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. 

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. 

Let Go

The pain screams louder than my tight-faced silence. I can’t catch my breath. Forget sneezing; I cry just at the thought. I find relief only in a hot bath; the water holds my body afloat and without any pressure from any direction my body is free, floating and pain-free. I love my time in the tub: napping, dreaming, singing, smiling, pondering. 

Ready to remove myself from bliss (the water temperature had become tepid so obviously time to move out and on to warmth somewhere else), I pushed gently with my outstretched toes against the end of the tub to propel my entire body into an upright position. Well-before I could be upright I first had to come back into bodily contact with the tub wall. The pressure/weight generated by my tiny toes was enough to create full back contact instantly. And in that instant my back screamed from the agonizing pain and I cried out in response: I am so sorry you’re hurting! What do you need from me? What do you need me to know? How can I help you? Talk to me, please.

And Pain whimpered, “Just let go.” 

Anxious to appease I begged for more information, Let go of what? I’ll do it; I’ll let go of whatever you want, just tell me what it is. 

No verbal response, only short measured breaths because breathing is hard when it’s so painful to do. Lingering not much longer I eased my way up and out of the water, still questioning what was mine to release, to let go. Going back through my chain of events, seeking direction, inspiration, a clue. Where and why had this pain begun at all? I had been quick to blame, I realized, quick to judge a building of a retaining wall on this back of mine. But in review I could easily see there had been no “incident,” no cause; just a moment of bending over to lift cut azalea branches from the ground — a moment among many of proving I can do all of this by myself, of showing I am doing all the things, all the time, all alone. 

But for what? For why? For how long? So many years of being in my masculine, of being the one and only one to consistently show up on my own behalf, to be in charge, responsible, providing, nurturing, loving, feeding, clothing, driving, talking, counseling, cleaning, cooking, disciplining, working, ordering, organizing, managing, responding, learning, teaching, volunteering, serving, traveling, entertaining, supporting. All while emphatically stating, nay declaring, “I don’t need a man. I don’t ever want to need a man again. I just want to want one. I only want to need to share my life with a man because I am whole and complete all by myself.” And I meant what I said because what I said made sense to me. It calmed and appeased that afraid place inside me that was so hurt and repulsed by my having needed and been hurt, abused, scorned and made to feel wrong for it. Those are deep places in my body that remember. 

Oh my I remember now in this moment as I write. I remember that other moment of needing my husband to see me, to hear me, to care for me because I couldn’t take care of myself and he said NO and I stepped outside to breathe the sunshine’s inspiration and that breath triggered a sneeze and that sneeze was larger than my sadness and at the top of the sneeze my heart popped and that’s where this pain lives — right there in the ribs Adam donated to my Eve. Those ribs we were meant to have as equals, as partners, as much as a needing can be had; it’s written right there in my ribs surrounding and holding my heart. Is this the “Just Let Go” my pain keeps telling me? 

In that bending over for the azalea branches the popping reminder of who I am and have always been? I am the Feminine: receptive, loving, graceful, beauty, divine and don’t need to do all the doing because sharing ribs, sharing spaces that hold our hearts is necessary and sharing me is needing you? My wanting to share myself with you is my needing you. I can’t do and carry and lift and manage and plan and execute and organize and drive and dictate and expect and operate and haul. Those aren’t mine to do. They’re mine to receive. You are mine to receive. You are mine to want and to need. I want to need you. 

I need you and I love how that feels to see and to say that with my outside voice repeating what my heart from inside my Adam’s ribs whispers to me, “Just let go, Arminda. Don’t hold onto what’s not yours.” My pain, my ribs, my heart holder beats, “Let go and receive, Let go of the wall, the water will hold you; it’s what water is meant to do: surround and hold you afloat.”

Yes, I’m saying YES to that. 

Love Out Loud

Growing up in such a large family meant many things were certain:

1. There was never not noise and commotion

2. If you wanted seconds you had to hurry through your first serving

3. Everyone shared a bedroom with at least one other person

4. Gardening was how we fed ourselves and participation was not optional

5. We all sat down together for supper every night

6. Monday nights were reserved as family nights, no exceptions

7. “Emergencies” like bleeding, broken bones or illness earned you focused, and often immediate, attention from 1-2 stretched-way-too-thin parents

8. Bedtime was a three-ring circus operating precariously under the supervision of an always-distracted ringmaster

9. Anytime the arguing got loud enough to draw the attention of a neutral party, said neutral party would start singing my parents’ favorite hymn for just such an occasion: “There is beauty all around, when there’s love at home. There is joy in every sound, when there’s love at home” and their singing would be met with shouts of “SHUT UP!” from the arguing parties now being reminded that Love is not supposed to be so loud. But who wants to think about love when such injustices are being committed against you right here in the family room?!

Loud. Love actually is loud sometimes. At least that’s my experience in my family of ten: how could it ever be anything different than it was? Than it still is even today with all eight of us siblings grown with families of our own? We love out loud. It’s what we know to do because our parents loved us out loud through every “Make your bed” reminder; “It’s your turn to help with the dishes” warning; Saturday morning listening to Daddy singing “Old Man River” with his left arm draped on the open windowsill of his 1976 red Ford pickup truck while I sit quietly buckled into the middle seat feeling his bigger-than-life right arm bump against me every time he shifts gears; the steam escaping Mama’s old iron waiting alongside the hum of her Singer sewing machine stitching my dreams-come-to-life dresses; after-dark-only games of Ghost in the Graveyard with Daddy as both ghost and protector when his surprising roars scared me to tears; the turning of oft-turned front wheels against the gravel drive coming or going with yet another precious cargo driven by an exhausted chauffeur mother.

Love is loud.

I wouldn’t hear it any other way.

The Science of Hiking

I used to want not wanting. I say I consciously chose that path, but it was more my path by default. 

The Default Experience explained in Scientific Methodology:

The What

The Who

The When

The Where, and

The Why

WHAT: raped for first time

WHO: my husband

WHEN: my wedding day

WHERE: queen-sized bed, standard white sheets, dark drapes drawn, DO NOT DISTURB sign dangling

WHY: he never told me why

5.5 years of being his rape and pillage pet project on daily repeat because you know the song eventually gets old after playing it 3-5 times a day. At least I got tired, or woke up to being played so often. I stormed out of his record store. And by “stormed out,” I mean packed the one thing of greatest value we didn’t share anyway and with her tiny 3 1/2 year-old hand in mine we flew over the Rockies, the sunflower fields, the Kansas that never ends, Huck and Jim’s mighty Mississippi, and the ancient Appalachians and landed home again.

Of course I chose not wanting to be touched, not wanting to be seen, not wanting to be objectified, not wanting to be wanted in any way by any him. Not anytime. Probably not ever. 

But not ever didn’t last forever. I hiked my own Appalachian Trail with every therapist visit, with every non-existent child support check I wasn’t cashing, with every plea on behalf of her tiny hand for involvement, engagement, or interest, with every late night luxury cry session only when I knew those tiny hands were asleep. 

I may only have been at trail marker 749 when I said yes to a dinner. Marker 853 brought yes to a boyfriend, a relationship, co-hiking for maybe a few months on the trail. As the miles passed I replaced socks and boots, tended blisters and sores that couldn’t be avoided, hiking buddies who stayed a short while and others for longer, but none who wanted to complete the journey with me. And none with whom I wanted to see the view from the top or with whom I want to share stories and laughs on the return climb.

I keep looking, wondering where he might be — that elusive partner with boots already laced, already on the trail, no preamble needed, just fall in-step next to me because next to me is where he chooses to be and on top of me is where I choose to share me. No scientific experimentation required for later unpacking. Please — just carry out what you carry in, with only the added heart growth guaranteed from healthy exertion. 

Scientific Method

I used to want not wanting.

I say I consciously chose that path, but it was more my path by default. 

The Default Experience explained in Scientific Methodology:

The What

The Who

The When

The Where, and

The Why

WHAT: raped for first time

WHO: my husband

WHEN: my wedding day

WHERE: queen-sized bed, standard white sheets, dark drapes drawn, DO NOT DISTURB sign dangling

WHY: he never told me why

5.5 years of being his rape and pillage pet project on daily repeat because you know the song eventually gets old after playing it 3-5 times a day. At least I got tired, or woke up to being played so often. I stormed out of his record store. And by “stormed out,” I mean packed the one thing of greatest value we didn’t share anyway and with her tiny 3 1/2 year-old hand in mine we flew over the Rockies, the sunflower fields, the Kansas that never ends, Huck and Jim’s mighty Mississippi, and the ancient Appalachians and landed home again.

Of course I chose not wanting to be touched, not wanting to be seen, not wanting to be objectified, not wanting to be wanted in any way by any him. Not anytime. Probably not ever. 

But not ever didn’t last forever. I hiked my own Appalachian Trail with every therapist visit, with every non-existent child support check I wasn’t receiving to cash, with every plea on behalf of her tiny hand for involvement, engagement, or interest, with every late night luxury cry session only when I knew those tiny hands were asleep. 

I may only have been at trail marker 749 when I said yes to a dinner. Marker 853 brought yes to a boyfriend, a relationship, co-hiking for maybe a few months on the trail. As the miles passed I replaced socks and boots, tended blisters and sores that couldn’t be avoided, hiking buddies who stayed a short while and others for longer, but none who wanted to complete the journey with me. And none with whom I wanted to see the view from the top or with whom I want to share stories and laughs on the return climb.

I keep looking, wondering where he might be — that elusive partner with boots already laced, already on the trail, no preamble needed, just fall in-step next to me because next to me is where he chooses to be and on top of me is where I choose to share me. No scientific experimentation required for later unpacking. Please — just carry out what you carry in, with only the added heart growth guaranteed from healthy exertion. 

The Gardener

The potatoes need to be dug up. The long-dead green bean vines need to be pulled out and composted. The cucumbers haven’t been harvested in at least two weeks; their ability to materialize and then immediately engorge themselves on the vine is nothing short of magical. Sadly, the cukes we have eaten, no matter how small I pick them, are bitter and no amount of salt has been their salvation. And the tomatoes — we planted 14 of them, maybe six varieties, but 14 different plants. They’re prolific, to say the least. The squirrels and birds are getting well-fed on the abundant crop. I can’t eat them all. We talked about salsa, tomato soup or even spaghetti sauce, but haven’t picked more than three tomatoes since that wishful conversation three weeks ago. 

The ground is every bit as red as the heavy-laden plants, littered after the crowd dispersed and left their fruit behind to decay without attention because the gardener is gone. He’s not coming back to clean up the messiness of what he so meticulously planned and we then planted. His spreadsheets, order forms, lists, and labeled popsicle sticks now lie in piles I can’t find or make order out of the weeds in their wake.

The zinnias clambering all summer long for the front seat screaming, “SHOTGUN!” are now elbowing each other in the face and tumbling toward the ground, unable to stop the stampede they started and my attempts to fence them in again look paltry in comparison to the original vision of ordered tall down the middle, medium next, then shortest on the outside, cascading heights along both lengths of the flowerbed. Is this overgrowth and death and abundance just because it’s late August or is it because the master planner, the gardener, is gone? I know he’s not coming back. 

I love being in the garden, although double-edged for me. I feel closest to him there, weeding, transplanting, harvesting. And saddest for the same reasons.

I dug up all the potatoes. I started with the pitchfork but couldn’t dig without stabbing one spud on every plunge. The potatoes were too close to the surface; they were planted just before I got here. Helpers from elsewhere came to assist; to be directed and taught by the gardener: how to turn your soil, how to lay the yardstick to measure your stakes’ distance from each other, how to slip the string over the end of the opposite stake making the line taut, how to hoe down the row as you go and exactly what amount of space to leave between each hill, and how to bury them so completely to ensure their growth into brand new potatoes. 

Their greens were beautiful; the prettiest the gardener had ever seen. When he went away I kept watch, kept watering, kept talking to the buried spuds. There were potatoes popping above-ground! It was too soon. They were green like their tops — I had to bury them again, had to coax them back down, give them more time, do the work that the gardener trusted others to do but they weren’t deep enough. I could see evidence. Bucket after bucket after bucket of mulch I shoveled, hauled, dumped and spread. I laid a fresh and false blanket on top of the bed, urging the potatoes in whispered tones: Keep growing; it’s not time yet.

I laid aside the pitchfork and dropped down to my knees. I dug with my hands, cradling each potato to wipe it of the earth dirt clinging to its sides before tossing them into the now mulch-free buckets that buried them back down two months ago.

They aren’t all strong and mighty like a Russet is “supposed” to be, but the gardener worked through me to grow something in the end, something that we did together. And after the harvest buckets were hauled inside, I cried my own buckets of tears, weeping for the gardener whose harvest survives him but lies buried on the surface of the ground, visible beauty decaying, seeding, burying itself until it flowers again in its season.

The Best We Can

My dad died. But that didn’t happen in a day. There was all the stuff leading up to my dad dying: the scheduled surgery, the excessively long recovery in the hospital, the restrictions in place because of Covid preventing us from even entering the hospital to be with him during said recuperation. And then the three phone calls: 

1. Your dad’s leak hasn’t repaired itself yet but I’m sending him home in three days’ time because he will heal better at home than here alone. It’s going to be a long slow process. I’ll talk with you soon; I’m off to the OR for the rest of the day.

2. Your dad is being moved back to ICU and probably being intubated. Oh and his heart stopped for eight minutes talk to you later, maybe? bye.

3. You need to come to the hospital right away; your dad’s heart stopped for another four minutes, hurry, don’t stop, come NOW.

Hurried phone calls, quick text messages, even faster than a heart beat prayers ascending, so many questions, too many thoughts, overcrowding emotions, hurrying up to slow down a goodbye.

He 

She 

We 

Are all really doing the best we can.

He — my dad — is doing the best he can to breathe, to heal, to beat in time with his desire to stay.

She — my mother — is doing the best she can to breathe, to hurt, to heal in time with her desire for him to be here with her.

We — my Self and siblings — are doing the best we can to breathe, to hold, to choose our parting words before the parting is gone, leaving a trail of should haves in its wake.

He — my dad — couldn’t sustain his own living will. 

She — my mother — couldn’t hold on to a heart whose beating isn’t her own.

We — my Self and siblings — couldn’t have imagined the single-file opening of parting through which we have now walked, exit option non-existent.

The best we can is shattering, heartfelt and unavoidable. 

“Any feeling fully felt leads to love,” says Gay Hendricks. 

“Just lead with love and there’s no need to feel your way back to it,” says I, my Self, my heart bursting open wide from its freshly-tender new room with a view, no door back to where it lived before, there is only an opening to a deeper place, it’s ahead of me and not behind. And 

He

She

We

Are all really doing the best we can right there.

Growing Pains

My dad died in the middle of the night Monday morning. 

As a little girl I often woke in the middle of the night my legs hurting so much I would cry out in pain and into my room would come my daddy, with his soothing voice to calm me and take me in his arms to assure me everything was alright, that my legs were simply growing and that sometimes growing hurts. I can still feel the two extremities of those middle of the night moments: the exhaustion of my small body lying rigid and racked with pain, hot wet tears forcing their way through my closed lids, dropping off the short cliff at the corners of my eyes, cascading into cold pools inside my ear cavities coupled with my father calmly and gently massaging the calves of my little legs with rubbing alcohol, all the while reminding me that everything was alright, that sometimes growing bigger can hurt, but the hurt wouldn’t last, and that my legs would be stronger in the morning. 

At the time my daughter started experiencing growing pains of her own, she and I were living with my parents. When she cried out in the night it was my father who would go into her room, rubbing alcohol in-hand, with his familiar and soothing assurances of how okay everything was. Even after she and I moved into our own home, whenever those middle of the night pains showed up, my very little growing girl would phone her grandfather, waking him from his sleep, and he would get dressed, drive to our house with rubbing alcohol in-hand and calmly put her back to sleep with his soothing reminders of how much stronger she would be in the morning.

I will always remember sitting next to and holding my dad’s hand throughout the entirety of the middle of the night Saturday, hot wet tears silently leaking their way down my face, acutely feeling and aware of the two extremities of daddy’s moment: the physical exhaustion of his strong and courageous body racked with pain, tender tears of love in his eyes looking at me with lingering thoughts of what might be left to do, to say, to feel, to see, coupled with calm and gentle assurances from my heart to his that everything was alright, that letting go was okay, that his hurting won’t last, and that our love will be here in the morning, stronger than ever. 

Hurry!

It’s already raining. A lot. No breaks in the drops. Too late to build my boat, I suppose. But if I could rewrite the rain I would.

Would I?

What if I catch the gutter rush as it surges past that point just above my ankles but below my shins. What’s left to do is fold my boat. There is still time!

Christopher and I were ready when we first heard the whip of the thunder crack, moments that seemed like hours before the dark afternoon room filled with the brightness of lightning tinged with the sweet scents of hot pavement steamed to perfection. 

Jumping to action we fold our newsprint as quickly as our ink-heavy fingers allow, laughter baiting each other faster. Is his vessel better or mine? Who has a better technique for the front bow fold versus the stern? The port and starboard sides? Just fold — what you know you know and no judgment or self-recrimination will float you now. 

Hurry! The storm is fast. There’s a perfect window to be timed — it opens while it’s still raining, but not as heavily, and the thunder has stopped, which means no lightning, and the floods are coursing downstream at full speed because they can’t get to the gutter fast enough. 

Hurry! No time for shoes or galoshes! Four bare feet racing, laughter propelling us onward — are we in a swimming pool? My feet tickle with squishy grass, mud and worms on the surface. My face is wet with fresh rain plus what the oak tree dropped on my perma-grin fixed pose. I will win. 

Hurry! Expand your port and starboard folds — create your base — just put it in the water! No time for adjustments. What’s done is done. You are done. It’s up to the gutter gods now. The rush is here! I step into the live stream, debris of leaves, twigs and my own giggles course past my bare legs. Laughter carries the two floaters forward, toppling, collapsing, tumbling into, with and around each other. No one cares. We laugh their way forward.

Both boats are victors, soggy and wasted with pleasure having fulfilled the measure of their creation, retrieved for disposal after giving their everything  — and so the parade commences, barefoot, high march steps, wet grassy path, we’re “Singin’ in the rain! Just singin’ in the rain! What a glorious feeling, I’m happy again!” 

Until the next storm. . . .