Friday, May 7, 2010
By Jude Rittenhouse
Headlines have moved on to containing the Gulf oil spill, a would-be Times Square bomber, and floods in Tennessee. Here in Rhode Island, declared a federal disaster area just last month, April’s torrential rains have given way to intense greens and bloomings of whites, blues, reds, purples, pinks. I haven’t seen such opulent blossoms since 1993 in Illinois. Magnolias and lilacs clothed earth like a bride that spring as my father’s stroke destroyed his brain. We cared for his body at home during the ensuing nine months of summer, fall, winter, until he died. Several weeks ago, my mother began receiving hospice care. She has spent much of the past decade descending into Alzheimer’s while her children and grandchildren increasingly cared for her needs as she once did for ours.
Time and memory wrap around each other, sometimes mummifying what was once green and vital, other times making things vivid—the way the scent of Youth Dew lotion evokes my mother’s swishing skirt on a Sunday morning as she dressed for church, or a cigar’s aroma brings my father into his 1960’s bedroom, watching Bonanza on a Sunday night. I have spent hours during recent weeks researching and finalizing cremation and obituary details for my mother’s inevitable death. This morning, while searching for her place of birth, I discovered the notes she and my father wrote on April 15, 1991, letting their six children know what they wanted done after they had left their bodies behind. Seeing their handwriting, reading their musings from two decades ago felt like peering into eyes whose hungers and passions called me here to earth.
Mother wrote: “Please, celebrate the love I enjoyed sharing with all of you and our happy times together. I like to think it might be a party…with family and friends who have loved us even knowing us well. Have it catered so no one will have to work…. Celebrate how very fortunate I was to have grown up as I did. Celebrate the years I have enjoyed with your father and then with each of you as you arrived, and grew, and added so much to our lives and then moved on to your own lives and families. Celebrate the joy your children have brought into our lives. Most of all celebrate love and keep it growing—cherish it!”
Of course her reference to growing up ignored the months she spent abandoned in Texas with a maternal uncle and the paternal grandfather and uncle who molested her, just as her focus on joy ignored her offspring’s divorces, suicide attempts, addictions, disasters. Such a large and tiny word: lifetime. When I woke this morning, shore fog curled tight around our home. Sun has since burned off those longest tendrils, but ocean remains hidden in white gauze beyond the greens of fields and trees. Sometimes being wrapped in fuzziness feels comforting, though surely it is the wrapping and not the fuzziness that truly brings comfort. I think of a paper I recently wrote on addictions. In it, I explored the dilemma of people in recovery who need to be surrounded—internally and externally—by supportive relationships, yet their interior realm bears more similarity to Dante’s Inferno than to Milton’s Paradise Regained. Relationships entwine and hold us. They also mirror our inner world, whether or not we recognize ourselves in our surroundings.
Today’s white sky may temporarily muffle sea’s extreme blues, but maple leaves, grass and bittersweet seem more verdant—a softer yet stronger-than-usual green. My mother did not know me when I visited last fall. Do any of us know each other? I will see her again soon, on the seventeenth anniversary of my father’s stroke, which also happens to be our twenty-fifth anniversary—my love’s and mine. His mother died last September, while mine continues her long departure. These passages of time have changed our bodies and minds in ways we cannot control—any woman past menopause knows the extremity of time’s hard-sculpting hands on skin and memory.
Yet we do choose—unconsciously or consciously—what to do about the light trying to shine through us. Presence means being with everything, including the fog that just now turned to mist and will soon become rain—staying in proximity to the truth of all that is, as sun and ocean re-emerge once again. Even when we do this alone, we are being together, co-creating. Even when our world looks crazy, we are each trying so hard. As sun breaks through, I leave you with a poem whose images grew inside me through the late winter and into this abundant, turbulent spring:
Quieting the Seas
Come sail with me to open seas
beyond these loud harbors, sounds, bays
full of people racing:
chasing provisions, professions, promotions,
a tropical paradise or mountain
feeling just beyond reach, as we skim
across bumps in patched-together boats
made of dreams, memories, desires, hopes.
Trying not to feel
each chop, dip and sway
created by our frenetic pace
on increasingly tumultuous waves.
Come, and when we remember
the fluidity of
our original nature, together
we’ll explore the real
sea. We may at first shiver and struggle
to keep our heads
above unfamiliar water. But when we
give up our faithless battle
urgent tug, we’ll discover whales,
sharks, stingrays, starfish:
whose alien songs waited decades
for each of us alone
to listen, hear, be moved, respond.
Imagine earth’s sigh
as we sink even deeper
into currents that patiently carry
our hearts to open,
flow, let go. As we drop
and silent reaches,
meeting what has held us
Jude Rittenhouse has received a Writer’s Grant from the Vermont Studio Center, a first place short story award, and various poetry awards. In addition to her holistic practice, Integrated Healing Services, Jude teaches at conferences, retreats, schools, hospitals, alternative health centers, and domestic violence shelters. She is also an inspirational speaker and presenter for literary audiences, cancer survivors, spiritual gatherings, high school and college students, and other groups. In all of her endeavors, she strives to empower others as they explore their unique journeys toward wholeness.
To learn more about her holistic practice or to inquire about her poetry chapbook, Living In Skin, contact: Jude@JudeRittenhouse.com or call (401) 348-8079.
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