waiting

for the past ten days, my brother and i have accompanied my mom through test after test, appointment after appointment–126 in total. we have been waiting in limbo-land for life and death information.

waiting at the intersection of life and death, living takes on a realness that is both heavy and liberating.

the heaviness comes with the overwhelm of our human attempts to pin things down. and of course, try we must! after all, there are jobs, children, …responsibilities. there have been moments, feeling stuck here in minnesota in the midst of a blizzard, with my ailing mother, i’ve thought, i can’t just keep waiting here. i have to get home–i have stuff to do. i have meetings on monday! i have to get cat litter! i have to make sure meg gets to her first guitar lesson. after all, this period of waiting and limbo and in-between could go on forever and who knows what we’re going to need down the road? i have to spend my time wisely. yes, i need to go.

and then, reality hits and with it the truth that my mama’s heart is giving up quickly and that minnesota ain’t down the road from home and that this is where i need to be. after all, meetings and cat litter and guitar lessons can wait or go on without me.

and then again, can they? should they? what’s more important? missing meg’s first guitar lesson or waiting with my mom? bailing out on work or waiting with my mom? this is the heaviness of decision-making at the intersection of life and death, where every decision takes on a whole other layer of meaning. more is at stake.

and the joke is, we are always at that intersection. every day, every moment. we forget this truth, with all the business of our lives. and with that forgetting, we lose some of the meaning that adds weight to our decisions, to how we choose to spend our time and energy.

to be honest, i’m kinda grateful we forget! it’s easier. this limbo land of waiting ain’t exactly the most comfortable place to be. it can be exhausting.

mostly, it feels exhausting when i’m flailing around trying to grab hold of something solid. i wear myself out trying to stake my claims and assert my control. essentially, i wear myself out when i fight the present moment. on the other hand, when we can accept where we are and the reality of our situation, a peace sets in. an easiness.

yesterday, i witnessed my mama’s ease with awe. i’ll never forget her fearlessness. as she was prepped for her surgery today, she was being bombarded with all the people and all the interventions, all day. she was starting to grow weary of it all. she wasn’t alone. just as she started to order her food, two other staff entered her room and explained they were there to discuss nutrition. i’m assuming, to address her diabetes. one of them sweetly asked, “is it okay for us to talk with you?”

“oh, we can we talk.” my mom replied. “I’m about to have my second heart surgery tomorrow and so let’s wait. There might not be any need to have talks about nutrition.”

my mama’s truthfulness was a gut punch to these two, well-meaning staff who fumbled and mumbled and slid out of the room. when they left, the three of us broke into hysterical laughter, tears streaming down our faces as we sat squarely at our intersection. a sweet moment of being wholly together, with no pretense separating us. liberation from our delusions that we are ever anywhere else. freedom from our desperate attempts to be elsewhere, where things are planned and comfortable and where we police our own being.

as i sit here in the waiting room of the ICU, waiting for news on my mama, this is what i know to be true:

waiting is where we find God, Spirit, Source. it is in this in-between space, the land of limbo, where we face that we are always, in fact, at this intersection of life and death. this space is exactly where we humbly accept that being present is a place of liberation, where we can hold the joy and suffering of it all.

roy’s song

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The piano man drew me in

With the sweet lullaby he played as a backdrop

To the swift movement of the herds of people.

I sat, thankful for this music

And it’s transformation of this place and space.

 

The man next to me invited piano man

To play Sounds of Silence

And with that, also invited friendship.

Sitting side by side, we were now joined

Together by our love for this music, for this moment.

 

His kind face and wise eyes

Turned to me and offered his story to me,

A story of love and loss and cycles

Returning here again with his wife, Mary

Ready to face the truth, together:

 

He and Mary, married 54 years

With 8 children, 30 grandchildren

77 and 74 years young

Not a perfect marriage, he offered. 

And what is? we laughed.

 

He, a musician himself

Playing lead guitar in a band with 3 of his children

His drummer daughter, with 5 children of her own

“It’s getting harder for us to play…what, with life” he murmured.

“And we’ve had such fun.”

 

The chorus of his story,

“Life’s been good.

We’ve done good.

The kids are good.

We’ll be okay.”

 

With the in-between sounds of silence

That his soul so clearly sang, and which spoke so much.

 

And as I rose to slip back into the herds,

We paused.

“And your first name?” he wondered.

“Amy”, I offered.

“Yes, and mine is Roy.”

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answers

How many times will we be here?

Waiting for answers to questions unknowable

About life and death and suffering and aliveness

 

Looking to strangers for directions on finding  “quality of life”

Alongside those we are bound to, through birth or by choice

Who in those very moments offer all the answers we need:

 

We are together.

Even now, even still.


on groundlessness

For a long time, I understood “being grounded” as positive. I aspired to “feeling grounded”. For me, it represented a feeling of being solid, sure, connected with a sense of integrity and wholeness.

The irony of being grounded is that this groundedness is rooted in groundlessness–a deep understanding that there, in fact, no solid ground at all. This groundless form of groundedness allows us to experience life beyond the labels we claim, answers we assert, forms we grasp. Grounded in groundlessness offers presence, aliveness, vastness.

My mom is ill, really ill–one piece of the kaleidoscope of life these days that is shifting in uncertainty. We’re traveling tomorrow to Mayo Clinic for a week seeking answers. Seeking clarity. After all, we all need answers. And yet, I’ve learned that we can go and seek while also not hoping for any real certainty. Because the reality is, there are no solid answers. For anything. This might sound dark. I’m sure it does. But this is truth. And like all truth, accepting it is…liberating.

And that liberation allows me to be present with her, my family, my self as we move through this uncertainty.

Pema Chodron offers, “As we practice moving into the present moment this way, we become more familiar with groundlessness, a fresh state of being that is available to us on an ongoing basis. This moving away from comfort and security, this stepping out into what is unknown, uncharted, and shaky–that’s called liberation.”

What we’ve been trained to think of as comfort and security is a lie. Knowledge, truth, control–these are lies that we desperately grasp out of fear and need to secure solid ground beneath us. And these lies are stealing our precious lives from us, pulling us away from the present moment. And this present moment is all we have.

And in moments like this, with my mom, I want to savor every one.

So, I’m headed to Mayo with my mama, and no ground in sight.

re-membering

when we truly open our minds and hearts, we become both nothing and everything all at once as we re-member we are part of the whole body of creation. when we experience this re-membering, it is like an old familiar place that lives deep down in our bones, long forgotten: we are but threads in a rich and vast tapestry of life, connected and held by all the universe.

and while this practice belongs to us, we have lost it. white supremacy, imperialism, patriarchy have stolen it from us and replaced this way of being with patterns of domination that are now in the DNA of our living. we must unlearn those patterns–notice them and then disrupt them–so that we can re-member.

re-membering is both born through and annihilated in relationship. relationships offer both the key to our liberation and the key to our oppression. as one of my teachers, meg wheatley has shared: “we are not broken people. it’s our relationships that need repair. it’s relationships that bring us back to health, wholeness, holiness.”

this weekend i participated in an intensive designed to build an intentional community of practice. coming together with other humans to unlearn these patterns of domination so that we could re-member…was holy. there was beautiful stumbling at first but within the container we created, there was slow and definitive movement as we practiced the dance of being that allows for the wholeness and re-membering we all seek.

i just love this prayer by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, the Rev. Mpho Tuto that inspired us in our practice:

A Prayer:

Can you hold that space open for me? Can you keep your questions and suggestions and judgements at bay? Can you wait with me for the truths that stay hidden behind my sadness, my fear, my forgetting, and my pain? can you just hold open a space for me to tell my story?

i chose openness. i want to re-member. i seek liberation.

open or die

It’s a busy, chaotic time. Constant and jarring change. Our world is increasingly complex and it seems impossible to keep up with all the moving parts and pieces. As soon as a decision it made, a plan confirmed, everything changes. As a friend and colleague recently declared as we were doing org leadership planning,

“It’s like we’re just waiting for a shit show.”

There’s a bunch about the impact of this ever-shifting state of being on our lives and worlds that I’ve been grappling with these days. One thing I’m noticing is the tendency to close down and tense up in the face of that shifting. I see this on many levels.

I’ve been practicing noticing this response in my body. Tension rising, jaw clenching, muscles constricting. My body literally draws in on itself when experiencing groundlessness or uncertainty. My mind in turn also reacts, speeding up and racing. As I’ve learned to notice my internal response, I’ve begun practicing different methods. Breathing deeply. Loosening my grip. Moving my body, even in the slightest way. Honestly, the act of noticing alone has an impact…maybe noticing is enough to shift my stance.

This process of closing in/shutting down does not serve living systems. And we are, in fact, living systems interconnected with all other living systems. This interlocking web of life and energy is threatened when a part of it closes down. So when I close in on myself and disconnect from those around me–even from my whole self–this harms the larger living system.

Ironically, in these times that compel us to react in defense are the very times we should open. Openness gifts us information, communication, connectedness…life.

By opening, we adapt and grow.

All living systems exemplify this, which is why they are living. Those systems–individuals, organizations, social–that fail to open, die. It is is that simple.

So today, on a zoom call with organizers and activists who together are building the plane while we are flying it (who isn’t these days?), I chose life. And opened myself up instead of digging in my heels with my own agenda and schemes. I literally made that decision multiple times. Let it go, Amy.

Open up. Connect.

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-Photo taken 2018 @Sanibel Island; mangroves, lovely + wise teachers