Monday, October 29, 2018

Raw and Tender

I've been a bit raw and tender lately; like an egg that has cracked and the yolk spread across the kitchen floor.

Yesterday, at the end of my shift, I put my headphones on and settled in to finish my medical records. The headphones serve to isolate me so that I will focus and get my work done. They served their purpose because I looked over and there were my co-workers, performing CPR. Our receptionist had barreled into the treatment area cradling a dying dog. The team had immediately mobilized. One person climbed up onto the table, straddled the dog and began chest compressions. Another placed an IV catheter. A third person set up the ecg. A fourth placed an endotracheal tube and began breathing for the patient. It was just like you'd see on tv. Only the efforts were for a dog rather than a person.

In my ears was Stevie Nicks. Landslide.

"What is love?

Can the child within my heart rise above
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides
Can I handle the seasons of my life
Well, I've been afraid of changin'

'Cause I built my life around you..."

And with that I stepped outside of my body. I floated somewhere to the side of the physical me and felt all the feels. Pride at my co-workers and their amazing dedication and ability. Sorrow for the people who were, in all likelihood, about to lose their dog. Confusion about the randomness of life. Helplessness as I watched it all unfold.


The world has been challenging as of late. All the bad things on the news. It's particularly difficult for someone like me. I internalize it. I feel, sometimes too much, for the people involved.

In the midst of all of this my husband and I have been attending a weekly class in Compassion Cultivation Training. These weekly meetings, with a group of strangers, have begun to feel like therapy. Tears have been shed. More than once.

Today we meditated. We inhaled darkness and expelled light. In and out. In and out. In with the darkness, take the darkness into your heart, and, like a furnace with coal, transform the darkness into light. Exhale the light.

We've learned some mantras. And one I now whisper to my patients; especially those that are being euthanized.

May you be safe.
May you be happy.
May you be free.


Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble, breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.

Breathe in terrorists 
and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.
Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.
Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.
Make soup.
Play music; memorize the words for thank you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,

imagine grief 
as the out breath of beauty 
or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.

Wage peace.

Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious:

Have a cup of tea and rejoice.

Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Celebrate today.

~Judith Hill


Tonight we were asked to make a commitment for this week. Give away one thing per day. Your time. Your heart. Your genuine attention. Money. A book. A poem. A gift.

I was reminded of something my daughters and I used to do when bad things happened. Something that has fallen by the wayside.  We used to buy coffee gift cards and write handwritten notes. Then we'd hand them out,  leave them in flower pots, and tuck them in library books. 

It may not make a difference. But I'd like to think we left a little light in the world. 


I've had this blog for ten years now. And haven't written much as of late. But the voice inside my head has been telling stories lately and I'm here to translate.

It's weird to go back and read old posts. I've grown a lot. I'm calmer now. Less angry. More understanding. We all have the capacity for change. 

Love and light. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Life, Death and Autumn Leaves

My life revolves around death.  I live through the grief and trauma of death every day that I work. And on days I'm not working death still permeates my life. Death has seeped into my skin. It sits with me as I make coffee. It rests on my shoulder as browse Pinterest. It walks beside me as I feed the chickens. And it presses into me as I get the mail. I'm not dying (at least not any more than we all are) but I am constantly reminded that death waits for us all and no one is exempt.

I've done a lot of inner work around death. It's a necessary part of my being. This inner work keeps me living as I help others grieve. I meditate, study buddhism, and train in compassion. I'm not a particularly religious person but I do delve into fantasy about what happens after we die; I love the principles of universal energy and the idea of reincarnation.

Recently I euthanized a cat; a sweet creature whose kidneys had shut down after a monumental battle. This cat's owner was deeply religious and she had come to peace with her decision. Then she said something that startled me. She said that, though she loved her cat, she knew her cat did not have a soul. Thus euthanasia was okay.

I understand that these were the words of a grieving woman. And I hope her belief helps her to navigate life without her kitty. But I must respectfully disagree. If anything has a soul it is animals. Perhaps, though, she has never looked into the eyes of a great horned owl and seen the world inside. Perhaps, then, she'd change her mind.

But I digress. On Friday someone in our circle passed away. Someone we knew was ill but didn't expect to be gone so soon. Someone our age. My husband called me at work to break the news.

Now death follows me like a loyal dog; I can't even go to the bathroom alone. But for my husband it is different. Death stays sleeping in the corner and it's easy enough for him to forget that it's even there, lying quietly in wait. So when death showed up it was a shock and a surprise. My husband was bawling.

I had a long weekend of work ahead. Emotionally wrought cases. People with anxiety and fear. Lives to be pulled from the brink and lives to release to the ether. So I took the news and tucked it into my pocket. I shoved it deep and did my best to ignore the news.

But this morning? This morning was different. I had the day off and started by reading some poetry. Then I listened to music. And I cracked wide open. Because death remains random and impossible to understand. Why one person and not another? Is there a universal plan? And what about his family? How are they to cope with this grief?

Needless to say I spent some time crying in the shower, listening to music and singing through my tears. And the big question remained. How best can we honor those that have passed?

Here's what I've come up with. We need to live our best lives. This doesn't mean standing on a cliff wearing a perfectly coifed dress which romantically flutters during a highly manufactured instagram moment.  Rather it means finding the beauty in EVERY day. No matter what the day or where you are.

Let the sun shine brightly through the windows of the car during your commute. Watch the birds migrate through the sky. Pull over by your favorite trees and crunch through the fallen leaves. Stop and smell the flowers. Take a bath. Hug more and longer. Forgive. Hold hands. Tell people how truly beautiful they are. Do all these things and then some. Because only this day, this moment, is a given. And nothing else is guaranteed.


When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

One of those days ...

Tonight I watched a movie about Walt Disney: Walt Before Mickey. The movie had 4 1/2 stars on Netflix. I was expecting big things. The movie itself was fine, but, honestly, not worth the stars. The stars, really, were for the sentiment.

Keep on trucking. If, at first you don't succeed, try and try again. Get back on that horse. Hang in there (complete with a kitten hanging precariously from a branch). I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. 

And really? These sentiments are how people succeed. Honestly and truly.  KEEP GETTING UP. AGAIN. AND AGAIN. AND AGAIN. And yet. There are days when getting out of bed seems more challenge than it is worth. Days when being an adult, when doing the RIGHT THING comes with little to no tangible reward. Days when a bottle of wine, a fuzzy blanket and 24 hour pajamas are the best you can muster. Today was one of those days.

One of those days where I found out I have to appear in front of the veterinary medical examining board for an error I did not commit (but an error I am ultimately responsible for - and rightly so). One of those days where I signed a notarized document to destroy my daughter's cord stem cells (because they weren't going to cure my father's Parkinson's Disease). One of those days where I did dishes and laundry and tried so hard to revel in the magic of the world. But fell short. Oh so short. And the laundry and the dishes managed to cavort like a set of lustful rabbits multiplying behind my back.

One of those days when I saw the hate thrown around in the world. One of those days where my shoulders are tense, my ear is ringing and I just can't seem to find my place. Like the prototypical square peg in a round hole I just can't seem to fit and I'm not sure to whom I should register a complaint. God? The Universe?

Dear Sir(s) or Madam(s): I am so sorry to complain. Because, really, there are so many things going right in my life. But at this very moment, Sir/Madam, I am struggling -- with fear. With uncertainty. What if? What if things go wrong?  And, on the other hand,  what if they go right? Can you please help me get through the next six months? The next year? The next five years?  Could you, possibly, send me some assurance that it will all be okay -- really and truly okay.

On days like today being responsible for three other beings scares the living daylights out of me. How can I possibly provide for them -- financially, emotionally -- when I'm not sure I can even provide for myself?

And then I feel another guilt. Guilt for even indulging in this self pity. For God's sake THERE ARE PEOPLE STARVING IN CHINA! What right do I have, as one sitting in a HOUSE with FOOD and ELECTRICITY and INTERNET, to complain. I have no right. Obviously I am in error and quite clearly doing this thing all wrong because I HAVE SO MUCH.

But then, I know, deep inside, that sometimes a good cry, a good and thorough pity party, is necessary. I'm hoping my tears will dredge the trenches and allow for clearer thoughts, new insights and new determination. And maybe tomorrow - pants (baby steps).

So I sit here tonight -- in full pity mode. I will cry myself to sleep. And tomorrow will be a new day with which to carry on.


Saturday, October 10, 2015

There is something particular about the slant of light in the fall; it is as if the sun knows we are leaving and she is reaching out, stretching her rays and begging us to stay.  No. Please. Pleeeaaase don’t go!  All the while we are spinning away, our own hands outstretched, saying we are sorry, we’d really rather not leave but we must. The saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder” holds true; fall is fleeting and therefore we (most of us at least) are mesmerized by her show. 

Once a week I drive to the country to buy milk. And I take the long way home. I drive slow, slower than most would like, as I am staring google-eyed out the window. Other people, those not impressed by the light, pass me and flip me the bird. Truth-be-told I could care less. I intend to live to be one-hundred-years-old. If I succeed this means I only have fifty-six falls left in my short life. I intend to make the most of them. 

This afternoon, while in the country, I saw a rainbow. I slammed on the brakes and my milk went flying; my new car has now been appropriately christened. I got out and took the camera I had on hand — my phone. I focused on the rainbow and snapped my shot. At nearly the same time an osprey took flight and let out a haunting call. For an ephemeral moment I was one with the world; this moment was so perfect I thought my chord tendineae, my heart strings, might rupture; if they had you’d find me laying dead by the side of the road with an orgasmic grin on my face and my car covered in milk (or perhaps, by that time, cheese). But I didn't die because I have fifty-six autumns remaining. Perhaps, in my hundredth year, my heart strings will finally give out while I’m puttering around outside— what an amazing way to go. 

In the meantime I’m stretching those cardiac tendons of mine and driving like a half-wit through the back country roads. If you come across my dawdling orange car you have two options: 1) show me your middle finger, press on the gas and get to wherever you are going in an expedited manner or 2) you can pull over and listen to the birds and watch the leaves dance in the light and breath in the crisp fall air and know what it truly feels like to be alive.  'Tis entirely up to you.  

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Call it Desire

The street cars stop right outside our hotel. They are gorgeous and I could sit and watch them all day. Each one is different. Some cars are local but many are not. They were brought here for restoration and preservation; functional nostalgia.

We rode a car from end-of-line to end-of-line. We clacked our way through the city and jumped at the sparks that hissed from above. There was a particular noise that came from the ceiling, a sort-of a patter, as if an giant cockroach was marching across the roof. I imagined this roach powering the machine; his every step a volt that sent the car along the tracks. At the end of the line I stepped out and looked up. The roach was invisible. All I could see was his antennae connected to the grid.


We are in the nitty gritty heart of the city. Diversity lives here. As does disparity. The city is a good lesson in privilege and class. Truth is we're all only a dysfunctional ganglion (or two) away from those folks sleeping in the rain.


There are so many people here with their hands out. In want. In need. It's hard to know when to give and when to hold back. Despite our privilege money is finite. At least in our here and now. And so we must choose.

We gave to the man asking for nothing but smiles (and he gave genuine smiles in return).

And we gave to the man sitting in a alcove with a typewriter. Free poems. Donations accepted. Pick a topic, any topic.

I choose streetcar.

He gave me this, hunting and pecking his way into my heart.

And then he gave us a reading, leaning back into the alcove and projecting his voice so all the world could hear.


It's raining now and I have the urge to run into the street yelling 'Stella!' at the top of my lungs. I'm sure I wouldn't be the first nor would I be the last. Instead I'm going back up to our room. I'm going to talk to my girls about what it is to be us and what it might feel like to be someone else. Then I'm going to ask them to each write a poem; about any topic their heart desires.


"To travel is to live." ~ Hans Christian Anderson

Saturday, June 27, 2015

When Pigs Fly

Tonight we walked through an alley full of art. Sanctioned graffiti. A man sat on a curb next to a dumpster; the dumpster smelled so horrific my son visibly gagged. The man played the trumpet. The music was mournful. And beautiful. The alley reminded me of what it was to be human; ugliness and beauty tangled together, dancing.

We gave our daughter five dollars to give to the musician. She didn't do it. She was too nervous. The trumpeter didn't have a defined receptacle for donations. She didn't want to offend.

We wandered further, admiring the art and plugging our noses. The trumpeter closed his case and followed. We stopped to admire the pigs. Then we were following him. 

He had a key for a chocolate shop. He went inside and locked the door with a definitive clack. I wondered if he was like Vianne Rocher from Chocolat. Would he blow away when the winds changed? 

Tonight we walked. And we went to dinner. We talked about the Supreme Court's decision to allow gay marriage. We all agreed -- why not?  Our family is our family. Nobody else's family or values or decisions can harm our foundation, our core.  Love is love. 

And then the conversation segued into my job and what drugs I used at work. Which further segued into a general conversation about drugs and what kids were doing what. This. This honest conversation with a 15-year-old and a 19-year-old. This is the reason we pile into the car and drive for miles upon miles. Hot and sweaty, air-conditioning on the fritz. To Utah of all places (who goes to Utah?). To have these conversations. To forge these bonds. To see the ugliness and beauty that resides within us all. To love. 

Friday, June 19, 2015


I sat in the doctor’s office for two hours and got five different injections. I had to wait in between shots to make sure I didn’t die. There are two large round lights in the exam room. I think they are meant to emulate the sun. Instead they looked like large white glasses, as if I was being studied, as if I was a specimen in a jar. 

When I got home there was blood on my sleeve. It seemed pointless to change. Just more laundry.

When my husband does laundry (my husband does laundry!) he washes it on “heavy load”. I wonder what he is trying to say about the task at hand. When I do laundry I wash it on “whitest whites”. I wonder what I am trying to say. 

I am not a good patient. I am supposed to live in a bubble. I imagine myself in my bubble, a clear plastic dust free zone. I see myself rolling about town, like those people who jump in gigantic balls and bumble down hills for fun. 

I hope my bubble has gloves, like an incubator for premature babies. You could reach into my bubble and we could hold hands. I could pretend I was still from this world. 

“I thinks it’s all the pollen,” my doctor said, “we’ve had high pollen counts this year.” What he meant to say was I was not compatible here. During my manufacture I was built for a different environment. But someone messed up the delivery. 

The other night, at 3:00 am, a middle-aged African American man walked into our clinic. He did not bring a pet. His eyes were red and he was jumpy, he talked too fast. He said he’d been in to see us before, with his dogs. He asked us to look him up so he could prove who he was. We found his file. He said he worked nights and went to school during the day. He said he didn’t sleep much. He said he was trying to get home and was out of gas. He asked for five dollars. He said he’d pay it back. 

I had five dollars. I gave it to him. He went on his way. The next morning my receptionist asked why I didn’t call the police. Why would I? Five dollars is a simple price to pay for peace. 

Yesterday, when I came to work, there was note attached to a five dollar bill. Thank you, thank you it said. Sometimes there is good in this world.  Sometimes we can be the good in this world, even if we were built for something else.