Sea Star is the name of a watercolor in my office, painted by a friend years ago when she was traveling in India. She was on the beach in Goa watching the sea when a local woman, arms full of colorful, dancing scarves, swept up to her: “Sea Star, You want to buy?
“ It took her a minute to realize that the woman was calling her “sister,” not selling her sea stars or starfish. Sea stars, or “sisters,” my dear women friends, have held me in kindness, given me tea and sympathy and laughter my whole life. The painting is a vivid reminder of the strength of this tribe of love.
And then there are the other Sea Stars, the variegated, orange and purple creatures of the sea that are also called starfish. The sea stars inhabit the temple of tide pools where I return each year on my birthday, smack dab in the middle of summer. Every year it coincides with the lowest tide of the season. These stars are for me an icon of magic and transformation.
It came about on my 50th birthday. After three days of solitude, writing and prayer, I stopped by the beach on my way home. It was the lowest tide of the year. I didn’t set any intentions or send out any requests. As I was walking along the beach, I simply thought of my childhood religion and decided to immerse myself in the water of a tide pool. It felt like a kind of baptism for the second half of life.
I came across a large tide pool, a temple with walls of green sea anemones and starfish. The sea stars bundled together on the rocks, a vivid testimony of beauty. I dunked myself in the water, and when I surfaced I heard the name “Susan Grace” loudly in my mind. I had been joking about getting a new name, but this was a bit more of a result than I usually got from my off-handed jokes. So I decided not to try to figure anything out, but to simply honor the moment by beginning to use the double name. Since that day I have done the best I could to actually become more graceful, literally, and to connect with my body in movement. I began a mindfulness practice, took more yoga and Tai Ch’i, and added some improv dance classes for good measure. But most importantly, I began to welcome (and recognize) a subtle sense of being held by a force greater than I could understand. A force of mystery as big as the Sea Stars (or my Sisters). Thank you, Sea Stars! What icons or images connect you with the mystery of being? What have your Sea Star women friends taught you about life and love?
Einstein famously said that the most important decision we can make as humans is whether or not the universe is kind. As I’ve practiced Positive Paranoia in my life, I’ve looked for evidence of a kind universe for the last forty years. Based on lots of evidence, my own jury has pretty much already decided. But my mind is still open to new proof.
A few years ago my son awakened in the night with his bed on fire. He got out alive, even though the Burn Center doctor said he shouldn’t have awakened because of lack of oxygen to the brain. His apartment hit flash point and exploded a minute after he got himself out. He was flown to a Burn Center in a medically induced coma. We moved to the city to be with him.
At the same time, I was training in The Work of Byron Katie. One of my favorite questions: What if the Universe is kind? “How could this (situation) be a good thing?” became my mantra and my koan (a zen riddle used to break through the barriers of the intellect). I just kept looking for the possibility that this could be true. Each day was so full of kindness from the nurses and doctors. Our friends came with prayers and healing. Our beloved community back at home flocked to support him with benefit concerts and love. Each day that bandages were removed, the results were beyond anyone’s expectations. The list of evidence of a friendly universe took on its own momentum, like a snowball that just kept rolling. By the time he was released it could have buried the town.
And it just kept coming. It’s been almost seven years now, and he has been able to reclaim (and improve upon) the life he was living before. With a trauma of such severity, it’s been a long but steady road to physical and emotional recovery. But what I have discovered is that it is his road. And that makes my universe . . . and his . . . a whole lot friendlier.
Photo by frhuynh, stockvault.net
June 24, 2014
Aging with Grace
1975. I’m 26 years old and my life is just what I always dreamed it would be, yet I’m raw and desperate. I’ve achieved all the things I set out to do: travel, happy marriage, a meaningful job. I’ve somehow proved myself Successful in conventional ways and unconventional ways, taking on all the tasks of being an acceptable member of the Counterculture of the time. And then, without knowing why, I hit a dead end.
It happens in a moment. I’m walking down the street and I suddenly feel flat and hollow inside. Not there. It seems like a dead end: there’s no exit in sight. I’m deeply scared, and my bed seems like the best refuge.
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June 17, 2014
Aging with Grace
Only a few weeks ago I saw myself as a Recovering Rushaholic. I was experiencing a few days of peace and a deep sense of optimism. Just as the peaceful and hopeful and reflective Memorial Day holiday was ending, I pulled together my travel stuff, drove a couple of hours to an early flight, flew into the Heartland, drove another three hours, and spent a week in the muddle of family, caregiving, loving and experiencing losses first hand. My speed picked up. There was so much to do, to solve, and only a week to do it! By the time I capped the trip off with two doctors’ appointments and a twelve-hour reverse journey, I was past rushing. It’s taken three days for all my cells to return home. They seem to take longer than the luggage.
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