Monday, January 29, 2007

Beloved Dust

And You As Well Must Die, Beloved Dust

And you as well must die, beloved dust,
And all your beauty stand you in no stead;
This flawless, vital hand, this perfect head,
This body of flame and steel, before the gust
Of Death, or under his autumnal frost,
Shall be as any leaf, be no less dead
Than the first leaf that fell,—this wonder fled.
Altered, estranged, disintegrated, lost.
Nor shall my love avail you in your hour.
In spite of all my love, you will arise
Upon that day and wander down the air
Obscurely as the unattended flower,
It mattering not how beautiful you were,
Or how beloved above all else that dies.

Edna St. Vincent Millay-- Second April 1921

On January 16th, my Grandmother passed away quietly in the early hours of morning. My uncle had spoken with her just before 5 and when he returned at 7, she was gone. Her body was still warm.

The morning she passed away, my young son awoke at 5 to nurse. He normally sleeps until just past 7, but that morning, he awoke early. I was mostly awake, drifting between sleep and wakefulness between the hours of 5 and 7 and my grandmother was heavy on my mind. I knew she was very ill, as I had heard her diagnosis of lung cancer was terminal. But I thought we had more time, that she would fight it the same way she fought everything in her life. The reality of an inoperable tumour and a possible spot on her kidney became a battle she could not fight.

She lived 86 full years of life. She was a southern "belle" with a southern drawl. She cooked a feast every meal, drank fine wine, sweet tea, black coffee and eggnog with rum and bourbon. She loved opera, cross word puzzles, jeopordy, Christmas, and read two books a week, even up to the time of her death. She truly was the matriach of the family and filled a room, even a building at times with her voice and her presence. Her opinionated stance on politics and history was fear-inducing and I always felt I needed to have my notes ready anytime I decided to debate her. In my uncle's words "we were all terrified of her", especially of her intelligence.

I flew to Arizona the morning of the 18th to be with my family and to help with funeral preparations. It was a heavy and sorrow-filled few days with deep layers of grief. Crisis magnifies what is already present in a family. In certain arenas, deep love and bondedness grew and expanded with the loss. And in others, cold isolation and disconnectedness became more evident than before. While new levels of relationship formed, new hurts were inflicted, further complicating the complexity of our human relations, of our family dynamics between drastically different individuals.

I carry within me vivid experiences from those few short days. Losing a Grandparent is not only the end of a person's life, but the end of a generation. And I felt a poignant sadness that I still struggle to put my finger on. I still hunger to hear her voice share stories from her experiences but I have to put that desire to rest and be content with anecdotal snippets from others.

Edna St. Vincent Millay was my Grandmother's favorite poet. So, it felt appropriate to read this poem as part of the funeral ceremony. I was amazed to make it through without faltering. I have never been one who is able to continue speaking once I begin to cry. I was thankful for the chance to be there and to carry these words in my heart.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Proceed with Confidence

This morning, as I ruffled myself awake and slinked from our toasty-warm, down comforter-covered bed, I smelled snow. I opened the front door with a quick inhale as a blast of frigid air stung my chapped lips and sleepy eyes. I was wearing my favorite winter pajamas (NOT my husband's favorite): a full length pair of grey, long underwear, complete with a trap door out back. But even fully covered, my whole body felt the chill in an instant.

After a long drink of water, I shivered into my favorite workout clothes and braved the fresh powder. The drive in was fine; no slipping, sliding or swerving. But as I turned my nose toward home I felt a slight flutter of nervousness as I gazed up the steep hills I would need to conquer. Our town is very hilly and we live on the northeast hill at the base of an even higher hill.

I decided to just go for it. I gunned it toward the bottom so that I could gain enough speed to keep my momentum and hopefully make it to the crest of the hill. I made it. As another incline loomed up before me, I gunned it again and kept my hands steady on the wheel.

It was an exhilirating experience, and reminded me of many things in my life where I have to choose to proceed with confidence and swift precision, despite my fear.

I remember a while back, my sister-in-law and I were making candles together. We had melted a large chunk of wax in a medium saucepan and once it was liquid, we had to pour it into another smaller glass container. My sister-in-law said something like: "pour quickly and with confidence" and it worked. If I slowed down and grew afraid that I would spill, it drizzled down the side and all over my stovetop, an annoying thing when it's wax. But if I tipped it with one determined movement, it filled the glass without a single lost drop.

An English professor from University used to say: "Carry on, bravely." And again, this is a reminder to keep going, one foot in front of the other, with confidence. I am thankful today for this reminder to MOVE and act, despite and TO SPITE, natural fear.

(photo: courtesy of Flickr)

Sunday, January 07, 2007

An artist to admire

Yesterday as I perused my hotmail inbox, I came across an update from Quinlan Road, the community and website of Loreena Mckennitt. My children were asleep and most of my quiet, during-naptime household duties were complete, so I settled in with a steaming mug of "women's liberty" herbal tea and caught up on an old friend. Now, it's only in my dreams that I know Loreena as a friend, but somehow the way she writes and the music she records draws me into a sacred space around her where I feel like I am on a leisurely walk with her, along the celtic countryside.

I was introduced to her music during my first year of highschool. My good friend Jason lived on his own in an old fixer-upper in the downtown district of Tucson. His parents owned the house but agreed to let him live rent free in exchange for his help with renovations and his willingness to take on at least two roommates.

One of his roommates was a girl into goth-style everything who listened to Nine Inch Nails REALLY loudly, chose to paint her room black and covered her windows in tin foil to eradicate the chance of natural light gleaming its way in.

His other roommate was a stocky, gangster-looking African American guy named Lindsey. The name didn't fit his appearance and neither did his taste in music. I expected heavy hip-hop and rap beats to pound from behind his door. But one day while I was waiting for Jason to get home, Lindsey and I hung out and I discovered that the top shelf of his CD collection was filled with Loreena Mckennit albums. She was his favorite artist. He suddenly came alive as he noticed my interest and he began to play me his favorite songs. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of her music and began a small collection of my own.

I admire Loreena Mckennit for many reasons. She is a deeply compassionate and open individual with an insatiable interest and curiosity in cultural roots and traditions. She has traveled widely and has loyal friends around the globe. Each album has been for her both a physical and spiritual journey into a vast array of cultures, textures of food, and nuances of sound. She reads a great deal for each album and processes her experience through the hovering luxuriousness of her harp-playing and the brave passion of her voice. Recording is a global journey as she revisits each country in her mind and generously draws the listener to travel alongside her.

Loreena grew up in rural Manitoba and is most "comfortable on a farm, or in an informal gathering of friends." She is involved environmentally and politically and makes a point to stay connected to her community. In her personal write-up, she writes, "Each spring, I carve out time to plant my garden in order to keep some remnants of an intimate relationship with food, the land and the seasons and every autumn, I set aside time to celebrate the harvest at Thanksgiving." Integration and groundedness is important to her.

She has a list of "compass points" that she revisits often during times of decision or redirection. And over the years, I myself have revisited these principles and have felt encouraged to live more honestly and abundantly alongside them.

**Be compassionate and never forget how to love.
**Think inclusively.
**Reclaim noble values such as truth, honesty, honour, courage.
**Respect one's elders and look to what they have to teach you.
**Be empathetic.
**Look after the less fortunate in society.
**Promote and protect diversity.
**Respect the gifts of the natural world.
**Set your goals high and take pride in what you do.
**Cherish and look after your body, and, as the ancient
**Greeks believed, your mind will serve you better.
**Put back into the community as there have been those before you have done the same and you are reaping what they sowed.
**Participate in and protect democracy, it does not thrive as a spectator sport.
**Undertake due diligence in everything.
**Seek balance and space, and solitude.
**Don't be afraid to feel passionate about something.
**Learn to be an advocate and an ambassador for good.
**Be mindful of your limitations.
**Indulge and nurture your curiosity as it will keep you vital.
**Take charge of your life and don't fall into the pit of entitlement.
**Assume nothing and take nothing for granted.
**Things are not necessarily what they seem.

Her most recent album "An Ancient Muse" took her "in search of the Celts’ easternmost paths, from the plains of Mongolia to the kingdom of King Midas and the Byzantine Empire." It is another intricately woven musical masterpiece that draws me into unique stories of human experience. I look forward to incorporating these new rhythms into my understanding of the world in which we live. If you have never experienced her music, I recommend starting with "The Book of Secrets." You won't be dissapointed.