I’m Still Alive

Seattle was wet like it usually is. Despite the rain, we were smiling. It was Valentine’s Day after all, and we were together.

seattle

We’d wandered into a cozy bar and took turns feeding the jukebox. Sipping on drinks, we sang along to Van Morrison and Al Green, nodding and humming. The jukebox shuffled – a pause – and then my song, Pearl Jam’s “Alive” clicked on.

Eddie Vedder belted out his infamous line “Oh, I, Oh I’m Still Alive,” and the man at the bar began swaying side to side. He looked as if he was made of stiff limbs rather than muscles that bend and flex. We watched him with sideways glances from our tiny red vinyl booth. A guttural yell escaped from his mouth and filled the tiny tavern, pushing against the walls. It occurred to me that he was trying to sing along. The word “Alive” was momentarily audible but the syllables were drawn out and muffled as if he had a cotton ball under his tongue. 

The bartender kindly told him it was time to leave. His behavior was beginning to interfere with the other patrons. One too many drinks; and perhaps, one too many heartbreaks.

Although it was a painful sight to watch – a grown man in his late 50’s three sheets to the wind, mumbling and stumbling, unaware of the impact he was making on those around him – there was something about it that stuck with me weeks later.

It’s the brokenness that was so clear, and the humanity I saw beneath this man’s moment of rawness. Although his actions were jarring, they were also somehow comforting. As two friends guided him to the sidewalk to take a cab ride home, I saw a man who was lost. And I also saw a man fighting something – or maybe for something. For what, I don’t know, and I’ll never know. But I imagine it to be love. The love we all crave so deeply. Not just from others, but from ourselves. And with that comes acceptance – knowing that you are okay just the way you are.

I recently turned 28, and birthdays have a way of making me take stock of things. I’ve had a lot of gains, and also a lot of losses in my time here thus far. And in the depth of my grief, I’ve even felt as if I’m at risk of losing myself. But tonight, as I feel the sharp edges of wounded places in me, I remember this man and Eddie Vedder and the words, and even though I feel swallowed whole by emotion sometimes – I’m still alive. You could even say they’re proof of it.

Inch by inch, I get a little closer to something that resembles love; maybe even acceptance.

bridge

The Tiniest Motions

There are many roads we travel just once, and there are others we visit again and again. This afternoon, like so many afternoons before, I heard the sound of a voice abandoned. And as I headed out the door to walk in the park, I felt that familiar tingle of a road I recognize. It is such a good thing to remember it – the call to pay attention and abandon the self. To be absorbed into something greater and to make note of the world unfolding, transforming itself into something new every moment.

I’m reminded that we can also be transformed.

This I know to be true: no matter how far I run, or fly, or hide from the work, it’s always there waiting. The pen calling to be used, the imagination painting meaning, the heart saying, go deeper. How did it become so difficult to record? And so difficult to be still enough?

No matter; this is a post about returning: changed, but ready to work again.

Author Anne Lamott writes, “It is easy to sense and embrace meaning when life is on track. When there is a feeling of fullness — having love, goodness, family, work, maybe God as parts of life…”

And when life feels off track, it is just as easy to lose our way. We can run in circles searching for what has changed, and how to fix it, but that rarely leads us home. Oftentimes, we just have to be patient, and forge ahead a day at a time until we can see the light again.

“Most of us have figured out that we have to do what’s in front of us and keep doing it… Every time we choose the good action or response, the decent, the valuable, it builds, incrementally, to renewal, resurrection, the place of newness, freedom, justice…”

As Lamott writes, it is by the tiniest motions that we can find the road again that leads us back to our whole selves.

Meanwhile, I’ve been attempting to leap and sprint, or build a new road altogether. And let me say from personal experience, it doesn’t do much good to take arms against your life like that. Sure, there’s always a time for fighting the good fight, but not the bad one. Not the self-defeating one that demands “change now!”

“If you fixate on the big picture, the whole shebang, the overview, you miss the stitching,” Lamott wisely points out.

Wouldn’t life be sweet if we could trust that gentle, slow hand that threads the needle, drives it into the dark fabric and brings it up again, changed and refreshed? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to forget the need of knowing how it all turns out? The truth is that moment by moment, we have the opportunity to be amazed and to stay awake.

So in honor of the tiniest motions, here is a very tiny poem, and with it, the recovery of a stitch:

What more am I
than the observer
of mottled sunlight
casting amber waves
across the kitchen cabinet,
and a bowl split open,
bleeding pink,
revealing the tender ribs
of the sky?

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The Snake’s Message: Time to Shed Your Skin

The sun had cast a glowing veil across pine boughs and river rocks, and the day was calling me to wake up. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, grabbed a sweatshirt, and headed outside.

“Where are you going?” my sister called after me.

“To say good morning to the river!” I called back over my shoulder, already making strides across the grass to the river path.

Last week, my family and I stayed in a cabin along the South Umpqua River in Southern Oregon.

I was cheerfully greeted by a bubbling, rolling stream of silver-blue water, careening over rocks, tickling grasses along the bank, and exuding the freshest smelling air that made me want to breathe it in deep. I spied the perfect sitting rock, where a natural smooth bowl was beckoning, and settled into a comfy perch, facing upstream, so I could watch the water dance. Closing my eyes, I felt the sunlight stream across my skin and warm me. When I opened my eyes again, hundreds of tiny winged creatures were floating above the water, catching the rays on their wings like glimmering jewels. At first, I imagined they were fairies, but on second thought, they were probably just crane flies or some related species. Nonetheless, the scene was breathtaking.

I reached up and stretched my arms, feeling quite content. And as I stretched, I happened to glance over my right shoulder, and spotted a long snakeskin arched around a small rock under the lip of a large boulder. I went to investigate, and sure enough, withdrew a beautiful black and gray snakeskin, almost completely intact.

Whenever I come across an animal or insect, whether in real life or in a dream, I trust it brings with it some sort of message or significance. The snakeskin appeared across my path at the perfect time, reminding me that old thought patterns, fears, and unresolved hurts from the past must be shed in order to make room for new life. I had already begun this process, as you may have read the poem I posted a few weeks ago about releasing memories. Seeing the snakeskin confirmed I am on the right path.

Oftentimes we desire new opportunities and experiences, yet they remain out of reach until we do the work of shedding our old skin of beliefs that no longer serve our dreams and highest good. As the snake reminds us, in order for transformation to take place, we have to release the past and be willing to enter the unknown with fresh skin. This undoubtedly requires us to be vulnerable. And although there is great power in vulnerability, it isn’t always the most comfortable feeling.

Fellow blogger Kelly C. Wells writes:

“‘You’ve heard the phrase ‘feeling comfortable in your own skin.’ Never is this more difficult when you are in a life transition and learning to take on a new identity. However, it’s important to know that being uncomfortable is not a sign that you are lost, powerless, or disconnected.

The best example of this in the natural world is when a snake sheds its skin. During the shedding process, the snake is visibly uncomfortable and unproductive. It doesn’t eat; it is irritated and sluggish, devoting all of its energy to this one task of ridding the old to make room for the new.

Why is the snake shedding? To grow into a larger, more capable and more evolved body and existence. While snakes do this physically, we as human beings metaphorically shed our own skin when it is time to grow personally, professionally, or spiritually.”

At the end of the week, before it was time to return home to Portland, I went back to the river and returned the snakeskin to the place where I originally found it, offering my thanks for its vital message. Feeling both grateful and tickled by the gift offered that first morning along on the river, I am more certain than ever that wisdom is all around us and an ever-present resource we can be nourished by, if we just open our hearts and minds to receive it.

What beautiful things will enter your world once you shed your old skin and make space for new experiences?

South Umpqua River, Oregon

South Umpqua River, Oregon

The view from the cabin's front porch.

The view from the cabin’s front porch.