Thursday, December 17, 2009

Twelve things that inspired me this year

This video, a talk from National Geographic photographer Wade Davis, got me thinking in a new way about the world of communities in which we live.

I'm not much into "woo woo." I know that seems strange: After all, I make my living writing about angels. But I'm really a practical person-a former systems analyst and journalist, who's had the remarkable experience of reading thousands of letters from people all over the world about real-life angel experience.

In the past, I've had trouble articulating exactly what I DO think angels are, where they come from, how they interact with us. But writing my book, Sea of Miracles, this year, has helped me to.... well, to know what I know--and to explain it.

This video... from Abraham-Hicks comes as close to describing the way I see God--and angels--as anything I've found - the "vortex" of well-being out of which the angels work, out of which all things come and into which all things return.

You've already seen this one - everyone has. Still, I'm including it in my inspiration round-up because each and every time I watch it, I'm reminded of the remarkable magic of a dream; and that, anyone could be hiding the most marvelous talent under the most ordinary exterior.

This blogger, Maira Kalman, a gifted illustrator, whose work has many times graced the covers of the New Yorker. Kalman's work came to my attention through my sister, Beth, also an artist. Beth crafts her work in clay, and her 50th birthday gift to me, top row, far left at Wise Old Bird, made me cry - because being seen really, deeply seen by someone you love, is the greatest gift of all.

This question: Now that my children have left for college, what will I make of all the empty space left behind? What will I make of me?

That question led me to...

Raw. A whole new way of eating - and the chef turned blogger who, using her culinary training, created the delicious recipes that finally got me to try it. Since August, when I encountered Susan Powers' beautiful blog and recipes, I've lost 22 of the most stubborn pounds on the planet. I feel more energized and alive than I have in years.

and back to...

And poetry.
And my own journey.
And the way that my teacher, Suzi Weiss, helps me braid them all together.

and to...

Twitter. To say Twitter has changed my life would sound ridiculous. But it has.
On Twitter, you 'follow' people who seem interesting and engage with them in bursts of 140-character "tweets". Your tribe builds and before you know it, you're chatting about babies with a new mom in Australia at the same time you're discussing a spiritual conundrum with a banker in Wisconsin. Follow me at @amyoscar and I'll show you around... just remember to let me know you're there by addressing a tweet to @amyoscar

A new way of doing business.

Heart of Business from Mark Silver, a gifted writer and spiritual teacher who is also a Dad. Mark teaches, "You can make a profit while making a difference." More important, he serves as a role model - a man walking the spiritual path right down the center of the material world, having fun and making money doing it.


Jonathan Fields, the author of Career Renegade, and his "Tribal Author Boot Camp" - a weekend workshop that arrived just where and when I needed it. (Funny how that happens!) With a generosity I've rarely encountered, Jonathan shares his secrets of successful "tribe-building" - and the tools we need to establish an online presence. Most important, he shares his heart, encouraging us to do the same. "Give more than you get," he teaches. "Build your business around the work that you'd do anyway - even if you never received a dime for doing it."

These teachers inspired me to ask: What do I do anyway? and out of that inquiry, to start the Spirited Writers Collective where I get to do what I love doing--supporting other writers in achieving their dreams. And I invite you to join us!


Janet Paist at the Angel Salon who discovered me, about a year ago, and put me "on the air". Since then, our weekly radio show: Angels and Archetypes! and the people that we connect with in our chat room and on the air conversation, have inspired me beyond what words can express.

A brain researcher/scientist finds herself experiencing a stroke and realizing: "We are energy beings connected to each other ... as one human family... brothers and sisters on this planet here to make the world a better place." Profoundly inspiring. Have a tissue handy.




Finally, the inspiration I did not number because it is eternal and without boundary: My family - especially my husband, whose brilliant architectural projects awe me, and in whose enduring love, I rest,

From our house to yours, Happy Holidays and a Bright and Shiny New Year filled with inspiration!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Angel on a Bridge

Years ago, before everyone had a cell phone, I ran out of gas on the Throgs Neck Bridge, twelve miles from New York City.

As my car lost all its power, the steering wheel locked and we rolled to a stop in the right lane, just after the curve. From this position, oncoming motorists couldn’t see us until they were 50 ft. away. Approaching at 60 mph, they swerved around us, brakes screeching. Several shouted rude remarks, shaking their fists.

I could make excuses: It was Thanksgiving and we were running late. I had a terrible cold. My two-year-old daughter had been screaming on and off for two hours, upsetting her four-year-old brother and distracting me. Exhausted, overwhelmed, I’d missed the red fuel light on my dashboard. Still, it hardly mattered why we were stuck—I had to do something to protect my children, and my car, from being hit.

My son was fast asleep. Pulling my wailing daughter from her car seat, I set her on my hip and walked behind the car. There, I began flapping my free arm like a broken windmill, warning approaching motorists away.

Suspended high above the choppy Long Island Sound in high November winds, the guardrail only up to my thigh, Katie and I could easily have been blown right off the bridge!

Holding her tighter, I shuddered: God help us! I prayed.

A moment later, a small red fire truck pulled up before me, lights flashing. As it parked protectively behind my car, a Boar’s Head delivery truck pulled in front of us. Provisions, read the sign, painted on its side. Sandwiched between them, we were saved!

“I almost hit you," the driver of the fire truck said. ”I was looking down changing the radio stations and wham! There you were! Walking down the road with this baby in your arms. What a picture! I knew I'd better stop before someone else, not as careful as me, hit you.”

The other driver approached more quietly. “Ran out of gas?” he asked, and sensing my embarrassment, he added, "No shame in that. Happened to me once.”

“Really?” I asked, feeling a good deal less ridiculous.

I put Katie back in the car and the two men found the bridge’s emergency phone, and called for a tow truck.

Then, “The tow truck is going to push you off the bridge," the Boar's Head driver explained. "Turn off on the Clearview and pull over first chance you get. I’ll drive ahead and get you some gas.”

“Bless you, thank you,” I said. The tow driver came, barking instructions, "Put it in neutral, stay off the brakes," and BANG! we were off. He pushed, I steered, doing some of the deep breathing I'd been saving for emergencies, and we made our bumpy, jerky way down the exit ramp where I pulled into a grassy embankment at the side of the highway and stopped.

But… "You idiot!!!" the tow truck driver came running from behind. "You had an angel meeting you, you didn't listen"

"What? I don’t…”

"That guy, he was meeting you at the Clearview, the Clearview," he shouted, face red. "This is the Cross Island!" Storming back to his truck, he left us there.

I cried for a while. Then, I put a blanket around Max’s shoulders and wrapped Katie inside my jacket. We began to walk. I could see some stores about a quarter mile away, behind the embankment. Maybe I could get something warm for the children to eat. We could go to the bathroom. Maybe they’d let me use the phone...

“Mommy,” Max asked. “Who's that man by our car?" I turned and... there he was-the driver of the Boar’s Head truck, already putting gas in our tank.

When I tell this story, I usually leave out the part where he lifted one end of my car and shook it, to make the gas run into the lines. It seems so outlandish – even I’m unsure sometimes if that really happened. I skip ahead to the part when my car was turned on, the engine humming, the heat warming my children's hands and I turned to thank our rescuer.

“Let me pay you for the gas,” I said, holding up a twenty, all the money I had. “Let me buy you dinner.”

He smiled. And I noticed, for the first time, his beautiful eyes. “You keep it, Ma’am,” he said. “You go home and live a good life and raise these kids and that will be thanks enough for me.”

“But,” I stuttered. “I want to do something to thank you… at least, tell me your boss’s name, I'll send a letter."

"My boss knows how sweet I am," he said. "Go on home."

As he walked away, I scribbled down the name of his company and the phone number painted on the side of his truck. Then, I put my car into gear and drove my children to their grandparents’ house. All the way there, I composed the letter in my head. I imagined the gift I’d send: An American Express gift certificate, tickets to a show…

But when I called the number I’d carefully copied into my journal, it was out of service. When I phoned the Boar’s Head company they told me there was no distributor in the town that had been painted on the side of that truck, no driver on record with his name.

Then, I didn’t know how to explain it. But I do now: He was an incarnated angel, sent, in a truck marked Provisions, to rescue two children and a frazzled mom from the top of a bridge, and to remind us: You are never alone.

- - - - - -- -

This is the first of many stories in my new book, Sea of Miracles. If you'd like to be put on the mailing list for the book's release, please send me an email: The book should be finished in early January.

If you have an angel story you'd like to share with me, I'd love to hear it. You can send it by email or post it on my FB page, where I'm collecting stories for this, and future books.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


This morning at 5 a.m., when I opened my eyes, God said: Go read the Torah now. Begin at the beginning.

And I knew what was coming. As God hovered over the dark waters of the morning, I went into the alcove between my husband’s office and the stairs where he keeps all the books that are, for one reason or another, sacred to him.

The books about business and community and architecture; books about attention, meditation and education; and these Jewish books, including two copies of the Torah, which our children received, each from a different rabbi.

To get one, I had to take things apart. I had to peel back the layer of green wire mesh that my husband had, for some reason, bent into a protective veil over the bookshelf.

I took hold of the book and pulled it down, carrying it—great weight—from the back of the house to the kitchen where I placed it on the table.

I circled it several times, as I made tea and put four organic, free-range brown eggs up to boil. I considered the book, plump with portent, sitting ripe as any berry freshly plucked from a living vine; soaked like a sponge in wine and tears and tradition; the waiting wet pond of my people.

I picked it up.

I threw back the cover - wildly, but at the same time, I did it casually, as if I didn’t really care, as if I hadn’t been paddling around its circumference for years.

There was a note, handwritten in the front cover: something about curses, having to do with the Torah portion that my son had pretended to study but which he had really just memorized from a tape that my friend, Marla, had recorded just for him.

The important thing, and the reason I’m taking the time to tell this was the signature of the 30-something teacher who introduced me, finally, to the first page of tradition and who, as soon as our bible study class was complete, left the rabbinate to become a psychotherapist.

I'm sure it had nothing to do with me. I'm sure that, it's just a coincidence that this happened a month after I entered his office and closed the door and handed him my spiritual heart--all shot through and bleeding--and said, "Please."

I'm sure he was already thinking about it.

It’s all God. It’s all being. It’s all doing—and it is all, every bit of it, juicy and dripping with meaning. And God hovering over the mudhive and the swirling, leech infested brew.

Begin at the beginning, God said, and each day we do.

As I write this, at a cafe, I stop, from time to time, to look out the window - an activity which, once, in a writing group, someone told me a poet must never do. She said it would distract us; she said we'd lose our thread, lose our way. Poets, she explained (as we all looked out the window) are especially sensitive to distractions.

Outside, a little black dog who looks exactly like TOTO is barking. He is running back and forth in little stripes along the lawn, just playing with life, unaware that up above, a poet is looking out the window.

He reminds me of my son, who used to run back and forth like that, circling the edge of the playground, his little chin eagerly up, wagging the tail that all human children keep hidden in their underpants lest anyone notice how in love they so easily fall with everything.

I come to the page to talk about the broken place.

I come to capture the rush, of the words, that willy nilly come, tumbling and crashing over rocks that will not move.

I come to quiet the beehive of busy babble in my mind.

I come to find the silence, though nothing terrifies me more.

This morning, when I mentioned, on Twitter, that I believe that God is in everything, someone sent me this message:

@AmyOscar Only 1 true God. The God of Abraham... And all eyes are on Israel..Read What in the world is going on by Dr. jerimah good read.

And I thought. No one is listening. We are all just waiting our turn to bleat out something we heard someone else say.

I do this sometimes. I fall in love with something beautiful that someone else has said and want to write it down and pretend that it’s mine. But I don't. But I want to.

It’s just that I’m afraid that I’ll forget, afraid that some bright word opportunity will flit by and I, so easily distracted, will be looking out the window.

Which reminds me of my mother, for several reasons - most of which I will forget to mention once I start laying them onto the page.The shyness, and the easy distraction and the brilliance that gets lost when she gropes around inside herself for a rope… or a foothold or whatever metaphor she uses to get hold of herself.

And that reminds me of Susan Boyle, the poor tortured, awkward, not ready for prime time singer.

Last year, when she popped up on my Facebook page, I thought: They will tear her apart.

And they did.

On that day: The day when Susan did not win “Britain’s Got Talent,” 218 people were lost in a plane crash at sea. On the same day, halfway around the globe, a man opened fire in the House of God and killed a man who performed abortions.
I heard all three stories on the radio, where it was all stirred together in a muddy cocktail of disaster.
At the end they played a clip of someone saying, “I just hope this doesn’t give liberals a way to paint all pro-life activists as terrorists.”

And I shouted at the radio: “We are ALL terrorists!"

Shouting at the radio is a lot like blogging. You have a great deal to say, and you say it—or shout it—and hope that someone hears.

Poor Susan Boyle. ”It’s unconscionable,” Simon Cowell told her. “What the media have done to you,” as if he wasn’t one of them. She lives with her cats. She’s never been kissed. What did he THINK would happen?

Bunch of buillies in a schoolyard, circling the tongue-tied “plain, frumpy” singer from her little village who, through the sheer force of her beautiful voice (and her compelling and quirky story) got herself 350 million views on YouTube.

“I would hate to be Susan Boyle tonight,” Cowell said, before she went back on that stage and, after not winning, had herself a good cry in her hotel room where she collapsed, and was rushed to the hospital with “exhaustion and a nervous breakdown.”

I knew I'd get distracted. I knew I'd lose my thread.

I get this from my mother who will interrupt even the most important conversation to gasp, “Oh look.” There’s a little yellow bird. Sometimes it’s a butterfly, or her kitten’s caught a leaf; and I’m sure that if a lily happened to be bursting through the bracken, this is the moment when my mother, a poet who insists on looking out the window, would notice it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Leaping (aka The Problem with Perfection)

Today, as I continue my wrestling match with the question: How do I stay grounded while also expanding into the fullness of who I am; I am noticing some, you know, issues.

There is the tendency to get so excited as things are about to "become" or to begin, that I leap before looking - resulting in situations that frighten or, more often, embarrass, me.

This happens in every area of my life but it happens most often in those places where I am not quite sure I measure up.

So, work - where I do things like...
. . . mailing off a proposal to the president of a major publishing house (after he has been kind enough to extend me that incredible privilege) without completely checking the manuscript
. . . writing and releasing a major piece of work without getting it approved first
. . . announcing, "Oh, whoopee. My book will be available on January 1st when I am still not completely sure whether this chapter comes before or after that one."

There is the tendency, when this happens, to roll up into a tight, tiny ball of anxiety and shame... for a long, long time. And to avoid anyone or anything--including the project itself--that might remind me what a fool I have been and make me... you know, feel bad.

There is the tendency, when THAT happens, to sink into spasms of self-recrimination and a great deal of flailing about and breaking into perfectly decent, often quite lovely paragraphs and ripping them to shreds. Which makes me feel bad.

And the tendency, when THAT happens to cry.

I'm working on this. Working less on keeping myself from leaping - more on letting it be okay if I make a mistake. Letting it be okay if I get excited about something. Letting it be okay to not get the thing I want but to ask for it anyway. Tiny goals on a great big field. Huge payoff.

And so, without any further ado, I am going to leap right before your eyes. I am going to publish this blog post without being absolutely certain that it's perfect... willing to come back and fix it later, if need be.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The hair debate

If I spend one more minute obsessing about my hair....

Which do you like better? The short....

Or the long?

Be honest. I won't mind. No, really. Just tell me.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Gratitude, forgetting, gratitude, forgetting...

A few weeks ago, as I was writing--burning off the caffeine of my second cup of tea--Ed slid into the seat across from me. "I have a poem for you to read," he said, pulling a sheet of paper from somewhere inside of his powder blue windbreaker.

I've been talking with Ed, an 80-something regular at the cafe where I write, for three years. We chat about the weather, his declining health, my smile, which he always teases out of me. In all this time, he's never shared anything personal, never seated himself at my table.

“A poem?” I blinked up from the silty bottom of myself where I'd been trawling, practicing holding my breath forever. I struggled up to meet Ed, lungs filled with magic air.

Ed, quite hard of hearing, reads my lips, nods. “My wife wrote it,” he says, unfolding the paper like a treasure map, pressing his fingers along the folds. “I worked at the National Broadcast Company-in supplies. I don’t know why she was interested in me. I was so shy. She was shy too I guess. She was from the music department.”

"We were married at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York," he says. "I lived in Brooklyn. She was from New Jersey. We thought we'd make the wedding in the middle, even though she wasn’t Catholic.”

He tells me that, on the morning of the wedding, a friend gave him a ride; picked him up early; drove all the way into town before, "at the Hotel Pennsylvania,” he says. “We realized I’d brought the wrong bag. I didn’t have my wedding suit.”

He dispatched another friend to run back to Brooklyn for the suit. Ed went inside the church to explain. “I was half an hour late to my own wedding,” he tells me, laughing. “The priest was impatient. ‘Eddie,’ he told me. " I’ve another wedding right behind you. Lace up those shoes!’”

After the wedding, Ed waited outside the church, greeting guests. “My wife was inside looking for me. I made a lot of mistakes.”

“What was her name?”

“Muriel,” he says. “She died... 57…”

“In 1957?” I’m trying to do the math. She’d have been so young. Did they have any children?

“What’s that?” he asks, leaning forward.

“Was she 57 when she passed, or was it 1957?”

He shakes his head. "She was 57. The cancer just swept her away.” He sighs.

The poem, "Ode to Eddie," calls him a flirtatious hunk with dazzling blue eyes. All the girls wonder why he hasn’t been plucked, it reads. Any of us would gladly try our luck.

In Ed's beautiful eyes, there has always been this twinkle. I can just imagine him, years ago. He's still a charmer. “You must have been something,” I say.

“What’s that?” he leans closer. I amplify, speaking slowly. He grins. “I was very shy.”

He takes the poem from me, refolds it into a precious packet which he tucks back into a pocket. “I never knew who wrote it,” he says. “She didn't tell me until we we'd been dating a while."

He pulls himself to his feet with his walker. “I thank you for the gift of your time,” he says. My response is drowned by the sound of the espresso machine.

Today, I showed this post to Ed and he read it with tears in his eyes - I watched him read, my own eyes brimming. He corrected a few errors - "I knew she wrote the poem before we were married," he said; and he told me the year Muriel had died, 1981. He gave me permission to run the story here, adding, "I don't know why you'd want to tell my little story..."

I tried to explain why his story had touched me, why I thought it might touch my readers. But he couldn't hear me. So I hugged him. And for both of us, that was gratitude enough.


Note: The title of this little slice of life comes from David Gonzales, a brilliant storyteller and performer, who blesses my life with his friendship.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

On shining

It's so hard to shine. To just take our wild and wonderful selves out into the world and show up. We're afraid that we'll mess up, forget our lines, drop our index cards. We're afraid we won't look perfect: we'll get a zit, our bulges and bumps will stick out, we'll stain our blouse, we'll break a heel. Most of all, we're afraid we'll be seen, really seen-and, of course, there's nothing more terrifying than that.

And yet, for people like me, with a built in microchip for performance (and I've yet to meet the human being who hasn't got one), there is something even more challenging: Not shining.

All of my life, I've dreamed of being an author. From the moment I held that first book in my hands, as I read my way through every volume in the children's section of the Great Neck Library, I knew.

I knew that I wanted to spend my whole life immersed in story. I knew, somehow, that this was my gift and that I was meant to shine it into the world.

But I never ever dreamed that getting my stories out there would require me to become a social marketing maven, a packaging whiz kid, a public relations expert. And I'm not sure I want to...

I love my quiet life-arriving at the Internet cafe at dawn and writing flat out, deep in the flow, until the lunch crowd arrives. I love putting on my sneakers and walking through the nearby corporate parks and the woods that surround them until the 9-5'ers return to their cubicles. I love returning to "my" corner of the cafe to write some more.

I do not love selling myself. To me, the simplest: Hey, wanna read this? feels as if I'm pushing myself on people. I don't like to impose. I don't like to ask for favors or, even worse, ask for money.

So I've been thinking a lot about shining as my book gets closer to publication.

I think about it when I read this blog from Elissa Stein, an up and coming author who's been blogging her way through the uncomfortable process of expanding the self, as her book is released.

I think about it in yoga when we do a pose that requires us to "shine out from the heart" and I get kinda wobbly.

I thought about when my daughter called from film school, sobbing--not because some boy broke her heart, not because she'd failed a test--but because she'd just shot her first roll of film and, after so many years of working and hoping to wind up here, she was absolutely overwhelmed with joy... and terror.

And then, yesterday morning during shabasana at the end of practice, I was lying on my yoga mat listening to the steady thrum, thrum, thrum of Tibetan singing bowls, when the teacher began to read David Whyte's poem, "The Winter of Listening" and I felt, arising from a deep place, a web of connections.

I thought about my father, whose mind is expanding beyond all boundaries even as he sits in a wheelchair, in a nursing home; and my mother, who seems, finally, to be finding her center while painting, in watercolor, the intricate patterns of the stones she's collected all of her life.

Two quiet, contemplative people, shining.

I thought about how, three years ago, when I gave up one project (the launch of an online magazine) for another (helping my parents sort through the sale of their home and the separation of their lives) I expanded into the unexpected: healing the heart of our family. And how that choice has informed and driven everything in my life since.

And how loving my parents in this new way is the deepest kind of shining I have ever felt.

I thought about how this year, just as I was starting the final leg of this book-writing journey--my book was finished, I'd enrolled in a master's program, my kids were safely tucked away at college-my husband's business collapsed and it looked like many of my own plans would have to be set aside. And how, this time, instead of feeling resentment, I felt... kinda shiny about it.

I thought about my daughter's film in which a young man falls to the earth, suddenly sprouting a pair of enormous, stunningly beautiful white wings.

And I started to laugh--but quietly, so as not to disturb the other students who were properly doing shabasana.

For until that moment, I'd wondered if I'd ever find a steady course to my dreams. But now, every one of those distractions, revealed itself as a soul call, enriching my life and bringing me a deeper understanding of how it all fits together.

I saw the whole thing stretch around me in a pattern that was both everywhere all at once and was, also, contained in a tight singularity at the center of my soul. It told me: It may seem as if you are being led astray, as if you are being distracted far off of your path. But you are exactly where you are meant to be.

There is a guiding "knowledge" deep inside of me, an inner core of certainty, a driver of the little car of my life and she knows exactly where she's going. I may not understand the turns she makes and I'm sure I will argue with her detours. But she does not care. Somehow, in spite of all my striving, my doing, my scribbled plans, she--the "lit angel" of my desire--is driving the car.

The thing that I've been chasing has been here all along--in the imperfect, the broken, the mistake, the struggle. She does not live in the destination, she lives in the side-trip, the flat tire, the distraction that disturbs and then nourishes everything we need.

My work always lands where it's supposed to... and so far, it's arriving just fine, in front of more than a million pair of eyes each week through the magazine column that I write. When this book is ready, the lit angel will make sure it lands in the hands that are waiting to receive it.

What I am trying, very clumsily to say is simply this: We are always shining. Every moment of our lives, already shining our beauty into the world, right in the middle of our messy lives. Life comes toward us like a road, we meet it as best we can as it slides beneath our wheels, constantly changing. And yet, the driver remains, constant and steady and certain.

That's why I laughed. And in that laugh was my shout of joy, one step closer to being born.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The first house we did not buy

“You should have seen this place." The owner's name was Patrick. "Every weekend, people came up from Brooklyn, Queens - so many people. The house was always filled.”

On our way over, Mary, our real estate agent had told us his story. "The only son died twenty years ago--car accident. The wife never really got over it. She died, five years ago... cancer." When he'd called her office, asking for an appraisal, she'd found him living alone, desperately lonely. "He broke my heart," she said. "I've been visiting every day. I bring him dinner, after the boys and I have eaten. He likes my pies."

On the late August day of our visit, the neglected garden was in full exuberant flower. Honeysuckle draped over fences, spilling into the cracked concrete swimming pool; fallen fruit sugared the air, drawing bees.

Patrick, 70-something, stoop shouldered, drew deeply on his cigarette, coughed. "Everyone's dead now,” he said, watching a cluster of bright yellow butterflies skim toward and away from us.

“I kept the house to leave it to my brother,” he said. “But now, he’s dead too.”

The wallpaper in the guest room featured bright blue cabbage roses; in the master suite, purple and yellow pansies on lavender ribbons ran up and down the walls. The lost son's room was a shrine. "Look at this," Mary said, pulling open a dresser drawer on a stack of tee shirts, a carefully folded pile of jeans. The whole thing brought tears to my eyes: the faded brown cowboys on the wallpaper; the electric guitar in a corner; the shelf lined with football trophies.

In the bright, finished attic, Matthew lingered, the skylights streaking his hair with gold. "I could work here,” he said, and stayed there fifteen minutes as Mary and I checked out the bathrooms below.

Have I mentioned the large country kitchen, the white porcelain sink overlooking a lily pond? Why are we even here? I sighed. He's asking two-hundred thousand dollars above our budget.

"I nursed my wife right here in the dining room, we put her hospital bed here, under the chandelier. She couldn’t manage the stairs in the end… but from here, she could see the garden."

"It’s overpriced," Mary said. "But that won't be the issue. With no family left, I’m not sure he’s really going to be able to let it go. Where would he live?”

“He could live with us,” Matthew said. “We could move him into the basement with his projects.”

“Would he be comfortable there?” I asked. “This is the home where he raised his son, where he loved his wife. Don’t you think he’d hate that—being trapped in the basement?”

“We’d make it nice for him,” Matthew calculated. “We could build him an apartment for like fifty grand. What I’m looking for,” he told Mary, “is a significant cut in the price.”

“Wait… is that fair?” I asked. “Is it nice?”


“It just seems… I don’t want to take advantage…”

“This is a business deal, Amy. You’re on my side, not his.

“I know but…”

“We’ll make the offer and he’s free to say no. We’ll move in. We’ll be his friends. We’ll help out.”

As we waited for Mary's call, I kept thinking about the white wooden cottage in the garden. No one could find the key but we viewed its two rooms through mildew-clouded casement windows. The first was crowded with tools, lawn mowers, rusted clippers, a wheelbarrow, leaning against a wall. The second was empty but for a tin-topped potter’s bench and a pair of women’s gardening gloves abandoned on the side of a rust-stained sink.


The second house we did not buy was once a manor house on twenty acres. Now, with the land sold off and subdivided and ten ranch houses sprawling across the hills behind it, the once great home seemed shoved against the busy road like a shy, overdressed girl at a rowdy dance.

"Seven bedrooms?" I read from the listing as Mary pulled the car to the rear. "This must be a typo. How could it be... at this price?"
"I don't know. I haven't seen this one," Mary said. "Let's find out."

First there was the smell, years of neglect, something fried, mildew and the wallpaper peeling from the parlor like curling ribbon. Newspaper, stacked floor-to-ceiling, blocked access to the porch. In the living room, several broken windowpanes were patched with plastic wrap and the grey cardboard sheets that dry cleaners use to stiffen men’s shirts.

Still, with a little elbow grease…

“You have got to be kidding!” Matthew laughed.
“There’s a rental apartment, a pond—there’s a huge studio space for your office.”
“It’s in the wrong school district.”
“Our kids are in private school!”
“Not if we buy this house they won’t be. Besides, it’s too much work.”
“You’re an architect. I’ll do the finish work.” I admit it, I was whining.
Matthew reminded me of the “finish work” I’d done in our first house, “You knocked down the walls with a hammer. When you painted the living room, you only made it halfway up the walls.”
“I couldn’t reach! I was pregnant!” I said. But I was laughing, too.

All these years later, I've forgotten which house had the black granite countertops sparkling with chips of gold and which had the French clay tiles, the Kitchen Aid range, and white wooden cabinets. I remember the raised ranch where five Labradors, exiled to the garage, barked constantly; and the turn of the century manor house with six fireplaces and a huge claw-foot tub in the master bedroom.

We were never going to buy the third house, but I'll never forget it. It was built into the side of a mountain between a rock quarry and truck repair shop and the owners, who clearly liked to entertain, had outfitted the basement with a bar, a disco ball and dance floor. There was a heated in-ground pool, wrapped with a redwood deck that filled the postage stamp sized lot to its edges.

“It looks like a brothel,” I whispered as Isabella, our new realtor, led me from one mirrored bedroom to the next. “I know!” she laughed. “I was thinking the same thing.”


Matthew and I keep beginning. We start with a glass of wine; a conversation; numbers scribbled on the back of a flyer from our children’s school. When we pass a home construction site, Matthew tells me about foundations—how they’re poured, reinforced, waterproofed. After 25 years I’ve learned about footings and framing, the importance of southern exposure, ambient light and the avoidance of rot. Yet we seem unable to bring our project off the drafting table into the world of form.

I dream that I’m walking through a long corridor, opening doors and peering inside. From my perspective, as the dreamer, I can’t see what’s inside. I see only a woman who looks like me, standing in doorways, framed in light. I watch her face light up with understanding. I watch her discover what I do not.

Matthew and I walk through Home Depot, past a display of kitchens—back-to-back worlds of cabinet, countertop and hardware options. “These are good,” he says, pulling open a cabinet door and showing me the fancy hinges. “You know what these cost?”

“I like the way this slides,” I say, opening and closing a cutlery drawer. Matthew shows me a countertop he likes, in Architectural Digest.

“It’s concrete,” he says. “They pour it into molds right on the site. They level it with trowels and finish it with a glaze.” Tinted gray-brown, the concrete gleams like warm wood against the stainless steel refrigerator and range. It’s beautiful.

Matthew drives me to a little house beside the highway he’s converting, for a client, into a commercial building. Downstairs, there’s a nail salon. Upstairs, the bedrooms have been turned into offices.

“Look,” he says, pulling open a bathroom door.

It’s like stepping inside a gemstone, its walls painted deep plum, glazed with gold. The medicine cabinet is framed with pearls and mirrored tiles; the white bowl of the sink is set into a colorful mosaic of iridescent tile, broken china, and sea glass.

"The lady from the nail salon did it," Matthew explains. Looking closer, I find, embedded in the grout, a tiny plastic baby, a miniature Ferrari, a sparkly gold earring, a Cracker Jack ring with a bright purple “jewel.”

“The cobbler’s children have no shoes,” I once joked.
“What does that mean?”
“It’s an expression. You know, the architect’s family has no house.”
“What are you talking about?” he said. “That’s not funny. Is that supposed to be funny?”

If people were elements, Matthew would be metal, crystal, stone. He would be a thousand pieces of mirror, shattered and spiky; a floor covered with straight pins, or mercury, split into hundreds of silver balls that skitter away when you touch them, impossible to pick up.

I would be a moss, a forest fern in a damp place with crushed pine needles all over my bed; a warm brook trickling slowly, fish darting this way beneath a blanket of leaves, floating on my surface. I would be sunlight, caught in a perfume bottle and hidden in a silk pouch in the pocket of a green velvet cloak left hanging on a nail.

Matthew has an architectural ruler, precisely calibrated into ¼ inch scale. Lives depend on the precision with which he places those lines on paper—each is a foundation, a structural wall, a beam that won’t collapse.
I measure things like a cat, feeling my way through entrances and exits with a field as wide as whiskers that extends around my body like a glowing cloud.

I spread into the world like steam. He meets the world like an onslaught, as if an army of little plastic men was advancing, pushing him deeper and deeper into a corner.

He walks through the house like nerve gas—paralyzing everyone in his path. “You are polluting the environment with that idiot box!” he shouts when the TV is on.
“I don’t want you to turn out like me,” he cautions the children.
“They should be so lucky,” I say. “You’re a wonderful father… a good person…”
“Stay out of this,” he says. “They don’t need a lawyer. This has nothing to do with you.”

Later, he holds onto me like a life preserver. “I’d be lost without you,” he whispers.
"You would not," I say, bristling. Yet I can't shake the image: My husband tumbling through outer space, trailing a broken lifeline through the vast black night of the universe.

At this point, with Max in college and Katie about to go, too, everyone says, “Why do you need a house anymore? Buy a condo. Invest in a timeshare. Travel.” And by “everyone I mean, my mother and the Benefits Administrator at my office who, though it is none of her business, is curious why I keep taking real estate loans against my 401K.

I tell the children, “Real estate is the most valuable asset you can buy.” I’ve walked them through the whole process: Offer, accepted offer, binder, inspection, contracts, closing. I’ve explained that, in the time between Binder and Closing, they’ll have two months to inspect for Asbestos, lead pipes, and insects. There could be termites, ants, carpenter bees. “Then, contracts are prepared by attorneys,” I explain. “The seller has one attorney, the buyer, another.”
“The last thing is the Closing,” I tell them. “Bring a sturdy pen.”

My mother says, “I keep trying to picture the moment when I actually leave. Do I tell your father, 'Okay, goodbye then,' and walk out. I just can't imagine it… and I'm afraid that I won't be able to do it."

We are standing in her office, once the dining room, in the house where I grew up. We are sorting through a bowl of smooth white stones.

On the table, there are other bowls filled with chalky gray clam shells, skate cases, black as licorice, and necklaces of wampum (the spines of some fish?). She shows me the large trunk, filled with sea treasures collected from a lifetime of beaches: S'conset, Surfside, Tom Never's Head; West End 2, Ocean Beach, Montauk.

"I pulled out every single shell and stone and made a decision about it,” she tells me. “I know it sounds crazy but I had to do it this way.”

“It doesn’t sound crazy," I say. "It’s hard to let go of things when we can’t imagine how. Maybe that’s why it’s taking so long for your house to sell. Maybe you aren’t finished sorting your stones.”

Afternoon light bends into the room and Mom’s collection of bottles, dug out of the hill behind our house, sits on a high shelf around us like a string of jewels, catching light: Blue, green, brown, clear. The bottles, too, are waiting to be divided into groups: Keep, discard, sell.

I feel like an hourglass, sifting sand, collecting what I can—rescuing memories and carting them away in the trunk of my car.
That night, asleep in my childhood bed, I dream that I’m in Greece-a place I've never actually been- walking on a spiraling path on an island. Sun-bleached shells crunch beneath my sandals. White cottages, bright blue skies and lapis lazuli waters, white-capped by wind. I wake suddenly, tumble-tossed by a wave as the dream pulls away. It sounds like the rushing of sand and stones, the backwash of the sea. I open my eyes and, finding myself in my room, in my stupid life, I begin to cry.

“Could my father live here, with us?”
“Where would we put him?” Matthew asks.
I scan the crowded space, trying to imagine a hospital bed and Dad’s little card table squeezed in with our mismatched furniture. “It’s just for a little while.”
“Think it through, Amy. It’s not temporary—just the opposite.”
I sigh. “You’re right. I know.”

“Your father knows he can’t stay here,” Mom repeats. “Even if I wasn’t selling the house, he can’t take care of himself anymore. He can’t afford full-time live in care. And I don’t want you giving up your life to take care of him. I’m selling the house and I can’t take him with me. Your father needs a nursing home.”

"You know, Dad, if you live with me, you'd have to stop driving..." I begin.
“Never mind the whole thing,” Dad says, pulling into himself like a starfish that’s been poked with a stick.
“Dad,” I choke out. “I am trying so hard..."
"I know," he says. "Don't worry about it."
"There's got to be something that will work for everyone--for you, for Mom, for me and my family."
"Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”
“Oh, really? How? You have no money. You have no plans!”
“I’ll work it out,” he says. “It’s really none of your business.”

That night, Dad calls. “Listen, Amy," he says. "I don’t want to live with you. There’s only one bathroom and I’d have to sleep in the living room. That’s not the place for me—and no way for you to live. I’m going to move in with Sara.”
For some reason, I find this hilarious. Even my father, who has no options left at all, doesn’t want to live here.

Matthew and I rent a van and pack it full of Dad’s belongings: A single bed, one kitchen chair, a clock radio, and three plastic milk crates filled with books. We drive to New Jersey where Sara, a Registered Nurse who’s been Dad’s friend for 15 years, has offered to take him in.

“He’ll be comfortable here,” she says, helping us carry Dad’s things into her condo.

“There are so many stairs,” I say, as we face the fourth flight. “Has Dad seen this place?”

“He has,” she says. “He’ll be okay. I put these handles here to help him.” The “handles,” lengths of torn bed sheets looped around the rungs of the banister on the stairs don’t look stable. Sara demonstrates how they work. She grabs hold of the loop of fabric and leans all of her weight backwards, pulling. “See,” she grins, as she pulls herself, hand over hand, up the stairs.

Dad will be staying in the master bedroom on the top floor. There's a private bath. In exchange for rent and a fee, Sara will do his laundry, prepare his meals and coordinate his daily parade of home health care workers.

“We’ll make him yogurt shakes with organic berries and protein powder,” Sara says. “We’ll rebuild his nutrition. He’s been living on Ensure and cookies. We’ll have our theater group meetings at the house,” she glows. “If we work it right, he can still be a part of everything. He can be happy here.”

“This is too good to be true,” I report to my family. With her halo of wispy white hair—tinted with stripes of bright pink—Sara even looks like an angel. “I will keep him here and take care of him until the end of his life,” she promised, holding both of my hands like a prayer sandwich in between her own.

I dream that I’m driving Dad somewhere in a little red car. As we weave through the winding streets of an old European city I describe, with great enthusiasm, the place I’m trying to find: Its wide hallways, arching entrances, velvet drapes and tapestries. Suddenly, a deer dashes across the road and I slam on the brakes. I leap from the car and chase it, leaving Dad behind.

I try to time my visits on Tuesdays, when I don’t have to be at the office. I have my own key so I can let myself in when Sara’s at work. Just inside the front door, there’s a set of stairs to the main floor. Sara's rumpled bed sits in the living room. I greet the cats, who weave in and out of my ankles as I walk through the dining room to the kitchen and set my grocery bag on the counter.

I unpack the glass jar of chicken soup, still warm, that I made this morning; and the Haagen-Dazs Coffee Chip and Double Stuff Oreos that I picked up on the way over. I take out the three jumbo straws that I got at Panera when I ordered his Frozen Mochaccino. Sara keeps asking me to bring her more straws, which, she says, Dad needs to drink his meals. I fold the brown paper bag and stash it under the sink. Then, I go up to see Dad.

Dad says, “When the house is sold, if your mother gives me any money—and I am not going to ask her for any—I will give it to you so you can buy a house. I will give it to you and your sisters. I just want to make sure that some of the money ends up with you girls and right now, I’m not sure that it will.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean.”

(I don’t know what he means. At. All.)

This month, the migraine is a hot nail through my right eye. There is no nausea. Instead, I have half-hearted menstrual cramps—not the searing, clamping, tearing pain of my 20s that made me gasp for breath. This pain is deeper, an inner spelunker exploring the caves behind my hips with heavy shoes and a thick mallet. I watch TV.

The next morning, Max and I go to Albany. He drives—I’m still woozy with a headache hangover. By afternoon, when we’re pulling into the state university campus, I’m not nauseous any more and I can pretty much walk in a straight line.
My niece, Max’s cousin, Margeaux, gives us a tour of her school: the dorm room where four girls sleep, stacked in two bunkbeds like Lego blocks. We walk in the freezing cold wind, past the library, the dining hall, Margeaux cheerfully waving to friends as we cross the concrete courtyard between buildings.

“I don’t like it,” Max says, as we drive away.

Cornell is breathtaking. It’s the archetype for the word University. “Wow!” I say, spinning to take in the stately, ivy-covered brick campus, the cobblestone street. "This place is the archetype for the word University," I say, my heart tossing its happiness hat in the air.

“I don’t like it,” Max says, turning back to the car.

"You know what I think?" I call after him. "I think I’m the one who should be going to college.”

When my parents purchased their next-door neighbors’ house in 1969, they paid $19,000 for the farmhouse cape on a half acre lot, with 3 bedrooms, 1 ½ baths and a sunroom. Last weekend, thirty-five years later, Mom told me, “They’re listing it at $850,000!”

“Wow! How much of that will Dad get?”

Mom blinked.

“But your father can’t have this money,” Martha said. “After their debts are paid, your mother needs every penny of what’s left just to live.”

"You can’t leave Dad with nothing. Didn't he pay for the house? Isn't it half his under New York divorce law anyway?"

"Well, yes," Mom said. "It is his house, too. And I would like to give him something…"

“I don’t think you understand what’s going on, Amy,” Martha cut in. “Your father is going to die. His organs are shutting down. As his spine twists he’ll develop increased numbness, and increasingly reduced capacity. If he’s lucky, he’ll have little pain. As his spine twists, his organs will begin to shut down. He will probably lose control of his bladder and bowel function. Eventually, the kidneys will begin to shut down. When that begins, it will be a quick decline to the end. He needs, more than anything, to be in a nursing home.”

I felt seasick, unmoored. We are all going to die. Why terrify me like this?

“I know it sounds heartless,” Mom said. “But I can’t take care of him anymore and he refuses to get help. I don’t know what else to do.”

“Your father will outlive us all,” said Martha. “He’ll stay alive on pure stubbornness.”

"Well, if that’s true,” I countered, “he’s going to need money to live on.”

"Then, you girls should give him some money. Your mother needs hers to survive.”

“Mom can’t give you any of the money for the house sale.”
“Nothing? She said that?”
“She’ll help you with your expenses, if you need help. But the money needs to go in the bank—and toward her new place.”
He blinked. “I didn’t expect that. I thought she’d give me something to live on… “
“Mom says it’s time for you to move to a nursing home, Dad. She says she told you this herself.”
“She did. I know she feels that way. But I’m…” He blinked some more. “This took me by surprise.” And then, like an Etch-a-Sketch shaken, his expression cleared. “Oh well,” he said. “I guess it’s time to win the lottery.”

In the bathroom of the West 17 Diner, halfway home, there’s a digital scale, across from the sinks. I drop in a quarter and step on. After my weight scrolls by, I get a set of Lucky Lottery Nnumbers I find Max in a booth, scanning the enormous pastel pink and blue, plastic-laminated menu. Before ordering, I write the lottery numbers on a napkin.

“We should buy your mother’s house,” Matthew says. “It’s your legacy.”
“We can’t afford it! It’s almost a million dollars.”
“We can move in there and bring your father home," he says. “We can pay all their expenses and take care of them. If your mother is really set on moving, we could buy her a condo."

“You don’t want this house. It’s falling apart,” Mom says.
“We do want it. Matthew knows how to fix things. He is paid a lot of money to inspect houses. He knows what he’s getting into.”

“Has he inspected this house? If he had, he wouldn’t want it.”
“He does want it,” I try a different tack. “We can buy your condo. You can live there but we’ll own it. We’ll pay the mortgage—we’ll even pay the maintenance. In exchange, we’ll move into this house.”

“What about your sisters? What about their inheritance?”

“They would still inherit the house,” I try to explain. “We would own the condo not the house. You would still own the house.”

“Oh, you don’t want to do that,” she scoffs. “And anyway, the school’s are no good here anymore. The whole town has gone Iranian. It's not the same town you grew up in.”

“You can’t discuss this with your mother, Matthew says. “You have to discuss it with Martha. She’s making all the decisions.” But I don’t want to talk with Martha. I want to be able to talk about it with Mom; I want my mother to be able to understand what I’m offering, to discuss interest rates and depreciation. I want her to understand what I’m saying.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I wish I could be more independent. But I can’t… I’m working on it. I am doing the best I can.”
“Okay,” I’ll talk to Martha,” I say. “She’s making all the decisions…”
“Martha is NOT making all the decisions,” Mom flares. “I have made every one of these choices on my own!”

I dream of a mysterious faceless man. He materializes suddenly, blocking my path as I run through rainy streets at night. In one dream, he whisks me off to an expensive restaurant where I’m handed an incomprehensible menu 40 pages long and asked to choose quickly, while the waiter impatiently taps his foot.
In another, I’m running to catch a ferry in high-heeled shoes that are too big for me. All of my friends and their children are already aboard. They call to me from the top deck. “Run!” they chorus. “Run!”

As the boat pulls away from the pier, I leap, losing a shoe. I limp across the deck—bare foot, high heel, bare foot, high heel— and reach for the stair rail. That’s when the faceless man appears. “Stay below with me,” he entices, hypnotizing me with his eyes. I climb into his bed, forgetting everything. I wake sobbing, torn between obligation and freedom, home and my great, wild adventure.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The awareness is so big

“Simply open the heart,” my yoga teacher says. “Let your shoulders slide onto the floor. Let go.”

“Your father fell in the night, very quietly near the stairs,” Mom says. “I never heard a sound. I found him in the morning, just lying out there in the hallway on the floor. 'How long have you been there?' I asked him. ‘About an hour,’ he said. He was inching his way along, down the hallway. 'Let me help you,' I said. But you know how he is. He snapped at me, like he always does. ‘Leave me alone,’ he said. ‘I’m fine.’”

This happened four years ago. But today, because I am writing a memoir, I'm thinking about it.

"The awareness is so big," my yoga teacher says. I lie on my sticky mat with my eyes closed, trying to wrap my mind around the question of just how big the awareness might be. I send my consciousness searching for the edge, the end, the place where the awareness ends and... and this is what I'm having trouble with... something else begins.

"Simply open the heart," she repeats and I wonder, how?

On Twitter, there's a stream. People from all over the world, sit at desks or cafe tables inventing 140-character statements that attempt to answer the question: What are you doing? Their brief messages flow by in bursts: I'm spiritual, they whisper. I'm an activist, a writer, a wellness coach. I eat raw food.

On Twitter, there are greetings, sales pitches, prayer requests.: I skim through these to find the people-or PPL, as we say in the abbreviated language Twitter users must employ-who are playful, fascinated, and engaged; people who are, you know, real.

Often, someone will "tweet" a link: Try this, they urge. Read this, or, Wow!

I click on some of them, when I have the time and they take me places--walking down roads I'd never find on my own, or swirling, as through a worm hole in a science-fiction novel, toward universes that are forming and un-forming faster than my 52-year-old mind can read the maps.

For example, this photo taught me that while I have been opening my heart and also cooking, working and helping my kids get started in college, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has been orbitting through space, sending back images of "high-energy radiation from the remnants of exploded stars, black holes, galaxies and intergalactic gas, among other phenomena."

The awareness is so big.

Six years ago, my editor asked me if I’d like to work on a column about angels.
I had no idea what was going to happen, no idea that by even touching the hem of this work, my life would be shot through with stars. No idea. Yet, in another way, in a very deep part of me, I knew.

Three years later, (which, if you are making a timeline, was about three years ago) I was sleeping in my sister’s old room at my parents’ house when my father got up to go to the bathroom and fell. From the twin bed facing the hallway, I saw how it started, how he tripped, his right foot caught beneath his left, and how his body pivoted to the left as he fell, so that he landed, almost gracefully, on his knees beside the laundry basket, the top of his head resting on a stack of my mother’s freshly folded pink towels.

“Don’t worry about it,” he called as I leapt to help. “I can manage. Go back to bed.”

I knew the rules. My father doesn’t like people to help him. My father likes to do things for himself. I stood beside him, not helping, as he struggled to straighten his back, to lift his head and shift his weight. But he couldn’t do it, couldn’t stand.

“Come on, Dad, let me help you,” I said. He lifted an arm and we used my body to leverage his own. Then, he lurched away.
“I’m fine,” he called over his shoulder, closing the bathroom door.

Have patience, everything will work out. Anyway, sleep well, Carl Jung wrote, once, in a book somewhere. I'm sorry I don't have the exact citation. I'd rather write about awareness, and how big it is, than look that up right now. I know that if anyone would understand this omission, it would be he, (Carl Jung, I mean.)

When Jung was older, after he'd been recognized and celebrated as the father of something new, something important, he began working with a non-physical guide called Philemon, who visited him in dreams. “Philemon and other figures of my fantasies brought home to me the crucial insight that there are things in the psyche which I do not produce, but which produce themselves and have their own life," he wrote. "Philemon represented a force that was not myself. In my fantasies I held conversations with him, and he said things which I had not consciously thought."

Something like this also happened to me.
The awareness is so big.

The next morning at breakfast, I asked Dad, “Are you falling a lot?”
“What’s a lot?” He shrugged, limping slowly to the table. “It’s part of the game. I fall. I get up.”

The kids came downstairs. We ate our corn flakes. Crunch, crunch.
A few minutes later, Dad broke the silence. “When I fall in the city people always help me up. When I fall at home, it’s not so easy. The other day I tripped on the scatter rug and fell with my cheek in the cat’s food dish.” Max and Katie froze, looked at me: Is it okay to laugh?

But Dad chuckled. “Mookie didn’t like that!” he said, winking at Max.
“Dad,” I tried again. “It sounds like you’re falling a lot…”
“Not a lot,” he said. “But I am falling.”

A week earlier, while climbing from his car, Dad fell on his back in the driveway. Unable to get up, or even to roll onto his side, he lay there for more than two hours. “It was a nice day,” he told me. “A couple of kids from up the block went by. Some cars…”

“No one helped you?”
“No one saw me. I was back behind the car. Actually, it was the garbage men who got me up when they came up the driveway for the trash.”

My sister, Beth, lives in California. When I told her what was going on, she subscribed Dad to the Life Alert system. Now whenever he fell, he could push a button, which he wore on a thick black cord around his neck. This activated a direct connection with a dispatcher who could call for help—the police or a designated neighbor—to stand him back up.

I will write a book. I will call it: Light: The year I opened my eyes. I will call it: Sacred, Pulsing Space. I will call it: The Architecture of the Heart I will explore things like entropy, which is the name for what happens when a system gets stuck and no longer makes effective use of its available energy; and the way that I want so many things that I cannot seem to animate; like going to Paris, writing a book, loving my husband.

My book will give me permission-and a platform-to learn and to talk about healing; about family, about the way the heart works-as a muscle, pumping and pulsing; and an energetic system. I will call my book a memoir, hoping that it will help me to remember, to understand, to see.

I am not like everyone else.I have this special thing I can do: look! I'm doing it now. I am different; with a unique set of skills and talents that make me very very special. Of course, one of the things the awareness has been teaching me is: So is everyone else. Everyone feels this way. Everyone, I understand now, is special, bursting with stars.

About a year after I first started working with angels, after I'd read about five-hundred stories of miraculous rescues, healings, visitations and dreams, I began to feel different: I felt like I was melting, as if the edges that made me ME were softening, and I was blending into something bigger, something that was both absorbing ME and filling me with itself.

With my eyes wide open, I was having the kind of mystical experience some people report after years of meditation-where one becomes liquid and merges with God.

Everything had meaning--everything I saw was a sign: the numbers on license plates, words written on street signs, all seemed encoded with messages just for me. Patterns emerged in the leaves on the ground, piles of acorns, the rhythm of snow falling into puddles at the side of the road.

It's still this way. But now, I no longer think I'm crazy.
You get used to it.

But I do have some questions...
Like the veils, the ones Mystics talk about- the ones that hold us inside our bodies and separate this thing from that; the membranes that individuate bodies, plants, water bugs and comets from the flowing everythingness of All That Is. What I want to know is, how does it all fit together? How does it all work? How does it make the transition--the translation--from wave to particle, from thought to pattern, from cosmic, swirling gas to spiral helix? How, I want to know, does it weave this net of creation, studded with jewels?

Oh, and there's one more thing: Why, if we are designed to be separate, do we long so desperately, not to be? With an awareness this big, there must be a reason. I mean: Is this a design flaw-or is it intentional?

FOUR (Yes, I know. We are going backwards now.)
"One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one's mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one's leisure..." says Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft. He is explaining, to Harry Potter, how the Pensieve works. In this scene, Professor Dumbledore demonstrates the method of "siphoning" thoughts, using his magic wand to pull a wispy thread of memory from the side of his own head.

Oh, tell me how big the awareness must be... to hold all of this, these thoughts, my son and daughter, this iced tea in its clear (#1 plastic) cup.

"The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of," wrote the 17th century philosopher-poet, Blaise Pascal. (I think that's who wrote it. I copied the reference from someone on Twitter.)

And anyway,
Here is THREE...
Barnard's Galaxy, " is one of our nearest galactic neighbors." The bubble, "clearly visible in the upper left of this photo," a "cosmic misfit," oddly shaped and smaller than other galaxies," may help "researchers understand how galaxies interact, evolve and occasionally "cannibalize" each other, leaving behind radiant, star-filled scraps."

Star-filled scraps.

My daughter just called. Today, she's making a movie about an beautiful young man who is being pursued by a beautiful young woman through tall grass. She wants me to come now, to drive her to the location--an abandoned Drive-In movie lot, with the equipment she signed out from the storeroom at school. She wants to be there before the actors arrive.

So I have to go. Because even though I'm not finished, I... wait, let me cut to the chase:
I am choosing to stop writing now, to go and pick up my daughter because of my heart.

My children fill me with stars.
I love them beyond reason, beyond the dimensions of any universe of which I can conceive. My children, as nothing else ever has, connect me to an awareness that is so big that it might as well be infinite... for I will never reach its edge.

And even though this next bit, which I am labeling, ZERO, may not make sense to you, it was the scrap of inspiration which led me down the path of this essay, and I don't want you to miss it.

So, here's what I know.

We have to just decide--to get better, to stop worrying, to keep moving, to stand up, pay the check and go.
We have to just, one day, say, “I get it. That’s it. I’m done with complaining, with lying, with not doing my best. We just have to stop.

When we fall down, we get up.

We stop buying into scarcity, to less than what we want, we start to radiate forth into the world the very thing which, until this moment, we’ve envied in others. We become, literally, a "walk in"-a person who was one way and then, a moment later, is something entirely different.

We just stop.

Abraham says that a walk in is a person who has summoned so much energy around an intention--to change, to end something, to live a different way--that s/he can no longer tolerate the contrast between the life they have and the life that their soul knows is available for them.

Abraham says that, in such cases, an event manifests--a deep illness, a car crash, a divorce, a job loss--that is strong and sudden enough to create a massive allowing, a shift in energy, thought and belief that is so strong that the desired change cannot help but come... and come it does, in an overwhelming, all-encompassing shift on every level of the person's life.

More often though, the walk-in experience happens over time, in gradual subtle shifts from depression to normalcy, from normalcy to interest, from interest to fascination, from fascination to hope… little by little, step by step, we move our vibration from being less than we could be toward becoming who and what we truly are.

That's how it's happening for me--with the occasional burst of ... Wow! And a link to fascinate me for a while.

But for now, I will get in the car and drive. I will deliver my star-filled daughter to the debris-strewn lot behind the enormous empty screen where she will crouch in tall grass behind a Bolex camera and shoot a beautiful girl and a beautiful boy--A boy who, by the way, will be wearing a pair of enormous white wings which my husband built out of things that he found by the side of the road--twisted wire, a broken white window shade--and an old feather pillow from our bed.

And that will be enough.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


When I have a migraine I lie on the sofa throwing up in a stainless steel pot and watching TV.

I click around the channels, wanting everything they show me, which, huddled under the sword of this pain, is both fascinating and nauseating. I want the drop waist, wrap dress Jennifer Anniston is wearing; I want the mineral makeup and the four bonus brushes they are selling; I want the pretty nail polish in this Spring’s New Color: Bliss. I want that car--and the size 4 body of the model draped across its hood.

Oh, I know I don’t have to buy things to be happy. Still, I really want the espresso machine that Martha Stewart is showing me.

I love TV. I hate TV.

My head is being pressed between two searing plates of metal—a George Foreman grill! A Panini press! How is it even possible that my eyeballs are both hot and cold at the same time?

Abraham-Hicks teaches that pain is resistance. Energy is trying to move through our bodies and we, afraid of the rush and push and speed of it, resist. This resistance to the very thing we have called forth, creates blockages and, ultimately pain, in the tissues of the body. Abraham says that when pain comes, even though it seems counterintuitive, the best way to ease it is to lean toward it.

I just want to watch TV.

Every half hour it feeds me a new story to suck on: A Balloon Boy. A war somewhere. Barack Obama. And have you noticed how, suddenly, every talk show is “green”? As if the earth hasn’t always been there—reliable old clock—her tides rolling in and then, out, her fields of grain waving in the wind. Its like, suddenly, we’re all saying, “Will you look at that? There’s a planet under my Nikes!”

If I could just have these headaches without the nausea—without this crash, this flood of heat—without tipping, ever so slightly on my axis. I shift the ice pack behind my head and the hard edges of the cubes that haven’t melted press directly into the dent between my head and neck: the fertile crescent of pain where it all seems to begin.

I pick up my book, Blue Highways, in which, William Least Heat Moon is living out of the back end of a truck. He writes, “Following a circle would give a purpose—to come around again—where taking a straight line would not.”

According to Chinese Medicine, I’m at the beginning of my Wisdom Phase—the end of the seventh seven-year cycle of my life. But I don’t feel wise. I feel desperate and panicky. Trapped, a winged thing caught between two panes of glass.

“You have to decide how you want to meet this,” my friend Catherine, who is also my acupuncturist, says.
We are talking about bio-identical hormones. “I’ve heard they can help with migraines, with hot flashes.”

“A natural cycle is coming to an end," she says. "Your body is trying to reorganize itself. Do you want to interfere with that or support it?”

I know the right answer. I know that, according to Chinese medicine, “everything has a front and a back”—that anything we do to the body stimulates a response from the body. Who can say what will happen if I introduce a rush of hormones into my system? Still, if they can make the headaches go away...

“I’ve read that hormone replacement therapy slows the aging process,” I say. “And I really don’t want to get wrinkly.”

I don’t.

I don’t want my breasts to sag (any more than they already are). I don’t want my chin to get soft(er). I don’t like that, lately, I’ve had to ask people to repeat themselves and that, without my reading glasses, I can’t exactly tell what’s on the menu. And frankly, this extra 30 pounds that’s settled on my waist (I’m told it’s an “estrogen belt”) is really pissing me off.

Catherine is saying, “From the perspective of Chinese Medicine, this is a blood deficiency.”
“I’ve always been anemic…”
“This is different. From the Chinese perspective, your liver is starving. Blood volume is the issue.”
“Blood volume?”
“There’s not enough blood in your body.”
“How can that be?" I ask. "How can a person not have enough blood and still be walking around?”
“We can build more,” she says. “With leafy greens, Chinese herbs, and lots of water.”

I buy the kale and a jar of blackstrap molasses. For the next week, I drink so much water I gain five pounds. I get back out there, determined to take a long walk. I imagine my angels following me with a cosmic liposuction device—which, though it won’t build more blood, might help with the cellulite. But, as usual, I don’t get far before I’m caught in a tidal wave of hot flashes and I turn back home.

As a spiritual counselor, what I’m good at, what I’m trained to do is, I look for patterns. I pull apart the threads of a thing—a situation, a relationship, a conflict—looking for meaning. I see the connections between things, the underlying interconnections, the purpose.

I tell my clients, “Begin in childhood. Make a list of your memories—start anywhere. Memories are connected to each other,” I say. “When you get hold of one, another bubbles up right under it.”

I tell my clients, “We want to get the alchemy of your story mind moving—my job is to teach you to see what is hidden beneath the surfaces of things. My job is to teach you to read patterns.”

As a magazine editor, I do the same thing, scanning and scanning for meaning, for trend, for pattern. And then, what I do is, I make lists: Ten ways to beat summer heat! Five belly-warming winter recipes! And here are my Fast, easy ways to satisfy soul hunger!

1) Feed the real need with art, beauty, music
2) Turn off the TV and unplug from the Internet
3) Do yoga, walk outside, breathe…
Oh, blah, blah, blah …

I’ve spent a lifetime studying myself. I know what I need, what to eat, and how to wear my hair. What I don’t know is: How to navigate this little boat of my life to the other shore, where all spiritual paths say I’m waiting to be found.

It seems simple enough. There are workshops, talk shows, and hundreds of books containing maps. But I have this tic, this Tourette's-like “Yes-no” that cycles through my thoughts, blurting, “This way is a very nice way.”

Did he say something, Toto?

“It’s pleasant down that way, too.”

That’s funny. Wasn’t he pointing the other way?

“Of course, some people do go both ways.”

Engineers calculate for “moment”—the point when the stress on a wall or a beam is suddenly too much and the whole house comes tumbling down. “In order to size a structural beam, an engineer or an architect has to know the weight—or load—of what that beam will have to support. After they select a beam—based on their own intuition—they check the beam to see if it will support the load, calculating for sheer forces (how much load the beam will take before it snaps in half), moment forces (the dynamic function between length from its supporting points and weight of the load), deflection (how much the beam is allowed to bend).

“They design against forces of nature and time, against storms that batter the surfaces, eroding materials, peeling paint, against shifting soil and gravity," my husband, an architect, explains. “We also have to accommodate for settling. Over time all houses sink .”

I need to plump my pillows. I click to BBC News. They have this weather map that takes me flying across Europe. Each country puts up a little flag as I soar over it that reports today’s temperature in degrees of centigrade. Click. I hate car commercials. Click. Oprah is talking about some new book. Click. Stupid, stupid news. Click.
There’s nothing on. I need a glass of water.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fire Island

From our wooden bench, we watch the ferries come and go.

The August sun is fierce; doubled by the glare off the water of the bay. “Why can’t our eyes handle light?” Katie asks. “Why do we squint?" With her hand across her forehead like that, like a visor, Katie's eyes seem to glow-frosted green, like beach glass, flecked with gold, each iris outlined in bright purple.

“Too much light burns the retina," I explain.
“That’s not what I mean. "She looks away, across the bay. ”I mean, if there was going to be so much light in the world, light like this—why can’t we handle it? We’re badly designed.”

There's this new thing I do now. I look beyond and between things. I watch the energy oscillate, forming and un-forming. I don't understand yet what I'm seeing. A cloud of light around someone's head and shoulders, a field of matter organizing itself into an object:

I stare at the weather-worn wood planks, supporting the dock; the water, flowing beneath it; the little boat that floats, bobbing up and down, the gentle waves lop, lop, loping against the pier.

My daughter wears white plastic flip flops; her toenails are painted sky blue. A little girl walks by, dragging a navy blue suitcase bearing the insignia of the New York Yankees; its wheels bump, bump, bumping across the wooden-planks of the deck. It’s the last day of summer.

We and I are on ‘vacation simulation’--a ferry ride, ocean swim, lunch at Maguire’s, overlooking the bay--before ferrying back to our car, parked in the "day-tripper" section on the mainland. We've arrived--after dropping Max at college on Long Island, visiting my in-laws-- on a whim, without towels or sunscreen, though Katie just happens to have a bathing suit bottom in her purse. At the Sandpiper, one of the shops on the pier, I purchase a black Anne Cole tank suit almost identical to the one in my dresser drawer at home.

We let the waves lift us; we let the waves set us down.
“Look at that color, there!” I point. Katie turns toward the wave, backlit by the sun, a translucent blue-green. "That's the color of your eyes."

Later, as we walk barefoot on the hot sandy path, I tell her, “I’ll be okay when you leave home.”
“I know,” she nods, looking perplexed, as if she doesn’t quite believe me.

The first time we came to Fire Island, Katie was four; her brother, Max, six. We were there for a wedding--my sister's, held at a rented party house in the Pines. My husband's client, Joe, offered us his beach house for three days.

A tiny gem with sandy floors at the edge of the Atlantic. Joe’s house had three bedrooms, and a bright open kitchen/living area' the deck wrapped the house front to back. On the first day, I stood there all afternoon, staring. It thrilled me, the vast ocean, the sky--so close. I watched a lightning storm sweep in- a curtain of rain hanging from a low-lying dark cloud. It hit suddenly, sweeping the narrow island so briefly that, afterwards, the still-hot sidewalks sizzled steam; wet patches on the dunes just shrunk away.

That night, after the children were snuggled into bed and Matthew had fallen asleep reading, I came out to the kitchen and sat in the dark with the windows open, letting the wind whip through the house, riffling the pages of the magazines on the coffee table, rocking the ceiling fan.

Two years later, when we returned, I stayed on the deck all weekend. I saw Matthew and the children in flashes: Running up the wooden steps to the beach, whirling a Frisbee, grabbing a bike from the shed. I was reading The Time Traveler’s Wife, a book about a man who weaves in and out of the lives of his wife and daughter like a shuttlecock—suddenly appearing and then, without warning, dissolving before their eyes.

“Let’s visit the house,” Katie says now and we turn back.

But afterwards, after we've pushed open the wooden gate; after we've been invited in and offered Vodka Gimlets, cheese and crackers; after we’ve toured the new second floor, added since last we stayed, after we've walked back to town and found this bench beside the bay, Katie falls quiet.

“We shouldn’t have come.”
“It’s never the same when you go back to a place you’ve loved,” I say. “We’re drawn back... but we can never recreate the feeling we had here.”
“That’s true.” She turns toward me, opening like a flower.“But it’s more than that. I don’t like visiting places for a day, I don’t like feeling like a tourist. If I go somewhere, I want to stay for a month, a year. I want to get to know the place with the people who live there.”
“I know. Me too. But this is how we’re doing it this year. This year we did other things with our summer. You went to Boston. Max worked—and went to Montreal. I’m finishing my book. Daddy’s working.”
“I know,” she sighs. “And I loved this summer…”

A seagull hops along the dock, jumps to a boat, jumps back to the dock. “I’d like to put a motor on a rowboat,” Katie says, “Boat culture is definitely missing in our lives,” I nod.
“Boat culture?” she makes a face and we both start laughing.
“I mean, I always wanted to take you and Max on boats. Make that happen for yourself.
“I will, Mommy,” she smiles, patting my thigh. “Stop worrying about my future. I get it.” She pulls my book of short stories from our beach tote and begins to read aloud.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Dinner Tonight

The temperature's dropped so quickly this year--and ever since, I've been reaching for my comfort food recipes, uncertain whether raw foods could be warming enough.

But after 6 weeks of eating almost entirely raw, switching back to heavy stews and meat made me feel... well, ick. Though I do need meat to feel well, and get the protein my body needs, I've decided to eat "mostly raw" this winter.

That said, here's my first attempt at preparing a raw autumn meal for me and Matthew. To make it, I borrowed (and modified) a great recipe from my Twitter friend, Susan Powers, at her beautiful Raw Foods site:

Balsamic Portabello Mushrooms, Zucchini "noodles" with Sun-dried Tomato Pesto and Golden Beet Salad

For the Mushrooms
4 large raw Portabello Mushrooms, washed with stems removed
EV Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Sea Salt
Ground black pepper

Slice the mushrooms into long flat strips and set aside. Mix together remaining ingredients and toss together with the mushrooms until evenly coated. Let sit while you prepare the rest of the meal.

For the Golden Beet Salad

2 golden beets, sliced into firm half moons with a sharp knife, or use the slicing attachment of your food processor
1/2 bunch parsley coarsely chopped
Toasted sesame seeds
EV Olive Oil
pinch sea salt

Toss all ingredients together and set aside.

For the Pesto

Follow the directions on the Rawmazing blog. Rawmazing Sun Dried Tomato Pesto

For the Zucchini Noodles

I medium zucchini for each person, unpeeled

Using a vegetable peeler or very sharp paring knife, slice zucchini lengthwise from top to bottom making long, thin "noodles" until almost completely sliced. Cut ends into noodly shapes with knife.

Toss with Sun Dried Tomato Pesto, a nice glug of EV Olive Oil and a pinch of sea salt.
(I also added some grated Sheep's milk Pecorino Romano cheese.)

Serve with your favorite red wine or a nice beer.

PS The pesto would work beautifully with regular, cooked pasta as well, making this a very nutritious, almost raw meal.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Traffic Court

The judge is kind, and funny—joking with some, gently prodding others, “Tell me what happened.”

A young Latino man approaches the bench. Dressed in a pressed black suit, white shirt and tie, accompanied by a lawyer, he stands as the judge reads the paperwork about his case.

“Why are you here?” the judge asks, addressing his remarks to the lawyer. “You could have taken care of this yourself, by mail.”

“May I answer, Your Honor?” the young man asks.

“Of course.

“I asked to appear before you, Sir. You may not remember me… “

“Oh, but I do remember you!” the judge says. “Breaking into a store… a deli, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, Sir, Your Honor—a 7-11. You could have sent me away but you gave me probation. I’m in law school now, because of you.”

“Is that right?” the judge smiles. “That’s wonderful.” He removes his glasses; puts them back on again. “I’m so glad to hear that,” They complete their business and as the young man walks to the door, the judge addresses the room. “This is what happens when it works,” he says. And then he calls my name.

“Is everything okay, dear?” the judge asks gently as I take my place before him, wiping away tears.

“Oh, yes,” I sniffle into the tissue that I am now smart enough to carry. “Fire away.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


It's no where near finished; it's rough around some edges; in other places, it's much too tight.

But it's time to get some feedback...

In the past two years, I've learned that writing a memoir is like trying to catch my own tail--and I don't have a tail. Just when I think I've nailed it down, when I sit back and smile, thinking: That's it! I've got all the themes in place, all that's left is one more pass to even out to rough spots, something happens. There's a shift in my life or my thinking and whoosh, I'm back, staring at the pages, shaking my head.

That said, here's a little piece. I'd LOVE to get some feedback on this--a comment, an email (, a tweet... Writing can be, is, a solitary business--which is odd, as writers are, in a sense, in a constant conversation with the book, with the material. In fact, since posting this yesterday, I've changed it five or six times. Having the illusion that you're out there, reading it, compels me to make it better.


“Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery,” Annie Dillard

Light. We’re all chasing it. Capturing fireflies, splitting atoms, sitting in congregations aching toward God. My daughter snaps photographs, and flickering images on film. My son, a traveler, chases sunsets around the world.

My husband, Matthew, is an Architect. Sometimes it seems all he does is capture light. Borrowing it from one room for another, cutting windows into walls of wood, stone and steel.

Me, I write about angels: Stories about rescues, prophetic visions, life altering dreams. I could tell you about lost wedding rings, suddenly found; terminal illnesses healed; disembodied voices shouting life-saving commands, saving people in cars, trucks, airplanes and ships.

My favorites are the stories where mysterious strangers suddenly appear, do something impressive—stop bleeding, catch old ladies, offer reassuring comfort, return lost children to their frantic parents—and then, disappear without a trace.
I have always believed in angels, people often begin their letters or, I’ve never been sure about angels… but I am now!

With a job like this, immersed in the evidence that there are miracles happening everywhere, every day, you might think that my life would be perfect. And it was. It is. It’s just that perfection isn’t what I once thought it would be.

For the closer we creep to any light source—light bulb, star, God—the hotter it gets. I had no idea what I’d signed up for when, inspired by the stories I was reading, and the beauty and the humor of the angels’ responses, I began to pray myself: Please use my life. Help me to experience real joy. Teach me what love really means. And please, oh, please, make it about more than just me.

This book, guided by the angels every step of the way, is a study of the soul and its language; a study of the heart and its essential energy--a story of love refracted through the lenses of: Yoga; the House; the Heart; and the passages of human life.

This book is the chronicle of a journey of transformation, from loving in a way that left me drained, frustrated and sick—with adrenal failure and migraine headaches—to loving in a clear, rich way; a way that has filled and healed me on every level. It's been a a journey from self-sacrifice to true love, and that's meant loving myself enough to say no. As I journeyed, I changed: from victim to author; from overwhelmed SuperMom to Wise Woman, a daughter of the Divine Feminine source that nourishes us all.

This is the story of how I was born again—not in the Christian “Born Again”sense of the term, but rather, born for a second time; born in the way that a person is squashed and squeezed through a tight, twisting space, born in the way that a seed presses toward light, emerging from tightly packed soil into a forest of tall oaks, fragrant pines and dappled sunlight—again.

Late Summer 2007
“The world breaks people’s hearts,” my father says. He’s lying on his bed, addressing his comments to the ceiling because he’s unable to turn his head in my direction. As he rests between thoughts, his face twists, one cheek tightening, an eyebrow lifting; the upper lip rippling across his perfectly straight, white teeth like a wave.
This rhythm of tics and grimaces is caused by Cerebral Palsy, a misfire in the wiring of my father’s brain. It’s as familiar to me as the steady in and out of my breath; yet this is the first time I’ve been able to simply sit and observe it—to really see it—because he is not, as I watch him, watching me.
“Maybe our hearts break because we think things should be different--we think we should be special; we…”
“What do you mean special?” he frowns.
“You know. We think we won’t get old, won’t fall apart, won’t die.”
“I won’t,” Dad says, and I laugh.
Maybe Dad will outrun death; maybe he’ll find a way to stem the tide of decline that’s sweeping through his body. He’s certainly trying.

Unable to simply sit, stand and walk across the room—unwilling to accept or to ask for help; Dad’s developed, over the past few months, a complicated algorithm of movements just to be able to get out of bed, to move to the rolling chair where he takes his meals, or walk the fifteen-foot distance to his bathroom.
He rocks, back straight, arms at his sides until he’s built enough momentum to launch himself to a seated position. Then, jerking his torso to the right, he spins a quarter-turn and kicks his legs over the side of the bed.
With his left hand he grabs his right and heaves it—dead weight--up and over the right side of the walker. If I’m there, I offer to uncoil his fingers from their perpetual fist and place them in a grip around the metal frame. Sometimes, he lets me. Other times, he says, “No, that’s okay.”

He wiggles his feet into his shoes, which he’s carefully left at the side of the bed. One foot is swollen to almost twice the width of the other. But when I point this out, he snaps, “ I know! What do you want me to do about it?”
Holding fast to the aluminum walker, he drags one foot along the floor at a time, inching toward the bathroom, ten feet away. This takes five minutes.
Waiting for his return, I think of Superman and how, though he’s “more powerful than a locomotive,” there is always Kryptonite. I think of Wolverine, the X-Man who can shoot knives out of his fingers—but not without slicing the flesh of his hands to ribbons.
All of this suffering, all of this soldiering on in spite of our pain and limitations: There is wisdom here, in this little room, something about not giving up, about fate, and acceptance and doing what we can. There’s something, too, about love and memory, about family and commitment and taking care of each other. Here in my father’s room at the top of the stairs, I’m listening to a new voice, from the deepest part of my self, whisper: I don’t throw people away.

On the little card table where he takes his meals, there’s a heavy glass beer stein with a straw, through which my father, who has trouble using his hands, can sip his coffee, light and sweet the way he likes it. My teacup sits, on the opposite side of the table, releasing steam.
Dad talks, rests, drifts and, as often happens when I visit, I find myself drifting, too—into rooms where we’ve lived, up and down paths we’ve walked, together and alone. I release my hurry up world of magazine deadlines, of teenagers who have to be somewhere on time and my heart begins to pace his, just as I used to pace my strides to his longer, faster ones.
In this memory, I’m sitting on Dad’s shoulders, arms wrapped around his warm neck, my cheek pressed into the wool of his tweed cap. The neighborhood is blanketed with snow. Dad holds my ankles.
In this one, I’m younger, not yet walking. I’m sliding a braided scatter rug across the polished wood floor into and then out of a slash of sunlight. I am fascinated by the dust motes, swirling like stars. I can smell the smoke from my mother's cigarette and the turpentine-soaked rag she uses to clean the oil paint from her brushes.
Suddenly, my father’s face looms before me, a bright balloon that I swat at, delighted. I fall back, laughing, and he catches my head in his hand.

The father-daughter bond, it’s complicated. A few years earlier, I consulted a therapist—the fourth in a string of mental health counselors Id visited as I searched for the right person to help me... what? Fix something? Understand something? Leave my marriage? Stay? Though uncertain what I was looking for, I knew what I didn’t want. And so far, each therapist had ended up telling me, in one way or another, “You’ll never be happy until you leave this marriage.” One therapist, a thin woman with severe features and a tight bun (at least that's how I remember her now) had challenged, "What do you see in him?"

I’d heard that this man, Randy Sherman, was different. “He sees beneath the surface,” my friend, Jeanne, had told me. “He sees the things other people miss.”
In our first session, I laid out the ground rules. “Don’t take my side. Don’t buy into my bullshit. I’m going to try and blame everything on my husband, my parents. Make me be responsible for my own life.”
“Okay,” he agreed. “I promise.”
Ten minutes into the session, he interrupted me. “Did you have a brain injury?”
"A car accident? A fall?"
"No. Why?"
"it's your speech," he said. tapping his fingers against his chin. "There’s something…”
“Oh, that,” I laughed. “People are always asking me where I’m from. They say I sound European.”

“No,” he said. “You sound like you have some sort of brain damage.”
“I do?”
“You do. It sounds as if there’s some tongue numbness, some loss of acuity in your speech. Are you sure you didn’t hit your head? Did you have a fall—in childhood, perhaps?”
“Well, then it’s one of your parents. Which one of them had a brain injury?”
People have always said I look like my father. “No mistaking that smile,” they’d say, or, “Well, now this apple didn’t fall far from the tree!”
“My father has Cerebral Palsy,” I told Randy. “That’s brain damage.”
“That’s it,” he nods. “You sound, just a little, like you’ve got it too. There’s a thickness in the tongue. It’s subtle—a slurring at the edges of words. Can you feel that?”
An hour later, driving home, my tongue feels swollen, too big for its cradle at the bottom of my mouth, too long for my throat.

I’ve spent years distancing myself from my parents. But now, in this year of sitting and listening, of setting aside the urgent rush of my life to attend to the slower rhythm of Dad’s, I sense that I may have turned a corner. After a lifetime of running, as fast as I can, in the opposite direction, I may just be headed back home.

When my parents still shared a home, and Dad’s health began to slide he went to the dentist and had all of his bottom teeth pulled.
Why?” I asked. "There was no decay? No problems?”
“It’s easier this way.”
“What’s easier?”
“At the dentist, it’s hard for me to keep my mouth from moving. Hard for him to work with my face moving all the time. This is easier.”
“Easier for who?” Mom laughed. At first, she didn’t mind pureeing his meals—reducing her carefully layered lasagna, her lemon parsley chicken, her sirloin tips in Bordeaux to an unrecognizable pulp. When he asked her to feed him with a spoon, she did, for a while. But when he started snapping: “What’s wrong with you? Hold the spoon steady;” she bristled.
“I don’t have time for this. It may take him a little longer to eat but I have other things to do.”

We’re flying down the highway at 70 mph when my husband, who’s driving, decides to clean his eyeglasses. He takes them off, polishes the lenses with the tail of his shirt and puts them back on.
“I still can’t see.” He removes them again. Then, rolling down his window, he commands, “Hold the steering wheel,” and lets it go.

“What? No! Wait!” From the passenger seat, I grab the wheel as my husband, with his foot still on the accelerator, lifts his torso, leans out the window and extends his glasses in front of the windshield, trying to catch them in the spray of the washer fluid which he keeps activating in little spurts, along with the wipers.

“Matt!” I screech, trying to keep the car on the road.
“It’s just for a second,” he calls, the wind carrying his voice away.
“Get…the… fuck… back… in… here!”
“Okay, okay,” he laughs, dropping back into his seat and reclaiming the steering wheel.
Breathless, I stare at him. And then, infuriating myself, I start to laugh.
"Oh, now don’t laugh,” he grins. “It only encourages me.”
“I know,” I punch him in the arm."I know..."

From the back seat, our daughter, Katie, 16, pulls out her cell phone. “This is definitely going in the movie,” she says, texting a message to her brother.

Katie and Max are making a movie. Instead of turning to drugs or cutting themselves (which, under the circumstances, I would certainly understand), they are compensating for their parents’ shortcomings with humor and art.
They write everything down, chronicling our patchwork days and hurried dinners, the strange, cobbled together vacations that we always leave until the last minute to plan, The forgotten birthdays, the day-late visits from the tooth fairy. (She was just so busy and a little bit hung-over from that wedding the night before. And she left a really nice note with a glittery fairy footprint on it, explaining that she just “had so many teeth to pick up”…)
And the way their parents argue, circling the kitchen table:

“What you don’t understand, Amy…”
“Understanding is not the same thing as agreeing, Matthew,”
“If you’d only support me, Amy”
“If you’d only talk to me, Matthew”.

They’ve given up trying to help, given up getting upset. They’ve even given up—for the most part—sighing and leaving the room. Now it’s an art project, an effort to collect the bits and pieces that don’t seem to match, into one taped-together whole that they can consider the way a sculptor might, stepping back from the work, walking around it, studying the way it undulates and catches the light.