live in the sunshine

swim the sea

drink the wild air

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I used to

I used to wake up in the morning, turn the heat on, pull on sweats and a jersey, and every day put toast in the toaster for the sandwich I packed in my son’s lunch, with an apple and a drink. Now, he’s a senior, with four classes and a need for lunch only every other day. I used to wake up, turn the heat on, pack lunch, and let our dog Annie out potty, so she could wait patiently while I checked my email and the news of the past day before her walk. I used to follow her to the closet when the holes she bore through my chest with her eyes hit my heart. I’d zip up a coat, pull a hat over my slept on hair, and find shoes that repelled the rain. I used to let her out the back door so she could mosey around the house and not have to climb down the slippery front stairs. Her legs not as sturdy as they were a few years earlier.

I used to follow her whichever route she wanted to go, waiting as she smelled each smell off of each leaf, follow her home for breakfast, and then repeated the routine when she let me know the evening told her it was time to walk again. Annie was as beautiful at sixteen as she was when we adopted her from the Humane Society twelve and a half years earlier. Her white fur never betraying her age. I used to tell people, if reincarnated, I wanted to come back as an American Eskimo/Lab mix so I would live forever, or until two weeks ago when Annie’s kidneys and liver said enough is enough. I used to meditate every night before I went to bed. Sit on a red cushion until my head grew fuzzy and tired. My muscles ready to relax for the night, but I quit when I no longer meant what I did.

This essay is clearly not an explanation of the anatomy of my loss, why I’ve been forced to change. None of that matters. The most important thing is how I will move on. How will I wake up in the morning and not see the shadows of my former life moving across my eyes, haunting the motions of my day. How will I not reach for the leash, or lean into the cupboard when there is no food to prepare. How will I not watch the clock to leave time enough before bed to sit without thought? This is not an essay about my loss, but my journey to find something to fill the time I have been given. This morning I woke up, didn’t make a lunch, didn’t let anyone out in the backyard, but I did walk. I walked forward without stopping to smell what other animals had gone before me. I was free to move in the directions I needed to go. I had purpose. I had a goal. And it was me. And not the me who nodded off to sleep with a mala around her neck hoping the next night she would have more time to find her center before the day’s weight sent her to bed. This morning I woke up, took a walk, then mediated in the slice of sunlight cutting across the living room floor.

Dependable, Creative, Self-starter

The freshman college application process is a test of character. A test of how well the applicant handles pressure. A test of critical thinking. A test of mental health, of a person’s propensity for depression, anger, procrastination, and grit. It is a test that requires seventeen-year-olds to examine their hours of playing and homework and school and chores and friends, and surmise how they will convert this conglomeration of activities into a sign of their deep ability to think scholarly. It is an art only skilled illusionists have mastered, with distracting prepositions and flamboyant verbs. It is truth-telling, if truth-telling wears the disguise of the creative writer.

High school seniors around the country consent to take this test, put in the hours of writing, presentation, risk, to be judged and sorted, just to delay the decision of what work will give meaning to their lives. Is it worth it? Yes, for some, those who want to finagle more knowledge from the tomes of society. For others, oh god no! But those seniors who shouldn’t even think about going to college are always other people’s children, not ours, so thousands of undedicated souls are encouraged by parents to mix in the fray, and let’s be honest, without them, who would go out and get the beer?

The college application process has become a test where everyone has the answers, thus slowly dying a gruesome death of over confidence and conceit. Dependable, creative-thinker, passionate, can-do-attitude, knowledge-seeking, self-starter, all mean the applicant has searched Google for (quote) “words to use in the college process.” It’s that simple. Talented, unafraid, persistent, non-conformist, empathetic, brilliant, are words that have emerged from the mouth of a parent near by. Intelligent, clever, worldly, modest, trustworthy, adventurous, the markings of a true hero delineated on the back cover of the most recent sci fi/fantasy novel.

Without access to the truth behind the curtain, colleges will be doomed. Their student body just puppets only able to act on their ability to create the script of a perfect college applicant. Unless, and this is the hope, those anonymous admissions officers who read thousands of applications, self-aware essays, and insightful recommendations from counselors and teachers who could not pick out their subject in a Starbucks line, know the code and can see the student through the finery. Oh, how refreshing it must be for them to read the rare honesty on the lines, instead of constantly having to search for it between them.

your soup


your soup is a little light in the bowl
it could have used more carrots, more
onion, more garlic, it cried for potatoes and a
splash of white wine and more chicken,
seriously more chicken, a garnish of
cilantro, and where’s the salt and pepper,
everything’s better with salt and pepper,
your soup was not sour enough
or sweet enough or filling enough, really
couldn’t live on just one bowl or two or even
three, and a tiny bit of cumin would have helped
it immensely, your soup lacked flavor
and interest, nothing to sink your teeth into
or urge to lick the spoon, some cheese or cream
to jazz it up and less air, for sure less air, your
soup should have had paper attached to the bowl so
there was something to write home about, your
soup needed more song and dance, a round of
fireworks, a twenty-one gun salute, an introduction,
a preface, a prologue and a table of contents, your
soup should have had an introduction, dedication, motivation
to call itself soup, maybe a top hat, or a string of pearls
would have helped, your soup would have benefitted by
having a friend, more chance to practice, a good coach,
an ear to talk to, or patience and politeness, a turn at
a cotillion, your soup could have had a face lift, a generous
gift, time alone, a manicure, some stock advice, your
soup needed beefing up, a chance to shine, a goal for the future,
a five year plan, your soup was lacking direction
and now that I think about it, your soup could have used more soup

How to clean your mind

1. Sit down, that’s usually the first step in doing almost anything

2. Take your clothes off. Remember the transparent ones on the outside that no one knows you are wearing. Then remove the denim and the polyester that someone so brilliantly created in a factory and told you you should love and wear even though sweating profusely.

3. Stand naked in front of the mirror and observe yourself, from top to bottom, your open eyes to funny toes. Don’t forget to examine the wrinkles, the lumps of fat, the layers of skin you have hidden most of the time.

4. Drink a glass of water, water is good for everything.

5. Lift off the top of your head. You will find a seam halfway down your skull with a clasp like a button.

6. Open and remove your brain. It will be hot so be careful not to burn yourself. Take it out gently, no need to lose the name of your favorite poet for clumsiness. Replace your skull quickly so you don’t frighten anyone.

7. Pull out the drawers of the history it stores and rummage through the papers within, discard all that do not speak kindly to you.

8. Blow the sweet breath of completion through your lungs and reverse instruction.

9. Now you may stand, your legs sure.


The sunshine that is so achingly beautiful after days of rain is muted behind the heavy hospital curtains. The room silent. My mother’s shallow breath has become almost inaudible with the last syringe of liquid pressed into the tube running to her arm. I hold her hand gently, absent-mindedly rubbing the folds of skin on her fingers. She lies still, her head tilted slightly toward the window, a softness around her eyes.

This is not the way my mother described her experiences about those in her life who were dying. Her father burned with pain, cursing and begging in Polish for morphine the nurses would rarely give him. They were afraid of drugs back then. The possibility of addiction, even for the dying. Her mother died belligerent, trapped in a confused mind.

When my mother found out her cancer was terminal, she did not become angry or cry. Instead she read all she could about the subject, finally finding satisfaction in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, by Sogyal Rinpoche. This she read over and over again, finding more to share with me each reading.

“Death is like walking through a door,” she told me. “Just allow yourself to go. There will be time to cleanse your Karma and make things right.”

She carried the golden book everywhere. It was her Bible. She even asked me to write the book’s Practices for Dying on a sheet of paper and hang it near her bed when she entered the hospital. My writing was clear and precise. Her’s had become shaky.

I have read them over and over again to the rhythm of her breath, but can never understand the peace they give her. I try, once again.

There are three essential practices for dying:
At best, resting in the nature of mind, or evoking the heart-essence of our practice.
Next, the phowa practice, the transference of consciousness.
Last, relying on the power of prayer, devotion, aspiration, and the blessings of enlightened beings.

My mother has always wanted to have instructions for her tasks. She uses patterns to sew and recipes to cook. My haphazard way of throwing a meal together with what is in the refrigerator makes her nervous.

“How do you know how much salt to put in?” she’d ask.

“It doesn’t matter,” I’d reply.

“But what if it’s too salty?”

“Then I’ll deal with it.”

I pick up the pamphlet she was given when she entered hospice, “A Time to Live,” by Barbara Karnes, and page through it. It is for the practical minded. Address regrets, it advises. Conserve your energy for priorities. Eat whatever and whenever you can.

My mother’s hand twitches beneath mine. So simple a movement. So easy to overlook. I lean down and place my head on her chest. It rises slightly. I sit up and breathe again.
Toward the end, the pamphlet says, “Death is normal, and natural.”

It is not the wondrous experience I wish it to be. Not something extraordinary, like the magician disappearing and then reappearing at the back of the room. It is more like the tablecloth pulled from under a table set with the finest of china. Nothing disturbed. If you aren’t looking closely, you would never know that something is missing.

Swimming lesson


Jake’s mom squeezes his fingers harder when they walk through the gate. “Ouch,” he says and pulls loose which hurts even more, but he has to, nine is too old to be holding his mom’s hand in public, and everyone at the pool is staring at him. He slows down by the showers, but his mom keeps moving. “It’s a waste of water,” she says. “You’re not going in anyway.”

“I can go in the shallow end, can’t I?”

The footsteps next to him stop. Jake turns to see what has happened. His mom stares at him. “No. The only reason I brought you along was because you said you wouldn’t go in at all.”

He drops his head and follows her to where his older sister Micah is lying on a lounge chair next to her friends. They all have on matching sunglasses and white tinted skin.

“I need to talk to Vickie,” his mom says, waving to a woman on the other side of the deck, “then we got to go.”

There isn’t a chair anywhere near so Jake sits down on the cement next to Micah’s and pulls up his knees. He feels his swimsuit slide down his butt, so he tugs on it. One of the girls giggles.

“Go swim you moron,” Micah forces between her lips.

“Mom said I can’t.”

“Then just get out of here. You’re making me look stupid.”

Jake doesn’t look up until he is back at the gate. He scans the waves of kids to see if anyone he knows saw him. The sun is bright and his eyes start to water.

Jake’s mom pulled him out of swimming lessons when he was five and never put him back in. The instructor hadn’t been looking when Jake jumped in the deep end, and it freaked his mom out. It freaked him out too, and until this year he didn’t care that he couldn’t swim.

“Hey, man, you just get here?”

Jake swipes at his eyes. It’s Tyler, the kid everyone wants to be friends with.

“No, just leaving,” he says, hoping Tyler doesn’t notice he isn’t wet.

“You’re mom ain’t here. Let’s jump in and play some hoops while you wait.” Tyler runs toward the deep end and cannonballs in. He comes up and shakes his head. “Throw me a ball.”

A white rubber ball sits under a chair near the edge of the pool. Jake grabs it and throws it to Tyler. “Jump in,” Tyler yells, miming throwing the ball back. Jake looks for his mom. She is laughing with Vickie. He turns back to the pool.

“Naw,” he says, “I got to go.”

Jake doesn’t see what happens next, only feels it. A wall of force hits him square in the chest. He stumbles backward, and the cement disappears under his feet. Laughter hangs in the air. He sucks in a breath just as he hits the surface, then everything goes quiet. The water stings when he opens his eyes, but he doesn’t want to close them. Blades of sunlight cut the pool in sections. It looks like an underwater city. When his lungs begin to burn, he kicks his legs together and feels himself rise like a rocket through the atmosphere.

He gasps for breath and spins around until he sees his best friend Alex laughing so hard he has to hold onto the edge. Jake kicks his legs and reaches his right arm, then his left, then his right, clawing his way across the pool.

“I was only having fun!” Alex says, pushing off of the side.

Jake kicks harder. Moves his arms faster. He imagines how good it will feel to catch Alex. To get him back for what he did.

A familiar voice cuts through all the other sounds. “Jake!”

He stops in mid-stroke. Turns to see his mom. Staring. Mouth open. Hands reaching. She doesn’t move. “Jake.” She says again. This time quieter. A smile relaxes onto her face.

“Wow,” she mouths.

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