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.