An American Thanksgiving

I grew up with the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving.  We had at least twenty people, two turkeys, three kinds of potatoes and more pies and desserts than you could count.  Now it’s just my husband and me, our two dogs and a visit to my Aunt in the nursing home.

But that’s OK.  Because this day is not about that picture perfect family gathering.  This day is about gratitude.  And you can be a part of any religion or no religion.  You can have a big family or no family.  You can be with a crowd of people or by yourself.  You can live in a big house or on the street.

What makes life wonderful and beautiful is not what you have but what you are grateful for.  There are people who have more than I can imagine who are miserable and people who have what seems like nothing to me who are happier than I am.

I control how happy I am and when I think about what I have in my life, I am SO THANKFUL.  Truthfully, I do  miss the big family gathering.  But that is not the way my life is right now.  It may never be that way again.  So I will love and appreciate the wonderful things I do have.

I will make a small turkey and all the sides my husband loves.  We will cook together and watch football.  There will be a fire in the fireplace and warm and sleepy dogs on the floor.  We will toast each other with a good wine and snuggle on the sofa.  I will not think about all the people and things I am missing but all the incredible people and things I have in my life right now.

Next year, Thanksgiving may look entirely different.  Circumstances change.  The facts of the day won’t matter.  How I see them will.

Love and peace to all.

Happy Thanksgiving, however you celebrate.

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Autumn Games

A bleak November day
moody and dark
like a black and white horror film.

No birdsong,
no sparkling sunlight.
The landscape drained
of all but the drabbest color.

Everything we see and sense
tells us outside is cold and damp
and the wind has teeth.

A good day to stay
in the cozy, yellow glow
of a warm kitchen
filled with the steaming scent
of apples and cinnamon.

But Nature is in a playful mood.
She teases us with May like warmth.

“Come my children,
come romp with me one more time
before Father Winter comes
to tuck you in
for a long nights sleep.”

And the family of crows
who live in our woods
answers with a raucous game of
catch-me-if-you-can.

“Here, here.
Here I am.
Ha ha. Ha ha.
Here I am.”

High above,
a ring-around-the-rosey circle
of turkey vultures
spirals silently upward.

While below,
the brown, papery leaves
mirror them
as they drift gently to the ground
in the endgame “all fall dawn”.

On the porch,
the wind chimes reprise
their soft, summer chorus
accompanied by the staccato drumming
of the acorns
as they strike the earth
in their great, synchronized
drop from the heights.

The barren limbs of the great oaks
play tag with the tall pines,
as they lean together and then away again,
whispering “You’re it”.

And the silver-white disk of the sun
never tires of peek-a-boo
in the pearly grey sky.

My husband and I stop now and then
as we do our grown-up chores,
preparing for the harsh season to come.

We pause to enjoy this brief reprieve
before the serious business of survival
overtakes the rest of creation
and the pure joy of existence
is muffled by the deep snows.

And in the distance,
I swear I can hear
the fading sounds
of laughing children.

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In The Time of Samhain

In the time of Samhain
I hear the earth spirits.
They whisper to me
in the rustle of fallen leaves
and remind me that
all is change
and death brings life.

In the time of Samhain
I meet my Grandmother Tree
in my dreams
and she tells me
I am strong
and beautiful
and loved.

In the time of Samhain
I sit by the fire
and smell
the mushroom scent
of the autumn dark
and know the space between
is small indeed.

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Grandmother Visits

I dreamt last night of Grandmother. Not the Grandmother I grew up with. But my Grandmother nonetheless. She was a joyous woman with a radiant, laughing face. She didn’t appear to be much older than me, at least not in her physical form. She held me on her lap and embraced me. I felt the comfort and security of a child even though I was as I am now. I woke up feeling very peaceful.

Later in the morning, my husband and I went out to plant some fall plants in the front of the house. I had the irresistible desire to touch my Grandmother Tree. You can read about her here.  I walked down the lawn to where she stands and put my hands on her beautiful bark. I could smell the lovely woodsy smell of her. The palms of my hands felt her roughness and then almost a buzzing as I sensed the spirit energy within her.

I looked up and saw her thick, strong arms reaching for the sky. I walked slowly around her and she showed me many, wonderful gifts.

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I pressed my face against her and thanked her for visiting me in my dreams.

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And The Angels Smiled

In a crowd, you stood alone
amid a swirling cloud of loss and emptiness.

I saw in your eyes
the same weary sadness
that haunts my sleepless nights.
Your shoulders pressed down
under the weight of endless grief.

My heart heard your silent cry
and would not let me stand by
unmoved.

I too know the moonscape jungle of being left behind
with no warning or explanation.
The freezing wilderness of “Why?” and “What do I do Now?”

I have no answers for you.
The dark and furtive creatures
of anger and pain
still gnaw on my bones
in unguarded moments.

But when I opened my arms to you
as a sister in sorrow
and you returned my guileless embrace
with an innocent heart
an explosion of healing love
engulfed us.

And the angels smiled.

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About this poem.

I was at a gathering of incredible, loving and creative people this weekend.  I witnessed many beautiful things but nothing quite as extraordinary as a meeting of two beautiful women who had both suffered soul-crushing loses.  That moment made a profound impression on me and the pure love that passed between them, radiated out and touched my own heart in a most unforgetable way.  Thank you Pamela and Syl for allowing me to witness this extraordinary connection.

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I Still Do

Eight years ago today, I stood before family and friends and declared my intention to share the rest of my life with my best friend. It was a long journey to that day, fifty-three years if you start with birth, and it was the happiest I had ever been.

It wasn’t my first start down that road. I was engaged when I was nineteen. It was for many of the reasons you would expect at nineteen: my friends were getting married; it’s the next step in becoming a grown-up; someone had told me they loved me; the wedding would be a fantastic, theatrical production – the best party ever. None of those are the best reasons for joining your life with someone else’s. Fortunately, the fickleness of being nineteen kicked in. I decided I was in love with someone else; someone who didn’t, who couldn’t love me back. But it was enough for me to put the breaks on. I broke off the engagement.

I spent the next five years experiencing the sexual liberation of the seventies, never being serious about anyone. I was beginning to believe I never would meet my “soulmate”. Everyone in the seventies had a “soulmate”. We were all looking for that person who could finish our sentences for us; who knew what we needed before we did; who would be our playmate for life; the yin to our yang. Then I met Lorenzo. He was older, charming, exotic and he swept me off my feet. On our second date he told me he was going to marry me. I laughed and said he didn’t even know me. He persisted. He took me out almost every night. He bought me jewelry. He took me on trips. He paid my debts. He cooked for me. I was treated like a queen. But I wasn’t sure. He talked about how he was going to make me perfect. Hmmm. He had fits of jealousy. And for good reason. I wasn’t ready to commit to anyone, never said I was. I broke it off. He responded by threatening to kill himself. He went to my family, begged them to intercede. He couldn’t live without me. He stopped eating and sleeping. He looked like hell. “Look at him,” they told me. “He really loves you. You’ll never find anyone else who loves you like that.” Maybe they were right. He obviously loved me. Who else would worship me that way? His anger scared me a bit but I was sure that once we were married, he would settle down. I still didn’t understand what marriage was about and I spent the next seventeen years paying for that lack of knowledge.

When Paul and I decided to get married, our relationship was built on twenty-five years of friendship. Our paths had wound around each other for a long time. We had both had our own share of loses and disappointments, of life beating us up. We knew that what made a marriage was conversation, being able to talk to each other about anything. Not necessarily finishing each others sentences. We don’t always know what the other one wants. Sometimes it’s a real mystery. But we’ll ask and when we know, we do our best for each other. There are arguments and hurt feelings and times when we go in different directions but that’s just being human. What we have that holds it all together is a love that is based on commitment. Commitment to help the other be their true self. Commitment to be willing to apologize and to forgive. Commitment to always be there, no matter what. And that is a great treasure, knowing that in this world, there is one person for whom you matter most.

Eight years ago today was the happiest day of my life. But I’ve had many days like that since then and I know as long as we both live, there will be many more.

Paul, I told you that day I would walk by your side for the rest of our lives. I told you I loved you more than anything. I still do.

Happy Anniversary.

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Shedding Old Skin

On Saturday, when we came back from dropping the dogs off at grooming, I noticed what I thought was biggest earth worm I had ever seen. When I looked a little closer, I saw that it was a ribbon snake. We have dozens of them living in our stone walls. They are usually very shy so I could tell right away that this one was dead. At another time in my life I would have been terrified and disgusted by a snake. I’m a city girl and snakes scared the crap out of me. But something in me has changed. I couldn’t leave it where it could be run over. I reached down picked it up and laid it on top of the stone wall. I looked at it closely and saw how beautiful it was; so graceful and delicate. It’s black scales shone like paten leather. I turned it over to see it’s lovely yellow belly. I felt a pang of sorrow that it was dead. In my head, I said a little prayer of thanksgiving that such a creature existed and I blessed it. Then I left it on the wall where a crow or raccoon would most likely find it.

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Today would have been the 32nd anniversary of my first marriage; a painful, difficult union that ended with the death of my husband. I lived for years with abuse – physical, emotional, psychological. For a long time I wondered why me; what was wrong with him, what was wrong with me. Now I can just look at it and see it was just what happened. I am no longer angry at him, I forgave him years ago to save myself. But this year was different. I’ve let it go. I no longer dissect it, or look for reasons why. I can examine it without fear or disgust. It just was. And so I can bless it as part of who I am and leave it on the wall for the crows.

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For A Smart Girl…….

When I was growing up, my mother would often say to me “For a smart girl, you sure say (do, think) some awfully stupid things. It sounds mean, but she was right. Sometimes it’s like my big brain takes a coffee break, “Be back in ten”, and my little brain, my brain stem, the primitive part that keeps you breathing and reminds you to run from man-eating tigers, fills in. I’ll give you an example.

This week, we had our driveway repaved. The guy showed up early in the morning just as I was leaving for work. My husband had reminded me that when I came home, I would have to park on the side of the road and walk up to the house. Once the fresh asphalt is applied, you can’t drive on it until it’s cured in about 48 hours. Just in case I forgot, the contractor would be stringing some yellow caution tape across it.

I was good though. I remembered. I left work early so it wouldn’t be pitch dark when I got home. I’m not usually a fan of walking through the woods alone. In the dark. With the glowing animal eyes and cracking twigs. And low hanging branches that whack you in the face and scare the bejesus out of you. I parked the car, locked it and took my keys, got the mail, started up the driveway and stopped short. The contractor had strung the caution tape from a tree in the woods on one side of the driveway across to a tree in the woods on the other side. How was I going to be able to get up to the house? I didn’t want to be climbing over rocks and tree roots in sandals with heels. And what about ticks and poison ivy with my bare legs. What was I going to do? And then coffee break was over and my big brain came back. “Just lift the tape and walk under it.” Yeah.

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So at another time in my life, that would be the end of the story. I would have laughed at myself and repeated my mother’s “For a smart girl…” comment. But I guess six plus decades of life has brought some changes. I’ve discovered that if you are open to it, almost everything that happens in your life can teach you something. In this instance, I realized that so many of the “obstacles” in life are simply illusions; a knee-jerk fear reaction from the little brain. If you take a deep breath and really look at them, what seemed insurmountable often becomes a hill of beans, nothing. That’s not to say that nothing ever blocks your way. But there are really so few things that do that. And those things that are truly stopping us may be life telling us we are headed in the wrong direction. The point is, we can’t let the little brain call the shots. Unless you’re running from a man-eating tiger.

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On Becomming

Today I turn 61.  I never thought I be this old.  I can remember thinking “Wow, at the turn of the century, I’ll be almost 50!”  It seemed so far in the future.  Now I’m looking at it in the rearview mirror.

I don’t mind getting older.  I think that’s because I still feel like an imposter in adulthood.  Like someone will find me out and say “She doesn’t belong here.  She’s not a grown-up.”  There is still so much of the little girl with the Davey Crockett tee shirt and the Mickey Mouse Club ears.

I like that little girl.  Well most of her anyway.

There are still bits of the Mary Ann who was petrified of not being the best, who couldn’t bear to fail at anything, who wouldn’t take a chance at something she might not be perfect at.  But I’ve gotten better.  Mistakes shake me but I get over them faster.  And although I’m shy and quiet about trying something new, at least I’ll give it a shot even if I wind up stinking at it.  In the past, I was doing it for others; my Mother, my family, my teachers.  Now I do it for me.  And I like me, even when I’m not perfect.

Then there is little Mary Ann who was always afraid people wouldn’t like her; she wouldn’t be one of the cool kids.  I never felt I fit in with any group.  Well, I don’t and that’s not a bad thing.  Actually, I fit in everywhere and nowhere, if that makes sense.  I love people, all kinds of people.  I get along with almost everyone I meet.  I can have conversations with complete strangers; join a group of friends I haven’t seen in a long time and it’s like no time has passed.  I can move fluidly from group to group but I can also feel OK just being by myself. I still get a bit aprehensive when I know I am going to be with new people or people I haven’t seen in some time.  But that passes quickly.  I know that if I am open and receptive to people, they will shine right back at me.

But the best parts of that little girl are still with me too; the part that still sees the wonder around her; that lights up whenever she’s near an animal, any animal; that makes up silly songs and crazy dances; that laughs and believes in magic; that knows there is good in the world.

Yes, I’m getting older.  But I don’t consider it aging; it’s growing, changing, keeping the best and discarding what holds me back.

And every day, becomming just a little bit more.

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Allegory For My Life

About a year ago, I was lucky enough to acquire a painting from a wonderful painter named Joe Hawthorn. Joe gave the painting away free to anyone from our creative group who wanted it for the cost of shipping. I jumped at it. I felt the painting was meant to be mine. But I couldn’t say why.
After a year of looking at it everyday, I’ve come to see why it spoke to me. It is an allegory for my life. In no particular order, I will explain what I see when I look at it.

Pink – A good portion of the painting is a bright, purplish pink. I realized that whenever I meditate on the light within me (or aura as some call it), I see a light that is this color.

Apple – There is a large, juicy red apple in the center. It has a few, small bites out of it. This is my life; rich and full but there is so much more I have yet to taste.

Golden Bird – There is a Golden Bird on a branch ready to take flight. But she has only one fully developed wing visible. There is a piece of me that is still hidden, not prepared to take that leap yet. But I am so close.

Brick wall – There is a partial brick wall. But bricks are missing. I am knocking it down.

Golden Dog – I have always felt safe with a dog. The dog is looking at my heart. He is telling me my heart is safe.

Golden Heart – The Golden heart in the apple is only partially full. I have a way to go before my heart is completely open.

Green – The color surrounding the apple and the heart is a bright green. This is the color of the heart chakra. This is the chakra I need to open.

Rays – There are rays shining down on everything in the painting. But they do not come from the sun. They come from a silver, blue orb, the moon. The moon represents the feminine. It represents intuition and the knowing without knowing. That moon is in a dark hole; a spot deep within me.

Lines – There are lines that cross the rays, breaking them up. I do not yet trust my inner voice completely. When I do, those rays will shine fully on me.

So that is my allegory. Some will look at the painting and read this and think it is all blather. Perhaps. But for me it is a sign post on the way to myself.

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