The Rapture of a Mockingbird

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I have recently found myself wrapped in a late night love affair with a mockingbird. He begins his balllad-ing, both intense and dramatic, around 11:30 pm, and doesn’t stop for hours. Initially, I feared he was a mother bird frantically chirping for her attacked or injured chick. However, after several nights of these dramatic sonnets, I realized this could not be the case.

With a little research, I found that in springtime male mockingbirds croon in this way, sometimes even at night, to keep their mates (who are liable to go flitting and flirting around, checking out other males in the area, as to keep her options open and, well, not all her eggs in one basket, so to speak…)

So this love-crazed male, outside my window, professes his undying love for his sweetheart.  Or he might be a bit more mischievous.   His motives may also be to either win her from another male, or…well, to attract another female, as to keep his options open and avoid keeping all his eggs in one basket.

So even here, in the middle of suburbia, in the middle of a cookie cutter neighborhood, in the middle of the night; love and romance and passion and virility and battle and music are wildly alive! And this excites me so much, that the artificial human impulse for sameness and civility, tameness and sanitization and sharp, clear boundaries, has been completely overthrown by a fury of little birds who chatter under the stars, who are ready for war and passion and parenthood, all at the same time.

And this is largely a secret. After much tossing and turning and attempts at being a responsible mother who should really get some sleep, I finally tip toed outside with a flashlight, audience to this glorious creature, giggling, holding myself back from knocking on every neighbor’s door to join me, or shaking my children or husband awake, so that they might too delight in this beautiful production. But windows were dark, lights were all out. My sweet husband must wake so early, and the children breathed so peacefully. And so, it was a show for only the birds, and for me.

The next day I found myself outside with the garden shears. I must trim the bushes, as tidy bushes are good for property values and home owner associations. I notice myself holding tears in my eyes as I cut the new growth. Pruning, I tell myself. Pruning. Yet I feel that I am stifling the bushes, snipping off the fresh, glossy, unfolding, reddish green leaves of new growth. The babies. Does the bush sing for these fresh green stems and tender leaves in lullabies undetectable to my ears? Do the leaves dance with their leaf-lovers, so subtly that my eyes cannot catch the movement?

There is a truck across the street. A pool cleaning service vehicle, equipped with all manner of chemical cocktails and algaecides, to keep the pools blue. A pest control van is parked a few houses down, then further a TruGreen truck, and I wonder if it should be called FalseGreen.

And yet here I am, pruning the wild out of my own bushes. What a funny place my heart occupies. I remind myself, this is a good neighborhood, nice people, lots of children, stable property values, whatever that means. Unfortunately, I am not very good at normal, though I sometimes try for the sake of my children, who, despite their healthy senses of humor and strength, can become utterly embarrassed by the antics of their mother.

Thus, I brush away my silly tears, and prepare to start normalizing the bushes again.

And that is when he finds me. The mockingbird, at the very tippity top of a tree across the street, with his head held high, singing out his nighttime love song, smack in the middle of the day. As if this is not quite showy enough for the ladybirds, lucky as they already are, in my estimation, he finishes each verse with a flurry of acrobatics, wings and beak and tiny legs launching in perfectly executed movements, and ending with a steady landing on his branch.  Within moments, he begins again.  I decide, with all that mojo in such a little body, he must not need sleep.

I am enraptured. I am completely and hopelessly in love with him. I realize, staring up at him with sweat and tears salty on my face, he is not only a Romeo, he is an alchemist. A real magician.

You see, his song was not originally his, it was borrowed from the environment around him. He is copying the sounds of other birds, of frogs, of insects; it is hard to identify each contributor to his melody. He has picked up what was around him, molded it all into an orchestra, and made it new, fresh, different, unique, breathtaking.

I am reminded that no matter where I find myself, whatever my circumstance, there is always the curious opportunity to alchemize, to mix a little bit of my own magic into it all. Add a little color, a little spice, a little melody, into the world around me. Give and receive, flow in, flow out.  To be as free and resplendent, yet as giving and natural, as this mockingbird.

He is just doing his job, after all. Being fabulous and beautiful and amazing and passionate and mischievous. But most of all, inspiring.

I shall try to do the same.

(If you are looking for me, I am in the house with half the hedge tightly manicured, the other half with glimmering branches outstretched in beautiful chaos toward the sun.)

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Riot of the Heart, Theater of the Mind

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The small man

Builds cages for everyone

He knows.

While the sage

Who has to duck his head

When the moon is low,

Keeps dropping keys all night long

For the

Beautiful

Rowdy

Prisoners.

– Hafiz

The media highlights riots as of late. Clashes between opposing peoples. Some label it racial. Perhaps beneath that superficial and rather vigorously cultivated label, lies something deeper. One group fighting to be heard, Seen, at any cost; and an opposing group, fighting for order and status quo, at any cost.

Some people see danger in these rioters, some see heroes. Some people see danger in law enforcement officers, some see heroes. And yet, beneath the opinions and judgements, the blues and reds and skin pigments and batons and various government or gang insignia, we are all of us Humans. Earthlings. Tribesmen of the same magnificent biome.

These clashes among men, these battles for power and rule and voice, are outward gestures of that which is within us.

At the heart of every riot is a riot of the heart.

If one should dare be brave enough to look inside her own precious biome, specifically her human psyche, one would find a plethora of little rioters, all vying for a voice, for a chance to speak and be heard. Just for a moment, to be Seen.  Both oppressors and oppressed live within us. There is beauty and repulsion in us, kindness and cruelty, illuminating angels and feral beasts.  There are heroes and villains and everything in between.  And they are all, each and every small, scary, ridiculous one of them, invaluable.

The exercise of Seeing Them, I have discovered, is very simple, and very challenging.  I saw things I did not want to see, things I did not want to admit, weaknesses and oddities that would not, in general terms, be acceptable to the Overculture, to society at large.  However, upon deeper investigation, I found that these highly charged rioters within were not ‘bad’ or ‘good’ or anything that could be labeled.  Instead they held something for me; it could be a memory, a dream, an urge, a desire, a love, an interest, a pain.  Underneath the labels were just little packets of energy, waiting to be released, rebuilt, transmuted, loved, allowed.

I shall not divulge all the contents of my inner psyche (be thankful), but with the help of an amazing woman, (small plug, well deserved, check her out), and as a model, this is what I found:

There are the pieces of me that manage my outer life, with checklists and timelines and buzzers and pencils behind their ears.

There are pieces that interact with other people; perhaps smiley and laughing, or deep and contemplative, or mischievous and gossipy, or shy or intellectual.

There are those that hold the stale and aching pain, the shame and judgement of all the years. Some quiet and hiding, some angry and hot-tempered.  Some a wee bit crazy.

And then, somewhere deep in there, and almost always tangled up with the pain, is the piece that holds my dreams. The real Juju, that as-of-yet unexperienced magic that I came to earth for, at least this time around. Imagine a tuxedoed, inner James Bond puffing on a cigarette in the casino of your psyche, just waiting for his chance to throw the dice. Buy him a Martini, lend him your ear, and he shall whisper to you a few ideas on profitable missions, worthy adventures, spices that mix well with your particular life path.  He’s your mojo, baby.

We must listen, openly, to the riots of our hearts.  It is necessary. If we ignore these voices; the exhausted, the forgotten, the overzealous, the lusty, the poetic, the wild, the lovemakers, the warriors, the children, the wise elders, the quiet whisperers, they will riot.

They will riot.

So many of us are rioting on the inside. So many of us are living lives that, secretly and perhaps unknowingly, are not the lives we wish to live. Not really.

Very few of us will admit this.  Instead, we mostly choose from society’s accepted lists of guidelines and distractions to numb our pain, bury our deepest dreams and  silence our shaded desires. Such sickly sweet salves of sedation will lead, eventually, to a life’s adventure lost.

We must take our power back. We must not be afraid of that which is inside us. We must own it all, without shame or pride, but simply with honor.

We must drop keys for our rowdy prisoners.

Listen to your rioters. Some will be hilarious, some will be like real friends.  Some will be crazy. Believe me, I know. That’s ok, listen anyway. Each has some nugget of truth, even if it is buried in a thousand pounds of bullshit and emotional insanity. Wade through the fetid emotional muck (a rather potent fertilizer), until you find that gleaming nugget, and thank the little rioter for his most precious gift.

The trick, I have found, is to have the intention only of Seeing what they offer. Not healing, or fixing, or admiring, or correcting, or punishing. Just being the audience, handing over the microphone for a moment, giving your insides the stage.

It is grand theater, an inner opera house of your own making. I highly recommend attending. Remove all the labels of who you are and what you believe and what is good and what is bad and where your life should go.  Shelf it all, and find a nice comfortable seat in the front row.

I have sat in this theater with pain, letting the anguish of my sister’s death froth up and overwhelm me; allowing all the visualizations to come unhindered. I have also sat in this theater in a blessed sort of brainstorming, to sculpt out an answer to the question, “What shall I do with this life?” Some things I knew.  But what else could be in there hiding?

A lot, actually.  (James Bond has lots of nuggets stashed among the poker chips in his tuxedo pockets…)

One has to go her own way. Leave normal behind. Make mistakes. Change. Let go of people. Embrace new people. Withstand gossip and the feigned concern of others not yet brave enough to walk this path themselves. Be ok with that. Get really, really real.

Life begins to open up, to bloom, one glorious fragrant petal at a time.  Faith in oneself is restored, courage rejuvenated.  Outside approval is no longer quite so important.  Authentic personal, individual excellence emanates, and colors the world in a million magnificent hues of riotously beautiful manifestation.

Go on.  Be a rainbow, created from the sunshine and thunderstorms of all that is within you, of all that makes you You.

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“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love.  It will not lead you astray.” – Rumi

Snowbirds

Snowbird

We have moved.

Somehow, someway, the universe took notice of the small misfit family shivering away in Massachusetts, and gave wings to our intentions and efforts to change our geography. Befuddled by shoveling and ice salt and leaking winter roofs, our family trudged through the gray days that, for us, stopped being cozy and grew to be oppressive.

No doubt I will miss a springtime yard exploding with dandelions like a thousand boastful stars in a green night sky, flowerbeds jungle-ing with raucous wildflowers, and jubilant children scaling trees and rocks in a flurry of wildly imagined battles and expeditions.

I will miss autumn, ablaze with fiery parades of trees in their grand finale, throwing off shining bulbous acorns like Mardi Gras beads, the kings and queens of the season.  I will miss the feeling of the coming hibernation as a welcome adventure;  imagining my family as a little troupe of squirrels burrowed deep in the ground on a bed of fat nuts, all twisted into ourselves, someone’s head resting on someone else’s bottom, all snoring peacefully and dreaming of sugar plum fairies.

But most of all, I will miss the family who became my family. A friendship that became a sisterhood, two children who became like my own, as mine became hers. A friend who loved me (and still loves me) completely, and our children sharing the same bond. She is a sculptor of simple beauties, a transformative magician of the mundane into the fanciful; even uncovering the elegance of a Victorian cockroach. I should have known a great friendship was to grow when I realized we shared the same name. So many new colors awoke within me when I handed her a paintbrush. Friendship also goes through seasons, and perhaps we have left one season for another, but I know, dear friend, that the sun will always shine warmly down upon us.

My family has left these things behind us, at least geographically, and thrown ourselves into the world of snowbirds. We are in Florida. My heart sings for palm trees and snorkels and red salty skin; the larger-than-life performances of Hibiscus bushes and Birds of Paradise and the occasional cameo of Plumeria. These plants remind me of hot-tempered, sultry, voluptuous women, and I sometimes wonder if they won’t reach out and smack you with a leafy hand should you pass them by without acknowledging their bursting, sensual beauties.

We currently reside in a hotel, one of those extended stay joints with a mini kitchen and free wine and beer Monday through Thursday. Not a bad deal for a girl shoveling two feet of snow from her driveway in subarctic temperatures with two grumpy, rather unhelpful children just a week ago. Now we sit, depressurizing, at the pool, which is situated right off a major highway. I find this amusing. Paradise amidst the concrete (or should I say asphalt) jungle.

This hotel is patronized almost entirely by snowbirds. I absolutely adore them.

Some are fat, some are skinny. Some of the women wear old lady bathing suits and some of them wear classy, old lady bathing suits and some of them just go for it and wear bikinis. Some are grumpy and fuss at each other and some are ancient party animals and flirt with each other. My favorite are those women opting for bikinis, with dark, leathery, freckled skin and wrinkled bellies and sagging breasts and big smiles and a constant supply of cheap cigarettes. They smell of smoke and cocktails and artificial coconut, and their laughter is deep and raspy and often.

I think they have conquered the world.

I imagine myself, one day, in such blessed victory, to finally master the abolition of worry; to no longer give much regard for youthful skin and healthy lungs, but to know I’m nearing the end of a life well lived, a life longer than most, and to go out in a blaze of mirth and cheap drinks and cigarette smoke. They are, these women, the Hibiscus and Birds of Paradise and Plumeria come to human life; with pungent fragrance and bright colors and tough skin.

God, let me live to be a snowbird. Perhaps by then, my sister with the same name can pull up a lounge chair and give me a light.  Such as she always so graciously provides.

Fly Away Home

My sister was my best friend, my partner in crime, and in many ways, the love of my life.

I knew I wanted to write of her, to speak of her today, to relate in words the depths of her richness, her grace, her beauty; but alas, my head was full of the static shock of her death.

Thus, I sought out the healing, calming force of an old friend, an old mother, the Ocean. It was late yesterday afternoon, a rainstorm made the breeze cold on my face, the sand wet on my feet, and I zipped my freshly purchased Ron Jon’s hoodie and tried to get myself comfortable. I walked, rubbed my arms, pulled up the hood and tied it, all to no avail. There was a chill in the air and I could find no comfort. Thick peels of clouds striped the sky, the sun blotted out among them. For several minutes I watched these fat white and purple ribboned clouds, gauging their direction, and saw that they moved eastward, in such a manner as to keep the sun hidden behind their infinite trails. Perhaps better, I thought, shuffling my bare feet in the damp sand, to just pack it up and head home.

And yet. There is always the chance of a mischievous little miracle, giggling, awaiting the perfect moment for a grand entrance. The wind shifted upon my face.  Marching orders had changed from somewhere above, and with one glance up I watched the army of clouds turn southward, and the liberated sun shone down upon me. I knew in that moment how deeply I was loved, and I knew who was loving me; the mischievous little miracle that was Noelle.

And thus, we sat together, or rather, she enveloped me, in ocean and sand and sun and sky. I asked her, like a child upon a knee, to tell me a story, and she whispered “Sit down, watch the ocean, and I shall show you a story, a story of life.”

And so I watched.

There were pelicans, riding air currents, gliding inches above the water, then circling, scouting, and diving for a delicious meal of unlucky fish. Both nourishment and death in one fell swoop, opposites collapsing into each other.

There were cruise ships, gleaming white and mighty, each boasting of celebration; fun and festivity and fruity umbrella drinks.

There were couples freshly in love, walking and laughing and holding hands. There were couples long past freshly-in- love, prosaic yet peaceful, held together by commitment and effort, newness and novelty replaced with depth and understanding. All good stuff.

There were seashells. Beautiful, glistening, intricately designed, abandoned little homes, artifacts of times passed, the adornments and artful handiwork of the sea herself.

And then, in the center of this masterpiece, echoing through the cacophony of activity surrounding them, were the waves, the juncture for that which is above and that which is below.

The wave is an exquisitely beautiful and utterly unique phenomena. Like snowflakes, no two are the same. Some are raging, others soft and sweet. Some are good for playing in, some are dangerous for playing in, and some are both. The wave expresses itself as art in motion, with frothy caps and dancing sprays or thundering white fists pounding the sand, and always it comes rolling with its own energy, its own unique signature upon the shoreline. Each wave leaves a little something behind when it lands, a little sand, a little seaweed, perhaps some shells, secrets of the ocean given to the care of the shore for a time, and as each wave slowly loses its energy, flattens and recedes back into its source, it takes a little something with it, a few secrets return to their watery origins.

And in these quiet, contemplative moments, sitting with my sister on the beach, I saw that we humans are as the waves are. Each of us an exquisitely beautiful and utterly unique phenomena.

And all around us, this life is happening. The beauty and death of it all, the romance, the celebration, the mundane, the abandoned, the emptied, the intricately crafted, the loved, the forgotten, we are surrounded by all these things. They reach out and touch us and shape us as we thunder and roll to the shore, on this journey we call life on earth.

The wave takes only temporary form. For only the briefest of moments, the wave holds the illusion of being separate from the ocean. But in those briefest of moments it creates its dance, crafts its twists and turns and tumbles, orchestrates its own crashing music, explodes upon the shore leaving its own unique mark upon the sand, and then the wave returns to its source, never to be distinguishable as that wave ever again.

In the same way, we are here for only the briefest of moments, holding the illusion of being separate from God. The human form is fleeting, a trifle in universal concerns, a temporary encumbrance of spirit perhaps. But also an enormous privilege and freedom. For the unknown time that we are in body, we have the incredible gift of self-expression, of individuality, of roaring to the shore on our life journey in whatever manner we choose. We are art in motion. The beauty and magic and despair and tragedy of humanity are captured in our art, in our dance, in the waves of our lives. We give a little. We take a little. And in the end, we recede from form, return to source, return to God.

I stared out upon the horizon and saw my sister in the playful ocean, in the vibrant blue sky, in the sweet beeming sun. I saw her everywhere, just as I saw God everywhere. There was no distinction. She was home, and she was whole, unencumbered, and utterly, completely joyous.

In human form, she was the most tender-hearted, accepting, loving, and beautiful person I have ever known. There never has been, nor will there ever be, a smile such as hers. She completed a side of me that I do not have. She filled in my blank spaces. She colored my emptiness, she delighted my heart and eased my mind. She was my medicine, my magic, my love.

In her memory I shall craft the most beautiful wave. I will be brave for her, I will be giving, I will be daring for healthy risks, I will be wise, I will be kind. I will look up to her and let her love shine down upon me, and when I feel her I shall fall to my knees and bow my head to that which I love so dearly. I have faith, sister.

You are one of the best things that ever happened to me. How precious you are. What will I do without you?   Only one thing. I shall hold you in my heart and live every day a better person than I was the day before. My final signature in the sand shall be as beautiful as I can craft it, and I craft it for you.

I love you.

On Life, Death, and Angelfish

Angelfish

The above is a picture of our magical angelfish, taken by my husband.

There are moments in life when beauty and emotion collide so intensely in the human heart as to command a sudden paralysis of mental faculties; a suspension of logic, explanation, understanding. At this juncture of  the collapse of the critical mind and the surge of raw feeling , one approaches a rather peculiar threshold between the sturdy land of the Seen and the deep dark waters of the Unseen. For a moment, one totters on the edge, with a choice to make.

Run back, or dive in.

Adults tend to run.   We have learned to temper these intense situations; hold them at an arm’s length, shrug our shoulders, chuckle, roll our eyes, mutter under our breath, perhaps cry as to mimic what we saw the beautiful movie star do in the blockbuster. This must be how to be sad. This must be the way to express feeling. We have traded real feeling for a script on feeling; traded the land of emotion for a map of emotion, because real feeling and real emotion can hurt, can knock us on our asses.

Children have not traded the real for the manufactured. Not yet. Children still hold the curious union of courage and vulnerability within their hearts.  And children dive in.

On a recent family trip, my ten year old son made friends with a tiny barracuda swimming in a canal next to our rental unit.  Fish were a rare find in this murky canal, and this fish was, by far, the most exciting fish to be found. The others were rather normal and gray, still fun to spot, but nothing like a silvery saw-toothed barracuda. Whenever we returned from some tropical escapade, he and his sister would search for this special fish.  One evening, after a day of sightseeing, they tumbled out of the car and darted to the canal, combing the green waters for the hidden treasure of camouflaged fish among the docked boats.

Within moments they found their friend, swimming around in his usual spot. My son cheered and pointed, his sister still squinting and searching. Finally, with a cry of excitement, she too saw the fish, and also followed its quick movements with her finger. It was a joyous reunion.

Until the world changed.

A young man staying in the neighboring building came suddenly charging from his patio with a steel fishing spear. He followed the two little outstretched fingers with his eyes, and by their direction, thrust his weapon. With some ridiculous stroke of luck, he hit his target. The struggling barracuda flopped helplessly on the sharp silver tip of the spearhead.  The fish had been pierced through its middle. The man began to holler. A large woman came yelling and hooting from somewhere, pulled out the spear, and stabbed the fish again.

My son fell backward, as though he’d been punched in the gut. His mouth fell open, his eyes filled with tears. This was his fish, his friend, and in his eyes, its death was his fault. The merry routine of reunion with an old friend had turned to fatal betrayal.   He was utterly stunned and heartbroken, and so was I, for both my son and his little friend.

No amount of hugs, explanations, consolations or distractions were of any comfort to him. He was distant and lost to me; unreachable in the land of reasoning and logic, in the land of sensory distraction.  I began to feel the tug of overwhelming despair and fierce love.  I felt the pull of the deep, dark waters, for there were no answers, no liberations in the Seen. So I too let it take me. Thus, we dove into the Unseen, together.

Logic, understanding, all normal thought processes were tossed aside by the waves of this dark ocean. My mind reached for an anchor, and it found the fish. Yes. The fish, the creature that had been temporarily collapsed into a little barracuda was now a great, magical part of the whole universe, and I knew it. The fish was done with this little canal. He was ready for something else, his next great adventure. And most importantly, he was ok. His little fish energy told me all this, and thus I told my son. He listened, and nodded and his eyes lifted.

After some time and contemplation of his own, he asked how we could be sure this was true.

Well, because the fish will give us a sign. Were the words that came.

And how will we know what the sign is? He asked further.

We’ll just know. ­

I answered with such speed and confidence as to surprise even myself. My son also seemed surprised with my answer, but as he still, in his youthful eyes, considers me his all-powerful omniscient mother, he accepted it.

I, however, began to worry. Would there be a sign? Was this fish like Santa Claus? Some superfluous mental concoction, with the unnegotiable requirement of parental participation? I began conspiring to create a ‘sign’; perhaps to spell out “I AM OK” with little white seashells on the dock or some other creative, well-intended foolishness.

But that would be cheating, polluting the waters of the Unseen with my own narrow notions.

Ultimately I settled on noninterference, save offering up a prayer to the fish with my son and daughter as I tucked them into bed that night. We introduced ourselves, expressed our sadness at his untimely death, sent our love, and humbly asked for a sign that he was, indeed, ok.

We were to depart the following day.

The next morning, as I was cleaning out the refrigerator, washing salty towels and stuffing souvenirs into over-packed suitcases, a miracle happened.   My husband had taken the kids down to the dock, to have one last look at the water and give mom some space and quiet.   There was suddenly much commotion, squeaks and squeals and exclamations. The door burst open and my husband informed me that the kids must show me something, and quick!

They were on their knees, leaning over the cement barrier and peering into the water. After ensuring that no rogue spear-wielding neighbors were lurking in the shadows, they revealed their discovery. With keen little eyes and overflowing hearts, they pointed out a dazzling, vibrantly yellow and blue angelfish. It was so exquisitely beautiful, and seemed to almost glow in its graceful movements in the water. It was surrounded by a colorful escort of parrotfish, all big lipped and flamboyant like a circus troupe security detail, making the angelfish seem all the more demure, divine.

A sign. The sign. And we all knew it.  What better sign from a deceased fish than to send an angel fish as his earthly messenger?  In that moment, magic was palpable.

A little barracuda of God’s great creation had graced us.  Our own little guide, who, as his last act in life as a fish, offered an open door to the in-between space, the Unseen.

In this in-between space, the sweet Lady Imagination meets Mr. Reality, and softly kisses his cheek. She is the phantom of the Underneath, the spellbinder of gnosis and growth and change. She holds him in her own divine, wise, innocent embrace. The magical touches the mundane, and miracles are born.

There are secrets hidden in murky waters.  There are angels hidden in barracudas.

What is hidden in you?  Go deeply and find your magic.

 

 

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