Saturday, March 28, 2015

Those Hours

Almost exactly 8 years ago, I gave birth to my first daughter and 6 weeks later, began practicing as an attorney. The scariest part of my job was going to the border. It took awhile to learn how to shoulder the burden of my clients' expectations and fears, how to prepare them for the worst case scenario without making them so anxious as to cause them to bring it about. The worst part was the waiting-- sitting with a client and giving them the impression that everything was under control while my own stomach was churning as we waited to ask a government officer to pretty please let them come work in the United States.

Sometimes we would be there for hours in the same room. I was still nursing my baby, and a few times I was stuck there so long I started leaking milk. I remember the agony of putting on my shoulder belt in the car afterwards. I suffered in all manner great and small. Nothing to follow in my entire career has yet been worse than balancing all of those things in those still hours. And nothing was more important in shaping me.

In those hours, I instinctually returned to the yogic breathing I had learned during my pregnancy, centering myself, remembering how in giving birth, my job was to step out of the way of what would happen naturally, how that is always my job. To be present. To breathe. To witness. To step aside for what is larger.

And still my mind was frantic in seeking out comforts for itself. Often it would settle on the very old or the very young who also sat waiting-- mothers holding sleeping babies close to their hearts, old couples conversing-- people whose essence was not modified by the stressful environment because it could not be altered by anything, was immutable, a step removed from the commerce of the world. They stilled me. The babies would stir my milk, summon it down, remind me of my connectedness.

After 8 years, I view the same waiting room quite differently; it is a comforting place, the scene of years of pleasantries and happy clients.  Stress no longer transforms me when I wait there. It is a time of stillness and conversation, a blank, electronics-free space in which the ancient practice of human interaction is still alive if I cultivate it. My clients are no less stressed but I become like the baby for them, the person they look to for comfort because my essence is unchanged by the environment. And they tell me all kinds of wonderful things when I poke them. I think stress loosens the lips. They will tell me things they wouldn't tell their priest. It's like magic.

Going to the border is now fairly routine for me. I know how it works, I know the people. But the other day, I had a similar experience, of trying something new. I went to immigration court for the first time in my practice. It was for a case that arose out of a border issue. Again, there was a waiting room. (Any life event of any significance is preceded by an antechamber; if you are in a waiting room, pay attention. It's important). And while we were there, a mother sat down with her sleeping toddler molded into her shoulder. Suddenly, I had the physical sensation of milk letting down, even though I stopped breastfeeding my second baby over three years ago. It was a bodily reminder, an echo of that distant time. But I was not frantic this time, I did not feel like I was searching out comforts. I just found one-- or it found me-- anyway. And I felt myself again part of a very old and very large family, and was surrounded by it. It is everywhere. And for me, the coincidence of my first child's birth with the beginning of my practice, seems like no small thing. Both called on me in a similar way, to give through a stillness and presence that came from beyond and through me, and are forever intertwined.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Venus & Mars

Based on Botticelli’s painting by the same name

What Venus sees when she surveys her love,
The half-drunk Mars who cannot stay awake,
We only know, or dare to guess because
The God of War can slumber in her gaze.

That she, Goddess of Love, remains composed
After she consummates her pact with war
May be a testament that what she holds
Is stronger, in the end, than brutal force.

Or maybe pleasure stills her quiet mind,
And only we, who see that she still wakes,
Assume she searches her lover to find
The words to seal the pact that they have made-

If love and war shall be forever joined,
Let he who speaks of victors have no voice.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Hollow bones in their feathers clothed
Lift up frail wings to mount the air
To climb the invisible stairs
And flutter to their sometimes home,

Arriving in my dark moments
With morning's backwards lullabies
To coax my closed and dreaming eyes
To flutter to their sometimes home.

What strange migrations of the soul
Repeat their circuits every night!
What hollow apparatus might
Conduct this flight we take alone?

For like the birds, we build our homes
Inside a world that's not our own.

Friday, March 6, 2015

So...... Does anyone else have a dead lumberjack who haunts their dreams?

Ok, so this one time maybe a decade ago, me, my husband and my aunt and uncle went camping down at Griffis Sculpture Park. We slept in one of their two cabins. It was for my uncle's birthday and his then-girlfriend had gotten us into the cabins, which they do not usually rent out, by sheer charm, to celebrate my uncle's birthday. We ate hot dogs, we played kalimba, we talked extensively about sweeping, burned things- you know, camping. Then, the next morning, as we were walking our way out of what was barely a camp, back toward the sculpture park filled with enormous metal women and unmowed grass, we came to a clearing in front of the other cabin. We were hauling heavy things, backpacks full of whatever, when we saw Simon Griffis, a name which I imagine adorning the credits of a 1970s cartoon with a sunshine emblazoned behind it, chopping wood with his waders on. He was way over 6 feet tall, just some young Paul Bunion. He built the two cabins, he owned the park after his father. He was that place. We chatted for a few minutes and went on our sunshiny way.

About two years later, I heard on my frosty morning commute, in my little car filled with the fog of my breath for a suspended moment, that the police had identified the body of someone who had been hiking alone at Zoar Valley. It was Simon Griffis, the owner of Sculpture Park. The iconic image of artistic country living had plummeted to his death in an accident while he was out exploring