Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas in the Northwest and Other Unexpected Gifts... Or, a Love Song to my Family

The Beloved "Ex," Eldest Daughter, "Boyfriend," Youngest Daughter

It’s 7:30 on Christmas Eve morning and warm and cozy inside my daughter and her boyfriend’s home. The stockings are hung, brightly wrapped presents are piled beneath the tree, muffled voices and the aroma of coffee reach me down the short hall. Outside is a handsome Pacific Northwest mix: dry, cold and frosty, and in one direction looking out the window misty fog swirls in and around the tops of big, beautiful evergreens; in another, pink clouds hang delicately in the early morning sky. My dog Jasper is curled up next to me on the down-filled comforter, his small, round, warm, furry body next to mine a serious sensory comfort and pleasure. The rest of the family is spread out throughout the house, some awake, some still in peaceful slumber.

We would never have guessed - as we gathered last year for what we knew, on whatever level each of us was able to really take it in, was our final Christmas as a “traditional” family, the last in our family home; most likely, we imagined, the last where we would all wake up under the same roof and sit, bleary-eyed in PJs and sweats, drinking coffee and hot chocolate, emptying stockings, ripping into presents - that we would find ourselves in a position to be sharing Christmas so intimately once again this year.

Our eldest daughter relocating with her boyfriend to the Seattle area last spring was a last straw for me. It was another piece of the dream shattered, and felt, at the time, like one loss, one huge change too many in way too short a time. And coming on top of everything else, sent me tumbling into a well of serious depression. I have heard many times over the years that in written Chinese, the character for crisis is the same as for opportunity. I have no idea if it’s actually true, and yet I do know that life can often times work exactly that way. It was my “crisis” of her moving away that led directly to me going to Moloka’i. It has also paved the way for being together in a new and different and very pleasurable way; “visiting” for days at a time, waking up again in the same space, sharing quiet conversation over morning coffee and tea, walking, shopping, eating together. Like when they were little except with the added bonus of her now being a grown woman, and the wholly new and rich way of connecting that that offers.

And now, here we are for six days at Christmas. Waking up together. Being together in all that that entails: In our perfection and our imperfection, when it is smooth and effortless and sheer joy, when it is hard and challenging. In all the faces of being humans in a human family—when we are happy, when we are sad, when we are upbeat and grateful, grumpy and irritable, supportive and understanding; when we crave our own space, and can’t stand the sight of each other for another moment, when we erupt like Mount Vesuvius, when we share memories that tug at our hearts and bring tears to our eyes, or collapse us in fat, round giggles. In all of it, I am aware of the bottomless river that runs beneath us, that flows on and on with poignant love and caring, and the deepest connection carved only through the years of living, being, growing, and facing what’s come together.

We’ve been listening to a radio station that is playing all Christmas music. Every half hour or so, they interview and give different types of gifts to people who are facing challenges this holiday season. Loved ones ill or separated by thousands of miles; many away serving our country. In the news, the cold that is returning here to the Northwest and the concern for the homeless population, the volunteers that are assembling and getting out to help them find warmth and relative safety. The man reunited after five years with his son who has been in Brazil; the sudden death of a young and vibrant actress; heart-wrenching commercials asking that we give a child a chance through St. Jude's.

It is all so extraordinarily relative. And while I know that it’s really true that our pain is our pain, I don’t have to look far for perspective to change; to see that truly, there is so little to grumble about, so very much to be grateful about. So much to enjoy. And everything beyond being together, simply everything else, is gravy, or for those with more of a sweet tooth, lucious frosting on an otherwise sublime decadent chocolate cake.

I began this Christmas Eve morning, I finish it early on Christmas. Another beautiful morning in the Northwest. Annie's in the kitchen putting on the coffee. Greg is building a fire. Jasper's curled up once again against my leg. Katie sleeps on in the next room and Chris is somewhere beginning his morning downstairs. Outside it is still, everything covered in a beautiful coat of crystalline frost. A gorgeous "white" Christmas. Soon, we'll be tearing into stockings, ripping open presents, hot cups in our hands, cameras flashing, fire crackling.

Truly, what more could anyone ask for?

Blessings & Peace

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Ramblings on Re-entry


Since coming "home" three long weeks ago, I've wondered about so many things. I've wondered how it is possible for the kind of joy that I experienced during my last weeks on Moloka’i to vanish so instantaneously, so effortlessly and thoroughly that I’m left wondering if it actually existed at all. I've wondered how it is possible that I could spend three months alone and isolated on a small island in the middle of the biggest ocean on the planet, never experience one moment of loneliness, then return home and with the first breath of still, crisp late-afternoon air, the first sight of the lazy, hazy, glow of a bay area sunset in fall, I am overwhelmed with it? And I've wondered how it is that I didn’t think to “prepare” myself for my first major holiday since my separation (as if that were possible), for waking up alone for the first time ever on a Thanksgiving morning; no warm, cozy house prepared and waiting for company, no mouth-watering aroma of turkey and cinnamon-scented candles, no stressed-out husband in the kitchen, no jostling the “kids” awake for breakfast before the hungry hoards descend.

I can’t help but wonder, in hindsight, if my “re-entry” experience wouldn’t have been completely different had I chosen a different season. Though I love fall on one hand, the transition of it, the cooler air and beautiful leaves, for as long as I can remember, late autumn and early winter have been synonymous with loss, and during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season especially, I’ve danced that razor’s edge between being overcome with anxiety and depression to craving the joy that I could sense lay just beyond my reach. I was shocked my first day back, sitting in my “Ex’s” new house, the sun stretching long toward the west, that uniquely fall texture in the air, knowing it was time to go “home” to my little apartment, and feeling every cell in my body deflate and my spirit empty, remembering not with my mind, but with my physical being, my sensory awareness, not just the times of loneliness, but how they had disappeared completely in the warmth, safety, and security of partnership, family and home.

I’ve long thought it amazing, not to mention contrary to everything that is, that we light up our houses, streets, and cities the brightest when earth experiences her dimmest time. When the elements, by their very nature, draw us into the warmth and safety of the “cave,” when leaves turn and fall, perennials die back, and earth rests in moist darkness, we are lighting the tree, decking the halls, crowding the falsely lit stores and malls for ever bigger and grander presents; running from one festivity to the next.

It seems as though we’ve lost our connection with nature and the cycle of life; our own ability to go inward, to be quiet and rest, to let earth be our guide allowing whatever is no longer necessary die off and be let go of.

On Moloka'i, my very purpose was being alone, and I reveled in it. Back home, to my surprise, I am still, more often than not, shocked to find myself existing by myself; wandering my little apartment alone; eating alone; being alone, with no one to say goodbye to when I leave, hello to when I return, no one to check in with if I'm running late or have a problem, no one to even know if I make it home or not.

No one to help pull of my boots after a long and tiring day.

On Moloka'i, I lived life free of the filters of history, expectation, experience. It was a blank canvas upon which everything was painted, all new, all unexpected. Once home, I see that here in the Bay Area, where I grew up and have lived my entire life, where I got married, lived over three decades with my husband, raised our daughters, everything is seen and experienced through the lens of what was and is no longer. The canvas is full... and not just with history, but with ideas and visions about what life was supposed to look like, what it would look like, what I believed I wanted it to look like.

Had I stayed on Moloka'i (which believe me, I was sorely tempted to do...), I'm pretty sure I could have skipped all these less than glorious feelings tied so intimately to the cold and darkness of fall. Yet I would also have missed the enjoyment on the other side... the beauty of yellow, gold, and red leaves (sometimes all in one leaf!!); watching the storm clouds move in over the bay; snuggling under thick and cozy blankets and comforters; the crackle of a fire; the simple yet enormous pleasure of a warm cup of tea. Most importantly, I would also have missed the opportunity for fall and winter to do their work, as unpleasant as it sometimes feels, as necessary as it absolutely is.

I hope to get back to writing regularly again. Thanks for your patience, as I stumbled back to the mainland, and these weeks of just allowing the equilibrium to right itself as much as possible; as I get used to living and breathing again among so many people, as I re-enter my life here, and get it that that's exactly what it is... my life here, in my for now anyway home.

With aloha...