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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

meet amanda, plus a little introduction by lou.


My name?  My name is a whisper of wind.  It’s a cool Irish mist.  It’s a baby’s first gurgle and a soldier’s last breath.  Don’t get me wrong, we angels have names.  It’s just that they vibrate so fast they’re impossible for humans to comprehend.  But let me make it easy on you.  For the sake of this story, call me Lou, short for Louise or Louis.  Take your pick.  A good androgynous name for a being that doesn’t answer to one gender or the other.  Though if I were a girl I think I’d like to be called “Roxy” – isn’t that a fun name?  So then.  Let’s get on with it, shall we?  

Here in heaven, we know peace and harmony.  Heck, we know pretty much everything.  I, if you can call me an “I”, because I am also a “you” and a “him” and an “it”, I serve the universe as a guardian spirit.  As a guardian, my job is to help my charges, the members of my soul family, figure out the best path to serve the highest good and keep them on that path – that sacred life path that indeed they chose for themselves before they were twinkles in the eyes of their parents.  I hold some other functions as well, but we can get into those things later.

So devising the best path can be tricky.  Time on earth is limited and heaven knows that we’ve got infinite souls lined up to take part in the earthly experience.  It is the finest learning place in the universe, you know.  Really, you should feel lucky to be there.  Anyway.  Universe = infinite.  Earth = limited to time and space.  Yadda, yadda, yadda…  you can do the math.  We’ve gotta crunch some numbers and work a little magic to get things done efficiently so the next group can slide in on the timeline. 

So we work together, my soul family and I, to figure out how many years it will take for us to evolve to the next of seven levels of heavenly bliss, with the ultimate goal of becoming masters.  A hundred years here, a couple of hours there.  We weave it all together so that the story ends just where it should.  Every life, no matter the length or earthly value, serves its purpose.  Lessons are learned sooner or later – age four or 104.  It doesn’t matter. 

You see, what’s good is bad.  What’s bad is good.  It’s all the same.  Neutrality rules here in heaven.  There is no right or wrong.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  If you are new to this whole heaven thing, I’m probably talking gibberish.  So let’s get to the story and we’ll circle back a little later to connect the dots together.


Some survive the storm.  Some learn to weather it, maybe even splash in the puddles.  Others do not, cannot, will not, want not.  What I did was not my desire but my choice – my choice to keep a promise to one and turn over my most precious possessions to another.  Though I can barely stand the memory of my actions, I would not change what I did.  I see clearly now, I see the divine perfection in every passing moment.  I see a beautifully directed play on the most intricate of stages.  You may judge me harshly, but I have forgiven myself for my humanness. 

My story began in Harwich, a busy port city in England, not known for its polish or style, but warm in spirit and home to me.  My father was a self-made shipping magnate.   He concentrated his import/export business on trade with the Baltics with a few “local” trade ports in Rotterdam and Copenhagen.  I’m proud to say that Queen May has my father to thank for her impeccable rows of Dutch tulips every spring in her famous gardens at Holyroodhouse. 

My father worked hard but I had no worries.  I spent long afternoons by the sea, overlooking Dovercourt Bay, dancing with Nurse in father’s meticulous garden, dreaming of romance and fairy tales.  My golden curls bounced wildly as I explored the world outside my door, laughing and playing for hours on end.  Meanwhile my brother spent most afternoons indoors being trained and tutored by the best scholars money could buy.  My father treasured education above all and encouraged us to appreciate science, history and art.  I knew my turn would come to be whisked away into the darkness of the library to begin my studies, but until then I was treated like a princess and ran free like a fox.  And I loved it.  But my happiness did not come without sorrow. 

My mother and baby brother died in childbirth while I was still at the breast of my wet nurse.   My father, crushed by the loss of the love of his life, remained a lifelong widower and focused most of his energy on my brother Edward and me.  He loved us as much on his own as two parents could have loved their children. 

Oh, and how Edward doted on me.  The moment he completed his studies each day, he would scurry out to the garden to find me.  We would sneak into the kitchen to help Cook roll out pie crusts or gather stones from the brook and have contests to see how high we could stack them before they toppled into a messy heap.  He lifted me into tree branches so I could climb as high as the robin’s nest and peek in on her babies.  He held my hand and tucked flowers behind my ear.  He was extraordinary as far as big brothers go. 

But times change, as do people.  My long golden ringlet curls stretched and separated into frizzy light brown locks, a terrible curse when you live in the incessant mist of a seaside village.  That paired with my hazel eyes and flat white skin, I thought myself as quite mousy-looking.  But education gave me confidence and as I grew into a young lady I used my sharp mind and quick tongue to flirt with, and sometimes outwit, the young men who came to visit our beautiful, happy nest in the summertime.  While the boys amused me, none captured my heart. 

Unlike me, Edward was a strong and handsome young man with thick curly hair the color of raven’s feathers, wide-set blue eyes and the most perfect nose you’ve ever seen in your life.  Much to my father’s pride, he also proved a worthy inheritor of the family shipping fortune and thrived, growing the company through creative investments and honest dealings.  Though labeled as new money, he attracted many high-born girls and eventually married a lovely girl named Mary, the second daughter of a blue blood.  She was just a few months older than me and I was thrilled to pieces to finally have a sister. 

Edward and Mary planned to marry in June on the grounds of her family’s estate in Oxford.  We journeyed three long days to get there and arrived late on the evening before the wedding feast.  Exhausted and weary from travel, I stumbled a bit as I stepped from our carriage and ripped my petticoat on the iron step.  I spun around to assess the damage and my hat fell onto the drive, releasing a flurry of matted, frizzy curls, at which time I may have let out a wee expletive.  Hearing the sound of hands clapping, I quickly recovered, maybe not a bit awkwardly, and twisted my accessories back into place.

“Well done, young lady!  Quite a show.  Thank you for that bit of entertainment, the best display I’ve seen at this stuffy place all night.  Let’s hope you are not in the wedding party tomorrow.  I’d hate to see you pull that act before a bigger crowd.”  I saw a man smiling broadly, still applauding my clumsy arrival. 

How angry I was!  “My dear sir, how silly of you to think I did this to amuse you.  As a matter of fact I will be witnessing the bride tomorrow as her maid of honor and would be delighted if I never had to witness your smug visage again.  Good night.”  I swept past him quickly with my shoulders pushed back and nose in the air and hoped that he didn’t notice that I’d lost a heel when I fell out of the carriage and was therefore walking a bit lopsided. 

The following morning was bustling with activity.  I spent the earliest hours in Mary’s mother’s rooms, primping and preening for her walk down the aisle to meet my brother.  How lovely she looked, how merry.  She eagerly told me of the weeks she and her staff had spent preparing the home’s huge salons for the reception, selecting flowers and menus and guest lists – only the best of everything, of course.  “And you will be thrilled to know that I have paired you with my dear big brother Henry.  He will escort you down the aisle before me and stand witness next to Edward.  He’s just a doll, you’ll absolutely adore him.”

Well, I’m sure you can imagine where this is going.   I was formally introduced to Mary’s big brother Henry just moments before the ceremony began.  I offered him my hand stiffly.  “But, sister, now that we are family we should meet with an embrace.”  With that he scooped me up and twirled me around, whispering in my ear, "I hope you didn't weep upon reaching your rooms last night.  I was only playing with you." 

I squirmed from his arms and shot him my coldest stare while clueless Mary giggled fitfully.  “Isn’t he just divine, Mandy?  I’m sure you two will have much to talk about.  This is all so exciting!  Now let’s go see Edward.” 

I rode in the bridal carriage with Mary and Henry, mercifully, found his own means to get to the family chapel.  Mary continued to chirp on and on about the reception and honeymoon plans but I found it hard to pay attention.  My mind was on Henry.  He was not so fine in the face.  Certainly he did not behave like the son of a noble.  More like the son of a king’s fool, if that.  I replayed our two brief encounters over and over again in my mind until I’d completely exhausted the scenario and had to force myself to change the subject of my inner conversation. 

We somehow made it through the wedding ceremony without any further incident and began to celebrate the happy union.  Over lunch, I found that I could not carry on a conversation without darting my eyes in Henry’s direction.  He was like a magnet.  He, on the other hand, spent every breathing moment chatting with young socialites.  He danced with flair throughout the day and into the evening, ignoring me completely.  A short time after the bride and groom departed, I started for the door and felt a warm hand fall onto my shoulder.  “I’ve been waiting for you to sign my dance card all night.  Why have you ignored me so?”  My face spoke volumes of repulsion, or so I thought.  Henry apparently read me differently and before I could refuse he quickly spun me onto the dance floor for one last waltz.  I may have blushed, he was a terrific dancer and his gaze was heavy on my face.  For the first time in my life I was speechless.  I felt insecure under his intense gaze.  I mistakenly thought it was love.    

Henry and I married soon after, much to his parents’ delight (haha).  We enjoyed a lengthy honeymoon in Sainte Maxime, a quaint little town in the South of France, then returned to England to play house.  He was the third born son so his professional options were to serve the sovereign in battle or serve the lord in Essex County.  Henry, not being much of a soldier, decided the church better suited his style.  So we moved together into a large cottage a few hours inland from our brother and sister and we were happy.  That is, until we weren’t happy anymore. 

Time proved that my husband enjoyed neither the solitude of the country, nor the simplicity of the good shepherd's lifestyle.  I always knew him as a jovial and exciting man, but I soon learned that his highs were high and his lows were low.  Very low.  He could put on a beautiful show before his adoring public, but at home he would melt into his chair and stare at the fire for hours or slump wordlessly behind his stew at supper.  

The first few months of co-habitation with this new version of my husband were exasperating.  I’d attempt to engage him in conversation, easy chatter about current events or gossip I’d heard in town.  I thought it was just the change of environment that saddened him and was sure he would break free of his melancholy.  Alas, he did not.  I began to pick fights with him, hoping that I could stimulate him through arguments, find out why he was so unhappy.  

"Let's have a party, darling!  That would surely lift your spirits," I suggested, thinking the idea of entertaining would appeal to him.

"Why would I want to spend an evening with the foolish sheep who live in this village?"  

"Henry, I think we need to find a way to make friends and to build a life for our -"

"My father won't allow us to leave.  He threatened to cut me off," he said, cutting through the back-and-forth completely.  I was bewildered that he had already communicated with his blue blood Papa about relocating.  "A punishment for marrying you, or for disappointing him for a lifetime.  Who could say?"  Though this was not news to me I cringed at the words.  "I despise this muddy little place."

We spent hours talking about what was happening but not about his condition.  And when our conversation ended, we stopped speaking altogether.  For days.  I thought I was not enough for him.  Maybe a son would improve his outlook. 

And a son we had.  Joseph, or Joey as I preferred to call him, was born on our first wedding anniversary.  A dreamy little boy with my brother’s wide-set blue eyes and perfect little nose.  How I worshipped that tiny baby.  I read him poetry and rocked his bassinette and stripped off his swaddling to lie with him with arms spread wide in the grass.  I dreamed of his future and prayed for his health.  I kissed him and stared at him and traced the chubby lines of his face with my finger.  But Joey did not have the same effect on my husband.  Henry instead disappeared all together.  “I’m going to visit my brother in London,” he said.  I asked to join him to show off Baby Joey but he refused me with an excuse not worthy of remembering. 

I imagine Henry considered Whiskey to be the best way to trick his sorrowful mind into some version of happiness.  When he came home, he opened the first bottle upon finishing his work then his second at bedtime.  "A new sport you picked up from your brother in London?" I jibed. 

That chilly winter night, I was snuggling with Baby Joey, something I did regularly since my husband had little interest in joining me in bed.  Plus Joey no longer needed the wet nurse for midnight feedings.  The bedroom door thrust open and there was Henry, stumbling and stinking.  He said nothing as he climbed onto me and pushed Baby Joey off the bed.  The baby hit the floor screaming while Henry flipped me on my belly and raped me from behind. 

We’ve all heard these stories before so I will not go into great detail and I will not let you feel sorry for me.  I am an educated woman, which means I know enough about the world to understand that these things have always happened to my gender.  Don’t get me wrong, at the time I hated him for his actions.  But honestly, I pushed most of it out of my mind.  All except for the memory of my tiny baby boy wailing helplessly on the floor.  That I will never forget.  

While Henry grunted and stabbed at me sloppily I reached down towards the floor with my free hand and searched frantically for Joey’s hand in hopes to soothe him while he screeched.  Henry finished his business and fell asleep on top of me.  I waited a few minutes then squeezed out from under him, swept up the baby then spent the rest of the night in the nursery.  When I saw Henry the next day it was as if nothing happened.  Proof that this wasn’t a horrible nightmare came nine months later when I gave birth to a baby girl.  I named her Jessica. 

The years passed quickly.  My husband would spend a week with us in the country then leave abruptly, sometimes without even a goodbye, for a month.  He would typically arrive at the cottage after an outing cheerful and happy but within a day or two he would revert to his drunken, angry counterpart.  If he offered a destination before leaving, he would often say he was looking into a business opportunity.  I never really knew what he was doing.  These blue bloods made their business in being noble, so I was surprised to hear he was venturing into the territory of the self-made man.  His other favorite destination was his brother's in London, and we all know nothing good every happened in London.

While my marriage was disastrous, my life wasn’t all sadness.  In the weeks Henry disappeared I wrapped myself completely in my children's worlds.  Jessica lived for my colorful stories of the highly dramatic English monarchs.  Though a year younger than Joey, she carried on like a miniature version of me, imploring him to mind his manners and chasing him down with a comb for his unruly curls.  She was such fun, orchestrating endless games of hide and seek and drawing pictures of messy little bunnies after observing a family of rabbits in our small garden.  We celebrated every day that we had each other.

When Henry was home we carried on the same for the most part.  He wasn’t hateful, he was just miserable.  I prayed for some way to help him, but he seemed impossible to reach.  There were times, however, when Henry broke free from the demons that tormented him.  And during those days, I tried my best to push aside my bitterness to allow the children a sliver of a healthy family life, through which we could all enjoy a bit of harmless ribbing and laughter. 

It was during those times we added several more lives to our family of four.  First came Lizzie, born with her cord wrapped tightly round her neck.  Though the midwives frantically worked to untangle her, the damage was done.  By the time she reached 4 years old we knew that she would never grow to be a normal adult.  Neighbors suggested that we send her to an institution for the feeble minded but I balked.  To my great surprise, Henry agreed with me.  He had a soft spot for her and would allow her to sit in his study and play while he…  well, while he did whatever it was he did in there all day. 

Sometimes I think he secreted her away to tell her unsavory stories about me – she never responded to me like the others, never seemed to have much of a taste for me.  I tried to engage her but she always pulled away.  The only time she would come to me was when I visited the kitchen.  She’d sneak in the pantry and stuff food into her mouth when she thought I wasn’t looking.  She was a hefty child, always crying for extra cakes at tea and snatching bits of food off her sister’s plate at supper.  I once saw her sitting in the garden eating clover for heaven’s sake.  I could see her there, gorging in the pantry, but I was tired from trying to force her to be a lady and I could barely lift her to discipline her anymore.  Plus, she’d been prone to dramatic, explosive fits when Henry was away so I fed into her addiction because I knew it placated her.  So I ignored her binge and called her to me when I left the kitchen.  As usual, she came racing out of the pantry with sugar in her hair and sticky strawberry jam at the corners of her mouth.

A year after Lizzie came twins – Emanuel and Grace.  Emanuel, you could say, was all boy.  A thick layer of black dirt lived deep within his nail beds.  If there was a frog in the cupboard or a muddy footprint on the parlor rug, I always knew who needed a whipping.  Emanuel longed for his father's attention and I believe some of his naughtiest behavior was simply a ploy to catch his father's eye.  Unfortunately, during the few weeks Henry was home, he had little patience for Emanuel's antics and would beat him for the slightest misbehavior.  But even after the beatings, Emanuel would beg his father to stay home longer, "Papa, I promise that I'll be better if you stay just a few more days!  Will you teach me archery?  I built a target in the garden - come see!"  Oh, poor boy.  Henry barely noticed him.  Always consumed with his own demons.  Come time for formal schooling, Emanuel, while friendly and well-liked by most, was famous for his right hook and would never back down to a school yard challenge.  May have been the one thing he learned from his Papa.

If Emanuel was the storm, Grace was the calm before it.  She was beautiful, quiet and painfully shy.  Her pale white skin was never in need of protection from the sun, as she scarcely ventured outdoors to play with the others.  I called her my little shadow; she was so often under my feet.  I taught her to embroider pillows and mend clothes.  We sang little french songs and picked berries on the way home from church on Sundays.  Occasionally we would accompany Cook in the kitchen to roll out pie crusts like I did with Edward when I was a small girl.  I loved having her by my side.  She was my little companion.

It was one of Henry’s better moods that led us to visit Harwich at Christmas time in 1909.  The children and I were thrilled for a visit with Edward and Mary and to see the home where I grew up.  My elderly father rambled around the house, a stroke left him unable to continue running his business, so he spent hours at home exploring books and offering lessons in history and culture to anyone who passed by his library doors.  Even the footmen and maids were no exception.  

It was a happy holiday for us.  So happy we extended our stay by a month.  All of us except for Henry, that is.  He was quite jovial for a week or so but the wind shifted and he was no longer able to conceal his depressed condition.  So he offered his apologies to his sister and bade us goodbye after just a week.  I could only imagine what sort of activity he was involved in.  When Mary asked me point blank about his condition I feigned surprise. 

“Amanda, I am his sister.  I have known of his broody tendencies all my life.”

“How could you not warn me?  Why encourage our relationship as you did?”

“Oh, dear sister.  I thought that if anyone could jerk him out of his cry-baby state it would be you.  Plus, I had hoped that, you being Edward’s sister and I being Henry’s sister, I would have more opportunities to keep an eye on him.  And how could you complain about a little moodiness when you are blessed with so many beautiful children? ”

“Mmm,” I said, needing time to think this through.  As quick as I can be to respond, this was not a time to engage in frisky banter.

“And it’s all worked out well so far, hasn’t it?  Edward loves you so and is always happy to help with your growing family’s financial needs.  Oh, I wasn’t supposed to tell you that.  I’m so sorry, Amanda, please do keep that a secret.”

“What do you mean?  How much money has Edward given us?” I demanded sharply.


“Mary, you must tell me.  I feel like you have left me in the dark for so many years, you must now help to shed some light on my own life!”  I was breathing a bit heavy now, trying to figure out what financial trouble we were in and why on God’s green earth we would be taking funds from my brother.

“Well, I don’t know if I should say,” but I stared her down only for a moment before she caved.  “Henry said he needed 2,000 pounds to cover doctor’s bills and such.  He said that Lizzie’s condition has put an enormous strain on the family coffers and asked Edward if he would help.  Of course Edward agreed immediately.  You know, not having any children of our own, we think of your family as the next best thing.  I’ll never forgive myself for not giving Edward a son,” Mary began to sob uncontrollably as I mechanically pulled her wet cheeks to my breast and patted her shoulder. 
“There, there, Mary.  You are a blessing to Edward and to us all.  With or without children.”  My mind was elsewhere as her fat tears began to soak my collar.  Lizzie’s medical expenses?  I’d like to think that Mary was mistaken but surely Henry was lying.  What could Henry need with 2,000 pounds?  Well, we soon found out. 

A rough-looking debt collector appeared at my brother’s door on the day after New Year’s.  He reported that Henry listed Edward as next of kin and was currently detained in an undisclosed location until his bill was repaid.  When Edward demanded to know how this debt was accumulated, the thug at his doorstep snickered, “Ya see, sir, yer brother likes to roll the dice...” he continued on for several minutes about drunkenness and brawling and adultery.  

I was hiding behind a door just beyond the entry way and sunk down to the floor as Edward asked the collector to wait while he retrieved the notes required to settle his debt.  When he returned, he handed him an envelope and requested that the thug deliver a message imploring Henry to return to Harwich immediately.  Needless to say, Henry did not come.

I rode by carriage inland to our cottage in the country.  I needed to return the children to the normalcy of school while I considered my options, which were nonexistent.  My only option, as a woman with five young children, was to stay put.  Which I did.  Henry, however, did not.  Or at least not with us. 

Three months had passed when I met Antonio, an Italian mason whom Henry had hired to rebuild part of the church after a rogue advent candle had burned down the entire west side of the building.  Since repair work was necessary, the grounds committee decided it would be a good time to add a small rectory.  The village was growing and it was time to expand.  In my husband’s absence, I often visited the church to take notes, which I would share with him upon his return.  And though I was unsure he would ever come back, I continued to check in on things while the kids were at school and Lizzy at home with Cook.

When my eyes met Antonio’s eyes for the first time I felt a rush of energy surge through my body.  He held my gaze and introduced himself confidently.  His voice was smooth and melodic.  He almost sounded like he was singing when he spoke.  I loved him right away.  I visited the building site daily, sometimes bringing small treats from Cook or a book of poetry I thought he might enjoy.  He always thanked me with a genuine and perfect smile, his round black eyes whispering everything I wished to hear from his soft full lips. 

We continued on like this for many months, getting to know each other as best we could under the scrutiny of townspeople.  That my husband was a drunk was no secret, and his current extended hiatus wasn’t either.  Speculation was only natural and Antonio and I did our best to keep a respectable distance.  Until one day in May of 1911. 

A heavy spring downpour began just as I was reaching the church with a basket of bread from Cook.  I scrunched up my shoulders with the first dollop of rain and inhaled a little squeal, lifting my skirts and darting for shelter under the scaffolding.  People in the village scattered into their shops and homes to avoid the drenching rain but Antonio rushed out to pull me inside rectory. 

I ran through the door, dripping wet, and found myself nose to nose with the man who would become my lover that afternoon.  We rendezvoused as often as we could.  Sometimes making love on the mossy beds in the forest, other times sneaking dangerously into the bell tower of the church.  Antonio even snuck into my bedroom on several nights, up the trellis and in through the widow, where we lay together all night, waking up in each other’s arms.  There was nothing we left unsaid or undone that summer. 

It was in August that I knew for sure I was carrying Antonio’s child.  I told no one but Edward.  Poor Edward.  He wanted more than anything to have a family of his own, meanwhile his sister was as fertile as the Crescent.  He sent for the children and me immediately and I arrived on his doorstep one humid day on the last day of August of 1911. 

I had left like a thief in the night, as they say.  I could not say goodbye to Antonio.  I did not want the tears or the finality of it all.  The only person I told of my mysterious departure was Cook, saying that I wasn’t feeling well and the sea air would do me good, promising I’d be back in the spring to chase her around in the kitchen again.

Antonia was born in March.  What a beautiful baby she was.  She was the last I birthed but the first I nursed from my own breast.  We did this for the sake of secrecy, but I genuinely loved the experience.  As painful as it was when the baby latched on, the cutting sensation paled in comparison to the tightness from wrapping engorged breasts to stop the flow altogether. 

I laid in bed with my baby girl for hours, falling in love.  Antonio would have fallen in love with her, to be sure.  But Edward and Mary would make wonderful parents.  As much as I wanted her to remain all mine, it was impossible.   And my brother so badly longed for a family of his own.

Father didn’t ask any questions.  I think he knew what was happening but turned a blind eye.  His love for both Edward and me ran too deep to be angry or embarrassed.  But to save us any embarrassment, he played the old fool perfectly. 
The younger children did not understand that the baby was not born of their same father.  I simply told them that we had this baby to give to Uncle and Aunt as a special gift.  That is wasn’t fair for us to have six children and them to have none.  No more questions were asked. 

The older ones, on the other hand, understood completely.  Joey, forever my first true love, accepted the baby easily and kissed her forehead the day he was born.  “I love her already,” he said to me.  Jessica was only moderately receptive to me after Antonia arrived.  Though unimpressed by my scandalous behavior, I think the baby’s sweetness helped to win her back over to me.  The natural little mother in her prevailed and I was pleased.

The Sunday after Antonia was born, I awoke to horrible nightmare.  I was sitting in a little boat with all of the children, rowing downriver.  The boat tipped and I frantically searched to rescue the little ones from drowning.  They were nowhere to be found.  From under the water I saw Antonio looking over the edge of the boat, doing nothing to help me.   I kicked my legs hard to force my nose above the surface.  When I gasped into the air, Antonio was gone and Henry was waiting for me.  He grabbed my head and forced it back under and I awoke out of breath and terrified.

The nightmare recurred every night for a week.  I confided in Mary.  For once she listened and concocted a plan that might give me an opportunity for a brighter future.  “Edward invested in a little pleasure ship company called White Star Line.  They are launching a new ship.  Some kind of unsinkable vessel called Gigantic or something.  We have cabins reserved for us as special guests of the Captain to thank Edward for his generous support of the development of the construction of, well, blah blah blah.  We don’t need to get into details here, do we?  Because I could find out if you’d like…” 

“It’s okay, Mary, get to the point.”

“The point is, the ship is sailing for America next month.  You can’t go home, there are too many questions to answer.  And Henry is undoubtedly a lost cause.  It’s been over a year since any of us have heard from him.  But if he does come back you’ll just be a miserable wretch for the rest of your life.  Come with us.  When we arrive in New York Edward and I can set you up in a nice home.  He’s been talking about investing in American property and what better caretaker could he have than his own darling sister?  Maybe you could even send a letter to Antonio and have him come to America, too.  Happily every after, darling!  Wouldn’t it be grand?  Should we run it past Edward?”

My mind was rattled.  Mary’s words shot from her mouth top speed but they churned slowly in my mind.  What other options did I have?  “Yes.  Yes.  Yes, let’s talk it through with Edward and see if he doesn’t think this is a foolish plan.”

Mary’s gigantic ship was scheduled to set sail from Southampton so my brother took advantage of his business connections to charter a beautiful sailing yacht that carried us from Harwich to the south coast. 

There was a huge swell of people lined up to see off the Titanic.  Quite exciting, actually.  As tentative as I was to begin this new life for my family in America, the festivities that commenced the journey were certainly enough to garner some confidence in our decision.

Though eager to start he journey, before embarking, we stopped to shop a bit.  Edward purchased appropriate clothing for each of my children and for me, as we came under-prepared for formal dining on an ocean liner.  Brother assured us there was a tailor on board who could quickly make adjustments.  We handed off our bags to the valets at the pier then climbed up the gang plank, first greeting Captain Smith, a salty looking man with a full white beard, followed by the hotel manager and the team of men who designed the vessel.  Everyone was very proud and la-di-da, happy to greet my rich brother whose investment helped make this endeavor possible. 

We settled into our rooms.  Edward and Amanda took their stateroom in first class.  Edward smartly negotiated to swap his extra first class cabin for two in second class, two floors down and toward the stern, so my children and I could fit relatively comfortably during our trans-Atlantic voyage. 

We actually began to enjoy the adventure as a family.  The kids created stories about the new life ahead of them in Boston.  Yes, Boston was the city Edward and I decided would best suit us.  How exciting it would be to explore a real city; we’d never even been to London.  Joey was intrigued by the Custom House, the city’s first skyscraper set amid the bustle of local markets and shops. 

Emanuel couldn’t wait to see a real American baseball game.  The Red Sox were gearing up for a winning season and he wished to be first in line at the city’s new baseball stadium called Fenway.  The ship was docking in New York on the 17th.  Emanuel had his fingers crossed that by some miracle they’d make it to Boston by the 20th when the park opened its gates for the first time ever. 

Jessica had been reading about Isabella Stewart Gardner in her French magazines and hoped to visit Fenway Court to see the collection of artwork she assembled there.  She also enjoyed the works of Henry David Thoreau and was imagining herself making trips to the woods that he wrote about so vividly.

While the children explored the ship and conjured new worlds for themselves in America, Mary and I enjoyed Antonia.  Edward, too, popped in to coo to the baby between visits to the Smoking Room and tours of the ship’s navigational and engineering areas.  Oh, how I would miss her, my love child. 

As I explained, before our international travel plans came about, we had planned for Mary and Edward to keep the baby.  She was thrilled to have a baby of her own and Edward, of course, was also elated.  Antonia seemed to be the answer to their prayers.  Now that we had redirected our lives, I could not insist on reclaiming my beautiful baby girl.  So with mixed emotions, joy for them and emptiness for me, I relinquished her care.  And this was not the time for sadness, anyway.  We were safe and happy and starting fresh. 

I am so glad that we made the best of those days at sea, for they would be our last together.   On the fourth night of our voyage I was jostled awake.  I would later discover that we hit an iceberg in the middle of the Atlantic, the irony of it all did not escape me in the moment I learned the unsinkable ship was the greatest advertising blunder of all time.  The three hours that followed my rude awakening could only be described as visions from a horrible watery nightmare. 

I jumped out of bed at the same time Jessica sat up in a daze.  Without speaking, we tossed on our warmest clothing then rummaged through our bags for Grace and Lizzie’s winter dresses and cloaks.  I handled little Grace, knowing she’d be confused and insist on my assistance anyway and Jessica, the angel, prepared Lizzie, who was not happy about being woken up in such a frenzied manner.  We dashed out the door to wake up the boys and were relieved to see that Joey had already dressed himself as well as Emanuel.

“Thank God.  Let’s go,”  I sighed.  “Wait, I need something to put the baby in.  A sling or something.”  We all looked around and Joey retreated to his cabin, emerging a in a flash with a swag of cotton torn from his bed linens.  He tied it around my shoulder and waist and I gently placed Antonia inside.  She stirred, her eyes fluttering dreamily, then settled back to sleep.

“What’s happening, Mama?” whined Grace, “I’m scared!”

“I’m not scared, Mother,” declared Emmanuel charging ahead of us.  Joey grabbed him by the scruff and held him securely to his side.  Barely 13, Joey already had the build of his uncle.  Emanuel collapsed briefly under his big brother’s urgent grasp and dared not to lead the troops again.

“Let’s just get to Uncle’s stateroom,” said Joey.  We walked briskly to the forward staircase and up two flights to find valets and stewards racing around hefting huge trunks and fur coats.  It was madness.

“Be careful with that, young man!” called a woman from her door, still dressed in her evening gown, “I don’t want to see any patches of wet, matted fur on that mink!” 
Jessica rolled her eyes and held tight to Lizzie’s arm, “Stop squeezing me, Jessie!” she complained.

Upon arriving to Edward’s stateroom, we were surprised to find Mary and Edward sitting at the end of their bed together with their heads down.  They were praying.  I let a moment pass but the chaos outside the room was causing the children, and me, much angst.  “Please tell me what’s going on and where we need to be right now,” I interrupted. 

Edward looked up with eyes full of tears.  Mary stood and turned her back to us.  “We are in a dire situation, dear sister.  I am going to be frank so send the children into the bath if you do not wish them to hear.”  With a look, I told Jessica to take the children away and Edward continued, “We struck an iceberg about 20 minutes ago.  This ship is not equipped to handle a disaster of this magnitude.”

“But I thought –“

“We were all mistaken.  All of us.  Bloody hell.  There are only 20 lifeboats onboard, four of them are just collapsible rigs – barely usable.  The commanders can squeeze about 70 people on the remaining boats so I want you to follow me now and secure your positions on those vessels.”

All of the air seemed to suck out of the room.

Mary suggested that we all sit for a moment as a family and pray for our safety, so we called the children back to the bedroom where we huddled together in a circle and held hands. 

We stood there for a moment, just looking at each other.  Disbelief and fear but also determination and love graced every pair of eyes.  Edward led us.  “Please, Lord, have mercy on our family in our greatest time of need.  In your name we pray.  Amen.” 

Without hesitation we began to move as a unit.  As we progressed down the hall to the stairwell, Mary began sobbing desperately and Edward carried her with her bushy fur coat like a new bride out to the deck. 

At first we lined up civilly to board the lifeboat.  Very orderly and calm.  No one spoke.  When we finally reached the front of the line, the sailor refused my brother’s entry, “Women and children only, sir, I’m sorry.  I cannot let you on.”  The world stood still. 

“But kind sir, my brother Edward is an investor.  And he is a new father on top of that.  His baby is here in my arms and his wife is distraught.  I’m afraid neither will survive without his presence.  Please consider letting this gentleman - ” I thought I was starting to win him over when I was cut off by a huge flux of passengers swarming the deck. 

It was utter chaos.  Joey hoisted Lizzie into his arms to keep her from being trampled by the crowd.  She started into a tantrum, shaking and wriggling in effort to escape Joey’s arms. 

Edward whispered into my ear, “Don’t worry about me.  You climb on.  I’ll pull some strings and find my way onto a raft.”  And with that he disappeared into the crowd. 
“Women and children only!” a row of sailors repeated as the mob swarmed the deck rails.  Immediately wails and moans of women tumbled over the crowd.  At hearing the fate imposed upon them, some men looked confused, shocked, wide-eyed and lost.  Others raged and immediately rushed the life boat commanders to board the small vessels. 

The sound of gunfire caused a collective panicked gasp as the single bullet pierced the air and disappeared into the black of night.  The crowd stopped shifting.  I turned quickly back to the lifeboat and helped to heave Edward’s bride aboard and passed her to a sailor who dragged her to a seat on the starboard side.  Next climbed Jessica with Emanuel.  I pushed Joey forward but the agitated gun-wielding boat commander thrust his body in front of my boy, “Women and children only!” 

“Is that all you know how to say?  Can’t you see he is merely a child?  This is my baby boy!  He’s only just turned 13!  Of course he deserves a spot on your raft!”

“Lady, there’s no time to argue.  The boy has no seat aboard this vessel,” he paused and surveyed his arms.  Lizzie was in full-on rage, climbing over his back in attempt to escape his grip.  “And neither does that wailing eedjit he’s holding.  Now get on or move aside!” 

I stumbled back in shock, then moved back in to slug him in the mouth for insulting my son and daughter.  Joey pulled me back, “Let’s try another boat, Mother.”  He waved to Jessica and pointed to the next boat.  When we got there it was already being lowered into the water.  We pushed through the crowd frantically, trying to reach the aft boats but were getting squeezed out.  So we crossed to the port side of the creaking ship to see what we could find there...  and discovered much of the same. 

It was at this time that I realize something.  I was still holding baby Antonia and little Grace was still clinging desperately to my hand.  I swear my heart stopped beating for a minute.  Is this happening?  Am I here?  I suppose I was so used to Grace hanging off the end of my arm that I didn’t realize she was with me, not safe aboard the starboard side raft with Jessica and Emanuel.  How could I have forgotten?  What did I do?

Sweet Jesus, help me.           

I looked at my four doomed children.   I had not yet shed a tear but defeat was settling in.  My eyes watered and Joey grabbed my face.  “I’ll find Uncle.  He’ll help us.  Stay right here and I’ll come back for you in no time.  Chin up, dear Mother.  There’s got to be a way.”  He grabbed my free hand and pulled me into the aft staircase.  “Wait here!  I’ll be back!”

Minutes later the ship listed dramatically, tossing our huddled bodies down the stairs.  I scrambled to my feet and threw my arms around the girls to usher them to safety in the hallway lined by first class cabins.  The hall was empty, yet I heard screaming from all directions.  The ship’s bones were creaking and moaning loudly.  It was freezing cold and the kids were terrified.  As much as Lizzie cried and hollered, Grace turned inward.  She barely took her eyes off her shoes. 

(continued below)

amanda continued

I'm not sure how many minutes passed.  It could have been 30 or 300.  We hunkered down in that fancy first class hallway awaiting Joey's return.  I tried to entertain Grace and cure Lizzie's incessant screeching by telling my favorite fairy tales -  the Billy Goat's Gruff, Hansel & Gretel - and I hope the words absorbed their minds for a spell.  For me, the stories were just a rote jumble of words, but I thanked God for the strength to conjure up these tales while the ship's bones roared and swayed one way then the other.  

I heard the pounding of running feet and looked up in hopes of seeing Joey but it was a waiter from the dining room.  "What's happening up there?  Can you tell me if there are any life boats left?" I called out as he approached at lightning speed.  

"Not a one Missus.  The crew is helpin' people over the rails with just floatin' rings on their waists now.  People are jumpin' off the decks and tryin' to swim to the life boats.  God help us all!"  And with that he continued racing down the hall.  I wondered where he was running to.  Maybe he knew of a secret boat or was searching for a friend.  Should I run after him?  I started to think about Joey.  Where could he be?  

I was fidgeting.  I considered nursing Antonia, but thought better of it.  I peeked into the sling and she was sleeping so heavily I dared not wake her in this madness.   A flood of reality washed over me.  Joey was not coming back, he may not be alive.  I thought about charging up the stairs for help, but knew there would be no one to help us.  The incessant cries and desperate screams from the deck above were evidence of that.

We were going to die there.  I could feel it.  I envisioned our bodies being thrown against the wall by a giant wave bursting through the hall, my children being ripped from my arms and tossed into the abyss.  And then I imagined the ship descending into the sea slowly, first an inch of icy water at our feet and then two...  I couldn’t bear the thought of such a terrifying end.  So I took control. 

The stewards’ pantry door was open.  I hustled the girls in and shut the door.  I dug through the unlocked storage lockers and pulled out cakes, breads, fruit, anything I could find to keep Lizzie occupied and quiet so I could sit and think in peace.  And then I saw the paring knife.  

While Lizzie gorged herself I grabbed the small blade and slipped out of the pantry with Grace and into the laundry deposit nextdoor.  I sat down on the floor and scooped my sweet Grace into my lap, nestling her next to Antonia mercifully sleeping in the sling.  I kissed her and rocked her for a few minutes, humming a favorite lullaby in her ear.  Grace said nothing.  She just stared into my sad eyes. 

“Mama, I’m scared.”

“I know, baby.  But you don’t need to be afraid anymore.  It’s time to fall asleep and forget about this place.  When you wake up you’ll be with Mama’s friend Jesus.  He’s so nice.  You’ll love him.  Look for him in the light, baby.  You’ll feel no pain, no fear.  Just love and peace.  Doesn’t that sound nice, honey?”

“Yes, Mama.  But I don’t want to go alone.  Will you come to see Jesus with me?”

“I’ll be right behind you, Grace.  And so will Lizzie and Antonia.  Okay?  We’ll all be together.  Do you trust me?”

She nodded silently and I closed her eyes with my fingertips.  “It’ll only hurt for a second,” I said and I dragged the paring knife from her right wrist, following the thick blue vein up to the inside of her elbow.  And then I did the same on the left.  She hardly uttered a sound.  Just a quick gasp as the steel sliced through her skin.  Then she just fell asleep in my arms as the ship rocked us back and forth.

How far I had come from my careless days by Dovercourt Bay.  I thought of my father, of how sweetly he loved me, and wondered if he would now be ashamed of the girl he had raised.  I thought of the books and the games, the coming of age, the flirting with boys and the nonsense of social obligations.  Grace would not experience these things.  Not in this lifetime.  I recalled my own wedding, the high hopes and expectations I had for my life and my marriage.  I recalled the better times with Henry and wondered where he was at this moment, considering that he may be meeting Grace right now in heaven.  I remembered Antonio, my lover and my friend, a man who taught me the meaning of adult romance.  I remembered easy love.  The kind of love that made me feel like I had wings.  The moments my newborn babies were placed in my arms, then the moments they hugged me back for the very first time.  And now I held my lifeless baby here in my lap.  Still warm, still beautiful.  Just a minute ago she was here.  And now…

I wished to end my life there with her.  But I had two other children about whom I had to think.  I kissed my Grace goodbye and wrapped her small limp body in a soiled sheet from the hamper.  I left her body on the floor, wiped my eyes, pressed the paring knife into my pocket and returned to the pantry to find Lizzie. 

When I entered the pantry, Lizzie looked up from her picnic.  She pointed at my dress, at my blood-stained dress and bloody baby sling and demanded loudly, “Mama, where’s Gracie?”  I tried to calm her redirect her attention but she started screaming frantically, “Where’s Gracie?  Where’s Gracie?  Where’s Gracie?!”  She pulled at her hair and scratched at her face, causing bloody gouges.  She saw blood on her own hands and thrashed uncontrollably.  She ran.  First down the listing hallway and then up the wide creaky stairs, back up to the top deck where she found a narrow set of stairs leading to the compass platform.  Even in the loud chaos below, passengers heard her blood curdling screeches and instinctively lifted their eyes.  Amongst the onlookers I spotted my brother.  He looked confused.  Of course he thought I was safely aboard the first lifeboat with the rest of the girls.  Just then the ship shifted dramatically, listing almost completely sideways.  As the ship toppled, I grasped for a rail to keep from being tossed into the waves.  Meanwhile my screaming Lizzie plunged, arms and legs spread like a star, into the cold waves below.  
The beastly ship lurched back to upright and from nowhere Edward grabbed me.  He breathlessly pulled me by the arm to the last collapsible rig to lower - the one he was about to board when the ship listed.  “Where’s Joey?” he asked, as if he already knew what I’d say. 

“He went looking for you.”

They had already begun to lower the rig down several feet when Edward called the commander to hold up and literally swung me and Antonia down by my arms and into a seat.  You can imagine my surprise to look around and see that that boat was full of men.  When I looked back up to the deck, my beloved brother was gone.
The life boat swung back and forth as it lowered into the water.  Again, the ship began to list and the two sailors pulled out their utiitiy knives and hastily hacked at the thick ropes that connected us to the sinking Titianic.  The paring knife.  I pulled it from my pocket and hollered to the men near the rails, ”Catch this!”  I tossed it over and, unbelievably, the knife made its way to the ropes in time for the passenger sitting closest to slice the last thread and release our wooden boat into the water with a cold salty splash. 

The commander directed his volunteers to heave their oars with all their might and propel the boat away from the massive sinking wreckage toward relative safety.  We rowed toward an island of 8 or so lifeboats, each with a small spotlight at the bow, and tethered to the closest one.  I expected that Jess and Emanuel were tucked away with their aunt in one of the rafts.  And with that small bit of relief, I felt my breast milk let down.  For the first time I thought solely of Antonia, sleeping soundly through the chaos in my sling, the way newborns do.  I peaked under the cloth for a look and saw her angelic face.  Her thick black eyelashes sealed her eyes shut tight, but the blue in her lips told me she would not awake from her heavy slumber.  I buried my face in her soft black hair and breathed her baby scent in deeply.  And, again, I began to weep. 

Too much was lost that night.  Just this morning I was the mother of six, on my way to start a new adventure in a new world.  And now… well, now is now.  I spun my body around in my seat and swung my feet over the edge of the boat.  I would at least hold true to my promise to dear Grace.  The frigid waves lapped at my toes and I quietly slipped into the water.


Amanda didn’t see Emanuel watching her.  Had she known, she may not have followed through with the plan she herself had helped devise.  Young Emanuel spotted her even through the darkness.  That white poplin bed sheet slung across her chest stood out against the blackness of the sky.  His relief was intense, but short-lived, as moments later his mother and infant sister vanished under the waves.

To be continued…

Sunday, December 4, 2011

new direction

nope, this is not another tribute to glee.  just wanted to let you know that i haven't deserted the blog completely.  i'm thinking about changing its direction and have been working on some new content...  a novel about a soul family's journey earthly journey.  going to do a little self-editing and will be posting a chapter of my work-in-progress later this week - probably wednesday.  please check back then.  it won't be perfect but perfection isn't my forte anyway.  ;-)  hot mess is more my style.  anyway, i hope you like it!  i'm admittedly nervous but it's time to take the next step.  please please please leave comments after the post so i can get some feedback!  good or bad, i can take it.  xoxoxox
peace out,

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"the manure of experience"

i earmarked this excerpt from MEDITATION IN ACTION by chogyam trungpa.  it's a little sliver of a book.  shambala publications (here in boston) published a 40th anniversary edition in 1991 and i found a copy buried in a discount box at borders on boylston street.  the translation is a little funky but it has so many pearls of wisdom.  this is a portion of one of my favorite chapters entitled "the manure of experience and the field of bodhi".  i read it over and over and it can apply to almost any situation in life.  enjoy...

It is said, I think in the Lankavatara Sutra, that unskilled farmers throw away their rubbish and buy manure from other farmers, but those who are skilled go on collecting their own rubbish, in spite of the bad smell and the unclean work, and when it is ready to be used they spread it on their land, and out of this they grow their crops.  That is the skilled way.  In exactly the same way, the Buddha says, those who are unskilled will divide clean from unclean and will try to throw away samsara and search for nirvana, but those who are skilled bodhisattvas will not throw away desire and the passions and so on, but will first gather them together.  That is to say, one should first recognize and acknowledge them, and study them and bring them to realization.  So the skilled bodhisattva will acknowledge and accept all these negative things.  And this time he really knows that he has all these terrible things in him, and although it is very difficult and unhygienic, as it were, to work on, that is the only way to start.  And then he will scatter them on the field of bodhi.  Having stuided all these concepts and negative things, when the time is right he does not keep them anymore, but scatters them and uses them as manure.  So out of these unclean things comes the birth of the seed which is realization.  This is how one has to give birth.  And the very idea that concepts are bad, or such-and-such a thing is bad, divides the whole thing, with the result that you are not left with anything at all to deal with.  And in that case you either have to be completely perfect, or else battle through all these things and try and knock them all out.  But when you have this hostile attitude and try to suppress things, then each time you knock one things out another springs up in its place, somewhere else.  there is this continual trick of the ego, so that when you try to disentangle one part of the knot, you pull on the string and only make it tighter somewhere else, so you are continually trapped in it.  Therefore the thing is not to battle anymore, not to try and sort out the bad things and only achieve good, but respect them and acknowledge them.  So theory and concepts are very good, like wonderful manure.  Through thousands and thousands of lives we have been collecting so much rubbish that now we have a wonderful wealth of this manure.  It has everything in it, so it would be just the right thing to use, and it would be such a shame to throw it away.  Because if you do throw it away, then all your previous life until today, maybe twenty, thirty or forty years, will have been wasted.  Not only that, but lives and lives and lives will have been wasted, so one would have a feeling of failure.  All that struggle and all that collecting would have been wasted, and you would have to start all over again from the beginning.  Therefore, there would be a great feeling of disappointment, and it would be more a defeat than anything having been gained.  So one has to respect the continual pattern.  One may have broken away from the origin and all sorts of things may have happened.  These may not be particularly good things.  They are rather undesirable and negative.  At this stage there are good tings and bad things, but this collection contains good things disguised as bad and bad disguised as good.

One must respect the flowing pattern of all one's past lives and the early part of one's present life right up to today.  And there is a wonderful pattern in it.  There is already a very strong current where many streams meet in a valley.  And this river is very good and contains this powerful current running through it, so instead of trying to block it one should join this current and use it.  This does not mean that one should go on collecting these things over and over again.  Whoever does that would be lacking in awareness and wisdom, he would not have understood the idea of collecting manure.  He could collect it together and acknowledge it, and by acknowledging it he would have reached a certain point and would understand that this manure is ready to be used.

...and i thought i liked run-on sentences!  great, though, huh?  apply these words to your own life and revisit as you wish...  and in the meantime, know your shit. 

peace, love, gratitude,
a pic of the author, chogyam trungpa.  i love this shot b/c of his expression.  he was a tibetan buddhist but he was also a little naughty and crazy and flamboyant.  some called him the rock star guru.  he lived a *real* life and i think that's why his teachings connected with modern buddhists so deeply. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

tiny shifts

So yesterday I was on the phone with my teacher.  We only talked for a couple of minutes but in that time a shift occurred for me and I am so grateful.  This is something that may be common knowledge, but it's a new thought for me.  Wanted to share. 

We were talking about Jesus Christ and my teacher said, "Jesus is separate from The Christ.  Jesus is the man who gave his body for three years so that The Christ could come through with messages for us.  And there in lies the sacrifice."

Bing!  Ah-ha!  I get it!  So when Jesus is saying (and I'm not really quoting b/c I'm not well-versed enough in the Bible), "You will only find salvation through ME," he is CHANNELING The Christ.  The Christ is the "me", Jesus is not the "me".  "I am God," is not Jesus saying that he, the carpenter, is God; it's The Christ using his body to communicate, "I am God."  (Am I the only one who never understood this??)

Jesus is the vessel, a man.  A great man who gave three exhausting years of his life to serve as a channel for God's word.  A man whose personality, no doubt, appears to us when we are in times of need because we recognize and trust him.  Because he was the vessel.  He represents home to us.  He represents safety, peace, goodness, trust, purity, fearlessness.

There have always been people who could channel messages from the universe...  be them priests, psychics, mediums, healers, etc.  But these are people who take breaks.  They allow their personalities some time to get pissed off, have sex, get drunk, take care of their kids, or just function as a simpler version of a human being.  But not Jesus.  He committed.  He gave 100% and as a result we have a treasure trove of heavenly wisdom that has inspired and guided folks from all religions for 2,000 years. 

This is the same scenario as The Buddha.  Prince Siddhartha was just a man.  He sought enlightenment and when he gave his body completely to the universe, The Buddha took over and used Siddhartha's body as a medium, and as a result has inspired others to enlightenment over thousands of years.   

The Buddha lives in all of us.  The Christ lives in all of us. 

I think the hope for us reg'ler folk, is that we do our best to let The ________________ (fill in the blank with the prophet of your liking) shine through whenever we can.  We've created lives for ourselves that are incredibly distracting.  Realistically, in this modern age, if we could just clear a little of the clutter to the side and make a path for the universe to slip through, The __________________ in each of us might have a chance to shine a little brighter.

Peace, love, gratitude,

Friday, October 14, 2011

where fashion meets godliness

 I spent last week in the lovely city of London with two of the most amazing women you'd want to know. While there we padded as much of the city as we could, happily playing the roles of ultimate tourists.

Like any committed tourists, we had a shopping lists. Mine was very specific. I figured this typically overcast country would be the ideal location to purchase rain gear, so I focused intently on a quest for rubbers and found success in the form of a pair of navy rubber ankle booties by Vivienne Westwood.

Since the weather was strangely glorious in London that week, I didn't have a chance to wear the booties until today, a rainy day at home in New England. While driving in my car I noticed a perfume-y smell filling the air. It took me a few minutes to realize that the scent was wafting up from my tootsies. The boots were scented! What a kick! I slowly inhaled and laughed out loud at the playfulness of scratch-n-sniff rain boots and continued to thoroughly enjoy this cheeky surprise all the way home.

Those silly boots reminded me... when the weather is stormy and the sky is opening up on your head, just take a deep breath in and be happy. In this case, quite literally.

Peace, love, gratitude,

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

a brand new day

I've got an out-with-the-old-and-in-with-the-new feeling these days.  A feeling that a new chapter in my life is about to begin.  I'm curious, of course, about the future and what it holds for me, but for once in my life I'm taking it in stride.  I'm allowing it to unfold without obsession, analysis or fear.  Just letting it happen.  It's nice.  Peaceful.

The reason I'm not fighting "what is and what will be" is very clear to me.  I'm not tangled up in or distracted by fear like I have been in the past. This is thanks to the journey I'm on.

For years I've been in compulsive research mode.  I have thought about this amazing Universe and what it holds for me, for us, just about every minute of every day.  Some people have told me that my aspirations aren't normal or that my thoughts are obsessive.  But if we are not here to find peace and explore the big questions, what are we here for?  To make money?  To have it all?  To be the best?  Don't we all hope that something greater than earthly gains exists?  And if that's the case, isn't it appropriate to give more of our time to that greatness?

To me, there's nothing more fascinating than exploring the question, "WHY?"  Nothing at all.  And I've enjoyed the journey thus far.  Because by exploring the possible answers to that great big question, I've discovered theories that make good sense to me.  Theories that dissolve my fears.  Theories that have provided me with a truth that works for me and fills me up with loving energy.  Nowadays, I'm not asking, "Why?" anymore.  I'm asking, "Why not?"  And when the mind is open, truth floods in.

I feel like I really "get it" now.  I "get" the connection and the divinity and the sameness between us.  My shelves full of books are not just stacks of thoughts anymore.  They're part of me.  There is so much more to learn, but I feel a deep-down confidence in my faith that provides me with an enormous sense of peace as a trudge through the day-to-day.

My journey to this place has not been easy.  I'm sure there will be moments ahead when I fall back into old patterns, but for now, I'm in the light.  And I'm soaking it up while it shines on me.

Peace, love, gratitude,

Saturday, September 24, 2011

dear grads,

Back in June, I found this quote by playwright Tony Kushner in The Christian Science Monitor, a portion of his message to the Muhlenberg College graduating class of 2011.  I thought it was really great...

"Everywhere, the world is in need of repair.  Fix it.  Solve these things.  You need only the tools that you have learned here, even if you didn't pay as much attention as you should, even if you're a mess and broke and facing a future of economic terror.  Who isn't?  Who doesn't?

Help.  Help.  Help.  The world is calling.  Heal the world, and in the process, heal yourself.  Find the human in yourself by finding the citizen, the activist, the hero.  Down with the brutal-minded misadventurers.  Go after them.  You know where they are...

Duty calls.  The world calls.  Get active.  No summer vacation, no rest for you.  We have been waiting too long for you.  We need your contribution too desperately, and if they tell you your contribution is meaningless, if they tell you the fix is in and there's no contribution to be made, if they tell you to contribute by shopping your credit card into exhaustion, if they tell you to surrender to the brilliant, dazzling confusion your education should have engendered in you, exchange that quick-silver prolificity for dull monotone certainty, productive only of aggression born of boredom and violence, born of fear, born of stupidity, they're lying.  Don't trust them; get rid of them.  You know how they are.  Shout down the devil."

In the same collection of commencement speeches, Elie Wiesel said this to the kids at Washington University in Saint Louis:

"My commandment is, 'Thou shalt not stand idly by."  Which means when you witness an injustice, don't stand idly by...  when you enter this world and you say the world is not good today, good!  Correct it!"


Over the summer, I had several random conversations with various fresh-out-of-school-20-somethings.  While speaking with them, I was transported to the days, the months, the years of excitement, hilarity, wonder, confusion and depression following my own college graduation.

15 years ago, I had this glamorous image of what life would be like as a young, independent adult.  I pictured myself sort of like Rachael on Friends, surrounded by attractive buddies, working as a fashion-y something-or-other with bouncy hair, laughing and dating my way to 30.  But that's not what happened.  Like, really, um, not at all, you know?     

I spent most of that decade in a fog of high expectations and draining disappointments.  That degree I worked so hard to earn completed my resume but it didn't provide me with much needed direction.  So I floated aimlessly for a long time...  and I cried a lot.  I kept thinking, I'll be happy when I find a job.  I'll be happy when I make lots of money.  Then I'd find a job and feel happy for a little while, then I'd realize that the job didn't appease my confused mind after all.  So I'd search for another opportunity.  Another happy place.  And in the meantime, I'd cry some more.

I thought that money and employment would give me an identity, give me status, give me self value.  I'd be able to buy a new wardrobe filled with expensive brand names, lease a car with a sunroof and leather seats, rent a sweet apartment on Beacon Hill, dine regularly at hot restaurants and run with a fun party crowd.  I thought I needed to HAVE in order to BE.  Be we don't HAVE happy; we ARE happy.  We can't pick up the latest "Happiness" at Saks or sell vintage "Joy" on Ebay.  It cannot be bought or stolen or borrowed.  It's something that we just have to figure out how to BE while society is screaming for us to just HAVE.

What's so great about "having" when half the world is suffering?

I wonder if we, as a human race, would find REAL JOY if we embarked on our 20's with a different goal.  With a goal to use our education to BE happy and SPREAD happy instead of to BUY happy.  It'd be an enormous shift.  I mean, if you could die happy or die rich, which would you pick?  (No, they are not mutually exclusive and, yes, I know that our nation is built upon capitalism, but let's just pick one for the sake of seeing which of the two holds more clout...)

You picked happiness, right?  I knew you would!  :-)  There's a reason The Dalai Lama is so confident when he states that the purpose of living is to be happy.  When we open up our interpersonal conversations to bigger ideas and talk about shifting away from status quo, real change becomes possible.  We can awaken to what is really important, understanding that there is a big world out there full of people who need help finding their own happy places.  I'm not talking about dropping our lives and moving to Africa to build schools (though that would be amazing).  There is joy and healing to be administered in our own communities, be it environmental, spiritual or otherwise, which may not cost a dime to do.  And that is, like, totally, like, inspiring.  Seriously.

If I could zap a message into my own 20-something brain, it'd be, "Stop focusing on the money, the status, the stuff.  Ironically, it matters very little.  This is a confusing time.  So just survive for a little while.  Stop thinking and take time to listen.  Understand the bigger picture.  Acknowledge the goddess that lives within, a goddess of pure love.  If you let it, in time that love will bring joy to the world and value to your life.  And in the meantime, find happiness in this very moment.  Right now.  And now....  oh, and this is a joyful one...  and this one, too..."

Peace, love, gratitude...  and, like, happiness, you know?

Friday, September 16, 2011

letter from chief seathl (seattle) to president franklin pierce, 1854

Chief Seathl

I found this letter in a book called Mother Earth Spirituality by Ed McGaa, Eagle Man.  Please read mindfully...


"The Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land.  The Great Chief also sends us words of friendship and good will.  This is kind of him, since we know he has little need of our friendship in return.  But we will consider your offer.  For we know that if we do not sell, the white man may come with guns and take our land.

How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land?  The idea is strange to us.  If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?

Every part of this earth is sacred to my people.  Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing, and every humming insect is hold in the memory and experience of my people.  The sap which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man.  So, when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land, he asks much of us...

Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth.  Man did no t weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it.  Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.  But we will consider your offer to go to the reservation you have for my people.  We will live apart, and in peace.

It matters little where we spend the rest of our days.  Our children have seen their fathers humbled in defeat.  Our warriors have felt the shame, and after defeat they turn their days in idleness and contaminate their bodies with sweet foods and strong drinks.  It matters little where we spend the rest of our days.  They are not many.  A few more hours, a few more winters, and none of the great tribes that once lived on this earth or that roam now in small bands in the woods will be left to mourn the graves of a people once as powerful and hopeful as yours.  But why should I mourn the passing of my people?  Tribes are made of men, nothing more.  Men come and go, like the waves of the sea.  Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny.

One thing we know, which the white man may one day discover - our God is the same God.  You may think now that you own Him as you wish to own our land:  but you cannot.  He is the God of man; and his compassion is equal for the red man and teh white.  This earth is precious to Him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its Creator.  The whites too shall pass; perhaps sooner than all other tribes.  Continue to contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.

But in your perishing you will shine brightly, fired by the strength of the God who brought you to this land and for some special purpose gave you dominion over this land and over the red man.  That destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand when the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses are tamed, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires.  Where is the thicket?  Gone.  Where is the eagle?  Gone.  And what is to say goodbye to the swift pony and the hunt?  The end of living and the beginning of survival.  So we will consider your offer to buy the land.

If we agree it will be to secure the reservation you have promised.  There, perhaps, we may live out our brief days as we wish.  When the last red man has vanished from the earth, and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, these shores and forests will still hold the spirits of my people.  For they love this earth as a newborne loves its mother's heartbeat.  So, if we sell our land, love it as we've loved it.  Care for it as we've cared for it.  Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you take it.  And with all your strength, with all your mind, with all your heart, preserve it for your children, and love it...  as God loves us all.  One thing we know.  Our God is the same God.  This earth is precious to Him.  Even the white man cannot be exempt from the common destiny.  We may be brothers after all.  We shall see..."


There's nothing to add to this letter; Chief Seattle so gracefully says it all.  But I will share my intention for posting...  and it's not to depress you.  

My intention is to encourage us (myself included) to awaken from this sleepy state we all "live" in.  We have worked so hard to throw off the earth's natural balance.  We humans have topped the food chain for so long that we've forgotten how much we rely on those at the "bottom" to live peacefully.  Truly peacefully.  And what is the bottom after all?  The tiniest seed inspires our gardens.  An invisible bug destroys our crops.  Every living organism on this planet is created from one source; and we are all of equal value, all built 'round the same loving core.  But humans are hellbent on abusing the balance.  So why has God allowed us to come to this?  Why did God's divine plan include the disappearance of the hunter/gatherer and the emergence of the mini-mart?  What do we do?  How do we change?  Do we toss out our SUVs and maintain strict diets of leaves and berries?  Not possible, right?    

I have a theory.  (Of course I have a theory, don't I always?  Ha!)  Over the years we humans have no doubt lost our collective way.  But, in light of divine order, God (or whatever you want to call it) must have had a hand in it.  This enormous earthly shit show that we've created for ourselves is therefore happening ON PURPOSE.  So WHY???

We are here to learn the truth about God's love through its opposite energy.  Since the Native Americans already had thorough understanding of God's love and were able to live harmoniously with the earth, their race was no longer of value for the purpose of spiritual growth.  The race had fully matured.  So God let the white man grow stronger to destroy the weak, conquer the woman, train the killer and fuck up the planet to the point that this beautiful, breathing, living, feeling Mother Earth now revolts.  It's not that the white man is bad.  He's just playing his role, doing his job so our souls can better understand the true meaning of love through its equal opposite.  And there's plenty of opposite to go around.

Honestly, between you and me, sometimes I get really pissed off at God.  I mean, the heartache and pain and suffering that we experience, and that we subject the planet to, is effing horrific.  And God just keeps on sending down new souls to participate in his big old science experiment.  So frustrating.  I get so torn up about this,  teetering between moments of Holy shit, I love this life! and Holy shit, I want out!   But in the end, my heart always pulls me back to the balanced middle - the place where I know I have a purpose for living and I feel deep desire to do my earthly job to the best of my abilities. 

We cannot return to the days of building wigwams, feathered headdresses and birch baskets.  It's impossible.  And evidently, this lifestyle was not divinely intended for us.  So we need to focus on doing our jobs with the tools that God has given us today.  What has God given you?  A voice?  A loving heart?  A talent?  Great legs?  Maybe you think God forgot to give you anything at all?  If that's the case, think again.  You're not devoid of gifts, you've just wandered off the path.  We each possess special talents and our job is to find out what they are and to use them to find ourselves again. 

I think that my current job is to encourage people to connect with the truth.  (Side note:  not MY truth, THE truth...  because my stories are just shared ideas that might shine on one tiny corner of the truth, or maybe might just shine on me.  Who knows?)  Even if these words reach an audience of one, and that one person is inspired to look within, I'm happy and my job is underway.  Soon I might move onto another job; as life is constantly changing I imagine my calling will change, too.  Thankfully, God has gifted me with flexibility and I know I'll be able to respond to the next opportunity when it presents itself.  

White, red, brown or black, our lives are in the hands of the Universe.  That might be the only thing I know for sure.

Peace, love, gratitude,