What makes you feel your aliveness? Singing to the moon, a muskrat friend & how to fall up
From the Journal | December 1-11, 2023
For those new to this e-community, I periodically offer my readers & clients snippets from my daily writing (tidied up a bit ;-), intermixed with topical and Q & A articles. Here are 5 shares from my journal for early December.
December 1, 2023 | Friday
I step out of the house and into the night. It’s a big room, bigger than all rooms, holding stars, bright Venus, the moon lodged in the hulking trunks of redwood trees.
“Hello, watcher moon, I see you,” I say out loud. Suddenly I’m singing a song I learned a long time ago:
I see the moon, The moon sees me, The moon sees somebody I want to see, So God bless the moon, And God bless me, And God bless the somebody I want to see.
I hear my voice, in its human-ness, moving from within me out into the crisp, quiet darkness.
Some tones are low, and I feel them reverberate in my chest. Others grate and rumble in my throat. At the end, as I hold the word, the melodic note, that is “see”—it’s higher up, resonating in my forehead.
The human voice is both physical and metaphysical.
I am a sound-maker.
Somewhere the 6 wild turkeys that have been visiting my hand-tossed grain daily, hear me. Do they think, Ah, why is the grain-giver up in the wee hours? I don’t think so, though they have come to know me as a certain being with benefits in their world.
What is a song to sleeping turkeys up in the arms of a tree? Sound, simply sound. Invisible yet physical, palpable waves through air, sometimes finding an ear, then a brain.
I am also a meaning-maker.
My sounds are word-music. Metaphysical, from the Greek, meta, meaning beyond or higher than. That is, the words mean something more than the sound that carries them.
Moon. Want. Bless. See.
Who is the somebody I want to see?
A list forms, speaking in my head. Sister, brother, niece, certain faraway children, friends in Lake Shastina and in the little fishing village of Trinidad north of here, friends in rural Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Then the gone ones: mother, father, long-ago sisters, Rosie-the-other-mother, Muir and Maya kitties, Gizmo dog, Ruth who took her own life away.
For a moment, a memory-flash, there’s my husband’s sweet-innocent Auntie Marian, opening the door, wearing the tweed jacket of a women’s suit, a slip instead of a skirt, and one patent-leather pump. Beneath a cloud of white curls, her smile is huge, so happy to see people who love her.
I can still hear the tap-thump, tap-thump, tap-thump of her walking around her home with that one shoe on, one shoe off, her voice repeating, “Oh, you’re here, you’re here, wonderful, you’re here, you’re here, wonderful,” a quirky-joyful mantra. She was still years away from her Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Now I ask out loud: “Who is the somebody I want to see?” My voice, set free to wander in air and starlight, receives an answer.
Maybe my husband ‘before’ his illness changed him?
Maybe the ‘before’ me, too?
That’s the thing about loss. It’s a planet, both familiar and foreign, with its own gravity, always trying to pull you back to a place you can no longer go or to a person you can no longer see . . . or be.
December 3, 2023 | Sunday
The blank page is very blank today, so I flip back through my journal to this entry on July 24th:
The mornings are quiet and darker now, the birdsong dimmed, as the courtship has given way to the work of feeding tiny beaks, mouths flung open, red throats to the sky, to the god of insects and bits of carrion poked down into hungry bellies. In the quiet, I hear the high-pitched, waltzy-song of a Pacific slope flycatcher. Chirp, twee, chirp … chirp, twee, chirp … chirp, twee, chirp. This is how to live: Lean into the longing, which can feel lonesome at times, but opens every sense. Looking at a deck railing it comes alive with a pulsing rhythm. You can’t help thinking of how everything is electrons moving in emptiness, so that even the inanimate seems alive, and perhaps is. Who says we have the definition of aliveness right? Then I realize, no, the bright animated railing is just a lens for seeing how the thin coastal fog is a web of water, a damp wispy veil in ceaseless motion, making the morning light uneven so everything ebbs and wobbles—the railing and my hand on the railing. If the railing had eyes, would it see me as pulsing and animated in the fog drifting between us? Aliveness is inside and outside.
The beauty of writing a bit each day in a little notebook is that you can travel into the past as well as fish in your inner pond, always surprised by what’s there.
Human memory is vast. Every conscious experience and all the unconscious taking-in of sensory data—all the sights, smells, sounds, and so much more that our brains process but our minds can’t possibly focus on at any one time—it’s all within us.
Nothing is lost or gone. But there’s no directory or index to finding what we might want to look for in our memory bank. We don’t even know what we might like to remember.
A journal jogs the memory. Words help hold the feelings and details of a moment in time, a mindful morning or an exhilarating evening.
Reading this July journal scribbling, I’m pulled back into that day. I’m reliving that morning, a Monday, the start of a new week, and an odd afternoon exchange with my husband. He was trying to make sense of the dark shape that was our plump torti-cat sprawled on the floor across the room, asking, “Is that alive, or did you spill something?”
Sometimes confusion is funny. “Yes, I spilled our cat on the floor.” When he laughed, I knew I could, too.
I read again this simple sentence: Aliveness is inside and outside.
Yes. Aliveness is this ‘I’ who travels through the world one thought at a time, mind-steps. Aliveness is also the world itself.
Aliveness is the ravenous late-summer baby birds. Aliveness is the insects, who, when not being poked into a bird belly, live at most a year, and some, like a mayfly, only hours after lifting on new wings. Aliveness is a plush-bodied cat and a spill that likely swims with bacteria. Aliveness is soil and sea and slugs leaving their shimmery paths on the sidewalk.
Aliveness is also longing. More than just wanting what or whom we can or can’t have, longing is how we keep going.
Longing is one of the long shadows love casts
What lives must want to live. Even the cell, tiny and mindless, is designed with the purpose of being alive.
Aliveness is inside and outside. That means you and I are in this together.
December 5, 2023 | Tuesday
Where did Rachel go? Is she still in the world?
All the news about Israel and Gaza comes like a series of buckets going down into a deep well, the well that is my life, the well that, with each breath and moment ticking by, deepens.
The images of blood and bodies, tears and trauma go down as heavy deposits. Then the bucket comes back up with something else.
This afternoon it brings up Rachel, a girl I knew briefly when I was a girl living in a New Jersey trailer park for several months. I was the new kid arriving after all the schoolgirls had picked their best friends. Rachel wasn’t new. Rachel was a Jew, and no one had picked her, which took me awhile to understand.
We became outcast friends, poking around in the naked, frozen woods, talking about mean girls and wondering why you can’t see stars during the day.
We dared each other to walk on an iced-over seasonal creek, and once spent a whole afternoon wondering about a frozen muskrat we discovered, stuck under the ice. We stared at its swollen body surrounded by air bubbles, and looked into its face. We decided it looked surprised.
Once one of the mean girls saw Rachel and I holding hands so we wouldn’t fall running out of the woods onto the slippery street. At school the next day, she cornered me in the girls bathroom and told me I shouldn’t be friends with Rachel because, she said, “Jews killed Jesus.”
When I got back to my school desk and looked over at Rachel, sitting two rows away and hunched over her assignment, I couldn’t imagine Rachel hurting a muskrat, let alone Jesus.
Back at home, I asked my mother if it’s true that Jews killed Jesus. My mother wasn’t religious, though identified as Lutheran and had a vague belief in God and what Jesus had to say, his words printed in red in our black, King James Bible.
It must have been an odd question, as she set me down at our tiny trailer table with a cookie to do homework. She stopped working at the sink, looked at me, and thought a moment before answering.
“Who told you that?” She asked, then quickly, “Nevermind, doesn’t matter.”
She paused again, then said, “You know, Jesus was a Jew.” It was a revelation, though a shallow revelation as I really had no concept for Jew or Christian. I hadn’t yet heard the words, Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist or other names for relating to a divine presence.
My mother listened as I told her about the bathroom conversation. She could have tried providing answers, but instead did something better. She gave me questions.
“What do you want to know, the story of how Jesus died or whether it’s a good idea to be friends with Rachel?” I stopped eating my cookie, deep in thought, then said, “both.”
“Okay, then, how will you do that?”
Since that King James Bible was hard for an 8-year-old to decipher, I decided on the encyclopedias at the library to figure out the ‘death part.’ It would spark a life-long interest in spirituality and how we each find our own faith.
As for Rachel, I realized quickly the only answer already belonged to me.
Rachel was a little girl and I was a little girl. We were often curious and sometimes lonely, both with brown hair tumbling down our backs, fearless bundled-up beings in the woods, bravely testing the ice with the toes of our clunky boots, so many secrets already shared between us.
“We’re friends,” I said, looking at my mother’s face for any reaction, “that’s it, we’re friends.”
My mother was stoic, letting me soak in my own kid-wisdom, saying, “Okay, now get your homework done so you can go play with Rachel.”
December 6, 2023 | Wednesday
Hello notebook. Hello mechanical pencil that makes a low scraping sound on paper when I write, so that I hear my words not only in my head, but also as a kind of pouring out, rough and scratchy on the page.
Again, that physicality, the magical mind and the animal body collaborating.
Rachel is still here with me this morning. I imagine her sitting on my daybed with her own notebook. She gets to still be a little girl, while I get to be, well, not a little girl.
Rachel, do we know anyone who’s Palestinian?
The first name that pops into my mind is Yousef, though I have no idea if he was Palestinian, likely not, only that he was from the Middle East, which means myriad geographic as well as political possibilities.
Muslim entered my awareness as a college student when Yousef started coming into the campus library almost every day for photocopies, and I staffed the photocopier.
I suspected he really didn’t need all of the photocopies. Still, I enjoyed our conversations while the copier went about its rhythmical work of multiplying the sheets full of mathematical equations and occasionally the Arabic script of poems he wrote.
Yousef was an engineering exchange student who would return to the Middle East at the end of the semester. His accent, his woven scarves, his writing, fluid and rounded and exotic coming out of the copier, all piqued my curiosity.
He shared that the two things he liked most about America were pizza and the freedom to study Sufism, albeit still secretly.
Sufism is a mystical form of Islam. Every major religion has a dimension of mysticism. In early Christianity it can be found in Gnosticism, which was shared with some Jewish sects. Later in Judaism, Kabbalah emerged with its mystical leanings. All are about cultivating an intimate connection with a divine source, that is, God.
I hadn’t yet discovered Jalaludin Rumi, my now-favorite ancient poet and a Persian Sufi mystic, but when I did, I thought about Yousef and wondered if he was inspired by Rumi.
Yousef and I had poetry in common. He said his poems were about loving a girl back home whom he could never be with culturally, and about oneness with God, whom he knew as Allah.
He told me about a Sufi concept called Barakah, which I understood as a flow of blessings from God to those closest to God. I remember asking, “How do you know if you are close enough to God to receive that flow of blessings?” I don’t recall his answer, only that he was focused on getting closer.
Wondering about Barakah now, the Internet offers up context. It’s not just a flow of blessings to the closest humans, but also a spiritual presence or essence that can imbue things or places. The web offers up, “These creations endowed with Barakah can then transmit the flow of Barakah to the other creations of God.”
I flip back through my journal to that deck railing that seemed so alive in the foggy mist on an early summer morning. Was that Barakah? Did that railing transmit the flow of blessings to me, or I to it, or was it all just emptiness and electronics doing their physics dance?
I decide to hold open the possibility of Barakah, and that through our aliveness and our longing for connection, any of us can both receive it and give it.
One of my favorite Rumi lines, in translation, is from a poem called, Love Dogs, about a man crying out to Allah, his God, and hearing no reply. Then in a dream, a soul guide explains to him,
“This longing you express is the return message. The grief you cry out from draws you toward union.”
Longing is one way that love speaks to us. That wanting is proof we are still alive, evidence we are ever-connected to those here and gone.
Barakah, in the broadest Sufi mystic sensibility, is what I think we’d call in the Christian tradition, grace.
I Google further, and of course, commerce and tech have to leech onto a meaningful concept, as I discover, no kidding, there’s a Barakah.app, its tag-line: “blessings in every bite.”
Happily, the intentions are positive, something to do with reducing the waste of fresh food, helping the environment, and “completing the circle of spiritual fulfillment.” Wow, all in an app. Who knew?
December 11, 2023 | Monday
Standing under a stand of redwoods, looking up, my arms stretched skyward, a bit dizzy, I feel as if I’m falling up.
Have you ever felt that, as if you could fall up and into the blue sea above? It’s pretty cool actually.
When I step back, and look at the trees from a distance, already at 3 o’clock in the afternoon there is a darkness in them that slowly climbs up through the branches, just a bit of sun on the crowns, slowly being chased away, evaporating.
No, it’s not a darkness rising. That’s what the news and the over-protective human mind likes to do, to focus on the ominous or threatening, the next loss looming.
As my two cats crouch in a shrub watching birds through the deer fencing, I gaze at the high tips of redwood needles letting go of their last luminosity for this day.
But only for this day. Tomorrow is likely to come for me, and with it, more light in the trees.
Suddenly, surprising myself, I speak two words out loud, clear enough for my cats to look up from the birds and into my face.
I say, “thank you.”
This is a season, autumn, moving soon into another, winter. Each brings a beauty and a different way of being in your day, whether more light or less, a chill in the wind or heatwaves blurring the distance.
Amid all the unknowing that comes with this aliveness, the universe gives us grace in the form of rhythms. Seasons are a kind of jazz, the riffs keep repeating until the song is over.
I summon jazz master Dave Brubeck and his iconic Take Five into this moment. I start spinning in the cadence of a jam only I can hear, spinning round like the Whirling Dervishes, who, did you know, are Sufi mystics founded by Poet Rumi.
I spin and spin under the redwoods beside the shrub of watching cats, until I topple down into moss, laughing.