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Passing Away

My grandmother Mary, who passed away on October 27th, 2018

 

Yesterday, my paternal grandmother passed away. After a long life spent singing in the church choir, attending mass, and being the hub for tending to her 8 children and 12 grandchildren, she went the way all of us inevitably will, sifting from form to memory.

She was my last surviving grandparent.

Last night, I lit a fire out back in her honor. And it just so happened that a bundle of my maternal grandmother’s ashes sat beside me. They followed me home from a recent trip I took to see my mom. I never said a proper good-bye to her, when she passed away last December – not in a way that acknowledged that the breath of a life had been transferred back to its source. Her ashes then became symbolic of both of my grandmothers departures.

They became that of Mike’s grandmothers, too.

We added a small handful to the fire, and watched as the ashes both settled into the crackling embers and rose up amid the smoke, which caused the drying elm leaves above to rattle and dance.

We then set out in the darkness of 8pm in the autumnal mountains, to scatter the rest of the ashes. We set some adrift on the Bitterroot River and laid the remainder to rest in a grassy field surrounded by ponderosas.

Aho grandmothers.

A blessing to you all.

You gave us life.

You carried us on the same backs of all those who came before us.

We as your grandchildren are your continuation.

Now, we carry you forward,

on the same backs of all those who still remain,

and will soon follow in our footsteps.

My grandmother & grandfather’s continuation of grandchildren

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We Are What We Read (to our kids)

Titles published from the Little Golden Book are a common staple to find among the shelves of most households sportin’ young children. Having started in the early 1940’s – and an instant hit on the market – people of all ages (in the U.S anyway) likely recall having read at least a few books in the Little Golden Book series, in their day. The one I’m holding in the pic above, was loaned to me by the 5-year-old I nanny for. He wanted me to borrow it for a few days, which I immediately saw as a great act of generosity, as not only is this book new to him but he LOVES Star Wars. So wanting me to borrow this book was on par with a kid – any kid – offering to share their candy. Wanting to support his kindness, I gratefully agreed to take it home.

I made sure to read it, of course. I mean, I have to be prepared should he ask me what my favorite part was. It’s also simply not kosher to borrow a book a 5-year-old insists on you taking and then not read the darn thing. That’s just not cool.

So…the thing is, this so-called “kids” book, is chockablock with violence and drama. There is a weapon, bad guy, and/or an explosion on every single page. Here are the trigger words peppered in:

Page 1/2: war, evil, captured, gangster
Page 3/4: capturing, captures, dungeon, attacks, crushes
Page 5/6: punish, sand monster, fight, henchmen, KA-BOOM!, explodes
Page 7/8: evil, battle, destroy, Dark Side, X-wing fighter
Page 9/10: destroy, Death Star, attack, strike team
Page 11/12: (has bad guys, weapons, and explosive action picture but no trigger words)
Page 13/14: strike team, captured, fight
Page 15/16: attack, Death Star, destroy, enemies, traps, destroy, Death Star
Page 17/18: Death Star, rage, dark side, fight, duel
Page 19/20: battle, destroyed, evil, Zzzaap!, Death Star, destroyed
Page 21/22: battle, TIE fighters, Death Star, BOOM!, collapse, Death Star, explodes
Page 23: evil, roars

And here are the sentences that especially stood out to me:

“To punish Luke and his friends, Jabba will feed them to the Sarlacc, a sand monster. It will digest them for a thousand years!”
“He shocks Luke with evil Force lightning from his fingers. Zzzaap!”
“With the last of his strength, he rises up and heaves the Emperor into a deep reactor shaft!”

What the heck Little Golden Book?! Did you guys actually write: heaves the Emperor into a deep reactor shaft?

Is it just me that finds the above trigger words and associating violence and drama on every page alarming? Did I mention Little Golden Books aim to target kids ages 5 and under?

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Posted by on July 20, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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Nose Rings & Moving West

 

This month – and spilling into early July – marks a couple of large milestones.

Written on June 5th, 2018:

On my fourteenth birthday, I got my nose pierced on South Street in Philly. It was the summer before I entered high school and I regarded the piercing as a symbol of my coming of age. I’m now a month away from turning 39-years-old.

This morning, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, I took out my nose ring to clean it, just as I’ve done a million times before. Only, today something was different. I decided not to reinstate it back where it belonged. I’ve not spent a whole day without a stud in my left nostril in one month shy of 25 years. I don’t even see the piercing for the most part anymore when I look at myself. It has simply melded into my facial composition, becoming just as much a part of my appearance as my acne scars and eyebrows.

________

Written on June 8th, 2018:

This morning, as I ran a towel over my face after showering, I instinctively made the allowance for my nose piercing, arching the towel around the left side of my nose, as as not to rip the earring out.

Then I remembered. There was no nose ring to make such necessary accommodations for anymore.

I took it out – and left it out – 3 mornings ago.

________

As an update: the nose ring is still out.

Switching.

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Saying Goodbye

Our one of two cat food bowls sitting empty this morning took on a whole new and sorrow-filled meaning. We put our cat Juba down yesterday.

14-years ago, almost directly after filling out the paperwork to buy the house we still reside in, we went to the Humane Society to fetch ourselves a cat in which to accompany our fresh purchase. Over-run with a new litter of orange kittens – to the point of being out of cages to put them in – they offered us a two-for-one deal. After some minor hesitation, we accepted their offer and left with two brother kittens, one in each hand.

Over the years, we’ve often pondered how terrible it would’ve been had we gotten only one, as we had intended (though we wouldn’t have known it). Our 2 brother cats have been great company and friends to each other. A couple of years ago, I finally got around to something I’d wanted to do for a long while. I sent the Humane Society a card, thanking them for their generosity in giving us a buy-one-get-one-free kitten and providing such a wonderful service to our community.

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Posted by on May 30, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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On Suicide

Shawn Leonard

December 8, 1980 – February 6, 2018

A long-held acquaintance of mine committed suicide a few days ago. Shawn Leonard. His funeral service was today. Shawn was a friend of my husband’s since the 6th grade who, according to Mike, entered his friend group based on his skills of not being deterred by all the crap they gave him.

Feelings of grief and loss have been coming in waves for me since his death.

The funeral today was packed full of people, filled with sorrow, confusion, and questions – one glaring one in particular: Why?

On the back of the program for today’s service, it stated:

Shawn made everyone’s life a little brighter. He will be so missed by so many. Don’t ask why – ask how you can bring a little Shawn to the lives of those you love.

Each member of his parental team: mom, dad, stepmom, and stepdad, along with four of his six siblings and his oldest nephew, spoke at the service, painting a vivid picture of Shawn’s authentic, lighthearted, and generous spirit. Some of their words that stuck with me and made a lasting impression:

If there’s something you want to do with a loved one, DO IT! (Shawn’s dad)

Shawn loved hard and loved often. (One of his sisters)

Talk more and listen more. I regret that I didn’t talk more and listen more to Shawn. We never know when it will be the last time we’ll see someone. (Shawn’s 19-year-old nephew)

 

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Posted by on February 11, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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In Mourning

In loving memory of Alison Matthews, who passed away on July 3rd, 2017

and her husband David, who passed away last night on August 6th, 2017

 

A string of sangha friends have died in only one-month’s time – a period of mourning is at hand.

Breathing in, I see myself as a rain cloud.
Breathing out, I allow myself to grieve this sacred sorrow.

What am I to understand from all of this loss? 3 friends in the last month, gone. 2 friends this time last year, gone.

This life is extinguishable, yes.
Those I love will continue to die, yes.
Right now there is pain and heartache, yes.
At some point, this pain will pass, yes.
This life is precious, yes.
This day today is a gift, yes, most assuredly.

 

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Here’s an excerpt from a speech David gave last year:

“I have a very strong connection to Martin Luther King, Jr. He was the speaker at my commencement in 1965 at Oberlin College. I lived through that troubled time of the ‘60’s, and through all the years since, with Martin Luther King as a powerful guide…

This individual man who was called by God, opened himself fully to universal mind. Two months before his assassination in April of 1968, in a Sunday sermon, he spoke out the summary of his life, and what he knew to be important. It is the antithesis of despair, and the call to each of us to make a useful life.

He said:
Once in awhile I think about my own death and my own funeral, not in a morbid way, but I ask, “what would I want someone to say?” If any of you are here when it is my time to meet my end, don’t make it a long funeral. And if someone gives the eulogy, ask them not to make it too long. Ask them not to mention the Nobel Peace Prize – that’s not important. Ask them not to mention all the other awards, or where I went to school. Those things are not important. On that day I would like someone to mention that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to give his life in the service of others. On that day I’d like someone to say I tried to love somebody, say that I tried to feed the hungry, and clothe the naked. I want someone to say Martin Luther King, Jr. was a drum major, a drum major for justice, a drum major for peace; say that I tried to be a drum major for righteousness. And all those other shallow things won’t matter. I won’t have anything to leave behind- no money, none of the fine things of life. But all I want to leave behind is a committed life. And that’s all I want someone to say.”

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Sometimes, Things are Just Hard

It’s easy to sometimes regard the practice of mindfulness and/or meditation as being some kind of magical elixir (especially by new practitioners), as though we could (and should) use them to cure us of our woes and ailments – that somehow if we are mindful enough and meditate enough, we’ll be able to fix whatever it is we feel needs fixing. But, the truth is, sometimes, things are just hard. Having a mindfulness practice and sitting in meditation can strengthen our ability to stay present, balanced, and well-grounded in our own experience of whatever is unfolding – which can be invaluably beneficial – but, in the end, neither mindfulness or meditation can alleviate the causes and conditions of struggle, pain, sorrow, and so on. Our relationship with life can change, but life itself will always entail a certain degree of suffering, difficulty, challenge, and heartache.

What I’m trying to highlight here, is that it’s important not to use the practices of mindfulness and meditation to form some kind of emotional smoke-screen to hide or otherwise distort the simple and very real truth that sometimes life is just hard. And, in my experience, there is a strange and great relief in coming to this understanding. There is a powerful release in being able to simply state, with clear intent, that things are just hard sometimes – without trying to explain further or apologize or rationalize or sugar-coat something for someone else’s perceived benefit. Sometimes, things are just hard. End of sentence.

I recently watched a TED talk given by Susan Kaiser Greenland on the ABC’s of Attention, Balance, and Compassion. In her talk she stated that mindfulness isn’t about changing or fixing, it’s about understanding and being aware. And on one of her slides, it stated: Wisdom comes not from being perfect but from being present. I think we can get carried away and swept up in the false notion of perfection when it comes to a lot of things. But perfection is a relative construct – and I would go so far as to call it a farce.

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