Granny Goat

granny goat

Sometimes patience is totally appropriate and sometimes holding a firmer boundary is needed. The trick is listening to, trusting – and then responding – to your own inner signals and body wisdom in a timely manner.

I watched this granny goat at the farm the other day. The kid on her back is actually her grandbaby goat and she is VERY pregnant once again. Her grandkid kept repeatedly jumping on her back and happily stayed there – grandma being incredibly patient – until she shifted her body very slightly and the kid would fall off.

I was fascinated by the grandma’s gentle love & patience, and by how she would take care of herself when she felt “done”. She loves her grandbaby AND she loves herself. Both the patience AND the boundaries she held were a movement of love. With no story that it is selfish to take care of herself, she tends to all with ease and naturalness.



I was thinking about arcs the other day, about how almost everything has its own arc – a beginning, a slow or fast rise, a peak, the waning, and the eventual completion. We often sense when an arc has completed itself, but can override it nonetheless.   There is an arc of a playdate (and when overridden, within minutes, minor injuries and squabbles inevitably ensue), an arc of a conversation (wait too long past this arc and in enters boredom and irritation), an arc of a relationship (caution:proceeding past the arc of this one equals immense suffering), and the arc of a life.

(I don’t know that we can override the arc of a life.  That is perhaps what can be so terrifying to many.)

Over time, I have gotten better at listening to the signals that an arc is ending.   Often they are subtle, requiring me to be still so that I can hear beyond the noise of my own (and other’s) wants, agendas and stories.  I’m learning that if I miss the signals, it’s usually because I’m more interested in a fantasy than what is true.

Take the relatively innocuous playdate example.  It’s a beautiful day at the park. I’m enjoying chatting with the other moms, the kids have been playing peacefully for a solid 2 hours (wow!).  And then the signals begin – subtle at first: a child’s tone of voice becomes slightly sharp, a worn-out look crosses another child’s face (only for a moment though).  And I know – the playdate is done.  Go directly home.  Don’t wait.

But I do.  I do wait, because I am enjoying the adult connection time, because the sun is still so warm on my skin, because I am delaying the trip to Whole Foods.  I am ignoring Reality for a fantasy of what I want more…then, within minutes, a child falls off the bars or a fight over a toy breaks out, and Life has once again let me know that I have outstayed the welcome of the moment. I have moved beyond the natural flow of life.  The arc was done 5 minutes ago, but I didn’t want to let go.

I’m getting better at sensing when the arc of a relationship is done and actually acting on this knowing.  This has been a big life lesson for me, one that I have resisted learning for years (with immense suffering as an inevitable byproduct).

Of course, I found that it’s really okay if I don’t listen to the subtle signals.  Life is kind and patient.  “Oh,” it says,“You’re not quite ready to listen? Okay.  I’ll just keep giving you more hints until you pay attention.” Sometimes Life has to hit us over the head with a hammer.  This is still Life being kind.  It has our best interest at heart – but it is resorting to more blunt tactics to get us to let go.  “The arc is done”, it says.  “It’s time.  Let go.  There is goodness waiting for you…”

And so I keep practicing listening for the signals, paying attention while they’re gentle and subtle, and then moving quickly to bring completion to an arc when I know it is done.  (Note: This can sometimes mean mustering unimaginable amounts of inner courage and surrounding myself with all manners of support.) In this way, I am ready for the next arc and all the magic that it has to bring.

I am learning that what Life has to bring is way better than any agenda I might have or any fantasy that I want to hold on to.  So, I am completing arcs now in a relatively timely fashion.  It’s a nice break from being hit in the head with a hammer.  🙂


Siena’s Tooth

Today I have to take my daughter in to have a tooth pulled –the roots are infected.  It’s a baby tooth that normally falls out when a child is 10.  Siena is 7.  I notice the story that arises in me about it: “The tooth shouldn’t have to come out.  The infection shouldn’t be happening. She should get to lose her tooth ‘naturally’.”  With that story comes a contraction in my heart, and…well, suffering.

Then I catch myself. I look at that part of myself that thinks it knows what should be happening better than Reality.  The suffering eases, and I become curious about what will come about from this experience of “Siena getting her molar pulled” without any story that it is right or wrong.  I still have a mother’s ache for Siena’s fear and for the pain she will likely feel as the tooth is extracted…but there is something else there too – a willingness to meet the day with openness and curiosity.  Now I can be present for her and gently remind her that nothing that is happening is wrong, that she can trust the unfolding, and that she can trust the wisdom of her own body, knowing that – for her – it is simply time to for this particular tooth to go.  It is okay to let it go.

Tonight she’ll have another tooth to put under her pillow.  And I will have another of her baby teeth to safely and tenderly store away with the others, until she’s ready to ask for them back.




The Encounter

It happened effortlessly.  One boy – severely autistic – sat in his father’s bike trailer, quiet, in his own world.  And then suddenly – out of nowhere it seemed  – another boy came running and leaped into the trailer next to the autistic boy.  The father, momentarily startled, turned to look.   Sensing that this new addition to his trailer meant no harm, his body relaxed and he returned to his adult conversation.

Meanwhile, the new boy smiled in delight at his find: the delicious safety of the bike trailer, the warmth of the boy next to him, the faint possibility that the bike attached to the trailer might move and he could be in for a ride.  It turns out the new boy was also autistic, although not to the same degree as the first.

The first boy gently raised his hand to pet his new seatmate.  The new boy received the strokes, smiling. His mother nervously tried to coax him out of the stranger’s trailer.  But her son refused to leave.  And why should he?  He had found a safe haven. He had found a companion who loved him, without demanding anything in return.  He could sit joyfully in this communion with his friend, shaded by the trees, enveloped by the canvas of the trailer, and simply be.

The gentle touches and joyful smiles went on for a good 45 minutes.  Both boys were completely relaxed and at ease. At one point, the first boy fell asleep while his new friend continued to smile with joy and delight, and from time to time, lightly stroked his now sleeping friend.  When it was time for the boy’s father to leave (and take the trailer!), the mother had to use all her strength to pull her son out of the trailer while he cried and clung to the canvas, not wanting to let go.  He had found home and wasn’t ready to leave.

It struck me how effortlessly this encounter had happened.  The first boy, just sitting, being himself, without even an awareness of any longing for connection; the second boy seeing the trailer, Life impelling him to jump inside, without any thought of “This isn’t my trailer.  I shouldn’t go in.  Maybe the boy inside won’t like me.  Maybe I should ask permission from the grown-up.”  He just leapt inside as if no other act in the world were more natural in that moment than simply joining the boy in the trailer.

And so, without any effort, without any agenda, or attempts to “make things happen”, two boys met each other, in communion, in joy, for 45 blissful minutes in their canvas hideaway under the trees.  All that was required was one boy following what was natural, just moving with the undercurrent of Life, and another boy receiving what Life had brought his way.

I was graced to be a witness to this all.   And by witnessing, I found that I too was included in this communion.  It turns out that Life had also called me to this joining  – to this encounter – and I, with deep awe and gratitude, received this call.


Part 2: After the Surgery

If you’re going to look like you’ve just been run over by a train, the hospital is a good place to be.  Visitors tend to expect the “unusual” when they enter the hospital doors.  They know to prepare themselves for the worst – and so – when they saw a young woman, with her head wrapped in bandages, limping along, dragging an IV stand beside her, they seemed to take it in stride.  Some visitors even nodded and smiled.

As a patient, it’s easy to get lulled into believing that this is how the “outside world” will greet you.  My first glimpse of reality came the day I was to finally go home – when I thought I was still within the “safety” of the hospital bounds.  The doctors had taken off my bandages that morning and I was in my room, waiting for my mom to come pick me up and take me home.

A cleaning woman entered my hospital room.  She looked at me and stopped, openly staring.

“Have you seen yourself yet?” She asked.

“No.”  I answered.

“Don’t look at yourself in the mirror for a long, long time.  It will be easier that way.”

It struck me that she probably thought she was being kind.  And at some level, I also appreciated that she didn’t “pretend” that I looked normal.  I later learned that people’s “pretending” was much more difficult for me to deal with.

In any case, it wasn’t advice that I was going to follow.  My plan had always been to give myself the week in the hospital to simply focus on healing from the surgery, and then, to face myself in the mirror as soon as I arrived home.  It was also something that I needed to do alone.

When I finally arrived back at my mom’s place, I went directly to the bathroom mirror.  It’s hard to describe the moment when I saw the new “me”.   I looked at her objectively, as I imagine a doctor might examine a patient, observing and assessing the damage.  Her face was swollen, with a map of dark purple scars running across the top half of her face.   The entire structure of the upper two-thirds of her face was completely altered (never to return to previous form) and a fine, black, stubble of hair was growing back in.  My first thought was “She looks disfigured”.  There was no other way to describe it.   I now understood why the cleaning woman at the hospital had warned me not to look.

In retrospect, I think that I was very gentle with myself.  I spent only a few minutes looking in the mirror that first time.  I knew it would be a long time for my face to heal and that I wouldn’t know the final outcome of my appearance for many more months to come (years, as it turned out).  I didn’t cry.  Not then.  What was most true for me was the utter strangeness of not recognizing the face in the mirror, but knowing that “I” was still here.  It was an odd feeling to adjust to and I can honestly say, that, even to this day, I don’t fully feel like my face is my own.  It is just the face I have and there is almost an impersonal feeling about it.  My current face was not my doing, any more than the face with which I was born.

What’s interesting to me is that the grief for the loss of my “old” face did not come at this point.  I think that I hadn’t yet let in the reality that the old face was truly gone.  There was an in-between period, in which, although I clearly saw in the mirror that the old face was gone, it was still “with” me, sort of like a phantom limb.  Of course the new face was there too, but I hadn’t fully welcomed it.  Psychologically, I was “in-between faces”.  I had neither the old face nor the new face.

It wasn’t until a few months later that I fully realized that the old face was not coming back and the grieving began.  And although, for the most part, that grief has moved through, there are still moments, 20 years later, when an intense moment of longing for the old face will arise and I have to pause and give myself time for it to subside.

The next big challenge during my first week home from the hospital came when I “went out into the world”.  Before the surgery, I always enjoyed smiling at everyone.  It didn’t matter whether I knew them or not, young, old, beautiful, “homely” – I felt moved to smile at everyone.  There was simply an inherent joy in seeing each person and in some small way letting them know that they were seen and welcomed, just as they are.

But after the surgery, I found that people quickly averted their eyes upon seeing me.   The first time it happened, an instantaneous wave of shame swept through me, coupled with shock.  I’m revolting to them.  And a half-second later there was the realization: I no longer belong.

Somehow it felt like it was my fault.  There was something wrong with me that was making them uncomfortable.  The thought arose: I should hide my face.

At some level, I felt that there was an unspoken societal agreement that I should not make eye contact – that eye contact brought about people’s discomfort and it would be easier on everyone if I just kept my face down.  Thus the shame was intensified if I made eye contact.  The act itself felt rebellious, as if I were risking severing the very last thread that kept me included as a member the “tribe”.

The only relief in my outings came when I ran into young children.  They did not yet have any story that they should look away.  Instead, they stared at me with curiosity and sometimes they would even ask me directly, “What happened?”  It was a relief to be seen and to simply tell them about my surgery.  I realize now that when I shared about what happened, there was a part of me that was trying to make others understand, “See!  I wasn’t always this way.  I used to look normal.  I used to belong.  I used to be just like you.”

I quickly recognized at a deep, intuitive level, that I was at a crucial choice point.  On the one hand, I could conform to the beliefs of our culture, believe that there was something wrong and unnatural about the way I looked, and hide myself so that others did not need to be with their discomfort  – and thus, I did not have to be with their discomfort.

Or…I could meet this discomfort fully  – mine and theirs.  I could continue to let this love in me, that wanted to look people in the eye and smile and welcome them, move in the way it longed to.  In doing so, I would have to meet my own shame, face my fears of being an outcast, and ultimately, let go of my beliefs about what is beautiful and natural.

At some point, I realized that it wasn’t really a choice.  To hide myself in shame required a fundamental denial of what felt like the truest, purest part of me.  It felt like a denial of Life itself.  For a reason I can’t explain, I sensed at a core level, that if I started on that path of denial, it might be irreversible.  This scared the hell out of me.

So, hesitantly at first, I began to smile at everyone once again.

It was the beginning of really standing in my own two feet.  The act of smiling at others, now with my “new” face, meant that I had to stop letting others’ reactions to me impact the way I felt about myself, how I moved, how I lived.  It also meant that I had to stop referencing my own self-defeating beliefs for any kind of truth about my value and beauty.

To do this, I had to reference something else, something truer.   I turned inward to this true, pure part of me.  At the time, I might have labeled this part of me “innate goodness and love”.  I see now that this “innate goodness and love” was the very same Love that “took over” the night before the surgery – this Love that was me and bigger than me at the same time.  I began to allow myself to rest in it, to trust in it, and to draw upon it each time I made eye contact and smiled at another.

I let go of needing others to respond to me in any particular way and just let this Love move me in whatever way felt natural and true.  I saw that if I wanted the freedom to move in a way that felt true for me, I needed to give others the freedom to move in their own way, even if that included a turning away from me.

Over time, I came to know that this Love was innately beautiful and thus, I was beautiful – all of me, including the parts of me that still felt shame and still felt afraid (because the shame and fear lingered for a long, long time).

This was one of the gifts from “after the surgery”.   There would be many more gifts to come, some of which I did not fully realize until many years later and some of which I am still in the process of understanding even today.  The learning and seeing is a constant unfolding and I am incredibly grateful that I am here, in this life, for all of it.  🙂