After separating from Addison, I made my way back to Teton Valley Idaho, where the skies are endless and expansive, and you can watch weather patterns roll in from many miles away, well before they reach you.
One evening, as I was wrestling with painful feelings, I decided to step outside to get some air, and realized one of the dark, massive, churning clouds I had been watching all day had finally descended upon us.
Before I went to sleep that night, I wrote this poem:
Another Hour Has Blown Away
The heat expands over me
as the sun beats down.
Fans turn their blades to keep me cool.
My heart contracts within me
I am breathing through the pain
as the weather starts to turn.
And just as I step outside,
wondering how I’ll get through the next hour
I see a shadow growing on the horizon
as though being exorcised from the Earth by the sun’s rays.
…but that was really just a stepping stone so that we could let go of house living and commit fully to fitting ourselves and our pets and our instruments and everything else into the bus. But for a few weeks after moving in, we parked at my dad and his partner’s place (in Victor Idaho) and used some of their amenities while we got our own fully functioning.
We spent a few weeks there doing last minute plumbing, carpentry, reinforcement of solar panels, getting the gray water tank and the tool boxes mounted, and adapting to living off of sun energy.
Things that run off of electricity which we can successfully use in the solar powered bus:
A small humidifier
Propane water heater with an electric starter
The Splendide Washer Dryer Combo
200 watt electric heater (but we made the mistake of leaving this little guy running on a cloudy day which lead to the batteries draining and us needing to hook up to shore power)
The composting toilet vent fan
Appliances that just could not hang with solar power and had to go:
1200 watt electric heater
Rice cooker (this may have worked in the long run but we gave it to my dad because he has been wanting one and why risk draining the batteries when we can cook rice with propane?)
We have discovered that having eight solar panels will get us far; but we must only do laundry loads on a sunny day, and we should only use the little 200 watt heater during a mostly sunny day. At night or on a cloudy day we would need to be hooked up to shore power in order to not risk draining the batteries and having our fridge turn off (for some reason the fridge is the first item to give up—meanwhile the lights will stay on without signs of ceasing).
This immediately raises the validity of having my brother-in-law, Erik, build us that mini wood stove in Washington when we get there. Both propane and solar will be saved by using this third energy source (i.e. solar energy absorbed by trees!).
What we love about our Nature’s Head Composting Toilet:
Not needing to flush 1.5 to 7 gallons of water down the tubes every time we sit on the throne
The vent fan that keeps the smells going outside at all times
Being able to funnel our pee into the gray water tank and send it off with a few sprays of water and essential oils when all is said and done
We can put our coffee grinds in there to help the composting process and have the coffee beans absorb smells while they’re at it
What we don’t love about Nature’s Head Composting Toilet:
I personally struggle with turning the agitator afterwards. It hurts my hands because I have to push or pull so hard!
The toilet paper piling up underneath us while we sit, threatening to crawl out and take on a life of its own
Having to empty the contents eventually…
On October 29th we were able to actually drive away from my dad and Greta’s place. It felt like leaving the nest in a real way. No more dad to run to when something wasn’t working right or we needed help problem solving! (And while mentioning my dad, it is worth telling you that he really came through in the last week and made a lot of tricky things happen in the build so that we could safely drive away)
We made our way to Fort Collins via 191 and 80.
We spent two nights on the road:
the first night at an RV park…
…the second night parked in a rest area:
What we love about living in a bus so far:
Wherever we go, there we are, fully equipped with kitchen, bathroom, laundry, comfy bed, refrigerator, bicycles and meditation station
We can now visit our friends and family around the United States and stay for weeks at a time in one place while having our own space and not impinging on someone else’s
No matter where we end up, we can maintain a schedule and do our work and creative practices from home
Everyone we meet is enchanted by our cluttered, magical little skoolie. It’s fun being able to bring a twinkle into the eyes of our acquaintances
Our cat and dog can travel everywhere with us in relative comfort and ease. Zoso the dog loves being able to explore new places and meet new people on the reg
The bus feels like a Mad Max vehicle that we can hide in and feel safe
We have been forced to purge our belongings and might even be able to call ourselves minimalists (maybe… perhaps after we get rid of a few more boxes of items)
What we don’t love about living in a bus:
It is a bit stressful having everything we own in the whole wide world—including a plethora of expensive equipment, gear and appliances—hurtling down the highway at 60 MPH
Until someone actually steps inside of the bus and sees the interior with their own eyes, they generally assume we’re either a) people who love traveling so much we are willing to be very uncomfortable in a funky, hovel of a vehicle or b) out of options and so find ourselves living in a prison bus
So far everywhere we’ve gone we have a limited time-stamp on being there, so in the back of our minds we know we’ll have to keep moving soon enough, and so can’t fully relax into being there (but that will change when we get to Marrowstone Island, WA)
Bringing the bus in to get serviced. We haven’t done it yet, but tomorrow will be our first experience leaving our house at a mechanics (here in Fort Collins) and wandering around until they’re finished in there
But so far bus life has been a successful venture! As the months and years carry on, I feel we will become more and more at ease with this lifestyle and grateful to our past selves for making it happen.
Two last things worth mentioning:
1. Living on this bus often feels as though we’re living on a boat! When we walk around, our tiny house rocks slightly. And when there are high winds it creaks and sways about even more!
2. The one glaring deficit in this new lifestyle is our lack of hot spot boosting power so that we can livestream our shows and get on Zoom calls with our Patreon community again. This is in the works and we hope to have high speed capacities up and running in the near future.
Captain Jahnavi Newsom of The Love Sprockets Bus Enterprise
The video above includes the sound of the dawn chorus that I recorded while watching the sunrise over Teton Canyon. I shared a few pictures that I took during this time, but they really don’t do it justice. Mostly I wanted you to be able to listen to the birds sing while you read what follows…
The color changes at sunset intensify the fluorescent green lichen and salmon pink of the boulders which surround us here in Teton Canyon. Gray mystery birds stand at attention at the tippy tops of the spruce trees, one bird per tree top. They serenade the drifting Sun until the very second he disappears behind the snowy cliffs of the southern ridge.
Our friend Evelyn drifts through our minds as we sit quietly, her presence like lingering smoke, her memory filling us with love and deep sadness.
The Moon rises a few hours later, appearing with a glowing and sudden brilliance as the Earth tilts towards her, leaving us both hushed. Her light makes the snow glow, and gives a regal bearing to the silhouettes of the trees.
I wander through the moonlit forest, gathering dry branches and leaves to enliven the campfire with. With each step I carry Evelyn with me, wondering what it would be like if she was here camping with us, playing her guitar and telling stories. I’m trying to understand how she can be gone but my mind can’t make sense of it.
The campfire is bristling with yellow and orange flames as we feed it aspen and pine branches. By the time the Moon is high in the southern sky, the fire has settled into a clinking reverie of brilliant, jewel-like coals.
We play mandolin and ukulele, working through the chords and melody of “Fare Thee Well”, a song we will sing for Evelyn at her memorial service next week.
“Fare thee well, beloved friend. The time we’ve shared has reached its end. So suddenly you’ve gone away… there’s so much more I long to say. So fare thee well, beloved friend, I know we will meet again…”
We can see quite clearly by moonlight all night, which is comforting, despite the physical discomfort of sleeping out in thirty degree temperatures.
We toss and turn all night. I dream about Evelyn’s family, trying to reach out to them and hold them in my arms, trying to tell them how sorry I am for what they are going through.
In the morning the birds find their familiar positions at the top of each spruce, and they sing their hearts out. They reach a crescendo above me along the northern ridge, just as the sun peaks into full view.
There are so many colors… the gentle green of the aspen branches and sage brush… the reddish hues of the moose maples… the dark green of the pines and spruces… the grays and pinks of the rocks… the tawny yellow of the dried grasses… the orange brown of the moist earth… the cool white of the snow…
I meditate, perched on a boulder. I try to breath for Evelyn, picturing her face as I wish her well, wherever she is now.
By the new light of day I gather dried sage flowers and branches to put over the small fire we rekindled. I follow moose tracks back down to our camp, recalling something I heard Tom Brown Jr. say once, during a Tracker School class: “…like tracking a dinosaur through peanut butter…”
The gentle smoke of sage permeates our camp as we get ready to go home. We watch the fire slowly go out, and it makes me think of the sacred fire I held for my uncle after his passing, here in Teton Valley. I suppose this was our sacred fire for Evelyn, which we fed with our memories of her, our song for her and our hopes for her family’s healing.
Both Addison and I are sleep deprived and smell like wood smoke, and we are filled up with this time spent in the forest. We feel content and melancholic as we slowly drive away, jostled by the potholes that riddle the snow-packed road.
Each time we find ourselves standing on a stage or in a living room or in a backyard in Illinois or Vermont or Baltimore or Baton Rouge and we are holding our instruments and gazing into the unknown—a group of faces belonging to people we’ve never met, or people we’ve just met, or people we’ve known for years—we always reach that moment of free fall, when Addison introduces the song “Chickadee”.
“This next song is the title track of our new album, and is dedicated to our daughter, Chickadee,” he says, “who was stillborn two years ago. This whole tour is about her and this album we recorded for her. It’s also for you—all of you who showed up here and are making space for this music and this story.”
I stand transfixed, almost in horror, as he bares our bloody hearts for all to see.
“This song is the silver lining to something that was really hard,” he says. He begins playing and I fall into step with him. We free fall into the arms of strangers.
When the set is over and we enter into the midst of our audience, we find acceptance over and over again. We find a shared story with our listeners.
A woman approaches me. “Thank you for sharing that song about your daughter. Not many people talk about these kinds of things. My sister’s first and only child was stillborn. She doesn’t really talk to anyone about it and no one says anything to her, except for me. I’m going to share Chickadee with her.”
A man comes and stands with me, his eyes filled with tears. “Thank you for sharing your story. My wife and I lost three babies.” We embrace, and our tears mix together to create an elixir that heals us, a little more. Just a little more healing to get us through.
We’ve played our music for people all the way from Colorado to Louisiana and we finally arrive in Austin Texas where Chickadee was born, and where she is buried. The sights and smells remind me of the intense joy I felt while I was pregnant with her.
Our first show in Austin is at the Mohawk, a music venue with a stage and big lights that shine in our eyes as we stand up in front of a group of people we can’t see. I consider the option of bailing on the whole vulnerability aspect of the tour. This is a big venue, and people are here just to “have a good time”, right? We don’t need to ruin their nights by talking about our stillborn baby. But balking now would feel like a betrayal to something we’ve spent the past two years discovering.
Our voices and instruments are so amplified I feel as though I will be knocked over by the sound, so I try to ride the waves instead. We reach the part of our set where we’re supposed to play Chickadee’s song, and I barely breathe, not looking at Addison but watching his every move. Is he going to go through with it? He introduces the song. I wait, frozen. I wait for people to turn away in disgust. To walk out, shaking their heads. No one moves. I feel their hearts open, their willingness to go there with us.
“Being here with y’all is really what this whole tour is about,” Addison says. “Sharing this story and this album with people like you, especially here in Austin where this story began, is really special.”
After the music is over, we find our way off of the stage and once again into the arms of strangers. Human beings who have all suffered and lost, just as we have.
“Y’all are giving us all permission to be ourselves,” one person says after we’ve pulled everything off stage to make room for the next band.
“You’re doing something with your music that I want to be doing but don’t know how”, one musician tells us. He plays in different bands around Austin, but works on his own music as well. “I want to get there. I am figuring it out. I’m so inspired by your vulnerability and your story.”
A week and a half later, and about a month and half into our tour, we are going to a Buddhist gathering at the Travis Correctional Facility in Dell Valle Texas with our Dharma teacher, Alyssa. We pass a mandolin, banjo, guitar, harmonicas and fiddle through the security check and inside the fences and razor wire, and find a group of men in white and black striped jumpers, ready to meditate, to listen to our music and to discuss the wonders and hardships of being alive.
I look into the faces of these men, and see that their suffering has transformed them. They are in jail, but they are learning to find a freedom that they will always have access to—freedom from their thoughts, feelings and perceptions; freedom from judgement, freedom from attachment to things being a certain way; freedom from the notion of being a separate self but rather the freedom of finding ourselves in everything and everyone.
Addison, Alyssa, these prisoners and I have all come to this Buddhist practice through our own trials by fire, and we have arrived together from different paths, yet now we are together and trying to support one another along the same path. Alyssa greets each man as though he were a beloved son, embracing them and listening intently to their updates and check-ins.
We sit down and meditate together, following Alyssa’s instruction to relax the tops of our heads down to our feet, and to allow ourselves to arrive here fully. After meditating, I push metal finger picks onto my right hand and place the banjo into my lap. Addison tunes his five string violin and then we begin to play. The music transports all of us, beyond the prison walls, and we all forget where we’re sitting. We forget that this is the first time we’re meeting each other, feeling a familiarity that goes beyond our stories and judgements.
I tell the men briefly about losing Chickadee and how she appears in the song we just played and the one we’re about to play.
“I’m so sorry,” I hear one man utter softly.
After we play some more songs, a man shares the story of his father dying, while he was still in jail and unable to be with him. “Look at your hands,” Alyssa says. “Can you see your father’s hands in your hands? He is still with you, he’s still inside of you.”
“My father used to hold my hand through church service every Sunday,” he says. “I can still feel his hand on mine when I close my eyes.”
“Here in prison, right here with y’all,” one man says, pointing to the instruments in our hands, “is a joy I never experienced when I was ‘free’. Back when I was taking dope and peddling drugs, I never felt joy. I didn’t know what joy felt like. I would take drugs and ‘have fun’, but that was nothing close to this. Just sitting here in this circle with all of you, is the greatest joy I’ve ever felt.”
The men ask us questions about our life, how do we support ourselves, is it only with music?
“We offer people something that we have the ability to offer – our music, our story, our presence – and we always receive something back,” I say, “whether it’s money or a place to stay or a juvenile peacock feather tied to our merch case. Like being here with you and bringing you joy is a compensation that goes beyond anything we can compare. It’s the most fulfilling thing I can think of doing.”
It’s time to leave, so Alyssa rings the bell, and we bow to one another in gratitude for showing up and for what each person shared of themselves. Then we turn to bow to the trees and the insects and the sky and to all of our ancestral teachers. As the men prepare to leave, they give each of us hugs, thanking us for coming.
We make our way back out of the giant cage of the jail, and Alyssa asks if telling Chickadee’s story over these two months on tour has been like ripping a scab off of a wound repeatedly. Alyssa lost her grandson a few days after he was born, not long before we lost Chickadee, but I still haven’t heard her talk directly about him in her Dharma talks. Maybe one day she will.
“You know I don’t think there was a scab on the wound to pull off,” I tell her. “Talking about Chickadee and playing her songs for people has been helping the wound to scab and heal, instead of just bleeding non-stop.”
I used to feel so isolated in my grief, bemoaning the lack of ceremony we have as a culture around death, especially of babies and children. I had no idea until I was a bereaved mother that the way the death of babies is handled by many people is by avoiding the subject, for fear they might “upset” me, as if I’m not already beyond upset. But I don’t feel angry about the avoidance anymore. I understand their silence comes from not knowing what to do or say. So Addison and I created our own ceremony around Chickadee’s death by recording her an album and traveling the country with it.
The next morning after visiting the prisoners, we packed some snacks and Zoso into the car, picked up birdseed from the store and drove the thirty miles east out of Austin to Eloise Woods, the green burial site where we left Chickadee’s tiny little body two and half years ago.
On the day she was born, we had held her for hours, admiring every inch of this little miracle who emerged from my body. A few visitors had come and gone, crying over her both in sadness and in wonder, including my sister and my dad, who’d flown in at short noice when they heard the news. The hospital put her on ice afterwards, to give me time to recover from giving birth and slowly regain feeling in my lower body from the epidural.
Later we asked to see her again, and we cradled her cold, bundled body, looking into her face and wondering what we should do with her. The hospital was offering to incinerate her and give us a tiny urn filled with her ashes. Our midwife was telling us about a green burial space that we could bring her to.
“But we’ll need to keep her on dry ice all night, and change the ice out every four hours,” she said. “And we need to bury her tomorrow for sure. Her body is very fragile and delicate, and it will start to fall apart quickly.”
Talk about fucking impermanence.
I was trying to wrap my mind around keeping her in a box in our bedroom and changing out dry ice in the middle of the night when I could barely even walk and Addison was a bereft zombie version of his former self, when my sister stepped in.
“I can take care of that,” she said. “I’ll set a timer and change her ice out and whatever else needs to be done. You won’t have to think about it.”
She looked into my face, and I know that she could tell that the difference between us burying Chickadee or cremating her was what kind of support she could give us in this time of utter disbelief.
“Ok,” I said, knowing that I could rely on her. As soon as my sister received the news that my baby died while I was in labor, she’d gotten on the first plane out of Seattle that she could find a ticket for. “Thanks Radha.”
I’d imagined Eloise Woods to be an open area, a rolling cemetery covered in bright green grass with giant willows weeping across the symmetrical lines of gravestones. But Texas is not the northeast, where I’ve spent most of my life. This green burial place is a couple of acres covered by scraggly oaks and scrubby brush, with stony paths cut through the woods. Erect gravestones are not allowed, so all of the markers lie flat on top of the burial mound they belong to, mostly marking the graves of babies and pets, though some adults rest there as well.
We arrived in a caravan of cars. Addison parked our car in the shade where I waited with our daughter in a styrofoam ice chest beside me. My sister visited with me in between checking on the progress of finding a spot to bury Chickadee. Addison wanted the best place for her and was walking in circles around the site, trailed by his mother, my dad and the midwife. What felt like an eternity later, he’d decided on a couple of options, and they led me around and showed me our choices. I was dismayed by how hot and merciless the sun was, and by how unwelcoming this place felt, and despaired at finding a burial place I could be happy with. At one spot I was being shown, I turned around and looked behind me. There was a corner patch of woods where I could see an opening at the foot of an oak tree.
“What about over here?” I asked. Everyone turned and looked. I wanted Chickadee to be buried somewhere remotely shady, and between the oaks and a big pine nearby, it was one of the shadier options. It was also a private nook, where no one else was yet buried.
Everyone agreed it was a good spot.
I went back to my seat in the car with Chickadee, and the men got to work, relieved to have something to do with themselves. They cut back brush, raked and eventually were able to begin digging her burial spot. It need to be at least three feet deep, which is no small task with soil as hard and rocky as this Texas soil was.
A chaplain, who my midwife had asked to come, was helping to cut and dig, when I asked if I could see him and talk to him about the ceremony he was planning on leading for my daughter. He walked slowly to the car, brushing dirt from his hands, and sat next to me solemnly.
“Mary Ellen asked me to do something involving some Christian songs and words,” he said, “but I hear you’re not Christian.”
“No, I’m not,” I said. “Not that I have an aversion to Christianity either.” I think my dad had been worried about his granddaughter getting Jesus-afied during her burial, because he’d seemed a bit grumpy after the chaplain’s arrival.
“What do you believe?” the chaplain asked me.
I was so glad to be having this conversation. So glad that someone was asking me this.
“Everything I’ve read that the Buddha taught really makes sense to me,” I said.
“So are you Buddhist?”
“I don’t know…” I said slowly. “Maybe I am.”
We talked about life after death, spirituality, God or no God, all of the topics I love discussing with intelligent yet kind people such as this man.
We wrote out the ceremony together, and when it was time all of us formed a semi-circle, standing or sitting, around the freshly dug hole. Addison went to the car and carried the little bundle of his daughter over to the grave and carefully lowered her in. Later I would regret not having held her one last time, but at that moment I just sat and watched her go into the ground.
Addison and I each sang her a song, and her Nana tried to sing her a song but couldn’t get the words out through her tears, so Radha and I picked up the song where she’d left off and sang it. Radha also read her a message from my friend Colleen, and my friend Alice read her a Mary Oliver poem. MariMikal and her friend sang a couple of songs as well, and then my dad stood up to say some words.
“I can’t help feeling that she’ll be back,” he told all of us. “She came to Jahnavi and Addison at an important time in their lives, and now that her work is done she left again. But I think she’s coming back.”
When it was time to bury her, I lowered a beautiful moonstone necklace onto her bundle, given to us by the midwife’s assistant, along with a moonstone necklace each for Addison and I. Everyone surrounded her and began to pour shovels or handfuls of dirt over her. A chubby stone chickadee was placed at the head of the grave, along with some other pieces of art and beauty brought by friends or family.
Two and half years later we are arriving in the same car we’d transported Chickadee in, but this time we know our way around. We open the gate and roll in on the bumpy dirt trail, parking at the beginning of the Moonlit Garden path. Zoso knows the drill, and bursts from the car in a flurry of excitement, and commences with peeing on things and chasing rodents through the underbrush.
It’s spring this time, and although it’s sunny, it’s not yet too hot. There are wildflowers bursting with vivid colors all around, and it lends a feeling of cheerfulness to this unassuming patch of Texas forest. I look around, wondering how much of Chickadee’s essence is dispersed through the landscape here, how much of her is still inside of me, and where is the rest of her?
According to Thich Nhat Hanh and the Buddha and science, our bodies and energy re-disperse into the world around us after we die, our molecules becoming a part of the insects, trees, plants, birds, sunshine, rain and clouds. Perhaps our mind-stream carries on to another form, but that is always up for debate. As the Dalai Lama says, until science can prove that re-birth does or does not exist, then maybe it does.
“As far as I know, no modern psychologist, physicist, or neuroscientist has been able to observe or predict the production of mind either from matter or without cause,” he says. If something has no beginning, it makes sense that it has no end.
Addison and I sit by Chickadee’s grave for a while, talking, playing music, journaling, reading and, of course, filling up her bird feeder with a mix of sunflower seeds, peanuts and safflower seeds. I sprinkle the seed mix around her spot, and Zoso wanders around picking up the peanuts and munching them contentedly. He’s hot, and keeps trying to do the frog dog, legs splayed out and belly to the cool earth, directly on top of Chickadee. Addison keeps shooing him off, but I finally say, “You know what, just let him. She’s his little sister and I don’t think she minds.”
Yes, I know that a dog can’t actually be related to a human, but Zoso is our baby and so is Chickadee, so there it is.
It’s strange sitting with a part of me that has been buried.
We take a walk around the grounds, noticing new burial sites with markers from 2018 or 2019. Beautiful quotes engraved in stone mark the paths, and we pause to read them or to smell the fragrant wildflowers who smile up at us. We find a dog bowl for Zoso because he’s hot and thirsty, and as we search for a spigot to get him some water, we discover a two foot tall medicine Buddha hiding behind the tool-shed.
“Oh wow,” I say.
“What’s he doing behind here?” Addison asks.
“He’s too tall to meet the marker requirements,” I observe. “And they don’t want statues set up here either. I know we have our chubby chickadee, but we are technically breaking the rules. So someone probably brought him here not knowing that, but then the caretaker saw and hid him back here while they figured out what to do with him.”
“Let’s take him to Chickadee’s spot,” Addison says.
“Ok,” I laugh. “They’re going to discover him sooner or later and carry him away again, but we might as well bring him over to hang out with her for a while anyway.”
Addison picks up the Medicine Buddha and sets him next to Chickadee’s grave. The Buddha gazes down at her in his cross-legged pose of blissful concentration.
Chickadee left a legacy of the greatest sorrow we will ever know. And she has left a legacy of music that we hadn’t known how to play until she came around. She taught us to be brave. She helped us commit to a spiritual practice, first when we were expecting her and meditating with her every morning, and after she left us. She has shown us that we really are interconnected with all beings, and that everyone has a story. If we stay vulnerable and just listen, we will hear the entire universe in the laugh of a baby, we will see all of the oceans in the tear of a woman, and we will smell the beauty of the entire world in the fragrance of a flower. When we begin to live our lives for the benefit of others, our happiness expands and we can begin to truly see other people as human beings with a story and a legacy of their own, which is not separate from ours.
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!
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
There is a blocked, irritated mass of muscles between the ribs on my right side. They are trying to hold things together while while my left side sags beneath the immense weight of my heart.
When I lie down, sometimes it feels as though a lead ball is resting on top of my chest. In the mornings I wonder about my ability to rise, to attend to the usual chores, work projects, exercise, music practice.
But then I realize that if I don’t get up, the lead weight will get heavier and heavier, like an alarmingly fat cat settling in for a long nap on top of me. And maybe I will suffocate under the overweight sadness.
When I get out of bed, and I set up our meditation cushions, when I read to Addison and ring the bell, when I play through a few of our songs in preparation for the upcoming show, the weight is more like a koala bear, hanging on to me from the inside, wrapped around my heart and pulling it down. It’s still heavy, but I can walk around. I can talk to people, make jokes with cashiers, edit newsletters.
And I wonder this: how can I be so heavy, while there is such a big part of me missing? My daughter lived her whole life inside of me, and then she left. When it was time for her to emerge, she refused the calling.
I was her universe.
And I was her death bed.
She was my greatest hope
And now… my greatest sorrow
And my greatest love.
A few months ago, during a set break at one of our last Austin shows, an acquaintance who was attending the performance came over to talk with me. She asked how I was doing. “How are you really doing?” she demanded.
If someone seems to truly want to know how I am doing, than I naturally respond with honesty. “Well…” I began. “It’s been hard. We’re grieving our daughter. I’ve been really sad.”
“Hey,” she said. “You’ve got to go on with your lives. You’ve got to be happy again. You can always have another baby.”
I stared at her.
You can always have another baby.
She kept talking, and it was all of the wrong things. I didn’t ask her to stop. I didn’t ask her to go away. I wish I had been able to.
I will never replace Chickadee. I know this with dead certainty.
She is not like a pet that died, or a collectible item that was stolen.
I may have other children, and they will be themselves, and I will love them for it.
A woman who I have befriended here in Colorado also lost her daughter at birth. It was 40 years ago, and yet whenever we speak of it, tears fill her eyes. She will never forget her baby girl.
Chickadee died on November 15th, 2016. She was born on November 16th, 2016.
As her death and birth anniversary approach, I hope that you will remember her. Maybe you can light a candle for us, or send a prayer. Maybe you can do a good deed on her behalf.
And if you feel inspired to send a note, a card, or whatever, you can mail it to:
520 North Sherwood Street, #26, Fort Collins, CO 80521
We will accept any and all of the love that you are able to offer, with deep gratitude.
P.S. Don’t forget you can preorder the “Chickadee” album here:
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. 🙂
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. 🙂
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. 🙂
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.
Do you ever feel like you’re living in a dream? Like, what actually makes our dreams less real than our “real life”?
When I was a teenager, I would get a kick out of going wide-eyed and saying to my best friend, “What if our dreams are real life and right now we’re just dreaming??”
Sometimes I was sure I would finally “wake up”, and my true love—Leonardo DiCaprio of course—would be sitting by my bedside holding my hand, crying tears of joy as my eyes flutter open.
Pema Chodron says, “Every situation is a passing memory.” Think about it. Everything we do, every moment, every thought is always swiftly becoming a memory. Every second that passes becomes a memory.
And you are a part of my memories, a part of what I identify to be my self. Walker Bob, Tom Weis, Maria, Alice, John Gray, Bhakta Priya, Govardhana, Chiara. The list goes on.
Bob read a poem I wrote the other day, and we cried together, hundreds of miles apart.
Tom Weis, in a dream, has his bicycles and a small trailer attached to the back of our future school-bus home.
I talked to Maria on the phone while we were on tour last week, and she was organizing multi-colored fabrics and decomposing bison masks and boxes of feathers and bones and skulls while we talked. “Do you know what is relieving and depressing all at the same time?” I said to her. “According to the Buddha the only thing we get to take with us when we die is our mind-stream. In other words, the things that I think all of the time that I find so annoying, don’t necessarily just go away after I die. Actually, the real way to let go of my negative patterns is by meditating and doing the work.” “That’s kind of terrifying to think,” she sighed.
Just before we left on tour, Bhakta Priya called me (the childhood best friend who I would contemplate concepts like dreaming vs. real life with). “I think I know why you’re calling,” I said. We hadn’t spoken in months. “Yeah,” she sighed. Govardhana had died suddenly that morning. We recalled sledding on snowy Vermont hills with him, and how he would say things to us in Italian and we couldn’t understand him.
Govardhana was diagnosed with stage four melanoma just a few months ago. I created many memories of him in these last few months, even though I haven’t seen him in 15 years. I tried to get a hold of him, called his mother and left a message, considered driving to his house with soup or flowers or… I didn’t know what I would do. I just wanted to help somehow.
I created a memory of sitting with him, sick in bed. I held his hand and he smiled, even though he felt so ill. His eyelashes were still incredibly long. I told him everything was going to be okay, no matter what.
We drove all over Colorado and played music for hundreds of different people last week, and all the while I knew that Govardhana was being grieved by his parents, his children, his friends. And it was like this heavy secret I was carrying. Anyone who I confided in had to watch me melt down into an onslaught of tears.
With only 2 days of the tour left, we found out a friend in Vermont had committed suicide.
I held that, along with everything else. A crushing weight, like the whole world was sitting on my chest.
My friend Alice shared her day with me that night. Her dad’s death anniversary had just passed and she had spent it journaling, crying, just being with him.
We got home from tour the other day. I opened an email from my old friend, Chiara, and she told me the story of being 15 years old, her dad coming home from work and going to bed, and how it felt to discover the next day that he was never going to wake up again.
“I feel crushed,” I told Addison. “I don’t know how else to describe it.”
But here I have the quiet spaces, the time in between, to contemplate, to unpack, to consider all that has come to pass in these last two weeks.
Death is a dream, as is life. How could we be expected to continue functioning after the death of a loved one if it were really truly real?
Thich Nhat Hanh says that when we die, it’s not as if we leave a blank space behind. We can’t “subtract” ourselves from the universe. Everything that makes up our essence, our continuation, is all there. It just changes form.
The Bhagavad Gita says, “Never has there been a time when you or I did not exist.”
The Buddha says there is no “you” or “I”. But there is also NOT no “you” or “I”. We are not separate, but we are not the same.
When I think about my daughter Chickadee, and her tiny body buried in Texas, I wonder. Is there any of her essence still left there? The chickadees here in Colorado flock outside of my window, chirping and eating bugs and bringing me the memory of my child. There are chickadees all over the world who bring my daughter’s memory to anyone who has heard of her.
Wherever she is now, she is also my memory. And she is your memory. And you are my memory, as I am your memory.
May you and I continue to make more memories together for a good long while.