Wednesday, August 31, 2011

In the Hands of Love


God is working everywhere his massive Resurrection;
How can we pretend to act on our own?
In the hand of Love I am like a cat in a sack;
Sometimes Love hoists me into the air
Sometimes Love flings me to the ground.
Love swings me round and round His head;
I have no peace, in this world or any other.
The Lovers of God have fallen in a furious river;
They have surrendered themselves to love's commands.
Like millwheels they turn, day and night, day and night,
Constantly turning and turning, and crying out.

- Jalal-ud-Din Rumi


Saturday, August 27, 2011

and another.

Another random water death by someone fit and healthy.

I learned today that our friend David died last week, as the newspaper said, "during the swimming portion of the triathlon." He was 20 years older than matt, and matt had described him as "someone who probably used to be in good shape, but has become stiff and tense." David was both things - in good shape, and stiff and tense. He moved with a tremor you'd only notice if you were the kind to notice things. He was angry and self-righteous, anxious, controlling, and brilliant in his chosen field.

We were coffee shop friends. Matt had been working with David on some design renovations for his house in the week before his own random water death. When Matt died, this stiff, formal, somewhat angry man offered his time to me, saying, "I'm pretty good with these sorts of things."

I was just thinking of him the other day - David, that is. Matt I think about all the time. Was just randomly wondering what he was up to, how his summer was going. Driving down to the coffee shop today, I was thinking of how, when someone dies, when some random accident happens, we say "it hit close to home." I was thinking how people probably said that when their friend Matt died, that such a tragedy happened so close to home, and how for me, it wasn't "close to home," it WAS home.

I walked in to the coffee shop and sat down with a friend. We did our normal catch up on things. And then he very gently and slowly told me: there is some news. Some news in the way of sudden death. And then he said his name: David. He told me the details are not released. He told me he wanted to tell me before I read it somewhere, or overheard it in some less-than-gentle way. While reading the tribute on his employer's webpage, I came to the part where David was taken from the water during the triathlon. My friend said quietly - "it was water. That was the other thing I didn't want you to find out about alone."

What is odd to me about this is my lack of grief, I guess I'd call it. Now, David and I were not in any way close. I hadn't seen him for months. It is bizarre that he is gone, just - poof! but I feel inured to that somehow. He and his ex-wife were hostile with each other, so there is no one like me, there is no one whose life was twined with his, no one whose home took this direct hit. Maybe that is why. Does that seem rude? Dismissive? It's like seeing what happened to me, what happened to matt, from this outsider's view, this casual connection point of view, where it is not my life that has been hit. The loose-knit community absorbs it, people are shocked, but no one's life, no one's daily life, is personally changed.

And maybe because it HAS happened to me, the shock is different. I already know that weird random shit happens weirdly and randomly. I already know that the world blows up, and what happens after it does. For the people "close to home," things have a momentary rift, and then ease back to normal, perhaps with a fleeting tint of "life is short."  People who take a direct hit know there is no normal anymore.

I'm not crying. I'm not sad about David. Do I need a five tombstone movie to be sure I'm still in here? Am I callous and shut down? I don't know. My friend and I sat there talking about it, talking about the details and funerals and all these things. A man came in wearing glasses a bit like David's. I said, "I thought that was him, even though we sit here talking about his funeral, I looked up and was ready to say hi to him." My friend told me he had been doing that all day. David was many circles out from the center of my home. His death will make no difference in most of my daily life. But he is one more person I will not look up to see coming through the door, no matter what the corner of my eye thinks it sees.

It's making me feel somewhat cocky. Somewhat - I don't know - fearless isn't quite the right word. Within the freak out panic of my mother around the weather coming through this weekend I feel myself bristle and think - dude, you have no idea. You die whenever you die, and there is not a thing in this world that will change it or stop it or anything else, so stop freaking out. Having only heard about David barely two hours ago, I feel a cavalier smart-ass-ness in me - get over yourself. Stop being jerks. Stop freaking out. Random shit will pluck you from this place, from this life, or it won't. Nothing you can do. You aren't safe, and you aren't in danger either.

It's really quite a bit smart-ass. Maybe I do need a movie.


Saturday, August 20, 2011


This post involves the slaughter of meat birds on a small farm. If you are sensitive to imagery involving animals, you may want to skip this one.

Before today, the only creature I have knowingly and directly killed was a severely injured flicker that was being euthanized at the bird rehab where I volunteered. With the exception of mosquitoes, ticks, and fruit flies, I do not kill anything with reckless abandon. I relocate spiders. I bring injured mice outside for the owls to eat. My laying hens will live out their lives long after they stop (sporadically) laying eggs. I was a vegetarian for a very long time, and now I eat meat. I like to know where my meat comes from and how it was raised. I knew if I was going to eat animals, I would eventually need to be directly part of their deaths. Today, I was.

I knew this day was coming. I'm signed up for a nose-to-tail hog processing in the fall. I thought maybe I should be involved in the deaths of smaller animals before I went on to the larger mammals. I've had several opportunities to help with small farm meat bird processing. Once was the week before Camp Widow, and I just felt too raw and sensitive to do it then. I almost backed out today.

I got up at 5 am to have some time to calm myself down before heading out to the farm. I kept panicking. I wasn't sure I was strong enough, or calm enough, to do this today. It wasn't until a brief text volley with a friend that I realized I was expecting to be traumatized. I was expecting to have matt's death come flooding back to me. I was expecting him to die again, there on that farm with the chickens. I was terrified to be that close to death again, and what it might do to me. It may be weird to say, but realizing he would not die again instantly relaxed me. I went from fighting back panic to being almost excited.

I drove the hour to the farm and found my friends just waiting for me to arrive. K and I went directly out to gather the ducks. Who were huge. I had my first wave of panic. Ducks are big. I won't go into deep descriptions here, as it is disturbing to me to recall and would likely be disturbing to read. Well, okay, it will still be possibly disturbing. I can't tell this story for myself without some graphic parts.

So in the barest of details, the slaughter of birds is not the calm and quick affair I had read it would be. It is graphic and visceral and loud and upsetting. I played the scientist and asked why there was so much thrashing, and why could it not be done more quickly. My friend (an acquaintance, really) said "they don't feel anything after the first few seconds. That's all just muscle spasms." Seriously? Have you ever been a bird with its throat cut? How do you, how does anyone, know whether they feel anything or not? That sure did not seem like 'muscle spasms" to me. That looked like struggling. Later, as the production line got going, there would be a bird struggling at one end of the table while people eviscerated or plucked cooling birds in the middle. It seemed so incongruous, to have this struggle happening and no one - I don't know - witnessing it. There was a prayer said before the first bird, but it was not enough for me. I felt like first dismissing, and then ignoring, the struggling was just a way of trying to make it okay for the humans involved. Now, mind you - these people take very good care of their animals. They raise them with respect and care. They are not cavalier killers. I think it is just a human tendency to mitigate what we view as suffering by telling ourselves it is not so bad as it looks, or by ignoring it altogether. I am a terrible liar, especially to myself. I cannot say that someone elses' experience is not so bad just to make myself feel better. I cannot pretend I am not complicit in pain or difficulty just so I can eat with less guilt.

Matt and I talked about raising meat animals and how that would be for us. He was a fly-fisherman. He hated killing fish. He did it with a prayer and a thank you, as swiftly and cleanly as he could. He refused to make it pretty, but moreso, he refused to close his eyes and pretend suffering wasn't happening. He did what he could to lessen the suffering, but he would not pretend it wasn't there and that he was not the cause of it. Once the killing was over, there was no sentimentalizing - we said thanks, and we ate fish.

I needed him there with me today. I imagine he would have come up with something to make the process more gentle, or more swift. I wanted to hear him talking to the animals, calling them "my friend," coming to them with his strong, gentle hands. He could be calm in the face of death. In the face of anything. But even more, I needed him to talk about all this with me. To talk about being open to death, to understand and witness it without making it pretty, to be present to our actions and still want to eat meat at the end of it all. These kinds of discussions were normal for us.

I want this now. I need this now, as my life comes closer and closer to the death of animals I have raised. I want to be able to stand there and calmly round up the meat birds, not turn away when they are put into the cone. Not stand there with my mouth hanging open while the bird thrashes around and everyone else just goes about the other tasks at hand. Not pretend that death isn't happening, that I have taken a life that was not mine. I don't know what I would do differently. Just - to do this, to be so close to death itself, to be the one choosing it, ordering it, dealing it out - I so much need him here. It would not make it pretty. But his perspective and his unshakable calm would change things for me. To do this without him is so entirely sad.

I have been in a daze since coming home. It's only when I sat down to eat (raviolis, thank you very much. no meat for tonight) that I really started to cry. I cannot believe I have to live this life without him here. That there will be more deaths, more meat, more days when our doing it together would have made everything alright when it is not. I miss how he refused to make things pretty, how he came to things with such a gentleness, such clear peaceful goodness.

And what I miss, what I miss what I miss what I miss is my love here to talk with about this. To hear his voice. To see that little light in his eye and that gentle smile. To see how it is that he leads an animal to slaughter. To see what this experience is like when done with him. I always knew this day was coming, if I was going to continue eating meat. But I thought he would be beside me. I knew he would. And he is not.

My mother cannot understand how I can do this. How I can, even in theory, raise an animal knowing I will eventually eat it. My mother eats meat. Grocery store, factory farmed meat. My argument - however unsuccessful - is that I would rather eat a creature I love, that I know has been loved, than eat one no one has ever cared a thing about. I cannot be complicit in a life unattended and unloved no matter how cheap that might make dinner. And here is the point, for me, in all of this. I want my heart open enough to witness this. To hold on to this. I want to love and care for creatures knowing full well they are going to die. That I am responsible for their death, as well as their life, and that this is part of love. I do not want to look at anyone I love, meat or not meat, and ignore the fact that death is part of us. I can't make that pretty, and I can't pretend it doesn't hurt.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I'm back.  Boris had a lovely time with my father; the chickens and cats and gardens survived just fine. I think I may have spent an entire eternity on lay-over at o'hare. And, in other news, I have internet at home again.

When I picked up Boris, my mother asked if san diego was "worth it." I don't know that I can answer that, and certainly not in any words she would understand. I don't think I can create an equation where travel + money spent is < or > camp widow. I missed matt in new ways, found him missing in new ways. I took my first trip somewhere without him, and it was very wrong. The way we travel together, our rhythm of adventure, is gone. I am going to live, and I am not too thrilled about that. There will be trips and adventures, and he will not come. There are whole new places to explore, and we will not explore them together. I sat in a place I should not be, with people I should not know. I left more lonely and more sad than I arrived.

Walking in to the reception area on Friday was overwhelming. All these people. All these people, and every single one of them is widowed. Every single one. Usually, in crowds, I go into "city mode" - walking quickly with determination and focus, with a bit of the "fuck off" vibe so as to not attract the random proposals I seem to pick up from men with heavy accents. But then I realized, in this crowd, everyone is like me. This sea of people wearing green lanyard nametags, and not one of them deserves or needs the brush by or blank gaze. I kept thinking "but they're all so young," and then remembered - me too. I am one of them. There was a lot of that this weekend. A lot of reminding, as if I could forget, that I belong here. I am one of them. This is wrong. There was a lot of this is wrong.

I also got to spend long hours wandering around with a friend, sitting in churches and eating figs (figs. Local ones. My farmers' markets do not have figs. Or avocados. Or dates.) I did not get confused or pitying looks when I told Dan and Jackie about the confusion and stammering I caused my hotel's young check-in girl when I asked her to check where the widow conference was, and that I had to say the word "widow" more times in less than two minutes than I have in a very long time. I got to sit by the pool holding hands and crying with people I love (though studiously avoiding looking at the pool with all those flashback inducing people in there). I got to sit outside and discuss this life without the annoying need to translate and explain everything I'm saying, as I do with the non-initiated.  I got to touch and hold on to people I already loved from a distance. I got to put my arms around people and just stand there, linked, talking within our group - a party I enjoyed, rather than tried to escape. I had hands on my back, arms around my shoulders. I got to meet other 'accident widows,' which is a rare and wonderful thing. The meeting, that is, not the accident. There is something that passes between us, unspoken and not needing to be said. Exhaustion kicked my butt, and I didn't get to spend nearly enough time out and about, but I feel like our connections will continue to grow. In that, it was exactly what I wanted - physical roots to take back into the non-physical world.

I also learned that my bed is not nearly comfy enough, and I need hotel-level amendments.

There are a few things I would like to see at future Camps - maybe an organized field trip somewhere, like the botanical gardens or something. To be out somewhere doing something, without needing to shout over music, would be great. (NOT the SD zoo! Good lord what an over-priced mass of ill behaved humanity.) I also found myself very much wishing you were there Amanda - to key out insects and plant life with me.

At the hotel itself, having a room set up with chairs and coffee/tea would be nice. A widowed-only space, like a cafe with exclusive membership. I know there were plenty of chairs everywhere, and starbucks did a brisk business, but a designated hang out place would be nice. In grand irony, we shared the hotel and conference center with a huge contingent of spandex clad "fitness supplement" people in town for their sales convention. Big banners outside read "STAY YOUNG FOREVER!" Poor dears. They also wore green lanyards. Big thick ribbony ones. They were all very perky.

In a macabre but totally within character way, I found myself wanting some kind of listing, with names removed, of causes of death, causes of widow-ment ~ was I the only drowning there? There was one widowed by fire, one by air; was the earth element represented? How many sudden deaths, and how?

I am a bit dreading the questions from people here - how was it? Did you have a good time? What was it like? I have no answers for this. I especially have no answers for anyone who has not gone through the hazing it takes to get here. That is one big thing I take from this weekend - how much nicer it is to not explain. To know that explanation is not necessary. I left San Diego thinking I wouldn't be back, that I don't need any more Camps. But then, I impulsively signed up to volunteer for the east coast event in 2012. It's still wrong, and I am apparently going to live.

Those who are near me do not know that you are nearer to me than they are
Those who speak to me do not know that my heart is full with your unspoken words
Those who crowd in my path do not know that I am walking alone with you
Those who love me do not know that their love brings you to my heart.

Rabindranath Tagore


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

This Love

This Love sacrifices all souls, however wise, however "awakened."
Cuts off their heads without a sword, hangs them without a scaffold.
We are the guests of the One who devours His guests,
The friends of the One who slaughters His friends.
Although by His gaze He brings death to so many lovers
Let yourself be killed by Him: is He not the water of life?
Never, ever grow bitter; He is the friend and kills gently.
Keep your heart noble, for this most noble love
Kills only kings near God and those free from passion.
We are like the night, earth's shadow.
He is the Sun: He splits open the night with a sword soaked in dawn.

- Jalal-ud-Din Rumi

Sunday, August 7, 2011

some sweetness

It has been rough, people. I know you know, so I don't need to get into it.

But today, I have had some sweetnesses. After changing out of barn clothes, I attempted the "shop for san diego" thing again. I actually looked at, and bought, dresses. Can I just say to you that today is the first time I have felt any interest whatsoever in my appearance. The first time in exactly 2 years and one month that I have wanted to be at least a little bit pretty. I just need to remember to not wear anything pretty to the barn, or while cooking, in the next 5 days. I can become stained just by standing still.

And, after making a very sarcastic comment about death and accidents on a friend's facebook page, a very old and dear mutual friend sent me an email. We haven't spoken since grad school, maybe 12 years ago. There are still people I care about who do not know. After just over two years, I still have to say the words to new ears. I got the most beautiful, heart-lifting and helpful message from he and his wife tonight - an excerpt, because it is so perfectly beautiful for what I asked for as I went to sleep last night:

The photographs are beautiful, and it is plain fate robbed you. I don't know you real well, but please know that you are one of a tiny, tiny handful of people who I've known in this world who when you spoke of magic, I believed, and I've thought of you often when I grow cynical or exhausted at the general mayhem which continues to rule the day. I still have that photo of you and A, the fire still glows off of it. It is blessed to know where you are once again. Please know as I'm sure you do that the earth delights to lift us up, even in this time that is so bittersweet for you, and you'll fly in realms you knew before your love was taken away. I know this of you. Peace to you. 

So much exactly what I needed.

And if that weren't enough (and there is a huge void to fill, so nothing is quite enough), I somehow landed on this blog, and was stunned to read that she was widowed by drowning. That she was there when it happened. There are a couple of other similarities between she and I, but enough to say - wow.

Okay. I am heading home, to the land of no internet, where the dog is waiting patiently to play, and chickens probably need to be fed. Nice clothes will have to wait for later.


Friday, August 5, 2011


The coffee shop where we met is now a used clothing store, the original business having moved a few storefronts down. I went in to the shop to find something for san diego, as most of my clothes are suitable for barn-wear or arctic winters. Browsing for clothing to attend a widow conference in a store that used to house our meeting, our footsteps, our flirtations, our shared  newspapers and countless hours of tea and toast, hands held over the table - this was a very bad idea. I stood in the dressing room holding piles of ill-fitting clothes; just stood there and sobbed. Shit. This is just all - awful. Horrible. Wrong. So completely and horribly wrong.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

More later

More later, because I feel a little nauseous. And, I am on the side of the road pirating someones internet, there is a thunderstorm, and I want to go home to my thunder-averse dog. And, I need to freak out a little bit.


More later.