Friday, June 14, 2019

Radical Kinship - Somebody To Talk To

I was busy.

That's how these stories always start.

Thinking about MY things...MY obligations...MY emails that hadn't been returned...or MY laundry that wasn't done...or MY leak at MY home...


I was looking down...sitting on a stoop in a public park...when he asked me if I was ok.

He checked in.

A stranger.

I looked up and the first thing I noticed was the bird...
I would find out later that it was a Goffins Cockatoo.

A cockatoo just like this was sitting on this guy's shoulder.

Truthfully, the next thing I noticed was the poop of the cockatoo on the guy's white t-shirt...I suddenly realized that this cockatoo and this guy were besties...I mean, I haven't worn anyone's poop around on my shirt...but I have worn spit up...plenty of times...and I thought of those times...remembered how short the Spit Up Era really is and answered his question.

I was ok...just sitting.

He asked me if I knew Ed Sheeran (yes) and if I'd seen him sing with Andrea Bocceli (yes) - 
treat yourself here to that incredible musical gift:

That seemed like an unusual opening line...but I went with it.

He asked me if I had seen another amazing singing performance...I hadn' he shared his phone with me and I watched it...a four minute video of two children making musical magic...watched it in the cool of the shade in a park...
and that four minute pause was the knob on the telescope that brings things into focus.

When I looked up...I could see.
Really see.

This man with the gentle eyes and scruffy days old white beard, was wearing a vest of loneliness.
It was palpable...and painful.

We talked some more about Maya, his amazing cockatoo. About her playfulness and cleverness and the way the Goffins Cockatoo almost went extinct...but bird lovers from the United Staes and Australia worked together to save the species.

About how he ended up sleeping in his car near the he would find a place to stay.soon.

About his life of knowing that something was wrong with his body - they told him it was polio - but recently discovered through an MRI that it was trauma from forceps 
and instead he was diagnosed as having cerebral palsy...
I looked down to see one strong leg and one leg that was so thin it looked painful to walk on.

We talked about our struggles...and the gift of seeing the resilience in the students who graduated from Paradise High School - a town that had been burned to the ground this November - and in particular, a student who painted on his graduation cap the mantra: 
Trust Your Struggle

It was then that I learned his name: Tom.

We talked some more about Maya...
as she tickled me with her claws and crawled all over my shoulders.

We both agreed that this park, McKinley Park, was very special...that it brought rest and hope and joy with its big trees, walking path and rose garden.

And, then the spell was broken...real life came tugging to pick up...places to be.

I said good-bye to Tom...but he stayed with me as I got in my dirty car and imagined having to sleep there.

I found a few dollars and drove down the street to his car...and there he was...back inside.

Did it feel safe?

I knocked on his window and tried to give him a few dollars.

He shooed away the money and paid me back with this truth:
"I wanted to tell you how grateful I am to have had somebody to talk to."

I told him I felt the same...our conversation was a gift.

Sometimes we just need someone to acknowledge that we are on the planet at the same time.
That we are companions on this journey. 

As Ram Dass says so well:

We need to know we are not alone.

Tom and Maya gave me that extraordinary gift yesterday.

My gift to you is to share them...for you to see them too.

Be on the lookout for a man with kind eyes and a Goffins Cockatoo named Maya...if you're lucky, you might get to listen to a song...and have a bird dance across your shoulders.

Thank you, Tom...and Maya. 
Thank you.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Making Time For Monet

“It's on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. 
So we must dig and delve unceasingly.”
- Claude Monet

It was a crazy busy included a two hour drive through traffic...a forgotten wallet and all sorts of must-dos pushed over the side.

I didn't have time for this.

It was decadent...and dreamy...a morning with Monet and some friends??

My heart said YES...and I've gotten good at following those whispers so I made it happen.

Two of my childhood friends were going to meet me in San Francisco.

Waking up, I heard about a terrible accident on the Bay I called my friends and said that I would take a different way into the city in the hopes that I could get the tickets...and a chance at signing up for the docent led tour.

They had really only one way over to the city so they would be late...we'd cross our fingers and hope it worked out.

As I was driving, I realized that I left my wallet at home.


So, as I'm driving I'm considering all the pockets in my car that might have some money stashed away...I'm wondering how I will pay for parking...and decide I can mooch off these people who have known me for more than a few decades.

They know my slumber party secrets for goodness sake.
They've seen my dad in his underwear...they would pay for parking.

I made it to the ticket counter and pleaded my case.

Would she let me buy tickets if I could tell her my credit card number?
Would she set aside tickets?

Finally, I figured out a way to get the the spot for a tour and had time to look around.

I was sitting in a world class myself...with nothing but time.

It was a long deep breath of goodness.

I paused in reverence of those who think to make museums and create galleries and find the art that belongs.

It takes vision and money and talent to create a space like the DeYoung Museum...
and as I was soaking up all that hard work I was so very grateful.

Breathlessly, my friends arrive.

We join the tour with seconds to spare...and we are plunged into hues of purples and blues and yellows and greens and Monet's garden of agapanthus and lilies and waterlilies floating under a Japanese bridge.

We learn that Monet painted every day, starting at 4am...and that these later years were filled with sorrow and loss.

His wife of thirty years dies.
His son dies.
World War One is tearing his country apart...and killing a generation of Frenchmen.

All through the sorrow, he paints.

He paints the same scenes over and over...noticing that it is never the same...always changing...forever a mystery...
intangible in its impermanence...tantalizing in its mystery.

Yes, Monet had his garden...and it was his garden that he considered his masterpiece.

His paintings were attempts to capture the beauty and freeze it for the moment.

Standing amidst these waterlilies and weeping willows I realized that Monet didn't paint when everything was working in his life.

He painted when everything wasn't.

He painted through the sorrow...during the he was going blind.

He just painted.

His Herculean efforts to find a way to cherish the passing acknowledge the sacred in the SEE what his days offered him...worked its way into my heart.

It finally dawned on me that the crappy times, the boring times, the shockingly horrible times are just exactly that...

Like the waterlilies and the is ever changing.

Waiting for the right minute isn't a thing.

There is no right minute.

There is only this minute.

Make time for it, because then it's gone.

Hanging out with some Monets today brought my heart some peace.
It suffused me with joy.

What a gift.

After we finished with the exhibit, we walked over to the Japanese Tea Garden.
It wasn't Monet's garden but it was just as beautiful.

Because we had eyes that were ready to see.
We lingered amid the bonsai trees.
In the middle of a giant city...we sat in a literal zen garden...and the calm enveloped us.

There's a lot of hard out there.

A lot of tragedy...sadness and cruelty.

But then are waterlilies.
And azaleas...
And friends.

Not to mention Monet.

It's awful and amazing.
At the same time.

So, today, I'm grateful for makers...and moments with friends.
I'm grateful for the ordinary nuisance of traffic...a forgotten wallet...a maze of annoyances that peppered this day...because without them, it wouldn't have been today.

My one and only April 30, 2019.
Never to be repeated.
Grateful for this moment right now.
Big. Deep. Zen Breaths.

Thursday, January 10, 2019


"There is a voice that doesn't use words. Listen." - Rumi

It's been a hard few days.
The skies are gloomy.
The weather is cold.
My interior life duplicates what the exterior world provides.

I talk to someone who spends her days working with families who have children with disabilities who have lost everything in a massive, all-consuming wildfire.

There is no housing for any of they squish themselves into RVs and try to make it work.

The reservoir that provides all of the water for this same community has been contaminated with metals and chemicals and other toxic items all oozing into the water.

No housing.
No potable water.
No jobs.

It's catastrophic.

To top it off, our president enjoys punishing people for their tragedy.

Maybe it's because he has always had a home.
Always had access to drinking water.
Always known safety.

His bitterness seeps into our collective conscience as he tweets his condemnation for the unpreparedness for the fires.

There is no understanding loss.
Or cruelty.

As Jewel sings so well, "Only kindness matters."

These past few days, sadness seeping in...the pain of so many much loss...

I gift myself with a visit to my local coffee store.
I delight in my order,
smile my shy smile and say,
"I'd like Enlightenment please."

They steam up some milk, coat the cup with honey, add some green tea and call it Enlightenment.
[It should be noted that I could also order Bliss...but Enlightenment wins out every time.]

On my way out the door, someone calls my name.
It's a person I know only a bit...but she brings sunshine with her...serious calmness...and although I don't know her that well, 
I owe her.

She, of course, does not know my debt.
Has no idea.

19 years ago, when my baby was born with both Down Syndrome and a heart defect...and I was wondering how anyone mothers three children in any successful way, let alone a child with a disability in the mix, she graced my life.

She taught pilates out of her home.

I don't know how I found out about her class.
I have no idea who was watching my three kids 
while I did pilates in her home...
but somehow the universe made it happen and my heart knew what I needed.

I only did it for a few months.

But, she ended every class with this wisdom:
leading us with big deep breaths...
three times...
Inhale gratitude, Exhale judgment.

That four word phrase and those big deep breaths stuck.
They became a part of me.

In and out...
Sucking up gratitude and exhaling away so much.

In that fragile time of my life, I took the tiniest step forward toward self-care with that pilates class.
I didn't know it then. 
Didn't have the vocabulary or the life experience to be able to talk about that in any real way...
I just knew that those moments at pilates helped give me my breath back.

And, my teacher had no idea.

Years passed.
Breathing in gratitude.
Exhaling judgment.
Guiding student teachers or small children in hard moments with big breaths.
I wanted to say thanks.
Kept meaning to...
but it felt like the time had passed.

I let the thank you sit unsaid.

But today, on my way out of the coffee shop, there she was...she stopped me and introduced me to her daughter, Hope, a grad student working at the Perkins School for the Blind (Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller's school!!)...and we got to talking...and talking...and it was Hope who asked,
"How do you guys know each other?"

Her mom referenced it in three words:
Pilates on Parkside.

And, like a red-checkered picnic blanket, the universe spread out the moment before me.
I knew I could finally thank her for the gifts of restoration and care and breathing and kindness she gave to me.

Through tears, I asked if she remembered the way she ended her class all those years ago.
She shook her head no.

I did.

Inhale gratitude.
Exhale judgment.

My time with Hope and her mom was rare and precious...we all could feel it...
and we all knew it couldn't end right then...
but real life was in our way.
Places to be.

We decided to meet later that afternoon.

Who does that?

People who listen to their heart.

In that precious afternoon chunk, Hope and I talked about people with disabilities, opportunities, inclusion, barriers, common sense, education, systemic problems and so much more.

It was kismet.
A sunshine spiral.

I still can't believe it happened.

All we have is today...and the people who cross our this moment, 
right now.

For some blessed reason, today, my heart was listening...right when Hope and Dion called my name.

Tonight, I take a deep, fresh breath of gratitude...for kindness and kismet...wrapped up in Hope.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Doing It On Your Own

It's been 86 days since my son went away to college.

It's been the longest he's ever been away from me and the farthest he's ever been from me physically.
He's across the country at George Mason University.

He's a California kid - see shorts that he's wearing in November - and he lives most of the time in Virginia now.

There aren't any four year college programs here in California.

Our search for colleges that are created especially for people with intellectual disabilities took us all over the country...but sadly, hardly anywhere in the west.

Every single step I wondered if it was right.

I tried to follow Patrick's lead...tried to gauge whether it was he who cared about college or me.

I wanted to be careful about pressuring him into something that wasn't I have an intense desire for each of my children to live their authentic life, not mine.

But with someone with a disability, there is usually more parent participation and looking for college was no different.

He applied.
He interviewed.
He got accepted.

And then the hard part began...we had to imagine what life without Patrick in our every day sphere would mean.

We had to be okay with him going.
We had to be more than okay...we had to be excited for him...and shove our fears and worries to the side.

86 days ago he moved into a dorm.

He lives with two other people with disabilities and a typical student who is a 4th year mechanical engineering major...from New Jersey.
His name is Stav.

This was Stav and Patrick on Move In Day...and the friendship has only grown.

What's happened for Patrick is a lot of growth...personally and emotionally. 
But something else has happened...something that you wish for each of your children and almost never can picture for your adult child with a disability.

Patrick has found a COMMUNITY.
He has something that Dr. Erik Carter from Vanderbilt University identifies so well:

It has developed slowly over these months...but today, 86 days later, it is easy to spot.

When we visited Patrick and were dropping him back off in his dorm, a friend saw him, opened the door to his own room and yelled to another friend,
"Patrick's back!"

Dr. Carter speaks about true Belonging as "an ache when someone is missing" and there it was...
people noticed he was gone...people wanted him back.

He had his peeps.

When we call him and Facetime him, he is often surrounded with people:

He is busy and learning alongside of friends.

TOGETHER they have strength and courage
...they can do the hard things...
they can work through the glitches and figure it out.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we called Patrick and there were four people holding up his foot.
He showed us their faces and we asked what was going on.

Patrick had a blister...a little blood...and his crew was working together to figure out how to help.


This is what we all long for...what our hearts yearn for...
we crave connection.

Today, Patrick flies across the country on his own for Thanksgiving...
only we know the truth.

This HUGE milestone would not be possible if it wasn't for the experiences he has had over these 
86 days.

He's not alone.
He has a friend of mine who is willing to take him to the airport, guide him through security and show him the way.

He has a community that believes in him 

Isn't that what we all need?

Watching Patrick has made me more determined than ever to create a community where I live that offers that same beauty of welcome and belonging.
Support and kindness.

Patrick is living a life that is all his...with support from so many.

That's the kind of world we all want.
The kind we all need.

This Thanksgiving, we will count milestones and blessings and be clear...
none of us do this on our own.

We need each other.
Together, with all our foibles and fumbles, we are better.

Grateful doesn't cover it.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Grace at the Lake

I didn't want to go.
In fact, if I could have reverted to my small child self...I might have had a tantrum and just refused to move.

Another week-end.
Another soccer tournament.

I am over it.

I should know better.

I got into the car on a Friday night and began a three hour trek into the mountains.

My 12 year old grabbed the cell phone and made a comment about how I needed a better phone.


She complained about the car we were in.
She didn't like my music.

I didn't like her vibe.

As I sat in traffic, I fumed.
I couldn't take one more millisecond of the ingratitude.

I lost it.

Like a surveyor, I reminded her of the topographical lines of her life...the deepest blessings coming first...

Did you notice that you're healthy?
That I'm healthy?
That we have a car to drive?
That we have gas in the car?
We have the amazing ability to spend a week-end playing soccer?
You have a mom who is willing to devote a week-end to soccer?
That we are together when so many moms and daughters don't get that chance?

As I assailed her with her blessings...
the boomerang effect took place.

Hey, Beth, are you listening to yourself?

Stop your complaining and start noticing.

As we meandered at dusk through the mountains, the reset button was pushed.

We stopped for dinner and we both took a deep breath...
we inhaled the scent of the pines...
it was going to be okay.

We had a soccer game at a high school where giant pines surround the field.
I tripped over a giant root and noticed extra large pine cones...
the sky was a shade of blue that made me consider paint colors:
True Blue

After some weeks of fires and smoke near me, the color of the sky was a long lost friend.

We had a break and some time until the next game.
Some moms had rented a cabin together so they invited the team to hang out there.

We walked into a welcome where the team cheered when Caroline came in.

She had been injured in the game - a serious bonk to the head - and her team, in that moment,  let her know that she mattered.

I could see her body relax...comfortably finding a spot at the big table to paint a few paper flowers.
Parents were tracing flowers, cutting flowers, making paint and paintbrushes available to anyone -
it was an anthill of effort.

The flowers were for our coach, who had lost his mother during the week.
The hand-painted flowers would be a perpetual bouquet for Coach Mike...
a way for 12 year old girls to say:
We see you going through this hard thing...we are so sorry...we are sending love and friendship.

I was so humbled watching these mothers (and fathers) showing their daughters how to love someone through something hard.

I picked up a tracer and a pencil and swallowed hard.

These parents were strangers to me...
but they were mothering my daughter...
right in front of my eyes.

Their love was better than any ice pack.

She was given the gift of thinking of someone else...
the gift of doing good with paper and paint.

Together, we were reminded that it is so often the simplest acts of kindness that last.

After another soccer game, we had the grim consideration of dinner for 40.
How would that work?
What restaurant would serve us?

Instead, another group of moms opened up their cabin...and told us all to bring a little something.

Something turned into quite the banquet.
Moms know how to feed their people.

The girls devoured bowls of pasta, while the adults ate tasty tidbits and watched with wonder more flowers being painted...the designs getting more intricate and beautiful with each effort.

The cabin was at the edge of Lake Tahoe and so the team wandered down to the lake...the girls swam and the sun did its downward dance...gilding the sky...reminding us that this ordinary holiness...this beauty of light...tattoos our world every day for the briefest of moments.

Against the backdrop of waves and feet buried in sand and a chill in the air and a purplish dusk, a group of moms talked about family and the challenges that go with helping our girls grow up...we talked writing and teaching blanketing over the real messages of care and love.
One mom echoed what we all were feeling:
how grateful she was that her daughter was surrounded by these moms (and dads)
...she called it a clan...
a tribe...
an echo from the times when grandmothers and aunties and cousins and others watched over the little ones and made sure it was all as it should be.

In that last little breath of light before the dark, my heart was full.

She was exactly right.

This team has traversed the territory of strangers on the sidelines and moved to a higher plane:
 a community that cares.

It was seemingly effortless...but it wasn't.

It took one mom to consider the coach and find a way for 12 year olds to deal with grief.
It took another mom to open her cabin.
It took moms and dads to buy food and take the time to make food and create 
a space that welcomed everyone.
It took coaches who had loosened their control on the team for something organic to grow.
It took problem solvers to figure out seating and clean up and all sorts of other glitches.

It took effort.

There, at Lake Tahoe in the middle of a soccer tournament, grace was in abundance.

I didn't have a cabin to offer...
I brought very little food...
I didn't bring art supplies or any ideas.

I pretty much was on the sidelines just watching the miracle unfold.
I guess I'll be the recorder.

When's the next tournament?

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Four Years Later

Four years ago, you may remember this post:

In it, I write to the 8th graders in Patrick's class.

They had spent nine years together - from Kindergarten to 8th grade - and truthfully, they were an experiment.

Never before, in our local Catholic school 
- or even in our entire diocese -
had a student with Down Syndrome been fully included.

Patrick was included in kindergarten and we had no idea what would happen.

Would it be possible for him to learn?
Would he make friends?
Would he understand what was going on?
Could he make his sacraments?
Go on field trips?
Attend 6th grade sleep away science camp?
Could he be a big buddy to younger students?

The short answer: YES.
A resounding, giant, huge, YES!

But, we weren't sure what the other students would do.

Would their learning be negatively impacted?

Would they include Patrick?

Would they accept Patrick?

We shouldn't be so surprised...
children are children.

They accept everyone.
They find a way.
They figure it out.

It's always the adults who think it can't be done.

Well, four years later, those 8th graders have graduated from high school.
Most are off to college.

We decided to host a reunion for those 8th graders and see what it was like four years later.


They came with their parents...or by themselves...or with a friend...but they knocked on the door, shyly walked in and made their way to the backyard table.

The table comfortably sits 8 people.

But, like the famous clown car...or Mary Poppins' bag...the table kept welcoming more and more...they just kept scooting their chairs further and further out...welcoming the next person so naturally it was as if they had seen each other four hours ago, rather than four YEARS ago.

By the time everyone dribbled in, the kids were in a circle of chairs...
the table merely a nice centerpiece.

I thought they might sit in small groups...catching up on what has happened over the past four years...
but they wanted to sit together.

It was organic.

Watching this group, my heart fact, it burst. what's possible when we welcome everyone to the table.

The table falls away.
It becomes a circle.

As these young adults go out into the world, their heart is inclusive.

They've been given the gift of learning alongside each other and they know what's possible.
It's not a big deal.
It's the way it should be.

Imagine one of these young adults as a teacher.
A doctor giving a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome.
A banker who reads a bank loan document from someone with an intellectual disability.
A small business owner who needs to hire someone.
An apartment owner who will willingly rent his place.
A parent.

Their life experience will give them the courage to say yes to people on the margins...
and that changes everything.

They understand what's possible.
They know that people with disabilities are capable and valuable and have something important to offer the larger group.

They know that it's possible to be friends.

Watching the Class of 2018, I knew these young people would change the world...
just by being in the world.

They know the secret.
We aren't so different, you and me.

Blessings to you, Class of 2018.
May your journey into adult life be filled with love, adventure, friendship and peace.
May you visit home often.
We're going to miss your sunshine...but the world needs your light.
Shine bright, sweet students, shine bright.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Junk Yard vs. Poetry Beach

There's been a lot of sorrow.
Deep sadness.

I try not to think about it...but every tiny act of mothering is a reminder.

Tonight I clipped my child's fingernails.

I wondered who clips the nails of the children in cages.
Does anyone notice when their nails are too long...or too dirty.

Yesterday, my 12 year old daughter asked me to braid her hair.
It's a rare treat these days so I seized on the moment to brush and tend and love her via her hair.

I wove her hair with a heart that is tattered...I saw the tiny stripes the sun has tinted in her hair already...I knew the area on her head where the braid always gets bumpy...I smoothed and tightened and thought of all the young girls with no one to fix their hair.

Children are being taken and separated from their families.

The government is working to bring the most pain to bear on immigrants.
It's working to harm the youngest and most vulnerable.

I can hardly believe this nightmare is true.

A few days ago, I was moving my daughter up to Portland.
Despondent over these babies and mothers I went for a walk along the Willamette River.
I tried to lose myself in that new place...tried to notice something new with each step...
a wildflower here...a tiny bird there.

It felt good to walk along a river and notice the current that never falters...always moving forward.

Lost in my thoughts I abruptly hit the end of the path...
a dead end with a junk yard attached.

How cosmically perfect.
Gross - Dead - Polluted - Junk

Might as well be describing our government...or my mood.

It felt maddening and sickeningly spot on.

What could I do but turn around?
I literally made an about face to begin walking back and discovered a path called Poetry at the Beach.

I marveled at this mystery.
What was going on?

How could there be poetry at the beach?
Literally, two of my favorite things embedded in some sort of spiritual mash up...what??

I should head back...I had chores to begin...and commitments to attend to...but I knew that wouldn't be happening.

I had to walk the path...
I discovered stones that had the words of children...the poems that children created carved into them...voices of Native American children who pondered the Willamette River and what it 
meant to them - felt to them - inspired in them.

Here are their hearts etched into stone:

There's always one Jordan.

Every carved stone captured me...I wondered where the student wrote the poem...who did the carving...where did the rock come from...who funded it all...who did the work of placing the stones in their spot...all of it seemed like one big surprise party made only for me.

Every stone echoed in my heart.

I came upon stones that had the Native word for our ordinary words:

It felt like I was being handed a secret code...or a blanket from the past...

Sit here.
Wrap yourself up in our words and our ways.
Know that the Willamette was here before you and will remain long after you.
Find comfort in the unwavering strength of stone...the unstoppable movement of the river...
the beauty that waits for you to notice.

That beauty is yours every day.
Poetry at the Beach

Here she is:

Meet the Willamette.

I walked along that stunning slice of sand...soaking up the driftwood so beautifully, carelessly tossed right where it was meant to be...looking at the gray stones and seeing 
gunmetal, silver, ash, slate, smoky, dove's egg, charcoal...the twists and turns of gray...
and the gift of being able to see every last hue between black and white.

I started my walk despondent over the now...alone...I ended my walk soaked in the people who came before me...the river that spans both and will arch into the future as well.

We have junkyards and poetry.
Stones waiting to be carved and poems still left to write.
Every single day, it's up to us to find the poems.

Up to us to notice...and leave our mark.

You get to choose:
junkyard or poetry.

Today, I thank the eagle, the frog, the Canadian geese, the otter and the driftwood.

I thank whoever found the swimming otter driftwood and left it for me to enjoy too.

I thank the stone carvers and the poets...the dreamers and the visionaries...those who thought to combine Native history and language with the beauty of the beach and children's voices.

Mostly, I thank the Willamette River who has seen her fair share of junkyard and poetry...
and still she flows.