Counting My Blessings 6

 I am writing this blog from my home office. I’ve never worked in here before. For the five months that David, Natalie and Avery lived with us, I handed this space over to them so they could have a dedicated space to work in. But in the final days of August, David, Natalie and Avery were at last able to move into their new home. August was a tough slog for all of us for many reasons. There were too many house projects going on both here and at the kid’s new house, too many fires constantly needing to be put out. The more discombobulating things got, the more accidents and injuries started cropping up; the worst being a concussion for Mark, and a torn meniscus for me. For the kids, the injuries were more psychological than physical. Five months without a home to call their own had left them emotionally and spiritually drained. Avery was the only one of the five of us who was completely happy and excited by the promise of each new day.

When moving day happened, it did so unexpectedly. A project to insulate the attic at our house was so disruptive and smelled so noxious, that my kids decided to pack up the baby and the cats and just live with whatever chaos was happening at their house. Literally, one day I was  running a household for a family of five, and the next the house was silent. My knee, which had been getting worse for the past month, finally became so painful that I wasn’t able to be much help with the move. For months I had been in constant motion, often feeling like there was never enough time to get everything done, and then in the blink of an eye the whole pattern changed. 

I was in so much pain that I couldn’t play rumpus games with Avery anymore, it hurt too much to get down on my knees or to get up off the ground. It also became much harder to carry him around. It finally got bad enough I had to go to the orthopedist, get an MRI, and ultimately have surgery.  In the days before the surgery, as I continued hobbling around as best I could, I was reminded of an experience, now 21 years in the past, when I’d torn a ligament in my knee. It was that injury that ultimately led me to the discovery of Reiki, which changed my life, my relationships, and my entire worldview profoundly. Likewise, I was reminded of the time I fractured my wrist in Sedona. I had fallen on some black ice when I was out hiking. I was on my own a lot during that time, so I needed to figure out how to fend for myself without the use of my right hand. The experience ended up being a very instructive lesson in mindfulness and patience, again changing the way I looked and related to everything. Needless to say, my perspective on injuries has changed a lot over the years, and I no longer look at them as just bad luck. A knock on the head, and an injured knee told me that Mark and I needed to slow down and appreciate what we’d set in motion. A year had passed since we’d resolved to bring our family closer together so we could build stronger family ties. But it wasn’t until we were both injured that I realized how our world view had been whittled down to nothing more than the details of surviving each day. It was time to pause, take stock, and seek a wider perspective.

If you had asked me how things were going before life declared a time out, I would have told you that I was having doubts. I felt very uncertain that all we’d set in motion would ultimately bring us greater happiness.When I finally did look more deeply inward, I found  that the opposite was true. I saw things that left me feeling encouraged, grateful, and unexpectedly happy. I wondered at the gap between those two perspectives, and ultimately, that is what this blog is about. By writing it all down, I’m hoping I’ll be able to more fully appreciate the things that lifted my heart as summer gave way to fall. 

Jordan turned two at the beginning of August, and there was a lot of partying going on in Philadelphia that weekend. Julie’s family, the Birons, were celebrating not only Jordan’s birthday, but also Matty’s (Julie’s younger brother) who was turning 30. Jordan and Avery had lots of opportunities to charm the family, learn the happy birthday song, and to eat cake, but most importantly, they had a lot of time to play together. It was a great weekend, filled with family, dogs, eating, and fun. Both boys still talk about it, and they still talk a lot about each other. It was our first clear evidence that the boys really knew and liked one another. 

Getting to know Jordan better, and strengthening our ties to Jeremy and Julie were big factors in our decision to move, but it turns out that in the process of strengthening that bond, we’ve had a lot of lovely experiences with the Biron family as well. We shared Passover together, we had everyone out for a weekend at our new house in June, We celebrated Jordan and Matty’s birthdays in early August. Then, in late August, we co-grandparented with the Birons at their  house on the Jersey shore, while Jer and Julie went on an incredible mediterannean vacation. Mark and I have always liked the Birons. Julie’s mom, Janice, and I have developed a friendship over the years that feels very easy and companionable. This move has somehow shifted that friendship to something more. There is this growing sense that we are no longer two separate families. We’re just family.

I am really grateful for all the opportunities I am getting to spend with Jordan. Each time I see him, I discover things that are special, funny, and sweet about my little grandson. I treasure these moments. I love the way he points his little finger and says “dat is Nana,” and then he points down the line, “dat is Grandpao, dat is Avery, dat is Uncle David, dat is Uncle Natalie, dat is Auntie Jamie.” Sometimes Jamie is Uncle Jamie, it depends on his mood. As soon as he has us all labeled, his face lights up in a big smile, and then the fun begins.  I love how he is always singing. I love his passion for books. He is always impressing me with his strong vocabulary and math skills. His love of looking good and accessorizing always makes me laugh. I love that even though he’s a city boy at heart, he can appreciate the woods for my sake. His gentle, sensitive spirit has deeply touched my heart. All during his first year of life, every time I saw him, he was between one illness and another. It wasn’t until we moved here that I finally was able to see him at his best. Now I know him well enough to be able to love him not just because he’s my grandson but for the delightful, little person he is.

This move helped us to close the distance between all our children and grandchildren, but by far the biggest impact for us was going from an hour ride up the mountain to see David, Natalie and Avery in Flagstaff, to living in the same town just two miles apart. I don’t want to rush past those five months we spent living together though. They were hard, but having a chance to live day to day with Avery was a priceless gift. I have known this little boy since he drew his first breath. I’ve been around to see every milestone, but living together under one roof allowed a closeness that I haven’t experienced since my own children were little. He has brought so much joy to every single day. He makes us all laugh, and he touches our hearts with his ever evolving viewpoint of the world.

 I can’t possibly tell you all the sweet Avery stories that I’ve accumulated over the past months, but I will tell you my favorite one. It is his go-to story whenever he wants to really impress someone with his experience of life. I will call this story “Dead Bird.”  Back in early August, Avery and Mark came in from an outing, and Avery kept looking at me with big, serious eyes saying something that sounded like “diaper.” I could tell by the way he was looking at me that I didn’t have the word right, this was a much more serious topic. “What is he saying?” I asked Mark, and my husband told me about the dead bird they had just found on the deck. I asked him what he’d done with it, only to discover that it was still lying right where it had fallen.  It was Avery’s first encounter with death and I figured it was important to help him process the fragility and preciousness of life. I took his hand in mine, and a paper towel in the other, and we went out so he could show me where the bird was. It was clear the bird had broken its neck flying into the window. I knelt down and gently scooped it’s body up in the paper towel, and then, hand in hand, Avery and I walked to where the forest edged our property. A memory came to my mind of a funeral we had once had for my brother Dan’s pet frog. Dan had been driving cross country on his way from med school out east to his residency in Arizona. He’d  stopped along the way to visit us in our new home in Clearlake, Texas. The Texas heat had proven to be too much for his frog, and the little amphibian expired shortly before Dan pulled up in our drive. At Dan’s urging, and with a two year old Jeremy in tow, we created a lovely ceremony out in our backyard. I decided to do the same now for this little bird. I started to sing as we walked. It was nothing half so operatic as what I’d sung for Dan’s frog. This time I made up the words as I went, using a melody I’d purloined from one of Avery’s favorite songs. After the song, I said some kind words about how the bird had helped keep our forest vibrant and healthy. Then, Avery and I put the little creature into the woods, away from where Lucy might find him. I concluded the service by saying to Avery,  “and now that little bird will become one with all the forest.” We walked back to the house hand in hand. Clearly, the experience made an impression on him, because he kept saying “dead bird” wanting me to tell him the story again and again of how we’d paid our respects to this little creature. It is both touching and funny to see how he now tells the story to others. He’ll fix his eyes intently on whoever it is he’d like to suitably impress and say “dead bird”. Then he’ll begin to babble, an impression of what I must sound like to him when I tell the story, but at the end he always clearly says “and then” and somewhere in that stream I can even make out the word “forest” as he brings the story to a close. So, Dan, thank you for the now 32 year old inspiration. Zeke, the frog’s legacy lives on!

Not long after David, Natalie and Avery moved out, Natalie’s brother, Nate, and her father, Ron, came to visit. They were en route to LA,  returning for good from the life they’d been living in Israel, determined to make a better life for themselves and Nate’s fiance, Valerie, in California. Natalie’s Aunt Sandy also came down from upstate New York to welcome the family back to the States. Aunt Sandy and I have seen a lot of one another over the years because of the close relationship Sandy has maintained with Natalie. She spends every Thanksgiving with us, and whenever she comes to visit the kids, I always enjoy her company. Much like what happened with Janice, the friendship between Sandy and I has taken on new depth since the move, and interestingly enough, it was my bum knee that caused us to both peer a little more closely at what it was we felt for one another.

I found myself really enjoying Natalie’s family during their visit. We shared several meals together. We ate rather too well, because Nate and Ron are both excellent cooks. Nate made one wonderful dinner for us, specifically to thank us for  our help with Valerie’s visa process. It was really nice to see Nate after so many years, to see how well he was doing, and how much thought he’d put into building a new life for himself, his soon to be wife, and his dad. The only downside to the visit was that my knee, by this point, was really slowing me down. Towards the end of their visit, Mark had to leave to teach in NYC. It was his first teaching gig since his concussion, and he needed  a lot of sleep to just get through each day, so he spent the night before in NYC with Jamie. Of course it was that night that things went shockingly south with my knee. As I started to climb into bed, I pivoted just the wrong way. I felt a pop in my knee and a searing pain shot through me. When I finally caught my breath and was able to assess the damage, I discovered that I couldn’t put weight on that leg at all. Though I hated to do it, I had no choice but to call David and Natalie, who both ran over to see what could be done. David found an office chair on wheels, and I was able to maneuver in it pretty well, but getting over thresholds required that I get out and stand on one leg to lift the chair over. The same was true in the bathroom. I was unsteady enough that we weren’t certain I could safely navigate out of and back into something that had the potential to roll out from under me. We concluded that someone would have to stay the night with me. David looked at me slightly panicked. He wasn’t ready for that stage of life where he had to help his old mom to the bathroom, and frankly, neither was I. Natalie was slightly less squeamish at the prospect, but she was also torn because Avery would be confused in the morning not to find her there. It was then that Natalie had the idea to ask Aunt Sandy. It felt a little weird to ask her, but she very graciously agreed. 

Sandy and I  hadn’t ever been in a position before where one of us needed to rely on the other, but now that we were, I found it changed something between us. I remember how she very sweetly tucked me into bed, organized my covers just so, making sure  they wouldn’t put too much weight on my leg. Then she peered deeply into my eyes and told me to wake her for anything. As I stared back into her gaze, I saw the kindness and the deepening connection there so clearly. It had been a distressing evening, but it was also heartwarming to know that she had put herself out there for my sake and truly wanted to help me. 

The last aspect of appreciation I’m going to share with you is about the many ways I am feeling grateful for the improvements in Jamie’s life. Over this past summer,  Jamie’s health issues continued to worsen. Adding to all that stress was even more anxiety about what was to come next for her now that she’d graduated from her master’s degree program. She had been looking for paid work, while also submitting her musical work to all kinds of grants and festivals ever since January, and things were not going well. But no matter how hard things got for my daughter, no matter how ill or uncertain she felt, she kept her goals in sight. She kept building strong connections in the industry by helping out on many different events happening in the NYC theater world. She also kept working with her thesis partner, Eric, to mount an industry read of their musical, “The Valley.”  One of the events Jamie volunteered for turned out to be life changing. She offered to help out at the annual Lilly Awards. The organization’s mission is focused entirely on supporting and advocating for women who work at all levels of theatrical production, with the stated goal of promoting gender parity. One of the speakers that night was Georgia Stitt, and Jamie was deeply moved by what Georgia had to say. Georgia is a highly accomplished American composer and lyricist, arranger, conductor, and musical director. She is also the founder of MAESTRA, an organization which is committed to improving the gender disparity in the musical theater world. Their membership includes people who are female-identifying, non-binary, and gender non-conforming. They have, without a doubt, the most impressive directory of qualified women in the industry. The directory serves to help people find talented women for their productions, and is a powerful tool to help close the gender gap. Maestra also runs workshops and events that help engender a real sense of community among its members.

The Industry Read for
The Valley

As Jamie listened to Georgia speak, she felt a fire ignite in her. Georgia’s words, and the purpose of MAESTRA truly spoke to Jamie’s soul. She approached Georgia that evening at the after party and volunteered to help. One thing led to another. Before long she was writing a well received blog for MAESTRA, featuring some of the very accomplished women in MAESTRA’s directory. She made herself useful in other ways as well, and by the time September rolled around, Georgia offered Jamie a part time job as an administrative assistant. It was a perfect situation for Jamie, allowing her some much needed extra income, while also allowing her time to keep working on furthering her music theater career. She has put that time to good use. Jamie and Eric’s industry read of “The Valley” went extraordinarily well. Mark and I were there, despite the concussion and the need for crutches. We loved every minute of the show, but more importantly, a lot of other people did too. Exciting next steps are beginning to take shape for “The Valley.”

My girl has been through some pretty dark times, but through it all she has never stopped trying to make her dreams come true. That perseverance is starting to manifest some very real, positive change in her life. Now her days are filled with a strong sense of purpose, and with people who are all doing exciting things in the world of musical theater. When I talk to her, I can hear the rising sense of happiness and confidence in her voice. I couldn’t be prouder of her bravery and determination. Broadway is not for the faint of heart. It has also traditionally not been very welcoming to women and other minorities. But there is definitely a current of change in the air, not just on Broadway, but everywhere we look. People like Georgia and Jamie are finding each other and joining forces to affect what change they can. It excites me to see all this awakening, all this courage, all this desire to do better by each other. I am so grateful to be alive to see it all happening, and to see my daughter pouring her heart and soul into projects she is passionate about. As she does so, it is clear she is catching a glimpse of her own true worth.

Searching For My Heart’s Song 1

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness. We’ve made a lot of changes this year, and underlying it all was the assumption that these changes would ultimately bring about greater happiness. But the plain, bald truth is, change is hard. For a lot of the past few months the best word I can choose to describe what I’ve been feeling is unmoored. I watched the landscape out the windows of my new home wake from winter into an abundant, flowery, spring, which in turn unfurled into a lush green summer. The song birds woke me each morning singing with such  joy and abandon, and I was keenly aware that my heart was not singing with them. I was not a part of it all because I was still looking around for wide open vistas and towering red rocks. I understood that if I wanted to be happy, I was going to have to find my bearings, and anchor myself to the energies that now surrounded me. Somehow, I had to convince my heart to let the desert go, but the how of it was eluding me.

Towards the end of May, I returned to Flagstaff, accompanying Mark to one of the Native American leadership initiatives that he has been teaching with Professor Manley Begay at NAU over the past few years. My apologies to all my Sedona friends. As much as I had wanted to stop in Sedona to say hello, our schedule was too tightly packed  We were able to fly from the east coast to Dallas and then Dallas to Flagstaff, completely by-passing the long drive up the mountain from Phoenix to the high country that would have taken us right by Sedona. Arriving at the Flagstaff airport was almost surreal. As we watched all the familiar landmarks of Flagstaff appear below us, it became quite clear that this quiet mountain town was on the map in a way it never had been in all the years we’d lived in Northern Arizona.

We stayed at the Drury Inn, along with many of the participants of the leadership program. There were managers and leaders from tribes across the country, and from as far north as Canada, and as far south as Mexico. Many of them were faces we’d seen before, inspired enough from their first session to want more. I’ve attended and photographed every session Mark and Manley have taught, but there was something about the way Native American and Western thought came together in this session that was electrifying. I sensed that every person there felt how Mark and Manley were creating a coherent alignment, stoking fires, satisfying  the desire of everyone there to learn how to affect positive change and growth within each of their communities. 

I will confess, I had been nervous to return to Flagstaff. I’d been worried about whether I’d made the right choice, moving away from a place that I’d had such a strong connection to. I worried that having left, I would now find that connection was no longer there, or that all that I’d learned from my years in the desert would not survive a return to a major metropolitan area. But as I sat in my hotel room and looked out the window at the San Francisco peaks, I came to see there was still an energy to this place that my body and spirit immediately responded to. It had been a cold spring in Northern Arizona, and the mountain was still snow capped, the peaks buried deep in heavy cloud cover. I closed my eyes and began to meditate, feeling the energy of this sacred mountain reverberate all around and through me. I began to sense that the mountain had an answer here for me. The mountain shared with me its strength, it’s power to endure, it’s ability to draw energies to itself, and it offered me the reminder that I also had these same strengths. Then, I very much felt like the mountain gave me it’s blessing to follow this new path. I was being offered the chance  to take some part of it with me so I could move forward with one of my deepest desires; to bring my children and grandchildren closer together, and for Mark and I to be there to enjoy it. 

On the way home, Mark and I got to stop in Denver for a much needed trip to see my family there. One of the hardest things about leaving the west was losing that easy proximity I had to family in Colorado, California, to my brother, Dan, who had recently moved to Tucson, and even to my cousin and her family in Seattle. I had prioritized children and grandchildren over parents, siblings, and cousins by making this move. I was giving up road trips for plane rides, but I feel pretty sure my family understood my choice. I was welcomed back to Denver with the same open, loving embrace as always.

With what felt like an accepting nod from both the mountain and my family, I came home and found that I was more curious to get to know my new environment. I was starting to ask the same question in Connecticut that I had asked so many years ago along the red rock trails of Sedona. It was the question that had ultimately given birth to  Cha’risa’s Gift. Who had walked here before me? I may not have had dramatic mountains clearly marking the direction north, there might be more days where the sky was cloudy and I never saw the sun, but the question anchored me.

Right around this time, another important shift began to happen. The settling in process was slowly starting to ease, making more  energy available for the kind of special family moments we’d envisioned when we’d set this course, nearly nine months ago. Shortly after our return from Flagstaff and Denver,  we made a quick trip into NYC to see a show Jamie had produced at 54 Below of new works, which included selections from the musical she had written with Eric Fegan. The entire show was very successful, but needless to say, my favorite part was the selections from their show, The Valley. Even at the late hour of 11:30 pm there was a good sized, enthusiastic crowd. The cast was so energized and talented that I had no trouble at all staying up way past my bedtime. Jamie and Eric are currently working on producing a full staged reading of their musical in September, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the show in its entirety. Launching a show is a very long, drawn out labor of love, but I really think when it’s finally birthed, this baby is going to be beautiful!

Not long after that, the summer solstice rolled around and I decided to  create a Strawberry Moon/Summer Solstice ritual for David, Natalie and Mark, where I shared what the Mountain had revealed to me. I think the kids also were in need of the assurance that message provided. Their renovation project is on-going and they are still living with us, the majority of their belongings still in boxes. The renovation has been frustrating at many levels,coming in way over- budget and behind schedule. Natalie told me the mountain’s message felt especially tailored for her. The thought of Mount Humphries sending her strength and the power to endure brought bittersweet tears to her eyes. While we’re all anxious to see the renovation project come to an end, we will miss the kids when they go. And as for little Avery, Mark and I have grown so attached, and he to us, that it will be a wrench to see him move even two miles away. But, it is clearly time for David, Natalie and Avery to finally have their own chance to settle in and put down roots. Time for all of us to make one last change to make this family vision complete.

During the last weekend in June we had a big family get together with Jer, Julie, Jordan, Julie’s parents, her older brother and his two twin boys, and the canine brigade, Bowser and Moose. It was a wonderful, noisy, crazy weekend where we ate a lot, got to see our two toddler grandsons really talking and playing with one another, and spent a lot of time splashing in our pool, which has turned out to be such an incredible garden oasis. It was our first real test of how many people this house can comfortably hold. Our home lived up to all our hopes and expectations. It is a wonderful gathering place.

Then, just one week after that big family hoo hah, I got to have a very special experience with Jeremy. It was his birthday present to me, a day long workshop in northern New Jersey where we could both experience an alternative healing modality called Holotropic Breathwork. I think we were both a little nervous, but I’m so glad I took that leap of faith with him.It turned out to be an important step on my journey to make peace with leaving Sedona.

Holotropic Breathwork is a practice that uses deep, rapid breathing and music with strong primal rhythms to induce a state of non-ordinary consciousness. It was developed by Stanislav Grof as a successor to his LSD-based psychedelic therapy. Neither Jer nor I really knew how the process would affect us. All we knew was that it would be a journey inward, and that really anything at all could happen in that altered state. It might be beautiful, it might be anguishing, it might be deeply disturbing. There was no way to know what would be waiting for us just beyond normal consciousness.

The process is done in pairs, one person breathes, the other sits and watches over. It has been a long time since either Jer or I have been in a position where we needed to rely on one another, but after so many years of being apart, we both wanted this chance to be there for each other. There was an introductory phase before the actual process began, and at the end of it we were offered a chance to choose an Angel card from a deck for a bit of guidance. Jer had never seen cards like this before, but I can never resist them, so we each used our intuition to peruse the pile of cards placed face down, and then chose one. The one I chose was called “Energy Work.” The picture was of a beautiful woman, her wings protectively spread over a cradle with an equally exquisite small boy inside. The words on the card made me feel certain that all I knew from my Reiki practice would serve me well here, and that it was right to call on those energies to protect us both. With Jer listening on, I asked for us to have the highest and best experience; one where we could learn, grow, love and know more about what was deep within ourselves. Then, I laid myself down along with all the other breathers and gave myself over to the process. Almost immediately I began to feel very cold – I began to tremble and shake uncontrollably. The music was vibrating all through me, a strong, aboriginal dance rhythm. I heard the strains of a flute in a canyon and felt tears come to my eyes, but that also was quickly consumed by the dance. I let myself move with the rhythms. It began to take me deeper inward.  I remember feeling very grateful to be here with Jeremy, to know that we could share a moment like this; that our love for each other was something we both felt deep in our hearts. I reached for Jeremy’s hand and felt his warm reassurance,but soon the pounding rhythms pulled me once again back into the dance.

The music, the sound vibrations continued to mount. I remember trying not to resist my thoughts, just let them happen, let things unfold. Then a surprising thought popped into my mind; it wasn’t my mind I needed to release, it was my heart. Because I had suffered for many years from heart arrhythmias, I realized that there was a part of me that never fully trusted my heart to beat reliably. But now I saw my heart was strong, that I could count on it. I saw my heart dancing outside my body, brilliant red, taking on the beat of the pounding drums. It danced for a while before I flashed forward to see the end of my heart’s song. It was laying on some stones, dull red, and very still. I found I wasn’t troubled by my death. It felt natural, organic, an ending, but not of the song. I saw the many hearts of my family beating all around me, continuing the dance. Together our hearts linked, and we sank deep into the heartbeat of the earth. We went deeper still, past the earth, into the expansiveness of the divine, and there we continued to all beat as one.

I remember losing track of my breath. It had become very slow, and  I had to remind myself to breathe. I stretched my hands above my head and opened them palms up. Energy flowed into them, strong and vibrant. I had a vision of wings unfurling, heart chakra opening. The music had past its zenith and I realized we were in the final stage of the holotropic journey, the winding down. I felt myself come back enough into my body that I sat up and motioned for Jer to sit near me. I put my arm around him, and from deep in my heart I told him that I was so happy that I had come back East to be closer to him. As I spoke those words, they rang with absolute truth, and I was at last able to be at peace with the heart-wrenching choices I’d had to make to get to this place. Jer and I  sat there side by side, my arm around his shoulder. I finished the experience drifting in and out of a deep state of calm. Finally, with the warmth of Jeremy’s body anchoring me, I fully understood my heart’s choice. I was home at last.

My Angel card – Energy work – “Life can be electrifying because it’s very essence is energy. Your body is a remarkable field of energy that will positively respond to loving treatments. Your hands and heart are activated to give healing energy to your loved ones and clients.”