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On Wayfinding, Embodiment, & Death's Door: a celebration of life

The last week has been a swirl of movement, moments, and emotions. I tried out my new wings on a beach day road trip, collecting ceremony stones to gift in a Celebration of Life over the weekend. I've discovered a way to get from my house to the beach in an almost straight shot south. In just over 2.5 hours you get to the Atlantic in Rhode Island without highways. Back roads, woods and farms, small towns. No big trucks. I've been longing to get my toes in the foam.

Stone collecting is bending and rising and bending again. The purpose of this, the breath of it, opens my heart and peripheral vision. The sensory delight of being at the shore fills me with joy, drinking in the far horizon and foraging in the liminal edge of Earth's perpetual motion. At the same time, I am looking close and leaning in. Inviting the spirit of the person we are celebrating to help with choosing. Lifting stones one at a time, feeling their color, testing the weight and shape in my palm. Some are set aside again, the chosen ones slide into bulging pockets or drop into whatever bag I've brought along.

I didn't only go to fetch stones. I went to fetch myself. I needed to figure out if collecting and gifting them can remain part of my ceremony practice. Recent spine surgery has fundamentally altered how I can use (and rely on) my arms and legs, and how I embody my 'earth suit'. Part of rebuilding confidence after surgery, for me, involves testing. I went to push the envelope. To poke my cane deep in and see what happens. And I pushed hard.

The first beach I went to, chosen at random when I looked at a map, had happy children and a nice breeze but no stones. Less than a mile further along I found the perfect rocky cove at the bottom of a steep seawall. Not a beach at all, but legal parking up top and the stones below called to me. And, yes, there was some inner why are we doing this dialog, foolhardily pushed aside. In retrospect the decision to climb down was a moment of trickster folly that I don't regret. Because. The question remained. Given the predicament of schlepping an inevitably heavy bag of rocks up a ridiculously steep, pathless seawall (that I really (really!) should not have scooted down in the first place) would I be able to rise to the occasion? Not a risk I'll take again. And also, the whole of it, even getting scared, seems to have restored me to myself in necessary and unexpected ways.

I so feared losing solo beach excursions and the flow of collecting stones. I feared losing an essential connection with the ocean and the sand and the soundscape of the sea that has been my touchstone for as long as I can remember existing. I feared only being able to look, with longing, from parking lots.

Sometimes, to find my way I go and do and risk. There was a person who watched me for about 15 minutes as I struggled up the slabs of stone, centering my footing with the cane strategically positioned and hoisting myself a level at a time. Then sitting to plan where next to toss the heavy sack of stones. I was aware that if I needed to I could have asked for help. I did not ask, because (lets be real) asking is hard. While I perched to gather my wits between ascents, I wondered about the difficulty of asking for help. Given the nature of my fragility and the stubbornness of my nature, what kind of help would actually help?

Why are we doing this is often a good question. It helped me arrive at a both/and solution. I can continue the soul healing practice of collecting stones for ceremony (happy happy joy joy) and going forward it's smarter to ask someone else to carry them from the beach to the car.

I lived to tell the tale of what I learned about asking the next day, 'at the office' in a local cemetery, where a family gathered in chairs pulled close to sit with death. We had a canopy for shade and it was too hot to rush. Woven between my offerings and their stories an amends was made, an acknowledgement and healing that was unexpected and welcome. A brother put his belly on the ground to lay shrouded ashes in the grave. I still carried the ocean in me, and it felt like the waves reaching this family's shore had come a long, long way. We sang Row Row Row Your Boat together so they could all find their feet again. Gently down the stream...

Before I took leave of that place I noticed an unusual and lovely grave marker. Set in a rural burial ground: a simple window frame, no glass, painted red. Holding the ever changing view at a specific angle as the wind passed through it. I did not take a photo but I mentioned to the town's cemetery commissioner, on hand to move earth, that it might be my favorite ever. He looked me in the eye with an elder's scrutiny, said there is a story to it. Then he told me about the maker, who had not been asked or hired but was local and offered it in genuine response to the loss of this specific person. Then he let me know it is his own wife's grave.

The next day at the Celebration of Life, the stones I'd collected were being passed, finding their people. Eulogies were offered amidst and between monsoon downpours. A sister told a story about beach trips when they were little, many kids sardined in the station wagon, to Misquamicut State Beach in Rhode Island. The same beach I'd chosen at random on the map when I made the plan to fetch the stones they were, at that very moment, choosing to carry into their day. I got that tingle in my crown that comes with being in the flow, and let them all know their stones were gathered less than a mile away (because as you can see in this picture, there were not many stones at Misquamicut!).

In between all that traveling, collecting, burying, remembering, and celebrating, I'd had a conversation with a gent in Ohio who was looking for a 'nothing fancy burial shroud to have on hand so nobody overspends on a casket.' He wanted to know if we use burlap. The shroud company has recently shifted production to sourcing entirely rescued and up-cycled textiles. This was a chance to practice explaining. I replied that I had a rather plain shroud on the shelf made from upholstery cotton and an heirloom linen tablecloth that might fit just right for him. I sent him the photo. He confirmed an affinity for beige. Its been shipped, he'll mail me a check. He'likes my style'.

Just before I left my house to preside at the rainy Celebration of Life, I answered the phone to hear my mother's voice say I have hard news. Her friend for 70 years has had a downturn in health. Her husband called because she'd said to him, call Havi. He did, and Havi called me because she is almost 94 and I am her ride. Her friend who'd held me when I was a new baby. When I carry my own grief into the day, due to the nature of my work, I have to set it aside tenderly while I help others carry their grief for a while. It waits like a loyal friend, there for me when I turn for home.

I got up at 4:30 the next morning and fetched my mom to her friend's bedside. We drove south over two state lines immersed in the memory palace, crossing the 'Frogs' Neck to Long Island, NY. A mitzvah. I have maybe never witnessed a reunion as sweet and as necessary. The friendship between the Dzens and the Standers began in the 1950's, around the time the lady in the picture here taught this man how to wait tables and carry loaded banquet trays. It didn't come naturally and it didn't last long, he tells me over lunch at the diner, which in New York is nicer than it may sound.

Mom and I drove home again, sometimes telling stories, sometimes quiet for many miles. A twelve hour day, door-to-door. After dropping her off I stopped at one of my favorite places in the woods and marveled at how the newly resident beaver continues to change the landscape.

I sat a while reflecting on the roads I've been traveling. The ways that all of our landscapes change as we age. And how wide the view from the window is when its flung open and the wind carries us. I made it home just before the next band of thunder, wind, and rain came through. Grateful to know I'll go again to the sea and wander the shore, bending, rising, and bending again.

Here is a poem I wrote some years ago, apropos everything...

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2 commentaires

29 juin

Thank you for taking us along. I so enjoy your writing and so appreciate the work you do in this world.


27 juin

Beautiful and soulful. ♥

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