Category Archives: Inspirational

Bare beauty and a question for you

Dear friend,

I have received your letter or message and it has been a salve to the craggy, scarred face of my heart.

To those of you who sent a letter or card or flowers (Melissa, Russell, Manjari, Chris, Ami, Ashton, Ellen, Ros, Kelsey, Chrysantha, Ben and Alice) I want you to know that your love and effort has moved us deeply. As I expressed to my friend Alice, when I receive a letter or card from you expressing your care and support, there is a sense of relief inside of me. This heavy weight in my chest is no longer only carried by me; I feel your hands holding it up as well, and it is that much easier to bear. To me, this is no small matter. Your kind actions mean the world to me. I believe that Addison feels the same.

Even just the act of sitting and reading what I write, taking the time to sit with me through each post, is something I appreciate deeply. I love seeing your comments or reading your emails. I can attribute much of my healing process to you being here—wherever you are—to receive what I am sharing. Thank you.

Here in Colorado the skies create a sapphire backdrop for the golden fields and orange or gray or white, leafless trees. I never knew dead grass and bare branches could be so beautiful. When I walk Zoso at dawn, his tracks are negatives across the frosty ground. There are sounds of crunching beneath my feet as I breath with my steps.

These days are spent working, writing, recording our album, and—for me—crying many tears. I am missing my daughter and I understand now that there is no end-date for this sadness.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a meditation retreat in the Rocky Mountains with Addison and my sister, Radha. We spent a lot of time in silence and in ceremony. At times I found myself prostrated on the ground, invoking my ancestors and spiritual teachers. I lay down on the earth, practicing letting go and asking for help. Chickadee was there. In a way she has become my ancestor, though I was the one who gave birth to her.

I asked myself a lot of questions during those five days and received few answers—but that’s too be expected in any spiritual quest.

One of the questions I continue to ponder is this: what is going to be my way of taking positive action and helping to ease the suffering of living beings on this planet?

I was reminded—during a powerful presentation given by a Lakota dharma teacher at the retreat—of the many issues which are swept under the rug and kept from public view.

I contemplated how I am living in a country whose native people have been massacred, imprisoned, lied to, and mistreated in innumerable ways by my political leaders, both past and present. The Dakota Access Pipeline was one incident that the native people and U.S. religious leaders and citizens brought to public attention. But there is so much that goes unseen. What can I do to balance the scales? Can I take responsibility for my ancestors’ actions without being crushed under the weight of tremendous regret and sadness for what cannot be taken back?

Larry Rowe, another dharma teacher at the retreat, is an African American man. He mentioned the unease he feels being in the United States, and how much safer he feels in other countries. It reminded me that someone with different skin color than me may not be treated as well. I don’t want to turn a blind eye on these things.

I do want to consider deeply where I can be the most effective in creating positive change; I know my own limitations. 

What are some ways that you take positive action in the world? I’m curious to know, if you have a minute to share in the comments below (I may very well steal your idea if it really resonates with me—heh heh heh).

Yesterday we spent three hours recording my harmonies onto a 3 1/2 minute song for the upcoming album. It felt like a good use of our time, and it was also a reality check of just how long the recording process takes, not to mention mixing the tracks before sending them to be mastered!

The song we worked on yesterday is called “Chickadee”. Addison wrote it about our daughter. There is no way I would have been able to sing the song through, but he managed it beautifully. I approached my harmonies for the song by focusing on each sentence as a separate piece. I made myself concentrate on the words as syllables or notes which I had to sing in key and match timing with Addison’s voice. It enabled me to get through the whole recording process cheerfully. Listening back through the song as a whole definitely choked me up, but by then I was done singing for the day so that was fine.

My brother—who normally lives in South India—is currently in the U.S. due to a series of events, so Addison and I took advantage of his proximity and flew him out here. You may have already seen some of the photos he’s taken since he arrived in The Love Sprockets’ Instagram or Facebook feed. (the picture at the top of this post is his)

In the next week and a half we’ll be doing some photo and video shoots with him, and he is also revamping our website. It feels good to be “starting over” in certain respects to our music and as a band. We are really embracing our band as a duet, instead of wishing it was a four piece. And this next album will have a different sound and feeling from the last one we released.

Thank you for reading this update; I hope at least some of it was interesting for you. 🙂

Don’t forget to share your own way of creating positive change (big or small) in the comments below.

Big love to you!

-Jahnavi

P.S. You may have heard or figured it out—we extended the release date for our upcoming album, entitled “Chickadee”. If you haven’t gotten around to preordering it and getting your name in the liner notes, you still have time: http://music.thelovesprockets.com/album/chickadee

Your Clear Refusal of Our World

My aunt Ros was organizing some books a couple of weeks ago, when one of them fell and opened to this poem…

 

For a Child Born Dead

What ceremony can we fit

You in now? If you had come

Out of a warm and noisy room

To this, there’d be an opposite

For us to know you by. We could

Imagine you in a lively mood

 

And then look at the other side,

The mood drawn out of you, the breath

Defeated by the power of death.

But we have never seen you stride

Ambitiously the world we know.

You could not come and yet you go.

 

But there is nothing now to mar

Your clear refusal of our world.

Not in our memories can we mould

You or distort your character.

Then all our consolation is

That grief can be as pure as this.

                                                      -Elizabeth Jennings (1926)

 

Ros typed the poem out, printed it and glued it to the back of a little chickadee painting photo, which she sent to us.

The poem struck me and brought me to tears.

Elizabeth, the author of this poem, describes the sudden death of her child as “your clear refusal of our world.”

Oh how rejected I felt by my daughter when she died.

“We created such a beautiful home for you!” I cried after her death. “We got everything ready. I dusted, cleaned, planted a garden, raked leaves; we hammered in every nail on the back porch so your soft, fat legs didn’t get scraped by them. I practiced Spanish and French so you could hear me in the womb and grow up bilingual! I meditated with you every morning, I read you books, I imagined your whole life stretched out in front of us. We were going to take you on bicycle tours, take you to France to meet your relatives, take you to India to hang out with your monk uncle! You were going to have such an awesome life! Why didn’t you want it? Why didn’t you want us? How could you leave me like this?”

But then Elizabeth says, “Not in our memories can we mould or distort your character. Then, all our consolation is that grief can be pure as this.”

Chickadee was and is the perfect child. She never grew up and became tainted by the many sorrows of this world. She never had a drug problem, or yelled at me “I hate you!”. She never became depressed.

How true are Elizabeth’s words to me.

Later, I reread the poem and examined the date on which it had been written. 1926. That was almost a hundred years ago.

Almost a hundred years ago this woman experienced a loss and grief so similar to mine that the poem she wrote is one I could have written.

Grief is universal. Joy is universal. Pain is universal. Happiness is universal. Who knew that a grief this specific could be so universal? I knew and yet I needed this poem as a reminder.

Whatever you are feeling right now, whatever pain you are experiencing, whatever longing you’re having, remember this:

You are not alone.

Somewhere in the world, and at many points in history, there is someone who has felt or is feeling what you are feeling. Someone has gone through what you’re going through. Someone is going through what you are currently experiencing. Someone will experience what you are going through in the future.

Thank you, Elizabeth Jennings, for writing that poem, and Ros for finding it and sending it to us. 🙂

P.S. We are going to be releasing an E.P. in honor of our daughter’s one year anniversary, called “Chickadee”. When you preorder the album, your name will be printed on the inside of the album cover, to memorialize you as one of the people who made the project possible. Click here to preorder: https://thelovesprockets.bandcamp.com/album/chickadee

P.P.S. If you preorder “Chickadee” for $25 or more, you will get a surprise in the mail along with the new album (it might be a beautifully hand painted pair of underwear, a T-shirt, a postcard, who knows?) Click here to preorder: https://thelovesprockets.bandcamp.com/album/chickadee

Happy happy

I’ve heard that while we are babies, we can still remember our past life, and that we know many things which we slowly forget as time passes.

My mom said that when I was very little, my first words were, “Happy happy!” I would say this while bouncing and clapping my hands. She always gets a big smile on her face when she tells me that.

This morning I was meditating and practicing the Four Establishments of Mindfulness. During the second part, which is feelings, I was breathing in and saying internally, “I feel happy”, and then breathing out and saying, “I feel happy.” In that moment I saw myself as a little girl, bouncing and chanting, “Happy happy.”

I thought, “Wow, I already had this all figured out back then. I guess I forgot and now I’m reminding myself.”

I wonder if I still remembered who I was when I was learning to say “Happy.”

It’s funny and terrifying, but someone recently compared the process of re-birth, or reincarnation, to be like “attending junior high school, over and over again.”

Maybe I am currently relearning things I already know. But hopefully I’m getting better at them each time around. 🙂

How to be a badass

The man sits perfectly still in his dark brown robes, his back erect, his eyes bright and smiling. The rest of us in the room are shifting, straightening or re-bending a leg, pushing shoulders back to keep from slumping.

A giant golden Buddha sits behind Thay Tihn Mahn, a similar smile curving the statue’s lips.

Thay Tihn Mahn is answering a question, a question about how to let go of bad memories or experiences.

“When I was a child during the Vietnam war,” the monk is saying, “I saw many of my friends and neighbors killed or raped. It was very traumatic for me to see.”

His Vietnamese accent is so strong, it has taken all afternoon for me to get accustomed to the way he pronounces words, and the inflections he uses. But he speaks clearly and slowly, and I can still barely believe what I am hearing.

“I could have been consumed with hatred and anger for these people who were killing and raping. But that would be very harmful to me, and to the world.”

As he speaks, he looks from each on of us to the next person, holding eye contact for what seems like many minutes at a time.

“Instead, I had to look back at these situations. I had to look back at these memories, so painful, and see how I could find compassion for these people. That is the only way I could transform the pain.”

Everyone in the circle is watching Tihn Mahn, and perhaps they are as amazed as I am to see this man, who is so incredibly kind and ready to smile, and to realize what he had to overcome to get to the place he is now.

“So we must take our pain, our suffering,” he went on, “and make it into our strength. Through finding compassion for the people we are angry with, we become very strong.”

And here I am, sitting in front of this man who sends loving-kindness to murderers and rapists, and I feel a little silly.

I thought I was really making strides, practicing compassion for friends or family who I only perceive as causing me suffering. I feel accomplished when I take my feelings of disappointment or hurt, and I channel them into loving-kindness, and come out the other side feeling more peaceful, more at ease. That’s great and all, good for me…

But practicing loving-kindness for people who murdered your friends and neighbors? This is a whole new level of understanding and it’s really raising the bar for me.

As we drive home I wonder where Thay Tihn Mahn came from, and how he ended up building a Buddhist monastery in the mountains near Denver.  Do the people speeding on the highway below realize that a 40 foot statue of the Goddess of Compassion is gazing down at them from those mountains?

I hope one day I can be a badass like Tihn Mahn. 🙂

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If you have a minute, write a comment and say hi to me. I love hearing from you. Tell me your thoughts or share a story of what you did to get through a tough experience.

Love,

Jahnavi

P.S. By the way, my band (The Love Sprockets) is releasing our next E.P., dedicated to our daughter, Chickadee. You can preorder it here: http://music.thelovesprockets.com/album/chickadee

We’re All Alone Together

Are there things you wish someone would have just *told* you when you were younger?

Such as, “Everyone goes through breakups. It’s totally normal and you will live through it!”

Or,  “I promise you, you are not the only person in the world going through this right now. You’re going to be okay.”

Or, “Many people wake up in the morning feeling depressed and anxious. Yes, it is really hard to get out of bed sometimes but it’s actually not going to get better *until* you get out of bed, so the sooner you get up the sooner you’ll feel better. I promise.”

(And while I wish that someone would have just told me these things 15 years ago, at the same time, I’ve recently tried telling my youngers these invaluable truths and so far they haven’t seemed to appreciate my aged perspective)

This morning I wake up with a ton of bricks sitting on my chest. Most of the time it gets better after I get up, but some days the bricks just stay there.

You’ll feel better once you get up, I tell myself.

But it’s running day today, I respond. I hate having to go running!

(“Running day” just means that today I go running rather than doing one of my Kundalini yoga videos. Unlike in my youth when I believed I had to love everything I did otherwise it wasn’t worth doing, now I view exercise as a necessary activity, like eating or drinking water, that I’d best get over with as soon as I possibly can in the day.)

I consider lying in bed all day, mourning my lost child and letting the bricks have their way with me.

That really doesn’t sound appealing though, so I get up.

I’ll bet there are a lot of people who are having a hard time getting out of bed today, I remind myself. I’ll bet they would be comforted knowing I was having a hard time too and they’re not the only ones.

As I wander around getting dressed, I tell Addison, “It’s running day today. I hate going running.”

He laughs, because I say this pretty much every other day.

Zoso huddles in his bed in the corner, hoping I won’t notice him. He hates running too.

I decide to leave him behind and walk him later. It’s hard enough dragging my own butt out the door.

As I begin walking down the street in my five finger shoes and exercise shorts, the familiar thoughts run through my head. It would be so much easier to go running if Addison would just come with me. I know, he can’t because of his knee, but still!

Overhead, a loud racket interrupts my internal racket. It seems a cicada and a grackle are having a showdown, about 30 feet above my head. Nearby a pack of blue jays alarm obnoxiously. Blue jays seem to like hanging out yelling at someone or something just for kicks.

Addison mentioned the other day that cicadas, unlike most insects, seem to have the ability to “scream”. He gained this knowledge the other night, when our cat Shiva brought a cicada into the house. Apparently, as Shiva tortured the poor insect, the cicada sounded a variety of distress calls. And, if it hadn’t been so loud and insistent, Addison may not have realized it was inside and may not have saved its life as a result.

High in the branches of a Texas Cedar Elm, the female grackle chases the cicada. The cicada, in turn, is shrieking in terror. I know when the grackle finally catches the insect, because as she flies from branch to branch, the sound of the screaming cicada accompanies her. She seems to be trying to figure out how to eat something so fierce and loud. Finally she flies away, over the houses and past the gang of blue jays. The cicada announces her trajectory to the entire neighborhood.

I take a deep breath and start running. I have a route through the neighborhoods figured out that will allow me to run for at least 20 minutes without ending up on a busy road.

I’ve run about four blocks, when I notice another runner overtaking me from the left. He isn’t running much faster than I, so for a few blocks we run side by side, before he takes the lead. I am smiling on the inside.

Someone else is out here running too! He’s all sweaty and his headphone cord is swinging around annoyingly like mine does! I’m not alone in my misery!

I admire his sweat-soaked T-shirt and shockingly white calves, his easy-going gait as though he is in no rush to arrive anywhere anytime soon. He doesn’t seem to mind running at all!

When he makes a turn, I realize he’s running the same route that I’ve picked out. So I follow, continuing to appreciate that we are running together, alone.

We pass a woman pushing a baby in a stroller, and ahead of her a woman walking her pit-bull boxer also wearing a sweaty T-shirt and a pink visor. See? They’re out exercising this morning too! I’ll bet they had a hard time getting out of bed too. Well, maybe not the mom with the baby, but still.

When my secret running partner turns again, I veer off in a different direction. A few mourning doves and titmice flutter away from a front-yard bird feeder as I run by. The cat who has been sneaking up on the birds, is poised behind the rise of a small hill in the yard. He sees me and dashes away, stampeding into the melee of birds and feathers and flying seed. The predator joins his former prey as they all flee from me, the apparently all-terrifying one.

Just then the pink visor lady and her pit-bull boxer overtake me, and we run together alone for a block or two. When we part ways I come upon a young Latina in black yoga pants, walking briskly, her hair swinging back and forth. I leave her behind and find myself on the final stretch of my run. Halfway up the hill ahead of me is a skinny blond woman in running shorts and a red tank-top. She’s running up the hill but she looks as if she’s faltering.

You can do it! I shout to her silently. You’re almost at the top!

She pauses to catch her breath, and I catch up to her. Then she takes off running again and now we’re both over the hump and I’m turning down my street and she’s carrying on down Cherrywood Road.

There are beads of sweat rolling down my face and I brush them away before they can land in my eyes. I open the front door to let Zoso out, wheezing and sweating. He and Shiva frolic around while I stretch out my legs.

I think about yesterday, because yesterday I was learning about how we are all alone together too. And because we were practicing for the show that’s happening today (are you coming? click here if you are and if you can’t make it, just go to facebook.com/thelovesprockets at 6 pm for the FB live show). It’s our last show in Austin and we’re playing a few songs with our new friend Arielle, who’s too cool for school and I’ll tell you more about her in a minute… 😉

So yesterday, my friend Nichole came to see me while she’s in town. She recently graduated from the Wilderness Awareness School in Washington. We haven’t seen eachother since she visited me in bed in November.

We were going to have lunch together, and I noticed I was feeling apprehensive about having to make “small-talk”, and perhaps having to try and “keep it together” so I didn’t make her uncomfortable.

Even though, if there’s anyone who’s okay with crying, it’s Nichole!

Once we were seated at the restaurant, we began sharing our experiences over the past 8 months. Eventually Nichole asked, “Why Colorado? Why do you need to move so far away?”

“Well, we need to get out of that house for one thing,” I told her. “It’s not doing me any good to stay there.” I told her about how liberating it is to be giving away and selling most of our stuff, and to be really examining what we truly need versus things we had just because we had the space in our house to have them.

I told her about Charlie Kern in Denver, CO and his school bus conversion operation.

I tried to tell her about having to go through Chickadee’s things and how sad that was for me, but I had to stop talking because I was on the verge of tears. Instead of a pile of “Congratulations on your new family member” cards, we have a pile of condolence cards, which we keep in the same box as her death certificate and her little inky footprints and her lock of hair. The quilt that her Nana made for her is sitting in our walk-in closet in a cardboard box.

Nichole was looking at me, and her eyes were filling with tears. “I could feel that,” she said, and we both just looked at eachother and cried. Someone brought our plates of food and set them in front of us. We wiped our eyes.

The other day my friend Liz sent a picture of some quotes, “Cry in public! Be a mess!” and we’d both laughed (in a texting sort of way). “I’ve gotten really good at crying in public this year,” I told her.

Nichole told me her own stories of suffering–not to complain, but just because they were experiences she’d had. She told me about one of her classmate’s brother dying, and how everyone in his class had surrounded him and held him while he sobbed. And she and I cried some more. And the waitress came to ask us how our food was and we hadn’t even tasted it yet.

The whole world has been laughing and crying with me. I’ve been suffering alone with all other beings. I’ve been running, together, with thousands of people around the world every other day. Even cicadas know how to cry.

As we were driving to my house, I told her that my musician friend, Arielle would be there to practice some songs with us. “I’d love to meet her,” Nichole said. I could have said more about Arielle, like, “Arielle is a badass girl! Her voice is like an angel! She rips guitar like Jon Mayer does in his dreams!” But I decided to let Nichole have her own experience in meeting Arielle.

Arielle is playing guitar with Addison on fiddle when we arrive. I’m so happy to see her. She’s been away, recording music with some bigwigs out in Nashville (or maybe it was Memphis) and just got back. Tonight we are going to accompany her on her song ‘Magick Again’ (which is amazing, you should listen to it while you’re reading the rest of this email). And she’s going to shred electric guitar on our songs ‘Robot’ and ‘Believe’.

We’re all sitting together in our living room full of boxes, and the dead cockroaches and dust bunnies that used to live under the furniture that is no longer there. As we play, I watch Nichole’s reaction to Arielle’s singing. I catch her eye and we both laugh.

We’re all three jamming, taking solos, and I’ve never jammed with a girl before. Nichole is sitting and smiling and clapping along. I love that Arielle is better at playing music than me. And that Nichole knows a lot more about the natural world in Austin then I do. And she’s better at being friends than me because she makes sure to see me whenever she can.

And tonight we’re playing our last show in Austin for a while and it’s so happy and so sad all at the same time.

See you tonight, either at the Red Shed Tavern in Austin at 6 pm, or onThe Love Sprocket’s Facebook page at 6 pm CT.

Love,

Jahnavi

A Fork in the Road

“I just want you to say something that will make it okay.”

I finally admit this to myself and to Addison, lying in the dark and staring at a wall I can’t see.

“Well, I love you,” he begins, and I already know that there isn’t anything he can say to make it go away.

Earlier today, I went to Planned Parenthood for a breast exam (yes, everything is fine).

After checking in, I sat in the waiting room and tried to read my ‘First Buddhist Nuns’ book, while the TV cried out to me about the gut wrenching competition between two couples attempting to sell the most stuff at a flea market. Riveting, I know, but I focused on my reading.

A surprising (or perhaps not so surprising) piece of information I gained from reading about the first Buddhist nuns in India, is that many of them became nuns after losing a child or children. Once their world was shattered, they could not imagine putting the pieces back together. They simply stepped over the wreckage and into their robes and a lifelong commitment to their spiritual practice.

It is not hard for me to imagine myself doing the same thing. Except that I just married Addison and I really like him.

I heard a mangled interpretation of what must surely be my name being called, and I snapped out of my Buddhist reverie.

Once I was seated in a tiny little office space, the doctor’s assistant ran through the usual list of questions they ask all of their patients. “Some of these questions, might be difficult to answer or upsetting,” the girl said. I stiffened a little. Oh man, please don’t ask me about pregnancies and children, let’s not get into that. “…but I have to ask them in order to be sure that you are safe and so that we know how we can best care for you.” 

I nodded. She asked about family history of diseases, STDs, birth control, if I felt safe where I was living, etc. I relaxed, and answered her questions without hesitation. 

“Have you ever been pregnant?” 

Crap. “Yes.”

“Did you carry the baby to term?”

“Yes.” Please don’t ask anything else, please just stop there, that’s all you need to know.

“Are you currently breastfeeding?”

“No.” Annnnnnnd we’re good! Right?

And then, as if an invisible stop light had changed from green to red, she stopped asking questions.

Phew. 

She led me to the exam room, where I donned a crinkly, paper vest. The doctor was taking a while to arrive, so I read more about Bhuddhist nuns, all the while feeling secretly hilarious for reading about any kind of nun at Planned Parenthood.

When the doctor came in, I slipped the book behind me and greeted her. She looked to be in her 40s, with dark, straight hair and a face that seemed to have done its fair share of laughing and crying.

“I understand there’s a lump in your breast that you’re concerned about,” she said. “I’ll definitely check that out in a minute. But first, can you tell me if there is anything that may have happened in your life recently that could have effected your body or your hormones?”

I looked around the room. I really didn’t want to bother her with the details, unless it was absolutely necessary for her to know. Then I sighed. “About…. 8 months ago I had a stillborn baby.” There, I said it. Don’t worry lady, I’ve got this under wraps. I won’t make you uncomfortable by getting all emotional about it.

She looked into my eyes, her own filling with tears. “I’m so sorry.”

Well, that does it. I didn’t hear whatever else she might have said because I broke down crying. I scrubbed at my eyes and tried to pull myself together.

“Was it a boy or a girl?” she asked.

“A girl,” I sobbed.

“Oh, a sweet little girl.” After a moment she said, “Well it is definitely relevant and I’m glad that you told me. Thank you. And I am so sorry.”

During the exam we discovered that she knows the midwife I worked with last year. I waited for that sliver of a second, waited for her to tell me that the midwife I had chosen was a quack, a terrible midwife, that it must have been all of her fault that my baby died.

But she didn’t say anything like that.  

Once she had examined me, the doctor decided to be on the safe side and send me in for an ultrasound and a mammogram. When I went to the window to pay and get my referral papers, the receptionist told me the fees had been waived. I took my referrals and looked for the doctor to give her an appreciative smile, but I didn’t see her.

Later that day, I went to get my boobs smooshed in turn between two plates of glass. Although the technician chatted merrily about the weather in Colorado and women with no pain tolerance (“You have a very high pain threshold for someone so young,” she told me), she steered clear of topics about reproduction, except for when she put a protective apron around my waist to protect my ovaries and uterus from radiation.

The woman who gave me my ultrasound also avoided the topic of pregnancies and children, and when I went out after my appointment to pay at the front desk, again they told me the fee had been waived.

Whether the Planned Parenthood doctor had instructed these other women to spare me the painful question of “do you have any children?” or the like, I don’t know. I do know that we had quickly connected through a common understanding–the love of our children and the pain of losing them.

“We are companions in suffering,” my Buddhist book told me as I waited in different appointment rooms.

I had told Addison about my day, and reflected on how thorough the doctor and technicians had been, taking me through every available examination, whether or not they thought it was totally necessary. At the end of the day, we were all pretty darn certain me and my boobs were going to be just fine.

As I lie here, I drift to that crossroads in time, a time I try not to dwell on, but one that surfaces nonetheless…

…those days right around Chickadee’s due date. That Sunday when I realized that she wasn’t moving as much. Addison’s mother seemed worried too, even though she said that her babies also moved less as she came closer to labor.

Early the next morning we went to the midwife’s house so she could check on Chickadee.

“She’s barely kicked or moved at all in the last day or so,” I told the midwife. “I didn’t realize it until last night.”

She pulled out the doppler and listened for Chickadee’s heartbeat. It sounded strong and steady.

“She sounds great,” the midwife said. “It’s not uncommon for babies to move less as they begin to lower into the birth canal. I’ve seen it in my pregnancies and with a lot of other women also.”

And right here, I freeze time. Stop everyone. Just STOP.

Would it really be such a hassle to send me into get a sonogram? Would it be so inconvenient for us to take a few hours out of our lives to make sure our baby is 100% okay?

In this time-freeze, I turn us down a different fork in the road. This time, we get a sonogram. Perhaps by the time we’ve made the appointment and driven to the clinic, Chickadee’s heart rate would have sounded distressed. In that dark, cool room, we would have seen our big, fat, upside-down baby on the screen. Would they have been able to ascertain that something was wrong?

Maybe, in this alternate reality, they would have seen something to concern them, and rushed me to the hospital. They would have induced labor and maybe, just maybe, Chickadee lives in this alternate storyline.

I tell Addison about this alternate reality, and he strokes my hair. “We did everything we could with the information we had,” he said. “We trusted our midwife completely. We didn’t know that we should be concerned. It’s not going to change anything or make us feel better to resent her now.”

“I know,” I sigh, “But maybe I feel like I failed my child. When I feel angry at my own parents for not sticking up for me or protecting me at times, now I feel like maybe I did the same thing to my own daughter. I didn’t protect her from a midwife who thought she knew everything. I feel like I failed her.”

Here come the tears.

“You didn’t fail her. You didn’t do anything wrong. She still loves you.”

I hear that we learn a lot about being parents by experimenting with our first child. Did the lesson I had to learn cost my child her life?

And out of all the women throughout history who have had miscarriages, stillbirths or who have lost children, do I really think that I was supposed to be the exception? 

By running through these alternate realities, am I really just saying that sad, inexplicable things happen to other people, and surely it wasn’t supposed to happen to ME and surely if I had just done a few things differently, I could have saved my daughter’s life…?

Surely not. Surely nothing. Surely nothing is sure.

And somewhere in this mire of fears and regrets, all of these bereft mothers and I find solid footing, and we stand stronger than we ever could have before; we know something which is also somehow unknowable–incomprehensible. We’ve reached deep inside of ourselves and either pulled ourselves up and out, or else we drown.

Yes, I want someone to say something that will make it all okay.

I also know that will never happen.

And that’s okay.

A Part of Me

About one year ago, I moved into this house in Austin where I live now. I was pregnant with a baby girl. I saw that several loquat trees were growing in the backyard of my new home, and it made me happy. I watched as the fruits ripened on the tree, and when they were soft and golden, I ate them, feeding myself and my growing child. I knew that five or ten years ago, a bird had unknowingly planted this tree, by dropping a seed as it perched on the fence.

Whenever I would look at the loquat tree outside of my window, I would smile and know that I carried part of this tree with me. When I saw the blue jays and mourning doves land on the banister outside my window, I would smile, knowing they had eaten fruit from this loquat tree and also carried part of her with them. The birds, my baby, the tree and I all had something in common.

This tree’s fruits and seeds had fallen to the ground outside my window, and many baby trees sprouted.

Six months later, my baby was still-born. We buried her in the earth, at Eloise Woods, where many other people, babies and pets are buried. We planted a loquat seedling next to her grave. The little tree is a baby from the loquat tree in my backyard. Now this tree, who is in me and in my daughter, has a part of her growing in Eloise Woods.

I know that this baby tree will grow up to be beautiful and strong and that she will grow many fruits. Her roots are growing in the same soil that my daughter is buried in, and she is creating life out of death. The animals and birds who live in Eloise Woods will eat her fruit. When I see the cedar waxwings and squirrels at Eloise Woods, I can smile through my tears, knowing they carry a part of my baby with them, and a part of me as well.

And so we all continue on–me, the trees, the birds, my daughter–seemingly without beginning or end.

The Bicycle Chase Meditation

The air of the room is held captive by a stillness only meditation can summon. The older meditators are sitting in chairs, as still as stones. The rest of us are on the floor, kneeling, with our butts supported by little wooden stools or cushions.

Addison and I had ridden the bicycles we’re borrowing from Tellman and Jodi over to the meditation hall with minutes to spare. The driveway leading up Solar Hill is steep and long, and I could feel my lower abdominal muscles straining to hold my big, pregnant belly in place as I heaved myself uphill. While parking our bicycles, we attempted to calm our breathing down to a reasonable pace as quickly as possible. Meditation had just commenced and we didn’t want to enter the room gasping like a couple of land-locked fish in the midst of their glorious silence.

Apparently a couple of the other attendees had ridden their bicycles to the morning sangha as well, and no-one had appeared to bother themselves with locking their bicycles up. The entrance to the hall is hidden from view and the building itself is set up in the woods, well away from the main road.

This is amazing, I think, as I begin to settle into my meditation. My back doesn’t hurt!

Being almost 8 months pregnant means that I have been experiencing the unpleasant visitations of back pain, which feels not unlike the an overwhelming visit with relatives who are easier to love from a distance.

 

After a moment however, I noticed that although my back wasn’t really hurting, there was a different concern that had arisen. I can’t really breathe. I wonder if it’s just because the room is stuffy and open my eyes to see if the windows are open. They’re all closed. A plastic tree stands in the corner, wearing a fine layer of dust. And that ‘tree’ sure isn’t helping with the oxygen levels in here.

I shift my weight around, trying to give my lungs more space. But my belly now swells up almost to chest level, so there just isn’t a whole lot of extra space to be had. I should just be present with whatever is happening, I remind myself. Even not being able to breathe properly is something I can be present with.

I can feel my hands getting tingly. I imagine falling unconscious suddenly and falling to the floor. Would everyone remain unmoving, silent statues while Addison tried to revive me? No, everyone would probably leap up to help–albeit meditatively perhaps. But then I’d be responsible for cutting everyone’s meditation short this morning.

The thought of interrupting everyone’s meditation practice by passing out on the floor prompts me to adjust my position. I lower myself down to a supported child’s pose, with my cushion propped under my chest so that my belly has space to hang above the floor. This helps a little. Now at least I don’t feel like I’m going to faint. I take some deep-ish breaths. In, out, I say silently with each in-breath and out-breath.

I hear the sound of softly shifting gravel outside. Perhaps someone is walking up the driveway. A very late meditator coming to join us?

No…I focus in on the sound, my imagination kicking into gear. Someone coming up to check out the bicycles? If someone was going to steal a bicycle, which one would they pick? Mine. Though it’s not really mine. It’s Tellman and Jodi’s. But it’s the one I ride around right now. Mine looks the shiniest. And it would be easy to grab, since it just parked at the foot of the steps with a kickstand.

Shhhhhh… I tell myself. You’re being silly. You’re ALWAYS worried about people stealing your bike… or someone else’s bike that you’ve borrowed.

But there it is again, the crunching gravel sound. I am becoming all but the sense of hearing.

There is a distinctive metal click, like that of a kickstand being released, and then louder crunchings, as though wheels are rolling over the gravel.

I am standing up now and waddling to a side door in the room I’ve never used. If I’m imagining all of this, than this will be a moment of embarrassment to be remembered forever. I wrestle with the door handle for a second, unlock it and then wrench it open. The meditators have turned to watch me as one.

“What’s up?” Addison is asking, but I am hurtling across the deck. A figure wearing a white wife-beater and a backwards, black baseball cap is rolling away, down the driveway, past the pine grove and towards the road. Whoever it is appears to be riding my–no, Jodi and Tellman’s–bicycle. I crash through the tiger lilies and grab Addison’s–Tellman and Jodi’s–bike, which had been leaning on the side of the building. The seat is so high I can barely reach the pedals. But Addison is moving too slowly and time is of the essence, so I point the handlebars downhill.

“Someone stole a bike!” I manage to bark to Addison as his head appears out of the open door. I am flying down the hill, my pregnant belly bouncing in time with the bumps.

“STOP!” I scream at the receding figure. I hear Addison yelling something as well, but I’m concentrating so hard I don’t pay attention. “Give me my bike back!” The whites of the bicycle thief’s eyes flash briefly before he takes a left onto Western Avenue, pedaling awkwardly. The seat is too low for him, and his knees poke out at odd angles as he labors.

I focus on turning without wiping out, and stand up to pedal more easily, since the too-high seat is preventing proper contact between my feet and the pedals.

“That’s my bike you’re stealing!” I holler with air reserves I didn’t even know are available to me. “I’m PREGNANT!”

Somehow this last bit of information seems important for me to relay to the thief. Because stealing a bike is a bad thing to do, yes, but he might still be able to sleep at night after selling it and doing his best to forget about it (and being chased). But stealing from a pregnant woman? That could haunt his dreams for a good long while.

A man in a dress jacket is getting back in his car holding a freshly-purchased cup of coffee.

“He’s stealing my bike!” I call to the man, pointing to the gangly bicycle thief who is now making a wobbly turn down one of the steepest roads in Brattleboro. Union Hill…! “Call the police!” I don’t have time to explain to this guy why I’m still able to chase the thief, who is supposedly riding away with my bicycle, using another bicycle, and I don’t know if he’s actually going to call the police, but I keep pedaling as though my life depends on it.

I’m watching the bicycle thief disappear down the hill and hoping that he might crash thanks to the lack of front brakes on my bicycle. I’d released them earlier that week as they’d been rubbing against the rim of my wheel and I hadn’t taken the time to adjust and reconnect them yet.

My breathing is a heaving, erratic horror story, but I plough on. I’m heading down Union Hill and I see that the young man has wasted precious time by trying to divert onto a side street halfway down the steep hill. The missing front brake has indeed caused him some trouble, and he is now finishing a cumbersome U-turn onto Beech Street.

Chickens are roaming the edges of this little back lane like tiny, modern dinosaurs, their head crests wobbling with each jerk of their necks. They watch the bicycle thief approach with expressions of blank terror punctuated by ear-splitting squawks.

One of the chickens barely escapes being run over, and emits a “bok bok BOK!!!” of alarm. She races out of harms way on T-Rex legs.

“STOP!” I gasp, swerving around the chicken mayhem. At this point I don’t know who I’m talking to… the guy stealing my bicycle… the chickens… myself??

Ahead there is the tall, metal fence that surrounds the playground behind the Green Street School. A steep, non-bicycle-friendly path goes around the side and up into some scattered trees.

The gangly-legged, white wife-beater wearing, backwards baseball cap sporting bicycle thief launches himself from my bike, using the momentum of his sudden exit from his vehicle to hurtle up the path. He careens across the hillside above the school, dodging trees, slipping on loose stones and scrambling for the cover of the bushes at the top of the hill.

I stop to watch my bicycle–well, Jodi and Tellman’s bicycle– slowly fall over on its side, wheels still spinning. I hear the sound of sirens.

I lay Addison’s–I mean, Jodi and Tellman’s–bicycle down and take a seat in the dirt, focusing on my ragged breathing, while the chickens slowly reappear, suspicious, but grateful for the restored peace and quiet.

There is nothing but my breathing for a few minutes.

Then the bell sounds and I raise my head. The other people in the room begin to stir from their statuesque positions. Addison is shifting and straightening his cramped legs. I pull myself up out of my child’s pose and back to sitting.

The meditation leader, a small woman who’s eyes are magnified by her thick glasses, pulls forth a paper.

“This is a poem that was written in the 14th Century,” she says.

And the poem goes like this:

What is this mind?
Who is hearing these sounds?
Do not mistake any state for
Self-realization, but continue
To ask yourself even more intensely,
What is it that hears?”
Bassui

And perhaps I will take the liberty to add to this poem…

What is it that hears the sounds of crunching gravel outside of the meditation hall?

And who is it that went on that bicycle-thief-chasing-adventure?

The Timeless Fog

2016-08-11 08.24.07 HDR

And it’s that quiet force,

a rhythm that pulses through the crickets and insects,

which blankets and cradles me in a silence so profound

it sends a hush deep down into what must be my soul.

Now I feel a relief, a release, a letting go

a relaxing of the muscles of my mind,

and I want to dive under, inside and surrender,

I want to relinquish control, hand over the reins to this utter Presence.

I want to arrive so intently

that I burst through the walls of my mentally-conceived reality

into the timelessness of the fog,

the dew-dressed spider-web,

the rippling, cold, brackish water,

the stone that sits, and sits and sits

wearing a shawl of yellow-green seaweed wrapped around its silent shoulders.

And I want to sit, and sit, and sit

and I want to be

until I simply am.

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Woke Up in New York City

We had escaped the Austin heat…

By flying north over 2,000 miles to Laguardia airport in New York.

And when we step outside of the airport doors into the New York air, a gust of warm wind washes over us, and I can feel sweat begin to trickle down my legs.

It is 8:30 pm, and a wall of yellow taxis fill the street in front of the airport. We find our way to the back of a line that seems to stretch halfway along the side of the Laguardia building, and wait our turn for a ride in one of those yellow cars–hopefully with A/C.

A portly, overly tanned man walking a squat bulldog, accompanied by a luggage caddy, shouts an indignant tirade at an old black man who has pulled his taxi into the crosswalk to load a passenger. Cabs press in around the taxi driver’s vehicle on all sides, and he’s forced to sit there and listen to the tirade while pretending he somehow can’t tell that the man is yelling at him. His passenger, wearing a dress coat and an apprehensive expression, dips into the cab and shuts the door behind him, making no comment on the situation. The bulldog pants and looks around, expressionless.

When we’re getting close to the finish line, the taxi-line conductor shouts to an old lady who is creeping around the waiting taxis.

“Hey, hey,” he says. “What are you doing over there?”

The old lady doesn’t respond, but a flush of irritation crosses her face. She’s been discovered.

“The beginning of the line is all the way back there,” the conductor tells her, waving her back over to the sidewalk.

She grumbles and mutters, yanking her suitcase behind her and beginning the walk of shame past the 50 or so people she tried to cut in front of.

Another old lady, the one who has been waiting in line in front of us, with perfectly brushed and parted silver hair, shakes her head. “There’s always one smart Alec,” she comments with a laugh.

And then we are in the air conditioning of a yellow cab, trying to figure out how to turn the TV off that’s glaring in my face (since when do taxis have TVs in them??), and watching the night skyline of NYC unravel around us.

Ny city at night

Our sunny, Austin house, our subletters (who I left equipped with several pages of petfeeding and house maintenance instructions), our cat and dog, our houseplants, the chickadees hanging off of the bird feeder in the front yard and the deafening hum of cicadas… seems to all be fading away into the distance, replaced by dark stretches of water and skyscrapers lit up against the backdrop of the night.

Our friend Zaina is waiting for us in her apartment, cooking a pile of vegetables that seems to stretch beyond the capacity of the pans she’s using. Addison is alive with ideas as always seems to happen when we travel, and I lounge back on the couch while he regales Zaina with his latest and greatest.

2016-07-22 23.41.21
Addison journaling his wave of ideas before we go to sleep

She leaves us her room for the next few days, and we proceed to be infiltrated by the spirit of Brooklyn…

Coming up next… wild Nicky Patton stories about haunted houses and drug addicts, seeing a live production of Hadestown at NY Theater Workshop (music score by Vermont artist Anais Mitchel) and other adventures.

(to be continued)