food and waited. As the fire crackled I thought I could hear a cracking noise. I wondered if the last of the calcified skin was going to come down around me, but the cracking was coming from the pool of frozen water. I turned to see cracks lengthening and pings of sound now moving all through the large cavern. I wondered if my fire had caused this thaw.
By the time I was finished with my meal, the pool was completely liquid. The breathing of the walls was continuous, steady, and I was lulled into a deep sleep I hadn’t known in many years.
When I awoke I was clearly in a different place. None of the calcification remained on the walls of this big room. There was only the rhythm of breath in synch with my own breath. I felt as if the walls were a bellows, causing my lungs to open and close through no effort of my own. I sat quietly in this entrainment for a long while, not really wanting to move, much less begin my journey back to the outside.
The walk back out of the caverns was a sad one. I realized no one would believe what I had witnessed. I would keep this place and this experience a secret, a moment out of time, for my own contemplation and the sanctity of the large body who’s breath caused my own to be so effortless.
You never know what will change things. For instance, one day the local, long-standing Travelodge, and adjacent restaurant, The Mason Jar, both shaded by huge pine and deciduous trees, was operational. The next day, the whole thing was surrounded by yellow caution tape. Days later the bulldozers and demolition crews moved in to dismantle all standing structures. As time passed I had such fear in my heart that these beautiful trees would also be demolished. But they seemed to be identified as worth saving and spray painted to indicate such and were not torn down. A parcel of barren, bulldozed, land is all that remained, save the seven or eight huge trees.
“Thank God they saved those trees”! I thought.
A couple of months later after the demolition was finished I was dismayed to find a brand spankin’ new Walgreens inserted onto the property. There had been a fully functional one located in a strip mall a couple of miles away, but in the interest of creating a grand gateway to a struggling neighborhood the powers that be decided a poorly designed, hard-to-drive-into-the-parking-lot Walgreens would make a statement. A statement of what, I have no idea. (I would imagine those that wave the banner of private property rights and free markets would applaud this use. I personally think we’re all in this together, that nothing is free in the market, and there is only the illusion of “owning” property. I am in a minority in this thinking, yet the minority is growing.)
Fast forward a few months and the trees are still standing on the property. That beautiful spot could have been a small park, a neighborhood gathering spot, a refuge from the eyesore next door but instead, I see a new construction fence go up with a sign reading “National Bank coming soon!” Again, I am dismayed but cautiously hopeful – they will keep the trees, right?
How stupid am I? Pretty stupid.
All but two of those trees are gone.
Our high desert town has had many things to mourn the loss of, over the years, and for me those trees are one. For me, it’s the death of ancestors, before their time had come, pure and simple.
Something shifted in me as I mourned the death of those trees, something became clear. The deep desire in me to stand with the underdog, and those in need, came to the forefront. The death of six or seven trees have become my personal canary in a coal mine, saying ‘Danger! Don’t go further down this path of needless expansion and death for profit!’ The convenience of buying cheap drugstore items and a drive through lane at the bank is NOT wealth to me.
How do we learn to give our children up to the care of the Great Spirit? When they’re born, we know we have to let them go eventually, but we might not realize we have to start doing it sooner than we expected. The first day of preschool, a babysitter/daycare situation, and later, sleepovers that result in a midnight call to pick them up.
How do we relinquish our hopes and expectations for them? What I wanted when I was in high school was a school like the one portrayed in the TV show “Fame”. When we started discussing where my 14 year old would go for high school, I wanted him to go to the local arts and leadership school. Much to my dismay, he wanted to do sports, which that school didn’t offer, so my dreams of living vicariously through him were dashed, and I had to let go, again.
As time goes on they grow further and further from the Island of Mom. Pushing off from the shoreline for a trip to a neighboring island and graduating to day trips, then out for days at a time. My teenager just got back from a five-day river trip. I had gotten used to texting him during the day, and just the loss of that small bit of connection made me weep, I’m not sorry to say, more than once. Even the days that he spends with his Dad, every other weekend, are opportunities for me to let go. ( I wrote more about that here)
My children rise, I imagine, of their own accord, up toward their own fate, their own path – the one we can’t walk with them. We aren’t privy to where that path will take them. We can provide access to tools and strategies, as far as our own capacities will allow, but the path itself, is a matter between them and their God.
How do we let them go with grace? Most of us were never taught these skills, although there have been other generations that valued that connection with their children and ultimate letting go enough to learn to do it well.
Where is the best place to learn this letting go, now in this day and age? Who do we even talk to about it? I know I’ve shed more than one tear over drinks with other moms, but that is commiserating, not learning so much. I don’t know the “best” place to learn these skills, but many people turn to their religion/belief systems, counseling, parenting books, etc. I have engaged with a number of those way, and find that I look to the universal, cosmic even, ways of letting go. Breathing, noticing how the light moves or doesn’t move in my sons’ eyes, and listening – ever listening.
First, we have to let go of how we were let go. How we moved into the world, transitioning from youth to adult became our programming. I for one, have had to do a hell of a lot of unlearning to make room for these questions. And, I’m still unlearning, returning to a Beginners Mind, over and over again. Being reminded of returning to Beginner’s Mind is one of the gifts of Householding.
How do we give our children up to the care of the Great Spirit? We listen. Our children are the experts of their own lives, and it is our job to listen to what they say, not only with words, but with their bodies, with their silences.
What I have heard, like a rainstorm I thought would be a virga, but it indeed reached the parched ground of my listening ears, is my sons telling me, sometimes cryptically, sometimes point blank, how to let them go. This teacher becomes the student, over and over again.
You lucky, lucky girl.
You have an apartment just your size.
A bathtub full of tea.
A heart the size of Arizona, but not nearly so arid.
~ Frida Kahlo
Sometime the slosh of my messy compassion falls over the rim of my cup and cauldron
as tears, it burns my skin like a 40mph wind blowing in the parking lot, in 20 degree temperatures
hands wet, ice forms, did my excess become his only meal that day?
tears because I can’t give more
12 miles, nothing to me, but 12 miles a recent jailbird didn’t have to walk.
He has a 7 month old he saw for the first time at a court appearance. She’s sitting up now. Strong legged he says.
I sure wish you well. There is a lot of crazies out there for sure, not just there – where you’re from – but everywhere.
I said, “When we don’t have our basic needs met anymore, like food, water, house, respect and love….that’s when it all goes downhill”.
I double around from Leupp road
Wonder at the simplicity of providing just a tiny molecule of the basics.
Is progress and development and ‘growth’ (economic growth is implied) really what we need on this planet?
From the little I’ve come to know about life, if we don’t value what we have right now, then we won’t know how to value the thing we want, once we get it. We all know the course the dominant culture is on is insatiable.
But what do we need?
We need unadulterated food, soil, air, water and love.
We may think we need more golf courses, economic development, low-wage chain stores, and McMansions, a raise, a newer car, etc. (Yeah, I know, in the short-term a raise can be life saving – but I’m talking the Big Picture)
Maybe a community’s desire to be self-sufficient is what we really need. A group of people who live in a geographic region who desire to sustain themselves and their neighbors to the best of their ability by their own hands, not the hands of 14 year olds in Bangladesh, or the credit afforded by the Big Banks to amass more trinkets.
If money is a lien against the Earth’s resources (raw earth resources as well as human/animal labor), why do we in this country and others, continue to live in such a way that the debt we incur will never, and can never, be paid off? Nothing can bring back the hundreds of mountaintops removed for coal in the oldest mountain range in the U.S., for instance.
In the little high-desert town that I live in, there is a strong push these days to get the “economy” going at a faster pace. A push to build more and make more money, and in this currently reigning paradigm that is what is needed. But it’s not a paradigm I subscribe to. What if the people in this town, instead of wanting more new businesses to open to provide more jobs, found ways to turn the needs of those who live here into a business? Creating community kitchens so that those who would like to make a business out of making food for others could do it without having to open a restaurant? One GREAT thing that Flagstaff just did is open a community workshop – THAT’S what I’m talking about!
“63 ways happy people stay happy”
“5 ways to become more mindful”
“83 things to think about other than Breaking Bad”
“3 mantras to help with anxiety” (For only a $1 more you get a free mudra)
“365 days of the “right” food”
“7, 9, or 12 steps to Financial Freedom”
“These 12 Exercises are the only ones you need!”
and on and on and on….
What is one thing that makes all these other “how-to’s” obsolete?
What am I paying attention to today?