Seeing her right now reminds me of my mother back then which reminds me to see her as she is right now.
The mountains have more snow. Georgia dragged her jacket out today and went outside for one minute before she agreed it was too cold. She was happy to read and play inside today.
My sister sent me an envelope in the mail this week. She attached a short note:
“I found this today while going through a drawer of old letters. I think I found it in Mom’s room when cleaning up after her death. Regardless, it belongs with you. Now that Georgia is all grown up, it’s especially poignant.”
She ate a good supper of chicken and vegetables all by herself. When the spoon proves inefficient, she just digs in with both hands.
The date of the letter was Feb. 14, 2001. I think it was the last letter I sent to my mom before she died.
She thought the doctor’s office yesterday was one big hoot but the wait was boring. She is 20 lbs and 31 inches. She was very happy after her long nap and danced backwards and forwards to Barney before her Daddy came home.
Georgia was 18 months old. Not knowing what else to say to a dying woman, I put every little detail of my daughter’s day on the paper. I wanted my mother to be in her life. I wanted my mother to be alive.
Last night she had a bath in the big tub, and while she was squatting in the water, she pooped. That was a fast bath and a long cleanup. I bought her a small potty chair for her to look at and she thinks it is a waste of time and money. Good for holding Cheerios but nothing else.
I see how I was mimicking my mother’s style of correspondence. My sisters and I used to laugh at the quotidian details she put in her letters. Perhaps we thought she should make better use of the time and space to expound on worldly matters, things that would interest daughters like us.
Georgia misses her Grandpa to chase around the dinner table. She runs a circuit around the table or sofa every night. Where is he?!?
Mom died on April 13, 2001. Dad died on Nov. 25, 2005.
I will not tell you how my parents failed me; I will not tell you I despise my kin. I no longer indulge those conversations when there are more important things to say.
Our love and thanks for another day,
Karen & Family
My holiday wish for you.
This one got to me:
“I’m not sure if you remember me, but I attended your workshop in ——. After the workshop, I told my mother how much I had enjoyed reading Hand Wash Cold and how special it was to meet you in person, and she decided to check your book out of the library to read.
Six months later, Hand Wash Cold is the one gift that my mom has requested from my sister and me for Christmas. My mother is a former librarian who believes strongly in the power of checking out books – I don’t think I’ve ever known her to buy a book or to ask for one for a gift. Yet, here that is and here I am wondering if it would be possible to purchase an autographed copy of Hand Wash Cold for my mom for Christmas.”
This one gets to me:
Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
Sunday, Feb. 26 9 am-3 pm
Hazy Moon Zen Center, Los Angeles
Information and registration here
Staring from family photographs, we look
older than we are. Even as children, our faces
are shadowed with doubt and parental disappointment,
as if to say to those looking years from now:
We persist. We persevere. We do this for you.
– from “In the Olden Days” by Richard Newman
My grandmother’s house held the scent of a mothballed century. Time had locked itself in a cabinet called a chifforobe. The very word was one of the secrets it contained. I considered it a double mystery: first, that a country washerwoman would have a chifforobe, and second, that she would call it by that name, the frill of the double consonant like a vestige of lost extravagance.
Inside hung the few fancy dresses worn by my mother and her sisters to dances and weddings. On summer visits we granddaughters made charades with them. (Such frocks are kept for the sake of girlish fantasy.) But there were other things that held me for a longer stretch — old photographs of the dead and unnamed — my phantom ancestors. I would flip through shoeboxes full of sepia images, staring into the stiff and grim faces of related strangers.
My mother’s people were Wends, an odd and oppressed sort of religious colony, which like all colonies, no longer exists. Run out of Prussia in the late-nineteenth century, they settled in the purgatory of Central Texas where they were mostly poor farmers. (Except for my grandfather, who out of enterprise or foolishness later made himself the town barber, ensuring that he would remain the poorest among poor relations.) The Wends were serious about faith, hard work, and economy. The wedding portraits captured their high sobriety: the brides wearing black to signify the life of toil awaiting them. This foresight was not in the least bit faulty.
These were my kin, somber in face and fashion, weighted by work and gravity, and much younger than they looked. On the backs of some photos, salvaged from frames or torn from albums, were half-vanished names written in thin pencil.
What brings this to mind today? Is it the season? A poem about olden days drifted into my hands and moved me. I have been taken of late with the matter of lineage, and how we have largely disposed of its umbrage. We are a do-it-yourself culture. We believe we can manufacture anything with independence and initiative. Our heroes are the self-made who suggest that by clever sorcery we can conjure our own mythology. Perhaps it is my age that turns me back to face the accident of my birth, which was no accident.
I am not self-made. I have come from the persistent. I am the heir of disappointment and doubt. I came out of the chifforobe and I will yet join the ranks of its unremembered. Like all those before me, I do this for you, and it is all I can do.
Leaving me to wonder and to grieve.
Also inspired by the work of Michael Douglas Jones.
Yesterday my teacher said something that I can’t seem to shake. It was in the course of an ordinary conversation and not a teaching per se, but that’s how you know your teacher: he or she says something that sticks with you like a needle under your skin, and it works its way in.
He said, “I knew you before you were a victim.” He wasn’t talking about me, but he might as well have been. As is the custom in a lineage tradition like mine, I can only repeat what my teacher has told me. So I will.
I knew you before you were a victim,
before you were a wreck, a mess, and a bomb.
Without a crowning success or crippling failure.
Before you had an issue, an axe, or a cross.
No disorder, no syndrome, no label –
without a blemish or scar.
Before that night and the morning after,
before the after and before the before.
Before the fall, the crash, the crime,
without an upgrade or makeover.
no narration, no closed captioning,
no footnotes and no bonus features,
before you remembered to forget and forgot to remember.
I knew you before you were what you say –
what you think, what you fear, what you know.
Do you know yourself before?
You’re here! You’re here! Welcome to my new home on the web where I’ve put everything on the kitchen table. Take a moment and subscribe to my new rss or update your Cheerio Road email subscription. Add yourself to my newsletter list. Lift the lid on the laundry and see more about my books and articles. Check out the retreats including a brand new one in Colorado. Put yourself on my Kitchen Table Tour or make plans to meet me in San Francisco, Houston or Kansas City soon.
Find what you need. Take what you find. Come home to a place you never knew you’d left. Right here.
My friends at the Shambhala SunSpace blog asked me to write a New Year’s blessing for their readers. It runs today somewhere over there, and I invite you to have a look. Then I thought, why don’t I just record it and share it with everyone who’s listening? I hope that includes you and that you share it with all you love.
Here’s to your best new year!
In this week of returns and revelations, I’m leaving sand on your doorstep with a few repeat posts. Enjoy your time!
The sandwiches are packed; the watermelon sliced. Today I take the kids to the beach. It is the one day every summer every year that we do this: at season’s end, the four of us, giddy to go, spit-roasted on return. With me: the two teenagers who were once my babysitter’s babies, plus the baby who was once my own.
I believe in cycles like this, in anniversaries and observed traditions. But then, what’s to believe? They come on their own, the returns and repetitions, as reliable as seasons because they are seasons. All of life is a season. We dance in a circle the whole way! The rhythm insistent and true – our part is but to hear the music and move.
Next week we end these short summer months with a true family vacation. Venturing up north, where the ocean is darker, the air misty, the forests thick. Yesterday I remembered that Big Sur was the last vacation destination my husband and I took before Georgia was born. Hardly a vacation, it was the place that the full catastrophe of my sickness was felt, and the shock of its sudden conclusion would bear down. We spent three days roaming and moaning the northern coast, and on return, I was hospitalized. Georgia was born too soon after. This Sunday is the anniversary of her coming home.
So I’m riding the waves and wind these days, again, and next week I’ll find myself back at the first of everything. All over again. Completely new.
In this week of returns and revelations, I’m leaving sand on your doorstep with a few repeat posts. Enjoy your time!
We are weekending at a shimmery stretch of coastline known as Crystal Cove. It is one of my husband’s most sentimentally favorite places. We spent his 40th birthday here ___ years ago. It was the site of our first family vacation, when Georgia was nine months old, the disbelieving dawn of my awareness that I could leave the house for more than an hour at a time.
Back then, it was a week of firsts. Georgia crawled for the first time, putt-putting in a forward sway across the putrid shag carpet in our beach rental. We shopped nearby in Laguna Beach, where I stepped inside a clothing shop for the first time since giving birth and let a wise saleswoman cajole me out of my baggy sweat pants and back into a facsimile of me. I carried my cranky girl twice daily down the lonely curve of sand and saw for the first time how she dropped straightaway to sleep to nothing but the sound of the ocean.
That discovery alone saved our lives every day and night for the next four years.
And now it is a weekend of returns and repeats. The cove of beach cottages has been lately reclaimed and restored, and although it lightly approaches the Disneyfication that passes as some kind of global standard of entertainment, it as raw and real as only the ocean can be. My younger sister, a recent transplant from Texas, now lives nearby and, more than that, genuinely occupies our lives. Enough proof for me that in this ceaseless cycle of comings and goings, there is a perfect order and rhythm that can never be foretold.
On the beach nearby us was a young couple with a tantruming two-year-old wrangling out of their clutches as they tried to slather him with sunscreen. He roared and wailed above the pounding surf. I can see now how in the life of a two-year-old nearly everything is an outrage and an imposition; nearly everything is foisted at them with the rudest of good intentions. Now I understand the screams, although for most of that year Georgia and I went nose to nose in mutual mortification.
Today I heard the waves, the same old waves, anew. The ocean tells us over and over to accord ourselves with the rhythm of life, with the movement of life, like grains of sand on the beach, lifted up and carried back, sunken deep and then roiled forward again, staying nowhere, flung through air and water to what is but the next temporary abode, the impermanent address, and that it is only in this change itself, this perpetual unrest, holding nothing, that we can ever find true rest.
All that and hot dogs too.
As a farewell to backpedaling Mercury, whose retrograde ends this Saturday, thereby closing reopened chapters and resolving unfinished business, awkward pauses and anxious backward glances, I offer this parting remembrance of last year’s fire:
We evacuated the house yesterday, probably the last people to be evacuated, because as soon as we drove away the mountain cooled to a wispy simmer and they started letting folks return. We had already loaded up a week’s worth of clothes, assorted papers, dusty photo albums and baby videos, the dog and the dog crate, with the potholders, yes those very potholders, at the bottom of the suitcase. That talisman alone probably turned history on its heels.
And for the record, as Georgia swept through her room choosing those few things she would rescue, she donned her pink Disneyland cap and her Girl Scout vest. She strode out bedecked with badges and pins, under a pair of mouse ears. That precious glimpse of who she is, who she is right now, was proof enough that there’s no need – ever – to look back.
My 400th post. Proof enough of the wonders ahead.
Originally published on April 29, 2008 as my 200th post.
Update: Miracles underfoot!
Tomorrow I’m going to have to drop into my reliable local bookstore to buy a 2009 wall calendar. The kind with trite pictures of lotus ponds and such. I always stick one on my kitchen cabinet to track comings and goings in the heart of our home: vacations, school holidays, washer repairs, flea treatments, the important stuff. It’s amazing to me that I haven’t been given a calendar this year. One or a hundred and one, which heretofore has been the custom. The current lack seems weirdly suited to the state of suspension we’re all in, this limbo in-between the end and the beginning of so many unfathomable things. It’s not surprising that no one could muster the faith this season to look far forward. No matter, I can find the coming days on my own.
Last night I was at the temple for our traditional New Year’s services: chanting and bowing in fusatsu or atonement ceremony, followed by meditation across the midnight hour, then the spectacle, (for us spartans anyway), of revolving the sutras, a kind of blessing ceremony. I was more than once reminded of the power and reach of this anniversary. New Year’s Eve is an anniversary in and by itself, of time’s eternal beginning, and then a personal anniversary in each of our lives.
It is the anniversary of the night my husband lost his shoes in a crowd of Buddhists, for instance. A loss in which everything unexpected was later found.
It was soon after I began my practice with Maezumi Roshi and I then met my husband-to-be in a restaurant in Florence, Italy; a husband-to-be that lived in Los Angeles, glory be, while I was still a wanderlusting south Texan. It seemed too eerily easy that I should begin an affair with an eligible guy in LA, and the obviousness of it prompted Maezumi to say, “Invite him for tea.” So my guy came for the first time to Zen Center of LA to meet Maezumi in the lull of New Year’s Eve before a traditional ceremony much like the one I was at again last night.
Impressionable, my boyfriend and I were both mildly terrified by the extreme auspiciousness of the favor: to be Roshi’s guests in his home on this night of nights. Once arrived, my boyfriend took off his shoes outside the door.
He never found them again.
There were many people there that night, many people inclined to wear the ubiquitous shoe fashion of the time, black Reeboks. After the services, after the time for putting shoes back on, long after everyone but my husband-to-be had his or her own shoes snuggly back on his or her feet, I went around in the crowd inspecting the shod.
“Are those your shoes?” I would say, pointing at the very shoes on their feet. “Are they really your shoes?”
I didn’t find anyone not wearing his or her own shoes. We didn’t find any shoes unworn.
My boyfriend left his first encounter with Zen sans footwear. (I’ve tried to leave everything else since then, but alas, I’m still holding on to a lot of unnecessary freight.) In his socks, he drove me to his apartment late that night, and he was pissed.
It’s easy to see the metaphor in this. He and I left behind a familiar road on that night, a well-worn footpath, the way things were. We went on, of course, getting over it, finding our way, uncushioned, unprotected, by a different route, to an altogether unimaginable future. We left behind more than a pair of shoes, but losing your shoes can indeed be an auspicious start to a whole new way.
Wishing you abundant lost shoes and found days, because sometimes it takes one to have the other, and I want you to have it all.
Come, find me there, and let’s get this party started!
To you, to me, to everyone cradling a secret wish or a distant dream. Read this through, see what comes, leave your disbelief under the shade of a strong and fragrant cedar, and trust your life as it unfolds.
A welcome blessing for Cedar Leonard Kroon, in full amazement and gratitude for life.
Now, leave your own wish here for what you may not yet believe could come true, and let’s see, let’s just see, what unfolds.