We Need to Take Care of Our Endings

1. A middle-aged woman sitting at a kitchen table.

She has given up on wiping the sweat from her face — above her lip, round her nose. Her armpits stink. She is embracing the heat.

She has just watched a long film with her teenage daughter, “Call Me By Your Name.” It is the kind of film that evokes nostalgia, longing, the slow languid tension of sensuality and sexuality emerging.

As she watched, the woman remembered her own most potent moments of awakening. She was 18. Then she was 36. Never before had she realized these numbers, the ages, both representative in Jewish numerology — gematria, a mystical system she has always wanted to study — of life. Chai.

Naturally, he mind jumps ahead. What’s next? Fifty-four. That is a decade from now. Where will she be sitting in ten years? Will her wife be in the next room? Her daughter will be 25 then, having surely experienced her own moments of falling, coming into herself, loss, and hopefully good love.

She is wistful. Old enough to know that nostalgia is not a place to live, nor is regret. Young enough to imagine a future. Her daughter wanders into the room looking bothered by the heat and ridiculously cute in a bandanna and short, cut-off shirt with a black and white checkered design that reminds the woman of a flag at a race-car track.

“Slow down!” She wants to say to her, but she knows better. The girl, barely a girl yet still a girl, will grow at her own pace. She looks ready for the world — sitting on the floor against the fridge. The woman sees herself and not herself. They are not the same, and yet they have an understanding. Maybe someday, they will tell each other all of the stories.

2. For now, they will remain mother and daughter.

Sometimes friends, yes, but the woman believes the girl needs a mother, too. A guide, a mountain. A mountain guide.

The next night, they go for a ride just before sunset to get ice cream — mother and stepmom, daughter, and puppy. Instead of just the drive-through as they’d planned, they wind up going to the farm, where the ice cream is made on site, with milk from the cows the puppy is scared of.

It quietly thrills the woman to have this kind of together time, where all three of them are oohing and aahing over the light, pulling over to take pictures of old milk trucks and barns in the setting light. The heat has broken just enough tonight that they can ride with the windows down, enjoying a bit of a breeze.

She notices something: How often she longs for the very thing she has. As they drive home, continuing to marvel at the cloud formations and reflection of the last of the sunset against the hundreds of windows of the tall university library building, she experiences one of those moments when she can see it for what it is: Freedom. A blessing.

Why freedom? Because to have access to a vehicle and gasoline to power that vehicle, a set of keys all her own, is freedom. To have a woman whose ring she wears on her left hand — freedom. To be raising a daughter to follow and trust her own path — freedom.

Perhaps the longing is, then, the anticipation of loss. Loss due to the inevitable, which is that everything changes. And loss threatened by more violent forces — a government who would strike her family unit down, deny her children rights, take away health insurance subsidized by the state.

She knows others have been living this far longer than she has. And she’s determined not to mix up outrage with the primal drive to protect her own privileges. Her freedom to drive on this night with her wife and daughter is inextricable from everyone’s freedom. She feels messy in this. And there is also a clarity to it.

3. There often is — a clarity inside of a mess.

In fact, as soon as the woman saw these, she really SAW it. A mess is a swirl of confusion, perhaps, too many pieces, or a cloud. She pictures the Peanuts character — what was his name again? Pigpen? Something like that. The one with the cloud of dust always around his head. He is a mess. But he’s in there.

She realizes that perhaps the only thing of value she can pass along to her daughter is this: Sitting still, with a hand over your heart, is sometimes the most powerful action there is. It’s not passivity, no. Quite the opposite, as it requires presence and intention. Nonaction is sometimes the only way to let the dust settle, literally, so as to be able to see the clarity of what it’s occluding.

She scoffs for a moment at her own vocabulary. Who uses words like “occluding,” anyway? She resists the urge to look it up, to learn its roots. It seems like one of those words that would surely have an interesting etymology.

But she doesn’t. Looking up the roots of words, while entertaining, is sometimes a form of avoidance. Back to the cloud of confusion, she wants to tell her daughter something: When you don’t know what to do, wait and do nothing. Or, when you don’t know what to do, follow Anne Sexton’s lead and put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard. Or, when you don’t know what to do, trust yourself. Sit. Be still. Let the dust settle, no matter how urgent things feel. (Unless they are urgent, she wants to add, in the immediate sense, i.e. you are in imminent danger — in that case, do whatever you need to do to get safe.)

She pauses to take a deep breath. Is this too much, she wonders, or not enough? A quiver of panic shoots through her — she knows there is only so much time and soon her daughter will be all the way grown.

4. She sits in the cold of the air-conditioned living room.

She’s considering the moment earlier in the day, when she asked her daughter if she’d make the calls they’d agreed about. Calls to colleges the woman would never be able to afford, but on which her daughter had set her sights nonetheless. Calls to ask how the admissions people would view an applicant who had essentially skipped high school and gone on to get an Associate’s degree from a community college instead.

She got her haircut that day, for the first time in years. Not short, just a trim to clean up the neglected ends. How often is it that ends are neglected, she wondered, as she sat in the faux leather swivel chair, enjoying the time to be cared for by another woman, the owner of the salon, a woman named Frankie.

If you neglect the ends, you don’t get a complete story. Her mind goes back to the hour-long show, Nanette, by an Australian comic named Hannah Gadsby. She’d been hearing about it from others nonstop and finally convinced her wife to watch it together.

She — Hannah — talks about endings. About how comedy is all about creating tension and then relieving tension. All about the beginning and the middle of a story. Being so good at her job for so long, as a comedienne, had essentially trapped her in the most traumatic middle of her own story, without an opportunity to have an ending, to tell the whole thing, to let herself grow and heal.

We need to take care of our endings. What did this have to do with parenting in this moment? She pondered for a moment, looking up at the room as if an answer might materialize out of thin air.

She needed to let her children have their own stories.

5. Would you believe the heat wave had broken?

Now she sat in the kitchen, the same green chair where she’d begun this story days before. She could hear the puppy snoring under the coffee table in the next room, where her wife was reading.

Two days earlier, she’d spent the day with her own mother and her daughter — three generations. It had been her mother’s idea, the “spa day” that turned out to be a couples massage for the 44-year old and the teen, followed by a delightful discovery of the best falafel this side of Israel and some thrift store and window shopping. They didn’t buy anything, though the grandmother oohed and aaahed her way through a store packed to the gills with buttons and fabrics.

Outside the store, the woman chuckled to her daughter: “Seeing your Baba ooh and aah over buttons isn’t something you’ll soon forget.”

She felt herself relax over the course of their hours, moving away from tricky topics like gender pronouns and easing into the kind of wandering in a small town that can lower a person’s blood pressure if they let it.

She let her mom do the 45-minute drive home and closed her eyes in the passenger seat, while the teen listened to music on headphones in the back.

“Reminds me of the old days, when we used to vacation together,” said the grandmother. The woman nodded, pushing the lever that leaned the leather seat further back. She remembered. She remembered being a child on those vacations, and she remembered her own child being young on still later ones.

They’d likely not vacation together again, for more reasons than the woman would get into now. Needless to say, a day was just right. They stopped for ice cream before returning home, letting the summer day run long. She remembered how she used to have such a hard time saying goodbye, letting go. She still did.

But it would get easier. She would let her daughter, and her son for that matter, have their own stories. She would let them grow up. And she would always be there, when they needed her. This much she knew.

* * *

I wrote “Picture This” as part of the July Pop-Up Microstory group. Watch for the next one in the fall!

Here’s the microstory I wrote in May:

https://www.jenaschwartz.com/denial-not-an-option/

The Often Overlooked Heart


I’ve been sitting here most of the morning. Sweat pouring out of my every pore. I am putting an a/c unit in my living room this afternoon, with the help of a local carpenter. She should be arriving shortly. I have misgivings about adding to the energy use that only jacks up the temperatures further, and I also have to be able to work. Mani’s mast cells are kicked up in this heat, and Chalupa is doing her best to stay comfortable with the tiny cooling area of her bulldog head. The heat is intense, all-consuming. It’s a shock to walk into an air-conditioned room or building, to remember that there are spaces we can go.

Not everyone can get to those cool spaces. I worry about those who are homeless, elderly, or cannot afford air-conditioners.

I tidied up a bit this  morning. Refilled the bird-feeders, emptied the big bag of dog food into the container in the pantry. Swept up bits of garlic peel from the kitchen floor. I only want to eat peaches and cucumbers and drink iced coffee. I promised Aviva we could go to a body of water this afternoon. I feel slow, sweaty, uninspired.

Every time I see a photo from someone on vacation, I have a pang of envy. It’s not pretty to write this. I resist the urge to delete, curate, self-censor.

I’ve written about envy before, and how it is a form of self-abandonment. And even just writing that sentence reminds me that rather than hanging out there, what I really need and want is to ask my heart what it needs and wants. Envy is a kind of compass, after all.

* * *

I had a powerful experience last Sunday morning.

A writing coaching client who has also become a friend — I’ll call her S. — offered me some time on the phone. It wasn’t a formal call of any sort, though it did become an unexpected two hours of being gently held and deeply heard. I spent much of our time sitting on the root of the red maple tree in our little front yard. Noticing the subtlety everywhere, of life, of light, of shadow. A bird — though I’m not sure what kind — sang joyfully and loudly from one of the nearby tall pines.

It was when I admitted that I felt uncomfortable accepting this gift of time, meaning without offering payment, that the tears first came. I realize how it is still hard for me to truly receive. To truly let down and spend time with my heart. Once those first tears came, it was as if the gates had been unlocked. I didn’t sob, but I did cry on and off for the rest of our time together, along with moments of laughter, insight, and silence.

For most of my life, I’ve had episodes of the kind of crying that has felt unbearable. This felt less storm-like and more cleansing, like the tears were gently washing over the grime of my often-overlooked heart, making it known to me again.

What I saw? Red, pulsing, tender muscle mass. It was visceral and vivid, not the figurative heart but the real deal, fist-size, pumping away.

I also saw something I can best describe as straps pressing into this heart of mine. The kind of straps that a big heavy box might have wrapped around it, designed to protect it from opening when it’s not supposed to. I saw these straps pulled too tightly, leaving deep cuts against the fragile tissue. With each deep breath inward and the on-and-off gentle bouts of release, I felt the straps loosen.

One thing was clear to me: The heart cannot heal when we never loosen those straps, those ties, the protective measures that keep us bound. And yet, it is not always simple. I feel like I’m someone who is fairly connected to my heart. There are so many layers, and this innermost space goes largely covered much of the time when I am busy doing life.

* * *

I’ve been aware for a while now that I need some kind of break, but it has remained undefined. But oh, wow. The noise around this in my head is so loud. At one point, I told S. the word “failure” popped into my head. Failure!

Also: The need to justify needing a break. Also: Fear. So much fear arising at the prospect of taking a break. Money is the presenting thing — and a very real thing to address since I’m my family’s sole provider — but beneath that, deeper fears that all source back to questions of being, doing, and remaining enough.

The world of online writing groups is so saturated, and I do not thrive when I’m worrying about keeping up or standing out. In fact, you could just shorten that sentence to: I don’t thrive when I’m worrying. Period. I most certainly am not of service to my community when I’m tired or tapped out — and there’s such a deep fear in sharing that, saying it, as if it is a kind of confession.

Really, the only confession here will not come as news to you: I am human!

I never expect anyone in my groups to be anything other than human. In fact, I’ve built this work of fierce encouragement for writing and life around just this: Recognizing the stories and voices that berate us, tell us we’re not enough, and insist that whatever we are doing, writing, or creating needs to be bigger, better, or different.

Culturally, these messages are ruthless and unyielding. Internally, no matter their original sources, they take on a life of their own, ever pulling the straps tighter around the heart. Strangling the heart. The often-overlooked heart that is the holder of the wisdom we need and the stories that are ours alone to live, much less write.

To get quiet enough to listen, to really spend time with this tender, innermost heart, feels scary. It’s not a thing we can measure. There’s no product at the end. You can’t charge money for it.

And at the same time, as I write these sentences and tune into my own knowing, something else arises: Gratitude. I feel grateful that the heart is immeasurable and unquantifiable. It is untouchable by commerce and capitalism and the tyranny of proving our worth.

I hear the voice so quick to jump in: But you have to pay your rent. You have to work. You have to make a living. You have to, you have to, you have to. 

Whose voice this is doesn’t matter. What matters is that I hear it and redirect my attention to the soft, fleshy insides of myself. The longing that I know belongs to my soul.

* * *

My soul has always wanted my attention. And truth be told, it has never led me astray. Trusting that call is always scary, though, because it means moving away from auto-pilot, hushing prescriptive or punishing voices, and trusting deeply. In the more distant past, I would have said trusting the Universe. Now, I am not shy to say trusting God. And trusting myself.

I hear another voice now, my Grammy’s. God is love, she would say in a sing-song voice. God is love.

To trust God is to trust myself is to trust love.

* * *

I have not yet determined what form this “break” will take. My dream is to go offline for most if not all of August. To remember who I am and how my heart feels, away from the demands of work and social media. To really soak in the fullness of these past three years — which is how long it has been since I left my full-time job in order to care for Mani through her illness and recovery.

Questions arise once again. Will what I’ve built here withstand my absence for a month? Will everyone who participates in my groups and works with me privately still be there when I return, or does the world move so fast that we forget each other that quickly and move on? I do not want to live my life and do my work by clinging out of fear, but by letting go, again and again, of the trapeze bars, knowing that I always land, even if I don’t land where I expected. How will we pay the bills if I take some off beyond just a day or two?

I don’t have answers today, and for today, I am not going to try to figure anything out. It feels good, just to come here. To write what’s really on and in my heart in the moment, to make that tender place a little bit known to you, and to name the trust I need to lean into now. To feel it as solid and real as the true root beneath my body, holding me up.

I will admit that I have a fantasy of being supported in this time.

While it’s easy to scoff at or right off, it occurs to me that there is no harm in allowing that, too, to be named and known. It’s not up to me to know what forms that support might take. But in the spirit of learning how to ask for and receive, in the spirit of truth-telling and transparency and real life, I’m going to leave it here.

* * *

It’s funny — that impulse to thank you for reading is there, as if perhaps I owe you something for the time you’ve taken to be on the other side of these words. And so it seems fitting to close with these words from Hiro Boga:

You don’t owe anyone anything. Whatever you give to anyone, whatever you do for them, you do out of love and generosity, not because you’re obliged to. Manipulation through invalidation and guilt is an old, old game. You don’t have to play. You can simply acknowledge the energy for what it is, and refuse the Trojan horse gifts of blame and shame so they remain with the giver.

You have both the right and the responsibility for your own life, for the fulfillment of your own soul’s purposes, which are always about experiencing and expressing qualities of soul. The more clearly you choose your true desires — which are the voice of your soul — and act to fulfill them, the more your life will be filled with joy, peace, creativity, power, abundance and delight, among so many other soul qualities.

By refusing to surrender your own well-being to the demands of others, you give them the gift of clear boundaries and a powerfully sovereign self. Our kids learn how to be themselves by the example we set for them. By being yourself, choosing yourself, choosing your sovereignty, you shine a light that illuminates your path and theirs. You give them incomparable gifts — the freedom to be themselves, to choose their own joy, to learn from their explorations and to grow in creative sovereignty.

The Blessing of a Bruised Right Buttock

My whole body is a bit tweaked from the fall I took two nights ago. The rather magnificent bruise on my right buttock (which turned into quite a fun #rightbuttock joke on Facebook) has deepened into a shocking and marvelous set of purples, and I thought that was that.

But yesterday, my neck started feeling achy and I was nauseous, to boot, enough so that I rescheduled an afternoon client so that I could take an Epsom salt bath and a rest rather than pushing through and pretending to be present. There are few worse and more disrespectful things than pretending to be anything, especially present. I was fine the day after the fall; amazing how these things can both take time to become apparent and creep up on you.

Earlier in the day, I’d listened as a different beloved client 3,000 miles away told me about a moment of sitting in her own tangled places — emotional, personal, professional. The entire call, I’d been watching a huge sheet of ice and snow melt in slow, steady drips just outside the south-facing kitchen windows. I told her about it, as it seemed symbolically fitting somehow, then sent her a photo after our call.

This morning, she reciprocated with a texted picture of a Buddha outside in the rain, pointing out that the face was half wet and half dry. It reminded me of the both/and of things; how we can be ok, be calm, be, period, even when we are exposed to the elements.

Sometimes I feel like I’m just recycling the same thoughts and ideas over and over again. I commit to things and then find myself unprepared, literally scrawling noted on the back on an envelope minutes before it’s my turn to speak. I judge myself harshly for being out of my league, but not unkindly for showing up in the first place. Ego is apparent here in many ways: Ego says, you suck. Ego says, you’re amazing. I’m wary of both messages.

My bruised right buttock slowed me down this weekend. After a shower, coffee, and breakfast, Mani went to work on a puzzle in the front hallway. I was debating between reading a book and taking a nap when I heard a crash.

I ran to the other end of our apartment to see if she was ok; she was fine, but her puzzle table had gone down the front steps (what’s up with us and the stairs in our place this week?!), and pieces had gone flying everywhere.

It was while picking them up that I came across  a folder filled with short bits of writing, report cards, awards, and recommendations ranging from 1982 to 1991. I didn’t realize it was in that wooden peach crate with all the photos we’ve been meaning to hang in the front hallway for the last two and half years.

Once she got back to her puzzle, I sat down in the bathroom doorway and started reading through the contents of the folder.

“The most intellectual member of her class,” wrote my guidance counselor in 1990. “Jena is a warm, empathetic, articulate, and spirited individual with a twinkle of humor in her eyes. She is a good listener, and her peers actively seek and value her opinions. Jena is comfortable with herself, and she has a gift for making others feel relaxed whenever they are around her. It is difficult to describe Jena in a few words as there is much depth to this strong-willed, generous and engaging young woman.”

Now, it’s evening. I sit here with that folder at my side, the folder with newspaper clippings announcing national prizes I won for poems and essays about the Holocaust, short stories I started and never finished, a drawing from fifth grade of African-American anti-slavery activist and poet Charlotte Forten Grimké, and the one that really cracked me up, from a P.E. teacher who said I had “weak abdominals” (some things really never change).

There’s an uncomfortable sensation but I can’t fully put my finger on it. And then it hits me: I am wondering if I have lived up to this girl’s promise. And then something even bigger hits me: She wondered the same thing.

Suddenly, here we are, the two of us, my 43-year-old self and my 10- and 15- and 17- year-old selves. And I want to sit and look her in the eyes. I want to say: Hey you, in there. You don’t have to be amazing, you know.

As I sit here, another wave of thought comes rushing up to me. It goes something like this:

See? This is why it’s best to close the doors and leave them closed. What purpose is there in revisiting this old stuff? You can either use it as evidence of how totally YOU you were back then, or of how totally NOT you you were then. You can make it a badge or a weapon. You can spin any story you want, and they will all be true and none of them will be true. 

I find a collection of ten poems I put together in 1998, after my first year of grad school. One is called “After an Absence,” by Linda Pastan. It begins:

After an absence that was no one’s fault
we are shy with each other,
and our words seem younger than we are,
as if we must return to the time we met
and work ourselves back to the present,
the way you never read a story
from the place you stopped
but always start each book all over again.

Sometimes life is like this. We start the same book all over again. And again, and again. We forget who we were, carrying only memory ghost imprints of our younger selves. The once who were bursting with ideas. “Enthusiasm and delight” is how my Amherst College professor described my relationship to the Spanish language; I was 15, a junior in high school.

And then there is “Kannon” by Sam Hamill. How bizarre; he doesn’t know me from Eve but we are Facebook friends now 20 years later, and I watch from afar as his health dwindles. As a woman in my early 20s, his poetry spoke to some deeply human and impossible part of me.

I adore you. I love you
completely. Nothing to ask in return.

Each act of affection a lesson:
I fail, but with each failure, learn.

Like studying
under Te-shan:

thirty blows if I can’t answer,
thirty blows if I can.

And William Stafford’s “Awareness,” yet another hint of what I knew I didn’t yet know. Here are the final two stanzas:

Of hiding important things because
they don’t belong in the world.

Of now. Of maybe. Of something
different being true.

And Mary Oliver’s “March,” which ends:

“Something touched me, lightly, like a knife blade. Somewhere I felt I was bleeding, though just a little, a hint. Inside, I flared hot, then cold. I thought of you. Whom I love, madly.”

The girl I was, the teenager, the young woman, the young wife, the new mother — all of these matryoshka dolls stacked one inside another. I sit here this evening as the light fades. Much of the snow on our neighbor’s roof has melted from the storm a few days ago, and soon soon soon, spring will come for real. I feel like a grown up, even though I question what that actually means.

Oh, life. You have such a way about you.

I think it has to do with a bruised buttock — a fleshy one, too, not like the underweight ass of my youth. It has to do with mad love and evenings in, with poems as portents, with potential unfolding and dying in every single moment, rather than as something to bottle up and stash for emergencies. It has to do with being the mama now, who is strong enough to sit still, to say, “you are safe.” To mother and live in such a way that my kids can find their way to being truly themselves. And it definitely has to do with what happens when I stop trying to be good enough and instead, just love the person I’ve always been.

I look out the window at the dark, then turn to myself and say:

Keep reading for hints and watching for clues. Keep scribbling notes and paying attention to which poems grab you by the heart. Keep sharing delight and enthusiasm — for language, for learning, for stories and poems. Keep showing up, whether you feel prepared or not. Keep diving in where things are tangled and keep coming up for air where the sun shines and melts away what seems impossible and permanent. Let the seasons change. Listen to the body. It knows how to heal. Healing is possible. 

The Birds of Fear

blue

~ the sky today ~

Sitting across the room from my love, both of us working. Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” comes on, and we keep catching each other’s eye. Then “Time After Time” — and the lyrics melt on my tongue like salted caramel, impossible to keep and best to consume.

I’m eating quiche hot of out the oven with my hands, a load of laundry spinning behind me in the pantry. The green kitchen chair where I’m sitting faces a wall, but beyond the wall is the west. Sometimes I can’t tell the difference between having dreams that reflect reality and dreams that are not so vaguely prophetic. The sink’s full of dishes. In a while, I will wash them. Then I’ll peel and fry potatoes for Mani.

My days are all pretty similar in most ways. I wonder whose days aren’t. (ER docs? Midwives?) Then I worry for a second — is this a failure of the imagination on my part? Shouldn’t every day be new and contain wonder and discovery? That’s a lot of pressure. Sheesh. I tell myself not to overthink it. “Self, don’t overthink it.”

Yesterday, I got a massage. It was like a revelation (I have a body!). Annie and I talked for some parts of it and she worked on me in silence during other stretches. At one point, she offered this beautiful visual:

The birds of fear may fly overhead, but you don’t have to let them build a nest in your hair.

If you’d seen my hair at the end of those 90 minutes, you might have laughed, as my hair was legitimately nest-worthy! But also, I love the image of those birds. Given how often birds get my attention, usually with curiosity and fondness and even great affection and (to my kids’ dismay) giddiness on my part, to imagine my fears as birds changes something fundamental about how I relate to fear.

Stopped at a red light, I look out the window. The rain has stopped, and I estimate at least two dozen sparrows hopping and pecking around an October-colored bush. Little birds. Little fears. Busy, industrious, filling themselves up in preparation for the cold months coming.

The cold months are coming. I know this because of empirical evidence. Because of 43 winters. Because of the way red, orange, and yellow overtake green in a final gasp before falling, returning to earth.

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner writes:

“A mystic is anyone who has the gnawing suspicion that the apparent discord, brokenness, contradictions and discontinuities that assault us every day might conceal a hidden unity.”

Why does God hide the unity? Aren’t we all mystics? Can you read those words and pause and really take them all the way in? Consume and digest them, like lyrics, like caramel? They defy the intellect and, some would say, require tremendous faith.

I don’t know if I have tremendous faith; what comes to me is more of a sensation that I am faith. It’s not something I really know how to do, but when I don’t try, there’s a permeability, something like a still point that lies inside of this very moment and outside the rings of rational thought.

Now that I write that, I realize how much it resembles breath. I recall a commentary I read in the machzor, or prayer book, on Rosh Hashanah, and find myself wishing I had a copy here in front of me. It had to do with breath.

Ever-enthralled by Hebrew etymology, I turn to Wikipedia:

“…the word Nishmat (the combining form of Nishmah נִשְׁמָה breath) … is related to the word neshama (נְשָׁמָה soul), suggesting that the soul is part of the breath of all life.”

The breath, the soul. This is the place — if it’s a place at all — that sustains me when all I see is brokenness and discord. If there is no hidden unity, no inherent wholeness, then what is our purpose here? Would we just throw up our hands or throw in the towel, walk away from suffering, and say it’s someone else’s to deal with?

Because we are all suffering, every single one of us. Of course there are degrees; I cannot compare a melancholy mood or what’s weighing on my heart to a baby buried in the rubble from another bombing. On the other hand, touching my own suffering gently and attentively opens to compassion.

Suffering, then, must go hand in hand with compassion, and compassion must be the source of action — action that affects change and hopefully healing. I’ll quote Rabbi Kushner again: “Hold up your hands before your eyes. You are looking at the hands of God.” Hand in hand. Mine in yours. God’s in mine.

On the kitchen table, a yellow bowl with two mangoes. A card for an acquaintance whose son died last week. Two submissions to The Roar Sessions, printed out and waiting for my eyes. I realize the washer cycle has ended and hear the s’s of Mani’s British crime show coming in from the bedroom. Quiche crumbs.

One window is open; the cold days are not all the way here yet. It’s dark. The fridge hums. The world pulses with irreconcilable beauty alongside more devastation that my heart can take.

And so I watch the birds of fear flutter up against the backdrop of a sky as pure and blue as today’s. I listen for the breath and hold my own hand up in front of my face, remembering: No two days are the same. No two moments are the same. No two lives are the same.

And I come home, just as the train whistles a mile or so away, to knowing that we’re here to love each other and do our part to heal what’s broken.

Severing

axSevering. Cutting the cord. Boundaries. Mother’s milk. Hand on my back. Opening my mouth. Cord snaking out, sticky and thick and unending, an infinite belly coil I keep pulling on, years and years and a recurring dream of not being able to cut it — the more I try, the more it becomes something like glue, impossible and uncooperative, stretching from and gumming up the sharp blade. I am trying too hard, I am waking up sweating and tired of being sorry, I am scrambling on eroding ground, watching it crumble. And then, later, walking — I am walking down and then up a hill, feet on earth, voice out loud, begin here, and here, and this is enough for today I tell myself, until later, so much later in the car the throat constricts and chest crushes and suddenly I’m sobbing and remembering this dream after so long a reprieve, and it smells like the teen spirit I swallowed and spit out, it sounds like all the horses running towards me at once, it feels like crowded, hands in front of me, palms facing out in a gesture of give me space, please I need space. And I am aware in this moment of the impulse to rush through the feelings, the way sometimes you want to rush to climax and the rushing runs interference with the desired outcome which is to say what it is about, when really this experience, these feelings in the body are not about — they are not linear or narrative or logical or cognitive, no, they are storms, they are electricity and power surges and powerlessness and where where is the ground, where is the voice, what do I want, who am I, where was I, what am I afraid of losing, what was lost already so many times over and can’t be retrieved? There will be no words until I can give this its full expression, give over to it, give into the walls closing in knowing that when they fall I will be standing here solid under sky without explanation or proof of purchase. All of this is to say the severing dream came back to me, floated into my mind casually, like, no big deal, just coming to say hello, it’s been so long how are you? Why are you here, I asked, and the dream — though I was awake now, and driving — said, to tell you what I was about all those years. And now I am a baby and the cord is cut and I am on my own but held and loved and now I am an adult and I am on my own holding my own and loved in new ways, chosen ways, ways that remind me to be a big girl now, a grown woman, strong enough to know that I don’t have to put myself through the same thing over and over that is so long ago now done and gone.

Use your voice, love your way, and don’t be afraid, love. Don’t be afraid.