Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Ripples in Stillness


When a tree falls in the forest, is it heard...or only happened upon by a wandering onlooker, a seeker, especially tuned to its collapse? Is it felt in the hearts of the forest creatures? Do we feel its violent effects in our hearts out in the world? Where does the rippling of its falling end? When did I stop watching? 

When the awful destruction of December 14th found its way into my life,  I moved forward, storing its reverberations within my deepest memory cells. Not now, I told myself, not now. There was too much ahead of me, I couldn't drop to the floor, crack open and fall apart. I was surrounded by the faces of children, whose innocence, so evident in the previous days in laughter and stories, had now faded to black in the wake of this horrific storm. Sent to a crowded corner, hidden away under a sink, they waited for three hours on that day. We told our stories of bears tromping through the woods, being hunted down to keep us all safe. Kids remembered a lockdown when a bank in town was robbed of a small sum of money. Others were knowing, keeping us safe. We had to allay our fears.

But then, news arrived, and the tree fell hard upon us. Our hearts were shattered and so was that system of innocent thinking we'd all subscribed to...them, because they were young, they'd had no experience with anything of this magnitude, and me, because I was, yes, more life-experienced...but had no capacity for it. I mean, let's face it, I chose Newtown...to raise my family, to live out my career life, to immerse myself in what some call the bucolic, what others call the idyllic, what I think of as a lifestyle of country retreat. The beauty of nature was itself a type of protection. But in that thinking there was something very disturbingly naive. Magical thinking. Could I dare think the sudden and violent fall of a tree such as this would not land in my own back yard, and could not touch me here? 

Hidden away in suburbia, I feasted on the spoils of a quiet, picturesque existence. Stars shone bright in the night sky, birds celebrated the waking of each day. The magnitude of the beauty spoke volumes, erasing any personal tragedy I'd experienced in life, like an Etch-a-sketch, the loss and the depth of feelings attached to it all was somehow suddenly erased. Or so I thought. Grief grows tentacles, it cannot be denied. It ripples in still waters, sometimes unseen, but never forgotten. Age creates opportunity...a chance to revisit, to re-experience the loss. But the heart has to open in order to allow it in. 

I could...go forward, not look back, dare to dream of what's to come. I could deny the fall of the tree, re-envision the future. After all, physically it all looks the same. But then, I look in the mirror, and eyes stare back at me. "Be a soldier," my dad had said...so many years ago. Do soldiers have no feelings? When I was three, my mom died. I remember that hand holding mine. He could not handle my truest feelings, my mommy-lessness. As a child, I had no understanding of it, so I followed his lead. We moved forward, him crying in the night...and me seeing, but not letting him know what I saw. His tree had fallen, his world, the one he'd so carefully created...a new country, a family, a destiny--his dreams of perfection, shattered. Don't cry, don't think about it. Move on. And. So I did. 

And then he died. I was told by my siblings to honor him...move forward, not back. Loss, pile it on, shove it in, pack it away. I moved to Newtown. I started teaching kindergarten. My beautiful sister, one of the strongest advocates of 'block it out', was diagnosed with a cancer that had completely progressed. She cleared her closet, passing on her favorite dresses to me. Her eyes spoke of nostalgia...and in the very end, she allowed a few, just a few, memories to escape. 

Loss is a permanent feature in all our lives. Yesterday a song...the easiest access to the past for me, began to play on Pandora...I Am A Rock, by Simon and Garfunkel played at a time when memories were seeping up, creeping in from below the forest floor. "A rock feels no pain...and an island never cries." Well, by definition, that is what I've been taught. But, as with so many other beliefs I've been taught, I've learned from a very careful group of intimate friends, that perhaps I've been mis-programmed. I am, in reality, not a soldier. I am a seeker. I have the courage and a bit of the wisdom now, that was so sorely lacking before. I know that feeling leads to healing. And so I seek. 

I trek back, writing and journalling, talking through my feelings. I don't linger for so long that I lose sight of where I am now. For there is tremendous beauty in front of me right now at this moment. I fear none of it, because the events of the past are mere bogeymen...they have happened. I am meant to live, and enjoy, and celebrate life. When memories are shut out, a deep darkness coats that forest. When they are brought forward, they allow light and air to come in as well. Love and the chance of it, are in front of me again, and so...hope is too. I wear my green bracelets, my Ben's bells. I have my ribbon, magnetted to the back of my car. So what? I am fearless. I can honor my friend Anne Marie. I can honor my own past and the loss that all this has brought up. 

I can see the light in the forest too. It has a rippling effect too...in fact, my life is dappled in light and dark, just like everyone else's. There is not just one thing, ever. That in itself is naive thinking. Yesterday, I heard another song...ironically, it immediately followed the first; All You Need is Love, by the Beatles, of course. It is the antidote to all. And today, I open the paper to this..."Nostalgia makes us a bit more human." Permission is a powerful thing. By linking back to my past, digging up those reverberations, which are...in truth, still there waiting for me, I can actually be more generous, more kind, more available to others who also feel the same. Grief has tentacles...yes. But the action of grieving, cracking open and feeling the deepest part of the pain, has its rewards. 

This tragedy has reached for those memory cells. I feel them in the deep loss of today. I cannot deny the tree that has fallen, but I can realize the light that dapples this day, and the darkness too, for it will never permanently blacken what lies ahead; it could never block out the rays of the sun. What lies before me has an infinite array of possibilities...both light and dark, but always there is the hope of a baby's laugh, the soft touch of a rose's petal, the fond wrinkled face of a grandma, the sudden smile of the person sitting across from me. That, and the depth of feelings I now choose to employ, sweetens the pot, and allows me to live a very full life with others, not in a void by myself.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Reaching Back

Still and silent
soft and clear,
time lends
a moment,
a tiny crevace.

The heart's
to process
and see...

A face--
taken away.

The mind's eye
But opportunity

Chance allowed none of it.

That creamy face,
the infectious laugh
all gone.

Opportunity vanquished;
lesson learned.

Seeing and longing,
in stillness,
in appreciation
for what once
and what can
no longer

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Life Beyond our Eyes (Republished with Revisions)

What I wouldn't give to see this incredible night visitor on an evening stroll through my woods. I hear them, and know they're there. But I have never come face to face with a great horned owl. Recently, an animal trainer came walking through those woods with me. We looked over the great pond that dips beyond the large rock in the back of yard. We scanned the old craggy trees, the half snapped pines, leftovers the recent series of storms. It was daylight, a typical gray day; the landscape was bleached with a coating of fresh snow. Colors were few; the hillside was pretty stark. But, to my imagination, the sights and sounds of the many creatures that populate the woods existed nonetheless. Faith is believing without seeing.

"I'll bet you have more than a few owls around here," he said. Woods, water, and open fields. Of course there were owls. How could there not be?

Today is the second day of March. My mind is filled with possibilities, the greening of spring to come. I smell it at times in a waft of air that comes through in the evenings when I walk my rather huge puppy around the yard. I hear it in the trees in the mornings as birds skitter to and fro and call to one another, more and more arriving each day. The light of a new dawn, reds and yellows, rays of great hope reach far into the morning sky. Faith is believing without seeing, I tell myself. Change...transformation is afoot. And yet, I struggle this year, and of course I know why. The rhythm of life has changed. I'm not sure what's hit me, and where in this year I am.

Two weeks ago, I had the great honor of enjoying the company of a group of third graders that I'd really only met once before. I'd planned a simple lesson in listening and writing, one with great possibilities, I thought. And then my good friend, the teacher I was stepping in for, handed me another plan. I'd told her not to feel compelled to write plans, I was happy to develop my own. But...she held in her hand Jane Yolen's wonderful, Owl Moon, which was and is an old favorite of mine. I love to entertain serendipity when it steps into my teaching life, so I grabbed it and moved with the kids to a cozy spot in the room.

"We have special blankets, you know," one pretty charming brown-eyed student said. Well, of course, I did know. Our students in Newtown have been gifted beyond belief!

"You'll definitely need them," I said. "This is a story that is perfect for snuggling."I was surprised when they came back and pushed into the blankets in twos and threes, I thought they'd each have one. This was so much better, I thought. I loved seeing them tucked into each other, their eyes eager and ready to read.

And so it began, a reading, like so many others, so many times before. My career has the wingspan of an owl, the years, but perhaps not the wisdom. I never tire of the books I read, each time I treat myself to that first-time reader experience, the love that each book and every story deserves.

I read this one as breathlessly as I could, treading lightly through the pages, setting a tone, so that we could walk through these woods with this father and daughter combination as if our skin had slipped inside theirs. You could've heard a pin drop.

"You know, Mrs. Lynch...someone did see a great horned owl the night it happened," a young boy said.

"It," chorused a few. They were immersed in the story, and didn't get it right away. But then, in seconds, they did. And of course, nothing else needed to be said.

It. Yes, we know. It. 

The room grew even more quiet.

"What do you think about that," he asked.

Me. He asked me. And he really wanted to know. So...in that serendipitous moment, I didn't think twice. I looked at him confidently. I knew then, and I know now what I believe. I was not about to shirk my responsibility here. I didn't go all preachy, and I didn't try to analyze them.

"Well, I think that Nature gives us wonderful signs, if we watch and listen and stay tuned in. I think that incredible owl sighting may have been a sign that everybody, all of them and all of us, are going to be okay."

Kids want simple answers and they're looking for hope. I don't want to promote false hope, but I do want to give them some of what they need. Simple, short and from the heart. That's it.

Since that day, I've had time to pause and wonder about my response. I've done all kinds of reading about the phenomenon of which I spoke. On the cold October day when my sweet sister was buried, the most beautiful yellow butterfly landed and lingered on her coffin. Every one of us saw it, and our eyes lingered there. To this day, we talk about that butterfly. Yellow was my sister's favorite color, it was our symbol of hope. I never researched any of that. I just chose to believe.

This owl...and the bluebirds that people have also been telling me about, are our symbols of hope. Our opportunity to look to the future with a generous spirit. The bluebirds are the symbol of transition and spiritual awakening, a craving for innocence, or so its told. The owl, we've often heard, was the symbol of wisdom. But recently, I've discovered so much more. In the Indian totem they represent a spirit that can "pierce beyond the veil that separates the physical world from the spirit world. They filter out light from the darkness. They remind us that both, light and dark, can exist at the same time."  

And then, there it was, again. On a cold, cold night in the middle of winter, just months after our world felt like it'd come to an end, the sound of an old owl pierced the darkness. And then another, a different owl answered the call. It filled me with that spirit of all that is and can be made right again. To me, nature itself gives us signs of the total vibrancy of life, the hope that can shine forth as we all move from the horrible IT to the wonderful US and THEM together, light and dark, living alongside one another, the physical world and the spirit world never separate, but together all along. Faith is believing, but not seeing.

We love all those that were left behind, separately, differently...the ones we knew, and the ones we never had a chance to know. Our lives now, are entwined in ways no one could've dreamed or expected. But we do live on, many of us in faith...in the knowing that what we see here and now is only a minuscule part of all that there is!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Chasing Rainbows...and Promises too!

Call me naive. Or...better yet, Pollyanna. But, I'm gonna keep on plugging for rainbows, for My Little Pony, for the Easter Bunny and even for good old St. Nick. And I'm even going to go on promoting the Jolly Green Giant and any other fantasy that has the American child at its heart. I've taken the Sandy Hook Promise. I've promised myself, I will welcome all people and their views, into my life. I will not be deterred.

Chasing Rainbows? You bet. And I think the rest of the world should take it up like it's a full-time sport. If you haven't seen our little starry-eyed Newtown singers, you need to! They are the promise of today, tomorrow, next week and all the years to come. They are the answer to all that's transpired in our sweet little town. They will be our future, and their eyes are focused on us.

Sandy Hook School was the place where I cut my first tooth in the teaching field...well, in reality, I did that a few years before in Bridgeport, CT, teaching hearing impaired kids. At that time, there was a horrible assault on a little sandwich place I frequented, a mob killing, they said. When I was in college, there was an armed robbery in a Subway sandwich shop...the gunman came in just as I made my way out. At the time, I blocked that out completely, and just moved on with my life. After all, this was Bridgeport. And everyone knew crime was a factor there. Horrible. I was twentyish, invincible, or so I thought. I put it outside myself and kept it there. That was how I dealt with my fears.

When I moved to Newtown, CT, I was literally chasing a rainbow. At the time, I had two kids, a dog, and a husband, trying hard to make it in his career. I had a third child and, like many, needed to re-enter the workforce to make ends meet. I was lucky enough to be hired in Newtown, and eventually find my way to that cream-puff school, tucked into a little nook in Sandy Hook. I loved every minute of my time there and so did my three kids!

I loved the parents who were also struggling, two breadwinners to make ends meet. We had the Jolly Green Giant Fair, an annual event with quilts and cake walks and a real giant that kids waited to meet much like they'd waited for Santa! Green footprints were painted along the drive, and as the bus pulled in, little eyes widened anticipating the Giant's arrival in Spring. Kids were thriving...there were cub scouts and brownies, sock hops and potlucks. Life was centered around our kids. And so it's been all these years.

After the recent events, the horror that was inflicted upon our little school...and more importantly the little kids and the wonderful adults who served them, the outpouring of love and good wishes, of luminaries and teddy bears, of crayons and chocolate kisses, the letters and cards...and the prayers, hope began to dig its way back into the heart of our community of Newtown. Intentions and ideals have begun to re-emerge. The Newtown Memorial Fund and the Sandy Hook Promise sprang forth to help our town rebuild. Therapy dogs and a torrent of social workers, counselors and school psychologists have populated our schools. And people here have begun to make a choice about how they will remember and honor those who died, and how they will begin to heal and rebuild their lives.

What is happening here is nothing short of a miracle. I'm not kidding. Like never before, the creative genius of a town is jumping on board. People are coming up with visions for that future. They're setting aside their own political beliefs, their need to be heard, their deep-rooted opinions, and they are opening their minds to what will be best for our kids. You see, here in Newtown, we're repainting our rainbows, and we're setting our sights on love. If nothing else happens here, we'll still know...that our kids watched us and saw that our hope could re-emerge and we could love one another in a way that would transcend this brutal mutilation...because even though the unthinkable happened, we will honor them always through our actions, not our words. And now, all we want for our kids is for them to know love, to hope and to regain that ability to feel safe, a day at a time, like never before.

And now? We need to transcend Newtown...and embrace all our children. Saftety is not a privilege, it is their right. We need to begin again all over, chasing rainbows in Chicago, in Bridgeport, in Los Angeles, in Boston and New York and Dallas, Texas too. Childhood is that one place where human joy and hope is born. Let our babies keep their fantasies. All kids everywhere are entitled to their wonder years.

~~In rememberance of my dear friend Anne...whose courage I never doubted for a minute! Not a day goes by...that I don't think of her and of them all, of the parents and the siblings, the neighbors and friends. Love is all I know, and that is how I choose to live my life for them.