Everlasting Monuments

The phone rang while she was driving and I intercepted Mom’s determinedly-fumbling fingers to reach her cell and make the safe answer to the call. On speaker he says, “Linda? Linda, it’s Mark with Everlasting Monument Company. I didn’t expect to be calling you so soon but it’s here! Would you like to come by and see it, be sure everything is spelled correctly?”

I only hold the phone, on speaker, next to her face while she keeps driving; she speaks on the side to me, “Would you like to go?” Yes, of course I am a yes. To Mark, “Can we come this morning? At 11?” It’s all agreed and arranged. Mom lets my oldest brother know that today on his birthday, the 54th anniversary of her becoming a mother, at 11:00 we are meeting with Mark to look at the piece of bronze etched with our parents’ names, images, and known dates of birth, marriage and death (Mom’s TBD). 

“It’s mounted on granite,” says Mark in response to my brother’s question, “and we do use cement.” His arm sweeps a wide gesture above the cardboard box and heavy plastic that have been cut open to reveal the undeniably impressive-looking grave marker on the floor at our feet. “What do you think? It looks great, doesn’t it? Is everything spelled correctly? Do you see why we couldn’t put a vase here? It clearly wouldn’t fit.” 

Mom speaks first, “Everything looks beautiful. It’s all spelled correctly. What do you kids think? And Mark, when I go all you’ll have to do is get my date and unscrew that plate and reattach it? That’s all?”

“Fifty years from now, I’ll do it myself, Linda,” Mark lies to her with his professionally-practiced soft smile, and we all smile in deferred reality.

I am ready to no longer be staring at the bronze plate etched with my parents’ names. Soon enough it will be cemented on top of the earth where I take myself to talk out loud with my dad.

From your mouth to God’s ears, Mark; let it be another 50 years before I need to have those out loud conversations with Linda.

Rumi’s Field

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
— Rumi

I am standing in the field of which Rumi writes, a field in which wrong and right do not exist and in their place exists something else entirely, perhaps it’s only Love. 

I am standing in the courage of my own conviction, the result of having shed the old patterns of outside authority, of having shakily let go of some others’ (some men) outside of me always knowing what is best and better for me than I know for me. 

Here in this field I am speaking, being, living my own authority. I am the knowing and the deciding and the doing. I see only so far as the headlights’ beams of my inner vision reach and it is far enough to move my Self forward, moving the casting light with me as I step and steer by my own choosing, here in this field of Love. 

The voice which I alone understand, which voice speaks the language of my heart, comes from deep within and I cast a line, hoping to secure my courage here in this field where Love resides and presides. Am I allowed to drop anchor in Love’s Field? Whose permission should I obtain? Is there a he here to tell me?

There are voices on the outside, voices that are not in or from the field, voices that reside in the luxurious judgment seats of wrong and right. They are loud, these declarations and condemnations against and for my comings and goings, my being, and my feeling. 

I remember Rumi promised to meet me “beyond [those] ideas,” and hear his weighted word in the delivery of an idea and then I feel the tug of my anchoring line, a reminder that their declarations are only ideas, theirs and not mine. 

My location in the Field is closer to its edge than I prefer. But I am IN the field and from this vantage point I can still see the inroads of my own Courage intersecting with the deeply-grooved dead-ends dug up over four decades of all the his’s declarations. Is Rumi here to meet me?

I grab my secured line and hold tightly, gently placing hand over heart over hand one beat at a time, one tug and then the next, and slowly pull and navigate my Authoritative Self closer to Center, closer to the Field’s Center, closer to the Great Heart of the Universe, closer to Love. Rumi is not here. He never meant to be.

Here is where She has been waiting all along: only Love is here. 

Burned To Shine

Is there someplace where it is said, First the burning, then the shining? Maybe that place is only in my head, so I’ll go ahead and claim it as my own unoriginal thought. Viktor Frankl definitely said, “What is to give light must endure burning.” 

I had it all. I mean I really had it all. And I burned it right to the ground. No regrets now but certainly not the case during that 10-year combustion phase.

Burning. My burning. It’s interesting in retrospect. 

What is the all I had and consciously chose to burn? I was given the “keys to the kingdom,” as it were: all the knowledge — the literal knowing — of right versus wrong, good versus bad, purpose versus pleasure. I was handed the script for living (if you consider the accumulation of good marks while living being tallied toward the greater reward to be awarded after dying as living), told which part was mine and memorized my lines long before the director said I needed to be off-script. I’ve always been an overachiever like that. 

The all I had was the idyllic description taken straight from the script — it was scripted perfection, honestly, and I never needed or asked for a line prompt; it’s as if I was born to play my part. Is that type-casting? (Something to look into.) I was a natural; the embodiment of method acting, I read all the books, answered all the questions, studied my mentors’ every moves, and demurred and deferred to every single man just on-cue. I said Yes when my body would have had me say No. 

My relationship and relatedness to all the other players was strictly professional; I kept it that way intentionally and without realizing it. I could not break character for fear of being recast and replaced by someone else willing herself to perfection. I was perfectly obedient. 

Until I wasn’t.

One line at a time, scribbled on and removed from the script, I set a little match. I never burned the entire script; it would have caused too big a flame, would have attracted too much attention. I would have been kicked out of the cast in front of everyone. That burning would have burned me, burned others close to me. I was never an inflictor of wounds, not knowingly. I chose to burn from the inside out instead. My wounds were my own to tend. But their infliction? Whose were those?

I recently read an account of the very young Judy Garland on the set of The Wizard of Oz and I understood how large a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio loomed above and around her in the real-life body of a Mr. Louis B. Mayer managing and controlling her every move, her very voice, touching all aspects of her performance as if it were for him, alone.  

Personal performance notes I took to heart: “No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light” (Luke 13:11). And I understood I was meant to give light, not to hide it under a bushel or under a marquee not of my own making. I slow-burned my all to the ground because my on-demand rote performance wasn’t life or light-giving. First the burning, now the shining.

I’m taking my encore performance: I was burned to shine. 

Meditation

Even though she is one of the last of the “wild women,” her connection to, and understanding of, the heart-whispered wisdom of her feminine forebears still lacks the finesse she yearns to embody. Is it written somewhere? Buried? Accessible? Can she read and study, commit to memory, journey to its truths and be transformed?

The earliest hours of the morning in the village that raised her are a precious and carefully-guarded treasure; these are hours she does not confide to anyone except to the Ancient Wild One: Divinity, Herself. 

As if a key-change is written and executed with perfect precision in the musical score of morning, her breath catches differently when it is tasked to open her eyes at the same time. And so begins her morning communion with the Ancient Wild One:

Breath

Eyes

Heart

I am here

Lying prone, arms relaxed at her side, the eyes once opened gently close with the deep exhalation of breath, awareness hovering in that space reserved for the sacred, the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctuary: the heart. Here she wanders on purpose for the soul’s purpose of divine instruction, the seeking and exchange of the wisdom that comes only through these hallowed halls on whose walls are “written not with ink, but . . . in fleshy tables of the heart” (2 Cor 3:3). Here is where the Ancient Wild One resides and presides, always beating in time with the composition of her own living heart. 

What is the wisdom she seeks to know, to embrace, to embody today? 

“Is what I believe even allowed?”

The Ancient Wild One, Divinity, Herself, beats the question and the answer together in perfect harmony: 

Soft

Gentle

Allow

Love

The way through is Love.

What would Love allow?

Love is allowance.

Her heart, this Love, is the most powerful presence on planet surface; she is imbued with all of the ancient wisdom she keeps forgetting to remember is right here in this most sacred of rooms, her own inner sanctuary. 

The Divine Feminine — The Ancient Wild One — speaks, breathes and lives in, through, and as her. All that is written and buried is accessible on the insides of her gently closed lids, beating and breathing through Love’s lips, the heart-whispered wisdom of the Divine Collective. Love lives. 

Hallelujah

A deep deep inhalation followed by a full-breathed exhale — the all at once kind, looking like the wind emoji and wondering if this is what is meant by life imitating art? My wondering takes me underneath the exhale, curious if I can name it, say out loud the source of this Hallelujah’s inception. I know there is power in a name. I remember that “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19), and if Mary kept her things to herself, should I, too, keep mine? 

My full-breathed exhales are my Hallelujah Collective, a chorus of sorts, and much like Handel in his writing of his own Hallelujah Chorus (much better-known than my own), “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself seated on His throne, with His company of Angels,” I know my exhales are full of the god in me accompanied by my own company of angels surrounding, lifting, and lighting my next breath forward. 

Notable Hallelujah’s:

— Every time his touching of me stopped. Always temporarily, but stopped. In those moments I exhaled.

— 9/11 peace accord with my Self, the confirmation that we two, she and me, would remain standing but on separate ground from him

— He agreeing, without dissertation or discussion of any kind, to my having full custody of our co-creation, my whole heart, my girl

— The signature from a credentialed-stranger, publicly decreeing a legal unbinding on the outside of what would take more years apart than ever together to undo what twisted up and bound my inside beliefs

— A name, my own from birth, restored as patronymic for only a small fee + the paperwork

— Another signature, many times repeated, binding me to a home, a place, a mortgage, my own alone

— Dance recitals, voice performances, graduations, life moments complete with staged photographs to capture forever the unbindable and impossible to capture love for this precious daughter

— Graduate work with my own heart, Spiritual Psychology, reviewing, revisiting, forgiving, reimagining, and reinventing my own breaths and transmuting them one at a time into my own Hallelujah Collective, here to be treasured, acknowledged, shared and seen. By me. By you. For the heavenly seeing of the god in me bowing to the god I was, only always doing the best she could.

And look at her now: breathing.

Hallelujah. 

The Enemy In Me

The dictionary defines enemy as “a person who feels hatred for, fosters harmful designs against, or engages in antagonistic activities against another; an adversary or opponent” and enemies as “persons, nations, etc., that are hostile to one another.”

Enemy feels so harsh inside of me, the insistence of one’s existence in relation to me a sucker punch directly to my gut and I resist the very thought of identifying anyone I know as one! But hostile? I can relate to that. Hostile is only “opposed in feeling, action, or character; antagonistic: as in hostile criticism.” Hostile is also defined as “not friendly, warm, or generous; not hospitable.” Hostile is gentler on my stomach than a sucker punch; merely the bloated discomfort from overeating combined with inactivity on Thanksgiving. 

Reflecting on the dictionary’s definition of hostile, my insides start to churn, my tummy hurts, my body constricts like the snake coiling around its own centermost point and I know there at my own centermost point I have found the enemy: residing inside of me.

I understand why it feels so harsh, that sucker punch directly to my gut, because my adversary is me. For a lifetime of choices, decisions, actions taken all in the name of forward movement, achievement, and accomplishment on the outside, my inside opponent was running interference and spreading counterintelligence to the very same body that was being given entirely different direction. I am a walking contradiction, living in opposition to and as myself. 

I didn’t know. I didn’t understand or comprehend how stealthily I was working my own subterfuge whose eventual success was my own demise. It’s two opposing forces simultaneously advancing but their meeting halts them both and no one moves ahead. No one wins. 

That upset inside of my gut was my lighthouse in the approaching storm, warning me of impending danger, even death, if I didn’t alter my course. But the course I had set and was navigating on autopilot seemed immovable and perfect in its path. 

Rumi says “The wound is the place where the light enters you,” or if you prefer Leonard Cohen’s version in his Anthem lyrics, “There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.” Suffice it to say I cracked; I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize myself. I heeded the light warning me to steer clear of the rocks and by way of that redirection I exposed Rumi’s wound. 

I licked my wound for a long time, and by “long time” I mean YEARS. To be fair, I am not a professional and didn’t know the severity and depth of my wound. I was treating myself for a scrape with a bandaid but had a gaping head wound in need of specific and guided attention. 

My recovery has been slow and not always visible. I have suffered numerous setbacks. I have not always seen a way out or a way forward. I have been often at odds with my enemy within, one or the other of us discounting the voice that wasn’t our own. I have learned to speak a new language and now claim fluency, practicing its use every day. I am still healing. I am friends with me.

The Summer of 1997

It was the summer of 1997: cash in-hand was money; the prolific use of debit cards didn’t exist; CDs were being ripped and sold on the black market (I definitely bought from that market); Celine Dion and Whitney Houston were still singing to us;  Bill Clinton was at the start of his second term; Princess Diana would die at the end of this summer; DVDs were brand-new technology; the internet existed, but only just — access to the World Wide Web was limited to your dial-up connection and google had yet to be coined a verb.

In June of this year I moved back to Russia for what would become a summer never to be forgotten. 

My US-based company had a teeny-tiny satellite office located in Moscow, Russia, employing two or three Russians max, plus one American expat and his wife, who were in their mid-20s like me and my husband. We all spoke fluent Russian. I was sent over to train the teeny-tiny office staff on some data entry work our US office wanted to delegate and we allowed three months in Moscow for that very purpose. The American expat would make arrangements for our housing while we were in-country and I just needed to show up, passport and work Visa in-hand, ready to work.

Having lived in Russia previously, although never in Moscow, I arrived with  my rose-tinted glasses of loving everyone firmly perched on my nose and completely oblivious to the harsh fear-based system of what life in Russia actually looks like. 

Newly-arrived in our rented for the summer apartment I was surprised to see the rooms literally bulging with the landlady’s belongings, as if we had a key to someone else’s home but I didn’t want permission to be there. Had they left in a hurry, carelessly cramming their personal effects underneath the mattress believing my lying on top of their pile wouldn’t disclose their secrets in full view? The lingering layer of grease atop every single surface in the flat belie their claims to cleanliness and order. Unpacking meant keeping my suitcases open and accessible because there was no space, nook or cranny available for my belonging or belongings. 

Where to place my computer monitor and the beast of a tower needed to operate it? Plugging in to the local landline in order to connect, patiently, with the office nine hours behind me now required planning and hope that the phone here would be connected, dependent on a real life operator deciding my worthiness of connection. 

And so it happened on a summer’s eve that we went for a walk, exploring our neighborhood, hoping to find a street vendor selling some of our favorite tasty treats and we realized we were walking distance from Gorky Park, known back in the heyday of the Soviet era as an amusement park and gathering place for families. 

Our excitement quickly turned to disappointment and then concern as we found ourselves in a desolate has-been space, not kept up or even safe for after-dark strolling. Deciding quickly we would rather be in the grease-filled apartment figuring out supper than here in the middle of Gorky Park uncertain as to who or what we might encounter, we retraced our steps back to the flat where all of our possessions were locked behind two doors and five keys. 

Placing the first of our five keys in door one, lock one, it was immediately apparent something was wrong. The door was locked, yes, but from the inside. Someone was inside the apartment and we couldn’t get in!

Knocking and banging on the door from the inside out to us we could discern the voice of our landlady and her husband — yelling at us that they would not let us in, they were calling the police, what was ours was now theirs and they knew what we were up to!

What in the actual HELL was happening?! 

Remember, 1997. I’m in the middle of Moscow, Russia, where the KGB and the Mafia are interchanged for one another as seamlessly as tit for tat. This is the land where an American goes missing and no one blinks because they don’t even notice. 

Heart pounding, I plead through the door for her to please open, please talk with me, please explain what happened, why is she upset? What is her concern? Can we discuss this? 

No! The operator at the phone company called her, told her how frequently I’m plugging into “that computer thing” and “I know what you’re doing here! I know what you’re trying to do.” 

Dear god, what is she talking about?! 

“I have already called the police! They are on their way. You will be arrested. I am confiscating your computer.”

No discussion. No earlier call. No indication that this was coming. What is she afraid of? Accusing me of doing? Having me arrested for what?! 

My heart is pounding louder than my thoughts.

Can I just have my stuff? My suitcase? Keep the damn computer; it doesn’t belong to me anyway. I swear I’m only working. I’m only connecting with my office in the US. Are you worried we won’t pay the phone bill? Is that what this is about?! Are the police really necessary? 

Where can I go? 

And then rushing up the stairs are my co-worker American expat and Sergei, the Russian who works with him. They received a tip-off phone call that something was going down at our apartment, that we were being used as pawns in the larger Mafia-played game of business in Moscow. 

Quickly, go down and get in Sergei’s car. Leave the premises. Don’t worry about your things. Remove yourself before the police arrive. The rest will be taken care of. Go. NOW!

And heart-pounding crouched down from the back seat of the dark car I watch the police storm the building, a long pause of time, and then Sergei carrying my suitcases out and quietly placed in the trunk, and with a tap on the roof of the car the driver takes me away, only turning on his headlights when we are three streets gone.

Is Big Brother still watching? He definitely was in 1997.

The Right Man

When the one place I’d been taught my entire life to feel the most secure, safe, and certain suddenly became uninhabitable for me, I wanted an exit plan that would ensure the love of those I was inevitably leaving behind remained intact. It’s taken years to navigate, but based on the security, safety and certainty on which I stand today, I feel nothing but gratitude.

I was raised inside of a strictly dogmatic theology: right and wrong, black and white, good and evil were as clearly defined for me as the ten words on my weekly second grade spelling test. And just like the learning of my weekly vocabulary words required writing sentences for a grade to be sure I understood every word’s derivation, pronunciation and correct usage, so, too, did my parents and Sunday School teachers require a regular repetition of concepts, scripture stories, and commandments. 

I was the poster child for GOOD GIRL. I made every decision only through prayer; I participated in service opportunities at Olympic athlete levels; I turned every frown upside down and changed it to a smile; I quoted scriptures as off-handedly as the ABC song; I was a youth leader, showing my peers through my example exactly how easy it was to live righteously; I taught Sunday School for every single age bracket the packed Sunday service schedule could allow; I served a full-time mission. In Russia. I learned Russian to teach the Russian people in their own language everything I was told I know about God and Jesus Christ and the salvation of your soul. I know all about your soul, where it came from, why it’s here, where it’s heading next, and what you can do about it. I baked my own bread, could sew my daughter dresses, married the “right” man, kept a spotless house, served others without ever once thinking of myself, studied my scriptures, taught the 5 year-olds to be like Jesus, taught the 25 year-olds to believe in things unseen, taught the 55 year-olds to be less judgmental. 

The right man I married stopped attending church. No one at church asked why. They all made righteously safe assumptions about his whereabouts — must be at the hospital, obviously making rounds, so studious that one, God bless him. 

The right man I married yelled at me when I spoke to him without invitation, when I entered his (our) office unannounced — the computer and his access to porn lived there in the dark, when my (our) daughter cried — “Make her stop, goddammit!”, when his laundry wasn’t folded to his liking, when I wasn’t to his liking, when I weighed only 90 pounds and couldn’t feed myself or my baby or him but he wasn’t going to take care of me, do you hear me?

He wasn’t. 

Milestone Moments

I was this week old when I had my first taste of alcohol. Ever. Let me do the math for you. My half birthday was on October 1, making me 47.5 years old. My unlearning, letting go, and reidentification of Self as told me into Self as I create and choose me has now occupied a decade, plus at least four years more. There have been a handful of milestone moments in this my unlearning phase of the life I’m living. 

If I provide you a checklist it might be easier for you to follow along and keep track.

☑ Stop wearing the clothes I’ve been told to wear

☑ Start wearing sleeveless tops, shorts, and skirts above the knee

☑ Stop weekly attendance at Sunday service

☑ Breathe deeply when church members openly judge me and call my attention to my sins

☑ Actively engage in debriefing conversations with my daughter about what she is being told and taught and wonder if the entire world might actually stop spinning if we walk away entirely

☑ Remind myself my daughter’s accusation of me wearing a bikini is a sin is not my daughter’s thought but one planted in her by someone else

☑ Imagine, again, a world in which we live without the weight of what is expected, required and obligatory

☑ Show up to therapy and talk out loud to the sofa across from mine using language I was never taught correlated to marriage, relationship, and love. Words like rape and sexual abuse

☑ See that healing a wound I didn’t know I had will require behaving in a way I didn’t know I was allowed and I will, like Eve, sin in the eyes of others but in my own eyes, heart and soul understand the necessity of knowing I am not broken and be known by a man

☑ Go DEEP with the guilt of my learned bad behavior, spend countless sleepless nights praying and pleading with my God for forgiveness, understanding, and desperation that He not take my daughter from me, that the earth remain intact and not swallow me whole, that my sins not be as visible as Hester’s scarlet letter

☑ Drop therapy for making me feel worse on the other side of a session on the couch than progressing or understanding anything

☑ Know in my heart that constantly revisiting the past is no way to create a future

☑ Go back to school. Sure. Get a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology because that’s the obvious thing to do

☑ Reinvent God and my entire relationship to Him. Wow. He is so much bigger than I ever understood before

☑ Say “FUCK” for first time

☑ Recognize that using the words SHIT, FUCK AND DAMN take practice to incorporate into my vernacular — for others’ comfort and my own

☑ Send my daughter to university in a city too far from my heart

☑ Begin what may be a lifetime of grieving the vacancy left in her absence, a void from 18 years of daily loving no longer with me

☑ Sell my home and downsize into a city that is too small to hold me

☑ Move across the country to check off others’ dream of LA living that was never my dream

☑ Keep dreaming

☑ Survive LA

☑ Complete my graduate studies

☑ Fall in love with being with my Self

☑ Reconnect and reinvent relationship with my brother, be fully and truly seen by him — the first and only member of my family to reach out to me for understanding, for loving and being together by choice

☑ Receive my dad’s cancer diagnosis with a criss-cross applesauce move back across the country, carrying and keeping only that which fits into the Civic. Nothing else matters.

☑ For the first time in my 47 years come home as my Self, wholly, fully, in my loving

☑ Live simply as the presence of Love, loving both my parents exactly where, who and why they are. I am Love. And I am loving every single minute.

☑ Meet Grief again and in an entirely new way on June 29

☑ Take a deep breath and taste a mimosa because the earth won’t swallow me, my mom still loves me, my daughter will always be mine and I will keep creating me. With love. As love. Only always.

Happy Anniversary

I got married 24 years ago today on October 10, 1996. 

Waking up on that Thursday morning for a 10am “I Do” moment could not feel more vastly different from how I felt this October 10, 2020 morning. 

24 years ago I was nervous, second-guessing myself, nauseated, and just this side of a panic attack. I paid NO attention to any of those screaming, waving, jumping out of their seats red flags my body was throwing directly at me. Instead, I dismissed my nervousness as the “cold feet” everyone apparently gets on their wedding day; I ignored entirely my doubts as inconsequential and, while quiet, not a voice that mattered; the nausea was clearly related to my nerves and, therefore, part of my cold feet; and the panic attack that wasn’t — well I wasn’t listening to my own still small voice so why would a flaming panic attack stop me from stepping ahead? 

Self-dismissal on every level: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, was the way I lived my life 24 years ago, bypassing, dismissing and outright ignoring every indicator my body’s life navigational system came equipped with to operate.  

Vehicles (and bodies, I discovered) do not hold up well over time when their messages and indicators for service and attention are ignored by those using them to function. I had already made it abundantly clear to my body that I do not listen, pay attention to, or respect its voice. Every indicator it gave me over the years I ignored. I was definitely not providing regular service, check-ups, check-ins, or care for my Self. 

My body (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual) carried and sustained me for three strenuous years after that 10:00am on the 10th of October “I Do” before no longer giving me the option of a red flag. It was as if my license to drive my Self had been revoked. No questions asked. My physical system just shut itself down in the summer of 1999. While medical doctors determined symptoms, I was something of a conundrum; no one could ever diagnose exactly what would “fix” me on the physical level. 

After two more years of struggle, and for the first time in my life, I was finally hearing the quiet message my body was sharing with me and I understood its meaning. My fix wasn’t going to come through any prescription; if I wanted to heal physically, I would need to heal my relationship with my Self on all levels: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. 

October 2001 — just five years after “I Do,” I said “I Don’t” and embarked on a journey of Self listening, learning, and living. My healing journey has taken me through every level my body has asked me to explore and to align: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Living in integrity with the wholeness of my Self has replaced the unhealthy and unsustainable system of dismissal I used for the first 30+ years of my life. I pay attention to every message my body is no longer screaming at me because I’ve repaired our relationship and slowed down to listen to my Self. 

Today I only ever say “I Do” to that which my whole Self and I agree is in alignment with the truth of who I am.