Saying goodbye to Stripes

I don’t know how to spend these last few hours with you, because whatever we do it will never be enough.

You, curled up warm on my lap, with your tail over your eyes and your smooth wet nose. You, now chirping and tilting your head in the way that invites me to scratch the side of your sweet face, whiskers sprouting from speckled cheeks, before you bury it with a contented sigh under one useless rear leg, hiding the sad crumpled ear that remains from the hematoma which began this downward slope that we’re still slipping down, so nearly at the end of.  You slowly close your eyes, and settle into sleep, leaving only the gentle rise and fall of your grey flank and an undercurrent of happy vibration.

It’s hard to fathom that after today I won’t be able to stroke the impossibly downy shock of white at your chest, which, just occasionally, you lift your little pointed chin to reveal, for me to admire and pet; nor trace the faint stripes on your legs that caused a child to give you the simple name by which we’ve known, loved and called for you these ten years; nor feel the soft but insistent touch of your outstretched paw on my hand or chest or face as you ask for more attention, more affection. You’ve always known what you like and don’t like, want and don’t want, and have perfected the art of communicating your displeasure to us with your tail and the odd warning nip, your desires and pleasure through the varying intensity of your purring, through the little noises, movements and “high fives.” You have wanted my affection and I’ve happily given it, but you have given me so much in return. Even your asking is a gift, showing me how simple it can be to love and ask to be loved. I always knew that if I sat or lay down on the sofa in your presence and pulled up a fluffy blanket, you would invariably jump up and begin your purring, your settling, your demanding. It’s nice to be wanted like that. Nice to have a warm little body to nap with on a Sunday afternoon, knowing we’re both enjoying the experience as much as each other.

You move in my lap and now you are a tangle of long limbs, white paws and warm pink pads. I know they are normally warm because the vet asked me to check them – on the phone in a panic after we found you with your back legs dragging behind you – and they were cold as ice. I knew that wasn’t good. Though you survived that night against all odds, blood clots staying away from your heart and finally dispersing from your lungs and haunches, the damage was already done.

I don’t want you to go. But this crippled stumbling is no way for you to live, raw patches appearing on the top of the feet you’re still dragging.

I’m glad, though, that you had ten years in which to spend almost all the warm or even just snow-less months outside, and that you had our woods to explore – climbing trees, chasing squirrels, finding spots in the yard to stretch out, in sun or shade depending on the day, and sometimes just sitting up tall surveying your territory, proud queen of the back yard, alert to every noise, smell and sound, ears twitching and nostrils flaring as you took it all in. You weren’t wholly ours out there. You were wild and free and in your element. You didn’t like to be carried or cuddled. But when we ate or sat outside you would saunter up and lie down nearby – close but not too close. You loved to follow me down to the clothesline and watch me as I pegged out the laundry, often taking a break to scratch your claws on the closest tree trunk. And it always made me happy when you’d decide to jump up onto the hammock as I lay in it, even deigning to lie down with me for short stretches, but preferring to rest underneath its shade. Close but not too close.

Thank you for wanting to be with us.

Thank you for being ours for this time.

(We won’t mention those few weeks last summer when you forgot you were ours and went to hang out with the people down the street!)

Thank you for being what you are, just a cat, so in the moment, and making me want to be more fully myself – just a woman, a human – making me want to cultivate the immediacy, un-self-conscious presence, generosity and simplicity that I’ve seen in you. When I came to prayer and you came to join me, you were a picture for me of the Divine Presence seeking me out, and as you settled trustingly into my open lap you also imaged for me the way in which I needed to settle into that Presence with trust and surrender.  Thank you. I hope I remember this without the icon you embodied.

My writing has disturbed you and your head comes up to see, green eyes and wide dark pupils watching. So I stroke your back and sides, and your purring predictably grows instantly louder. You are shameless in your pursuit of what you love and in the expression of your delight, and I thank you for this lesson, too.

My delight is in the feel of your fur under my palm and fingertips, the softest silk I know. I will miss this. Miss you.

In the words of the little poem my Dad wrote when our family cat Misty – grey like you – died of old age: “How can it be that a cat can so entwine itself around my heart?” And you have. You are. Entwined.

I loved my first cat Joanna with a fierce love despite her wild nature and constant running away, and I sang to bring her back and sacrificed my fluffy blue sweater to her pawing and sucking. I loved her daughter Misty for her faithfulness and intelligence, the sweet smell of hay on her fur from her barn-roaming, and her special miaow of greeting which sounded exactly like a human “hello!” But perhaps my heart has grown or softened over the years, because I love you more. You are the best and sweetest cat I have ever known. You’ve been my daughter’s cat from toddler-dom to adolescence and you’ve helped make our house a home with your warm presence and affection.

As I stroke you, you move to offer me the gift of your exposed belly – white and beige and fluffy – and you purr impossibly loudly as I bury my fingers in its softness. In this vulnerable position you are both oh-so-happy and also slightly wary, instinctively ready to protect yourself. But your instincts can’t tell you that this is your last living, breathing, purring, sleeping, stretching day. The fact that I know and you don’t is hard to bear – the choice is ours alone, a heavy burden – but your unawareness also, paradoxically, makes the decision easier, even inevitable. You don’t know and can’t choose; we are responsible for you and you trust us. It has to be this way.

I’m sorry.

You’re looking at me but my tears don’t mean anything to you. My sadness, too, is mine alone. I want to hide my wet face in your soft side, but I know from an attempt earlier this week that you don’t like that! So I won’t.

Shall we have one last nap together instead? I didn’t sleep well and I’m getting tired already. Let’s do that.

Then I’ll make myself some lunch and you can sit outside with me in the sun – your last day a sunny one as you’d like it – enjoying the grass and watching birds and insects and the play of the wind in the trees, and I’ll feed you some smoked salmon scraps I saved for you, a final meal fit for a queen. Afterwards I’ll carry you down to the clothesline (you let me carry you outside these days, though a little reluctantly) and we can take the laundry in together. I expect I’ll always think of you when I do that. And I wonder how long I’ll expect to see you trotting down the slope of the driveway as I reverse the car in, so you can greet me with a miaow and ask me to open the front door for you. Or how long I’ll think I see your shape jump up onto the narrow lip of the kitchen window and wait there – patiently, resignedly, slightly put out – to be noticed and let in for some food.

The house will feel so empty of you.

And I guess soon I’ll have to find a home for the things you won’t need anymore, the food you won’t eat.

But now it’s time for me to put down my pen, let go of the always inadequate words, and just be with you the way you know how to just be with me. Now is all you know; for you, it is enough. And in the midst of my futile grasping for forever, you show me that now is all I really have as well.

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Last Sunday nap with Stripes and “the demanding paw!” 🙂

 

Selfie with Stripes!

 

Enjoying the garden one last time

 

Always seeking the sun

 

Retreat

I slow my breath and my paddle
to enter this place
navigating carefully over submerged rocks
into the sudden calm between wooded islands.

Here
hidden from the wind of the open lake
there is silence
occasional birdsong
and the rhythmic drip of my upheld paddle
now at rest
as I drift through water so still and clear
I can trace the spiraling of water lily tendrils
all the way down to their silted bed.

My body too is still
and my senses alert.
I am waiting
hoping
remembering another morning
now summers ago
when
quietly rounding this last bend
I came face to face with a solitary loon
– close enough to see its red eye
glowing with primeval fire.

It was unafraid
unhurried
and I breathless
awed.
We were alone
together.

Already surprised
on my new kayak’s first foray
by the discovery of this secret lagoon
the meeting felt like an astonishing gift
like a promise.

So I return here
an annual pilgrimage
always hoping for another encounter
expecting it even
but finding only water insects
and my own longing.

Yet this year
this time
as I turn back into the wind
past ancient watermarked boulders
I am struck by the absence of the bird’s body
but the lingering of its presence here
through my memory, imagination
my expectation, my waiting
my leaving and my returning.

And, yes, this is how a thing becomes sacred –
a place
a moment
a life –
hallowed by what was and is and might be
by desire as much as its sometime fulfillment
by surrendering to the rhythm of presence and absence
to the gift of the fleeting moment
that asks us both
to linger and
to move on.

An unseen squirrel
who knows no other home than this
cries a warning.
It is time to leave.

I am reluctant
ready
strangely restored.

 

(Skiff Lake, July 2018)

Why does the crow

Why does the crow
perched somewhere above our tent
in soaring pines
gently kissed by morning’s first rays
insist on waking us
with his strange and raucous squawking?

I think someone wise once told him
he and his song are beautiful.

And he believed it.

(Deer Island Point, July 5th 2018)

{Notes:

This little poem brings together three things that have been meaningful to me over the summer season:

  1. Taking up a practice of writing for TEN MINUTES ONLY a day (more creative writing rather than journaling, which I do regularly and for longer), so as to escape the rut of waiting around for the lightning flash of inspiration, which hasn’t struck me for years (or so it feels)! This is getting me into a routine of writing, takes the pressure off it being any “good”, but also makes me READY to write something I actually like because I am in the habit, and the habit makes me notice things more as well. This poem was the first thing I wrote that felt meaningful to me.
  2. DD Amelie likes camping but I haven’t enjoyed it for a while and we’re done with camping as a family (cottages and condos FTW!). However, I decided that I CAN manage one night per summer and this year Amelie wanted to watch the July 4th fireworks in Eastport, ME, from across the water in Deer Island point campground, NB. Although I started off feeling a little “dragged into it” our time at the wilderness campground – watching porpoises, seals and even a minke whale (magical!!) surface in the calm ocean flowing past our campsite towards the tidal whirlpool,  bathwater warm lake-swimming, and the simple pleasures of camping outside IN GREAT WEATHER (important caveat!) – ended up feeling so rejuvenating and was a wonderful way to spend time together. Maybe I’ve been won back over to camping?! (When conditions are perfect 🙂 ) And maybe I should let myself be dragged into more things that don’t come naturally to me or don’t initially sound life-giving, because maybe I unwittingly keep myself from so much life with my various ruts?
  3. I had the privilege of participating in the first ever East Coast Generous Space retreat, beginning the day after I wrote this poem. It was a rich, thought-provoking and inspiring experience “at the intersection of faith and sexuality” which, surprisingly, both echoed my original intent in this poem, and brought to it even deeper resonance and meaning. While I had mostly hoped to gain from the retreat more understanding of what it means to be an ally for LGBTQ+ folk – and that did happen – my biggest takeaway ended up being that I NEED MY QUEER FRIENDS. I need them for their unique human gifts and for the unique perspective they offer on life and marginalization and privilege and struggle, on celebrating who you are whatever others’ perception or treatment of you, and on being the Beloved of God. We all have those parts of ourselves and of others that we dislike or disapprove of or just don’t understand, and they showed me again and in a fresh way – because many of them have fought long and hard to stand in this – that all is and all are intimately and delightedly held in the extravagant love of God. We need each other to remember and wake up to this truth. As in the poem, this retreat experience felt like an awakening of sorts for me, which will no doubt be ongoing, and through it all I FELT for the first time a little of the depth and beauty of this strange word “queer.”

End Notes.}

On loving and letting go

How can it be possible to cut out a part of me and send her to a corner of this wide country that I have never seen?

Her dear warm body, which I know so well and hugged too tight, covered with too many kisses, is now high above trees and lakes rose-gilded by a summer sunrise. My body is no longer with hers but still holding her inside me, not as I did for nine months now fourteen gifted years ago, but as I always will, wherever she travels. For she is part of me, and yet she is not me, and I am not her, and she must walk her own paths and live her own wild and precious life, feel her own pain, make her own mistakes.

In morning’s cold embrace, watched by a waning crescent that she exclaimed over as we stumbled from the motel laden with bags and too little sleep, I remember when we first left her at preschool and grieved to no longer know what she was doing at each moment. She was three and it was only for a morning. But already her life was unfurling without us, as in fact it always has in her secret depths, however close or far we may be.

Now I return to the motel to sleep a little more, inadvertently getting into her side of the bed we just shared, and happy for the memory of her face on the pillow beside me. Her features, blurred by semi-darkness, could have been her three-year-old face still with toddler roundness and framed by scant curls, or that of the woman she will become and whose shape I don’t yet know.

It is hard to fathom this love, so profoundly flawed and yet so impossibly deep, which when it tries too hard to hold on and protect becomes something other than love. Though I want to keep her close forever and be the one to always watch over her, she must grow into her future shape through who knows what solitary joys and challenges. And I must trust her to herself, and to God, and to others, and to life itself.

All of me is prayer for her flourishing – my body, its ache, its tears, its tiredness, its lying down, its letting go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unforeseen uncultivated

 

A few people have asked me whether I have flashbacks of the moment I slipped from the cottage dock, dropped the kayak we were lowering into the water, and fell headlong (or rather hand-long) onto it, badly fracturing my radial head. And I don’t. It was too quick and the details are too hazy to recall, let alone replay. But what I have found myself reliving recently are the beautiful days of lakeside holiday that we had before the week took such a sudden and unexpected turn.

What’s ironic – or perhaps not at all? – is that I had begun the week struggling to relax and enjoy these days of rest, leisure and family time that we all needed so much after some full and tiring months. I don’t think I’m alone (right?!) in longing for the rat race to stop and then, when it does, finding it challenging to actually slow my body and mind enough to enjoy the rest! Instead of all the anticipating, planning and preparing making way for relaxation and enjoyment, I just kept on trying to control, plan and grasp.

For the first day or so I observed myself struggling just to sit and be while also not wanting to do anything, being snappy and impatient with my loves and any demands made on me, or looking out from our waterfront deck at the glistening expanse of island-dotted lake without the leap of gratitude or soul-opening sigh of wonder I was expecting. Then I did what has now rescued me countless times since I began my first journal at eighteen, and sat down for some hours of writing, noticing, processing, wondering, praying, dreaming, asking… In order to rescue me, my journaling has to be ruthlessly honest yet compassionate, both descriptive and speculative, making space for the best and worst of me as well as that intangible touch of something from Beyond and Deep Within. The fruit of these hours on a lounger, a decaf coffee beside me and the whir of hummingbird wings in my ears, was a sense of slowly letting go into my own reality. Yes, I am restless and impatient and controlling. Yes, I am tempted when on holiday to replace true, restorative rest with counterfeit laziness and self-indulgence. But, yes, I have been given the gift of this week and of this family, and I can receive the gift, and give myself wholeheartedly and joyfully in return – to it and to them. Today, remembering, I feel a bit teary and incredibly grateful, that this simple but significant inner shift took place, allowing me to fully enjoy what would turn out to only be half a week of holiday.

The day before my injury is the one I keep on recalling and reliving. In the morning, fueled by newfound perspective, I suggested Amelie and I kayak to a little sandy beach just around the point from the cottage we rent, and go swimming. It was sunny and breezy as we meandered along the shore looking at the cottages, including a new one just being built in the woods, and then ran our kayaks onto the small curve of white sand. The day before, the three of us had canoed over to our other favourite place to swim – a leafy island with a big rock to picnic on and jump off – but today we were happy to be able to slowly wade into the clear, cool water on a sandy bed. When we realized we’d forgotten the swimming noodle (aka a woggle for any Brits!) to complete the new mesh seat Amelie had been looking forward to floating in, I left her sitting on the beach and paddled back around the point to fetch it, enjoying the strain of my muscles against water and wind, and the exertion of energy on her behalf, which was its own reward.

Back at the beach, she began floating while I began my habitual inching into the colder-than-I’d-like lake, the fact that I always love it once I’m in somehow not enough to make me enter the water any more quickly! Finally submerged, I noticed a fluffy brown baby loon and its parent some ways out in the cove and decided to swim towards them. I was only expecting to get a little closer and see a little more clearly, but instead the adult loon started up a warning cry and dove into the water, swimming so close-by that I saw its graceful, surging body underwater. It resurfaced just feet from me, near enough to see its intricate black and white markings and uncanny red eyes. I trod water as the loon circled me, and it was a wild and magical moment – my body suspended in the cold wet, my feet hanging in dark lake depths, my ears filled with urgent cries and my heart with wonder. Later that same day, lying on the deck in mottled sunshine, relishing the perfect temperature of my drowsy body, an eagle soared right above my head and my heart soared with it. More than all the happenings I can plan and execute and attempt to control, the unforeseen, uncultivated moments are the ones that nourish and sustain me.

And yet I would not have wanted the next day’s unforeseen, uncultivated moment of slip, tumble and fracture, and I struggle to describe it as nourishing despite all I am already learning and will no doubt continue to learn. With a now-bionic left arm and elbow that cannot yet bend beyond ninety degrees, the wonderful corporeal ease of those two wild moments at the lake seems eons ago, even though it’s only coming up for four weeks. I am likely reliving them partly in an attempt to escape the constant discomfort and hard work of recovery, and because the taken-for-granted physical strength and freedom that allowed me to kayak and swim now seem like miraculous gifts that I dream of and desperately hope I can regain. But I also find myself wondering if the memories hold an invitation for me.

So here’s what I’m wondering: Can I further let go into THIS present reality, as I did through my journaling at the lake? Will I fully allow this particular unforeseen event – though neither blissful nor particularly welcome – to bring me face to face once again with my own fragility and dependence, my futile grasping for control, and my impatience, and perhaps even past them to something far better? Perhaps this experience can reveal the sources I usually rely on for strength, joy and peace, inviting me to dig deeper, to draw from deeper wells. Perhaps the uncultivated moment can cultivate patience, perseverance, hope… Maybe it’s possible for me to eventually feel nourished and sustained by this. I hope so. Unlike my process that week, letting go into this experience seems to necessitate a healthy balance of grieving and accepting; and the prolonged nature of rehabilitation means that parallel inner work is going to need to be more profound and ongoing too. I feel like a total beginner in this. I’m very aware of many I know, and countless I don’t in these troubled days, who live with physical pain and limitations far beyond mine and who humble me with their ability to live joyful, loving lives in the midst of it all. But that is their journey and this is mine – small though it may be – and one I can only make day by day, moment by moment.

Photo Credit (of the fateful dock at Skiff Lake!): Mike Temple