Posted in A Day In The Life


These homes look rough, but they are still standing, and that’s more than you can say for some that are not far away.

I just got home from my son’s apartment. He called me at 3 am last night, asked if I was okay. Yeah, what’s up? There’s a tornado, he said. Oh, yeah, fine, I slept through it I guess (we barely got anything in Sparta). It took me a few groggy minutes to ask if he was okay. He said, “Yeah, I’m okay, but it blew the windows out of my apartment and tore the roof off the apartments behind me.” What?!

We took him some battery powered lights and a battery to power his electronics, checked on him. The closer we got the more anxious I was to get to him; full mama bear mode. Russ drove, looking for somewhere to park. I finally said, just let me out, I’ll walk to him. That’s ultimately what I did, through wreckage strewn all over in ridiculous ways. Tornadoes make no sense, there is no logic to them, the embodiment of chaos.

And there he was, on his balcony. It was like something out of a movie, seeing him across a distance full of shattered remains, relief washing over me even though I’d known he was okay. I went to him. He’s fine. Thank God he’s fine.

Bran’s building

In the photo, the back of his building, you can see the tarps flapping in the wind, covering the destroyed parts of the roof over every unit in his complex except his. Every other apartment has windows blown out; in each of his windows only one of the double panes was shattered; other tenants had water pouring in shattered windows or shorn roofs. The man next door said the sky was green, and the massive electric lines were down right next to the building. If your power was out, it was probably because of those lines right there.

The view from his balcony…

I have only been to the edge of the devastation; his apartment is right on the easternmost edge of the worst part of the destruction, but it is breathtaking. Forlorn-looking stuffed animals in trees amidst pieces of houses maybe miles away. Trees shorn as though a giant-sized lawn more went over them. Apartments gutted, everything having been sucked out of them. Homes and businesses flattened to the foundation. Everything coated with a bizarre paper mache looking stuff. Pieces of 2×2 lumber stabbed into a wall as though they were thrown like a spear.

Trauma’s a funny thing, not until I was away from my only child did the full force of this hit me: I could have lost him last night. Also, the full force of this: many mothers did lose their babies. Nineteen dead in this county alone, more across the state.

The fragility of our infrastructure hit me with the force of a tornado, too. Electricity gone, our connection to one another gone. It took all day before I heard from some of the church friends I checked in with. How very temporary we are. How powerful we think we are, and how quickly we are reduced to rubble, sticks, and the bits of fluff with which we insulate ourselves against the cold world.

But I’m also amazed by the way we come together in the face of it. The lines of people waiting to donate blood. My son’s land lady, who couldn’t get a car close to his apartment so she ran several blocks there at 3 a.m. with another wave of storm coming on to check on the mostly students who live in her complex. My friends who went around Cookeville dropping off water, canned goods, and pet food to places that were distributing it. And so many other stories I’m sure we’ll hear in the weeks to come. “Look for the helpers,” Mr. Rogers said, when things are scary. They are always there, and I’ve never been more grateful for them, professional or civilian. There are a lot of heroes in Cookeville tonight.

Brandon said he thought he could use a walk, so we did, strolling among the strewn wooden skeletons and siding skin and puffed fiberglass and paper mache guts of people’s homes lying all around us. As we walked away from where the workers were smashing the remnants of a twisted electric tower to bits, that human noise receded and the chorus of spring peepers filled the air. Little frogs who had no doubt literally been outside in a tornado less than 12 hours before, filling the air with their urgent songs to create more of them, celebrating life in its most elemental form, maybe singing gratitude, too. I understand that song, and this one: Life Goes On.

Posted in Big Questions

I’m sorry… Thank You

Hawaiian Volcano. Photo by Marc Szeglat,

My meditation this morning left me with tears streaming down my face. It was a practice called Ho’oponopono, a practice of indigenous Hawaiian healers and shamans, and something I want to work with more. Here is the practice, a sort of mantra:

I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.

In the version I practiced, as part of Davidji’s 30 Days to Rebirth course on Insight Timer, the meditator imagines themselves as a child. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you. Then as a young adult, an adult, recently. Then imagining another person. I’m sorry, Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.

When I arrived at the last portion of the practice (which I think I will expand to make it more metta-style when I do it myself, maybe more on that later), my mind went immediately to my brother Anthony, who committed suicide in 2016. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.

I cannot ask his forgiveness any longer, and even if he was alive, I don’t think it’s a conversation he would have wanted to have. But it’s a conversation I can have with him now. I’m sorry that when you needed me, when everyone you loved was cutting you off, that I said okay to that practice and hurt you. They told me it was the loving thing to do. How can cutting someone out of your life ever be the loving thing to do? I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.

And back to myself, for doing the cutting off: I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.

There’s so much to process here.

And as I journaled about this, I have shifted my practice of gratitude to a practice of delight. What, in this heavy but necessary moment, could I call a delight? I wrote this:

Delight: How about this? Crying. It is a thing I have always hated. I hate the not-in-control-of-myself feeling, especially in front of other people. But my grief — for Anthony — taught me that catharsis is important and needed, that repressed tears will weigh down your soul to the point of sickness, even to the point of death. I promised myself then, grieving, that whatever comes, I will let it come, and then let it go.

Did I ever see my adult brother cry? I remember when he was really little, and he would cry. My grandfather told him ‘Toughen up, be a man,’ and mom got mad. He’s not a man, she said, he’s a little boy, and there’s nothing wrong with tears. Which message did he internalize? Which one did I?

My Aunt Betty was famous in my family for her ability to cry gracefully. It was, mom and I said, because she didn’t bother trying not to cry, she just let the tears flow, and we (mom and I) would say she was beautiful, crying, and wish we could be beautiful crying too, and not resist it.

This morning in meditation I was beautiful crying. I did not resist it. In meditation — alone — I can let the tears flow, feel them drip from my chin, and feel deep gratitude for the way they wash through me like a summer storm and leave me feeling cleansed and purified. A little more whole.

Posted in Poems

Small and Uncatholic

Image by DDP

I remember places. I have
assorted memories of place
from childhood,
remembering patterns in carpets,
or that little cubby hole,
or climbing into the little house at
Grandpa and Grandma’s that was meant for
the Blessed Virgin statue.
I was that small,
that uncatholic.
I remember how when Mary
was reinstated, she stood
with her arms
beatifically spread,
her head tilted modestly.
Sacred Heart Jesus
had his own house in the yard,
and Grandpa and I
would tool around them
on his riding mower,
Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush and
Pop Goes the Weasel.
I remember painting a red dot on the porch railing
because I knew Grandpa would never see it
in our regular game of
I Spy. He didn’t.
I wonder sometimes,
is it still there,
and who does he play games with now?
Maybe Mary and Sacred Heart Jesus,
for whom he built little houses,
so he could always be near them.

Posted in A Day In The Life

O Christmas tree

It occurred to me this morning that I can have a different colored tree every day till Christmas.

I make no apologies for being THAT person… the one who’s excited about Christmas as soon as Thanksgiving is over. I missed roughly half of the Christmases in my life because I was a Jehovah’s Witness, so I am making up for lost time. I send Christmas cards, I love picking out presents and wrapping them. One of my favorites is Santa duty. Christmas morning comes, I get up early, and I set out the presents in sparkling packages, carefully arranged, and then lie on the couch to admire my handiwork and the way the tree’s lights twinkle on the packages. And I LOVE putting up the tree.

My son Brandon, who is 25 this year, loves it just as much, and is my Christmas cohort. Part of the reason I treasure this time of year so much is because I get to reminisce with Brandon. This is what past tree-putting-up-days looked like: he would help me go to the garage and get our two sets of ornaments, blue and silver or deep red and gold. We’d pick one. We’d parade in circles around the tree with lights and garland, then put up the nostalgic ornaments, the ones we made the first few Christmases after we started celebrating again, and talk about Christmases past while we listened to Nat King Cole and Dean Martin croon old carols. Then we’d turn off all the lights and admire our handiwork and yell at cats to stop bothering the tree, and enjoy the fact that Bran’s old dog, who is almost 19 this year, is still with us.

Not much has changed, really, with one exception: we no longer hang those old ornaments (I wish I had room for The Tree in the living room and a smaller nostalgic tree, but my house is small). Instead, a few weeks to a month ahead of time, we start texting each other and planning. I had the idea a couple of years ago to light the hell out of our white tree and put black ornaments on it so that they would be silhouetted against the supernova.

Last year’s tree. There are a thousand lights on this sucker.

My son is as creative as I am (he’s got a Fine Art degree) but his creativity is usually happiest married to some tinkering, technical aspect of a project. His original plan was to buy LED strip lights to go on the tree this year, and I had the idea to turn it into a giant candy cane, with the red lights as the stripes. We plotted together, went to Hobby Lobby to buy bright red and white ornaments, and he got the lights.

Only, it needed red garland, and I didn’t buy any. And the red on the strip lights was too orangey. Plan B! We sat on the couch and played with the lights’ remote control, looking at all the colors, and ultimately decided that we loved the bright white because it was so frosty-looking. Bran had the BRILLIANT idea to turn the LED strip lights inward, and with the white tree bouncing the light around it looked like the whole thing was lit from within. We covered the strip with white garland on the outside, so that you really can’t see the lights except where they are twinkling through the tree. We didn’t put any traditional lights on it at all.

We decided to deck the tree in only white and clear ornaments, and snowflake bead garland, and snow-white sparkly poinsettia flowers. We sat back down with the lights in the house off to play with the remote. It still needs a tree topper, and my plan is to buy a twinkly white snowflake for that. I loved the white lights the best still, but it’s also a lot of fun to play with the colors and the white ornaments look great in any color, or all of them.

And it was fun to sync with techno, too. Note beloved old Rascal basking in the neon lights.

Next year, red garland and all those ornaments I just bought. And maybe some high tech controls for Bran to play with. Or, you never know, we may go with another idea entirely, or a new tree, because that’s how we roll.