Silent Healing

 

In this Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016 photo, Louisiana Army National Guard dump truck, loaded with rescued flood victims, makes it way back to dry land in Walker, La., after heavy rains inundating the region,(AP Photo/Max Becherer)
In this Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016 photo, Louisiana Army National Guard dump truck, loaded with rescued flood victims, makes it way back to dry land in Walker, La., after heavy rains inundating the region,(AP Photo/Max Becherer)

In the haggard silence, there can be no words

A  merciless anguish falls on the sodden bodies

But comforting too, the  bodies close

Pressed, crushed together

They are a single throbbing wound

That can only heal as one.


Of all the heartbreaking photos of the flooding disaster in Louisiana, last weekend (and there were so many),  this one cries to me the loudest.  The faces register shock, disbelief, loss, pain.   And yet there are no tears.   Old and young stand together, defiant,   facing ahead  in  a solid show of will.   Their common  suffering has become the bond that will unite them to survive

.

SOMEDAY

“That ship sailed.” I say that a lot these days. So many things now, that I won’t or can’t do again. I will not, for example, be partying allimages-3 night, taking the “red-eye” cross country, wearing sequined jeans, images-3getting a tattoo, signing up to run a 10K or any other kind of “K”, or tottering around in shoes with spiky 4″ heels. And I’m OK with all of that.

If we’re lucky, we all grow old. And I’m OK with that too. But I never noticed it happening to me as I navigated life’s passages; graduation, career, marriage, parenting, the AARP card, grandchildren, downsizing and finally retirement.

But I didn’t feel old! OK, maybe I was starting to get arthritis, maybe it did take longer to “bounce back” from winter colds, perhaps I did need those “readers” more now. So I did give up running for walking, and power aerobics for yoga. And could it be true that our children were receiving their AARP cards? Unsettling, but… I still had time, plenty of time – to take that trip, to be with family and friends, brush up my piano technique and attend concerts, to visit that lonely person, to read books, to write books. Those were my dreams. And I’d get around to them. Someday.

I don’t know the exact moment when I knew life actually had changed. Was it a day when someone opened a door I didn’t need opened – or ran to pick up the sunglasses I dropped, was it my sharp images-1intake of breath at my reflection under the harsh lights of the beautyimages-1 shop, or (please, God, no), when someone called me “cute?” No matter. It’s true. Things have changed, they have really changed. And while I haven’t experienced substantial losses, yet, praise God, a thousand “little sailings” unnoticeable at the time, have manifested in sea changes in my life over the years. Life was never, after all, endless journeys to far horizons, but a voyage through tributaries, narrowing to one. I am at that tributary.

And that was not OK with me. Not at all.

I have always worked toward goals that catapulted me toward new ones. That made sense in my 40s, but it was foolish now. My fear of aging would not let me see that I was no longer sailing toward a destination, but had arrived. So I continued to postpone my dreams as I always had – to Someday. When I was older. Not now. Not yet.

But as I watched friends battling terrifying chronic diseases, becoming incapacitated, losing spouses with fat bank accounts still intact, I had to admit that in fact, Someday was here. Time to face my fear of growing old. I didn’t enjoy that at first. But this foolish denial was costing me my dreams. Time to get busy. Things to do. Time to welcome Someday.

So I’ll be scheduling that trip, spending time with the grandkids, going to those concerts, writing, reading, hanging out with my friends and family. It’s Someday. And my ship is safely anchored in port.

WHAT THE LITTLE DOG KNEW

Looking towards the lightIn a wheelchair beside the nurses’ station, a tiny old woman sits, eyes closed, lips parted, hands folded in her lap. Her head droops to one side. Ragged wisps of white hair stray across her forehead. Her nightgown is rumpled, one slipper has dropped to the floor exposing a pale bare foot.  She could be asleep, perhaps even comatose.  Visitors pass, a nurse rushes by and jostles her wheelchair but offers no apology.  No one notices.  It’s  as if she’s invisible.

As nursing homes go, it’s a good one.  It’s so  clean it’s almost unsettling,, the furnishings  expensive and inoffensive,  the staff’s crisp white uniforms fairly rustle as they pass.    Vivaldi plays  softly in the background. They try hard.  But it is still a nursing home.  Where no one wants to be.

A  small dog being led by a visitor trots by, then  suddenly pulls at his IMG_1147lead, resisting  his owner’s attempts to move forward.  The visitor tugs at the lead, averting her eyes from the woman in the wheelchair.   But the little dog is determined.  He sits  down by the woman’s wheelchair as if he has reached his destination.    After a few seconds, the woman opens her eyes and raises her head.  A smile spreads slowly across her weathered face at the sight of the little dog.  Her watery eyes twinkle. A soft voice breaks the silence.  It has a characteristic honeyed lilt, a pattern of speech once cultivated in finishing schools for proper southern ladies.

“Well, hello there!  And aren’t you a pretty little thing?” A bony finger reaches down and strokes the little dog’s ear. He stands, reciprocates with a swift lick of her finger, then sits again,  tongue hanging  sidewise, looking up at her expectantly. They regard each other silently.  She reaches down and gently strokes his back.

She turns to the visitor, “Do you take good care of him?”

“Yes, I do, ” the visitor says.

“Well, make sure you do, now, ” she admonishes. “He needs a lot of care.”

“Don’t worry,” the visitor assures her, “I take good care of him, I promise.” A few minutes pass as the woman talks softly to the little dog.

Finally, she looks up at the visitor, as if to dismiss her. Thank you.” she says, smiling, returning her hands to her lap.  “Can he come back sometime?”

“You’re welcome, “ says the visitor. “And of course! I’ll bring him to see you again.”

The woman smiles as the visitor and the little dog walk away down the hall.

We tend to avoid  people who seem needy,  especially the elderly.  Perhaps we are afraid we can’t help, that we  will become  entangled in their problems, that it will take too much of our time.  But as the little dog knew, people are not always what they seem.  And our gifts do not have to be big ones.  The little dog gave the only thing he had to give, his attention and his love, and it was enough.   In the words of  Mother Teresa, “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.”

 

 

A REQUIUM FOR MY FATHER

Eight days before my 18th birthday, my father took his own life with a pistol to his head.

I was visiting a friend a few miles away.  Around the time
the  event occurred, I experienced a sudden mental shock, something like what you feel when you see an oncoming car in your lane.  We didn’t have a phone, so I couldn’t call, but when I saw my uncle’s car turn into my friend’s driveway, I knew what had happened.  My father and I were that close.  I walked out, got in the car, and  my uncle and I drove in solemn silence the few miles to our house.

By the time we reached home, the casseroles were already flooding
Country roadin,  dusty pickups crowding the driveway. The ladies of the local Methodist Church were there in force, wielding mops, brooms, and feather dusters.  I knew they came out of love, that someone had to do what they were
doing, but I wanted them all to go home.

Someone had brought my mother a glass of iced tea.  She sat on the porch, motionless,  the glass in her hand, oblivious to  anything around her.  It was she that found my dad.   I gave her a hug; I’m not sure she noticed.

My grandfather was sitting on the front steps talking with some of the men that accompanied the casserole/cleaning women.  He didn’t seem very upset.  I wanted someone to blame, so I blamed him.  It was the first time I saw my mother cry.

The night before,  Nana  had one of her “dreams,images-8” I was told later.  Her “dreams” were always the same.  My grandfather  Robert would come to her in the dream and say one word, only one – the name of one of her sons.  That night it had been my father’s.

It wasn’t until nine years later when I was about to undergo major surgery that I learned my father’s death was suicide.  In our family, if we didn’t talk about it, it didn’t exist.  But now my mother worried that I needed the facts about my medical history.  She had told me it was a heart attack and in fact, had maintained the “heart disease” fiction for years.  It turned out that the “heart disease”  was mostly caused by Old Grandad and Southern Comfort.

After that I slowly began to lose touch with my father’s memories.  It wasn’t a conscious intent.  He was my hero, my cheerleader.  I adored him.  But over the years, I lost his face in the family tableaus.  I see us Mother, Grampa and me, seated at the kitchen table with its worn oilcloth covering, its centerpiece of pepper sauce, tobasco, salt and pepper.  I see Grampa  seated at the head of the table in his caned ladder-back chair.  I hear him mumble the blessing, “Heavenly father, we humbly thank thee for these and all thy blessings.  Humbly beg for Christ’s sake.”   I see us turn our plates over and put our napkins in our laps.  But my father is missing.

I see the church pew on Sunday morning –  Grampa sits next to the window overlooking the picnic grounds.  My mother is in the second row on the other side of the church overlooking the graveyard where she and my father rest side by side now.    I see my cousins in the third row, the crying babies in the back pew, the preacher’s wife in the  center row in front of the alter with its  velveteen kneeler.    But my father is missing.

I see the church socials, the barn dances.  I am there with my friends.  My mother is talking with the community ladies. But my father is missing. He is missing from the Christmas pageant,  my high school graduation,   holiday dinners, my piano recitals.

images-7A few snippets remain; I hear him telling me he loves me more than all the windows in the Sears Tower.  I remember that he always brought me some tiny gift when he came home from work.  Every day. A lollypop, a pretty stone, a flower, always something.  I couldn’t wait for him to come
home.

I want those memories again.  I want to remember all the things people say they loved about him, his humor, his kindness, his creativity.  I wish he had stayed to attend my college graduation, to walk me down the aisle, to know his wonderful son-in-law, to meet his grandchildren.  I grieve for all the Fathers Days we missed. I wish it had been otherwise.  I wish my mother had not been so crushed by the boulders of the fallout, that  her dreams for her future  had not been so cruelly snatched away from her in midlife.

What I feel isn’t forgiveness, exactly.   I don’t know the reasons for his overwhelming despair, the tragic sequence of events that sealed his fate,  the twisted thought process that convinced him that this, his  final act on earth, was the best, the only thing to do.  But  I don’t judge him.  I want him to know that.

And so this is a requiem for my father.  A dirge.  A lament images-4for what might have been.   A plea for his soul, a prayer for his redemption.  A testament of the unconditional love between father and daughter.

 

 

 

 

Summer Rainstorm

 

 

It is early morning and I watch the sun rise over the lake from a sagging settee on the sleeping porch.  Our Boston Terrier, Jake
IMG_1910peacefully naps  at my feet.  As I sip my morning coffee, I watch his rhythmic breathing  punctuated now and then by a twitch of his ears, a muffled yip or a brief pummeling of his legs.  Maybe he dreams of chasing  a squirrel or a cat.   Maybe he doesn’t dream at all.  I wish I knew.  I wish he could tell me.

Our house is on a cove. which  this morning I share only with  nature’s creatures, or more accurately, they share with me.   A great white heron perches on a rock, his large round images-1body impossibly balanced on  one long thin leg. A school of ducks fat from the bread we feed them  paddle languidly by and assorted songbirds compete for air space.  An occasional bird of prey soars overhead in search of food.  Today there are only buzzards and hawks but on rare occasions, we see golden eagles.  I wonder why we revere hawks and eagles, and find their buzzard relatives disgusting. I wonder if buzzards know this.  I wonder if Eagles do.

The loblolly pines on the distant banks are a blue-green blur in the morning light. One by one, lights appear in houses along the shore as daybreak approaches.  A lone fishing boat advances slowly from the far side of the lake, the sounds of its outboard motor growing louder as it nears.  I watch it come closer, its metal hull slapping on the waves, a flag  of Louisiana fluttering from a standard.   It is a bass boat, rigged out for serious fisherman.   Its occupants are visible now, two young men in camouflage hats and gear.  Seeing me, they wave, and I wave back as they veer into the main channel of the lake, headed for the fishing grounds.

The statue-still heron on the rock  cocks his head sidewise, and although I cannot see it, I know that  his steely, menacing eye is intently following the movement of an unsuspecting fish below the water’s surface.  He holds his preposterous pose perfectly still, patiently waiting for the right time to strike.  Suddenly, and with lightning speed, his long pointed beak jabs into the water.  His ambush is successful; he  emerges with his prey in his beak,  lifts into the sky and soars above the lake, his long neck curved backwards towards his body, legs straight behind.  I watch his great wings
images gracefully folding and unfolding, embracing the morning air as he glides away.

It is perfectly still in the aftermath of the kill.   The only sounds are the waves lapping at the wooden bulkheads below and the chirping of a small martin warily eyeing the bird feeder in our crepe myrtle tree.   The rising sun glittering on the undulating waves creates the illusion of tinsel blanketing the lake.  Only the slowly escalating motion of the waves foreshadow  a storm brewing in the south.

A squirrel hops effortlessly between the limbs of the sugar maples bordering the lake and disappears into the high branches of a nearby elm tree. The creatures, sensing Mother Nature’s mood about to change, disappear into their nests or hiding places.  Blue-grey clouds slide in front of the sun and jagged lines of lightning, white against the darkening clouds light up the sky,  followed by thunder claps, getting louder as the storm nears.   Jake is suddenly on his feet and into my lap, ears back, trembling, his nap destroyed.  His big brown sad eyes seem to plead with me to make it go away. I wonder why he is so afraid, and I wish I could make him understand that he’s safe.

Curtains of rain advance across the lake minutes later as the storm gathers force.   The first raindrops hit the tin roof of the sleeping porch in single sharp pings. Slowly they  intensify into a steady rumble. The wind IMG_0373has picked up now, and the lake is choppy.  The rain slices at the side of the house and the wind drives it into the porch.  I watch the rain pounding on the lake and wonder about the young men and their ill-fated fishing trip.

I revel in Mother Nature’s operatic performance and  am loathe to give up my front row seat. I hold Jake tightly to calm him but the thunder is getting louder and he is increasingly more anxious.  I cannot stay.  But for this moment, I am at peace with myself, the lake and its creatures.

 

 

WE DO NOT WRITE ALONE

girls-holding-hands-bwWriters need each other.  We need critiques, writing buddies,  encouragement.  We all have other friends, but only another writer knows  the highs and lows of the writing life.  Below is a reblog supported by MakeItUltra. If you’re a blogger, take advantage of this great opportunity to meet other writers and increase your readership.  And visit some of the other great blogs. Enjoy!

https://makeitultrapsychology.wordpress.com.

 

 

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