community, Featured, Letting Go

We Begin Again in Love

spiral-jetty-2

… forgiveness is not rational. One can seldom find a reason to forgive or be forgiven. Forgiveness is often undeserved. It may require a dimension of justice (penance, in traditional terms), but not always, for what it holds sacred is not fairness, but self-respect and community. Forgiveness does not wipe away guilt, but invites reconciliation. And it is as important to be able to forgive as it is to be forgiven.


-Sara Moores Campbell, Into the Wilderness

He invites us to call up a regret we hold, a mistake.  Through our restless quiet echoes the faint string of notes we each play: I wish I had  and I wish I hadn’t and if only.  The salt, he tells us, is that regret, that unforgiven act or omission.  In water, it never vanishes entirely — there is no forgetting —  though the hold it has on us dissipates.   It joins with the larger body of life, of surrender, of renewal.”Anyone who is so moved,” he says, “may come up and add a pinch of salt to the water.”

One by one, the congregants rise.  Does music play?  It’s hard to hear above the gathering notes of memory.  Our collective, unspoken remorse finds its chord and travels along the thread of bodies.  We shuffle and nod to one another. We make our way to the place where we are allowed to let go.

At the front rest two clear vessels, soap-bubble delicate and huge as bellies.  Water catches golden light filtering in from an October sun. Two deep platters of salt welcome a pinch or a fistful, depending. Some of us, I confide later, could do with a shovel.  Each of us drops our quantity of crystals in through the glass mouth.  The salt bursts into tendrils and swirls to a cloud. In one motion, our mistake both falls and rises, dissolving into light.  As we watch it go, each of us says these words:

“I forgive myself and begin again in love.”

We make our way back along that strand holding us to the place we started.  Something is changed, though.  The path feels emptied somehow.  The rows of seats, more capacious.

I watch the last of the congregants weave through the space.  Each of them, like me, carries these sorrows, these hurts.  We recognize the damage we have certainly caused.  We can see how it lives on not only in us but around us in the small world we inhabit.

Each of them, like me, goes on anyway.

For this one moment, alongside the unlikely echo of a shared chord, we are free to give way to forgiveness.

We begin again, together, in love.


Image: Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, Great Salt Lake, Utah, 1970

Children

High Longing Time

We tumble along. One million two hundred nine thousand six hundred seconds since your last crossing of this threshold. You drag laces, one sneaker tied, loops as big as elephant ears. The solar-powered calculator in your hands breeds digits, times 24 times 60 times 60 again, weeks days hours to the tick-tick of your lengthening hair and harried length, stretching past the Sharpie scratch on the wall from your birthday just yesterday or so it seems.
 
Seams licking ankles, cuffs crawling up shins. These soft sweats kissed the carpet last winter. Before that, they would have swaddled you like the arms of giants. You are barely mine now and I keep losing my grip on the serrated edge of knowing you never were.
 
You ask who is heavier, who is taller, who has burped the most. I tell you it’s all me now but you’re catching up quick and so you pop off about two dozen rounds of air-bubbles from your well-honed esophagus. If I could believe in fate enough to beg its mercy, the height discrepancy may see-saw into its new alignment in due course.
 
I help you with the other shoe and touch my head to your chest. You let me do this and I imagine I can discern heartbeat under shirt, skin, wiggle. “Before you know it, baby, it’s going to be like this. You’ll go to hug your mama and I’ll be here looking up at you.” You grin and something like a chuckle rumbles and I catch the hot flicker of victory in your eyes.
 
Too soon, boy. This autonomy you so crave will come galloping at you and you will burst like the nascent tumescence fidgeting in Jack’s beans. You will spill out and unbend and rise to scrape the hot gas line threaded along the underbelly of the sky, soaking yourself in propellant and peril. Then, like the rest of us, you will swing your head around in big-eyed bafflement and search the crowds and corridors for a guidebook, a teacher, and elder, a guru. A fire extinguisher at least. And if you have not learned to temper your hunger and trust your own haphazard attempts at choice, you may find exactly what you seek.
 
This, if you care to heed my feeble warnings:
 
Watch out for love-bombs. Straight lines. Icons and iconoclasts. Listen to prophets with only one ear. Hold the lover with only one hand. Sniff with at least one half of your sixth sense the air around the champions. Shape the words to name what you smell.
 
Beware recruiters and their recruits, the faithful and faithless, backwoods zealots and penthouse swagger. Give a wide berth to anyone who woos death. Check the ink on any gospel. If it doesn’t smear, protect your flank.
 
Question most that beat synced so truly to your own.
 
All of these will have you for the small price of one fraction of your mind. After a trial period, the rest will be drawn down in monthly installments. You may forget to read the fine print. It happens to all of us.
 
Try anyway.
 
Do not cull the breadth of your head. Do not shave a hair from your longing.
 
Don’t be fooled.
 
Or do.
 
Don’t listen to me.
 
Or do.
 
You rise as you fall and the other way around too. Even now, I cannot catch you, even as I stand on my knees with my forehead brushing your chin.
 
I cannot, but I will stay here. As long as you need me to, I will pretend.
 

Career, Home

Welcome to Munchkinland

“If we walk far enough,” says Dorothy, “we shall sometime come to someplace.”

-L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

I had not entertained the possibility of defeat. In the six months since making an offer on the one condo we could make our own, I had only allowed Yes and its ilk to join me on this convoluted voyage. At every twist in the yellow road, I simply closed my eyes for the half-second required to tap heels and picture home. Square shoulders, gather senses, and press on.
 
Until the letter arrived.
 
One slim envelope, and not a surprise, turned up in the mail yesterday. “Your application for credit has been denied.” No big deal. I pulled the plug on the quasi-approved loan after it became clear the short sale was going to eat into my finances for another month or three. Two banks on the seller’s end are duking it out over a piddly $3700 discrepancy in the assessed price of the home. Meanwhile, my lender is awaiting word from a county engineer indicating that recent repairs at the complex pass muster. The county engineer, whose name and number I scrounged up in my determination to gain some semblance of control over the situation, takes my call but to no avail. Her hands are tied as she awaits word from the property manager indicating the dispute over rehab costs is resolved. The property manager refuses to say spit because the complex is involved in legal proceedings.
 
To tip the whole endeavor into emerald absurdity, my bank started charging me $450 every two weeks to extend a loan with no fixed end date. I made the harrowing decision to let it all slide for a month and then reapply. The dream condo is still under contract with me, though, so I trust this is merely a waiting game.
 
Perhaps my trust has been a fool’s errand.
 
When I open the letter, an entirely different story tumbles out. My lender has denied my loan not because I failed to extend it but because of a laundry list of credit problems. In the nine months I have been working with this bank – my bank, the one I have used for insurance and checking accounts and credit cards for 15 years – not one of these issues has surfaced. Too many credit inquiries? Too much money in rotating accounts? Insufficient collateral? How is any of this possible, and why has no one mentioned it before?
 
A breeze from the open window lifts the pages from the bed where I have dropped them. I can’t bear to look at those terse, typed lines. The simple goal of buying a home blurs and retreats. Without this, there is, quite literally, nothing.
 
Nothing but here.
 
It’s not as if another place is out there waiting, one that’s just a little less expensive or a tiny bit further from my son. Not a single local condo even at the outer reaches of my price range has been listed in the past three months. The only affordable properties are an hour’s drive away. As the weeks of economic recovery tick by, the asking prices at the low end are ballooning beyond reach.
 
Let’s not get into a discussion of rental costs. I can actually afford (just barely) a mortgage and condo fees. Stick the extra few hundred per month on top that local landlords demand and I cannot even squeeze Bug and me into a one-bedroom, let alone a place where we can grow.
 
Mother’s day just passed. I had started to believe those friends that generously reached out to tell me I am a good mom. I can’t help biting back the response: So the f**k what? What does it matter? Sure, I love my kid and give him a decent-enough life. But what to make of this this very basic metric of providing? What to do with this failing grade? I cannot afford a home for my child.
 
As the breeze scatters pages around my room, every mistake I have ever made pushes up like a twister and tilts the world. That knotted string of poor decisions spills out behind me. At any point, I could have chosen differently, chosen more wisely. Chosen to fight harder for the marriage. Chosen to nourish my own career instead of Tee’s. Chosen to pursue an MBA or a teaching degree instead of my indistinct master’s in nothing remotely marketable. I could have decided to stick with the GIS which came so naturally instead of foregoing it for dance and revolution. I could have studied harder, maintained a professional network, written about something substantial, stopped hiding. Could have stopped pouring energy into worthless shit like gardens, bread, mountains, books, and friends. Cut short the conversations. Culled the flourishing heart.
 
Gotten to work.
 
Then, perhaps, I could have the capacity to reach this one simple goal. I might be able to provide for my son.
 
As it is, I have to live at the front end of this frayed string. I try to braid it into some sort of rope to haul Bug and me up and out of this spinning house and onto a patch of solid ground. It splits in my hands. It shears to nothing.
 
Paper and sisal. Me, suddenly trapped in a tiny bedroom not even my own. Stunned into paralysis. Now how to proceed? The choices I make today, are they similarly foolish? I can’t begin to understand how my credit is rated poor. Aside from a car I paid off in 2006, I have never held one penny of debt. I pay my cards in full each month. I have no college loans, no collections agencies after me. Somehow, I manage to maintain small but steadily growing balances in retirement, 529, and brokerage accounts. Ample funds to cover expenses both planned and otherwise are a click away every month. In fact, my checking now has more cash in it than I’ve ever seen in my life, squirreled away there to cover 20% down on a vanishing dream.
 
My credit is poor, quite simply, because I am.
 
A good-enough job for the Commonwealth of Virginia is barely sufficient for a single woman to survive. It falls short of thriving, and barely enters the ballpark of getting by when a kid is added to the equation.
 
Yet, I had I assumed my choices are the right ones for right now. The daily mile to and from the metro saves me $5. Taking breakfast and lunch saves me $10 or more. My hair looks like a factory-floor mop squeezed a few too many times through the rollers because I refuse to put money where the payoff isn’t evident. I hold onto a low-paying job with good benefits and flexible hours so that I can pick up my child at the end of the day and still have time for a conversation with him over dinner. We spend our weekends wandering the woods or roaming the neighborhood, eschewing outings that require a fee. All the small sacrifices, the little denials of indulgence, the hand-kneading of the pizza crust from sourdough starter and hand-making of Christmas gifts, because I believed that simplicity could lead Bug and me to the place we belong.
 
But what if I’ve been wrong?
 
What if it is cowardice or stupidity keeping me quiet in my room at night writing poetry? What if contra dancing and nighttime walks are just time – precious, would-be productive hours – tossed in the garbage? What if I have only been avoiding the hard work of launching a real career? A girl’s got to pay the bills. This isn’t a game anymore. I don’t get to make decisions based on what feels good or what compels that tenuous aspect called “spirit” (something, as it so happens, I don’t even believe exists) to roam those lush meadows of the imagination.
 
And now I wonder what it would take. Which missing part drives me to Oz to tap the source? I fear I lack in every regard. My loose, anemic heart has not loved self or son enough to get past my idle ways. My brain has languished in a vacuous, quasi-childhood of pleasure instead of erecting bridges with industry and precision. And my courage? Never has it been emptier than when I have tried to draw upon it as I lurch towards the lip of necessary change.
 
Without doggedly pursuing these attributes, why would I expect to find my way anywhere more substantial than Munchkinland? How could I have been so silly as to think I could tap my heels and carry us home?
 

Choices, Poetry

The Cat Came Back

The first mistake was the one you made.
The second was thinking it had
forgotten you. What will the third be?
Do you let it climb naked
onto your back and ride
you like a name?
Do you give it tea, your ear, a year
or three to chatter itself empty?
Do you build Hadrian’s wall
and repel any breach?
Do you involve the police?
Maybe you rest your arm
across its bristling shoulders and say
Thank you
but I’ve got this
now.