I Am Here

As I come to understand that my mother is going to die soon I find it difficult to remain present. My mind wanders to past injustices real or imagined and to future hurdles. I was not the best daughter. I stew in the guilt of our 28-year estrangement and then in the next moment choke it down where it sits like a lump in my belly.

Watching my mother’s dementia worsen is like watching a life disappear. And as I empty her trailer of books and furniture and clothing and photos it’s clear to me that my actions, too, are part of the process of disappearing.

What do I do with the things that hold resonance for me? Like the oak bookshelves, or the cookie jar and the 4-string guitar? They’re stacked and covered in blankets in a storage locker 2500 miles away. Will they stay there forever? Would it have been better to sell or give them away? In a year will I have regret for the books I saw thrown away or the trinkets I decided to keep?

And what about the things too big to hide in a storage locker? Like her trailer? It won’t sell and I can’t pay the $800 lot rent. Do I abandon my mother’s home for the past forty years? Her neighbor is afraid that if I close the PPL (Pennsylvania Power and Light) account the water pipes will freeze and burst, causing havoc and despair for everyone in her Green Acres Mobile Home Park circle.

I didn’t expect to be doing this alone. I didn’t expect to be doing it at all. When I ran away from my mother and my sister I had no plans to return. But there was a moment when I thought ‘an old woman deserves peace’ and I reached out. I told myself that I didn’t need to love her. I didn’t even need to like her. But I needed to be with her and to do my best to care for her. To be kind to her.

And I was. 

She and my sister had stopped speaking to one another years earlier. For that reason I kept Margaret shut off from my life. Something I regret. A few years after the reunion with my mother Margaret died. 

And now here I am, finding it difficult to remain present. 

When I was in Pennsylvania in October I began each day with a walk and a photograph. It was grounding and brought a sense of calm presence to me that stayed with me for much of the day. But when I returned to Allentown last week I  forgot that practice. Until I took half a day to visit my favorite place – Hawk Mountain.

The photographs are nothing fancy – simply shot with my iPhone 7. But each time I hold up that little miracle of a computer I am in the moment. There is nothing but my beating heart and the leaf or flower or mountain I’m looking at. For that little moment there is no past, no future. There is only now.

I came home last Friday and have decided to continue the practice of taking one photograph each day. And in that moment all things fall away and I am here.


Journeys

I’m leaving for India tomorrow.  Never in my wheelhouse, I’m a bit surprised. But life falls the way it wants to fall, no matter the plans you make. So here I am, one suitcase and a backpack in, waiting to fall asleep so that I can leave on a Monday and arrive in Bangalore on Wednesday. Everyone wonders if I plan to take a yoga class or indulge in an Ayurvedic retreat. No. I have no plans to take a yoga class or to indulge in an Ayurvedic retreat. I plan to experience art in Kochi, to visit Munnar, to spend a night on a houseboat and another night at the Coconut Lagoon. The advice I’ve been given by those who have been before is to “soak it all in.” I plan to be amazed and overwhelmed, inspired and humbled.

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Bruce knows something is up…

Bruce the Cat knows something is up. Not lacking in feline intelligence, he knows that when the big black boxes come out his humans are going away. He pretends to be traumatized but the truth is he will wrap his cat sitter around his de-clawed paw (not my doing – he came that way) and will almost certainly be enjoying a little kitty spa vacay while I’m gone.

I probably wouldn’t have chosen ten days in Kerala if not for my darling Ben, who left for a short business trip to Bangalore on Friday. Having lived there for four years, India is Ben’s heart-home.

Do you have a heart-home? Maybe your heart-home is the place where you feel your spirit soar. Or maybe it’s the place you feel most loved. Your heart-home could be a physical space or a state-of-being, and it might shift and change depending on the circumstances. Where is your heart-home?


Keeping Promises

IMG_2207I promised myself Hawk Mountain when I forced myself to book my airline tickets. I was going back to Breinigsville to visit my mother for a week in spring.

She didn’t like the idea of my going to the mountain. She felt slighted. A bit abandoned.

But if I was being inconsiderate, I didn’t care. I had to give myself a few short hours to visit a place I loved as a girl, when I was desperate to find a refuge from a violent home. Hawk Mountain spoke to my heart decades ago when I was a child. All these years later I still long for its beauty. To deny my heart time on the mountain would have broken it.

The place I love is part of the Appalachian Trail in eastern Pennsylvania. Opened as a bird sanctuary in 1934, its trails skirt the edge of the Blue Ridge and are situated beneath a major migratory path for raptors and other soaring winged wonders.

The climb to North Lookout was easier than I remembered.  The trail was wide and clean with rough-hewn benches every hundred yards or so.  The limestone outcrop my high school friends and I huddled beneath on chilly Saturdays during our senior year was now fenced off and deemed too dangerous to climb.  Stairs to the lookout helped those who could not manage the boulders I scrambled over at sixteen.  But the view from the lookout was untouched and stretched in front of me as it had for generations  I could follow the course of the Schuylkill River and the train tracks from Kempton.  I could see Bake Oven Knob in the distance and below me the bare plowed earth.

I climbed the rocks and searched the skies.  I breathed the late spring air made damp by rain clouds moving in from the next town over.  I crawled beneath boulders to photograph the stalks and spores of spawning green moss and then knelt next to the grey lichen clinging to glacial debris ten thousand years old.

During my morning on the mountain I opened to the space around me.  I pushed against the wind and felt the wind push back.  I stretched into the sky and curled under rocks.  Hard granite pressed against my bones and when the sky finally opened the rain washed my skin.

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There was new life on that mountain. The new growth of a warm spring. I was new life on that mountain, too. I returned home to visit a mother I don’t know, to learn about a family who are strangers to me. On that grey morning, the morning I gave to myself as a gift, I listened to what the mountain had to teach me about memories and moving on.

And as I drove away from Hawk Mountain through the slashing rain, I knew I was ready at last to hear the stories my mother needed to tell.

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 As part of an assignment for the class Psychology of the Body, I was asked to write about my relationship with the land.  We all have a landscape we hold in our soul.  A place we love and return to if not with our bodies then in spirit.  I feel so lucky to have had the chance to walk Hawk Mountain once again.