Rumi, Barber and a Searing Sunset

I get too many notifications from Twitter.  My muted phone keeps waking up brightly every few minutes, urging me to interrupt my work and look! Look what (literary agent, publishing house or lit mag) just published, or look! Look at the clever swipe (celebrity) just took at (idiot politician.)

But Wednesday, when I reached to swipe away the latest text, I was surprised to find a notification of someone quoting Rumi, Mike’s favorite poet and spiritual inspiration. The quote, as presented, seemed to force a rhyme, and made me wonder about the translation, but the spirit was clear- love transforms pain.  I Googled several of the words used, and found a version that sounded more like the Rumi I came to expect from the many times Mike read him aloud to me:

“Through Love all that is bitter will be sweet, Through Love all that is copper will be gold, Through Love all dregs will become wine, through Love all pain will turn to medicine.”

“Hmm, cool.”

I put my phone down and got back to work, becoming so absorbed in writing that I was nearly late for meetings. I made it through the meetings quelling anxiety, because the they threatened to consume all the remaining time allotted to keep up the expected pace of production for the day. I forgot about the Rumi quote as I raced to finish my work, which I did, with two minutes to spare. Clock out.

On my drive home, I talk to Angelic Daughter via bluetooth (hands free!), except for the 10 minutes or so on the toll road, when conversation threatens to distract me from my primary task of avoiding being mowed down by crazed drivers flying by me, weaving lanes at 20 mph above the already generous speed limit.

Once safely merged, the quote came back to me, and suddenly a big spiritual sandbag of loneliness dropped heavy on my chest. I turned up the radio just as I remembered that Rumi quote, when I felt that sandbag land, and heard the opening notes of the Barber Adagio for strings.

“Oh, way to pile on, universe. Thanks loads.”

That piece was used in the movie “Platoon,” in a scene of devastating loss that ripped me up, and that music is forever associated with that scene in my mind. The Rumi quote makes me think about Mike. The Barber Adagio makes me remember tragic loss.

Now I’m sobbing on the speedway. After a few minutes spent brushing tears off my cheeks and blinking a lot to maintain visibility, the truck that had been looming to my left, so I couldn’t see anything in that direction, pulled ahead, revealing a spectacular sunset in progress. Intensely pink, with a shelf cloud seemingly lit from under, brushed by “horsetail” (cirrus) clouds, the whole ceiling of it cut off by a straight line cloud break with a strip of clear, baby blue sky beyond.

“Oh, my God,” I thought. “Look at that, Mike.”

My phone’s camera couldn’t possibly do justice to that blazingly beautiful pink sunset, and no photo could evoke what I felt in that moment.

“All that is copper turns to gold.” Pain is a kind of medicine. Rumi wrote a lot about living with suffering and pain, and learning from it. Mike wrote about his suffering as a kind of companion. Pain reminds us of love. Love turns pain into medicine. Mike wrote that Rumi had reminded him “that we all die and it doesn’t even matter because this our affliction is only a sigh. God is close to us. Endure your affliction and he may even reward you.”

Mike’s physical pain was “managed,” except when he was laid down too flat, when it was excruciating. His emotional pain was profound – having to say good bye to the Angelic Daughter he raised, having to leave her here without him.

My pain is muted in comparison, but it is real – the pain of seeing her still struggle to accept that he is gone, trying so hard to understand the abstraction of “his spirit energy and love are always with us.” Sharing the ache of our ongoing search for how to live fully without him.

I thought I had that under “control,” lately. I thought I’d made “progress.” Rumi, Barber and that sunset smashed that notion – the idea that I could compartmentalize grief. I’m grateful for that. I needed a big, sloppy, snotty, sob – accompanied by the moaning sound the sobs bring up from my core –  a kind of howling.

Love “turns pain to medicine.” Love tells me to embrace grief and understand that it isn’t going away. It’s just woven in, to my life as it is now and will be from now on.

With storm wind howling today, I remain, your muted, grateful, still-learning-from-love-and-pain-and-love,

Ridiculouswoman

Solace in Spring Snow

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow…

-TS Eliot, The Wasteland

Palm Sunday. A parade toward betrayal, pain, despair, and death.

Crocuses muffled in sudden spring snow, heavy and wet.

Cars off the road.

How could you forget how to drive in winter, so soon?

It always snows again in April, I said.

I was right.

Budding trees and flowering shrubs – freeze frame.

The cedars and arborvitae, which had just begun to lift,

bent now under a burden of white.

I wasn’t quite ready, anyway.

I heard his voice yesterday, so clear,

quoting Sara Teasdale’s “I am not yours,”

the voice that he left on my answering machine,

nearly thirty years ago.

“For yours is a spirit, beautiful and bright…”

just as I was feeling unworthy as mother to our daughter

whose spirit is more beautiful and bright than mine can ever be,

again.

Winter can’t come if it never leaves.

Sun and spring flowers, up from bulbs planted just before winter was coming.

“Mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain…”

Today I am grateful for the warmth of winter

and the forgetful snow.

 

Retreat – or, Duck and Cover

In elementary school, we had “disaster drills.” We were instructed to get under our desks and cover our heads.

This was supposed to protect us from apocalyptic horrors.

For mere tornadoes, we were marched into an inner hallway in the building, to sit on the floor facing the wall, with our arms over our heads and our heads on our knees.

We sat through a few really vicious storms that way, and survived.

I’m suddenly undergoing a burst of “nesting” – rearranging furniture, buying furniture I can’t afford, planning to paint again, trying to finally finish this house, so that we might actually have people over, to use those holiday-themed guest towels.

The result so far has been some really pleasant together time for my daughter and me, with a cozy fire and no TV (moved to the basement, in a nice finished room, but it will take time to get used to that; I bought myself cheap TV and set it up in what I am calling my “boudoir.” I have always wanted a “boudoir,” and I’m almost done with it. Just need some decent drapes and a chaise to recline –  fetchingly  – on.)

Wait – who am I kidding about guests? And who the hell is ever going to see me reclining fetchingly? We don’t have guests. Neither one of us really wants them, unless they are related to us, and even then, we take them one, or two maximum, at a time.

As for anyone else in my “boudoir,” well, dream on.

So much for “New Year’s Revolutions” . I was going to open up my Facebook page to “friends of friends” and change my LinkedIn page to describe what I want to be.

HA. Today I posted that I’m quitting Facebook. The politics have started again. I can’t take it. It brings out the worst in me – the opposite of what I’m trying to be.

Duck and cover. Sound the retreat.

Hide in the rearranged, redecorated, slightly nicer cocoon.

I need an actual, real job, that pays a living wage and provides health insurance.

I’m not going to get one this way.

But my job search is laughable. It has become painfully obvious that even in an allegedly tight labor market, no one is impressed by my very lengthy resume, pockmarked with caregiving gaps and peppered with short-term failures between too-long stays at high-stress, high paying jobs. Or maybe it’s just bad old (OLD – HA) age discrimination.

“I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Dont tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!”

-Emily Dickinson (according to Wikipedia, that’s the closest transcription of what she actually wrote – when it was first published, the editor changed “advertise” to “banish us” and “June” to ‘”day.” WTF?)

“Put yourself out there, something will come along.”

HA. Frog, meet bog.

“The Soul selects her own Society –
Then – shuts the Door –
On her divine Majority –
Obtrude no more

Unmoved – she notes the Chariots – pausing –
At her low Gate –
Unmoved – an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat –

I’ve known her – from an ample nation –
Choose One –
Then – close the Valves of her attention –
Like Stone”

– Emily again – and editors again screwed around with her punctuation and word choices – many versions say, “To her divine Majority present no more” but I’m sure “On her…Obtrude” is right because it’s just more – Emily-ish. (Dashes, HA.) The few analyses I found claim it is about limiting socializing to just a few companions, but to me it is about choosing one’s own company over socializing with anyone at all.  The One chosen was the self. Buzz off world, leave me alone. Quit bugging me. Get off my lawn. She likes her own society. Valves of attention closed. Like a kid with their fingers in their ears, yelling, “I’m not listening.” Nothing will change her mind. Stone. Unmoved and unmovable.

I’m no Emily Dickinson and I don’t want to be as unmovable as stone, but periodic retreat is a thing with me. Maybe it’s the OCD, maybe it’s grief, or fear – of running out of money, of not being a good enough parent, of nothing good ever happening again. Of boring you with boring me. Of aging and seeing my mother’s face in the mirror. Of a small, meaningless life, heading for a big birthday in June, sans even the admiring bog.

Maybe it’s this endless sloppy winter and spring nowhere in sight.

Maybe I’m just “tired of being strong.” (Connie Nielsen in Gladiator)

Is there any value in retreat?

Cocoons become chrysalides from which beauties emerge.

Let’s hope so. We’ll see.

Until then I remain,

Your confused, withdrawing, backpeddling, solitary, guestless and unfetching,

Ridiculouswoman