Being with Dying

November 29, 2009

In being with dying, we arrive at a natural crucible of what it means to love and be loved. And we can ask ourselves this: Knowing that death is inevitable, what is most precious today? ~Roshi Joan Halifax

It seems to me that loss came early in my life: my father when I was just 14, then my mother and two of my closest friends before I turned 50. I remembered Richard in a previous post (and have now added a photo).

Today I’m thinking of someone I knew for a relatively short time, but who meant a lot to me. This is for Mary Beth.


On a night of drinking and dancing
in a smoky Albuquerque bar,
you laughed and said
I made you feel secure.

But there was no protection
from disease that defeated you,
that made you lie down
in the bed of your pick-up truck–

a closed garage, a vacuum cleaner hose,
a note to your friends.
How like you to absolve us:
“I do not feel lonely.”

When the news came, I understood suddenly
that your last phone call–
cheerfulness strained through tears–
had been your good-bye.

I want to believe that your soul
passed easily through the thinned veil
on that Samhain night, to know
that you are dancing once again.

Courage to Create

February 8, 2009

Do one thing every day that frightens you. ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Writers are not just people who sit down and write. They hazard themselves. Every time you compose a book your composition of yourself is at stake. ~E. L. Doctorow

An artist feels vulnerable to begin with; and yet the only answer is to recklessly discard more armour. ~Eric Maisel

The word courage, as Rollo May reminds us in his book, The Courage to Create, is related to the French word, coeur, meaning “heart.” What I give my heart to, I commit to, I also fear to lose. This is one kind of creative fear, the kind Shakespeare described in these lines:

Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

Brenda Ueland (If You Want to Write, Graywolf Press, 2007) talks about another kind of creative fear: “For years I persuaded myself that it was hard to use my imagination. Not so. The only hard part in using it is the anxiety, the fear of being mediocre.” This fear of being mediocre is the one that manifests for me as paralysis before a blank page. So I try to remember that I have to write a lot of bad poems in order to write a good one.

Social courage, the ability to be open to new ways of thinking, is its own danger. Einstein said, “Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.”

And then there is the existential anxiety of nothingness. “To live in to the future means to leap into the unknown,” says May. Creative effort is encounter. “To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger” ~James Baldwin

May reminds us that if we do not engage the creative encounter, if we do not listen to our own creative impulses, we will have betrayed ourselves. Further, we will be depriving the human community of our unique contributions. Let us find the courage to create.

From the Archives: December

December 8, 2008

Writing is a struggle against silence. ~Carlos Fuentes

My struggle last December included the following posts.

Being a Beginner
More on the recent theme of unknowing, the world of possibility.

The year-end ritual from The Not So Big Life.

In spite of loss, we must love because our lives depend on it.

How effective is activism for social justice?

A New Year
Thoughts on New Year’s resolutions.

Lost Fathers

November 23, 2008

I believe in stories. The world has enough dogma. It’s stories we need more of, stories that reverence the still, small voice that sings our life. ~Sue Monk Kidd

Sometimes I am astonished by synchronicities and things that come to me when I need them. I’m not even sure how I heard about the book on writing by Laraine Herring that I loved so much and mentioned here. When I read it, I felt as though I had a new friend! And now that book has led me to another book by her, Lost Fathers: How Women Can Heal From Adolescent Father Loss. Today I read it in one sitting. (That’s not entirely true; I stopped between chapters to have lunch!)

I even began doing the writing exercises at the end of each chapter, the “re-storying” Herring suggests. I was doubtful that I would find anything new by writing about it, as I was pretty certain I’d been sufficiently over this ground. But I was wrong. I am looking at my experience from a new perspective, and so discovering new things. As Herring says, “Time shifts our stories.”

And so today I’m grateful for Laraine Herring and this book, for writing that helps me discover and connect with feelings, and for the opportunity to “re-story” my life in a way that is in alignment with who I am now.

If you think of your life as a storyline, how is the story different today than it was at other times in your life?


December 20, 2007

[Here I had one of my favorite poems, “In Blackwater Woods,” by Mary Oliver.]

I have sent this poem (again) to someone who is bereaved. What difficult human work Oliver describes! In an earlier entry on love and loss (click “loss” on the tag cloud at right), I quoted a Shakespeare passage that I think of often: “Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate– / That Time will come and take my Love away: / –This thought is as a death, which cannot choose / But weep to have that which it fears to lose.”

Still, Oliver is right. We must love because our lives depend upon it, and we must let go when that time comes. I believe the more fully we can do Oliver’s three things, the richer life will be. How we do it, I can’t say, but I know it’s worthwhile to keep trying.

Overlooking Yahoola Valley

October 13, 2007

i wake to a perfect patience of mountains.  ~e. e. cummings


Sound travels up, my husband says.
I hear the whinny of a horse I cannot see.
A wisp of fog lingers behind Chestnut Knob,
and the aluminum chair warms
to the underside of my arm.

They’ve taken a calf away.
The mother mourns,
as turkey vultures, leaving their roost,
begin slow circles, their shadows
kaleidoscoping all around me.

What is morning but another chance
to listen for echoes, to note
what keeps coming back to me:
that deep loss, that fear of letting go,
of letting this moment be
the simple thing it is?

Joy and Fear of Loss

August 20, 2007

It frightens me—the awful truth—of how sweet life can be. ~Bob Dylan

How often I find a particularly joyful moment followed by deep sorrow at the knowledge of loss.  Shakespeare said, “Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate– / That Time will come and take my Love away: / –This thought is as a death, which cannot choose / But weep to have that which it fears to lose.” The antidote may be mindfulness, as well as a deep understanding of impermanence. The Buddhists say we are part of a flow, that our suffering springs from our illusion of separateness. Thus, there is no “my Love” that can be taken away.  There is no “having” or “loss.”  No subject/object. Only awareness and present moment.