Archive for the 'friendship' Category

Ashes to ashes, Stardust to stardust.

amywink February 14th, 2018

“In one of the stars I shall be living.
In one of them I shall be laughing.
And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing
when you look at the sky at night.”

~The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery

When Stacey decided she had to go on disability as her cancer spread, she faced mounds of paperwork made worse by the continuing solicitous phone calls from her case managers, who always seemed to be asking the most pointless questions that feigned concern or empathy, as if that could be scripted and no one would notice as long as the pauses were in the right place. But Stacey was an authentic person and one who did not tolerate fakery at all. At All. Still, she understood that the person was simply reading off a script and wasn’t really to blame for the words that were not their own. So I heard all about it instead of the case manager and I sympathized, gasped, offered rolled eyes or righteous anger as we wrote to each other so we could both deal with her approaching death.

After one particularly irksome call, during which the case manager glided right over Stacey’s comments about having terminal Stage IV cancer, about being riddled with cancer, about only having maybe a year to live, and asked “what do you think you’d like to do after you get off disability?” Stacey was simply flummoxed as to how to get the person to go off script, to listen to her, the person, not the case she was managing, to think of her and not the money that she was costing her insurance company. As she raged with me, I said “Why don’t you tell her you are looking into a future in compost?” And suddenly her frustrated rage turned to laughter, that saving grace that somehow I often managed to find for her, a little light in the dim world. She laughed and laughed and we thought together about how what her future in compost might involve and how that might trip her case manager off her script. But for me, what I recall was that Stacey laughed. I had given her the right word to turn her draining anger into the nourishment of grace, like compost. It is a lovely memory of a terrible time, good dirt made from decay.

Good dirt nourishes the living. That rich dark compost we add to our gardens comes from the organic remnants we discard, returns to us the food we eat, cycling through our bodies, connecting us whether we notice or not. And in our bodies, the atoms that are “traceable to stars” and our cosmic, biological connection to “every other living thing in the world.” Our chemical “connection to all molecules on Earth.” And our atomic connection “to all atoms in the universe.” We are, as Neil deGrasse Tyson says “not figuratively, but literally stardust.”

Ashes to ashes, stardust to stardust.

The dust of stars in the ashes of our bodies.

Compost.

Ashes can be added to acidic soil to raise the Ph balance in soil. Consciously applied, ashes make the ground more tolerable for some plants that need a less acidic soil.

Consciously applied, a single word can make the world more tolerable for someone.

Consciously applied, a single life can turn the soil into something else, balance the faulty chemistry into richness and change the possibilities for a fallow field under a universe of stars.

So many times, Stacey offered the right word, or right understanding, and turned my life onto something else. And so many times, I did the same for her. All of my friends do the same, offering themselves, their understanding, their light. I always try to do the same, to see the person, not the case in front of me, to hear the human being and understand what they might need to hear, so as to turn toward the light. We are in the world to nourish each other, to make each other rich with growth, to return what has been given to us from the soil from which we’ve grown, the soil that also contains the dust of stars.

I do not know what her husband has done with Stacey’s ashes. I am sure she had a plan. I have my mother’s ashes and I hope one day to drive them to New Mexico and leave them in the mountains where we used to camp, where the wind in the trees sounds like the sea. When my father dies, I expect I will do the same. Those ashes may enrich the soil, like their lives enriched mine and others, and I like to think of them returning to the place we loved so much. As for me, I am making rich and vibrant dirt with my life, cultivating myself so I may nourish others. I hope when I am done, when I return to the earth and stardust, I will have left something growing because of my presence, or perhaps at least a little starlight for this dim world.

The Children of My Oldest Friends

amywink November 6th, 2017

The Children of My Oldest Friends
_For Leah, Toni, and Sharon

I was holding
someone else’s
child, asleep
across my lap,
when I knew
that would not be
the story of my life.
I worked, driven,
toward a different
kind of creating future,
one now coming
to fruition in this moment
a quarter century later,
in this moment
when the children
of my oldest friends,
daughters and sons,
enter the world changed
and changing still,
and I see, with
such illuminating joy,
in their bright faces,
those faces of
my dearest friends,
my unrelated kin,
who I first loved
in the world,
who saw,
and knew,
and loved,
without requirement
or condition other than
the growing pleasure
of my company.

Giving the Light

amywink October 27th, 2017

Giving the Light
For Alex, one of the beautiful souls I have known.

Putting Alex to bed
the lamp beside
him glows reassurance.
Though he fears his need for light,
this small, articulate boy hopes
it is okay, at three,
to be so reassured in darkness.
He questions his brother’s meaning,
asking, more than stating,
“I sleep with the light on
because I’m a scaredy-cat,”
glancing at me because the lamp
does not speak to this fear.

For this he needs a grown-up,
someone with knowledge of such names
and their accuracy,
more familiar with the world,
acquainted with whatever may
be out there, beyond his knowing.
“No,” I reply, to what he as really asked,
“you’re just afraid because you do not
know what is in the dark.”

He looks right into me.
“Are you afraid of the dark?”

How could he know what he had asked?
Right now, in my own darkness,
I am so afraid
and there is no lamp beside me,
no grownup to ask if
it is okay, at thirty, to need the light.

Truthfully, I reply, “Yes,
sometimes, because I do not know.”
and because he may know an answer for himself,
I ask, “What is in the dark?”
Quiet, he sits with his blanket, pondering
and then,
in a voice as beautiful as a photograph
he speaks,

Soft and certain, he gives me
“the moon. . . . and the stars.”

(1995)

Always

amywink October 27th, 2017

Always
on the approach of Stacey’s birthday, October 31.

I am surprised by
grief this morning
and not at all surprised
in the closing days of
her October.
I’d promised her
I would be okay,
moving toward
those things we both
understood I am
meant to do.
And mostly that is true
and often more beautifully
true than I ever imagined
possible as so much
joy keeps returning
after the long sacrifice
she helped me finish,
but grief remains
a presence through
this second year
and though she is
always with me,
she is also
always
always
gone.

How I Learned to Read the Cards

amywink October 23rd, 2017

How I Learned to Read the Cards
a gift for Stacey, born on Halloween.

No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an auger, or a sorcerer, or one who casts spells or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead . . . Although these nations that you are about to dispossess do give heed to soothsayers and diviners, as for you, the Lord your God does not permit you to do so. “ Deuteronomy 18: 10-11; 14

By his faithfulness he was proved to be a prophet, and by his words he became a known as a trustworthy seer. Sirach 46:15

This past summer, a student came to me after we watched the first half of “Spirited Away”, Hayao Miyazaki’s wonderful animated film I use to teach figurative language (imagery, symbolism, metaphor, etc) in my introduction to short fiction class. He told me nervously that watching the film had made him uncomfortable, “because, you know, my faith. I don’t think I can watch the rest of it. It’s witchcraft.” I had not had a faith-based excuse in my class for a long time so I was out of practice with my answer and said he needed to watch the movie and I tried to give him some ways around the problem of witchcraft by discussing allegory and metaphor and the cultural image of the Baba-Yaga from Russian history or the different aspect of cultural mythology from Asia.

No dice.

After he left class, he sent me an email explaining his biblically-supported reason for staying away from the movie in our class. I acquiesced and told him to find another film to write about. Friends suggested I have argued with him about his faith, should have brought forth my own Biblical citations and scholarship as evidence against his position, especially after I read his first essay in which he claimed his favorite film was “Through the Looking Glass” a story ripe with magic and fantasy and imaginary beasts. Point out the irony, some suggested. And while it was quite ironic (and I had to take some slow deep breaths in order to not respond), if I had pointed it out, I’d have done nothing more than destroy his enjoyment of one film in favor of being in the “right” and my whole reason for teaching literature is to get students to learn to enjoy literature. They don’t enjoy literature if you employ it like a weapon to destroy their ideas instead of cultivate and grow those ideas and readers in new and creative ways. Like Anne Lamott has suggested, we do not always need to slice with the Sword of Truth, sometimes we just need to point with it.

Of course, I am also not paid enough to have those arguments and I work for the State, which I equally believe should remain separate from church. My personal position is that God comes to people in ways that they can understand and so, this is the way that young man understood God. So be it, I am here to teach him to understand literature, an entirely different art of divination and one not prohibited by any Biblical edict–though there has been plenty of religious-historical argument for not reading literature and reading literature has been seen (and is sometimes still seen) as suspect and dangerous. That I myself write is not viewed the same as other forms of divination–though writing has also been suspect and Gerard Manley Hopkins burned much of his work once he dedicated himself his life to Christ. I have also heard people say they do not understand poetry and literature but study the Bible faithfully. I often think, wow, you are really missing a lot of the Bible then. I did not confront this student nor did I confront the student I remember saying “I believe in God because the hummingbird’s tongue goes over the top of its head and out its beak.” I just let that hang in the air of my stunned class before moving on to something else.

Of course, what I did not tell my student, because he’d likely backed away slowly with wide and terrified eyes before racing to drop the class, was that his professor also knows how to read the Tarot, and that is something that seems expressly prohibited by the Biblical evidence he offered from Deuteronomy, “although these nations that you are about to dispossess do give heed to soothsayers and diviners, as for you, the Lord your God does not permit you to do so.” The language loophole there, “do not give heed” as in do not pay attention to those who may call on Divine forces to understand the world or see the future (another loophole, prophets and seers. The Bible deserves a very close reading. I’m just sayin’.).

I learned to read the Tarot from my dear friend Stacey, at the time a practicing Wiccan, who had learned it from her Jewish grandmother, who read Stacey’s cards the day of her birth (Halloween) and saw a lifetime of seeking ahead of her granddaughter. Stacey kept the reading her grandmother had written down in a safe-deposit box at the bank, so valuable did she think of it, a kind of thematic map to her own future and a Holy relic of her ancestral women who had escaped the Russian pogroms and lived life in patriarchy and kept teaching their daughters how to see the future.

When she asked me if I’d like to learn to read the cards, she said “I think you have the gift to be able to read the cards. You are so insightful about things. Would you like to learn to read them?” And I was moved to say yes (the feeling of wonder does not come from the evil forces. I’ll apologize when the time comes if that’s not a correct understanding.) Stacey explained carefully the responsibilities of the gift and what it meant, in her tradition, to be able to read the cards. Never sell a reading, a reading is a gift like insight is a gift, she explained. Never ever pay for a reading or take money for a reading (she often said “do not touch their filthy lucre!” and made me laugh with her commandments). You should only give a reading to someone you love or feel kindly toward or the reading will be clouded and undecipherable, she continued. And she proceeded to lay out the cards and teach me how to see.

I have read the cards for a few people I loved and it has always been a powerful and beautiful experience. I use a book to understand the meanings of the cards because I have not memorized them, but even so, I learned to divine the meanings for the person I was reading for and learned to teach them to ask the kind of question meant for the cards to answer–something open ended for which a metaphorical answer would give understanding to. I have read for young people and usually get an answer that says something like the future is yet to be determined (thanks, cards) and I have read for friends in turmoil and been told “this is a kind of therapy!” I have read for people who steadfastly refuse to accept my interpretation and so miss the meaning of the readings (That’s really frustrating. If you’re not going to listen, don’t bother asking). But one of the most beautiful readings I ever did, a reading that glowed with peace and grace, was for a woman who sat in deepest happiness next to her husband, who also appeared in the cards. That was in fact the last reading I did, probably 15 years ago. It was a good reading to finish with (and as far as I know, still completely accurate).

I still have my Tarot deck, wrapped in silk out of respect, but I don’t expect to read them again unless someone asks for help. It’s not that I think the readings are evil, or that I feel am breaking a Divine rule, more that I have come to understand the Divine power in such a thing, the ability to see a person, to offer up something they need to see and I respect that insight in a new way. The problem with a reading of the future, and perhaps this is the reason we are asked not to heed the advice of diviners, is that it takes the person out of the present and makes them start to look for signs of their future, to try to know what is happening, instead of just being in the present. This happened with my own reading as I got caught up with racing toward my future, which was not going to be reached swiftly because of the way I had framed my question. It is very hard to consider the lilies of the field when you are worried about how your future may unfold, spinning out the life you hope may be before you, though you cannot see the signs of it. It is a powerful thing and I would explain that to anyone who asked for a reading so they knew what might understand what happens if they learn a possible meaning of the future that might be before them. I’d ask them to choose whether they’d want that anxious toiling or whether they might prefer to be fully present instead. And I’d likely direct them to some poetry to help them divine the present.

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