Have you ever had one of those days when you swear you must be wearing a “Kick Me!” sign, and pretty much everything feels like it’s not working? I already know the answer: We all do from time to time. But if we have enough mindfulness and wisdom and our mind is not too afflicted, we realize even on our darkest days that this, too, shall pass. Tomorrow is a new day, and a good night’s sleep can do wonders.
It is now tomorrow, but I will begin with yesterday, when my mom’s absence felt more real than ever. More than anything, I wished I could call her and hear her voice. I have a voicemail from a month and a half before she died saved on my phone for such occasions. It begins with a cheery, “Hi, honey!” and ends with a reassuring, “See you later!” Oh, how I wish. She would have known just what to say – as mothers do – and the reality that I will not hear her voice for the rest of my life weighs heavily when it hits. It is a grief shared with every other family member and with virtually everyone who has lost a mother.
A friend from high school sent me a metal, inscribed stone (pictured below) during the final week of my mom’s life. (The other side reads, “COURAGE”.) It has brought me solace on numerous occasions, including yesterday.
Normally, I am comforted by the impression that my mom continues to shine her light in my life.
I sense that she is only a thought away – closer than ever. But at the same time, I don’t want to pull her back to this world by being emotionally needy, if that is possible. I want her spirit to be free and unfettered.
Normally, when it hits me that she’s gone – viscerally in the gut – and I feel sad, the sadness is answered immediately by the thought, “Be grateful for the time we had together.” And then the sadness fades as quickly as it arose, like magic. But yesterday was different, and I missed her terribly. She was my best friend, the first person I would pick up the phone and call to share joys, frustrations, and sorrows. I needed some mothering.
The last time I visited my dad, I found on the refrigerator a quote in my mom’s own handwriting that says it all: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” The quote is from Maya Angelou, who died the day after my mom died. (!)
In my mom’s absence (or perhaps through a new kind of relationship and communication with her?), I’ve noticed the seed of motherly self-love taking root and growing inside me. This seemed to begin soon after I learned she was terminally ill, and it’s a priceless gift, not to be confused with selfishness. The Inner Critic has been remarkably silent, and the Inner Mother has taken over and become my default responder – which makes a world of difference!
So…it has been a crazy week. I was hoping for a more stable, drama-free school year, but after only two weeks back, an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu already has crept in. In the spirit of self-mothering, I woke up yesterday morning with the realization that I am putting too much pressure on myself and that the only sane response is to simplify as much as possible. There are times when all kinds of assistance shows up to help us along. Other times, it withdraws (perhaps due to a lack of clarity or commitment?). I write about times when I feel supported and in the flow, to remember that they happen. I write about times when support seems to wane, to get through and find my footing. It feels like a waning phase at this time – although it can shift in a heartbeat.
This weekend, I planned to embark on a new, three-year, spiritual venture, but the universe threw so many curve balls that I had to cancel (hopefully just postpone) my plans. It feels like there is no space at this time for a new commitment. So, again, the only sane response is to simplify. Therefore, my new weekend plan is to begin Project Sanctuary, which I did not get to over summer vacation. This involves purging mercilessly all the stuff that has outlived its usefulness in order to create space for new possibilities…because LIFE IS TOO SHORT NOT TO! As the leaves begin to change color and fall to the ground, I intend to clear away the clutter and transform our home into a sanctuary. (At the moment, it is anything but.) Get the chi flowing. Come to think of it, what season is more perfect than fall for releasing what no longer serves a purpose? I understand that in between releasing the old and budding the new, there might be a season that feels stagnant. But if that’s the case, it must be honored, for winter is part of the natural cycle and offers unique gifts and opportunities – for example, the cultivation of patience.
Speaking of patience…
As soon as I finished typing the last sentence above, thinking that was the end of this post, I got a message from my friend and fellow photographer, Peter, who was heading out with hopes of photographing the aurora borealis and invited me to come along. We drove to a boat launch on the Great Sacandaga Lake and were disappointed to see that there was substantial cloud cover. He consulted the weather radar, and it looked like the clouds would blow over soon – so we waited. Eventually, I began to balance rocks. The waves lapping against the shore reminded me of the ocean as the moon floated higher in the sky (which actually makes nighttime photography more challenging). I recalled how my mom would laugh when I told her Peter and I went out for a nighttime photography shoot. I never understood what she found so hilarious, but I knew that if I could tell her about waiting for the northern lights along the Sacandaga, it would tickle her funny bone all over again. I felt her laughter in the moonlight, and that made me smile. After about an hour and a half of waiting, we decided that the clouds probably were only over the lake and not about to dissipate, so we left. Although we didn’t glimpse the colorful, shimmering ribbons of the aurora borealis, my mood had shifted, and that alone was worth the trip.
Not ready to give up after we made our way to clearer sky, we took a lengthy detour in search of a north facing field or body of water that would permit a view of the northern lights. The detour didn’t yield the results we hoped for, and by the time I got back home, it was hours later than I’d intended to be awake. But at least we could say we gave it our best shot – for I’ve never seen the aurora borealis and have a very strong urge to witness it in this lifetime!
At 6:14 this morning – with less than four hours of sleep – I heard a ping! sound (like when I receive a message on my phone) that prompted me to open my eyes and look out the bedroom window to the sky over the river. The sunrise was colorful, textured, and dazzling, and I jumped out of bed to photograph it, knowing the colors would only be at peak for a few minutes before fading. Then I went back to sleep.
After such a challenging day and a night of waiting for the right conditions and searching for something that was not to be found, that ping! was a hopeful sign that the universe continues to assist and support me – for I can’t explain where it came from. (There were no other people or devices in the house.) I just heard it inside my head and opened my eyes at precisely the right time to catch the extraordinary colors and light, not of the aurora borealis, but of a new day dawning.
Yesterday’s gone. Today, I shall simplify.
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