One of the constant frustrations in my writing life is my muse.  I know the most successful writers are the ones who sit down every day for 6-8 hours, with a break here and there, and they write.  Good, bad or indifferent, they treat it as they should – like it’s their job. It is a job they love, but they don’t sit around waiting for a bolt of creative lightening to strike them.  This is the path I should endeavor to follow, because my muse seems to be a rather elusive b*#ch who only comes out during times it’s impossible for me to get away.  (such as when I’m performing a vital service for my disabled child or husband)  I can’t will her to come, and she usually tends to bring flashbacks of traumatic times in my life that I either can’t ,or don’t feel I should, share.

A good example of this is the two drafts I’ve been trying to finish for this blog over the past weekend.  They sit there, tapping their figurative fingers on the page,  reminding me that they’re still waiting to be published.  They want closure, damnit!  (Not afraid to use guilt, my unfinished pages)  Even now I’m sneaking this time while my husband waits for me to come to bed, knowing I have to be up at 5:30 to get my son ready for school.  I begged my muse or the spirit of creativity for what I call a “sending” a couple of days ago.  A “sending” is a dream that is so vivid I know it contains a message, an important one.  My begging has produced a dream of being a character in my son’s favorite cartoon, “Dragonball Z“, and coming away with the lesson “it’s okay to struggle with your writing, just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed/destined, to do it.”  The other “gift” involved two flashbacks of being molested as a child and a teen, once by a family friend, once by a stranger.  I don’t feel comfortable sharing details of the former, but the latter situation involved me sitting down on a seat next to a rather inebriated person while waiting for the bathroom at the back of an airplane.  I was going on a family trip somewhere.  People didn’t talk about things like this when I was growing up, so when this stranger (who was a drunk businessman) started secretively putting his hand up my shirt (his other hand held a screwdriver, the drink, not the tool) I didn’t know what to do.  My parents were far forward in their seats, no passengers could see us, and there were no flight attendants around.  Luckily, before he got much further around the “bases” a bathroom door opened and I ran into it and locked the door as fast as I could.  I felt dirty, guilty, wondered what I had done to provoke such behavior. I felt a deep hatred for myself and for the man.  I wept quietly, and prayed he had stumbled back to his seat before I was done.  As it happened, he hadn’t and he gave me a lascivious look that seemed to imply we had both just participated in something that had brought mutual enjoyment.  I got back to my seat as quickly as possible, and away from him.

This is what comes up when I try to “write what I know.”  So tell me, any followers I have left, what do I do with this collection of gropings, and nastiness that emerges when I dig deeply into my mind?  As a last plea, what do I say to my husband when I walk into the bedroom now and he says, “You know you have to get up early, couldn’t you have done this some other time?”  Ah, the delights of the writer’s life.

May your own life be peaceful, and filled with blessings.  Namaste

How do you mourn?

I would love to hear feedback from anyone who happens to read my blog about the question that serves as it’s title.  Some losses are immediate and final – for example the death of a parent.  Other losses just go on and on, like looking at the sweet face of my middle child every day and not knowing how to mourn what has been taken from him by the roll of the genetic dice.  Finding something as simple as a pair of pants he can work with is like trying to climb Everest.  No kid wants to look like he’s wearing disability clothes and at the same time, my darling son is wise enough to realize that if the waist doesn’t have elastic (so he can pull them down), he’s not going to be unbuttoning metal buttons or even unzipping a metal zipper on a “rockin” pair of jeans.  Neither of us want it to be that way, but that’s the way it is.  I have sensitive children, whether through genetics or from them watching my own reactions to things that come up in life.  We’re working with sweatpants for now, and it’s better (obviously) than when my husband was paralyzed around 1972.  On a scale of 0-10 in mourning this is nowhere near a 10, but this is just one issue that we have to confront.  Watching the world fall apart (seemingly) gritting our teeth through another lay off (my husband’s 2nd in three years) is much more frightening and painful.  We’ll find a solution to the clothing issue, but the lay-off, the political climate that went from hope to despair over the course of the past four years, recovering from surgery, and coping with the isolation that no one tells you about when you get a diagnosis that makes your child “special”; those are deeper cuts to the fabric of the self.

Personality has a lot to do with mourning as well, some people are better at picking themselves up and moving forward.  Their feet don’t seem to get stuck in the tarry “gunk” that sucks some of us down.  I tend toward getting stuck through a combination of genetics and the way I was raised.  Because of that, I would love to read your stories of getting over and past ongoing mourning, the kind that is a wound that never completely heals.  The most basic comfort is still having my son to hug and hold, his humor that surprises and delights us, crying together over losses, uncountable moments we experience each day.  On dark days , your suggestions may help in ways you can’t know, nor can I, yet.  I hope others may be helped as well.  This feels like a hemorrhage of grief, that slows down at times, but is gushing again before I realize it.

May your pains be bearable; may the sun come out after rain and startle you with the beauty of a double rainbow, may good news outweigh bad, and may you feel whole; held safely by a universe unimaginable in its complexity, majesty and vast distances.

Your Hands

This poem is dedicated to my husband, Kevin, who happens to be paraplegic, and to all the veterans who have come home shattered by PTSD, limb loss, paralysis, traumatic brain injury, and more.  There are women who will understand and love you and there are men who will understand and love you. (I have PTSD and anxiety for non-war related reasons)  There are men and women who need your love, which no bomb, IED, or terrorist can ever diminish.  Male or female, you are still whole human beings.  Television tries to convince us of lies about our sexuality.  The absolute truth is: the most important sex organ we possess is between our ears and in our chests with each pulse of our hearts that says, “I’m still alive, I’m still here.”

May you be blessed with joy, love and peace in every aspect of your lives.  To quote a young, and very wise woman, “You’re still an innocent.” Taylor Swift


Restless, in pain, I lay down in our bed

hoping for respite.

As if summoned by an unspoken plea,

I feel you reach for me.

Your hands, large and strong,

gently stroke my arms, my shoulders,

and answering a silent wish,

cup my breasts;, gentle, knowing, soothing.

Settling my fight, flight or flee response,

kindling a warmth that spreads like

a healing fever, encompassing me.

Heart, mind, soul – your hands softly speaking

your unconditional love in ways that your

words could never convince me.

Before I close my eyes, tears spilling

over  their lids,

I take your fingers in mine,

and kiss your palms with all the love

and passion overflowing in my heart.

Innocently, I revel in the melting

sweetness between my lips,

before placing your hands back home

on my  breasts,

soft but for the peaks, you have

led me to so many times before.

Your hands speak with an eloquence

words can never capture,

soothing away my worries, doubts and fears

with their constancy and faithfulness.

Beloved, my lover and mate for life,

I thank you with everything I am

or will ever be,

for the certainty of  the love I feel,

emanating to me through your hands.

Janet Landis

Music Lessons

This was the story I wrote in 24 hours for the finals in the NYC Midnight Short Story Contest 2011.  It needs work, but enjoy!

After school sessions with a music prodigy have inharmonious consequences.

“Mrs. Barrows is late,” thought Lucy.  She sighed, wondering how long she’d be waiting. Lucy had shown an amazing aptitude for music at a young age. She wondered what instrument she would be practicing with today.  Mrs. Barrows liked to surprise her, and Lucy had so far been able to play anything she brought in, from a recorder to a cello.  Her footsteps on the tile floor punctuated her loneliness.  As far as she knew the school was empty, except for maybe the janitor.  There was a single window in the room to look out and see if Mrs. Barrows car was in the parking lot.  Lucy’s pale complexion, framed by thick black hair that she wore in a single braid down her back, accentuated her dark eyes.  The only vehicle in the parking lot was a white delivery truck.  It was getting dark outside, and Lucy mentally kicked herself for not charging her cell phone last night.  Mrs. Barrows usually gave her a ride home after her lesson, so she knew her family wouldn’t be expecting her for a while.  The “clunk” of the door to the room being opened startled her  as two delivery men came through the door.  They were pushing a large object, covered completely by a protective canvas tarp on a wooden dolly.  As they rolled the dolly past the piano to an open spot on the floor, one of the men looked up and saw Lucy.  He acknowledged her with a nod.  “Let’s set it down right here,” the first man said, and together the two men picked the object up off the dolly and gently set it on the floor.
“You aren’t Mrs. Barrows, are you?” asked one of the men, as he flipped through some papers on a clipboard he’d taken out from under his arm.  “No, she went to the bathroom” Lucy stammered, not wanting them to know she was alone.  “Well, we need a signature on the delivery ticket, so I guess you’ll have to do it” the man said.  “Are you sure that’s okay?” Lucy asked.  “Yeah, it doesn’t matter who signs, we just need a signature to show it was delivered.  “As long as you think it’s okay….” Lucy stammered.  She climbed down from the chair, and walked down the stairs to the delivery man still standing by the object.  He handed her a pen, and indicated where she was to sign.  As soon as she finished the delivery man ripped off the top of the paper and gave her the bottom copy.  “Good luck with it,” he said, as he walked toward the door that his co-worker held open for him. “Thank you,” she replied holding the delivery ticket in her hands.  With that, they were gone and it was just Lucy in the room once again, now with the addition of the large object that she assumed was an instrument for her to play.
Lucy decided to take off the canvas and see just what this mystery instrument was.  The canvas was held in place with bungie cords.  She started releasing them one by one, until all them were off.   Not knowing how her teacher would feel about it, Lucy took a deep breath, and gently tugged off the canvas.  The rough material brushed against the strings of the instrument as it came off with a whispered sigh of air.  The strings hummed, and Lucy felt something deep inside of her respond.  At that moment Lucy heard the door, and in walked Mrs. Barrows.  “I’m sorry I’m late Lucy,” she said, “It took quite a bit of research and persuading to get this here.  Do you know what it is?”  “I think so,” said Lucy, “although I’ve never seen one except in photos.  I think it’s a harp, a very old  one” she said.  Her teacher nodded, “Yes, that’s right Lucy.  It is a harp, and a very old one at that.  The only reason the owner was willing to loan it to us was because I played recordings of you on a variety of instruments and he was so impressed with your talent that he agreed to let you play it as long as you perform once for him in his home.  He is quite old, and isolated.  He has no family left so he gets lonely, especially for young people like you are.”  “Would you be there with me Mrs. Barrows?” Lucy asked.  “Of course dear.  You are a prodigy Lucy, have you heard that before?”  “Yes, although I’m not sure I’m good enough to be called one.  Learning to play instruments is very easy for me.  It’s like my body has it’s own memory, and when I touch an instrument I don’t even have to think about what to do, I just start playing.”  “It’s a gift Lucy,” Mrs. Barrows said, taking Lucy’s hands in her own, “and it’s very rare.  You have had to learn to read music, but that has come easily for you, and you play well by ear too.  You only have to listen to something once or twice and you can play it.  The reason I’ve borrowed this harp for you is to help you get in touch with the feeling side of your gift.”  “What is that supposed to mean?” Lucy asked.  “You are just starting your journey in life Lucy, even though you are already 15 years old.  As your body continues to change and you start experiencing more of the world, you’re going to need a positive way to challenge the depth and breadth of your feelings.  Music can be another voice for you, a way to let your emotions flow through you, and get released in a creative way.”  “Why is this harp so special?”  “Because it is old, and has been touched by many hands, male and female, and has maintained it’s strength and resilience, two qualities that will be very important to you as you grow-up.”  “Now,” she said, releasing Lucy’s hands, “let’s look it over.  We don’t have a lot of time today because I was late, but we’ll make up for that in the coming weeks. Take some time to examine it in detail, try the strings and listen to what you hear.  See if you can sense those aspects of it I mentioned, strength and resilience.”
Lucy turned to look at the harp.  The front of  it was carved to form a male torso.  His face was handsome, and Lucy could already feel the urge to reach out and touch his cheek.  “Come here Lucy,” Mrs. Barrows said, “I’ve gotten you the stool you sit on to play.”  Lucy had been so consumed in her examination of the harp, she’d forgotten about actually playing it.  “There are 38 strings Lucy, and you use both hands to play.  Why don’t you try?”  Lucy sat down, and felt a chill run down her spine as she touched the strings.  It was a feeling she’d never had before, making her glad she had on long sleeves to hide the goose bumps, and risen hair on her arms.  She hid a shiver, she hoped, as she felt a connection to something dark, mysterious, and ancient – older than she could imagine.  She gently strummed her fingers across the strings, even gingerly, unsure of herself in the watery depths she felt she was entering.  She realized there was a humming in her ears that was distinctly masculine and as she emboldened her fingers to play with more strength, she heard a voice whisper, “There now lass, are you afraid of some old polished wood, and metal strings?” “Of course not!” she responded, then looked up to see if she’d said it out loud.  Mrs. Barrows had her back to Lucy though, busy searching for some piece of music for her to practice. “Whew” she thought, “That was close.”  “Don’t you worry lass, I’ll keep you safe, any words that pass between us are silent to anyone else.”  There it was, that voice again that sounded deep, a man’s voice talking to Lucy as if she were a woman, not a child.  She wasn’t sure she liked it, so she decided to focus on the feel of her fingers on the metal strings, the sound each one made as her finger stroked across it, then contrasting it with fullness of all the strings when they were strummed together.  She was glad that the carving of the man’s chest and head faced away from her, so she could keep her eyes open and still enjoy the sight of the gleaming wood.  Now looking at it more closely she could see that it was inlaid with ivory and mother of pearl, beautifully carved lines depicting vines that disappeared under the man’s cascading mane of hair.  She wondered what it would feel like, running her fingers through that hair….”STOP” she yelled in her mind, “Stop leading my thoughts away like that, I don’t like it!!”  “That’s where you’re wrong. These are just the kind of thoughts you DO like, why else would you be thinking them?” the deep voice said.  Lucy dropped her hands from the strings of the harp, and the connection was lost.  “Why did you stop playing Lucy?  You sounded lovely!  What a gift you have dear girl. It takes most people years to learn to play as well as you do.”  “It’s getting kind of late, isn’t it Mrs. Barrows?  I don’t have a way to call my Mom and I don’t want her to be worried about me.”  “Oh, goodness Lucy, you’re right, it is getting late.  I hadn’t realized, please help me cover the harp and I’ll take you home.”  “No problem” Lucy thought, “better covered and quiet.”  As she and Mrs. Barrows slid the canvas over the harp, Lucy glanced up and was sure she saw one of his eyes winking at her.  A chill ran down her spine again, but at least she wasn’t hearing the voice in her head anymore.  As she and Mrs. Barrows gathered up their things, Lucy asked, “Do you know anything about the carving Mrs. Bowers? Like if it was a specific person or deity or something like that?”   “I’m sorry Lucy, I don’t know much about where the harp came from, the man who loaned it to me is an acquaintance, so we don’t talk very often.  “Well, I’m not really sure if I want to learn how to play the harp Mrs. Barrows.”  “Why Lucy,” she exclaimed, “that’s not like you!  You usually love trying new instruments.”  “Maybe it’s just the carving” Lucy offered, shrugging her shoulders, “there’s just something about it that gives me the creeps.”  “It cost quite a bit to get the harp delivered Lucy, so why don’t we give it at least a few weeks and then if you still feel strongly about it, I’ll have it taken back to the man who owns it.  Sound like a plan?”  “Yeah, I guess” Lucy said hesitantly.  “All right then, we’d better head for home.” Mrs. Barrows said, as she held the door open for Lucy.  “The janitor will turn out the lights when he comes through in a few minutes, so we can leave them on.”
On the ride home in Mrs. Barrows car, Lucy started to feel silly about her earlier fears.  “It was probably just a combination of having to wait so long in that room alone, and needing to get home.” Lucy thought to herself.  They soon reached her house, and as Lucy got out she said, “Thanks for the ride Mrs. B, and I’m sorry about saying that stuff about not wanting to play.  I know it was a big expense for you to get it moved to the school, and I really appreciate it.  I’ll probably feel completely different by tomorrow.  Goodnight, and thanks for the ride.”  “You’re welcome Lucy, and don’t worry about a thing. You’ll be playing like a pro in a couple of weeks if you follow your usual pattern.  Have a good night Lucy, I’ll see you tomorrow.”  As Lucy shut the car door and started walking up to the front door of her house, her Mom came out.  “Long day for you, wasn’t it?  I’ve got a plate of food in the oven for you, and then you can go right to bed.”  “Thanks Mom,” Lucy said, “that sounds really good right now.”
Lucy woke-up the next morning feeling like she’d barely slept all night.  She left the house saying  “I’ll see you after school Mom.”   Lucy felt better as the day went on.  Band was her last class of the day, and she played flute, the instrument she’d chosen for band.  She was first chair, but she could play every instrument in the room at least as well as, if not better than whoever the first chair was for that instrument.  She couldn’t help noticing the covered harp which they had pushed over to a spot against the wall.  She would have sworn she saw the canvas move a couple of times, as if the man carved underneath was moving around.  Once again she felt the chill go down her spine.  She almost went home on the bus, but she hated letting Mrs. Barrow down, so she waited after band.  As usual, Mrs. Barrow didn’t come right away, so Lucy started on her homework.  “Lucy,” said a masculine voice, “uncover me, it’s hot under here.”  She sat up, startled, how could she be hearing him when she wasn’t touching the harp?  “Oh, you’ll see my dear” she heard in her ear, “each day we’ll be getting closer and closer.”  “No, we won’t” Lucy yelled.  She ran down to the harp and pulled the canvas off with a sense of foreboding.  Before she could react to the sight of his arms free, his hands were on her throat, and despite her attempts to claw at him, and get herself loose, the mahogany and his arms were too strong. “Yes Lucy, we’re going to become very close.” He whispered, “you will be MY special prodigy now.”  Lucy knew she was dying, she could hear the harp being played by unseen hands.  The last thing she felt was his hot breath on her cheek as she lost consciousness.
Twenty minutes later as she walked in Mrs. Barrows heard the harp being played beautifully.  “I’m sorry to be late again Lucy, I’m glad you started without me.”   She set her things down, and turned to look at Lucy, but she wasn’t sitting on the stool.  She was laying on the floor, blue.  Mrs. Barrows cried “Lucy” and dialed 911.  As she knelt by Lucy’s side, she felt a pair of hands on her throat, lifting her off the floor, and choking off her airway.  When the EMT’s arrived 10 minutes later, they found two dead bodies laying on the floor beside a beautiful, mahogany harp.

A Righteous Fire

There is a deadly fire that burns within the hearts of some who love God.  It is a burning that drives them to use it to rationalize any action, regardless of the cost to themselves or the people who love them.  It obliterates all other thoughts, obscures vision, and is the prime motivation for all actions.  When my parents became missionaries I was barely a year old.  My parents had received some basic education about the country we were going to, and an intensive study of the language they would need to understand and speak.  It wasn’t long enough, nor were there enough vaccinations to protect them from all the diseases they would come into contact with.  I know their parents were very worried about them going, but there was no stopping them.  The fire had already begun to burn in my father’s mind and nothing would stop him from his mission.
I don’t remember much about our arrival, or the long trip across inhospitable terrain to the town where they had been assigned.  The heat, I remember well, because as time went on our family grew and one of my little sisters developed something called prickly heat, a rash that covered her whole body, and which necessitated our going to a cooler place during the hot summer months.  My father stayed in the city, but my mother, sisters and I were sent up into the mountains where the air was cooler.  We took what was considered the minimum number of servants along to help us. My parents had initially refused servants, but when the Director of Missions explained that it provided jobs and an improved way of life for the people my parents had come to serve, they reluctantly accepted.  By the time my sisters came along, they didn’t even think about it.  We had a nanny, a gardener, a cook, and a man who fixed things and could sew anything my mother showed him a photo of in each of our sizes without a pattern.  When we went to the mountains, just the nanny and the cook came, and my father stayed in the sweltering town.  Another cook was found for him, and he continued his job of teaching English in the boys school.  My mother never seemed afraid or lonely, and made any difficulty into an adventure.  She never failed to point out how lucky we were in comparison to many of the children we played with in the village.  We never went without food or clothing and our mother made sure we understood what a privilege that was.
We loved our time up in the mountains.  We had our mother all to ourselves, and she would play games with us, read us stories and lay down with us for nap time in the afternoon.  In the night if we had bad dreams, she would throw open her covers and let us snuggle up next to her until we fell asleep.  Even when we were sick, we couldn’t do this when we were down in the village.  Father was jealous of anything that took our mother’s attention away from him, which is where he felt it rightly belonged, and we spent much more time with the nanny.  We loved our nanny, but it wasn’t the same as being with our mother.  When we were staying in the mountains our father would visit once every two to three weeks, and we dreaded it.  Our father had a ferocious temper that tended to leap out unpredictably.  He would strike out at us, at our mother, even at our nanny or the cook sometimes.  He felt the nanny “coddled” us, because she would beg him to let her pick up my infant sister when she was crying in her crib, wringing her hands and saying in English, “Please, the little one cries, please” holding her arms in a cradling posture.  Our father would not relent, and seemed to get pleasure out of showing everyone he was the boss, even when it hurt us.  He was kinder to the boys he taught, although he was still strict with them.  He saw all of his actions through the lens of religion. The fire of his passion for carrying out the Word of God could always be justified by a passage of scripture he had memorized.  Our mother’s gentle, kind nature could at times calm him down but other times it inflamed his self-righteous anger even more.
The servants were afraid of him, and we were too.  Only our mother seemed able to love him, and she would try to find ways to ease the sting of his words, the lash of his temper.

The last summer they were missionaries we planned to go up into the mountains as we usually did and he planned to stay in town.  The night before we left my parents had a terrible fight, and he struck my mother physically for the first time.  It was obvious, despite the make-up she put on to cover it, and he did not seem to feel any remorse for his actions.  This was when I noticed that the servants stopped respecting him.  Leaving the village was a relief, and my mother’s spirits seemed to rise with the altitude and the distance we put between us.  The handy man came along with us.  This was unusual, but not so much so that I was alarmed.  We sang as we made our way, and it seemed like the trip was over quickly.  That first night in the mountains, the nanny put us to bed and I asked her why with my limited knowledge of her language.  “Mama sad,” she said, and pantomimed a woman crying.  I wanted to go and see for myself, but the nanny stayed in our room with us that night and I was so tired after our long walk to the mountains that I didn’t wake-up until morning.
We awoke to the sound of my mother singing, and when we went to find her we saw that she was teaching, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” to the servants.  When she saw us she stopped and excused herself, coming to help get my little sisters dressed.  The evidence of my father’s violence was still evident on her face, and it made me very angry.  I asked my mother if she was angry with him, and she replied, “Oh no, dearest one, your father is merely trying to help me to be more accepting of God’s will.” “It’s nothing, and the mark will be gone before we see him next.  You know you must always treat your father with respect, just as we do with our Heavenly Father.”  This did not make much sense to me, and I told my mother it didn’t.  “Darling,” she said, “you just have to trust in our Lord as I do, and when we see your father in a few days, you must treat him with respect and be obedient.”  “Do you understand?”  she asked.  I nodded my head, although I had misgivings about all of it.
My father came to visit that very weekend.  He seemed edgy and irritable.  Nothing any of us did or said made him happy, and he kept picking fights with my mom.  He was miserable, and wanted all of us to share in his misery.  The strange thing was, we didn’t know what was making him so angry.  It was like he was possessed by some evil spirit.  He made each of us cry at some point during the evening meal, and we didn’t see my parents after that.  The nanny put us to bed, and after we were tucked in I could hear her whispering with the cook but I couldn’t understand what they were saying.  I knew they were planning something, and I vowed to myself that I would protect my mother no matter what the cost.
In the morning there was more evidence of my father’s temper on my mother’s face.  Her eyes were almost swollen shut, and the nanny spent more time trying to care for her than she did for us that day.  I saw many knowing looks passing between the servants, and as the day wore on the handy man started a large fire.  I was so upset about my mother that I didn’t really pay attention to it, but as afternoon became evening the fire grew larger and larger.  My mother did not join us for dinner, which was a quiet meal, my father spending most of his time lecturing to the servants about the fires of hell, and punishment for sins.  He spent extra time with the handy man, talking with him as he tended the fire.  I couldn’t stop worrying about my mother, wondering what had happened to keep her from us.  When it had gotten quite late, I heard the cook talking to my father.  It sounded like she was telling him he needed a good nights sleep and the she had made a special drink that would help him find ease in his slumber.  My father had another set of ears he could dominate, another soul he could warn about sin, hell and eternal burning.  From what I could hear the cook just listened, letting him go on and on but gently encouraging him to drink from time to time.  When he had finished it, his words sounded funny, like they were slurred together and he told cook he was going to bed and that he would pray for her soul.  Cook thanked him and soon I heard him snoring in his bed.  I was too afraid to go and check on my mother, and promised myself I would find a way to do so in the morning, no matter what my father said.  I fell into a fitful sleep and dreamed my father was lecturing us about scripture as he was consumed by flames.
When I awoke in the morning, nanny told us that our father had gone and that our mother was still ill and needed rest.  Since I didn’t have to worry that my father might be hurting her, I obeyed nanny’s broken messages to let my mother rest and did my best to help her entertain my sisters.  The handy man continued to tend the fire, from which a foul odor of burning meat came.  Cook said a wild deer had stumbled into the fire overnight, that it must have been deathly ill to have done so and that was the source of the smell.  She had not even tried to save any of the meat because the heat of the fire had been so intense.  By the time we went to bed that night, the smell had dissipated, and we slept soundly knowing we were safe.
My mother greeted us the next morning, her face still swollen from father’s beating, make-up a poor cover for the dark purple bruises on her cheeks.  As the days passed we regained our happy mood, and played all sorts of games with our mother and asked for all of our favorite stories.  Two weeks later a member of the mission came to visit, and said that our father had gone missing, that no one had seen him since he had come to visit us.  Our mother was very concerned and asked the servants if they had any knowledge of where he could have gone.  All three gave the same answer, that he had warned them about the wages of sin and eternal burning, that he had taken his leave to go to bed, and that they hadn’t seen him since.  They had assumed he went back down to the village without waking anyone, something he had done many times in the past.  We continued to stay in the mountains for a month, with no word and no evidence that anything had happened to my father.  The mission board urged my mother to take us back home to America, and wait for the news there.  They were no longer sure of our safety, although our servants had been even kinder of late than they had ever been.  My mother reluctantly agreed, and packed up our things for the trip back to the village, the first step in our journey back home.  The morning we were to leave, I was outside the cabin playing and saw a dog near where the fire had been.  I called to him and he trotted over proudly carrying something in his mouth.  When he came closer I saw that it was a bone from some animal.  I threw it for him and he played fetch until my mother called me to leave for the trip home.

Strange days

Love breaks my heart, over and over again.
Love also saves me, one sacred breath at a time,
as I watch their chests rise and fall with the tidal rhythm
of life that moves through us all.

Two weeks ago tomorrow, I  had to rush my husband to the hospital for a head injury he sustained while vacuuming in our garage on an up ramp.  He developed a contrecoup head injury, sub-dural hemorrhages in both the frontal lobe and occipital lobes of his brain.  Luckily, they were small and minor.  He spent the night in the trauma ICU and was then able to come home.   Unfortunately, a week later after suffering tremendous headaches non-stop, his temp spiked at 103.  We took him to his PCP, who told us to go straight to the E.R. for IV antibiotics and likely admission to the hospital.  We waited over 8 hours in the E.R. before he was given a room.  After many mishaps during his stay (like a radiology tech infusing radioactive dye into an infiltrated I.V. giving him “Hulk” forearm syndrome) he was finally released yesterday.

Our 12-year-old had been admitted to the hospital 3/23 for high fever and vomiting.  They thought he probably had acute acalculous cholecystitis, or an infected/inflamed gall bladder with no stones from his CT and ultrasound.  He came home after 10 days on a PICC line for TPN, and complete bowel rest.  Two hours after getting my husband home yesterday, our son started in with a low grade fever.  At 5:00 a.m. it was 102.2, and he vomited up bile just like he had a month ago.  So, we will probably be on our way to the hopital later today.  It’s all becoming surreal.

I used to want to be a writer.  Now I just want my son to live, and my husband to heal and try to make it a month with no hospitalizations.  Sigh.  Wish me luck.

What’s Your Limit?

The title of this post could refer to a whole host of subjects.  Alcohol, drugs, gambling, any addictive substance.  In this case though, it’s not about any of those tragic circumstances.  It’s actually about tragedy itself.  We’ve had to witness incredible human suffering in the past few years; natural disasters like New Orleans and Haiti, although there is a man-made component in both of those cases that could have blunted some of the suffering.  Better tending to the levies in New Orleans, building standards in Haiti.  I alternatively envy and pity Christians their chapter of Revelations in the Bible, complete with the Rapture – swept up to heaven, leaving the rest of us poor suckers behind wishing we’d believed when we’d had the chance.  It always bothered me, when I was a Christian, thinking of leaving people behind that I loved but who didn’t belong to my particular religion.  It seemed wrong somehow that a God of love would do such a thing to millions “made in His image.”  That was before though, back when belief was enough.

One thing about finding your limit is that the boundary keeps getting extended further and further away from you.  Just when tragedy has struck you or you and your family so many times in a short period that you think there’s no POSSIBLE WAY anything else could go wrong, something does.  Your “limit” gets expanded, whether you like it or not, and your choice is, cope or go crazy.  Going crazy isn’t an option for a great many of us.  We have children who need us, spouses we love who expect us to go on living with some sense of sanity, aging parents who we cannot abandon.  So, somehow we take it in, more and more, we swallow the tears, the anger – hell the rage, and we try to act “normal.”  Exhausted, spent, no appetite for food or sex or joy, even taking a shower becomes a major spa experience.  It drives some people to the “Tea Party,” where at least you can yell and scream and blame, blame, blame someone, anyone else.  Me, it makes me want a cigarette so much I can taste the smoke drifting over my lips, the slow, seductive inhale before the sweet release of the exhale.  I don’t smoke anymore, but I still miss it at times like this.  I suck on my nicotine lozenge instead, not a substitute by any stretch of the imagination, but something.

The Buddha sits gazing over the altar constructed for my mediation.  Serene, unattached, free of suffering.  How do you get there?  When you are drowning in grief from all quarters, my son upstairs with an IV now for nutrition – the tube into his small intestine wasn’t bad enough – that had to get screwed up too.  My strong, handsome, sweet, loving husband who fell back in his wheelchair a week ago and sustained a sub-dural bleed, contrecoup, meaning both sides of the brain bled just from him falling backward and hitting his head on the cement.  As if paraplegia and constant back pain weren’t enough, now he has constant headaches, nausea, and just in the past day a temperature too.  My 57-year-old brother-in-law dead, in the two hours between my sister going to bed, and getting up to pee, she finds him cold on the couch – far too cold to even think of starting CPR.  My father, violent and angry in his dementia now, hitting nursing assistants and staff who try to help change him from urine soaked clothes into something dry.  Up the Ativan, whatever it takes to neutralize his behavior.  My blind, 80-year-old mother going to the E.R. because she’s been so sick from visiting every day, hoping the antibiotic they prescribed will help.  Kwan Yin, she who hears the cries of the world, I hope her ears are still open because the cries are overwhelming just in my family.

What’s your limit?  People say, “your luck’s gotta change soon.”  The reality is, it doesn’t.  There’s no limit to the sorrow, and you keep bending and bending – face on the floor by now, wondering when that will drop out too and what will you be looking at then?  Know your limit?  Don’t expect to get off that easy.  Not many do these days.  There is no limit, not in this world.  Still, I hope for myself, my family, and all others:

May there be peace on earth, may there be peace everywhere, may all beings be free.

Accepting what is.

There are times when it feels like I’m living life on a razor thin edge between sanity and complete shut-down.  Catatonia – that’s  what it feels like I’m heading for at times.  I don’t know how to have any hopes or dreams anymore.  My son has this awful neurodegenerative condition, with an immune deficiency and has already had to accept losing his ability to walk, and do a lot of things he’d like to independently.  He couldn’t eat enough to keep his weight adequate to grow, so he had  to have a tube placed in his small intestine last summer for feedings.  All had been going pretty well, but now his abdominal organs seem to be in revolt and I don’t know if it’s a viral infection (like the docs are hoping) that will be self-limiting, or if it’s cancer.  He’s had a death sentence hanging over his head since he was 2 1/2, and waiting for the other shoe to drop has pretty much robbed me of my physical and mental health.  I accept that as much as I can, but I want to be at the top of my game for him.   Trauma and drama were the key words in my family  growing up, and my nervous system is now fried and seems unwilling or unable to handle witnessing/experiencing the agonizing pain he is often in.  Watching my son suffer because of the constant tests he needs, the IV’s that he hates more than anything, having this HUGE catheter in his arm so he can get TPN (total parenteral nutrition) basically having all his food dripped in through a large blood vessel, and only allowed limited amounts of clear liquids by mouth.  The j-tube sits on his abdomen without activity these days, and getting that put in was an ordeal of proportions I cannot begin to describe for him.  The “why him? why us?” question has long been replaced by “how”?   How does a person keep going day after day watching their child suffer, doing the best she/he can to make it better and barely making a dent, and not go out of your mind with guilt, sadness, and the pain of watching his pain?  I know I need to accept what is, but I just don’t know how.  All of it seems so crazy and random.  Many people have worse situations they are coping with, so I guess trying to take it minute by minute is key.  Accepting what is when you find it unacceptable – that’s what I’m trying to come to terms with.  If it was all happening to me, that would be one thing, but my child?  For that matter, any child?

The first noble truth is that the suffering of birth, old age, sickness and death is unavoidable.  That’s a pretty tough truth to make peace with.  I recently listened to an interview with Adyashanti on Buddhist Geeks (, and he discussed a form of writing where you put down only what you know, with that inside certainty kind of knowing, to be true.  None of the explanations from the tradition I was raised in made sense or felt true in the way he talked about when my son was diagnosed.  It was the first step away from a belief system that had always been problematic for me.  Years have gone by as I’ve searched for something else to help me find acceptance with the way life is.  That search continues, and seems to keep bringing me back to the Bodhi tree.  Helping my son on his journey may begin there too.  It’s his suffering, his life, that I most want to help with.  It’s also his suffering, his life, that I feel least capable of doing anything about.

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