I wonder what our world would look like if each individual could see all others with compassionate curiosity instead of brutal judgment. I grew up an agnostic Unitarian, and this religious foundation offered me the freedom to explore all religions and spiritual paths with a sense of mindful awareness. I could go to church with a friend and ‘try on’ being Lutheran, Baptist, or Catholic (that was the basic diversity of where I grew up). When all those things felt itchy and too tight, I chose to look into Wicca / Paganism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Metaphysics, and Native American beliefs.
Being curious opened doors that were previously blocked by my fears or disinterest. I glory in the freedom to choose the spiritual path that best suits the truth of my soul and in allowing that truth to evolve. I walk through the world with a view that has been crafted and curated with the courage not to settle for the dictates of others. I understand my privilege in doing so.
Being curious rather than judgmental also guides me to a deeper understanding of people and cultures who may be experiencing the world in ways that are different from my own experience.
I live in a State that has recently passed legislation that harms and brutalizes the safe existence of multitudes of its residents. I find it impossible to put myself in the shoes of those who have enacted such psychic, emotional, and horrifically, physical abuse upon others. I can imagine that they feel threatened for some reason, but I fail to understand. Maybe they see their lack of understanding for the individuality of others as a reflection of stupidity (for which they must stand and fight), instead of an opportunity to learn, love, and grow.
June is Pride Month, and also a painful anniversary for our beloved community. Seven years ago, on June 12, 49 sacred souls were taken from us by a single gunman. They were celebrating within a safe space. They should have felt safe anywhere, but right-wing rhetoric destroyed that possibility. So, they went where they felt wanted, appreciated, valued, and invited to be joyfully authentic. A single being, cloaked in self-loathing chose to massacre those who felt the freedom that he denied himself.
I am curious about what those who support this harmful legislation are denying themselves. Who would they be if they refused to be put inside a tiny box of someone else’s construction. Maybe their parents, their peers, or their church communities told them that they could not belong if they dressed in a way that made them feel more alive or spoke their truth about how they were feeling. I wonder if they imagine who they might become if they would choose to toss away the banner of hateful righteousness and find belonging in their authenticity. They might be surprised to realize that they can be loved for being real.
So much of today’s animosity is pointed at the LGBTQ+ Community. Transgender humans and Drag entertainers are being especially terrorized, and those who support them are being targeted, as well. I’d like to imagine a world where the haters could consider compassionate curiosity, rather than close-minded disrespect.
I am a middle-aged, white, cisgender, straight woman. Full disclosure: if I could choose, I would be a lesbian. I prefer the company of women, and I have deeply loved a specific woman, but my sexuality has a mind of its own, unfortunately. Regarding the middle-aged part of my self-definition, I did not grow up with access to the identity terms that our youth are claiming today, as are those who felt they never had the choice before. I understand the resistance that some people feel to allowing individuals the freedom to be recognized, acknowledged, and validated for the declaration of their own truth. It’s hard to learn to use childhood grammar lessons differently. It’s hard to imagine a child, an adolescent, or an adult who has never felt right or safe in their bodies. Or is it?
Compassionate curiosity led me to spend time getting to know the stories of people I’ve grown up with, in the popular culture setting. Chaz Bono and more recently Elliot Page, have courageously, and also necessarily, stepped into the bodies and lives that make them feel safe, authentic, and joyful. My ‘aha’ moment with Chaz was when his mother stated that she found understanding by considering how she would feel if she woke up tomorrow with a penis. She knew that it would feel wrong and that she would want to have it removed. But even more deeply, I felt the truth of something Elliot spoke to Oprah in an AppleTV interview.
Elliot shared the overwhelm he felt at the thought of simply leaving his house. If you think about it, the world expected him to always be seen in drag. But also, just sitting down in a chair, he was painfully aware and deeply self-conscious of all that felt wrong in his body. One’s first thought might be outrage… as ‘this’ body is considered by society to be enviable and perfect. Any young woman should delight in a body that is healthy, fit, and petite. Unless, of course, your soul does not resonate with being a woman.
But what I felt instead was affirming recognition. Not because my private parts don’t resonate with my soul, but because for most of my life, every time I sit down in a chair, I am painfully aware and deeply self-conscious of all that feels wrong in my body. I believed I was fat when I was a size 10, and as my body grew with metabolic disorder, there was no room for a sense of belonging, acceptance, or especially confidence in the body I was born with. I have fantasized for most of my life about having a different body. I have dwelled in the pit of despair with visions of hacking away the flesh of my hips, belly, and thighs. And I have literally had 80% of my stomach cut away for the dream of possibly transforming the body that would make me feel safe, accepted, and loved. Not to mention the truth of having a female body automatically deems one a higher likelihood of being sexually harassed or assaulted. It is rather confusing to want to be seen and loved, while also hoping to be invisible to those who would deliver harm.
Of course, my compassionate curiosity is still limited by my time and ability to get to know the stories of others, and Chaz and Elliot are just two sacred beings among many who are either longing for, seeking, or moving through transformation. What I know for sure is that they each deserve to feel safe and to be nurtured and celebrated for the exploration and work they’ve endured and the truth they’ve declared. There is nothing more beautiful than witnessing the joy of an individual who walks through the world unflinchingly as themselves.
My longing has always been to be loved and accepted for who I am, whether I am seen as flawed or perfect in the eyes of others. Though I cannot relate to an identity other than cisgender, I can imagine that every human longs to be loved and accepted for who they are… not who others expect them to be.
Until those who fight to limit the freedom of authenticity love themselves enough to love others, it is up to the rest of us to be the fierce allies and protectors of those whose lives fall under their hateful aim.
I know a lot is going on astrologically right now, and that a shift is happening. I have been feeling the evolution of my soul in big and small ways. This Pride season, I am flying an all-inclusive flag in my garden (well, it would be a garden if I didn’t have a brown thumb). I had not done so before because I felt it was not my own, it was not within my identity to claim that rainbow pride. But now, I realize that every one of us is represented in these vibrant stripes. Those who see a rainbow and feel outrage must be carrying so much self-hatred, to be unable to see and celebrate their own true colors. May they find peace and comfort in their own divine beauty and no longer feel the need to persecute those who have already found it for themselves.
I’m also feeling led to share a Unitarian tradition of non-violent defiance regarding the pink triangle. I’m attaching a link that tells the story, but I’ll simply acknowledge that flying my pride flag is more than informing others that I care, I am letting them know that I am standing with them. I am enormously proud of who they are, and of who I’ve allowed myself to become.
You are loved exactly as you are. You are worthy of safety, freedom, and authenticity and I celebrate your divine truth with gratitude for your presence in this world which is made more colorful and vibrant with you in it. So, please… stay!
Thank you for walking this path with me. I love knowing you are here.
Four years ago, as I wheeled my friend out of rehab and to my car to take her home after recovering from a fall that broke her femur, she looked up at me and asked, “Why are you doing this?” I suspect she wondered because though we had known each other for 30 years, we hadn’t been particularly close in recent years. What had changed was my freedom to be of service once I left the corporate world. Choosing to simplify my life in order to care for my aging parents, allowed me to be present for other loved ones. My reply was simply, “Showing up is my love language, and I love you. You deserve this.”
The next four years continued to be challenging for my friend and her wife, who was beginning to show signs of what would be a diagnosis of vascular dementia. They were blessed to be active members of their Unitarian Church community for over 30 years, and their friends showed up for them in many ways during those years. The hardest part about holding space for these two sacred beings was feeling as if there was so little we could do to help when so much of the struggle was health-related. But that never stopped dear friends from showing up to do whatever was possible to ease their burden.
When my friend ended up back in the hospital last October, I showed up to take her home after discharge. There were a few things going on in her body. They fixed one issue, and left it up to her to follow up with specialists to address the other issues after discharge. I had learned from my father’s experience in his final years that it would be best to stay in the hospital until you can be seen by the specialists, but for one reason or another, that didn’t happen. She made follow up appointments with three specialists and was able to see one within a couple of weeks. The other two, however, had nothing available until mid-January.
Tragically, by January 3, she and I had returned to the hospital to learn that she had been in heart failure for the last two months. One of the tell-tale signs was that her body had been retaining fluid. Her physical therapist had been wrapping her legs for compression, and when I arrived to take her to the hospital, she had a large water blister on the top of her right foot. You could see the fluid within sloshing around as if it were a snow globe. I told her not to worry about shoes, as I would once again be her wheelchair maiden and her feet would never touch the ground. The ER was quite busy, and as we rolled her from one spot to another in the waiting room, I noticed that the blister had popped, and we were leaving little puddles everywhere.
She was admitted that night, and we learned that a valve in her heart had calcified to be described like a ‘Ritz Cracker’ by the hospitalist. There would be a pig valve replacement required, but they needed to get some of the fluid off of her heart and lungs first. She lost 20 pounds over the next few days, thanks to Lasix. (We were both delighted and fascinated by the new device that vacuumed out her urine, rather than having to be catheterized.) But that wasn’t enough. When we thought we’d reached surgery day, her doctors decided they needed her to get a little stronger in order to have a successful procedure and recovery, so they prescribed a few days of in-house physical therapy.
I had been so focused on helping set-up constant communication to their loved ones, through Caring Bridge, and securing the line-up of compassionately generous friends who would take shifts sitting with her wife, ensuring she was kept nourished, nurtured, and safe, that I hadn’t gotten to the hospital the first week. When she and I talked on the phone the day the procedure was postponed, she told me that when she woke that day, she felt the presence of her Mother. To be clear, these words came from the mouth of my friend who found all metaphysical references to the mystery of what comes next to be impossible to believe. She then asked me, “Do you think that means I’m going to die?”
I assured my friend that her mother was standing by to support her healing and to offer protection, but I did worry. I probably felt that the answer was yes, but that didn’t feel helpful in that moment. Since one of our dearest mutual friends died in 2017, we have often talked through her feelings and fears about death. I once felt as she did, that when you die, that’s it… nothing. But as a skeptical believer, over many years of exploration and mindful practices, I have found resonance with firm belief in something different.
Ten days after arrival, my friend’s nurse called to inform me that her heart had stopped pumping and that they were taking her to ICU, that a pump would be installed at her groin, and I later learned that the installation procedure had caused her kidneys to shut down. They put her on dialysis. When they realized she couldn’t swallow without choking, because she had to lie flat with the pump in place, they inserted a feeding tube. For the next couple of days, she slept often and was difficult to understand when she tried to speak. Meanwhile, I was holding Zoom Healing Circles with people who loved our friend from all areas of her life and from all over the country. Each morning that followed, as we waited for the medical team to come by, I would play the recording of the voices she adored. I asked her if she knew how loved she was, and she said, “no”. She couldn’t believe that so many people were showing up for her.
Her sister decided to come from afar, and I offered her sanctuary. Later, we would tell my friend how lucky we felt that she had brought us together… her best kept secret – after 30 years, how much her sister and I had in common. One afternoon, a doctor entered the room and asked which one of us was ‘the sister’. My new friend’s reply, “I’m her bio-sister and she’s (pointing to me) her soul-sister.”
Each morning, we would pull an oracle card for our beloved, before heading to the hospital, and we would pay attention to signs from the universe. We were of one-mind, on the same page. One morning, my new soul-sister alerted me to a white rabbit in my backyard. I have lived in this house for 25 years and this was a first! What I heard in my head was, “I’m late! I’m late, for a very important date!” My interpretation was that we should not waste any time. Our beloved would soon be departing.
She had seemingly rallied at the arrival of her sister, so her step-daughter questioned whether she should tell her son to come now or to wait. I encouraged her to get him here now. Far better to have time with her while able to speak to him. He booked a flight to arrive on Friday. Exchanging a sister for a grandson… the changing of the guard.
On Thursday, we finally heard from the cardiothoracic surgeon. He said that we were running out of options, and that the remaining ‘Hail, Mary’ possibility would be to punch a hole in the valve to see if the heart would start working on its own again, but that procedure came with great risk. On the phone, he presented it as an option that must be taken ASAP. I told him that her grandson and sister-in-law would be here soon. I asked if it could wait until next week. His concern was that waiting would allow time for more to go wrong.
When I told my friend what the doctor had indicated, she understood it to be the only chance she had to continue. She decided that she wanted to do it. I informed the nurse and left the room. I went to the bathroom and cried. Then, I called her important people to come. I asked her about her fears, and she shared that she was afraid that when death arrived it would be like turning out the light. She didn’t want to leave because she hated to miss anything. I asked her to join me in suspending disbelief, and to consider that when she left behind her broken body, she would be unlimited as she would return to the light of truth. She would then be able to be everywhere, all at once.
We were all gathered around our friend when the doctor came to see her. His language was a bit different than it had been when we spoke on the phone. He suggested that perhaps she should wait, and spend the weekend with the family who would soon arrive. He also explained what the trauma of using every means to save her life might look like, and she agreed that either now or in the middle of the postponed procedure, she did not care to have a 300 pound man climb on top of her to pound her chest. We appreciated the way he added a bit of humor to the very real information he was giving her, which was… that he was highly recommending a Do Not Resuscitate order, because she was nearing the end of life.
And just like that, we understood that we were not going to lose our beloved on an operating table that day. We were simultaneously heartbroken and relieved. Together, we sang the most stunning rendition of “Spirit of Life” by Carolyn McDade, that I’ve ever heard. I call it the Unitarian theme song. It goes like this: “Spirit of life come unto me, sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion. Blow in the wind, rise in the sea, move in the hand giving life the shape of justice. Roots hold me close, wings set me free, spirit of life come to me, come to me.” We would sing that song several times more over the next few days.
During these difficult days in the hospital, friends were holding space for her wife. We wondered how much she would retain about her wife’s condition, as her memory was challenged to retain much of anything from moment to moment. In one conversation with a friend, she had reportedly referred to her wife as being in the hospital and having a lot wrong with her, looking forward to her getting better and joining her in their future home in assisted living, not knowing if she would ‘make it’, and that she was already dead. I felt so fascinated by this recounting from our mutual sister-friend, as it reminded me of a sci-fi series that featured a quantum traveler being unstuck in time. It seemed as if dementia could possibly be described as such… being untethered from reality, while being able to visit the future, as well as the past.
Also happening during this timeframe, was the parallel hospitalizations of my life long friend’s mother. The day after I was in the ER with my friend, my favorite tomboy was in the ER with her Mom. Understanding the second half of life is certainly cemented when we find ourselves walking mindfully with our aging loved ones, wanting to ensure their safety and wellness, while holding our breath to prolong the number of days we will be blessed to share. Her mom would be in the hospital a few times that month. I visited with her, upon request, to help determine her wishes for care, as her kids worried she would choose rehab so not to be a burden to them. I advised against it, knowing that she would just be left in bed as a fall risk for all but 30 minutes a day. I knew she was better off at home.
My favorite tomboy told me that after that visit her mom said to her, “I think Missy thinks I’m dying.” I hadn’t really felt that she was, but I did realize that having walked so mindfully with death these last few years allows me to be in a constant conversation with it. It seems to me that death is always near and that it is worth our time to honor it, make peace with it, and then get on with living.
Back in the ICU, I was there each morning to greet the team of doctors and specialists who would brief each other on each patient in the unit. Each morning I would ask if we were at the point of hopelessness, and each morning they would indicate that we may be close, but not yet.
One afternoon after the decision to do the procedure had been postponed, my favorite tomboy (MFT) and our other childhood angel sat in my living room discussing the health concerns for both our mutual friend in ICU and MFT’s Mom. I looked out my front window to witness a flurry of wings, as a frenzy of birds danced at the feeder. There were Grackles and Titmice, and something else… maybe a Wren or a Warbler. I’d never seen anything like it! My logical mind considered that it might have something to do with a migratory path, but that didn’t make sense. I’m in Florida, and these birds are here all year. What I heard in my mind was that the spirit of our friend was gathering strength and preparing to fly. Looking back , I can feel the flutter in my chest and the truth that was being revealed.
On Sunday, I pulled an oracle card for my friend, and it felt ominous. Since I had a lunch date on the 22nd, I had planned to go to the hospital later that afternoon. I checked in with my friend’s family during their morning visit, and they reported she had discomfort in her belly, and an x-ray appeared to show possible constipation. During lunch, another friend who was visiting called me to report that test results had come back on her platelets that revealed her body was destroying them. That would mean any procedure would be prohibited due to her inability to clot. I set down the phone and cried into my hands. I was also told that they were taking her for a CT scan of her abdomen because her pain was increasing.
Shortly after my arrival, our medical team arrived with the results of the scan. Our beloved being had received her final blow. A perforated bowel. Of course, they could do nothing to repair it, as she would have bled out. Once again, I had to give my friend the bad news. As I explained it to her, and asked her to tell me what she was thinking, she expressed feeling baffled by how things went downhill so fast. She said to me, “So, there’s no hope?” “That’s right, my love. The doctors say we have to let you go. They will protect you from the pain of sepsis, and you will not suffer nor be alone.” I asked her if she knew how loved she was, and without hesitation, she spoke a resounding, “YES!”
Reflecting on that moment now, it feels as if, after weeks of waiting, we were suddenly on fast-forward. Things seemed to move so quickly. I called the family and closest friends to come. Paperwork was signed. I asked our beloved community to read the Phowa Practice for the transformation of our dear one’s soul into the Light of Truth. I let my mother know that I would not be home that night. Like my father before her, I would walk my soul-sister into the underworld.
The vigil was long. Twelve hours from her last words to me, “So there’s no hope?” Our beautiful being was tended by her wife of 43 years, her sister-in-love, her step-daughter, her soul-daughter, and her grandson. Her minister and her friends were there to sing her through the process of letting go. Shortly after 5am, I found myself following her breath with rapt attention. Just when I wondered if there would be another breath, it would come. I knew that her soul had already found its freedom, but that sacred vessel that had carried her light for so long was so loyal that it refused to stop doing its job.
Throughout the night, we had taken turns speaking our love into ears we’ve been told can still hear our words. One soul-sister sang to her, another joined me in reading aloud the Phowa Practice for the transformation of her soul back into the light of all that is. And I finally read to her the oracle card I had pulled the morning before everything had gone so wrong. From Alana Fairchild’s Journey of Love deck, I read, THE VOID:
“At the ending of every cycle, and the beginning of every cycle, there is a moment of transition. It may last for any amount of time – a moment of feeling, or many years of deep inner work whilst feeling displaced. The transition may require patience to endure the absence of knowing, the lack of certainty about who you are and why you are here on this planet. A void may open up between one moment of meeting with your lover and the seemingly endless stretch of time – even if it is only days that seem as though they are eternal in duration – as you wait to reconnect again.
Yet if you can accept that entry into the cosmic void as preparation for your next cycle of manifestation, if you can accept that darkness is holding you with love, not with unfeelingness, then you can relax and let the preparation be what it must be. Then you can be well equipped for the next steps forward on your glorious divine adventure this lifetime, meeting the beloved – whether divine or human lover – in a fresh new moment, excited, open and curious, always.
This oracle brings you guidance. There are parts of your own process unfolding that you simply cannot know about yet. It will not always be this way, but for now, it is most helpful for you to only deal with what is immediately before you. All else will be shown when the time is right. There is growing to be done and then the void will bring forth the next step on your path to meet you. You do not have to worry and you do not have to search. Be present. Be patient. When you can do something, do it, when you cannot, just be. Your time will soon come. If you are holding a question about relationship – surrender it into the void and let it become what it must be according to spiritual wisdom and love.
A coming together A blending of one Where understanding Spans the space between And separation disappears To form Anew”
As others rested their eyes, I laced my arm through the bedrail and placed her left hand over my right, then stroked her hand with my left, as I spoke aloud. “Thank you, sacred vessel, for carrying the soul of our beloved these many years. Thank you for breathing life into this remarkable woman who was a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a wife, a step-mother, a grandmother, a musician, an artist, a counselor to many grateful hearts, and most importantly to me… a true friend. I know it is hard for you to let go of the sacred responsibility you’ve carried these 78 years, but it is time now to let go. For as long as we have breath, we will sing your name to the stars. Our beloved is now one with the Light of Love, and it is time for you to finally rest.
I must have gasped as I recognized her final breath, as everyone came to the bedside to hold our sweet beloved as we tried one final round of “Spirit of Life”. But we choked on our tears and quietly witnessed the slowing heart monitor until it transitioned into stillness. As I type these words, I look at the time to see it is 9:11. It was her birthday and it is now my new angel number. When I see it, I will know she is near.
When she was gone, her wife asked me, “What do we do now?” I explained what next steps would look like, and a few minutes later, she asked again. I know that her consciousness, clouded by dementia, was really saying to me, “What will I do without her?” As the nurse was doing her final exam, I lifted the sheet to see my friend’s feet. I felt a cord at my solar plexus pull me backward in time as I saw the bandage still wrapped around the site of the water blister on her right foot. Suddenly, she and I were rolling through the ER, leaving puddles everywhere. It was now January 23, and this was not the outcome either of us expected twenty days before.
Together, we exited the hospital, an exhausted tribe of devotees. It was 6:30am and our beloved had been gone for an hour and seemingly forever. I went home and slept for a few hours. At 11am, my phone rang and I heard the voice of my friend’s widow, “I’m calling to let you know that Sharon died.” “I know, honey. I was with you all night. Do you remember?” “That’s right, I remember now. Thanks for all you’ve done for us.”
The next day, I met the family at my friends’ home. The neighbors came out to ask about our beloved, and her widow told them that she had died. I affirmed that we had just lost her yesterday, and her wife was shocked to hear it, for she felt it had happened two weeks before. I continue to be curious about this affliction. The brain that is starved of oxygen seems capable of time travel. I am hopeful that it helps with grieving, for this beautiful being lost so much more than her wife, she has also lost her home, having moved into memory care for the lack of a constant companion and the need of greater care. I cannot fathom the shock of it all.
There is still so much to write, but I will save it for another post. What I am most grateful for is that I was able to show up for my friend during the most difficult days of her life and throughout her transition into the mystery of what comes next. Further, I am so enormously pleased that I had the opportunity to be mindful with my love and gratitude for the gifts my friend had unknowingly given me. By loving her, I was given the opportunity to speak with and write to her many friends and family members over the days that followed our fated final ER visit. I have met her people and now claim them as my own. I got to thank her for it while she could consciously acknowledge my thankfulness, with a reply of, “I’m so glad.”
In a recent text exchange with her sister, she signed off with, “I love you most”, and I replied, “As your sister would reply to me, I love you best.” She told me to hold onto those words, and I assure you… they are mine for all time.
Thank you for walking this path with me. And thank you for sending your love to surround the widow of my dear friend. May she have all she needs to feel safe and cared for until she is ready to join her wife for their next grand adventure.
Two big things happened in my life a year ago. My soul-sister fell in love, and my father died. That time in my life was proof that we humans can hold space for every emotion, all at once. I was simultaneously heart-filled and heartbroken.
I held space for my dear friend through her darkest depths, and was blessed to bear witness to the moment she found her person. I had never seen her so happy, and knowing that her darkness had finally found illumination brought me enormous joy and peace. Meanwhile, I was holding space for my father’s physical decline, his struggles with body betrayal, and finally… an end to that struggle. Death is always bittersweet when the ache of a loved one’s suffering is replaced by their absence.
Since my friend also cared for my father, she was painfully aware of the limits of time with those we love, and she did not hesitate to take action, once she had found the soul who brought her spirit back to life. She sold everything and moved north. So, for nearly as long as I have been missing my father’s physical presence, I have also been missing hers.
From afar, she held space for all of the ‘firsts’ without my Pop, and as the anniversary of his death and her birthday grew near, she invited me to come up for a weekend adventure. They had plans to RV over to Provincetown (MA) to see friends, and it wasn’t long before everything fell into place as magick was revealed.
This journey would allow me to be in the state where my father grew up on the anniversary of his death. Further, a stop in a place he had written about in his #MemoirsForMelissa would be easily on our path, either to or from. I knew I was being led to carry some of his cremated remains back to a place he cherished in his youth. For me, it felt like a pilgrimage.
Once again, my lifelong friends supported my journey with inspiration, enthusiasm and great care. When you find the people who are genuinely happy and supportive of your own happiness, and will do everything possible to see you through every opportunity to attain it – you know that you are truly blessed. One asked me if there would be a ceremony to honor Pop on the trip, and that’s when that seed was planted. One generously booked my flights with her buddy pass. And one was my driver to and from the airport (actually, she sent her hubby on the homebound trip, which was a nice surprise). Also, my brother came up to care for Mom, and they both delighted in having each other to themselves for a few days. And of course, my friend and her wife graciously made room for me on their previously scheduled journey. The Universe clearly conspired to make it happen.
It is not every friend who chooses a partner to whom I feel immediately connected. But finally meeting in person the love of my friend’s life, felt like a homecoming. We are family, and it was written in the stars. These two were blessed to find each other, and I feel blessed to bear witness. They carried me with them on an adventure and held space for the surprising emotions that would rise and the magick that would be revealed. I am grateful.
I flew into their hometown and we loaded up the RV (christened The Honey Pot) with provisions and two golden retrievers, then drove eastbound toward the Cape (Cod, that is). In North Truro and PTown, we met up with several of their friends, many of whom were meeting in person for the first time. Each were warm, welcoming beings who made me feel included despite this being my first introduction. They have built a caring, mindful, loving community through social media, and this technology reminds me of the harm it has caused, but also the beauty of connection it has delivered. Like we humans, the internet holds both darkness and light.
Provincetown, to me, was a mixed bag. I seem to have lost interest in shopping since having chosen to live more simply. Mostly, I was delighted by the people watching. In this beautiful place, people feel safe to be authentic. Nothing fills my soul more than seeing individuals express their true nature with confidence and acceptance. Our society’s insistence on conformity is confounding. I would rather die than be subjected to a world filled with sameness. When you find yourself surrounded by a community that has left behind the places that punished them for their truth, you cannot help but feel overwhelmed by the joy of their expressive realness.
We were in PTown for Dad’s death anniversary (July 17), and found a delightful outdoor spot for lunch. As I was looking into the eyes of my dear friend with gratitude to be sharing her birthday with her, I suddenly burst into tears. I’d been told how grief sneaks up on you when you least expect it, and there it was. As she comforted me, my friend glanced at her phone and said aloud, “It’s 2:02. Pop is here.” And we knew it was true. It was the exact moment, one year ago, that his heart stopped. My angel number. When I see it, I know he is near.
Later that afternoon, one of the kind and generous souls in their group swung by the campground to pick us up. As we drove to the beach where we would gather and bounce upon salty waves, the radio did that thing it does. The night before we let Dad go, I set up his tablet to play music he enjoyed. I had asked him to find a way to communicate with me in ways I could understand. As I questioned whether he was ready to go and if I was being true to his wishes, he played three songs for me. The first one was the same as what came over the car radio… Sailing by Christopher Cross. The line that stood out to me on that difficult night at his bedside was, “Soon I will be free.”
The next day, we packed up the RV and made our way to the place I had most anticipated. Twenty years before his death, my father showed up for me. I had asked him to write down stories from his life that I could have when he was gone. Mom had reported that he had been honoring my request, and though I knew they were out there somewhere, I waited until he was gone to find them and read them. My brother found them last Thanksgiving (our first without Pop), and I shared one story per day with my friends and family on FB.
This is the story he left, that inspired this sojourn… from Bill Baker’s Memoirs for Melissa
“One of Dad’s customers owed him a couple of hundred dollars during the war years and signed over the deed to a “summer cottage” in Humarock, close to Scituate near Cape Cod. It was a little box of a place on an island between a river and the Atlantic with a bedroom, kitchen, half-bathroom, living/dining room, and a little porch. No electricity. No bath or shower. Icebox. Gas stove. No heat, no A/C. Loft above the bedroom and bathroom space for 2 kids to sleep. Ladder to pull down and climb up to go to bed. Comic books for color entertainment. (Dad had a customer who did PR for a bunch of Buster Brown shoe stores and he would bring Dad all the comics as he replaced them each month). We would go there when school was out (The House in East Milton, and later the big house on Elliot St would boil in the summer (No A/C remember), and stay until the weekend before Labor Day when school started in the fall.
I remember one night at the beach, the air raid marshal knocked on the door to tell us our lights were showing through the black curtains every window had. He was afraid the light could be seen by a submarine out in the ocean. Beth and I turned out the light in our upstairs bedroom and went to sleep. The next day, I was running along the sand dunes on the ocean side, and when I jumped over the top, down into a little depression, I was surprised by a huge German shepherd and a coast guardsman watching over a big machine gun. He was there to keep Germans from coming ashore from submarines. I stayed away from the dunes after dark for the rest of the war.”
I had reached out to one of Dad’s cousins who still lives up north, and her eldest sister reflected warmly on those years, visiting her cousins on the beach. She was able to give me a better idea of where they spent their summers. The cottage was to the right after crossing the bridge, and on the river side, rather than the ocean side.
My friends and I left the RV in a parking spot at the bridge’s edge and walked past where my Dad and his brothers fished when they were kids, and out to the oceanside beach. I read Pop’s words above and offered a cup of his ashes to the waves in which he once played. A gentle rain began to fall. Then, we walked over to the riverside. I didn’t have an address for their cottage and imagined it would have been replaced by something more modern. We turned at the fire station and walked by the first house from the bridge to a public area with access to the river. My friend and I each offered what was left of Pop’s cremains to the water, rock, and mud of another area I was sure had carried his small feet, once upon a time.
I didn’t take many pictures but captured videos to share with family. The three of us then popped into the Irish Pub on the corner, between the ocean and river for a late lunch. I met a man named Don sitting at the bar as I passed to wash my hands. I told him the story my father had shared and he assured me that my grandparents’ cottage was still there. He’d been living there for 65 years and knew that if a house had changed, it was never torn down, but added to. Maybe someday I’ll learn the address and visit once more. Don also let me know that the restaurant we were in would have been the post office and a small general store during World War II, so my father would surely have been there, as well. When I sat down at the table with my friends, I looked at my phone. It was 2:02.
After lunch, my friend wanted to stop in the gift shop across the street. To be honest, I’m not really a shopper anymore. But I was happy to pop in with my sweet friend who helped manifest this moment for me. The first row to the left offered shirts and sweatshirts branded for this beach. As I stepped around to the next aisle, I found a carousel of jewelry. There were two necklaces at the top that faced me, one was an arrow (a significant symbol in my life), and the other was a name… Melissa. You can poo-poo synchronicity all you want, but I know for sure that magick was afoot. Pop was present, as always.
My friend purchased a souvenir for each of us, and as she checked out I told my Dad’s story to the clerk. She said there was a local historian I would love to talk to, and said he had even written a book about the history of Humarock. I felt compelled to purchase a copy to take home to Mom and share with Dad’s siblings. I later handed it to Mom, and she said that Dad would have loved it. I said, “I know! He made me buy it!”
We would have loved to linger in that sacred place, but we had a long journey home and I had a flight to catch the next morning. I felt so blessed to have walked in my father’s footsteps with my darling friend and her beloved. It was a moment filled with a history, a present, and a future of the manifestation of true love. My grandparents’ love for each other brought into this world my father and his siblings who spent their summers in this place of beauty. My parents’ love for each other brought my brother and me into this world, and the love that my friend found by divine providence brought us three together on this pilgrimage. And though my father is no longer physically in this world, his love and our love will continue to resonate and grow for all time. Like the restaurant that once was a post office, it may change but it never goes away.
Thanks for showing up, Pop. You know that’s my love language, and you never let me down. Keep sending me the signs. I’ll wait right here.
Thank you for walking this path with me. I love knowing you are here.
Over the last year, while designing and leading workshops meant to nurture the personal and spiritual development of my attendees through the symbolism of tending our lives as a garden and honoring the changing seasons and our changing realities, another path was revealed. A few of my sacred gardeners (including myself) experienced profound growth a decade ago with a friend of ours who created a strengths-based program she dubbed ‘Moving Forward’, and as we referred back to that work again and again, we each thought it would be cool to see that offered once more, for the benefit of others.
Now, the brilliant woman, who developed such a meaningful program which she shared with friends and her beloved community, had since become an ordained Unitarian minister and moved across the country to nurture and lead a congregation of her own. But when I asked for her blessing to ‘move forward’ with her torch, her reply was, “Oh, yes! We’ve got to spread that shit everywhere!” (Ministers who say ‘shit’ have a special place in my heart, you know.)
Around that same time, I saw a post from a woman I recently started following on facebook at the suggestion of a friend who saw us as doing similar work in the world. She posted about a process from a book she had worked with three years ago to develop a mission and vision of the future, and how she had just come across what she’d written to discover her vision had indeed been made manifest.
I thought that sounded amazing and ordered the book through addall.com (a great way to find used books). As I reviewed the author’s process, I thought it would flow nicely into the program my friend had created. So, I spent some time weaving together a workbook that would invite a seeker to own their strengths, identify their skills, create their core values statements, define a mission statement, and plant the seeds of a future vision.
Seven weeks ago a group of friends stepped onto a path of discovery with me, and it has been a delight to witness and honor the process for each. We were each in a place of questioning. Either wondering where we might go next, how to move forward from a place of paralysis, or how to find more meaning in each moment, wherever we are. In the early weeks of our work, we lost two of our authentic gardeners to illness and grief. It is difficult to go deep when we are lost in the fog, and so each will return to their respective plots of land when they are ready to once again turn the fertile soil of their souls.
Of course, what happens in any of my workshops stays within that sacred and trusted space, but I can share a bit about my own discoveries of self-awareness, as I chose to recommit to this process with my fellow travelers. After all, eleven years is a long time and I am not the same person I was in 2008. Also, the inspiration to add the mission and vision work to the process arrived so close to the start of our first meeting, I had not yet done what I was asking my friends to do. So, I would do the homework and share my discoveries with the group, hoping to encourage and inspire their own.
First of all, I love the format that our friend created for this work. It is a great deal of solitary homework, but it is fortified in the group setting, as we receive encouragement and inspiration from the courageous vulnerability of others. When we speak of our obstacles and perceived limitations, there is always great insight and possibly a deterioration of those barriers when we are able to learn from the life experience of another. Not to mention how our esteem may be bolstered by the loving support of respected members of our community. I love the platform of growing within community. It makes me feel alive.
I was first introduced to Clifton’s StrengthsFinder through an HR Leader who had challenged my boss to ‘discover his strengths’ and share them, before he would accept an executive job offer. At the time, I assumed it was a leadership tool, and since I didn’t consider myself to be a leader, strengths did not receive my embrace until friends started discussing the workshop they’d attended. So, when she was offering it again in 2008, I jumped at the opportunity, and I brought my life-long friend along for the ride.
The creators of this tool utilized thousands of Gallup interviews to determine that there are 34 strengths themes, and that those who are moving through the world utilizing their top five strengths are happy and successful. In other words, they are using in their daily work their inherent talents, rather than trying to fit into roles which require them to become something they are not.
My strengths profile, after completing the online tool, affirmed my top five strengths to be Empathy, Developer, Connectedness, Input, and Responsibility. Some of my friends have recently redone the module to see if their strengths have changed, and they each found slight differences. But for me, the strengths results from eleven years ago actually feels more true for me now than ever before. What has changed is the opportunity to actually use them.
A few years ago, Marcus Buckingham released a new strengths based book called Stand Out, which also offers an online tool for discovery. My results informed me that I was a Teacher / Connector. At the time, working as an executive assistant with zero opportunity to do anything but serve and support my partner, this insight was impossible for me to see. However, now that I’ve been liberated from that past life, and through my own creative inspiration to design, deliver, and lead groups through workshops of self-discovery, I am ready to own those defining themes.
So, my first instruction for Growing Into Authenticity was to sit with your results for a while. Even if they don’t feel true right now, it may be just a matter of opportunity to shine that will reveal the full potential of one’s inherent strengths. And if they still don’t resonate, decide which strength feels true and replace the one the tool falsely offered. After all, many factors may affect the results of an online test on any given day, but the insightful and self-aware human should know themselves better than any computer. Also, forcing yourself to own a trait that feels really wrong does not nurture authenticity.
One of the gifts of StrengthsFinder, for me, was getting to own Empathy as my number one strength. Previously, though I knew that I could feel the emotions of others, and was often confused about whether my emotions were my own or belonged to someone else, I figured that was an esoteric kind of thing that would sound wacky to others. But once I saw it in print in my own personal profile, I no longer felt it necessary to downplay that ability.
Another cool thing about the tool is that it will take your other four strengths into consideration to inform you of how each strength makes you stand out. In other words, though my best friend and I both have Responsibility in our top five strengths – hers reads differently than mine because our other four strengths are vastly different. Here’s what that looks like:
Responsibility in MY Strengths Profile “Chances are good that you choose your friends with care and caution. Like you, these individuals have a reputation for honoring their commitments. Like you, they do exactly what they say they will do. Your most enduring friendships are built on a foundation of mutual trust. (All true. I have the very best people.) Driven by your talents, you may wish to have a broader range of control and accountability on the job or in your personal life. By nature, you have a strong sense of commitment. It motivates you to make sure that things are carried through to completion even when difficulties arise. Instinctively, you are held in high regard because of your dependability and consistent values. You are someone upon whom others often rely. Why? You do exactly what you said you would do.”
Responsibility in my BUDDY’S Profile “Your Responsibility theme forces you to take psychological ownership for anything you commit to, and whether large or small, you feel emotionally bound to follow it through to completion. Your good name depends on it. If for some reason you cannot deliver, you automatically start to look for ways to make it up to the other person. Apologies are not enough. Excuses and rationalizations are totally unacceptable. You will not quite be able to live with yourself until you have made restitution. This conscientiousness, this near obsession for doing things right, and your impeccable ethics, combine to create your reputation: utterly dependable. When assigning new responsibilities, people will look to you first because they know it will get done. When people come to you for help – and they soon will – you must be selective. Your willingness to volunteer may sometimes lead you to take on more than you should.”
The strength that I once thought kind of boring and questionable was Input, but now I see how wonderfully it serves me… and others. The definition is, “someone who craves to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.” At first I felt it resonated because I collect books that I have not read, but like to keep as a sort of reference library to share with others who are seeking more information. For example, I am not an herbalist, but my small collection of books on the topic (which I’ve never read) supported my friend’s first published book, Nettie’s Tea House. And on a trip to Ireland, when the tour guide failed to share information on the places we were going, and because I spent six months preparing for the trip by reading and watching documentaries on the places we would see, my fellow travelers would say, “Melissa, tell us about the Druids!” And of course, the workshops that I create and share now are each offerings of little bits of knowledge, wisdom, and creativity that I’ve gathered over the years through an inclination to explore and gather experiences that fill my soul. Perhaps something I share will fill the soul of another, and that would make my Empathy, Connectedness, and Developer very happy!
I think what I love the most about Strengths work is that we each have the opportunity to take a deep dive into our own innate talents to really have a good look in the mirror to see how valuable we truly are. For a former self-loather, that is no small thing!
The other treasure to be found here is acceptance. I can now accept that I do not have discipline in my top 5. In fact, it is probably number 34. And I can also accept that those who do not show up on time or even 15 minutes early, as I do, are not being disrespectful or uncaring about the value of my time. They simply do not have Responsibility and Empathy in their top 5. Understanding my own strengths helped me to understand that I don’t have to take the behavior of others personally. Like me, they are operating to the best of their ability with the talents they were given.
And finally, I can accept that those things which do not come easily for me because they are way down on my personal strengths list, are things meant for others. When the boss who loved me was preparing me for her departure, she suggested that I work to develop my analytical skills so that I might offer a future executive budget planning and management. The thought of that made me feel sick to my stomach. My reply to this sweet woman who cared deeply about my future was, “I would be miserable in that work. I would rather leave than try to become something I am not.” And I did leave, when a leader came along who wanted to be managed rather than supported, and chose not to see my authentic value. (Thank the gods!)
Through the process of owning my strengths (though it took me a long time to get here) I have figured out how not to betray myself by remaining where appreciation and mutual respect are lacking. I have learned to be Responsible for my own happiness.
Empathy and Responsibility inform me that this post is now over 2,000 words, and that because I care for those who are so generous as to read what I have taken the time to write, I should share more about what blooms in this blossoming garden at another time. Next time, I’ll write about Skills and Core Values.
Thank you for walking this path with me. My unique Strengths honor and affirm YOUR unique Strengths, and I bow to your glorious authenticity with reverence. Isn’t it great to know that you are perfect exactly as you are?!
Where I live, the month of June carries a great deal of weight. The most obvious, here in the State of Florida, is the arrival of oppressive heat and torrential rain. Many of us are grateful for those daily downpours, as they often manage to lower the temperature from around 99 degrees to somewhere around 88 degrees, if we’re lucky.
June is also Gay Pride month (not just in Florida), and celebrations occur at various venues throughout the month. You’ve probably heard of Gay Days at Disney, which is loads of fun in a sea of red and rainbow. Today, my former workplace raised the rainbow flag in front of the corporate office, to proudly fly a commitment to diversity, honoring the dignity of ALL. The induction of the Pride Alliance into the employee networks several years ago was monumental, even if it felt ridiculously overdue. It’s never too late to get it right.
But the other thing about June… that which makes it not just hot, but also heavy, is a certain anniversary. A horrific, terrible, nightmare in memorial. In the early morning hours of June 12, 2016 a domestic terrorist entered the Pulse Nightclub, right at the heart of one of our Central Florida neighborhoods, and murdered 49 sacred members of our beloved community.
Oh, how we long for the days that our theme parks made us special. No city on the planet wants to be a member of the mass shooting club!
Pulse was a gay nightclub, where friends could gather for dancing, for laughter, for music therapy, and stress relief. It was a place where those who walked through the entrance doors could feel safe to be their authentic selves. It was, for many, a homecoming to acceptance.
They tried to tell us that the shooter was angry about something happening across the globe, but the truth was far more disturbing. He was angry with his culture, his religion, and our society, who would have him carry his unspoken truth inside, never to be fulfilled. He wasn’t allowed to be who he wanted to be, and so he took it out on those who could.
A world of harm comes from pretending to be something you are not, while swallowing shame placed upon you by others. It is the most bitter poison one can ingest. It can only lead to turmoil and destruction, whether it be to one’s self, or to a room filled with sacred souls.
I don’t really understand the societal repression, oppression, and aggression that seems to come from patriarchal religions toward those who are LGBTQ. Especially, since the big three of the patriarchy claim that God is love, that God created everything and makes no mistakes, God is the only judge, etc. And don’t forget the ‘golden rule’ – do unto others as you would have done unto you. Seems like a really big disconnect, if you ask me, when they would have the rights of others limited or removed altogether.
Gratefully, I’ve not seen or heard this ridiculous cry from anyone in my personal circle, but THIS is why there is no ‘straight pride month’, people! Society does not force straight people to bottle up their truth inside walls of protection in lieu of living an authentic life. They get to live each day, out in the open, holding hands with the one they love. They don’t have to worry about being beaten for wearing the clothing that makes them feel confident and comfortable. Their family members are less likely to disown them for being who they really are. Some might say… they are lucky.
I grew up in the Unitarian Church, and my parents’ best friends are a lesbian couple who have been together for decades. So, when I fell in love with a woman in my mid-twenties, I didn’t hesitate to share the news with my parents. My relationship was embraced by my family and by my friends, and I wasn’t in a situation where I had to dance around pronouns when I spoke of my partner. But I do recall feeling fearful of public displays of affection, like holding hands while walking down the street. I had been bullied and taunted for not being thin, and so I understood the mean spirit of broken people. Standing up to adversity requires courage. In public, I felt the need to be cautious in order to stay safe.
We were together for eight years, and we remain friends, to this day. My therapist told me, back in the day, that I was the only client who had ever expressed shame and regret for discovering that I was NOT gay. I mean, really… if I could flip a switch, I would, because the men in my romantic life have been a real disappointment. But that’s another story.
I have friends who have loved one another for decades, whose lives are completely entwined, and yet they were only recently able to legally marry. And I have a friend who is transgender, who after years of this awareness and self-discovery, is beginning to step out into the world donned in garments that make her feel more at home in her skin.
Can you imagine what that is like? To have gone to work every day dressed like someone else? To look in the mirror and see an impostor? To reply to co-workers, when they ask about your weekend plans, while creating language to dance around the truth of the person that you will share it with, and whom you cherish the most in all the world? You know what? You don’t have to be an empath to know that it feels fake, false, empty, lonely, and sad. NO ONE SHOULD HAVE TO FEEL THAT WAY!
Let me tell you something. The beautiful LGBTQ souls everywhere are great warriors, one and all. Whether they have found the strength and courage to be authentic and live an out and about reality within our judgmental and often hateful society, or if they are carrying their truth on the inside – longing for such freedom, they have my respect, my admiration, and my undying support. I am just aching to be asked to be a stand-in Mom at a wedding, for someone whose own parents were too broken and close-minded to love their own children for being honest and seeking happiness. I have more than enough love to go around.
This weekend, I watched the sequel series on Netflix for Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. It is set in San Francisco and the nucleus of the story is a transgender woman named Anna, and the beloved community she has created and nurtured over many years. This updated series takes us back to Anna’s courageous and heartbreaking ‘new beginning’, transitioning at a time that was even less inclusive than now. It also shows us details of the relationships of the other residents of Barbary Lane (the home Anna opened to others as a safe space to thrive), who are gay, straight, bisexual, and transgender.
As a friend and ally of the LGBTQ community, I watched every episode with a sense of deep caring for these characters. I wanted to protect them from the ignorance of others, and I wanted them to know that I have felt rejected and abandoned by love, too. I have stood in the mirror willing my body to look different than it does. I have sometimes had the courage to put myself out there again, in order to find the love that I deserve, and I have also locked my heart inside a closet in order to keep it safe.
One thing that occurred to me as I watched each episode, exploring self discovery and actualization, affection, sexuality, and sensuality in many forms, I could remember how strange it felt, long ago, to see two men kissing on screen for the first time. I’ll admit, that as a young person, it made me feel uncomfortable, but only because it was not something I had seen before. I love that movies and television are finally beginning to reflect the real world. Perhaps the more we see loving relationships between caring people of all genders and identities, the rest of the world will get over its fear and discomfort with what once felt unfamiliar, and get back to focusing on their own happiness, and allow others to do the same. You know… as they would have done unto themselves.
It’s hard to imagine that reality, right now, with so much bitterness and violence being nurtured and celebrated by the so called ‘President’… but I do believe we will get there. I have no choice but to believe in the probability of peace and the power of love to overcome this darkness.
I doubt that any of us imagined we would celebrate marriage equality in our lifetimes, and yet many of us have either been attendants or guests at gay weddings over the last few years. Or as I like to call them… weddings. Someday the silliness of the distinction will be obsolete.
In the meantime, we celebrate how far we’ve come. We wave our multi-colored flags, not as a sign of defeat, but as a symbol of freedom. There is a quality of fierce assertion required to stand up and declare one’s authentic spirit to the world, and so I think of this remarkable community as a Pride of Lions. A fellowship that learned it must protect their own.
But to be who you are truly meant to be, when the world would have you be just like everyone else – fitting inside the limitations of smaller minds, one must stand with the sureness of a warrior.
So, at the occasion of a month dedicated to the celebration of individuality and fabulousness, and at an anniversary of a horrific moment that my beloved community will never forget, I salute this Pride of Warriors! I pay tribute to their courage to be who they want to be. I honor their divine perfection, because though I am not religious, I know that who they are is not a mistake. And I bow my head in sorrow for our fallen warriors, and our beloved survivors whose dreams are surely haunted.
As for those who are struggling with the concept of acceptance, respect, and loving kindness for ALL beings (yourself included), consume these wise words from one of our favorite New Yorkers (Ms. Cyndi Lauper): YOU’LL CHANGE THE WORLD WHEN YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND! Thank you for walking this path with me.