My Life With Children

     I grew up in western Michigan, where fun is the way of life for all.  Summer camps, swimming, canoeing down the Pere Marquette River, climbing sand dunes and jumping in the waves of Lake Michigan, picnics all through the Manistee National Forest, hay rides in the fall and horseback riding across fields, ice skating on real ponds and tobogganing down steep hills, all were part of my formation and have had great influence on my writing style.  “A certain fresh naturalness” someone has called it.  “There’s a simplicity and playfulness in your style.”
     Perhaps I also owe it to my French-Canadian father who certainly had a taste for enjoying life, that Joie d’ vivre that bounces back in me even when life takes a bad turn. Plus my always cheerful Swedish grandfather, who I watched live through many challenges of spirit with quiet gracefulness.  I can find the rainbow in the rain, eventually and always.  Much of my writing, then, is an attempt to share the positives that I’ve gotten out of the negatives of my life.  Much of it are learnings  I wish I’d known as a child.  I instinctively try to express what I’ve learned in a way that either a child or adult might enjoy taking in this learning.
     After plodding through the brain-exhausting college years, I married and immediately began the completely different work of raising a human being, for which NONE of my education had prepared me.  As I walked out the hospital door to get into our car, the nurse handed me this fragile little being, wrapped in a snuggy blanket and quietly looking up at me.  I took him in my arms, climbed into the front seat holding him delicately, and we were off!  I thought to myself “What am I supposed to do with it?  How on earth do I care for this?  I know nothing about babies!”  I could not believe the nurse was entrusting this precious life with me.
    Two ignorant humans are a little more help than only one, and my husband and I began to figure things out.  “He’s crying!  I’ve fed him, he’s napped, I held him and rocked him and he’s still crying! I exclaimed in fear and frustration.   “How about his diaper? Said the other brain.  ….    “Oh!  The diaper!”  I remember throwing the pampers down the toilet – I thought that was how we dispose of them – but it plugged up the plumbing badly and the landlord was most unhappy with us.  I sat the baby on the kitchen table facing me and watching the fishbowl in front of him.  Next thing I knew he’d pushed his feet against the fishbowl and fallen on the floor, still strapped in his infant seat.  Yes, we were off to the doctor, and yes, a concussion. “It will heal by itself,” the experienced pediatrician assured me.  “Their heads are malleable in the beginning.”  How did the first one survive my ignorance?  Somewhere I read that the miracle of raising children is not so much that parents raise children to become adults but that children raise parents to become adults.
   From those first tender exhausting years, finally we arrived at kindergarten with the firstborn.  At the school door, the little Hungarian boy from up the street stood crying pathetically and hanging on his mother’s skirt.  He did not know English yet and was completely scared to leave her. My heart went out to the child and next thing I knew I’d volunteered to come to school twice a week and help that particular child learn English.  I had no training, just the intuitions of mothers about children and language. The teacher gave us chairs in the coat room, I brought magazine pictures, and thus began many years of teaching English as a Second Language with immigrants.  From there a Cuban friend who was a social worker asked me to teach Mexican mothers English.  Again, I just jumped in with no training, we all brought our babies and the social worker watched them while I used my simple magazine-pictures technique and we did something with the English language.   I went on to paid positions with titles without even knowing there was a profession called “teaching English as a Second Language” and one could be trained for this work.
     Again with no education in how to raise a child, we grew on with our two children, learning as we went.  Fortunately my husband, Tom, was a problem solver (a math major) and he had a great sense of humor and play so we relaxed into the years with many happy times.  We did tent camping and eventually were able to get an old popup trailer so we could sleep off the ground.  Tom had a telescope so we’d often stay up late into the night out in the state parks looking at the stars.  Teaching the children to swim was a must for me, being a Michigander.  Soon it was time for Cub Scouts!  And then Brownie Scouts followed.  We “got involved”, as parents must in volunteer programs like these.  I recruited and trained leaders and Tom was Scoutmaster.  Then I led a day camp for the Girl Scouts. Such fun!   I got to sing all those wonderful songs I’d learned myself as a Brownie and Girl Scout!   Games and crafts and fun, fun, fun; I, the director, took the name “Stretch” because I’m so short.  Then the next summer our local professional Girl Scout trainer and I designed a two week camp for both boys and girls in the area who were from other countries.  The neighborhood was a little United Nations, 32 different languages were spoken in the elementary school!  In the summer the children lost much of their language learning while out of school, besides needing to get to know the Chicago area.  I directed this two week program, with field trips, and recruiting the shy parents to help out.
   Meanwhile, back in the back of my mind I had realized I wanted to get some practical education so I could do something professional and financially helpful.  I’d begun taking college courses preparing to direct Religious Education programs for Catholic public school children.  I received my Masters of Arts in Religious Studies, focusing on religious education, and I took a full time position in a Catholic parish.  What a joyous opportunity!  I’d grown up in a rural Michigan town where my own Catholic parish did almost nothing for the children because they believed that nothing can be done with the public school situation; “someday” they’d be able to build a school and then the children could learn about their faith.  I’d observed my Baptist friends at school:  not allowed to go to movies or dances at all, yet the Baptist kids enjoyed being Baptist and learned their Bible and beliefs well.  They had all kinds of sports teams and outings and fun together.  All the Protestant churches had very lively summer camps.  I knew we could work with Catholic children in public school situations if we wanted to do it and I began to dig in as Director.  I was responsible for 1,000 children, preschool through high school, to design the program, recruit and train all the teachers, order all materials, supervise the class times, and also be in charge of the religion program in the parochial school!  The nun who’d tried to run this before me had also taught eighth grade!  She’d had a nervous breakdown.   
     I worked there two years, often hurrying home to pick up my two children after school and then bringing them back to my office with me.  I felt exhausted but happily satisfied that I did begin a thriving program for all ages, including a social and learning program for the high school students.  However, it was at this point that I hit bottom with my Catholic faith, feeling entirely discriminated against as an intelligent competent woman.  Strangely, also, when the Mass had been put into English this had turned counter-productive for me; it felt like there was too much talking, too many thoughts to handle too quickly!   When I’d had to deal with Latin, I’d become used to more quiet, contemplative worship.
    I looked for a new spiritual home to feed my spirit, and was led by slim chances to discover the unprogrammed Quakers, who worship in silence and equality, waiting for Spirit to lead anyone present to speak out of the worship.  I joyfully embraced this new spiritual family.  However, these Friends do not hire anyone, not even pastors!  There were no jobs in religious education in this denomination.  I began serving on the religious education committee for my Meeting and then also for the regional gatherings, called Yearly Meetings.   At summer Yearly Meetings I often taught the middle grade children and then eventually the high school students.  These were dear and rollicking times, as we all camped out in tents and wooden dorms in the middle of corn and soybean fields in central Illinois.  Campfires and singing at night, dancing children and adults on the lawn with live fiddle music, doing crafts with the children under tents in the afternoons, carting all to the nearby town to swim, I got to go back and forth between being an adult with the children and being a child with the children. 
     My own two children continued to grow and we all together entered the world of high school and challenges of the teens. I went back to college and took courses in teaching at the high school level and began to substitute in the four local high schools.  Every day was a different “adventure,” directing choirs, teaching languages and subjects I didn’t know, trying to keep a balance between seriously trying to teach something and just relating to these young people as human beings.
 These years were interrupted by the sudden death of my husband from a heart attack , the result of having been given too much radiation for cancer.  My life took a break here; my son fortuitously was able to get good scholarships to a Quaker college.  My daughter and I had three close years as I tried to accompany her through a serious high school attempt at a music career. Finances were more difficult for her college as a music major.  During these years I taught English as a Second Language in local junior colleges and designed and taught E.S.L. programs for factory workers.
    Somewhere in between all I’ve remembered here were a few other children’s activities.  I was trained in the Children’s Creative Response to Conflict Program of the Fellowship of Reconciliation; from that, I and my daughter led a two week summer camp for poor children in the inner city of Chicago at The People’s Church in Uptown.
I also worked with Illinois Quakers to revive the work camp opportunities that Friends had done after World War II in Europe.  We helped our own young people develop leadership skills working with us in committee work, and later several went on to design what is now called Quaker Volunteer Service, an internship program for young adults.
   I had taken training in counseling in the method of Carl Rogers and was certified in Client Centered Counseling.  When my children were both launched off into college, I took a position in Triton Community College as counselor for the Adult Basic Education Department.  I counseled adults and young people learning English as a Second Language or getting their high school G.E.D. or still learning to read in the Literacy program.  This work was the richest work of my life.  It was so deeply touching, such an honor, to help support the lives of people struggling against so many odds to build a future.  All these students worked while going to school, many had children to raise, too.
     Eventually, my life took another sharp turn when my adult son died of melanoma at the age of 40.  I had remarried after my first husband died but my second marriage had been short when that second dear man had a brainstem stroke and eventually also died, after I cared for him for 2 ½ years.  Now the death of my first born and only son really brought me low.  I did immediately try to pick up where he left off with his high school students in their Robotics Club and in the creative contests of Destination Imagination.  I worked with these delightful high school students for three years but then decided to move closer to my daughter, now married with her own two children. 
     I had followed the lives of children now from newborns through elementary school, through the teen years, and the college years and young adulthood. Where I am now is back at the beginning, immensely enjoying the best job I ever had – being a grandmother!  And finally, I have no responsibilities except doing my writing, which has been waiting patiently in my heart. I look forward to sharing more from my life experiences with children, youth, and adults in interesting and creative self expressions.

??Why did I come for a week of French Immersion??

Number# 3:   Because I was being pulled here by The Great Unknown,
                           And I said Yes.
Number# 1: to stretch.
                      to open.
                      to allow spring inside me.
                      to get pushed.
  to be with a best-friend for a whole week
  and another best-friend for two days.
  to be with adventurous and open-hearted people.
to sleep beside a large lake-of-living-water
 and a loon
  and the sun setting on the water
    and half a moon rising
    up over the woods in the dark.
      ten thousand trees as they’re waking up.
      to receive in my body the careful message
        of the one frog singing to me
          in its friendly wooden rhythm.
I am here to shake myself up
and see what I look like after
being upside down for a week.
To have younger people guide me
carefully, lovingly, with humor and fun
   into the different world
      that “French people” have created.
because I’m curious;
because it’s fun to learn new things;
because it feels good to be new to myself.
But yes
I want to learn to speak in French.
This exercise is a pencil sharpener
for my old lazy mind.
It’s the rooster call for the old farm lady:
   “The sun is up!  Nothing’s changed!
     The world still needs you!”
      calls the cock.
I awaken here.  The old body stirs
in the woods
by the lake.
By the campfire
my young spirit rises up again with
the flames of beauty and song.
My young coach,
Like the loon across the lake,
Cheers me on:  “Keep going,
Keep trying.  You can do it!” says
   this wise young companion.
Then he waits, still,
as the motor of my mind sputters
 upward once more to do my bidding.
Number # 2:  I came because it’s good for people who
love each other immensely
to separate now and then.
Just to be sure they can do it.
Just to remember their
responsibility to their own different
Number # 3, again: 
    because I choose
    my courage and my humility
and obey the pull of The Great Unknown.

Saving the Bobcat

      I did a brave and interesting thing this morning:  I got myself up and out and drove to a place I’ve never been for a 10:00 am Indiana Department of Natural Resources Commission Meeting to speak up for saving the bobcat from open hunting.   I had almost no idea of what I was getting into and could hardly sleep last night feeling called to do this but very scared to do it.  Public speaking is not my favorite sport.
   I’ve attended one other government committee meeting:  an Indiana Senate subcommittee about the proposal to cut down the several-hundred-year-old trees in Crown Hill Cemetery.   From that equally scary and interesting experience I knew a few helpful things.  Probably there will be some “experts” there to speak with facts about the subject.  Anyone can speak:  you sign a card as you come in if you want to speak.  They’ll ask first for the people who have titles after their names like “PhD”, or “Professor of__”.  And bodies matter:  I felt both times that at the very least I could be a body showing support for this cause.
     But what could I say if I had to speak?  Some sweet silly thing like “Please don’t kill off the bobcats.  They’re beautiful beings!”  I had read enough to know that they are no threat to humans at all:  they never attack humans nor pets.  And they’ve been on the endangered list for awhile, recently downgraded to the “watch” list. They’re actually helpful because they eat rodents and rabbits.  And there are no current counts in Indiana about how many bobcats we now have.  Are there lots and hunting them is needed, or are their numbers still few?
    After a restless night, I awoke feeling fairly brave and definitely committed to going.  I called to my mind all the great images of famous people bravely speaking up that I could remember:  I’m a Quaker!  We speak truth to power, even when we quake and shake!   Lucretia Mott!  Elizabeth Cady Stanton!  Even Susan B. Anthony had been a Quaker for awhile!  Had they not spoken up, women might still not have the vote.  I remembered that Jesus had said something to the apostles like, “Don’t worry about what you are to say.  The Spirit whom I will send will tell you what to say.”  How many famous people have had to just stand up and trust that the words will come to them.  It’s just first essential for us to stand up, to get our bodies there. And I always refer back to a man who is a template for me, Jacques Lusseyran, a young blind Frenchman who led 500 young men in resistance to the Nazis occupation; he said he always felt safe, in touch with his Inner Guidance, as long as he avoided three things;  anger, fear, and feeling in competition.  He survived 18 months in Buchenwald Concentration Camp, blind!  That is what it looks like to stay centered and listen inwardly in a stressful situation.
   So, with much emotion I prepared to go to a government committee meeting.  A surprisingly happy song came into my head from somewhere:  “I saw the light!   I saw the light!   No more darkness, no more night.  Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight. Praise the Lord! I saw the light.”  Why was this song coming to me now, I wondered?  I knew perhaps all the drama inside me might not be necessary:  maybe this would be a piece of cake.  Experts would be there and I’d never have to speak at all.  But I had the impression that there had been other hearings on this in different parts of the state.  Perhaps the experts had already spoken and wouldn’t be here todayI felt determined to speak if it seemed necessary, to say whatever I could find inside me to help save the beautiful little bobcats.
   So I dressed “seriously”  – wore my large gold earrings because I feel stronger wearing them. I took care with my clothes and hair, got my stuff altogether, knew the route and gave myself plenty of time to get there.  All I knew was that it was somewhere at Fort Harrison State Park, where I’ve never been. The park is gigantic.  At the park entrance I was told the large conference building I needed to find and headed there.  Outside stood a small circle of five women with signs:  “Save the bobcat!”  OK!  Right place and I won’t be alone.  I took from them my bobcat sticker for my shirt and headed into the very fancy hotel, was directed to the large ballroom where this committee would meet.  The Senate committee I’d gone to before had been in a very small crowded room; this was large, coffee and water available, many rows of seats.  I signed in and hesitated about filling out the little card which would say that I wanted to speak.  I still didn’t know if there were “experts” here ready to speak my mind, or just the enthusiastic little circle of women outside.  I was told that I had to fill it out before the meeting began, but if I changed my mind and didn’t want to speak I could just decline when my name was called.  So I filled out the form.
   Because I use hearing aids I had to sit up as close as possible.  I didn’t want to sit in the very first row, looked over the second row.  I wished I could sit by someone with a bobcat sticker but I didn’t see any.  I sat on an end where I knew I’d see the committee chairperson so hopefully I could follow what was happening.  An empty seat beside me was filled by a tall strong-looking man;  a “hunter?”  Not a clue, but during the meeting I had to get clear about what was happening so I had no choice but to ask him “What’s being decided?”  He clarified it for me. 
   The 12 committee members sat at a large U-shaped table with white cloths over them.  None of the committee ever had or used a microphone, and because of the largeness of the room, I still could only catch part of what was going on.  I did understand that the issue of the bobcat had been moved from the last item on the agenda to the first!  Evidently, it was clear that many people were here to express themselves on this issue and if they left it till last they’d be here forever.  Also, as it turned out, the committee had informally already decided to cancel the proposal!  They had received enough protest before, saw the crowd here and knew it was useless to try to push this through.  So before they ever heard anything from us, one of the committee members officially asked that this proposal be withdrawn, and then he had to go on about changing line X, change line Y,  change line Z.  That’s where I had to ask my neighbor what exactly was happening.   When they announced that the proposal for open hunting on the bobcats was cancelled, a great and happy applause broke out throughout all of the seated crowd; I could see that we certainly had the bodies present. 
   A few more items were read related to this and then the chairman offered a break so “If anyone would like to leave, feel free”.   All the bobcat fans happily got up and moved toward the door, gathering noisily in the lobby.
   I waited as others came out, watching for someone specifically with a bobcat sticker to get more details, not having heard it all well.  A tall man explained to me that bobcat hunting had been cancelled “for now”, meaning it could be proposed again and we should watch the papers.  Plus, there had been another proposal which was now also cancelled to allow the euthanizing of raccoons, opposums, coyotes, bats,  “nuisance animals”, when they’re trapped in people’s houses or yards.  Till now, these animals are trapped and then released in remote areas.  I didn’t have quite as clear a feeling about this:  I understand the constant problems these animals can be to people, and that catch and release is time-taking, maybe ends up being repeated.  But – what will our lives be like when we no longer have animals around us? The one proposal that did pass in this committee was to allow the shooting of squirrels from moving cars!   Yes!  Incredible to me.  Some people just have to kill something for fun!   So, not bobcats, then get the squirrels.
    When we’ve logged all the giant old trees and killed off all the animals in the wild, when we have all the land to ourselves on which to build our houses and stay inside, warm or cool,  what will we be like?  We need animals around us. Their presence keeps us grounded and present in the Now, aware of the seasons and how to live in synch with the earth.  Without animals, we could drift off into our imaginations and mental activities, forgetting the whole world of our bodies and the energies of the earth.  Indiana has already long ago lost most of its original forests and wildlife.  For our grandchildren, we will be a flat empty state with lots of human houses with lots of space between them.  Beauty will be gone, beauty that relaxes us and affirms living. When we no longer have animals around to show us how to just “be” and play and sing and rejoice in ordinary activities, how will we remember these parts of ourselves?  Long live the bobcats and the squirrels, and the coyotes and the cute opossums and the dear little bats at night.  May we never “get rid of” all mosquitos so we can still have the birds!  Oh, someone please save us from ourselves!

Today and Another Day

     Today the weather is zero degrees outside, and two inches of new bright snow are keeping most folks at home.  The day is sunny and still.  I carefully drove the five blocks to my beauty shop, inside the Jewish old folks’ home.  Here I sit under the hairdryer, watching the slow parade of nodding heads in wheel chairs as they’re pushed back to their rooms after a very quiet bingo game.  To use my time, I’m trying to think of how to describe in words what I see here.  In front of me, a large transparent garbage bag hanging from a square black metal frame with a cheap grey plastic cover standing open.  It’s 1/3 full of used white towels that smell of permanent solution and hair coloring chemicals.  What else is in front of me?  All is rather unglamorous today.
    But suddenly, I’m remembering another day in my life; maybe the sunlight and quietness were the same there as today.  I’m standing in the hallway of the Louvre in Paris, a long, carpeted, quiet hall before me in subdued browns.  Along the left are statues, usually white, standing on pedestals or in glass boxes.  Sunlight flows down through high indirect windows.  Back farther along the walls are famous Renaissance paintings, dark colors, some gruesome religious subjects,  not appealing to me.  I meander down a ways and then turn into the room where Leonardo’s painting of the Mona Lisa is kept, a little back in a large very protected showcase.  My eyebrows rise; I’m stunned!   She doesn’t look anything like the paper posters and refrigerator magnets where I’ve seen her everywhere!  The real Mona Lisa is rich in the warm colors of real paint, burning browns and oranges, even the dark colors are pulsing with life in them.  She is powerfully calm and present, like a Dalai Lama, on the earth and off the earth. It feels to me as if she’s really here!  Behind her I see a brown dirt road and flowing water; I’d never noticed her background before.  On that day, I sit down on a grey cement bench for 45 minutes and take in her live presence. 
   But back again here in the sunny quiet nursing home, captured under the noisy hair dryer, I find myself remembering a different day in my life.  Maybe once more it’s the similar sunlight and quietness.  I’m standing in a surprisingly small garage; all is brick and cement. I notice there’s no place at all to sit.  To my right are two saw horses supporting a long cardboard box, in which lies the six foot body of my son.  On my left stretches a long black rusty narrow furnace, a little higher than myself.  I’d been told I could be present at his cremation, but I didn’t expect it to be quite so – “mundane.”  I open the bent cardboard over his face, the beautiful face I know, but to my touch it’s cold and hard. He’s not here in his body.  I place a red carnation on his chest – his favorite flower.  Then against the control of Fate, I cut a clump of his sandy brown hair from the left side of his head, to keep his real body with me as long as nature will allow.  I cry, and I tell his spirit how sorry I am for all the things I did wrong as a mother, and that I tried my best to save his life but I couldn’t do it.  Suddenly the tall skinny man says “Cremation takes a lotta hours and we need to get goin’.  ‘Fraid your 15 minutes is already up.”  I kiss my son on the forehead, and then, I don’t remember how, they pick up this long heavy box and shove it into the furnace. I hear the door clank shut.  Then the tall man asks  if I want to push the button to turn the furnace on;  in a fatalistic daze, I do it.  I see the red light go on and we have to leave.
    But now, still sitting again under the quietly noisy hairdryer, I try to remember some other calmer day in my life.  Suddenly, I’m standing alone on a very high hill, looking out over the sunny city of Honolulu;  I see the dark blue waters of Pearl Harbor and the lovely gentle turquoise waters of Waikiki Beach, and over there the large cliff called Diamond Head. The white buildings of the city are everywhere dotted with green palm trees.  I lower my eyes to the ground in front of me.  On the other side of the low grey metal fence, I see the evidence of many tourist buses.  The ground slants downward as open dirt for about 12 feet before the soft green of the cactus fields begins.  All this open area is littered with cans and bottles, the remains of sandwiches, small grey and black plastic containers that once held camera film, and plastic bags waving and nodding like flags in the wind.  I pause, now shocked and distraught.  Then I climb over the fence, grab a stray bag, and begin filling it with junk.  For two hours I fill the bag, climb back up the hill to the empty garbage cans, pour out the trash, and then carefully slide down the slanted ground to fill it again.  Finally I’m satisfied and even go a little way into the cactuses, but I give up on that and return to sit on the fence, once again looking out over the vast sunny multicolored city below.  Now, I feel, I have bonded with the land here.  Now we are good friends, and I have reminded her of how beautiful and precious is the island of Hawaii.
    As my awareness returns here to the beauty shop in the nursing home on an ordinary non-adventurous day,   I add up the total for “days of my life.” I’ve already been given approximately 26,700 days!  How many more might I have before I, too, leave my body behind?  Not another 26,000, not in this body, but if I take care, hopefully quite a few more days, each unique though they may seem the same, and though they flow by so quickly I don’t always notice the unexpected.  I hear that the way to live to be 100 is to live to be 99, and then, be very careful.  Part of my slower future is enjoying memories of many interesting days of living.

Swimming with Wild Dolphins

     How did I lose my courage?  The first day we came out, I was the adventurous one, jumping into this northern Florida bay enthusiastically when Richard, our French-Swiss guide, would call, “Here they come; off to the left!”   Nat was seasick and threw up all afternoon. I didn’t come here because this was one of my own heart’s dreams.  This is one of Nat’s things-I-want-to-do-before -I-die adventures, but it was I who’d quickly put my fins and snorkel and goggles on and plopped right in, heading off wherever Richard said.  Once I jumped in too soon before he’d slowed the pontoon, and I got a hard smack on the head from the boat.  Undaunted, I headed off towards the dolphins.
    I tried to do all that Richard told us:  “Be graceful, and playful.  They’re attracted to playfulness.”  That was difficult; to remember how to breathe with the snorkel, swim fast towards where we see them, but try to swim “gracefully”, and also be “playful.”  I suppose I actually looked ridiculous trying to do all that, but I gave it my all that first day.
      Yesterday Nat participated more.  She took medicine so now she could begin doing what we all came for – that Natalie could swim with the wild dolphins.  She can’t even swim!   All she can do is dog paddle, and here we are out in the ocean!  But this didn’t hold her back one moment yesterday; she has cancer, her days might be numbered; she’s not going to let fear hold her back from living fully now.
      Yesterday was warm but windy and choppy; we left the secluded sand bar area where mostly the dolphin mothers and babies are found and we spent a lot of time out in the open ocean. What luck that we’re here in May, ‘cuz it’s mating season.  We even got up close to see them in threesomes playing together, so engrossed in their own mating games they didn’t pay attention to us.  We saw marvels:  the “walking on water” phenomenon, lots of leaping out of the water and lots of cavorting around together.  I was more used to the snorkel yesterday, but Nat was still learning.  We all gave up on trying to dive down to see them underwater.  The coordination of breathing with the snorkel and diving down is too much to remember in the hurry of the moments when the dolphins are coming. 
      Actually, I think I’m a bit exhausted today from this thing of swimming in the choppy ocean towards the direction they’re coming.   They change direction fast, and they’re swimming about 20 times as fast as I am; then all of a sudden they’re somewhere else so we change direction and swim hard again; then they change direction again.  I think that’s part of my problem today – I cannot keep up swimming with wild dolphins!
     Today’s a little calmer.  Richard has sent Chris, the Canadian intern, out with a bubble machine to swim around us.  “They’re curious about bubbles,” he says, “and they may come around more.” 
    Here they come, just as he said!   OK;  in I go again.
    Yay,  they ARE here! 
    Whoa!  Oh my God.  One just touched me; he swam right by my elbow.  Oh my God!   They are BIG; they are really BIG!  They’re swimming so fast around us.  This is scary!   Oh crap!  Another one below me; I’m trying to look down in the water.  Here it comes,  – beside me!   Oh my God again! 
Whoops.    I think-  this is- enough for me.  I’m heading for the pontoon.  This is a little closer to wild dolphins than I want to be.
    Whew.  I can just sit here with Richard and watch; watching satisfies me fine.  I’ll take photos.   Nat is loving this!   Look at her.  This makes me happy; Nat is truly in her element.  I suppose growing up on a farm gives her a different experience with them.  To me, they’re too big, but she’s used to being around big friendly animals like cows and horses.   Not me; I’m used to feeling small even around other humans!  I know these dolphins are friendly, but their speed and size are – well, beautiful to watch.  Makes me think of being in the middle of a herd of gentle friendly excited buffalo.
      Well, I haven’t failed at a thing, because I didn’t come here at my own initiative.  I came because of Nat, and she’s having her marvelous experience.  This is a whole lot better than back when she stayed at my house through chemo and radiation.  Back when she’d cry in agony between vomiting and constipation, when her mind was so muddled she could hardly stand up at times, and her spirits were crawling along the bottom of the ocean.  Now she’s finished all that and they say she’s clean; now she’s here swimming at the top of the ocean with beautiful creatures, and it gives me joy to be with her.
    Now she’s already said what the next thing is she wants to “do before she dies.”   Hmm.  Can I see myself in the cloud forests of Costa Rica, in a harness, flying like Tarzan through the canopy of the trees of the jungle?  I, who am afraid of heights, who don’t even like big Ferries wheels anymore?  Hmm.  But on the other hand, can I say No to someone I love so much?  We’ve been friends for 40 years; sometimes it feels like we’ve known each other “always”, like in many lifetimes.  I cannot yet picture myself swinging through the trees in the jungle, but I also cannot picture myself not going with Nat, not supporting her in her longing, not being with her in her special experiences, as we both approach the finishing years of our lives.                                2005

Dancing in the ruins of an ancient Hawaiian temple

   Because I have so many dead people in my life story, and have explored how to hold onto those relationships, people often ask me if I’ve ever experienced a “spirit.”  This morning I’m remembering one very clear experience.
    I was in Hawaii.  This was my second trip, this one alone, after I had won a trip to HI a year or so earlier. (Also a delightful story) I’ve dearly loved Hawaii, felt at home as if I’ve lived here before.  I was on the island of Kauai, the farthest out of the main islands and one less populated (so far) by Westerners.  I’d read that the ruins of an ancient temple were on a cliff somewhere near this beach.  I walked the long length of the beach to the end and found myself at the foot of a high wooded hill; a small path up began nearby.  I started the steep climb and eventually found myself at an open place, clearly the old temple ruins.  Three tiers of earth/sand each marked into a rectangle by stones, and all looking out over the shining blue ocean, with trees on either side giving privacy to the view.  Where I stood at the end of the path, a circle of stones was full of small tokens people had left.
   I walked quietly and slowly out into the sandy area of the former temple.  Then I felt a happy urge to dance here.  I’d been taking lessons in Hawaiian dancing; I wasn’t particularly good at it but I did love it and had kind of mastered one dance.  So I began to do it there, facing out towards the ocean, feeling the wind and sun on my body as I flowed in this hula story.
  At one point I faltered a little:  I always messed up in that place in the dance.  I went on and finished.  When I was done, I felt a presence.  It felt masculine, somewhat large and old, and it said to me, “DO IT AGAIN.”  So I did it once more, feeling now that I was being watched.  I faltered again at the same place.  When I finished, I felt the presence loving me somewhat as a child is loved, like ‘Okay, you tried,’  but the voice told me that “One should not make mistakes; one should dance perfectly in the temple.”
    I promised I would practice the dance and come back and do it perfectly. 
   As of today, I have not done this.  I’m not sure I could remember the dance now and even less sure I could walk the length of the beach and climb the hill!  Goddess willing, perhaps I could remember the dance and do it at home here.
   Yes, I have experienced a spirit.  And –  discovered that I was being watched by one!  I felt that he lived there still, as if time stood still for him, and that anyone who entered this historical area should honor and be aware of him. Dancing in a temple is a prayer and a communal experience; one should do it with proper reverence and – perfection!
   I’ll add another small Kauai experience.  As I flew off on a small plane back to the island of  Oahu, I held in my hand a short smooth stick I’d picked up to carry home as a souvenir.  As my plane rose and I looked out the window, I felt the anger of the island coming at me strongly for taking the stick!  So now not only do I owe a perfect dance to a Hawaiian ancient one but I have a small stick I must somehow keep separate from all my other earthy collections and return one day to its land.