a mother’s suitcase

August 3rd, 2010

First Stop:
Brookfield, Wisconsin, Sat., Aug. 21, 2-4 p.m. Extraordinary Ordinary workshop at YogAsylum. Register during these last 10 days of early bird savings.

Second Stop:
Boston, Mass., Sat., Sept. 18, 9-3:30 p.m. Mother’s Plunge retreat at Seaport Academy. Last 10 days of early bird savings.

Full Stop:
Los Angeles, Sun., Sept. 12 9-5, Beginner’s Meditation Retreat at Hazy Moon Zen Center. The best way to practice with me for real. Register here.

I’m home from a week’s retreat and unpacking my suitcase. My practice amounts to unpacking all the time, metaphorically and otherwise. Laundry piled and put away, refrigerator emptied and filled, mail opened and tossed before I’m off for warm pastures and waterfronts.

A letter waited on my kitchen table, and with it, this story unfolded. It’s the story packed in every mother’s suitcase. I hope you find yourself at home in it.

Three months ago I spoke at a book festival hosted by a small liberal arts college nearby. As is customary for these events, I was assigned a “minder,” a volunteer to escort me in between my assigned tables and chairs during the day. Although the venue was small and my abilities are still intact, having a “minder” is one of the genteel vestiges of the lost literary life. Mine was a riveting woman of eighty-something years, warm and captivating with a sassy arch to her native Australian accent. I felt deep and instant affection for her.

“Do you suppose we’ve met in an earlier life?” she asked over our salmon and broccoli at the author dinner. “I think we’ve met earlier in this life,” I responded.

(If you own a copy of Hand Wash Cold, open it to page 69 and you’ll know her too.)

Weeks later I received a message from the organizer of the festival. My new friend had fallen ill. Her heart had stopped at exercise class and she had spent a week in a coma. When she woke, recent details in her life were lost, but she remembered me. Would I care to write? I did care, very much. The letter on my table was her reply. Four pages of elegant script stacked in strong, straight lines. It is a mother’s letter. It could be any mother’s letter. I share as much of it as I can fit here, because while these lives of ours are eternal, they fade from sight until we old souls meet again.

Come see me at one of the stops along the way.

Dear Karen,
Your beautiful letter to me was such a lovely surprise. Although much of the time spent in hospital and even a few days before the incident are indistinct, I do remember a wonderful time with you and a true feeling of kinship.

I have plenty of time to read. Your books have been a pleasure, Karen. I’m reminded so much of my own early motherhood – so little sleep. My first son was born in Australia and I traveled to the U.S. with my 5-month-old son with hundreds of war brides on the Mariposa. Years later, after many moves, my husband still in the army, I took my four children back to Australia by plane – 36 hours! But we had beds to sleep on and landed for meals. When he found housing in Italy for us, another 3 week trip by ship. He, injured in an accident, was returned to the U.S. We followed by plane this time. My youngest daughter finally got to travel when my husband was again transferred to Europe and we lived in Germany for 4 1/2 years. When transferred to Los Angeles we settled in this very dear town.

Motherhood may have changed over the years, but the fatigue remains as well as the abundant and extraordinary love. Your books must help so many new mothers, Karen, beautifully written and so understanding of the stress and so very encouraging.

I have had such a wonderful life with my four living children within easy reach, so loving and thoughtful and fun to be with. My doctor guarantees me another 10 years! As he said today – enjoy your life. And I do.

Hopefully we will meet again Karen. Write another book and come back!

I love you.
Dorothea Boyd

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  1. I just this minute came back from visiting my 99 year old grandmother. She lives more and more in her past nowadays (“because there’s not much interesting here!” in the nursing home.) She told me my favorite story from her past: she had a baby in Egypt while she and my grandfather were based there for his job. World War II broke out and they had to leave by boat to NY. They hung cloth diapers with straight pins from string looped around their tiny cabin in the boat. She tells me of hard times during the depression. But she continues to urge me “Live every moment.” She says life is hard and difficult often, but it’s a life with challenge and new people to meet along the way. It’s very important to her that I live every minute. She’s bored with her life now and she wants me to appreciate what I have.

    Ms. Boyd sounds absolutely marvelous. I think she and my grandmother would get along 🙂

    Comment by Meg — August 3, 2010 @ 7:10 pm

  2. This was such a lovely post, Karen. Dorothea Boyd certainly sounds like a remarkable person, and how blessed the two of you are to have encountered each other. Hope that she will have another ten years to enjoy!

    Comment by Wylie — August 3, 2010 @ 8:38 pm

  3. That is the extraordinary thing about books ~ about words ~ they have wings that never tire, able to travel across time, miles, oceans and even through things like comas. Your words are with me every single day my friend.

    Comment by Swirly — August 4, 2010 @ 5:27 am

  4. Karen,

    Thank you so much for today! I love reading your words and it is even more of a treat to hear you speak in person!

    I was catching up on your blog tonight and couldn’t believe this story about Dorothea…it just about took my breath away…as did the story in your book about your Japanese garden and the connection to your teacher. Reading about your life makes me think that if I pay more attention, I just might find some full circle surprises of my own. Thanks again…your visit meant more than you know!


    Comment by Laurie — August 22, 2010 @ 2:57 am

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