Let there be space

Thursday

I’m getting under the covers and turning off the lights at the exact moment the person with whom I’ve shared a bed for 33 years is lifting into the sky and soaring over the ocean until together we’ll wake to find ourselves in different worlds.

~

Saturday

He’s in Assisi & I’m in seat at a meditation retreat.

“Let there be space in your togetherness,” I once read in a spiritual text, and didn’t my late mother warn us against our early closeness. “You two spend too much time together.”

“The oak and the maple don’t grow in each other’s shade.”

I think that’s what the teaching said, but still we clung to one another for fear we would slip away like so many loves do.

And yet there is also the concern of rot, of not enough light and air, soil and water.

Which is how we find ourselves in Italy and the Berkshires, and in this spaciousness, may our fruit sweetly ripen.

~

Tuesday

Turns out I missed him which I expected I would, but it still felt good to feel it, like a confirmation of love, though it could just be habit, because the truth is, I haven’t been lonely in bed, not really.

~

Friday

Just one more day.

I’m worried I didn’t grow enough in his absence, didn’t soak it up enough, didn’t expand into it and myself. He is so rarely gone. I am always the one leaving.

~

Saturday

After a cruise around the Island of Capri, he’s in the air again, while I’m cruising muddy roads, thinking I might have to park the car and walk up to the house soon like we did when the boys were young.

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When we knew love…

Another last day of February, and with March comes thoughts of my mother, because shamrocks; but of course, then Valentines Day brings her too. (Aren’t shamrocks made of hearts!)

When Casey fell in love with me, I was as I am now. This is who I am, I said. My heart has been broken. I have already loved deeply and lost tragically. I don’t want marriage. I am afraid of surrender. I am on guard. Always.

That seemed okay for him.

“I’m lucky,” I wrote at the end of our first month together, the very first words I wrote to him in a card.

And then I added: “You’re lucky too.”

Maybe he lacked higher expectations. Maybe I did.

Or maybe what we had in common was our sense of Love as something higher.

We had two boys by the time we came upon this tune. It was winter. It was dark. There was darkness inside and between us.

Her. Voice.

The way she says: Pain. Tears. Heart. Met ours. Even our boys wanted to listen again and again.

The forgetting is the hardest part except that in the forgetting we don’t know what we forgot.

The forgetting makes it hurt less. Helps us surrender into day to day life without the extremes of love, promise, passion, wildness, hurt.

But what about these tears? A piece of good music. A painting. A play. A film. A passage. The light. The silence. A certain smile. Even the air.

There must be, beneath memory, beneath thought, beneath recognition even, a deeper current of being, reminding us of what we once knew.

The moment beckons, but we turn away, anesthetized from what it is to be whole.

~

Or maybe that’s too high an expectation.

Maybe showing for these moments is what is most true.

Latte

I remember that September dawn in the year 2000 when my mother lay breathing in a hospital bed in her livingroom beside the bay window; her heart had already completed its mission, but her body kept on.

“Marriage is kind of like that,” I say to my husband as we pull up to one of our favorite cafe’s. “Even if the bottom falls out, couples keep on going… cleaning the house, taking care of the kids, going to their favorite cafe. You have to eat.”

But I don’t want to be the breath that continues after the heart of our relationship has stopped beating. My wedding vows were intended as a commitment to keep on pumping and to let go when the pumping ceased.

And so far, 33 years into this relationship, the heart is strong.

“I really like Dad,” I say to my youngest as we drive home from town. “I’m just tired of our relationship.”

This is also winter talking and 55 talking and working on the same book for 7 years talking and the empty nest talking; and what I mean by “relationship” is the patterned behaviors that get in the way of real relation.

It turns out that not only does the breath continue for a bit after the heart stops, but the brain goes on even longer. Awareness continues.

I like awareness. Awareness is what gives voice to the experience of dying for those who are resuscitated. I suppose relationships are resuscitated too.

Those lattes were strong.

Love Warriors

This is not the first darkness into which we have descended as a couple, and like our previous  encounters (albeit much briefer ones), there is nothing visible on the surface. No convicting offense. Nor the absence of love.

What is different this time is time. We have it. To spend. To see. To feel. To open into something we’d never quite allowed ourselves to open into before.

The Provocateur: The Empty Nest.

The Invitation: The Heroine’s Journey.

The challenge is to allow the descent into darkness without turning back or trying to change it so that out of the liminal space something new might emerge.

But what if this emergence does not include us as a couple?

Our willingness to sense into this possibility is, in my mind, a promising sign even as it terrifies us. And it does.

My practice in this darkness has been to remain open-hearted. This sounds like a noble endeavor, but what it really means is that I’m feeling pain instead of numbing or distracting.

I never realized how often I armored against feeling. How my attempts to make things better, to coach or cajole, to remain ever-vigilant, to overdo disappointment, overwork anger, and overextend resolution were mechanisms of defense, as were the tiny release valves of criticism, mockery and superiority.

WIthout such protection, I am open to my heart’s conveyances.

But what if my heart conveys a new beginning?
And what if that beginning is far, far away?
And what if it is alone?

It’s not lost on me that our boys are the age I was when my parents’ marriage fell apart, and it’s not lost on me that my boys are the age I was when I left the heartache of my broken family for a semester abroad, for a season backpacking through Europe, for a year in Colorado,  and finally for a life in the mountains 300 miles away from the sea.

Stay, feel, notice, I tell myself, and in my stilling, I notice that there is as much to feel from the past as there is in the now, probably more.

While I feel into the heaviness of my heart, my husband is engaged in his own practice. Feeling into himself. Finding himself. Knowing himself. Recovering himself. Which is as much a journey of the past as the present, just as mine is with pain.

We spent last weekend together at Kripalu Yoga and Health Center, sleeping in different dorm rooms by night while assisting a writing and meditation program by day.

There were a hundred participants between us as we each wrote into our past.

I wrote into all the red flags that could have redirecting my course.

He wrote into how his life might have unfolded without me.

In the evening, we came together on a couch outside the performance hall, my feet in his lap, and we took turns sharing what we had written, surprised to discover similar veins of exploration.

In times like these, the darkness is parted, but then it returns like the sea, and we drift away again into self-revelation, further and further from the shore of the familiar and easy companionship of thirty-three years. (The lifetime of Jesus. Just saying.)

It’s not lost on me that we are opening into new aspects of ourselves, dusting off old identities, trying out something new. More individuation for him. Less filling in the gaps for me. It’s not lost on me that this is disorienting.

It’s not lost on me that we had a particularly steep and jagged holiday season which had nothing to do with us as a couple and everything to do with our role, our heart, our ties, as parents.

The summer before last, when we still had a child at home, we encountered a familiarly patterned relationship crapstorm that left the household raw and ragged. Afterward, I checked in with our youngest and asked how we might better consider his feelings in the future. His request was tender, and directed toward me: “Check in with me sooner.”

But what of your father, I asked, don’t you have a request for him?

He shrugged, and offered in consolation, “Dad just needs to stay connected to himself.”

Was our offspring, practically grown at the time, parroting, or clearly reflecting the discrepancy in our relationship, the gendered discrepancy of all relationships?

I am so tired.
Women everywhere are so tired.
So much of women’s work–relationships, families, communities–takes place unseen, underappreciated, unpaid, and often in the shadows, frequently secretive and shamed.

It’s not lost on me that after each of my children left for college, I came down with acute infections.

It’s not lost on me that since meeting me my husband’s professional life has increasingly thrived while mine began to contract, and especially since motherhood, is forever gasping for air.

It’s not lost on me that with this particularly toxic President, it  is a difficult time to be a woman (and a difficult time to be in relationship with a woman) as this rotting, stench-filled Patriarchy uproots everything.

My husband is afraid of this darkness, of what lies ahead.

I am afraid too, but for me it is necessary. Life or death. Now.

It’s not lost on me that I am writing from the depth of winter, but I’m not ready for spring.

Even if we should end, as we heartbreakingly will some day no matter our trajectory, our love has been a fertile place for growth and for that I am forever gratified and humbled.

It’s not lost on me that this is what scares me most, the inevitable parting.

What buoys me is the fact that our names, both Casey and Kelly, are Celtic for Warrior, and that we are a Marian family–born as I was on the Immaculate Conception of Mary to a mother born on the Birth of Christ, and a husband born on Her Feast Day, and our firstborn on Her Assumption.

Darkness is holy. Presence to the darkness is feminine work. And like everything, it too shall pass. But first I want to claim it.

With thirty-three years between us, it would be easy to abandon the heroine’s journey out of fear or habit or lack of fortitude.

I am writing into the gift of this darkness tonight. To honor it. To allow it to be rich and fertile, not just for us, but for all those who courageously dwell in the unknown becoming.

The Full Catastrophe


My husband and I had the worst day trip ever. It was meant to be a much needed restorative sense of play. But was met with one dead end after another. So increasingly absurd as to render tragedy into comedy. The dark kind. Without pleasure as a distraction.

But I don’t think it was us. I think it was the day.

And as far as suffering goes, we got off easy.
Nothing like some low-grade deprivation to open up one’s heart to the profound ache all around us.

We also drove past not just one but two sets of wild turkey crossing—a single Tom and later four hens; and not just one but two outdoor wedding parties—with only yards between our distress and their joy—the second at the very moment the bride & the groom, facing each other, hands joined, spoke their vows in a dooryard/roadside ceremony; the other during a post ceremony photo shoot on the lawn of an inn where the bridal party crossed in front of us and the groom turned from the camera toward us to smile.

Which is to say~the full catastrophe.

Rehearsal


Last week, or was it the week before last, my husband and I went to a concert, and over a beer in the courtyard before the show, it occurred to me that this was our first concert without the kids.

Is that possible?

When I was pregnant with my oldest, it was Michelle Shocked, Tuck & Patti, Sara Hickman, The Dead with Bob Dylan, and then once our first was born (and don’t judge me; I lived in the Rockies as a kid)–it was John Denver, then Bonnie Raitt with Lyle Lovett, James Taylor, The Prairie Home Companion, and somewhere in there Yo-Yo Ma (who played a few songs with Garrison or JT), Paul Simon; Earth, Wind & Fire, and I know I’ve missed some (along with a handful of classical ensembles & symphonies and loads of local bands); but I can’t recall a single major concert without the kids.

How is that possible?

And now Ray LaMontagne (Casey’s choice.) Alone. Like we will be. Forever. Time stretched out before us on a blank canvass. Or at the edge of a cliff.

And while I was pleasantly surprised with MASS MoCA as a performance venue, I resented Casey, not only because I didn’t recognize a single song, and it was too loud, but because we had arrived together at—an end—and there was only him—like a slap in the face.

When I was very pregnant with our first, a colleague invited us over for dinner, and she pulled out an album and began to weep as she looked at the photo of her husband with their newborn.

I immediately understood. She was feeling what I was fearing. The way motherhood would separate me from the man I loved, from the sweetness of our couple-hood—which spanned an entire decade—from the Atlantic to the Rockies to a backpacking summer through Europe to these Green Mountains where we settled just ahead of turning 30. (I’ll be 55 this year.)

But I had misunderstood, and my friend’s response chilled me.

She wasn’t grieving her husband, she was grieving the loss of her newborn. Even while the child nursed on her lap!

My breast and my lap are long empty, and soon my house will be too.

What is the point of it without them? What is the point of us?

I hate Casey.

Last night I found myself crying.

I blame it on Mr. Rogers.

We went to see the documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? where afterward they should have distributed warm washcloths—to wipe our faces and bring us comfort–before exiting the womb of the theater for the brightly lit lobby; which is to say–I was primed for feeling my feelings and thus faced with the departure of my youngest for a week at camp (The Engineering strand of the Governor’s Institute of Vermont at a University), I wept into the future, which we get to rehearse this coming week.

We’ve spent a quarter of a century inside this all-encompassing womb of family life. And suddenly the bright lights are on the horizon. A new beginning. Entirely unknown. Barely considered. (Who has time!) As unfathomable as becoming parents once was.

Road Trip, Part II.

(Part I. Oldies R Us?)

Singing along to songs on the Oldies station, my hands go to my throat, noticing the glands are still swollen from the cold I came down with last week.

“It’s a good thing I’m not a famous singer with a concert tonight,” I say to my  husband as he pulls off the highway. “I have no range.”

Casey approaches the traffic light, without any response.

“What would I do if I was a famous singer with a concert tonight?” I prod him.

“You’d cancel,” he says, as he navigates the left turn onto the coastal route.

“But I would have had to cancel the entire past week,” I say, as we come to another stop.

“Yep,” he says, not a bit concerned.

“That would be really stressful,” I say, “I’m relieved that I don’t have a string of concerts scheduled this week.”

Oldies R Us?

I like audiobooks on Road Trips, especially non-fiction.

My husband prefers the radio.

In an effort to lend greater equity, I scroll the stations and discover that the display on his car provides information on each one in the area:

Rock
Rock
Rock
Top 40’s
Country
Oldies

None of the Rock Stations have good reception. The Top 40 is nothing we recognize (or want to recognize.) Country is out of the question (for me), and who wants old people’s music. ‘

But then it occurs to me, maybe it’s our music.
Maybe Oldies is US.

It was.

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