Letters to heaven and back

April 24, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 1 Comment
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It’s not that I have been spinning my wheels lately, by any means.  I am one week into a two-week break from school, a much needed respite, and as has been my pattern in the past, it takes a bit of time to let down before I finally feel the current that has been coursing through me, presumably all along.  I have been tending too many fires to be able to pay attention during these recent school-centered months.

Almost exactly two years ago my father, whom my brothers and I called Peter (his insistence, not ours), was diagnosed with colon cancer.  From the diagnosis to his death was six weeks.  Evidently, he had been very sick for some time.  We will never know how much they could guess at the time of his colonoscopy, but the prognosis of surgery followed by chemo turned out to be laughable.

My father and I had a difficult turn in our relationship about thirteen years ago, and though we were able to regain our footing and forge a cautious path together after that, we never returned to the closeness we had had before.  I know he felt hurt by me, and angry at my choices.  I regret that he took my choices personally, choices that Dan and I made for ourselves and our children, conscientiously and mindfully.  And I in turn felt hurt by the fact that his belief system was more precious to him than his only daughter.

Today on Facebook, I came across the status posted by an old friend of mine.  In it, she refers to a book, Letters from the Goddess, that I hadn’t realized she had written.  I followed the link and read the first several pages, into the second chapter.  In it, she guides the reader through a journaling technique to access one’s inner “small, still voice” which of course holds much wisdom.  Like Dorothy, we find out it has been there for us all the time.  So I jumped in and tried it.

My father’s mother, Frances, and aunt Elda (his father’s sister) were exceedingly dear to me.  They lived together after Elda’s husband Mito died, sometime in the 1960s, up until Franny’s death in 1980.  I lived with them in Oaxaca, Mexico, in the summers of 1968 and 1969, and visited them a few times in the 70s in their home in Los Angeles.  After Franny died, Elda went to live with her own younger sister Laure, until she passed away just over a year later, much like a bereaved spouse.

So I wrote to them today.  Okay, their answer was not what I expected – I admit that I wanted magic and line-‘em-up guidance, and that’s not what I got.  But I could hear Franny’s light laughter and see Elda’s smile and hear her wonderful French/Ladino/whatever-else accent, and I felt the power of their love.  And when they brought my father into their answer (were they speaking as one or was only one of them talking?) my tears did begin to flow.  And I have to tell you, I have hardly cried since his death.  All along I have held to my view that my bigger loss, the real loss, took place eleven years earlier.

But lately I have been noticing more and more little links to him in my days:  my growing resemblance to him, his strong will (stubbornness to the death, really), his many decades of being self-employed (just one example of how he followed his own path), his love of writing and his tendency to encourage others to pick up the pen or laptop, his habit of speaking his mind.  The rosebush he and my mother gave me for my birthday a month before his diagnosis is planted in our garden, courtesy of Dan’s green thumb.  All the years he drove me to my recitals and competitions and Girl Scout camping trips are reflected in the present as Dan and I chauffeur Rachel around.  He worshipped his cup of coffee the way Dan does (though Dan drinks decaf).  Ditto on his being a handyman around the house.  (Thank God.)

I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised to see that I have once again fallen into an old and not-so-constructive habit:  thinking I’m supposed to know what to do with my life right now.  I don’t have to know the big picture – it is not possible for me to have a broad enough perspective.  Let it be enough to keep to my daily rituals and stay focused on what lies in front of me:  lesson plans to prepare, practicing for my violin lesson and upcoming folk and baroque concerts, parent volunteer work at school, the vast myriad of motherly tasks that crop up, both predictable and in the realm of spontaneous.  Years ago, Sue Bender’s book, Plain and Simple, introduced to me the concept of making the ordinary moments of my day sacred by bringing my full attention and intention to them.  I know I feel better when I take that as my task, rather than the god-territory of understanding it all.  As they say, it’s all in the details.

And if you want to read it, here is my letter to my grandmother and great-aunt from an hour ago, and then what came to me as a response.

Dear Franny and Elda,

I am hoping that you really are here somewhere, available to me in this moment.  Up until now, whenever I have spoken or cried out to you, perhaps I have not listened hard enough or long enough (or quietly enough) to hear you.  Today an old friend of mine shared her experience of learning to pray to some appendage or aspect or single face of God, and how she has received answers.  It encouraged me to address you now in this way.  I can hear your voices, both of you, in my mind.  I have been praying – again – every morning for several weeks, to something that is in all probability more like magic than God-like, and am feeling now little and lost, and disconnected.  Or rather, I am beginning to reconnect, and part of what I am feeling is grief and the still-dammed-up tears that probably crave permission to flow.

I feel the deepest yearning to make something of my life right now.  Chloe has embarked, as you know if you are indeed here (or there), and does not need me in the same way.  Rachel does not allow me to be with her the way Chloe did.  Not bad, just different.  And I think part of what I need (want?) is to find a new standing with Dan, my sweet and generous husband and travel (read:  “life’s path”) companion.  So I have been following a daily prayer practice.  I truly believe I receive guidance, probably all the time, but I am really struggling to recognize it these days.

Earlier this afternoon it occurred to me to ask myself this question:  What has been put in my path lately?  And the answer came to me immediately:  music.  And later more of an answer:  music and collaboration.  Suddenly I am working harder and more, with more people, on more arenas, all around music.  This is good, no?

Then why do I feel afraid?  And what is expected of me?  What shall I do?

Dearest Carla,

Answer me this:  Why do you mourn?  Why do you run?  Your words are of the lost, but you are not of the lost.  This is only a part of your life, not the whole.  This is what you need right now.

Peter is in the green branches that blow in this gentle breeze.  He has not left you.  He is not gone.  He loved the spring and he loves it still.  Let him in.

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