Mandolin (In The) Wind

Mandolin (In The) Wind

It was about five years ago. I had just walked into the church where the meetings were held. And there she sat. Raging red hair up under one of her beautiful knitted creations. Yellow was the yarn color I think. The people had begun to come in, most going to the back to get their coffee from the giant pots with spouts that were up on the counter in front of the kitchen. It was early thirty in the morning when these men and women of all walks gathered for a spiritual start to their day. On many days to follow, she would be in that kitchen. With those pots, filling giant paper filters with coffee grinds to make coffee for people who needed it. Giving back for what she had received.

But on this day, my first time here, I saw her first. Almost as if she were the only one in the room that had easily a couple dozen sleepy people, exchanging hugs and greetings. Without a word, her look at me spoke volumes. I was guessing it to say, “Who is THIS new person? I don’t know her, and I am not sure I want to.”  Deluded by my thought that I could read her mind, I approached her table and sat down, introducing myself, almost defiant. Reluctantly, she received my gesture. She was kind and smart and funny right off the bat, as she sat knitting, which she was always doing when we were at meetings together. We bonded immediately.

I was new to this group, but not new to the rooms. And this became my family and my home. And she was one of my closest siblings there. A former student at Harvard University, she was as brilliant as her red hair. Articulate too. And if you looked up the phrase rigorous honesty, you might find her picture there. I loved her for that, among other things. 

 I remember one time with her that stands out from the rest. (The rest includes a wild weekend we shared in a room together for a conference with 2,000 other people and her indulging my boy watching when my eyes should have been focused on a podium at the front of the room.) We were all seated in a children’s Sunday School room, a bunch of full-grown children, also known as adults, in tiny chairs, humbling and beautiful in my experience. When it came to her turn, she opened her book to read. This was not one of the books that were stacked up on the table for the use of the members who might grace the meeting on any given day. This brown paper-covered pocket-sized book belonged to her. And you could tell she had used it, loved it, devoured it. Had it been one of those cardboard children’s books, the ones that teething children can chew on and still understand the story, hers was the adult version. Warn from the turning of the pages and the copious notes in her hand there in the margins. That book spoke louder to me than anyone’s share that day. Except for one. Hers. After she read from her loved on Velveteen copy, her opening remark was “This shit’s hard.” I don’t know if she said anything else. And it didn’t matter to me. What mattered was that I loved her from that moment on. And wanted to know her better. 

She was slightly younger than me, but our inner kids got along great. Two quick wits, both single, commiserating about that and who we each thought was cute that we knew. Her home was humble and spotless. Bed made, dog well-loved. She always had the Cadillac vacuum cleaner, which she used in her cleaning jobs and every day in her home. I have to tell you, I felt vacuum shame. Mine only comes out about once or twice a month. And after learning that she vacuumed every day, I always think of her on those two days a month I get my jalopy out of the closet.

I learned in time that our connection was for good reason. We shared more than just trouble with substance. We had a common bond of being in bondage to brain chemistry that can be quite challenging to live with and painful to be sober for at times. I have been fortunate to maintain my sobriety during the dark times in my life. She was not so fortunate. I suspect demographics and available care and money played a part. Trauma had a starring role. I do know that her journey had been a struggle from the start. But for most of the years I knew her, she always pushed off the bottom. Until she didn’t.

About a year after we met, we were both in the same safe place dealing with those brain chemistry issues that could be plaguing. We had shared stories of our experiences here over the time we were friends. That is a bond only people like us who know each other can comprehend. I can only imagine it resembles the bond of soldiers who have seen action. I only wish she had gone there one more time. For her sake, and for the sake of her two children.

A mutual friend called me today to say that she had died. I learned from another that she had been found, alone.  My first thought was that I did not act on it the last time I had the urge to reach out. I am not saying that I think I could have saved her. All I am saying is I wished I had heard her voice one more time.  

After hearing this news, I tried to do what was in front of me. I walked into the grocery store to get a few things. And before I could get to the fifth and final item on the list, I broke down in the aisle. I was on the phone with a friend and while I stood there sobbing, A woman walked up to me, seemingly out of nowhere. She was several inches shorter than my 5’10” frame, had gray hair, neatly done, pretty blue eyes behind perfect fake lashes and she was wearing black. She reached up to me, gave me a hug, as if she had been assigned to me and spoke deliberate words into the ear that did not have the phone to it. “I understand. My father died yesterday.” And with that, she turned on her heel and was gone.

I had debated stuffing my feelings until I got in my car. I was shaming myself for even feeling sad. But I permitted myself, with the inner pep talk to say there was no shame in grieving out loud in public. And look what happened. My grief was seen by her grief. And we were able to comfort each other, even if for just a moment. Then, as I turned towards the next aisle, my friend still holding me up on my phone against my head, I looked through tearsinto the eyes of a man in a golf shirt mouthing the words, “Are you okay?” And the woman with the cart coming up behind him came to see if I needed anything. These words cheapen the experience. But it was spiritual. God was all over that grocery store. 

I got my fifth item, a drink called Peace Tea, which I am sipping as I write, went into my day with the reminder that life is fleeting, precious, and can end at any moment. I had already been mindful of this because I had been reflecting on the fact that this weekend, I will be 19 years free of breast cancer. And a couple of days after that marks the one-year anniversary of a longtime close friend’s death, who also went to that church for morning coffee, from Covid. So all of this has me wanting to honor their memories, while giving proper respect for their loss, by living my best life. Something I take for granted at times.

The picture I chose here is one I have hanging in my house. I bought it in the months after Kate Spade’s death in 2018 to go with my black and white polka-dot Kate Spade bedding. I named it Kate in her memory. Her death made me sad too. But for my purposes here,I thought it was a beautiful way to picture my friend who has passed on, perhaps in a blue knitted hat around that beautiful, long red mane.

This poem by Emily Dickinson, was sent to me by a friend who was also a fixture in that same kitchen I referred to earlier. I think it is a good goal to aspire to. 

“If I can stop one heart from breaking,

I shall not live in vain:

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.”

Dying Today Is Not An Option

Dying Today Is Not An Option

Prayer from “Your Holiness”-Debbie Ford

Last night, when I went to bed, I told God that if I died in my sleep, I would be okay with that. And then, I woke up. 

Today, I find myself alone. And hurting in ways that are hard to express and even harder to experience. I try and practice prayer and meditation, as my spiritual life has become a greater priority than ever. With age, and awakeness being the great motivators. 

I find reading difficult, so I rarely do it, but a couple of years ago, a friend said to me when I was in the throes of grief, that the book, “Your Holiness,” by Debbie Ford was important. For me, it was exactly that. The author, Debbie Ford, a woman who had recovered from addictions to alcohol, drugs, men and money and served many in her spiritual service work, died an untimely death from a rare cancer in her fifties. The date of her death was Feb. 17. An anniversary that I share as that is the day I got sober from alcohol. It was chilling to me when I saw the date coinciding. I feel that she has communicated with me from the afterlife because her book has spoken So loudly to me. A miracle really, as I have rarely been able to take in words from a page that could leave any lasting impression.

On this day, as I crack the book open randomly to see what it has to say to me, I find this prayer, that I had yet to read. (I find that using a highlighter to illustrate the words brings them into me when just black ink on white paper fails to do so.) It was just the right thing at the time.

I am back in touch and in some cases, in touch for the first time with much grief. At 61, and after 40 years, give or take, sitting across from therapists, I have all the knowledge from the neck up about the losses in my life. And it is a long list. Some come with trauma. All, as they are screaming to be released, hurt to express, but they have to be heard if I am to stay on this planet and if God continues to wake me up like today.

As the prayer states, “Let the wings of angels lift me out of earthly problems,” I really don’t have many earthly problems when I think about food, shelter and clothing. All needs are handsomely met. Right now. 

My acute needs are to express the grief that has set up camp in my neck and my shoulder and my hips and my throat when swallowing my food is difficult.

I lost my father at age 7. I lost any semblance of family that remained shortly thereafter. And I wasn’t even ten years old yet. 

It’s funny. Now that I am writing with the intent to share here for whoever reads it, I find myself guarding my words. Not everyone is worthy to know my truth in its entirety, but still, I am moved to share because frankly, I have survived yet another bout of hurting so bad I did not want to live.

Living alone, with no one to touch me, and I mean almost ever, because it is not safe to just hug people like it used to be for the very real pandemic and its risks, I am touch starved.

It has been nearly a year since my routine of seeing people in groups, several times a week, where I got multiple hugs, has been drastically curtailed. Before the virus, I might see friends four or five times a week for support groups, fellowship, making art, sharing meals, having parties, going to parties, always with hugs hello and goodbye. Things I choose not to do today because I don’t want to get sick. I have a compromised immune system as it is. 

That kind of lack, like a drip of water on a rock, for long enough, is going to leave a mark.

I do have two friends who are cautious that I feel safe to get hugs from and I am now getting monthly massages, but as a friend who went to Harvard put it, “This shit’s hard.”

So I literally am at a point of do. Or die. The do looks like diving into the deep end of a support group where grief is not only honored, but where the members are willing to sit with my uncomfortable when those grief purges come. And I need that. I need the company of another, albeit by phone or on Zoom, to be present with me as I express my sadness. Because while others can do this on their own, with just their Higher Power as witness, I am not them. And my inner wisdom knows the depths of the losses I have had that need to come out through the tear ducts and my voice in order for true relief and healing and they need to be witnessed by whoever made me and safe people. Both.

As this prayer so beautifully expresses, I have angels. Upon whose shoulders I can rest my head virtually as I sob into my phone and my black and white polka dot happy bedspread, adding accents of black mascara. Sobbing like the little girl inside me who just needs to be heard. And she is. Being heard by others who have been brought into my life at precisely the right time so that I don’t have to go there alone ever again.

I do know that people cannot be my God, or Higher Power, or rescuers. But those people I have found, who listen without judging, who validate without fixing, are put there by whoever or whatever made me, are walking me towards a new and improved definition of a Higher Power.

From the grief and loss and trauma that comes with losing a father at age seven and losing a family shortly thereafter and losing over thirty years to looking outside for the love I had inside in the “hims” of the world, all the bullies I put in place because that was my comfort zone, the men who invade my space physically and verbally because that was my grooming with a promiscuous mother, the cancer that took much from me and left me scarred in its wake, the food that was a comfort until it became a tool of self harm, the alcohol that took me to unsafe places at vulnerable times, and for all of the time I have lost abandoning myself to the many distractions of this world, and for all of the self hatred that had no place to go until now to really get healed, well, the length of this sentence speaks volumes to what is crying to be expressed.

So, sometimes just doing right now and the right nows that follow that, is all I can do. I rarely make plans anymore because I want to live an organic life. I don’t set an alarm, and I can set a goal for my day, and intentions, but the results are often so different than what I thought, like now, writing this to share with you, I am just going with my spirit and how it moves me.

I still hurt, but it is lessened for sharing. In a way, I really am dying. My old self is dying off and getting a replacement. The real me. Been there all along, but she got alot weighing her down. I trust that as I do the work, those spaces left vacant by old, crusty grief and nasty trauma will be filled with light and air and energy and joy.

I hope if you find yourself reading this in that place of wanting to give up, that you don’t. My own history has proven that all of these painful times do pass. So please be encouraged that the same is true for you. And if your pain is so great that you can’t find a way out, at least make one more call to speak your truth.

Others may not be listening where you have tried to be heard. Others may not know what to say. Others may say things that only make your pain worse. But you are worth one more call. And then, if you still want to check out, you can.

But I believe you are still here for a reason. You may not know what that is right now, and you may be as old as you have ever been and felt nothing but struggle, but I see you. And you matter.

Also, I love you.

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