Inspired by the photo above, I wrote the following piece of narrative fiction.

It’s 1948 and I can barely believe my eyes, let alone my heart, as my driver navigates through a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago I’ve never been through before. This isn’t our usual route to the newspaper but I trust he knows where he’s going and why. I assume there must be some sort of public protest happening and is the likely disruption to our normal routine. The housing situation is, I fear, a much bigger underlying issue, and one that we as a community are uncomfortable, at best, in addressing, let alone acknowledging.  While I’ve never spoken this out loud to my father, I have relished numerous, and rather clandestine, discussions with Albert on race and its probable impact on the lives of so many in the Black Belt. 

My stomach lurches into my throat and I think I might be ill as my eyes are drawn to four small children seated as neatly and cleanly as they can be on a wooden stoop not ten feet from my car’s side door. Planted in the patch of dirt directly in front of their sidewalk is a 3.5’ tall wooden post with a signboard stapled to it and the words “4 CHILDREN FOR SALE/INQUIRE WITHIN” painted in bold black letters. 

Dear God, what is the meaning of this? I simply cannot believe my eyes have given me correct information and I insist we circle the block once again so I can confirm — or better deny — what I believe I have seen. Those four sets of eyes looking back at me looking at them as my shiny black car and clean window easily moved past their planted position of inquiry. 

My heart pounds and my palms perspire in this misleading heat of a late September summer day, knowing the weather will turn on us in a moment and the harsh winds of winter will whip through these dirty narrow streets, knocking down signposts and exposing the poverty that seeps through the very brick and mortar making up the neighborhood. 

My eyes widen and I catch my breath before it escapes my gaping mouth. They didn’t lie to me, my eyes. Here they are again, or still, for I am the one who has come round again, to bear witness to that which is unbearable to imagine: four beautiful babes ranging in age from two to six, the oldest a beautiful shoulder-length brunette girl with her arm around her little sister, a deep golden blonde head of hair spilling across her shoulders, but bangs clearly cut by her own unpracticed hand. She can’t be more than five and she is looking down and over at her just-younger brother, perhaps three, in his dungarees and no shirt; I’m guessing he doesn’t have one or he would be wearing it, his brown hair tousled to the best of a mother’s ability to tame the wild sweetness I see in his left arm wrapped around and pulling close to him their youngest sibling: another boy, whose two-year old heart looks endearingly at his big brother’s face with a trust I have never personally experienced.

I insist on stopping the car and climb myself out of the back seat, my gloved fingers clutching my patent leather purse, hat pin securely in place. I approach the woman in the floral print dress standing above her children, I imagine holding their hearts for as long as she possibly can, and ask if we may speak privately for a moment regarding her sign. I see her scanning me top to bottom, the way her eyebrows lift at the sight of my ensemble, taking in all it might mean and also the dissociation from all of me and what I represent. I am foreign currency on this street. 

She nods her head slightly in agreement and we step inside the walk-up. I am not prepared for the dirt to accompany us in the way that it does, is just present on and over every item in her sparse and tidy apartment. I catch my breath for the third time this morning before it exits my mouth and transmute it into words that tumble out of me faster than my YES I said to the new shoes that are holding me up, supporting what feels insupportable.  

“I will pay you to keep your own children. Please. Name your price.”

And it is done. Her mama heart bursts open and cleanses the dusty air with love overflowing, mingling with my own happy tears, uncertain what this all means and will mean, but knowing my heart has led me here and shown me the most important purchase I didn’t know I needed.

2020: A Personal Review

1. Like Rip Van Winkle I awoke in February-ish after a long (not) sleep — which sleep is 2019 in review, which was the year I released (not by choice) more than half the blood in my body. Doozy of a year that 2019, but I’m here to review 2020. And it was in 2020 (after aforementioned almost died in 2019 when I couldn’t walk from my bed to my sofa down the hall without the wall’s assistance and a four-hour nap on arrival) I laced up my runners again. I exhaustingly ran one mile, took a nap, and two days later ran it again. I must have run that beautiful mile with a nap fifteen times! Then I woke up and ran three miles on a Monday in June. My naps got shorter the farther I ran (but I’m not sure the correlating factor wasn’t the homegrown hugs and fresh garden produce I was consuming on the daily). And suddenly it was September and I was bent over weeping while full-out living at the base of a mountain on which I had just run FIVE miles. In October I decided to run 13.1 miles. I didn’t run them, but I decided to. It was a good year for empowering and powerful decisions. Socks were an unexpected major theme of 2020 and consumed not a little of my online content and crowd-sourcing solutions for my blistered toes. 

2. Another decision — profound and powerful in its creation moment — in March, which I’ve always known comes in like a lion, delivered details to me about my parents’ (then) current situation, which details (dad’s cancer diagnosis was our Christmas gift in that 2019 year I’m still not reviewing and his journey with it was already very much underway, mom full-time giving and giving and giving and getting I could see not enough in return) initiated a divine download and I decided (or was it already decided as things divine often are?) I was moving back home, back east, back in with my parents, back into the home and the hearts (my own at the fore) that have received, held, and helped to heal me more times than one Arminda in one lifetime might reasonably expect. And as my Self, for the first time in all those times, I came home, covering 2,458 miles to get here, wearing no socks at all.

3. Weeding, seeding, growing, (re)planting, watering, weeding (always with the weeding), cultivating, mulching, harvesting, cutting back, then the dying. This, the life cycle of our garden, the garden about which I cannot write right now without weeping, could be the simple summary of my 2020. For my dad, the master gardener, I donned gloves fitted for my small hands, and went to work. I cleared brush, I pulled weeds, I laid a brick pathway, I moved dirt, I dug holes, I watered the entire greenhouse, I hedged potato mounds, I created new beds for planting, I built a retention wall, I hauled yard waste, I organized by color, size, and shape, I took instruction, I wore out my first pair of gloves, I spread mulch, I measured rows, I planted sweet peas, beans, chard, tomatoes, peppers, squash green and yellow, cucumbers, flowers, flowers, flowers, flowers, and five more pepper plants we definitely did not need but he needed them planted. I placed the first green bean in his unresponsive fingers, on the underside of the surgical tape securing a needle whose purpose was to deliver nutrients that bean (could but) would never give to him but so desperately wanted. I took a picture of that bean in my dad’s hand. I still have that picture. 

4. Being alive and sad and happy and running farther than I have ever run, while wearing socks when I decided to wear socks. I got all the way up to ten miles in one consecutive run. I did those ten in December 2020. I’ve never felt so alive and fully wholly conscious of my aliveness, of what my body did in its own behalf — how it regrew itself from the inside out — just so it could support my decision to be alive and sad and happy and running as far as I want — all at the same time. Good times, 2020. Good times. 

Transcendent Love

The music begins to play softly in the background, like the perfectly-picked soundtrack to my beautiful life. I close my eyes and drop. . . down . . . into my heart, my holding space for all things and for nothing, where I see everything because I have closed my eyes to the nothingness. It all drops away, the thoughts I am so attached to keeping and believing. In their place I substitute nothing but my breath. I am with the I am. Nothing more. And it is the everything.

My attention is brought back into the now with the crinkling of paper, the forced skidding of my laptop being pushed aside, the weight of an object’s placement on the desk next to me. Opening my eyes I see my beautiful mother “quietly” placing a bag of Bojangles’ seasoned fries onto my desk along with a large cup of their sweet tea, Love’s offering on full display. I smile at her and choke back the immediate tears that surface with my thanks. She smiles back and gently closes my office door behind her as she leaves me to my meditation and my sweet tea. 

At this season of our lives, my mother and I are like Rumi and God: “like two giant fat people in a tiny boat. We keep bumping into each other and laughing.” Roomies as we two are, bumping, seeing, and loving each other couldn’t be easier or more joyful. 

I had an understanding, a knowing, with my Self fourteen months ago when I drove across the country from LA to North Carolina to move back in with my parents: that for the first time in my life I was coming home as my Self. Returning here to the very home that saw me through the (self-created) trauma of moving to a brand new state as a fourteen-year-old, and the blame I attached to my parents for my upheaval and upset, and also to the home and the arms of my parents that held me and my three-year-old daughter at our exodus’ end in leaving the abusive marriage my Self barely survived. Fourteen months ago I came home again with my arms and heart wide open wanting and needing nothing more than to hold and Love my parents through my dad’s cancer journey, none of us knowing where his journey would lead us, but knowing we would arrive together, our wide-open Self-recognizable hearts intact. 

I hold precious and close to me these fourteen months now of my mother’s Love: my Love for and with her, as well as her Love for and with me. We two: hearts full of the nothingness and the everything of nothing but Love. 

My mother doesn’t drink sweet tea. She doesn’t believe anyone should drink sweet tea. It is, for her, an insult to God to partake of this substance that is hurting or harming these our physical temples housing our hearts. 

What my Self no longer believes bumps into my mother’s Love bumping back into me with random gifts delivered silently to the soundtrack of my beautiful life: a paper bag filled with my favorite seasoned fries crinkling and the thumping down on my desk of a vat of sweet tea (my own reusable straw inserted in its lid) while my eyes are closed and I meditate in the corner, opening them to see the vision of my mother’s Love hovering. 

My heart captures and honors this vision of Love transcending the beliefs we have been so attached to keeping. I smile and giggle as I tuck it away into my heart’s cavernous nothingness, holding it for the always, the everything, the I am. We two, my mother and I, are here in this space, this Love, these our hearts, sweet tea and tenderness very much intact. I’ll definitely take fries with that. 

Grief at the Opera

Meditation is for me like going to the opera: I am there to be quiet, to listen to what is being said without trying to understand any of the words, because I don’t actually speak the language in which they’re singing, and the words I don’t comprehend and their accompanying music simply penetrate my heart, which heart completely understands all that is meant for it to receive!

Grief joined me in my meditation this morning. She’s never participated with me in that space before so I was surprised when she showed up in such a loud, elbowed her Self onto my lap way, which immediately had me thinking I might need to shush her before she disturbed anyone else who might be occupying the same space as now we two. 

But I didn’t shush her. I let her be. And she was loud. She was crying, quite suddenly, without seeming provocation or insult. And not knowing anything but my heart’s impulse, I held and rocked her in our shared seat now obviously and perfectly designed for two.  

Our rocking subsided with the chiming of Tibetan bells sounding the completion of this morning’s allotment for meditation. I raised my arms in my daily salutation to the Sun, just one offering today and not my usual three, finding my hands instead gently holding my heart, feeling therein both the Lift of Light and Grief’s weighty presence. 

She has not wandered from her self-claimed spot in my lap and when I open my mouth to speak it is her voice that reaches the surface first, mingling breath with air, formulating words, instructing me (and anyone else who will listen) that she is here right now and not without purpose. 

“Love is,” I heard said yesterday, “an uncontaminated mind.” Grief tells me she is uncontaminated; she is Love. She is not sadness, although often mistaken and misidentified as such. 

We walk together, Grief and I, constant companions, these five years and adding now, in the relationship I created and continue to grow with my daughter. When she (my daughter) moved too far from my heart’s center and contentment — but completely anticipated, known, and necessary that she would — my heart permanently bifurcated. This, my heart, now holds (as if it can be contained) an unlimited supply of equal parts Love and Longing for this Precious Soul of my own making, whose embodiment is my actual heart walking around planet surface on her own plane, having no connection to me other than the literal heart-to-heart connection we share because my body made and delivered her body into this world. My cervix holds with tenderness the scar her own heart’s footprints left behind in her passing through me: a permanent tattoo honoring and marking the Grief, the Love; they are the same. 

The uncontaminated space the opera of my meditation opens and invites is this Understanding: Gratitude and Grief, Love and Longing. I used to think I/She/Grief was sad. And now I don’t. I am, as Ram Dass says, just “infinite unbearable compassion.” Grief agrees with me as she wraps her arms around me, rocking me gently, as her tears gently caress my face with their tenderness. 

Three Pine Trees

Find the gap. There it is. Heart open. Flooding my Self with Me. It’s only ever been me. I am what is. Flood with Love. I am Love. It’s only ever been me.

My thoughts drop away like sap in the old pine tree. 

There were three pine trees planted in a row along the backyard perimeter between our property and the neighbors who lived behind us, whose property sidled up next to ours. On the other side of those pines looking over into their back lawn was a very large animal pen. It was long after I was repeatedly assured, and long after we had moved away from that house when I was 15, that I looked back to understand and finally accept that the animal who lived back there in that very large cage, and who was often running around free in the yard, was not a pony but was, in fact, a larger than life Great Dane dog. As a little girl I was never too big for my daddy to carry me around and lift me up and into wherever I needed to go. So through my Lilliputian life perspective, that animal next door was definitely a horse, and since horses were not to be approached without adult supervision, I was always on-alert while playing in our vast backyard arena. 

Behold the three pine trees. It was obvious to me and my brother Nathan that no horse could possibly get to us if we were anywhere inside the protection of the pine trees’ branches. We could barely get to ourselves inside those branches’ hold! The carpet of needles blanketing the ground beneath the behemoth body of three was a century-thick of plushness. Being the thinker ahead of such awful potential tragedies as I was, I surmised a safe landing would be ours if either of us should calamitously fall from our perches high in the trees’ embrace, assuming we could somehow first gracefully fall down through the jigsawed branches we had so carefully climbed up. Our perched positions lacked nothing our imaginations could not create in real-time. Watching the whereabouts of the not-a-pony on the prowl was evident from the sticky tracks our fingers’ binoculars imprinted around the perimeters of our eyes. Shouting “Land-ho!” from the crow’s nest of the pines signaled the re-caging of the not-a-horse next door and our day’s journey’s end as we retraced our sappy steps down the mast and trudged back home for supper.  

Always shockingly to me, the one person who consistently lacked all appreciation for our careful planning, considerations, executions, and possible consequences of aforementioned actions was our mother. Every single time (and these times were many) we navigated our way up and down the pine trees’ branches and adventured our way back home at the end of a long day escaping the never-imminent threat of a horse that wasn’t a horse, she (our mother) was displeased. “SAP!” was her complaint that landed on deaf ears as we dove deep into our pockets full of pine needles, pulling out our spoils of battle we carried home, hearts open, flooded with the love of Self, the stickiness on the ends of those needles reminding me that I am stuck to the creation of another adventure tomorrow. I created the adventure of life I truly lived today. My pine-scented pillowcase, the welcome recipient of my hair’s lingering memories, cradles my head in its plushness, as my thoughts drop away like sap in the old pine trees. 

Dirty Fingernails

The tips of at least eight of my ten fingers hurt. I have dirt wedged underneath all ten fingernails, as if I’m giving a (dirty) finger to manicures and personal hygiene and memories of manicures in a long-ago lifetime pre-2020, that was only like last week in real time. My forearms look as though a cat with all its claws and I were in a tussle and the cat won. I keep sneezing. Flying bits of this pervasive creeping weed keep launching themselves into the corners of my eye, assuming my ductwork will activate its system to work them out. My knees are dependent on the memory foam cushion double-wrapped in a trash bag plus pillowcase to protect their tenderness. My inaugural bath of the gardening season was a necessity for dirt’s removal and my body’s functionality, rather than a luxury soak, although one day I’ll luxuriate instead of nap in those not quite deep enough tepid waters of my tub. You know what? It’s actually all ten; they all hurt. 

One year ago I was digging holes exactly 24 inches apart; we used a yardstick for consistency and the gardener’s need for exactness. Planting the bell pepper plants he grew from seed was the highlight of those early April days; what he’d so meticulously and lovingly nurtured in the greenhouse was ready for earth’s reception. The sugar snap peas had been in-ground for some weeks already and by now last April their delicate green leaves, barely an inch tall, carpeted a soft path underneath the chicken wire fencing, where they had been planted with purpose and given the chance to reach up and grab hold, growing as tall as they like, and by mid-May they were just showing off, no longer timid or shy at their own green goodness.

Hundreds of yards of weeds were pulled up and rolled up like an outdated shag rug no longer in vogue. 55-gallon trash cans were filled over and over and over again, whose count I have long since lost track (because I never did count or keep track) and were weekly placed in a neat row curbside, providing for the landfill a seemingly never-ending supply of that which the earth grew, but no longer served or was needed here in our bit of earth for which we are the caretakers. Thank you city heavy lifters for carrying that which I could not.

My dad, the master gardener and the orchestrator of greenhouse growing, of manicured beds and of thousands of blossoms, had the vision and the plan for beauty and bounty’s execution. I was simply his hands, his knees, his hurting fingertips, his laborer of Love. 

On the hot and heavy morning of July 4, 2020, I dug up and filled a five-gallon bucket with my dad’s rich compost pile, the backyard mound stretching the length between the manicured lawn and the wild area he’d allowed to overgrow for as many years as he’d been creating and contributing leftover potatoes, banana peels, egg shells, and any and all kitchen scraps our family could not use, plus yard clippings and piles of fresh-cut grass from every mowing. All my dad always said he wanted was to be buried in his compost pile, to be part of the earth he loved and lived in, the ground he spun into a precious gold soil, made noticeably better by the burgeoning number of earthworms moving through its warm and pulsating pathways. As my last tribute on that July 4 morning, I stood at the earth’s edge and dumped that bucket full of his hand-grown earth right on top of him, covering the length of the box inside the ground now the holding place for him. 

My birthday on the first of April announced spring’s arrival with all its carpets of weeds, allergens, blooming bushes of Forsythia, Camellia, and Azalea. Surprisingly, it also exposed a growth inside of me — a deep-rooted longing I can only suppose was planted (unbeknownst to me) by my dad — a longing to have the tips of all ten of my fingers sore again from digging, to have dirt wedged underneath my fingernails, to have my knees shrouded from direct contact with the ground, and to be surrounded and filled with the vision, the plan, and the knowing of my master gardener father. 

I am now leading my own orchestration of the garden given into my care as one of his final deeds in the dirt. Manicured beds are filling with (at least) hundreds of blossoms, beauty and bounty’s execution this time being enacted and implemented on my own, with my own hands, my own knees, my own hurting fingertips: my labor of Love guided by whispers from above and the dirt below. 

The Void

Thursday is my birthday. In the days leading up to the anniversary of my arrival on planet surface I am reflecting on what is mine, on what I have gained, on that which I have inherited, so much of which goes unchecked, as it were, living in the very breaths I breathe, the lens through which I experience and take in the world around me. This, then, is my annual Self review, an accounting and an acknowledging of the various lines of energy I hold inside of me and all that I have consciously chosen to keep because it is in service to me.

Family. I am part of a large one, very large. I am situated smack in the middle, fourth of eight, 2nd of three girls, that leaves five boys before and after me, plus two parents, whose lifelong love story continues to inspire, surround, and connect us all. 

“Slooooow down,” came the booming directive as if from the Void. Not that I ever go to the Void, none of us do as it’s expressly forbidden to cross over that barrier, even in jest or curiosity. Not that I am so curious, mind you, because I assure you, I am not. I am — oh please allow me to introduce myself — a rule keeper to a fault. Sometimes I like to describe myself as the poster child for obedient. Who would I be without the rules that define and guide me? Goodness, that’s a terrifying thought, isn’t it? Oh my! I just glimpsed the Void asking myself that very question about who I might be without the rules and there I was — untethered with nothing to hold onto and nothing holding me. 

Deep breaths, bring it all back to right here, to the center, to the place that grounds me. This beautiful bubble of black and white, right and wrong, good and bad. I know my way in and around this bubble, which is exactly why I’m the emissary here greeting and meeting with you today! What a pleasure and a joy for me to share with you everything you certainly did not ask to be told! Here’s what we are definitely going to stay away from — the edge of the Void — because I do not want to be responsible for you overstepping or tripping or on purpose walking into a space I do not know how to navigate. Trust me, the Void is not catalogued in my PPS (Personal Positioning System) and, therefore, a dark and scary place. 

Okay! No dark and scary here on my watch! I am your consummate guide to right here, to right now, to all the things I’ve been told I know to be true. I am also happy to tell you that as a bonus — because I feel inspired and directed to say so — I will also happily tell you what you should not do or think about doing or support anyone else in their doing of it because, well, that would definitely fall solidly under the category of what I have been told I know to be wrong. 

Please keep your hands and arms inside the bubble at all times. I will answer all your questions at the end of our tour. And, of course, all of my answers will be absolute and certain, because I am well-trained and know all the answers from a lifetime of learning the answers to give. Certainty is so reassuring, isn’t it? Alright, then, let’s all take a big step together away from the Void. Annnd another step. There we go and here we go, off to explore the where we are. 

Two More Hours

Approaching the valet parking attendant’s station Mom stopped the car just shy of the podium, clearly communicating she didn’t require their services while allowing me as close a drop-off to the door as she could navigate. “Find out where I’m supposed to park? I’ll wait here until you do,” she reminded me as I gingerly stepped out of the warm car into the too-early January morning. 

Limping my way through the doorway that read HEART AND VASCULAR CENTER I heard the eerily-loud swoosh of the large double doors’ opening and closing behind and before me in response to the arrhythmic motion of my own body lingering for that moment in their in-between. Left to occupy and to traverse the whole of the corridor between the double double doors behind me and the too-tall circular Welcome Desk — that felt well, less than welcome — here in this January morning, my mind willed my body forward quicker than my still-healing Achilles’ tendon wanted on its own. 

Diane, whose name tag was more visible than the visibility she clearly lacked buried there in the middle of her donut-shaped Desk, openly studied her open bible while expertly handing me my temporary admission tag. She was waiting and ready for me. Would her Jesus help me help my mom, I mused, and out loud asked, “Is it okay for my mom to come inside, to be here with me?” While not saying out loud: She has been sat in her car for all of the (too many) times she drove and dropped him, her husband (my father), at different double double doors that swoosh, through which his was the only admission permissible. 

“Oh sure, Honey. Just tell her to park in the garage below; the entry code is 5576. Then she just needs to ride the elevator to 2 and it’ll put her out right over yonder.” 

“5576” I repeat to Diane and to myself, preparing to repeat it to my mother, as I pivot on “thank you,” and limp back down the still-empty corridor, this time emotionally prepared for the momentary hold of the in-between and blast of the swoosh back into January. Her 2005 burgundy Crown Vic idles patiently; she ever-patient inside. I hurry toward her now-open window via my Achilles’ current (temporary) interpretation of mobility and spill the Good News two steps too soon, too caught up in the miracle of Diane’s Jesus to notice that January snatches sounds it mistakes for warmth, rushing them sideways into its own holding and release patterns not meant for man. My feet catch up with my mouth-to-window ratio and I repeat, “5576! You can park and come in and be with me! Diane from the donut, or maybe her Jesus, said YES! Take the elevator to 2 and I’ll see you inside!” and I pivot again, to traverse my now well-worn path through the double double doors.

We sit together, side-by-side. On the wall opposite is mounted a television whose channel is set to a children’s baking competition, but whose soundtrack is being supplied by the television situated directly above our heads; audibly we know the program is a home renovation and reveal show; we smile at the disparity playing out in front of us in surround sound. Mom shows me the green plastic wristband strapped around her forearm and I tap the sticker on my chest, indicating my admission tag is different because today I am different; I am the one going through the next set of doors alone and without her. The last time we two entered through double double doors together we received matching green plastic wristbands; mine still lives in the bathroom drawer where I slipped it off for the final time June 29, no longer needing to pass through any doors because his admission was a one-way pass. 

My visit is short, long enough for her to read one chapter, maybe two, and we walk out together leaving behind us the two televisions to face off to each other with their combined conflicting comedies. Hospital corridors and doors close behind us with a click, a swoosh and a seal, completing the transaction of our visit with a visceral finality I feel across the entirety of my back, like January’s sideways snatches not meant for man or for me. 

The valet parking attendant, whose services Mom ended up using, brings the car around to just shy of the podium, as close to the double double doors as he can navigate, and trades spaces with my mother still wearing her green plastic wristband. I limp and hop into my seat beside her, lean out into January, pull closed the heavy door, and turn and reach above my right shoulder to drag down the seatbelt strap, and click it into place, securing myself for our side-by-side ride back home.

Adding to the slowly-warming hiss of the car’s heater Mom softly says, her voice gradually rising in pitch, indignation, and notes of despair, “The morning we dropped him off for his surgery they made him come at 6:00 and then made him sit in that lobby — completely alone — for TWO hours! Why couldn’t they let me sit with him?! I could have been with him and held his hand for two more hours. None of this makes any sense to me.” 

“I know, Mom. I know. I am so sorry you couldn’t have those two hours together, side-by-side, on the other side of the other double double doors.” I don’t think even Diane’s Jesus could have helped us back in June the way January blew you through today. Sometimes global pandemics shut doors we would otherwise have walked right through and their gradual and inconsistent reopening makes no sense. 

But since we two are here right now, side-by-side, how would you like to use your two hours?

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.

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.