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Goat joy, and other ways a broken heart lets in light
From the Journal | April 2023
For those new to this e-community, I periodically offer my readers & clients snippets from my daily writing (tidied up a bit ;-).
Hello, several from my e-community have asked: What happened to your journal? No journal shares in April.
The answer: Sometimes what comes up in my little notebook seems too heavy to share. I consider the impact on readers, and I don’t want my clients to worry about leaning on me.
That said, I’ve been thinking about what a rediscovered friend, A, wrote me in early April. It was a reminder of my purpose here, how it’s helpful to others when I let them see my own bumpy path as I practice what I teach about living with loss. One quote summed it up, “The story you should tell is the story you don't want to tell.”
In that vein, here are pieces from my April journal, tidied up. I share them in the spirit of reminding myself and you that we all live with loss, and yes, joy really is living there, too, if we invite it in.
April 2, 2023 | Sunday
A hard day. There are things only a caregiver knows, beyond the toenail trimming and meals given on trays. It’s in the nuances of disease affecting the brain. You live in the confusion of another’s waxing and waning confusion.
We get caught up in the idea of the big loss, death. But. The real loss for us is the dying, which is in fact living, more accurately, living without, progressively more and more without. The care receiver, and also the giver.
I’m worn by wanting to fix what’s unfixable.
Some days I can live in is-ness, letting be what simply, unequivocally is.
Recently, too many days in a row, wanting back what can live only in the past, forgetting that now is a sliver of rainforest, so much flitting by in succulent shadows unless you pay attention.
The only way out of wanting, is having, choosing what’s here.
I step out and down the deck stairs to the Oregon grape, a prickly native shrub in full, lemony blossom. I tip a flower cluster to my nose, breathing in its sweet scent.
Smiling is such a lovely reflex, the sheer muscular act, a subtle chain reaction.
The day softens, the heart relaxes, from fist to flowering.
You, reading this, is it possible you are entirely okay, right now, in this moment?
April 7, 2023 | Friday
There is the way the foot touches down on earth. When was the last time you thought about just one foot fall on the wood floor, the carpet, if you’re brave, bare sole in the after-rain mud?
Slipping off a shoe, I let the ooze-y earth seep around my foot. When I pull it up, there’s a little sucking sound.
My foot inked with mud, I set it down on pavement, feeling into heel, into the pads beneath each toe joint, toes splayed, their pudgey tips pressing downward.
A footprint. Proof. I’m still here.
One ant scuttles out of the flowerbed. “Hello, tiny one.”
She passes through my lop-sided foot art, pausing to circle in the arch, her six thread-ish legs carrying her forward, claws for feet, leaving imperceptible tracks, what touched me, touching her.
See, there are so many ways we go on.
April 18, 2023 | Tuesday
Is it lack of sleep or nearness of loss that makes my body, plain as a kiwi fruit, open? All that green magic, exposed and tender, the pulpy tartness and the tiny black seeds encircling a yellow center, as if an inner sun.
Okay, probably I’m not as brilliant green within as this kiwi I’m eating, juice dripping down my chin, but I can believe it anyway. Belief and choice intertwine.
Small moments make me weep. Oh, and life is mostly small moments.
Is this joy or sorrow, gratitude or the arrow-tip of being mortal piercing through all the distractions the human tribe prefers?
Outside and sudden, light spills sideways on my sitting buddha beneath the red maple, the peaceful stony face a mix of bright and shadow, flecks of lichen illuminated. Early sun finds the crimson fists, the tree’s leaf buds just beginning to open, brilliant and glittery, slicked in last night’s rain.
Whose eyes other than mine see this dazzling gift, revealed, then disappearing, in the space of a cloud?
There was frog song in the pour and hail overnight. Do you think, from pond’s edge, frogs and pollywogs are witnesses?
Thank you eyes that still see, even if they lean more on lenses and need extra light with each year that goes by.
Thank you brain, such a busy engine, that had the good sense to sense that something simple and spectacular was happening beyond the window.
Thank you body and mind, curious spirit, too, that said in their own wordless way, “Look. Now!”
You can never be overwhelmed with happiness or grace, though you can weep because you can weep.
Tears are one way you talk to yourself and meet the world. To carry yourself through any desert, it’s best to bring your own rain.
April 21, 2023 | Friday
All week, in a faraway hospital, my little sister, wheezing and breathless. I think of goats and feel grateful for our iPhones that let us talk through texts.
Last year she lost her husband, she lost part of her breast to a tumor, she lost a segment of one lung to another tumor, she’s fought hard to avoid losing hope.
Then earlier this year, she discovered the goats. More specifically, goat joy.
A farm near her raises goats, the babies leaping and kicking and running toward her when she visits, the little hooves scraping up dirt, musical in the gravel.
When you’ve been coming home to what can only be called a haunting absence for months, don’t underestimate how good it feels to be seen, to have someone, even a goaty someone, so happy to see you, all of you, the sad as well as the stoic.
Death not only takes away the physical presence of the one you love, so that you can no longer see them, it takes with them their eyes that saw you.
To be seen with living eyes, is to feel loved. Even the best counselors and therapists can miss this dimension of loss.
Grandkids, kids, extended family, friends, colleagues, they may or may not see you, really see you. Let’s face it, to look honestly into another’s grieving and struggling can open your own box of woes.
Years ago, after two deaths in two weeks, two big, wounding losses, I remember coming down a corridor at work, how the familiar faces cast their eyes away. Like dominoes falling, I thought, funny and sad. They cared about me, I knew that. I understood they didn’t want to risk seeing my pain or looking into their own abyss.
Now, concerned about my sister, I scroll through the pictures and video clips she’s sent in recent weeks. When she talks about her grandkids, I like to tease, “which kids?”
The baby goats wanting to play, get her body moving, which is physically healing. You know that, right? When grief is a kind of sludge that makes taking even one step forward hard, bending down and petting and doing a little jig with a baby goat or two or five is a form of freedom, your body out of it’s private grief cell.
I think back to February, when on a video call, a sweet-faced goat named Quinn clambered into her arms. Quinn’s eyes focused on her with a look of happy-wonder, as she sat, her pulse and his no-doubt quickened.
Moments later, as we talked, Quinn fell asleep in her lap. She gazed down at him then looked up, into the phone’s camera, smiling hugely.
Is the joy she felt holding a sleeping, baby goat the same that she felt embracing her husband? No.
But. Joy wears many clothes. Also, one joy doesn’t diminish another—they deepen each other.
Yesterday she was moved to a private room and more tests ordered. I so want to be with her, but my husband needs me here.
Instead, I imagine 11 ways I could sneak a baby goat into her hospital room—elaborate plans involving strollers and baby bonnets, or urgently, authoritatively explaining to a nurse the science of goat therapy for improving lung function.
Ultimately, I settle on texting goat emojis and red hearts.
April 22, 2023 | Saturday (Earth Day)
All afternoon I’m a rhythm-maker, flicking a Japanese sickle, the shush-shush, shush-shush as it slices through winter-dead stalks and last year’s fern fronds hanging on brown and crumbly.
All afternoon, rediscovering how it’s the nature of life to want to grow again—spots of chartreuse and burgundy sprouting out of rot and leaf litter.
Spying a tiny flag of pink, what is that? A gopher staking her claim below an overgrowth of waxy salal leaves? Maybe a nation of she-leprechauns, hidden, until one caught her bloomers on a twig?
Surprise, it’s the Fawn lilies I’d forgotten I’d planted years ago.
See how the world goes on without you, blooming and thriving—and how, when you remember to look, it goes on for you, blooming and thriving? Another small moment. My eyes, wet, happy.
Thank you, pink petals and bright yellow anthers hatching your pollen. Thank you for your persistence.
As I work, the right ear listens to the chattering flight of recently returned Voilet-green swallows and the who-whooo, who-whooo, who-whooo of wild Band-tailed pigeons.
The left is learning, the Irish voice of a coach-mentor, talking about creating insights for others, the timbre of his recorded words tunneling into my mind for a half-hour via a tiny headphone, an earbud.
Ear-bud. Yes, love that name, from sound, a blossoming of ideas.
Now, putting the earbud back in its plastic nest, the world comes in full, stereo volume. Every sense, an amplifier.
I have to pause my weed-pulling and wheelbarrow-filling to record a thought, a line, a question, or a curiosity, my poet-head overflowing.
Here’s one. What if life comes through us, and we are not our own end?
I think of my flute and piccolo in a dusty case. Is the body like that, an instrument? Breath, then music.
When we meet, let’s not talk about what we do for a living or whether it will rain or debate the current politics. You be your music and I’ll be mine. We’ll listen deeply, okay?
Let’s find out what the world wants to happen through us. If someone passes by they’ll hear the song that we can only make, together, in that moment.