Little Hilltop Shrine Stories

A while back I posted about a little roadside memorial shrine the hubster and I stumbled over in the Sawtooth Mountains, one which I found unusually moving. Well, we found another one last month that grabbed my heart, only this time it was up on a mountain peak overlooking a section of Hells Canyon and the Snake River.

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20160508_164719I think part of the reason this one hit me the way it did was because it was still fresh…the flowers, the grief, the love, the remembering. But it also felt personal because there was something we shared with these people; an obvious love for the place we were in.

It got me thinking about how often we do this, those of us who have lost a loved one, instinctively turn to a physical place like a mountain peak, a gravesite, a body of water, a steam engine (more on that little gem below.) As though, with their bodies gone from us, we need to find something else…something still here…to center around instead. I know for me, when my mother died, finding a place satisfied an illogical but still aching and very real physical need, especially in the early days after her loss. It was where where I could locate her, where I could head when I wanted to be near her, or talk to her, or just remember her afterwards.

(Of course these places can also be the spot people avoid when they want to forget somebody, or desecrate when they need to punish…think urinating on a grave or dumping somebody’s ashes down a latrine. It’s always important to remember and respect that not every relationship lost is a good one. However, for the sake of clarity, it’s the loving relationships I’m writing about today.)

After my mother died in Nevada my brother took most of her ashes home with him to scatter over Waimea Bay per her request but I needed something more than that. For all the tangled, aching, complex reasons that shape every journey through grief I wound up also placing her in the Ely cemetery with my grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, second cousins, and a twice great uncle whose grave I have yet to find but am still hellbent on trying. It’s actually the place where I eventually want my ashes to go, too. (Or most of them anyway. I’m totally okay with my kids using whatever they need for their own grief journeys just like I did with my mom’s.)

Interestingly, I also find her in the full moon (which, frankly, even I don’t understand but am happy to go with whenever I’m out and about that time of the month.)

It’s curious, now that I think about it, that I actually find her in multiple places; Waimea Bay, the Ely Cemetery, and the full moon. Here’s an article written by another woman who’s linking her husband to multiple places by scattering his ashes all over the world; The 9 Things No One Tells You About Scattering AshesIt’s a great read…not too long, moving, funny, with some truly useful information to boot. If you’ve been afraid of talking (or thinking) about the topic of grief rituals Tré Miller Rodríguez’s column is a worthy place to start.

Anyway.

There’s one particular ash-scattering story that’s a favorite of mine. Ely, Nevada, besides holding the remains of much of my family, is also home to one of the few still-up-and-running steam-engine powered trains. It’s called the Ely Ghost Train and is something of a mecca for steam train enthusiasts who come from all over the world for a chance just to drive the thing.

A staff member once told me the story of a mother and son who showed up at the train asking to ride up in the engine compartment in memory of the steam-engine loving husband and father they’d recently lost. This being Ely they were of course welcomed aboard after which, about halfway through the ride, they revealed to the engineer the real reason they were there. They pulled out a bag of ashes and proceeded to beg permission…according to the wishes of the deceased…to empty them into the firebox where the coal was currently burning. I’m happy to say that the engineer perfectly understood and instantly agreed.

I love this story for two reasons. On the one hand it’s just a great story (and classically Ely BTW. They don’t do anything by the book there.) However, it’s also tender and poignant for me because it reveals that primal instinct again…the way that mother and son traveled to a place where they could anchor into the enduring spirit of the man they loved while, at the same time, surrender their final claim to the warm, beautiful body that had held them, spoke to them, kissed them, gazed at them, and touched them in the thousand ways that only a body can. That’s a lot to finally and irrevocably let go of.

I don’t know. Good-byes just don’t get any bigger than that for me, they don’t, which is probably why these little, wild shrines speak to me the way they do. They remind me of all the final good-byes I watched unfold during my hospice years and how sacred each one was, the times when I stood completely forgotten by a bedside witnessing the final exchange of intimacies so private and pure and searing that they seemed to fill up the room with a pulsing grace that erased everything…everything…but the love of that moment.

They completely changed me over time, those moments. How could they not? So that now, when I come across memorials like this so full of that caliber of love, I can feel the grace swirling around me again.  And while my heart definitely breaks a little each time, these places also remind me of the Big Thing the dying helped me see…that I have to keep loving as much as I can, as long as I can, with whoever or whatever will let me because over time, really, that’s the only thing that’s ever made me truly, completely happy.

I’ll leave you with the final view this departed Veteran was left with. Who wouldn’t love to hang around this place forever?

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Little Roadside Shrine Stories

One often sees, alongside the winding, treacherous mountain highways that populate much of Idaho, little memorial shrines where some unfortunate motorist ended their life. It’s never clear what actually happened (accept for one understandably bitter memorial a few years ago siting a drunk driver as a causal factor) but the modest displays usually include some version of a cross or wreath and at least one plastic flower bouquet lovingly selected, I imagine, with an eye towards longevity in a harsh climate.

My heart always breaks a little as our car whizzes past these vignettes of sadness and loss, while that common well of human loneliness we all share sends up a few more disturbing memos. Death happens. Loss happens. Grieve for them Dia because your turn will someday come.  

I often hear ghosts crying from these places and I’ve learned not to fight it anymore because it’s too much effort and they cling anyway. It’s become easier to just let their shattered longing go ahead and touch me, to hold the dead and the stricken against my heart for a moment and then gently, tenderly lay them back down in their shrine to await the next unsuspecting car.

I’ve found that really, in the end they don’t want all that much, these ghosts, just a moment of remembering, and not only for their loss. They also whisper stories about the depths of their love and over time, as I’ve relaxed, the love stories have come to dominate the stories of loss for me.

The hubster and I recently stumbled across this little memorial shrine just off the two lane road that leads from the state highway back to Redfish Lake up near Stanley, Idaho. It’s very curious and a bit of a mystery to me–kind of a cross between the usual little roadside shrines and a regular grave. It actually reminds me of some of the informal yet clearly beloved graves we found in the Quinault Cemetery over in the Olympic Rainforest, only it’s on the side of a public road where I don’t think regulations would allow a burial of remains. Perhaps ashes were scattered somewhere in the area.

Angel headstone at Redfish Lake

It also had a simple cross standing over it, man-sized, with a cap and dog tags hung there. Someone put a lot of loving care into the crafting of the plaque which captures a life through an endearing set of images rather than the usual quotes and statistics.

Headstone close-up at Redfish Lake

I don’t know, there was something about this particular remembering that was different than anything else I’ve seen. It spoke so much more of life than death to me…and was the more poignant for it. The meat cleaver is an interesting touch, no? Balanced by the whisk on the other side, thank god. And the brilliant colors in the butterfly and blooms capture the wildflowers of spring in the area. Whoever this was, they were only twenty-one years old when they died but from the looks of it I’m led to hope that it was a very full twenty-one years.

I can hear the ghosts crying again as I study these photos…oh my heart. I’m glad and grateful this person was here for a little while, whoever they were, and that they were so clearly loved. Our lost companion.

copyright Dia Osborn 2015

Today I am…

Today I’m both a little fearful and a little in love.

I’m a little fearful that I may be bad somehow…a sneaky shadow from childhood no doubt, still creeping along the ground of my life trying to keep a low profile.

But I’m a little in love with my snail shells, too.

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Snails and I also go back to childhood, only in a better way. I used to spend hours and hours with these tiny friends of mine, placing them on the palm of my hand to wait however long it took until they finally worked up the nerve to peek out again…oh-so-cautiously…checking to see if the coast was clear before spilling out to explore my hand.

Honestly the level of trust required for that really knocked my socks off.

I used to find these companions in a thick groundcover of pickleweed growing on the semi-desert hillside behind our house. My snails loved the succulent jungle it provided and I’d go out on the back patio alone to pick the slimy, slug-like creatures off the leaves and cradle their impossibly fragile shells in my hands, waiting for those two graceful antennae to reappear and wave around, reaching, feeling for something…anything really…to touch. They didn’t seem to care what.

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I was fascinated by their antennae and the way they looked like they belonged underwater, slow and undulating and tube-ish and transparent. They reminded me of the multiple tendrils of sea anemone, how they drift in ocean currents, only my snails antennae waved gracefully all on their own. I thought…and still do…that it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

They were also one of the most vulnerable creatures I’d come across. Their squishability was breathtaking to me, their supposedly-protective shells totally useless, which I still consider odd and unfair and a little deceptive from a destiny standpoint to the point where I feel a little betrayed for them.

Which is why their willingness to reemerge over and over again, no matter how many times I touched their antennae and drove them back into their shells…mostly gently but sometimes a little harder, a tap, to find out just how long it would take them to try this time…blew me away. They never gave up, these ridiculously flimsy creatures. Never quit trying. Never spiraled down deep into their shells saying Fuck it. Who needs this shit? I’m staying put.

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Their curiosity won. I used to watch them for hours, secretly longing for their kind of snail-trust. I was over-the-moon smitten with these guys.

Which is why I eventually carried a handful of them into my bedroom to put in the brand new plastic jewelry box my mother had given me for my birthday. They were a treasure to me, exquisite and beautiful and full of hope, and I couldn’t have cared less that they left snail tracks all over the red, synthetic material lining the inside, the slime staining the fabric while slowly drawing it into permanent wrinkles as it dried.

Turns out my mother cared though, and she was furious when she found them. She didn’t realize what they looked like through my eyes and, falling into that perilous abyss of misunderstanding that ever-gapes between adults and children, she returned them to the patio, built a little pile with them, and buried them in a mound of salt. I felt responsible for their deaths. And very bad.

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Of course, my mother was aghast when I explained to her in later years why I’d been collecting them, and she apologized to me over and over, feeling responsible and very bad, too. But then I knew my mother always loved me like that. I never once doubted that she’d regret it once she realized what happened. Not that she’d love them like I did, because to her they were still snails, but I knew she’d cherish and mourn them with me because she loved me that much.

Sometimes I feel like I was her little snail and my childhood was full of that same kind of thing, with Mom tapping on my antennae and then watching, fascinated and patient and smitten every time, as I’d peek back out and then spill into her hands. Sometimes, sure, she tapped my antennae a little too hard and I’d wind up curled inside for longer than usual, but in the end I could and would always come out again. I could snail-trust with her. That was her gift to me.

I miss her.

Today, I’m a lot in love with my mom.

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copyright 2014 Dia Osborn

A Little Post-Olympic Joy From Russia

This fabulous flash mob video from Moscow is a great reminder for me that Putin and the Oligarchy don’t define the true Russian people anymore than Washington and its incredibly malfunctioning Congress define us. I’m pretty sure that on the whole we the people, of any nation, just want to be free and happy…preferably together.

Here’s how some Russian people did just that recently. (Maybe it would help if all our government leaders got together like this? I bet THAT video would go viral.)

‘Tis the season for brushes with an unseen world.

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The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

Halloween approaches, so it felt like a good time to tell a couple of recent stories about a sense of presence; those moments where a person inexplicably feels the intimate, invisible presence of someone or something benign.

The two stories I’d like to relate here involved the sensed presence of loved ones who died, one fairly recently and one some years back, but experiences of a sense of presence can also, of course, involve the presence of religious figures, friends, acquaintances, or even strangers, and can happen in all manner of situations from childhood isolation to survival scenarios.  But I think the majority of people are most familiar with it during bereavement, where studies put it’s occurrence at anywhere from fifty to sixty-three percent and possibly higher.

As such, I think the experience deserves to be talked about more openly, but then perhaps that’s just me.

The first story is from my sister-in-law and involves the recent loss of our nephew Cam who could sing like nobody’s business.  I’ll never forget the first time I heard him open his mouth and start belting out White Christmas.  My mouth dropped.  Everyone’s mouth dropped.  It was unexpected in the way that Susan Boyle singing The Dream I Dreamed was unexpected, only Cam was fourteen and not as polished yet.  But still.  See for yourself.  He starts singing about eleven seconds in.

You see?

Anyway, my sister-in-law was working alone a couple weeks ago and, out of the blue, one of Cam’s favorite songs popped into her head and she found herself singing it aloud, which wasn’t the strange part.  What was strange was the fact that she was singing it perfectly, because before that moment she hadn’t really known all the words.  But somehow she was singing them all anyway. She confided that in that moment she could feel Cam there with her, sharing the infectious joy he found in song while he was alive and which, it seems, he continues to enjoy afterwards.

Her story made us all laugh and helped lighten the load we’re carrying at his loss a little, which, IMO, is the real, deep, and abiding gift of these kinds of experiences.

The second story was my own and it happened on my mother’s birthday a few weeks ago.  She died four and a half years ago now so, unlike with Cam, I’m already past the initial disorientation of a world knocked sideways by her loss, as well as most of those sharp pangs of grief that used to accompany each memory.

In fact, I didn’t even remember it was her birthday until around noon when I was out shopping and glanced at a calendar for the first time that day, at which point I remembered and felt the usual brief wind of loss I feel each year, quickly followed by all the other, sweeter memories that fill the lion’s share of my heart now.  I savored them for a moment and then folded them away again, going on about my business until I got home, at which point things turned decidedly strange.

While putting everything away I wandered over to the dining room table, a piece of furniture which we never actually eat at but instead use as a long-term depository for all the official papers we’re trying to avoid.  It’s kind of like a limbo world for documentation…behind the veil so to speak…and as such it’s usually invisible to the naked eye.  Or at least to my naked eye, as I trained myself long ago to ignore everything on it.

So I’m not sure why I walked over there that day, or why, out of everything lying there, I happened to notice the back of an old greeting card lying near the corner, a little ways away from everything else.  I absentmindedly flipped it over and thought it looked familiar but couldn’t place why.  So I opened it up to read the inscription and that’s when the memory came flooding back.

It was the last birthday card my mother ever sent me, a scant three months before she died…back when I knew she was ill but didn’t know yet that she was dying.  I’d found it among my things shortly after she passed and grieved over it for a long time before finally putting it away in a box of secret treasures I keep on a high shelf in the closet in the back room.

Which is where it’s been for the last four years. Or so I thought.

I stood there for a long time just staring at it in my hands, confused and reeling a little, trying very hard to figure out how it escaped the box and made it’s way back out onto the dining room table for me to find on her birthday of all days.  I wracked my brain trying to recall when I could have taken it back out again, why I would have, but came up with nothing. Nada. (Which isn’t necessarily saying much since I’m forgetting a lot these days.) But still, it felt very strange.

I’m hardly a died-in-the-wool skeptic when it comes to the possibility of unseen mysteries. For instance, I have no problem believing that we’re all bound together in intricate, beautiful, and frequently mysterious ways, and that the love we forge is probably the most enduring of all these links. It’s long seemed to me that if anything was strong enough to transcend the boundaries placed between us by death, love would be the likely culprit as it seems capable of transcending just about everything else.

But on the other hand, I’m a practical woman and as such lean towards practical explanations.  While I have no problem entertaining the possibility that my mother’s love could bridge death, I have a harder time believing that her hands could. It seems unlikely that she could have pulled down the box, opened it up, rifled through the contents, found the card, and then carried it out to the dining room table to leave it there for me to find.

I’m not saying that she couldn’t do that, mind you…I’ve seen a lot over the years and have decided to stay open to all possibilities.  But still, there are just other, simpler explanations that seem more likely.

However, the timing  of it all was truly serendipitous and that’s what took my breath away.  While that birthday card could have been sitting on the table for a very long time without my noticing it (our unfinished wills have sat there untouched for six years now…yes, six) the fact that I walked over, picked up the card, and opened it on her birthday of all days is what made me feel the brush of some vast and unseen mystery. I couldn’t help but wonder if she’d reached between dimensions and nudged me.

In any case, as my overwhelming love for her spilled out to meet her undying love for me, in that moment I really could feel her there again in the room with me, her presence fresh and sharp and immediate, surrounding and enveloping me like a warm and gentle cloud of Mom-ness.

I don’t know. Perhaps, as the tradition claims, All Hallow’s Eve really is a time when the veil grows thin and we’re able to reach across the divide and touch one another again. I love the thought.

Happy Halloween to all!

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

Returning to the world.

Forgive me. It’s been almost three weeks since my last post which is a record. I’ve kind of let myself go on a lot of levels since Cam died, including eating somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen to twenty pounds of chocolate and sugar in various combinations…which I admit I thoroughly enjoyed but in a probably perverse way.  Still, sometimes you need to stop doing everything and just float for a while.  Let the wind blow you around.  Drift. Rest. Think. Remember. Digest.

There’s much to digest here.

But this morning I feel myself returning to the world again, both figuratively and physically.  The hubster and I spent nine days out of the last twelve running away to the wilderness every chance we got and there’s nothing quite like getting out on the water surrounded by snow capped peaks, and paddling for miles and miles and miles to help rebuild a crumbling perspective.

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I think everyone develops their own way of finding a path back to that feeling of home at their center when they’ve become lost…prayer, meditation, service, gardening, cleaning house, work, family, friends, community, etc.

For the me the way back has always involved the silence and deep mystery of the natural world. It’s where I instinctively turned as a child for congregation and confessional and where I’ve returned ever since, especially when a wound needs tending.  The stars and storms, mountains and forests, wind and waters have a way of taking the torn, raggedy edges from any injury and pulling them gently back together again, giving them a chance to meet and knit and eventually scar over.

The hubster loves the wilderness, too, only for slightly different reasons.  He feels the silence, too, and needs it as much as I do, but his nature is more wild than mine, or at least wild in a different way.  Where I crave the wonder and mystery of vast and ancient forces, he’s after all the grand adventures that wilderness provides, and over time he’s taught me a little of that particular joy he finds in throwing himself, over and over, against inclement everything…weather, conditions, terrain, the absence of any kind of safety precautions.

Looking back I have to both laugh and shake my head at some of the stupid, stupid, STUPID things we’ve done over the years. The hubster is naturally fearless and impatient of anything that stinks of planning…which I, on the other hand, tend to be a little obsessive about. (My basic nature exacerbated by the depression.)  But he was always so irresistibly charming and relentlessly persuasive that I followed him anyway, over and over again, into situations that were way over my head.  Often over his head, too, but then he loves that.

But since we were lucky and actually survived it all, I now have a treasure cache inside me of memories when I followed him blindly through the labyrinth of all my clamoring terrors to emerge in breathtaking places of grace that were magical and impossible, as if I’d flown there.

My God. I shudder to think what the darkest years of the depression would have done to me without him there to drag me along behind on his adventures, bumping and pointing out every last, little, innocuous threat along the way. I’m pretty sure I would have ended up as a shut-in. It’s really too bad that the man can’t be bottled.

I owe him much, this beloved husband of mine.

Happy anniversary sweetheart and thanks for our continuing grand adventure together. I do so love you.

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“Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?”

I heard these questions posed today in the context of a discussion about how to “think before you speak.”  (Not my greatest strength.)  I was so struck by them that I’ve decided to adopt them as a mantra to try and repeat…every time…before opening my mouth to insert my foot again.

With the highest hopes,

Curious Dia of the Cannot-Keep-Their-Mouths-Shut Clan.

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St. Anne

Mothers carrying the DNA of their children? How exquisite.

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William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) – Charity

Here’s something odd and fascinating and kind of beautiful that dramatically shifts our understanding of DNA and genetics.

Researchers have discovered that evidently, a lot of us harbor not only the unique mix of DNA we inherited from our parents, but also DNA we’ve picked up from other people along the way, proving on a genetic level that John Donne was SO right when he said that no man is an island. Scientists are calling these people chimeras, a term borrowed from a mythological creature which was made up from several different animals.

According to the New York Times article DNA Double Takescientists have found cases where people who’ve received bone marrow transplants carry both their own DNA and the DNA of their donor, twins sometimes carry multiple genomes in their blood from fetal blood transfers, and a majority of mothers likely carry some DNA from the children they nourished inside their wombs while they were pregnant.

What I found particularly moving about the last example was this line from the article:

“Chimeric cells from fetuses appear to seek out damaged tissue and help heal it, for example.”

Evidently, pregnant women have been benefitting from a natural form of fetal stem cell transplant for aeons.  Now that’s a loving exchange on the most visceral level.

In addition to sharing our DNA among us, it’s also not uncommon for any one of us to carry alternate DNA resulting from genetic mutations in various parts of our bodies…in other words many of us have multiple genomes inside us that we made up all by ourselves.  We’ve known for a long time that that’s how cancers tend to get started, but evidently other non-cancerous cells can do the same thing, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse:

“Now that scientists are beginning to appreciate how common chimerism and mosaicism are, they’re investigating the effects of these conditions on our health. “That’s still open really, because these are still early days,” Dr. Urban said.

Nevertheless, said Dr. Walsh, “it’s safe to say that a large proportion of those mutations will be benign.” Recent studies on chimeras suggest that these extra genomes can even be beneficial….

…But scientists are also starting to find cases in which mutations in specific cells help give rise to diseases other than cancer.”

Needless to say this is to some extent changing the way that we’ll have to approach everything from genomic medical research and diagnoses to forensic science (a cheek swab might deliver two sets of DNA for instance) as well as the growing field of genetic counseling.  It looks like human beings are not going to be quite as easy to map and label as we once thought.

And I admit, I just love that.

‘No Man is an Island’

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 
own were; any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

(For any other lit geeks like me out there, you can find the above version of John Donne’s poem as well as the olde english version here.)

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

 

When odd ducks finally find each other.

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Well, I don’t even know how long it’s been since my last post.  My daughter got married this month and, while life at the wedding-zoo was fun and magical and fascinating and celebratory and emotional and very, very important, I was still relieved to take the last guest to the airport at the end of it all and return to an empty home.

Silence cannot…I repeat cannot…be overrated.

A few of my favorite highlights:

1) Daughter is a costume maker and she and old friend Bombshell Bridesmaid dressed up one night in an authentic can-can dress and 17th century French court dress to go to a local, Idaho bar.  When I asked her she grinned and said nobody paid much attention because “they all know me by now.”

2) All the girls wore crowns. Daughter loves crowns and feels everyone should have them.  She sometimes wears one on bike rides.

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3) Daughter loves a production and enrolled the weather gods to help.  After a heat wave that lasted weeks the wedding day dawned overcast and chilly with breezes.  Black storm clouds rolled in during the garden ceremony (with the wind occasionally blowing over the microphone to sound like thunder…pure genius) but nary a drop of rain ever fell.  Shortly before sunset the light broke through to make a rainbow that lasted close to half an hour for photo ops.  I mean really.  Bravo you guys.

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4) The original wedding cake (a bass drum in honor of the drummer groom-now-son) slid off onto the baker’s garage floor during transport.  This was the back-up cake.  Note protective box.

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The baker deserves a medal for this.  I mean, really.  Stunning.

5) The stylist for the girls was a no-show.  Enter, Son’s Bay Area girlfriend who just happened to have all the make-up and styling equipment necessary to prep five women for a wedding.  She swooped in and made them all gorgeous then zipped off to whip together her own exquisite coiffe.  (Who was that masked woman?!!)

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7) Daughter and New Son just laughed, drank champagne, and waved every setback off.  They were totally in it for the ride.

8) Daughter included the promise to obey in her vows!  Naturally, nobody believed it but the dramatic effect was magnificent.

6) My aunt who’s a quilt maker pulled an unfinished quilt out of mothballs that my great grandmother started close to seventy years ago.  Originally pieced together from old pajamas, shirts, and house dresses but never backed, quilted, or edged, it passed first to my grandmother then my aunt fifty years ago.  Aunt decided it was high time to finish the thing in honor of great-great granddaughter’s marriage and I can’t be certain but it felt like the full lineage of matriarchs was present for the opening of the gift.  (Great group of old broads btw.  They were no doubt cracking bawdy jokes about the wedding night.)

On a serious note, I feel very, very fortunate that my daughter chose a good, kind, unflappable man with a huge heart and a quick brain, and that the two of them are SO well matched: eccentric, artistic, and profoundly laid back.  She can happily dance to his drumming for hours and he genuinely enjoys the weird and wonderful way she so often dresses.  Really, it’s kind of heartening that two such odd ducks could even find each other in a huge world full of trillions of people  like this, and even more surprising that they actually got married since I thought they’d just live together happily ever after.  Life is a mysterious, generous, magical thing sometimes.  It truly is.

To my daughter and new son: With all my heart I wish you a long and beautiful life together full of love, courage, willingness, and continued trust and faith in one another.  May the storm clouds forever mass on your horizons for dramatic effect, never actually break, and delight you afterwards with enduring rainbows.

I do so love you both,

Mom

p.s. I’ll cover Random Hot Tip About Dying #5 in my next post.  It seemed a little incongruous to add it here, even to me.

Modo’s Last Garden Stroll

Little Quasimodo the hunchback duckling is now gone, although in a good way.

His back slowly straightened out, the hole in his head mostly disappeared beneath healthy fluff, his nub of a wing gradually lengthened to almost equal the other, he’s eating and drinking like a champ, and his mobility is quite good. One eye still looks strange but other than that’s he’s thriving. In two day’s time he transformed from an injured, weak, and misshapen little newborn into an active, thriving ball of fluff who managed to scale to the top of his stuffed bear, hop onto the lip of the crate he was in, and almost topple off into the waiting jaws of Dane the mangy rescue mutt lurking just below.

They grow up so fast, don’t they?

Clearly, we’re not duckling-proofed around here so, after nourishing fantasies all day Saturday of taking an older Modo out to paddle along contentedly behind my kayak whenever I go, I went online instead and Googled bird rescue centers in Boise and found the Ruth Melinchar Bird Center (an offshoot of Animals in Distress Association) which opens every year from April to September and takes in thousands (literally) of orphaned wild ducklings and goslings to raise and then release  back into the wild.

(Boise is a major nesting area for mallards and Canada geese and in the spring it’s not at all unusual to see cars on major city thoroughfares careening to a halt as a mother leads her newly hatched brood out across the street heading for the nearest body of water because nobody wants to run over a string of babies.  Nobody.)

I freely admit I was fighting back tears while driving over to the center to deliver Modo into his next life.  Turns out nursing a fragile baby bird through it’s first couple of days is something of a bonding experience…you wouldn’t believe how fast it happens…and I was beyond sad about giving him up, scared that he might get lost and pecked to death by a band of unsupervised ducklings, and worried that I might have already screwed him up for life by letting him imprint on me in the first place.

(A typical Mother’s Day.)

But the rescue center was delightful, the women working there were cheerful and grateful I’d brought him in, and they let me go back and peek into the tub that held eleven other shy ducklings nestled contentedly in a corner before they slipped Modo in with them.  At first I was glad that he barely paused before heading straight for the others, but then he started pecking at them which drove them all away, at which point I swung from the fear of him being pecked to death to an uneasy feeling that he might grow up to be one of those detestable drakes that chase down females and tear clumps of their feathers out while trying to mate.

I also found myself irrationally wanting to apologize for his bad manners and explain that he might have been brain-injured, but the women assured me his aggressiveness was a good sign.

In any case, he’s on his way now, saved from a cold and certain death on our driveway for some other kind of certain death later on, hopefully after he’s had a chance to fly and swim and mate and nest and fish and migrate at least a couple of times beforehand, although I’ll never know.  But anyway that’s what I’d like for him.

Or her.  I asked and was told there’s no way to tell gender when they’re still that young so I can add that to the list of things I’ll never know.

Anyway, I took one last video of Modo out in the garden with which to remember these two halcyon days of surrogate motherhood by.  Here’s all one minute and thirty-four seconds of it for anyone interested in seeing how much he improved:

(I just discovered that this video is no longer available. Evidently, when I deleted by Google+ account it deleted my YouTube account as well. First do no harm? Right. Sigh…sorry for the tease.)

Also, for anyone interested here’s the contact information for the bird rescue center:

Phone: 208-338-0897

Address: 4650 N. 36th Street, Boise, Idaho 83703

I gave them a very, very grateful donation before I left and if anyone else feels so inspired I figured I could at least make it easy for them.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

 

 

 

 

Rhythmic sea lions–what’s a scientist to do?

Here’s a piece that caught my attention this morning.  A Santa Cruz researcher trained a young sea lion to keep a musical beat which, evidently, is considered a breakthrough discovery.  Here’s the video:

What really surprised (and confused) me was the young man’s assertion that to date, scientists have maintained that mammals are incapable of keeping a beat, that it’s an ability specific to humans and some birds capable of vocal mimicry.

Huh?  Don’t they watch Youtube?

Here’s a dog tapping his foot to some rock music:

And here’s a golden retriever grooving to a jazz beat:

Honestly, scientists can be so brilliant and yet so clueless sometimes.  Especially where animals are concerned.  Of course their position is an incredibly difficult one considering what they have to do to these little companions on a daily basis to produce all the miracles we demand of them.  I imagine if it was me doing the experimenting that I’d have to deny any of them were intelligent, sentient beings capable of love and suffering, too.

Sigh.

As always, I continue hoping for a shift in paradigm on this one.  And it may be coming.

NEXT POST: The Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness–a group of leading neuroscientists announces that many animals are indeed conscious beings capable of experiencing stimuli the way that humans do.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

The Darling Slob

I just served up dinner for Dane the Mangy Rescue Mutt and had to laugh.  He was, as usual, beside himself with anticipation, and even more so because he saw me place the core of the apple I’d just been eating into his bowl before scooping his dog food in on top of it.

Apple cores have become a serious problem in our household, so much so that we can no longer eat an apple at all if Dane is near enough to hear the crunch.  We have to put him in a bedroom, or outside, or in the garage, because he has overactive salivary glands and, when stimulated, they produce enough drool to solve a small municipal water crisis.

And for some reason nothing…I repeat, nothing…stimulates his glands like an apple core.  Go figure.  It’s not so bad with popcorn or miscellaneous kitchen scraps.  He doesn’t do it for chicken skin, carrot ends, squash rinds, browned lettuce (lettuce!) or any of the other produce whittlings that I toss him while cooking.  But an apple core…a fucking apple core…triggers something in his perpetually starving little imagination that sends us into hazmat suits.

So we attempt retraining.  We no longer give him apple cores from our hands, right after the last bite.  No ho.  We take them out to the garage and place them into his out-of-reach dog bowl to be incorporated with his next meal.  We’re determined to teach him the value of delayed gratification no matter how much he dislikes the concept and, even though his dragging body/droop eared/tragic-eyed reproach is disconcerting, I think we’re making progress.

He dines in the garage and only in the garage.  Today’s dinner consisted of said apple core and dry kibbles with a spoonful of digestive enzyme powder dumped in a clump and then a generous drizzle of stinking salmon oil over all.  He gazed at me in adoration as I slopped it all together, prancing around and shaking his head a few times to make sure all the long drool tendrils wrapped firmly around his face and then, once I set the bowl down, offered up a small puddle of slime oblations to the garage floor while waiting for the actual command to eat.

He always does this.  Always.  I don’t know why it struck me as so funny today but it did.  Sometimes I have to shake my head and wonder why we love these ridiculous, slobbering, undignified creatures…who lick themselves and eat each other’s shit no less…so much, but there you have it.  Their disgusting habits even endear them to us…which is so weird I can’t even think about it.

But really, what in the world would I ever do without this guy?

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copyright Dia Osborn 2013

If we were compasses…

(18th century bearing compass found on the L’Astolabe wreck)

…then we’d each have our own true north.

I think we do.  There seems to be this innate thing inside of us, this inner directional guidance system, and it’s unique and different in every person.  For instance some people steer naturally by honor and duty while others follow the promptings of love and faith.

It can be anything really…adventure and learning, family and loyalty, community and service, productivity and building, laughter and insight…but whatever anyone’s particular north/south polarity happens to be, it acts like an invisible, magnetic field that eventually aligns them along it’s axis no matter which way they try to go.  We can sometimes veer off for a while but always return to it again.  We have to.  There doesn’t seem to be any way to escape it.

My cardinal axis is truth and expression, which I both hate and love.

Hate, because even after all these years I’m still afraid of it so I try to keep my mouth shut for as long as I can, but of course that only ever makes things worse.  Sooner or later, when I wind up saying something anyway…as I always do because that’s what a cardinal direction does…there’s usually so much pressure built up behind it that the words spray out of my mouth like shrapnel.

And then moments latergazing at the carnage in surprise…I wish that I could just cut out my tongue, impale it with nails on a heavy, rough hewn, splintery  cross, and then drag the whole thing on my back up a shard-sharp, glass-jaggedy mountain in my bare feet where I’d lie down at the top on my face and be crushed under the load into dust and nothingness like I deserve.

That’s how awful it is to see that…that thing in their eyes.  That hurt or anger or reproach.  That mirror.

But then I love my true north, too, because…well, it’s truth.  Truth is purifying for me.  Truth is good.  Truth cuts through all the bullshit and spin and rationalization and denial…especially my own where it tends to grow thickest…and helps me feel slowly sane again.

That’s actually how I can tell whether something’s really true.  Not because it’s wise or painful or logical or inspiring or trustworthy…although truth can be all those things, too.

But because when something is true for me, it makes all the noise and screaming and confusion inside finally stop so I can be still again.  Whole.

I imagine everyone’s magnetic north is like that to some degree–something they both struggle with and rely on, something that makes them more vulnerable and more rooted at the same time.  The trick is probably to not resist it but embrace it…to just go ahead and be the compass I was born to be…just maybe strive for a little more skill and elegance with it day by day.

And a little less velocity.

Anyone else know their true north?

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

The Titanic and Something Mysterious Going On in the Dying Rooms

(Image from the blog Corazon’s Corner.)

I indulged in a day of lunch and theatre with an old friend from the hospice I used to work with recently.  Les Miserables.  Music to knock your socks off and blow your hair straight back…especially as we were sitting in the first row directly in front of a two-story speaker.  I couldn’t hear for an hour afterwards but I didn’t want to either, at least not until my body finally stopped vibrating with the memory.

It was a beautiful afternoon spent with a dear friend doing wonderful things.

He used to be the social worker for our small hospice before the owner died and everything fell apart so naturally, over lunch, we spent some of our time reminiscing about the old days.  We got to talking about dying and death in general and, before I had a chance to say anything, Dear Friend blurted out.

“Everyone is SO obsessed with death!”  He seemed excited which, for Dear Friend the Placid…the Even…was startling.  “It’s all you ever hear about!”

He went on to complain about the constant, battering stream of drug commercials, all the news coverage of new medical research that only ever talks about mortality rates and never about quality of life.

The assumption seems to be that if a person is alive, then of course that’s better than being dead…no matter what.  Even though when you actually talk to people on the street, the majority say that after a certain point of escalating suffering and loss (that quality of life thing again) they think they’d really rather just go ahead and die.

It was such a relief to me, to hear somebody else say it.  And it struck me again, how those who have worked around hospice generally wind up coming to the same conclusion.

Dying just isn’t that scary for us anymore.  We’ve seen it.  We’ve been around it a lot.  It’s become our familiar and we’ve made our peace with it.  We know we’ll be doing it and that’s no longer a problem.

Over time we came to see how dying fits into the grand scheme of things and how, more importantly, it can actually top off a life in a way that rights some of the wrongs that were made.  We’ve seen first hand, multiple times, how dying can deepen the beauty of a life, spread that beauty around to others, and even leave that beauty behind as a legacy of good that lasts a very, very long time.

Unlike a lot of people who say they know they’re going to die, we REALLY know it, and the knowledge has largely freed us from the constant, underlying fear that people usually don’t even realize they’re living with all the time.

What IS still scary though, even to us, is all the possible wrong choices around dying that are available in today’s world, choices that we know can make dying a lot harder, make the difficult parts of it even worse than they already are.

They’re choices that are proliferating at a blinding speed, too, that are being pursued, promoted, and paid for by that same deep, unconscious fear of dying that’s basically running everything at this point.  Our medical institutions and research facilities, our public health policies, our hospitals and doctor groups, our politicians, and our insurance companies have all evolved around this one, central terror of dying to the point where mortality rates have become the key measure by which everything else is judged.

Dying…and desperately avoiding it…has long since gobbled up the majority share.

There are a few people scattered around who, like Dear Friend and I, can see this, and some of them are even people in high places with a lot of influence.  Some of them watch the teetering tottering mess with the same dismay that we feel, while others rub their hands together with glee, jump into the chaos, and do what they can to further, then capitalize, on all the fear.

It’s a mess.  It reminds me of that classic scene sequence from the movie Titanic, where the iceberg has been hit, the ship is half sunk, and her decks have finally collapsed into a chaotic, milling scene of abject human terror and despair.

It’s quite grim.  The movie makers did a good job there.

And then…and then.  They do something magical.  The camera abruptly pulls back from the closeup coverage of all the chaos and noise, moving to a more distant, mid-range kind of shot from up in the sky and the noise and chaos are instantly reduced.  We can still hear the screaming but it’s now far away and less disturbing.  The ship, in all it’s eerie, glowing destruction is much smaller now, it doesn’t overwhelm us anymore, framed as it is by a huge sweep of dark, silent ocean that somehow manages to contain and quiet it all.

It’s true.  A larger perspective always helps.

But the magic isn’t over yet.  The camera suddenly pulls back again, to an even farther point up in the sky, a place so high that we can now see not only the vast ocean containing the tiny ship, but the vast night sky containing the vast ocean that contains the tiny ship.

From that height we can’t hear anything anymore.  Not a single visual or auditory detail of the tragedy is left and it’s a relief to be removed from it like that.  To be offered a perspective, a scope of time and place, so vast that it easily contains and cradles even that much suffering.

I think about it a lot, why spending time in the dying world helped to alleviate my own fear of it, and I think it’s because this same kind of thing happened.  Somehow, by being there with them—each rare and beautiful dying person—by laying my own hands on their quivering bodies and fears and dreams, it made the camera inside my eyes magically pull back, too.  Little by little, day after day, mostly to a midrange place where I could still hear and see all the suffering, only surrounded by a great stillness.

But then every once in a while, for some reason that I still don’t understand, (probably love come to think of it…love can do a real number on perception) my eyes would pull back farther than that, out to a place full of twinkling stars and deep time.  And in those moments the people I was looking at, the homes I was working in, would fall away into profound silence while everything started to glow.

The wasting body beneath my hands, the faces around me crumpling in pain or anger or grief, all the dying room litter of soiled wipes and used commodes, of sweaty, wrinkled clothing, ice chips, and pill cups, would transform into something that was simultaneously exquisite and heartbreaking—as if everything, all of us, were turning into a giant constellation of stars that were just hanging there, glowing and guiding, in some other kind of vast but invisible night sky.

Although no.  Not turning into.  It wasn’t so much like we were becoming a constellation of stars.  It was more like that’s what we’d always been but then we forgot, consumed as we are most of the time by the engaging, delightful, overwhelming barrage of all life’s little details.

And for those few luminous moments, I’d stand gazing around me slack-jawed and wide-eyed, my hands frozen in whatever task they’d been doing, my breath suspended with the wonder of what I was seeing.

And then whatever was causing it to happen would change and the camera in my eyes would zoom back into mid-range again, the glowing would disappear, the noise would resume, and I’d be able to move again.

Then later, when I’d leave the dying rooms and walk back into the noisy, chaotic world of regular living, my eyes would zoom back into close range again which, frankly, is where they are most of the time.  I’m usually just as overwhelmed by details as the next person.

But even though those strange, glowing moments were brief I can still remember them vividly.  I can return to them and touch them, over and over again, whenever I need to.  Those seconds of looking at the world from somewhere farther away and higher up, from a place where every ordinary, everyday, stinky, crumpled, decaying thing suddenly looked like a miracle and a gift.

And just remembering it, I’m surprised all over again each time.  Overcome.  It makes me fall head over heels in love with life yet again because somehow I still keep forgetting just how BIG this all is.  Big enough to tenderly hold not only the nubile and lovely, but the terrified and aching as well.

Big enough to contain even dying.  In the end it all really is just a blink.  A beautiful, hard slogging, transcendent, soul crushing, miraculous, grief filled, fascinating, bewildering, breathtaking, fragile, prostrating gift of a blink.

Thank God it eventually ends.  Who could take this kind of fabulous beating forever?

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

I’ll have some judgement with that sandwich, please.

Yum…

The hubster and I stopped off at Subway on the way home from our Weight Watcher’s meeting last night and, as usual, we ordered our six inch, whole wheat, chicken/turkey breast sandwiches…without the cheese.

The woman serving us did not approve.  Clearly.  She ignored our first request to leave it off, instead focused on cutting and spreading the bread before her.  Then she looked up brightly and asked, “What kind of cheese would you like?”

“No cheese!” we answered in chorus.

She stared at us for a moment, the answer still failing to register.

“You don’t want any cheese?”  Her tone was dubious, as if she hadn’t heard us correctly.

“No.  No cheese,” we reassured her, smiling.

She just stood there staring for another second as the full weight of realization pierced some thick, cheese-adoring cloud in her mind and then, before our wondering eyes, she took a deep breath…eyes widening and rolling back, lips curling a little in contempt…before finally shrugging off the utter stupidity of such a request.  She slid our sandwiches past the cheese tubs in disgust, leaving them to wait their turn in the vegetable queue, then turned to wait on the people behind us without another word.

Ah…the power of cheese.  I’m pretty sure this woman loves it.  A lot.  I’m equally sure that she had no idea what her body language was saying.  Frankly, it was like watching a small child who hasn’t yet learned the intricacies of polite diplomacy; her response was spontaneous, unconscious, full bodied, and 100% honest.

My apologies, ma’am.  Truly, we meant no offense.  We really love cheese, too, it’s just that we’re tired of being fat.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012