"When we love one another the most delicate truth of that love is held in the spirit, but my body is the record of those I have loved. I feel their bones as my bones, almost literally. The record is autonomous. It continues, dumbly, to persist. Its power is independent of time. The love is fixed, instantly accessible to memory, somehow stained into my body as color into a cloth."
~ Anne Truitt, DAYBOOK: The Journal Of An Artist ~
Last night I was leafing through a pile of books that I have had for a very long time, most of which I've read more than once, all of which I've used in my writing classes. It is still an awakening to the changing of ourselves over time when we reread a book and wonder why in the world we underlined some things, and why things that didn't seem to have that kind of power the first time around hit us between the eyes and like a pinball shot through a pinball machine circling round and about, the new passage, once read and nearly ignored, shoots through our body, zings through our heart, and hits the bull's eye in our solar plexus. Our whole body wakes up. Such was the way I felt coming upon the quote about by Anne Truitt, whose books I have loved for decades. In that moment the resonance of those words moved through me, and I felt a connection with my mother's frail, dying body; the vibrancy of my children, now young adults, partnered or married and into the throes of young adulthood -- one married, 2 partnered, and one of the partnerships, my daughter Rachel and her sweet Jeremy, have my grandson Lucas. The generations move through my body, and even as I feel my mother's tender bones wasting away from cancer, I feel my daughter's heart beat against mine as we hug, and I hold my grandbaby in my arms, the wee little 4 year old boy, small and thin with huge eyes and tousled curly hair, and I can hold his whole little body in my arms, loving him with all my might as he squeezes me tightly and says, "Grandma, I love you TOO much!"
Too, I have had an unusual relationship with the most extraordinary woman I have ever known for the past 6+ years, and we couldn't be more different nor more perfect for one another, and yet her work takes her to places far away these last couple of years. I can close my eyes and see her in that place inside of me, inside of all of us, that is all seeing. Her voices echoes through my body, fills the four chambers of my heart, and the tenderness, the strength, the awe-filled moments of wonder that we have shared fill me to brimming over with love. She doesn't have to be present, standing in front of me, for me to feel her. I believe that's how love is, all kinds of love, if it is pure and perfect and true.
"Pure and perfect and true" does not in the least mean that we have led a life trouble free and without problems with our loved ones. One of the most painful things about my mother and I is that we have had a very difficult relationship most of our lives, especially as I became an adult. We went years without speaking, only to make our peace when she was diagnosed 3 1/2 years ago. Still we had our ups and downs but for some time now, in the face of her death, all of those things that we held onto that were tinged with anger, have fallen away as the truly meaningless and unimportant things that they were. We are mother and daughter. What I want most is for her to die in peace knowing how much I love her. I call her everyday to tell her just that. It is an especially difficult time because she is in Illinois and I am in North Carolina and I am not able to travel easily, or leave my little cottage very often, so the phone has been our means of connection. I feel so badly about that, but she has a lot of family and friends, neighbors and church members, and people practically lined up out of the door who want to help her. She was a hospice volunteer for 30 years until her illness really took hold. She is loved by many.
Sometimes, I think back to the shock, horror, and heartbreak, in February of 2005, when she left the doctor's office with the diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma, and given a very short time to live, until now, 3 1/2 years later, when she is finally coming into the endzone. She will be 82 on July 21. But then I look at 2 things. Through her illness, not only her great faith (She is a very devout Catholic very involved in her church, and led the congregation in the rosary before early morning mass, well into her cancer, until she no longer could.), and the most positive attitude I have ever seen in my entire life. And this positive attitude, I firmly believe, has not only kept her alive this long, but she has become a beacon of light to all of us. Our family, my children, her friends, to all who know her. She has gotten up every single morning, through the worst that the cancer and various treatments she has gone through, many grueling, many painful, terrible side effects, by last summer she was blind, and on and on, but every single time you talk to her she has said, "Everyday's a good day. It is what you make it." And she has stood steadfastly by this statement for 3 1/2 years and is still here, much to the surprise of the medical professionals as well as everyone who knows her. Many times she has come to the brink of death, only to regain enough strength to keep going. It's hard to get up in the morning and complain about anything when your dying mother can say, every morning, in the worst of her pain and illness, "Every day is a good day." That phrase will be a guiding star for me for the rest of my life, as will she from the heavenly realms that she will have ascended to.
Death is an odd thing for all the life, renewal, and awakening in leaves in it's wake. That her cancer finally brought us together not only allowed a tender relationship to grow between us, but let so much of the negativity fall away that beautiful memories that I had long forgotten, clouded over or weighted down by the trauma a long-term sexually abused child carries inside of her, the darkness clouding over any ray of light there might be underneath, has been parted like Moses parting the Red Seas. Up from the depths have come sweet and lovely memories. So so many, and more come all the time, and in the blessing of these beautiful memories I have wept for so much time lost, but then, I must focus on the gift that we have been given, to find this peace and love before the end. And when she is gone, through my tears I will look up at the heavens and say, "Everyday's a good day Mom," and I know she will be smiling down on me. We pray for each other daily. She wraps herself in the big shawl I made for her for Mother's Day a few years ago before we knew she had cancer, and the shawl is like a hug from me. She loves the things I have made her and that means a lot to me, more than I can say.
Mom visiting me in 2003 for Mother's Day,
2 years before the cancer diagnosis...
Our bones are all connected, historically, through time, in the way the human body has evolved, in the way that the skeletal structure is one of the early things that begin forming in the early life of the fetus, as well as all that is left of us in the end. I am a Buddhist, having left the Catholic Church at twenty, but as the saying goes, "You can take the girl out of the church, but you can't take the church out of the girl." I don't choose to follow the Catholic faith, but it is a beautiful faith, as are so many others, and that is part of the structure of my being. When I flew back to Illinois to spend Thanksgiving with my mother a year ago we would sit and say the rosary together. My mala beads were with me, but I cherished the time to say the rosary with my mother. Prayer is prayer. Grace is grace. It's all the same no matter what religion, belief system, or view on spirituality one might have. My mother's speaks a different language than I do, on the surface, about things spiritual, but universal truths are universal truths. We now meet on some plane of understanding rather than contention, and she has been able to see, not Buddhism itself, but having practiced Buddhism for thirty years, which has had a large part in who I have become, she is happy in the ever evolving transformations that have made me the woman I am today, it becomes more about what is. It doesn't need to be labeled.
In my favorite book on writing, Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg, the bones are the structure inside of which there is great freedom. I begin to see the bones of everyone in the world like some massive jungle gym and our relationships with one another are like swinging from bar (bone) to bar, sometimes resting awhile in one spot, sometimes coming back to that spot often, and sometimes stopping only for a moment, never to arrive at the same place again. It reminds me of the phrase, "Some things were meant for a reason, some for a season, and some for a lifetime." So too the people who come into our lives, and their bones, perhaps only small fragments, join with ours, leaving leitmotifs throughout our lives as the memories of them wax and wane, ever in the background, having helped make us who we are, if not thought of often in the present.
I reach out my hand to hold yours. The bones in our hands are easily felt and there is an exchange. Even in this iffy medium called cyber space we touch one another and are, in the best of circumstances, changed in some way. I have been touched by you, and I bow in gratitude, humbleness, and praise. Thank you for being there, and being part of my world.
Warm Regards, and Deepest Love ~ Namaste,