The Love of a Good Cat – Part One

I am currently in the  midst of a deep dive of self discovery, which requires a review of my personal experience with death. I thought I had completed the task remarkably unscathed when another question in the curriculum was posed about comfort in receiving emotional support, such as a hug, from strangers.

At first, I couldn’t think of an instance… until I realized that I had only written about the humans that I have lost, and had not written about my beloved pets.  In my adult and independent life, in other words, since I moved out of my parents’ home, I have loved, nurtured, and cared for cats.  Of five furry babies that have blessed my life, I have lost four.  Each loss was devastating.  When I compare these losses to my human ones, I recognize that the suffering at their loss was extensive.  I imagine the reason is multi-tiered, and multi-teared.  First of all, I was completely responsible for their care and well-being.  If they suffered, it was because of my neglect or inability to understand their needs.  If only they could speak, or I could understand their language.  That leaves a world of opportunity for self-flagellation.  Secondly, unlike the people I have lost, my pets have been with me every single day, through prosperity and hardship, anywhere from two years to nineteen years.  Finally, unlike most relationships in life, they loved me without condition, even when I felt unlovable… and they each played an important role in nurturing my identity, and possibly my self-worth.

I must start at the beginning, though the first cat-love that I lost was not by death.  Stevie came into my life at precisely the moment that my whole life was changing, and in fact, she was a catalyst for some of that change.  I was living with four roommates, when this Sterling Persian beauty found her way into my parents’ backyard.  We figured she had been abandoned when someone moved away, but now that I reflect on how she appeared to us, and how she disappeared from my life four years later, I wonder.  My living situation at the time was up for renewal, and when Stevie appeared, it was clear that my roommates were not agreeable to bringing a house cat into the fold, and so it was that this tiny angel entered my life to change the trajectory of my youth.  I was 23 that year, and my parents co-signed for me to buy my own condo.  That condo was not just our home, it was the birthplace of my Tribe, the hub of my new spiritual journey, a meeting place for my young adult group, a nest to welcome a loving partner, and a safe place for dear friends to rest their heads when they were in need.  That level of independence enabled my freedom for growth and community building, which never could have happened while sharing a home with multiple people on different paths.  I shall always believe that Stevie arrived for that purpose.

A couple of years later, I brought home a tiny black kitten, that I named Nightshade.  Attention:  Never name a pet after a poisonous herb… it may just live up to the title.  Ha!  This girl was a tiny terrorist.  She was constantly getting into trouble.  I have heard mothers of toddlers repeatedly urge their energetic child to stop what they are doing, and Nightshade was my source of empathy for them.  I don’t think they ever really became friends, but Stevie tolerated the tiny tornado… for a while.  When we moved out of the condo and into a house, there was a hole in the wall where the dryer would vent.  We assessed it and foolishly believed there was no way they could get out, and in the morning, I was devastated to find that Stevie was gone.  She had been in my life for four years, the entirety of my time in the condo that housed my becoming.  I searched the neighborhood for her to no avail.  I sobbed and wailed for my loss and abandonment, and for my failure to keep her safe.  When I reflected on her time with me and why she had gone, besides the fact that I was sure Nightshade had pushed her through that hole, I determined that she was the resident angel to get me through that four-year period of transformation and growth, and that there was someone else in need that she was meant to serve.

In my grief for Stevie’s loss, came my partner’s desire for my comfort.  Interestingly, I ran into a former co-worker I had not seen in a couple of years, since I adopted Nightshade from her.  She shared that her daughter was moving back home, and that she had a kitten that she would not allow her to keep.  Enter Gwydion.  He was the yang to Nightshade’s yin… our bringer of light.  She was mischievous and he was curious.  She was independent and only allowed herself to be loved on her terms, and he was pure love and affection.  Nightshade was a black domestic short hair and Gwydion was a Norwegian Forest Cat with long white with black and grey fur.  The markings around his face, as a kitten, gave him a look that made you think of Barbra Streisand (I don’t know how, but I wasn’t the only one who could see it).   As a baby, my goddess daughter could lean on him and he would not move or run, but just sit patiently in her support.  After I had gone to bed, I swear he would call out to me, “Mama!  Mama!”  He would lie down next to his food dish and pull out one crunchy morsel at a time onto the floor, and only once out of the bowl would he consume his meal, which made for an adorable companion to Nightshade’s ‘water dance’, a funny way that she would tap her front and hind feet before she would drink from the water fountain.  At twenty pounds, Gwydion wasn’t a lap cat, I think he was aware of his mass, and so he would only sit beside you to receive your affection.  In his later years, I was finally able to convince him to sit on my lap.  He would come to my feet and look up at me with love and expectation.  I would lift him onto my knee, and he would sit, like a tiny human leaning against the arm of the comfy chair, with his elbow perched just so.  From this vantage, I could rub his fluffy belly, and he would purr with delight… as would I.  He liked to lie on the hardwood floor with his belly exposed, which is why my brother dubbed him – Throw Rug.  It was in his thirteenth year that everything went wrong.  It’s disturbing to me how many things I had missed in his decline.  We tend to think that they are just getting older when they slow down or start to limp… must be arthritis.  I had witnessed him lying down to pee once or twice, but his doctor and I assumed the typical male cat issue with UTI, and we treated with antibiotics.  I should have taken him in for x-rays immediately, but his doctor came to the house, and I felt I was saving him the stress of being carried outside of the home and into a strange office with other animals.  It wasn’t until I was sitting on the floor one night, stroking him as he sat upon the ottoman at eye level, when I slid my hand down his hind leg.  There beneath white fluff, was a swollen mass above his ankle joint.  My heart stopped.  I called his doctor, and she arranged for him to be seen the next day at our local hospital.  The tests reflected my worst fears… cancer.  The only logical solution for a young cat would have been amputation, but Gwydie was not young, and there was something happening in his belly that couldn’t be determined without further testing, but it was likely the spreading cancer, hot to the touch.  I am sickened to think about all of the things I could have done differently for his care.  I struggled to get pills into him, and so I often didn’t force it.  He couldn’t stand to pee, so I just kept papers on the floor.  It was only ten years ago, why didn’t I have liquid pain meds and absorbent pee pads?  My anam-cara, a soul friend I met that August in Ireland, had a friend who could psychically communicate with animals, and she sent me a written recording of what she received from her connection with Gwydion, as I sought his guidance for what to do for him.  I would have given anything to hear his voice in a way I could interpret and understand.  The following is what Mary transcribed:

“11/19/2008 pm / Communication with Gwydion for Melissa

I’ve been waiting… my person Melissa talks to me all the time.  I’m one lucky cat.
Q:  Are you in pain?  A:  Discomfort is a better description.  My kitten days are long gone.  This is my path now.  I am like a butterfly – metamorphosis is what I am doing.  Tell Melissa to notice butterflies, especially yellow ones.  I am like that.  I began as a cute kitten – became a loving cat – and now I am aged.  It is natural.  It is the design.  I will be like the butterfly one day – I will be light and free and I will fly away.  I’ll not be away from Melissa but I will fly away from this physical body that you see – handsome as it is.  Its time has almost come.  We’ll walk a few more trails together and face a few more trials together and then I’ll metamorphose.
Q:  Is walking difficult?  A:  This body cannot do all it could but it still serves me.  I do okay.
Q:  Ok if Melissa carries you?  Touches you?  A:  Love in any form is what I absorb.  I try not to cause sadness.  Now I am taking on a lot of Melissa’s sadness.  It is heavy for me.  I do not wish to bring her sadness.  It is the way of things.  I hear her tears and know she does not fully understand / grasp this metamorphosis.  I’ll be here until she does.  The shift will come and I will be free like the butterfly.
Q:  Message for Melissa?  A:  We journey together.  We always have.  We always will.  There may be a kitten in her future – sent by me (smile).  But I must save that surprise until later.  Blinky. Blinky. (note – no idea what this means and no clues were provided)
Q:  Do you want Melissa to help you move onto spirit?  A:  She has lots of helpers.  When the time is right, I’ll go on.  It may be spring – like the butterflies.  It doesn’t really matter that much – time – physical – cycling.  It is time now for me to slow down.  I don’t mind.  Business as usual, for now.
Q:  What can Melissa do for you?  A:  She is already doing everything for me.  I am warm, well fed, and happy.  This body will not last but I will.  Melissa and I will always share a special warmth – our hearts beat together now and in spirit.  WE are love.  That is our language.  Time for sleep now.  G’night.

Another intuitive friend at work told me she connected with him, and that he said I would know it was his time to go when he no longer cared for his food.

When that day came, I was terrified.  I tried liquefying salmon, but he refused to eat.  And when I came home from work that night, he was sitting beneath the Yule tree, and looked back at me as I entered from the kitchen.  I walked over and picked him up, carried him to the paper so he could release his bladder.  Then, I carried him to the water bowl for him to drink.  This was when I realized that the cancer in his leg had severed the bone.  His foot flipped in an unnatural position.  I screamed and cried, and called his doctor.  She would come the next day, but couldn’t arrive before 2pm.  I carried my beloved boy to bed, and there we would stay, our final spooning love fest.  On December 11, 2008, I sent an email to friends and family and attached a picture of my boy.  This is what I wrote:

“I let Gwydion go yesterday.  It was time… We had a love fest in bed for about 18 hours… we talked about our many blessings… we cuddled and caressed, and both felt completely enveloped by our love for one another, as well as the love of our family and friends.

Dr. Martinez came to us in my room at 2pm.  My parents and Julie (his beloved cat sitter) were there in person, and VJ, my Tribe, and others were there in spirit.  I curled my body around his, and placed my arm so my hand was over his heart and my heart was mournfully beating against his back, as I whispered ‘I love you, I love you, I love you’ into his ear with kisses.  He left his body in my arms at 3:32pm.  I was so lucky to have such a beautiful parting with him… not in some cold, bright office, but in the warmth and soft comfort of my bed… where I was safe to wail and sob, clutch and kiss him all the way to the other side.

I reflect on how he came into my life… and know that he was a gift from the Universe, and that somehow… our souls had chosen one another.  I am so lucky he chose me.  And we are so lucky that all of you love us… and we are grateful.  Now Nightshade and I are finding a new way to exist.  It is sad and quiet in our house… and so we invite you to stop by anytime to help fill the emptiness.

With great love and abundant gratitude for your love and support, Melissa”

I received dozens of supportive replies from family and friends.  All were compassionate, caring, and offered their loving support to help Nightshade and me through the darkness.  My sister-in-love often commented when visiting that last year, about how she witnessed my care for Gwydion in his infirmity.  In her email, she affirmed, “You gave Gwydion (she actually called him Gideon, and often called Nightshade Lampshade, but I found that terribly endearing) so much love… more love than I’ve seen humans give each other sometimes…”  I hope he felt it, because he deserved the world for all of the love he delivered.  When he was gone, and because Nightshade was so limited in her affection, I realized what a love-sponge he was.  I could pour everything I had into him, and he would receive it and reflect it back to me.  Life was a great deal lonelier in his absence.  But eventually, my girl and I found our way.

The day that came forward in my memory, with the question of how I feel about receiving comfort from strangers was a few years back when Nightshade died.  She had been with me for nineteen years, and she was a cat that only a mother could love.  She looked so inviting to pet, but then she would most likely snap and growl if you tried.  She would follow my friends into the bathroom, but then hiss at them when she realized they were not me… and then she would hiss at them when they were feeling most vulnerable, if you know what I mean.  She also had a thing for sharing her disdain with me by peeing on things.  Seriously, no one taught me more about unconditional love and co-dependency than Nightshade.  If she wasn’t happy, I wasn’t happy.  Ha!  She was an integral part of my identity, as I saw it.  When it was time to let her go, she was nearly two decades upon the earth, and had lost her vision and her continence.  I finally found the courage to have her doctor come, when she was waking each morning soaked in urine.  That was no way for a goddess, as she recalled the Egyptians to have worshiped her, to live.  Unlike my experience with Gwydion, I felt that this should be a more intimate release.  Nightshade really didn’t like other humans very much, and so it felt right for it to be just the two of us at the end.  She growled when the doctor arrived, she was never a big fan of her visits.  She received her shot, and I pulled her onto my chest as her breathing stopped and only one broken heartbeat remained.

The next morning, I woke and felt overwhelmed by the emptiness of my home.  She was so small, and yet she took up so much room.  I couldn’t breathe inside the vacuous space of her absence.  So, I got into my car and I drove.  I figured I would just go somewhere for breakfast, but it was difficult to focus.  I drove to one place, and they could not seat me… and so I drove to the opposite side of town, where I found a table and sat down.  It was difficult to prevent my tears from falling, and throughout my dining experience, I would find composure and lose it again multiple times.  Looking back, I feel sorry for the burden that must have been to other diners.  However, it was in this place that I experienced incredible kindness and humanity.  One woman came to my table and said to me, “If you would receive it, I would like to offer you a hug.”  I couldn’t speak, but I accepted.  She hugged me in a way that was not foreign or guarded.  This perfect stranger held space for me, and she literally held me in my grief.  When it was time to pay the check, I learned that a different couple had paid my tab as they departed.  It was one of those moments that was life affirming.  I know that had I reached, a whole host of friends would have come to my door to provide the love and support that I needed.  And yet, I was so lost and confused in mourning, that I could not manage the thought required to do so.  The Universe still managed to deliver exactly what I needed at that moment… a bit of kindness and compassion.  What a beautiful world.  So, to answer the question about my comfort in being hugged by a stranger… I am completely comfortable with the kindness and compassion of another’s embrace, be they old friend or new friend.

all-you-really-need-in-life-is-the-love-of-a-good-george-boot

The Beauty of Pilgrimage

Ten years ago this summer, I took a trip abroad that was quite life altering and life affirming.  I was finishing up my third decade with an epiphany; I am no longer going to wait for someone else to make my dreams come true.  I realized that I was missing opportunities to follow my bliss, because I was waiting for a companion to come into my life or for a friend to have the funds and vacation time available to join me for adventure.  I decided that year that I would wait no longer.  I booked a trip in February to be taken in August.  I thought about returning to England or Scotland, places I had been before and loved, but realized that I really needed to go to Ireland.  Through an online search I found a few groups that did tours that were geared toward Celtic spirituality.  I was not interested in wasting a single day doing something that did not resonate with me.  I didn’t want to be in this sacred country of my ancestors, and have to spend a day in the Waterford Crystal factory, when I could be spending that time among ancient sites that predate the pyramids.  The company was selected by the travel date that didn’t interfere with a corporate board meeting, and I was set for a solitary adventure.  I had nearly 6 months to plan, and I set about learning more about the sites I would see.  At the time, I knew very little about the country, beyond my love for their native traveling hit, Riverdance.  I was so glad to have the time to know more before landing on sacred ground.  I was given an alumni guide to the history of the island, that went back to the actual land formation around the ice age.  Here’s a little morsel of wisdom:  There were never snakes in Ireland.  They did not cross over the land bridge before the ice melted and turned it into an island.

The difference in being a tourist and a pilgrim is profound.  A tourist travels with a mission that carries a bit of expectation and stress, while a pilgrim is on a spiritual journey with the intention of experiencing wonder and being open to the magick of synchronicity and ‘allowing’.  Rather than scrambling to make things happen, one may simply allow the unfolding of the beauty and mystery that surrounds.

There are so many wonderful and amazing things that I was blessed to experience on that sacred journey, but I woke up this morning thinking of one particular moment that I’d like to share.  I call it my Monica moment.

We were about half-way through our two week tour when we made our way down to the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry.  It was on the itinerary that we would see, among other things in this beautiful area, the Gallarus Oratory.  In my initial reading, prior to arrival, it was written to be a 12th century church of stone on stone (no mortar) construction that appeared in the shape of an upturned boat.  If you look it up online now, it has a few interpretations for its use by different archaeologists over the years.  One speculation I admire is that it might have been a shelter for foreigners, or another possibility of being a funerary space for the family that owned the property.  I rarely spend much time worrying about the truth of an ancient structure, and tend to simply be grateful that it remains standing for my witness centuries after its construction.

When we arrived at the Oratory, our entire group of 13 entered, and with hands clasped, we could stretch our circle to be touching the walls that encapsulated us.  There was no more than a doorway on one side of the structure and a window on the other.  This was a spiritual tour, therefore, everyone traveling with us had some level of interest in Celtic history, mythology, or were otherwise energetic healers of some sort.  At the time, I was struggling with my identity, and the best I believed I could offer was a passion for singing chants that I had learned over the previous 16 years.  So, I was asked to lead the group in a healing chant, and that I did.  I closed my eyes, and twelve voices joined mine to sing the first chant I had learned, which moved me enough to choose this path of feminine spirituality for my soul’s enrichment.  Raising your voice in an ancient place with fellow pilgrims is a powerful thing.  I can’t tell you how many times we moved through those words, but it was possibly five rounds.  When I opened my eyes, I looked up and found a face in the window looking in at us.  I said, “Oh, look!  We’ve attracted an Angel!”, and I snapped her picture.

I lingered inside the small structure for a few minutes, and when I stepped back into the light, I found my anam cara, a new soul-friend that I met on the tour, talking with the woman from the window.  I heard her say, “You should talk to Melissa, she’s our chantress!”  I walked over and smiled, as the Angel from the window spoke with a foreign accent.  “Hello.  My name is Monica.  I was so moved by your song.”  I replied, “Hi there.  My name is Melissa.  That song really moves me, too.  Would you like me to share it with you?”  And she nodded her head, and she and I clasped each others hands.  We looked into each other’s eyes as I sang: “I am a circle, I am healing you.  You are a circle, you are healing me.  Unite us, be one.  Unite us, be as one.”  As I sang to this sweet stranger whose spiritual path had just crossed over my own, tears poured from her eyes.  When the chant ended, she thanked me and we hugged.  It was quite possibly one of the most powerful moments I have ever experienced.  A decade has passed, and it is still crisp in my mind’s eye, that moment of shared magick.  I am so grateful that I was mindful enough to snap that photo.  Monica still peers through to me from that ancient window whose image is perched in my library.  Sitting at my computer now, I wonder if she ever thinks of me… or if she tells a similar story to her friends and family about this amazingly wonderful thing that happened on her way to the Oratory.

When I reflect on that memory, I wonder why it is we rarely have these magickal moments at home or at the grocery store.  It seems such a shame to have to travel to a foreign land to allow the open heart and open mind to attract such an interaction with people we don’t know.  I think I will set my intention to attract more of this brand of magick wherever I roam, be it ancestral homeland or Trader Joe’s.

If you are blessed with the opportunity to travel beyond your home base, whether it be foreign or domestic, I hope that you will go forth with a pilgrim’s heart.  Be open to receive whatever blessings the Universe has in store for you, and if you ever have the chance, I hope you’ll take the hands of a perfect stranger and sing to her with genuine caring and love.  It will leave a permanent stamp on your soul that will bring you hope and healing even as it becomes a distant memory.  I promise.

monicamoment

A Spiritual Path Less Traveled

I have been asked on more than one occasion about the sense of comfort and calm that I carry.  One co-worker asked me if it was my spirituality that made me such a peaceful and happy soul.  I tend to think that my demeanor would be the same regardless of my spiritual path, and yet I surely would not be who I am today without it.

I started my spiritual journey at age 23, at a time when I felt unfocused and unsure of my future direction.  I was raised Unitarian Agnostic, so had an openness toward learning about world religion and alternative paths of spirituality.  I had gone to church with friends while growing up, and had experienced multiple denominations of Christianity, but was never able to find a connection there.

As a teenager, and an adoring fan of a certain chiffon cloaked songstress, I developed an interest in learning about Wicca.  I recall asking my brother one day, “They call her a witch, but her music is uplifting and makes me feel good… so how can she be bad?”  His reply was that she wasn’t bad, she was a Witch to Wicca, as a Catholic is to Christianity (providing clarity to a non-religious kid). 

In the mid 1980’s, there was little to be found in the library on that topic.  I found a brief outline in an encyclopedia that I photocopied, but it didn’t do much to help my understanding.  It felt too foreign and strange, and so I dropped my inquiry. 

Then, in February of 1992, my Mom signed us both up to attend a workshop at our church, called “Women in Religion – A Walk in Many Worlds”.   It was a weekend of experiential learning about Feminine Spirituality, hosted by Margot Adler.  I can still vividly recall the Saturday morning ritual that was simple in nature, but powerful.  There were 120 women in attendance, and Margot (the late NPR Correspondent, and granddaughter of famed psychiatrist, Alfred Adler) invited any woman who was going through some kind of trauma or sorrow to enter the center of the circle.  When I looked around, there were not enough women left in the outer ring to be able to clasp hands.  For me, it was a moment of empathic clarity to understand the prolific suffering of others. Prior to this gathering, I had not yet come to understand that what people display ‘on the outside’ does not necessarily reflect how they feel on the inside.

As we joined voices for my first healing chant, there was an unmistakable energy rising.  It came up through the soles of my feet and poured forth through the tears in my eyes… there was so much suffering in this circle.  I longed to hold every woman in sacred space. 

These are the words that we repeatedly chanted:  “I am a circle, I am healing you.  You are a circle, you are healing me.  Unite us, be one.  Unite us, be as one.”  I still find this chant to be powerful and incredibly moving, whether in a circle of three or three hundred. 

At the time of our gathering, I knew one woman in the circle, but when I would later reflect on that moment that changed my life for the better, I would realize that a good number of those present would become my people. 

Aside from the healing chant, there is one thing that really stands out in my memory of that weekend. We were all invited to bring an item to place on the altar, and had a chance to explain the symbolism of our offering.  Margot spoke of the item she brought, which was a replica of a Neolithic age goddess image known as the Venus of Willendorf.  She dates back over 30,000 years, and here’s the thing… she is not a stick figure.  Willie is actually rotund by current standards.  She is full, and round, and fertile, with hips meant for childbearing.  Margot said that when she learned to see this ancient relic through the eyes of those who created her… with a sense of awe and reverence… she could begin to see herself that way.  Can you imagine – realizing that someone who looked like you was once considered divine and worthy of worship? There really might be something here for me, after all, I thought.

After the workshop, my mom found an ad in the paper for a six-month class on Wicca.  Again, she signed us both up.  Mom left the class when she knew I was safe (i.e., not getting involved with a cult), as this path was not for her.  I continued my weekly commitment from March through August of that year.  We learned about different mythological pantheons, sacred ceremony, herbalism, astrology, divination (such as tarot and runes, etc.), and more. 

It’s funny to come from the perspective of skepticism and open mindedness.  It takes a really long time to move through disbelief and prove-it mentality to genuine knowing – even when you’ve been witness to real magick and minor miracles.  It helps to be a highly committed individual; you can just keep trying, until it clicks.  It also helps to have others with whom you feel safe to explore.  When the class was over, I was initially not sure I would do anything with what I’d learned.  There were parts that resonated, and parts that did not.  But, as fate would have it, I was invited to join a small group of classmates to continue this exploration.  These people valued my authentic nature, and did not judge my lack of education on the subjects into which we would grow.  With their confidence and support, I began to blossom.  I was their ‘maiden’, and the tarot card that symbolized my place on the path at age 23 was The Fool…  a curious soul at the beginning of an unknown and exciting adventure.

For me, what was most profound in this exploration was the ability to finally find myself in the divine.  For on this spiritual path, through Margot Adler’s introduction and the class on Wicca, I met the Goddess.  Before this, the only expression of divinity I’d been shown came in male form, and quite frankly, having been betrayed by a male at age 20 to whom I had given my heart, well… I just wasn’t interested.  How could I trust Him?  And so here, in the proverbial lap of the Goddess, I was ready to make my home.

Over the last 25 years, my personal definition of spirituality has fluctuated. I remain committed to a permanent state of evolution, as I allow life and experience to alter understanding. I am an eternal student gathering insight from many paths, traditions, and religions. I find focus and strength in the archetypal feminine via Jungian psychology. I am grateful to have been raised with an open mind, not tied to a single belief system or dogma.

I love that we all have the freedom to explore and ultimately define what it is that makes us feel safe, supported, transformed, fulfilled. 

For me, an earth based, goddess centered path still resonates most clearly… but my understanding of consciousness continues to evolve, and today I define myself as spiritual, but not religious – hesitant to limit my own possibility for growth and expansion. 

What I’ve gathered from every single path I’ve studied… is that symbolism is powerful.  We can find commonality in the Earth’s path around the sun through the changing seasons, and the cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth of nature.  And just as Mother Nature sheds her leaves each fall, we too can choose to drop what no longer serves us, be it an attitude, a toxic relationship, or a path that no longer meets our needs.

Whichever path you have chosen, and however you define it, dear ones, I hope that your own sacred journey is paved with love and healing light, and that you are surrounded by a community of supportive, loving, compassionate friends who will take your hand when you need guidance through moments of darkness.  Knowing that I am never alone, and that I am surrounded by so much love has always been a great blessing to me… and from the center of my being, I wish the same for you. 

Thank you for walking this path with me.

Witness to Healing

It was exactly six years and two months ago that one of my soulmates entered my life.  You may know that a soulmate is anyone in your life who speaks to your soul and helps you to grow… they are not always a romantic partner, but sometimes, if you are really lucky, they may become a life partner… one soul you would choose to have at your side through all of the ups and downs, highs and lows of this great journey we call life.

She was kind of a mess at that time, but you wouldn’t know it to see her… as she was a master of disguise, much like many survivors of childhood abuse.  Whether it was my empathic gift or our souls’ recognition of one another, she had the great courage to remove her mask whenever we were alone.  The very first time she came to my home, we sat together on the couch and she looked at me with fear in her eyes, because she could not believe that she was confessing to me all of her deepest, darkest secrets of her childhood horrors.  She said that it had taken her eight years of weekly therapy, to get past the crushing silence and tears of her shame to speak of these things to a professional… and there it was, spilling forth from her being like a flood gate had opened.  It was a great honor to me that she trusted me with her truth, especially since she didn’t actually know me, at that point in time.  Here’s one thing I know for sure, if you have the courage to go deep with someone, to share your truth, be authentic, and vulnerable… you will have no choice but to become bonded.  Know that I am not betraying her trust by writing of my courageous, warrior soulmate here, because she has given me permission to share.

Here’s the really amazing, wonderful, miraculous thing about my joyful sharing of this piece of our shared history… my beloved friend and soulmate, who once would go fetal at the mere thought of her abuser, or who would lose her shit over a tragic anniversary, or who might punish herself with self harm of any sort, because she was drowning in the tidal wave of shame, fear, and self-loathing… is now completely healed.  It wasn’t a spontaneous lightning bolt of healing, it was several years of dedicated hard work on her own behalf.  She saw a therapist at least twice a month, and every week, if she needed it.  She took her medication religiously, and never stopped her practice of self-care with her daily vitamin regimen.  She sought and engaged a therapist who practices EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), which is pure magick that reprograms the way the brain deals with trauma and PTSD.  She is Christian, and so she engaged with groups at church that were focused on healing and coping.  And most of the time that she was really struggling… she would reach out to me, and we would talk through it.  When I asked her to see a psychiatrist to help with her chemistry, she made a promise and followed through.  It wasn’t easy for her to do all of these things.  Even making a phone call, or answering the phone was a hardship, at times… but she always found the strength and courage to accept that lifeline.

One of those days that she reached to me for assistance was when her group therapist assigned each survivor of childhood atrocities to write a letter of loving support to herself.  Though I have no doubt she could have done that for someone else, at that time, she simply could not find the words for herself.  So, she engaged her friend with a gift for words.  This is the letter that I wrote for her.  She told me that she shared it with her group, and that another member of the group asked if I would write one for her… and so she took my letter and adjusted the greeting.  It went like this:

Dear [Friend]~

Have I told you lately how very proud I am of you?  You are a warrior woman, goddess incarnate.  The word victim has no place in your personal vocabulary, for you are a survivor.  Heartbreaking atrocities occur every day, but it is not every soul who chooses to stand up and fight for her freedom from internal conflict and for wholeness.  YOU are that woman. 

At times, as you face these nightmares from the past – with your inner child, you may feel alone and helpless.  The truth is… you are never alone, for we are all one.  When you are in the midst of darkness, I shall be your torchbearer… shining a light on your truth, that you are whole, worthy, valued, loved, adored, and perfect – exactly as you are, until your own light is able to shine more brightly to illuminate your path of enlightenment.

I, too, have been through the darkness, in my own small way.  As you know, I dwelled in self-loathing for over 25 years.  Until, one day I decided that I deserved to be treated with loving kindness and respect, by myself as well as by others.  It takes constant vigilance to choose the right words for one’s healthy self-talk, instead of the negative, nasty words we learned from others.  It is absolutely worth the energy, time, and commitment to ourselves.  We deserve what we accept… and we teach others how we deserve to be treated by our own actions…  by what we tolerate.  Never, ever tolerate abuse, disrespect or a lack of kindness… especially from yourself.  Ask yourself, when you are speaking to your own reflection – would I ever say “this” to someone I love?  If the answer is NO, then you MUST replace that thought or statement with something loving and kind.  This is what I learned, and how I continue my own practice of self-respect and loving kindness.

With this important work you are doing, with such commitment and dedication, you are moving beyond being a survivor… you are becoming a THRIVER!  Darling, precious, sacred friend…  I can see your light and I look forward to seeing it shine more brightly.  Go on – remarkable woman of strength and healing…  SHINE ON!

Here’s my challenge for you…  I dare you to make yourself feel as loved by you, as I do.  I know that you have it in you, because you make me feel valued, appreciated, loved and adored.  And the truth is… you deserve your own love and compassion more than anyone in the universe.

Love, blessings, and awe… 

If this letter resonates with you, I hope you will fill in your name where [Friend] is written.  The one for whom this letter was originally penned no longer needs it, though I know she holds it among her healing treasures.  One day last winter, she received news footage of her childhood home, and the room that was hers… a virtual hall of terrors for one beautiful little girl, had burst into flames.  She sent me the footage, and told me what I was seeing.  My reply:  “Oh, wow!  Do you know what this means?”  Her reply:  “Yup!”  This image, the symbol of her childhood trauma engulfed in flames, was her sign from God (the Universe) that her healing was done.  That wounded past was being cleansed and purified… like when the forest floor is set alight to clear away old debris, and allow the pine cones to break open and spread their seed of new beginnings.  Today, she no longer struggles with depression, and as of this morning, she is off of medication, after months of weening with her doctor’s and therapist’s guidance and support.  She is my great symbol of hope.  In her new beginning, she has become MY torchbearer.  She has informed me that if I never give up on myself, and if I am willing to remain committed and focused on attaining my goals, someday… I might just become a writer.  😉

Fireplace 11-20-2013

Sunday Service or Faery Fantasy?

Have you ever had an experience, that when over, you look back and wonder if it really happened?  My memory is rather selective.  I call it Swiss Cheese Memory, because it seems I may remember pieces of a story, while other bits fall through the holes.  But there is this one magickal day, though buried beneath twenty years of mundane history, which offers me remarkable clarity when plucked out to be shared.  I keep this memory planted in a tiny pocket behind my heart, and am always grateful to be able to return to that very moment… as if to prove time travel a reality.

In college, I took four semesters of American Sign Language.  That’s not to say that I ever had the confidence to do anything with it, but I can still spell out the alphabet and offer you my gratitude, my love, and inform you that I have to pee without speaking a word. 

My classmates were far more confident than I, not limited by a false belief of not being good enough, my old wound – now healed.  So, when a total immersion opportunity in St. Augustine arose, I joined them for the weekend trip, but did not attend the course.  As they headed back to the college for the deaf on Sunday for their final class, I got in my car and drove along the waterfront to find a parking spot.  My thought was that I would find a tree beneath which I would read a book before meeting up with the ladies for lunch.  On this particular day, the sun was shining, the breeze was beautiful, and there was not a single place to park.  So, I kept driving. 

Soon I found that I was no longer in familiar territory.  I ended up in an old neighborhood, and thought I should probably turn around and go back the way I came, so not to be lost (in an era before GPS and cell phones).  When I pulled over to get my bearings, I found myself in front of quite a sight.  I pulled out my journal to write about what I saw, scribbling imagined emotions to go with the vision before me. 

Surrounded by a chain link fence, was a small cinder block structure that was covered in small white crosses, some atop blue hearts.  There was no roof, floor, windows or doors on this house, and with all of the crosses, I imagined a whole family having died there (morbid, I know), as it resembled many roadside memorials I’ve seen. 

When I looked up from my writing, I noticed a car to my left was inching slowly past, with two women eyeing me with suspicion.  As they parked in front of me, and got out of the car, I rolled down my window and they approached, each dressed to the nines, pillbox hats, and all.  I told them that I was intrigued by this house and had to stop, and asked them if this was a place of pain for them.  One woman replied:  “Oh, no honey.  This is our church!”

The next thing I knew, I had been invited to worship with two elderly black women somewhere off the beaten path of historic downtown St. Augustine. 

Of course I accepted their offer, and I helped them carry items from the car into the curious structure that was sacred to them.  Together, we transported a canvas bag with a few hymnals, a battery powered keyboard, and a Christian bible.  As we passed through the gate to enter the property, one of my hostesses placed a halfway deflated balloon at the gate, and turned a sign around to show anyone arriving late that church was now “In Service”. 

We entered the ‘sanctuary’ through the unhindered doorway that faced the road, stepping onto beautiful green grass.  There were randomly placed cinder blocks and a few planks of wood that leaned against the wall.  By their guidance, I helped rearrange these items to become a pew and a keyboard stand.  Next, I was guided through a side-doorway, and found that there was a small wooden closet with a lock, from which was pulled a small wooden lectern.  It looked more like a plant shelf that had been painted blue with a white wooden cross added as a symbol of its importance… to cradle the holy book for reading.  There was a porcelain heart-shaped box that sat on the shelf, behind the cross.  With this final placement, in the front of the room, facing the single pew, and to the left of the ‘choir’ section, we were ready to begin the service.

One woman took her place at the keyboard, and the other behind the lectern.  I took my place with hymnal in hand, respectfully, upon the pew of block and wood.  The service proceeded in the usual fashion… a bit of music, followed by words of scripture.  At each phase of the service, I was informed of their traditions.  “This is where we do the meet and greet.”  And the three of us stood, and I introduced myself to Vondelin and Petronella, two sisters, both in their seventies.  They called each other Von and Pet, for short.  Their mother had taught at the local school for the deaf, and it was a fire in the nearby historic district that sent embers aloft to burn down their family church. 

We returned to our assigned places to continue the service.  I was invited to read something from the ‘Good Book’, and not having a Christian background, I asked Von to select a piece for me.  As she took my previous place on the pew, I looked out over my congregation, and delighted in the sight.  When I finished my reading and returned to my seat, Pet asked if there was a song I’d like to sing.  I told her that I was not familiar with this hymnal, and the only song I could think of that might be appropriate was one performed in the church scene from the movie, Corrina, Corrina with Whoopie Goldberg. 

And so, the three of us moved to the music of the keyboard and we let our little lights shine!  Next, it was time to do the offering.  Von pulled the heart-shaped box from the lectern shelf and informed me of this part of the service.  When I told her that I had left my purse in the car and offered to run out, she handed me two dimes, and said:  “No, no, honey… too much money just invites thieves.”  And so I placed the two dimes she gave me into the box, and Petronella did the same, then Vondelin returned the box to the safe place beneath the bible. 

Again, we all returned to our designated roles, and I listened to the completion of our service.  As I sat there, in this simple structure with my feet in the grass, looking up at blue sky and lush green treetops, and then looked back at these two, lovely, authentic, open-hearted women… my heart experienced such bliss.  When the service ended, I helped them return the space to the state it was in upon arrival.  We locked the lectern and porcelain box in the closet outside the side door, and removed the planks of wood from the cinder blocks and leaned them against the wall.  I helped them carry the keyboard and hymnals out to their car, and thanked them for sharing their Sunday Service with me.

As they drove away, I sat in my car, as I had done just an hour before… looking over at this curious structure, and wondering to myself…  Did that really happen?  I eventually drove away to find my friends, whose voices had been liberated over lunch before our drive back to Orlando.

At work on Monday, still affected by the wonder of it all, I shared my experience with co-workers.  One who often prayed for me and my Unitarian-pagan soul, said:  “See!  I knew you would find your way to the one true path.”  And I looked at her and said:  “Oh, no!  Don’t you see?  As much as I was in their church… they were in mine!  With words of worship and song, we had our feet upon the earth, and the sun upon our skin, the breeze danced through the trees to caress our faces, and we were all one.”

When I later shared this magickal tale with my Tribe, we all wondered if I had slipped into some kind of faery realm.  But it was all confirmed when, several months later, my friends went to St. Augustine to celebrate their wedding anniversary, and they followed my vague instructions to finding my magickal church. 

Not only was the structure still there, but it had new windows in the front.  They attended the service with my not so faery friends, and learned that they had been raising money to refurbish the church, and were doing so, literally one window at a time.  That made me a little sad… that they were working to remove nature from their sanctuary. 

Several years passed before I made my way back north to St. Augustine.  When I made that drive around the waterfront and into the old neighborhood, I did not find the church.  I don’t know if it was torn down or rebuilt to be unrecognizable to me… or if it finally passed through the veil into the faery realm, after all.  I do know that I will forever be grateful, for my curiosity to stop, and for the kindness of two sisters to invite me in.

I hope that if you ever find yourself at the doorway of a magickal threshold, that you will accept the invitation… and enter.

naturecross