Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I Feel Plain

I feel plain,
one step closer to stillness
my ever present heart
my breath flows easily
in and out
my back creaks
I know the veil
has thinned

there is no separation
between you and I
if I reach out my shadow hand
and place my warm palm
on your heart
can you feel its weight?

I believe in nearness
in the absence of earthly space
in quantum physics
there is no space between us

our energy flows easily
sliding around each other
where I end
and you begin
means nothing

death steps nearer
brings her weighted boot to bear
and stomps
my heart beats
my breath flows easily in and out
my back creaks

The flimsy ghosts
wrap their arms around me
holding on to life
through the visions of my mind

when time slowed, bent, skidded to a halt
I saw life step nearer
in her weighted boot and stomp
my heart
my breath
my back

the flimsy ghosts wrap their arms around me
I know the veil has thinned

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bertram Family Christmas Eve

Bertram Family Christmas Eve

We cook until we can’t stand up, making Lasagna and vegan Lasagna, pumpkin pies and vegan pumpkin pies, relish trays with four kinds of dip, apple crumble, cheese cake, cheese and olive plates, we have five kinds of chips and grape-cranberry juice which has been made festive with the addition of ginger ale. It begins as soon as my feet hit the floor—well, as soon as the caffeine in the tea I drink nowadays hits my feet on the floor. I make a list and tick things off as we go. We listen to Carols, try to come up with interesting things for the anxious little ones to do on this longest day of the year. It seems to drag on forever, as each piping hot dish is brought from the oven and laid on a side-board. The entire house is scrumptious. My girls have finally gotten old enough to help and this year I not only have my culinary-talented and kitchen-enthusiastic future daughter-in-law but also my mother-in-law, a fine cook herself, who is visiting from England. We laugh as we cook and occasionally curse, as when I forget to set the timer and toast the top of two pies, and we utilize all of our joint skills to make another Christmas Eve special.

The kids harass us incessantly about opening an early present. I say no, but we all know I’m lying. We open the kid’s gifts to each other early each year because the future daughter-in-law is in the drawing; she will go to her parent’s house for all of tomorrow. We have to open the kid’s gifts now or we won’t have the chance to share with her in the gift-opening. We all know this, but I like the look of worried suspense on the two little ones faces. They think I’m not being entirely honest, but they're not completely sure. When we finally say, “yes,” there’s cheering.

As night falls in a heavy blanket of black, we lay all the food we’ve cooked out on the table. The lights twinkle on the tree, and the pride and joy of our lives all tromp up the stairs to sit down to feast. It’s a Bertram Family tradition to lay out this meal for the kids and then to let them eat their fill. They laugh and joke, eat, drink, and are merry.

“When are we going to open the presents?” He’s only asked that a hundred times today, “You said after we’re done eating. We’re done eating!” He’s very smart for a seven year old. But before we begin, this inquiring young gentleman has to use the bathroom, which he announces. So as not to be offensive to this mixed-bag of relatives, he spells out that he has to go ‘p..o...o..p.’ We erupt into horrified laughter. Who in this room, where everyone is older than him, did he think he was sparing this news through spelling?

It takes an hour to rip the paper off the presents, and 'ohhh' and 'ahhh 'over their perfection. Everyone is pleased with their gifts: Piranha Panic, A Giant model horse, An i-pod arm band for the runner who won’t be running until her compression fracture is healed, a PS 2 anime game, a dragon kite, a fantasy book series, and a lovely red tea pot with four cups. They all bought gifts for each other with no influence from Mom or Dad. As it goes, they’re good gift-givers.

Winding down towards bedtime, four youngsters vie for room in the bathroom to brush teeth. I know I’ve still got a bit of the night ahead and make another cup of tea. When the children are nestled all snug in their beds, I go down and read “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” which, after 20 years of reading, I know by heart.

“Mom doesn’t even have to look at the pages,” The twelve year old says. She shrugs herself comfortable, and snuggles into bed.

I read the story, easily showing the pictures as I don't have to follow the words. It brings a tingle of joy to my toes and that swelling of warmth in my chest. I kiss each soft head, bless them with good sleep, and pause just a moment longer than maybe I would have in years past, when we hadn’t recently crashed head-on into a tree. I shut the door softly. They all sleep in the same room,

“No none leaves without asking me.” The fifteen year old says. She’s cleverly sleeping in front of the door; they’d have to step on her on their way out.

I’m bone tired as the house finally settles into deep silence. I’m still a long way from done tonight, but this moment, in this year, even with my cramping whip-lashed back, my creaking, unstable spine, I wouldn’t change a thing. Everyone I love most was smiling and happy today. Little spats, a regular feature of such a large family, lacked their usual rancor. There were more hugs, more apologies, more willingness to overlook the imperfections of a sibling, more easiness in forgiving.

Tomorrow will be the whirlwind of presents, and more family and friends, a frantic, joyous busyness from dawn till dusk. I won’t have time to pause and ponder, but this Christmas Eve in the silence of my sleeping house, I know how very certainly I am blessed.

“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night…”

Peace and Blessings,

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Life of Whiplash, written over time 12-07 through 12-29

Whiplash is not a pleasant injury. Insipid and creeping, it does not show up until the fifth day after impact. The impact itself is bad--I hope never to live through something like that again--although, it does beat the alternative.

In the first few days, I lived in a pleasant state of drug-induced numbness and accident-related shock. As the shock wore off, and I scaled back on the pharmaceuticals, mobility returned and life began to normalize--or so I thought. It was at this moment that whiplash hit. Those supple muscle lying along-side my spine seized up, turning into knotted cement blocks. Trying to move with this new musculature produces a kind of torment. A slight bend sends shocks of pain. These unpleasant nerve-bursts are not limited to where I thought I had been injured in the crash. They are indiscriminate, involving whatever muscles and vertebrae seem to take their fancy.

Ironically, the correction for such an injury is to move, very slowly, very gingerly, and to stop before actual pain. In fact, the orthopaedic pediatric specialist looking at my daughter's x-ray said the best thing for us all would be to do Yoga. Fortunately, I have been practising Yoga since I was six years old, my daughter she since before she was born. In fact, we have all done Yoga throughout our lives. Yoga was how my husband and I first met. Now, how funny, it is to be our cure--once again. We practise within a very narrow margin, cautiously, listening, moving as softly as we may, and the two with the fractured vertebrae are the most subtle practitioners of all.

The bones are healing by now, with three weeks gone, knitting themselves together, solidifying. The ligaments and tendons will take 8 to 12 weeks to grip with any kind of real strength. From now to my Birthday in early March, we will all tread gently, treating our spines with careful respect.

This in not my first healing experience, though it is my first car accident. I have learned healing is something you allow, not something you make happen. With the right food, exercise, sleep, and kindness, our bodies will have the best chances of healing. Though, people tell me we will never be completely healed. A 95% recovery is considered the best we can hope for and, even then, we will live with the evidence of this event in our spines for as long as we are here. I am not worried. What experience have I had that is not still with me lodged somewhere in the bone and blood structures of my physical form? Why would this be any different than a hundred other moments that have made their mark on me? Why would the spine be spared when the psyche is not?

I have also learned that every experience in my life, no matter how seemingly insignificant or insufferably painful, has added to all the rest to make me into who I am. This accident is not special in this way. It brought with it difficult physical pain, but now I have slowed down, and am taking care--I have to in order to survive. It also did not merely lash the spine, and rattle my brain, but it made its mark on my mind. Not with any kind of fan-fairing dramaticism, just a deep, subtle shift, like the sands of the ocean floor drifting from the force of a wave and never going back again. I learned something about the nature of life, how fragile it is, how there are no guarantees, how much useless time I have spent worrying over things that may never occur.

We are all here on borrowed time. Everyone I love, and all of those who love me, we only have each other on loan. How can I worry about what will happen tomorrow, next week, next year? There is no promise that any of that agonized-over future will even exist.

Right now, I kiss my loved ones, I stand with my feet square on the earth and bask in the bright light of the sun, I count the stars that dot the sky, and sit quietly when I can, resting peaceful, because today I am alive.

Alive and Slowly Moving,

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Things That Go Bump in the Road

Things That Go Bump in the Road

We were late. All four kids were rushed out of the house by two harried parents and into the Ford Expedition. My husband was driving. Our eighteen year old, a third member of our dance trio, had gone ahead of us in his little Toyota. The other two dancers, our nine year old and I, were dressed in black skirts and stockings, ready to skip to the Irish reel and jig. We had been practicing for 10 weeks and this was to be my daughter’s first performance.

Life does not always go as planned.

Our twelve year old daughter had left her purse at a cousin’s house so we had to make an extra stop on the way to our performance. It had snowed the night before, sugar dusting all of Virginia with less than an inch of fluffy, white powder. By the time we were on the road, just after noon on Sunday, it was nearly forty degrees and a bright, clear sunny day.

No remnants of the first winter snowfall remained on the road as we drove to the top of the hill.

Getting the purse had added pressure. We were only minutes behind schedule, but that was enough for us to be going at a steady clip heading down the long hill. Not speeding—it’s impossible to exceed the limit on those winding roads—but moving along quite nicely in an attempt to make it to the recital on time, just cruising on a Sunday on a road we knew well and had driven over a thousand times in twenty-five years in all kinds of weather.

The eldest had her i-pod on and was reading, settling in for the hour-long drive. The two little ones were laughing and messing around with each other. The middle daughter was sorting through the recently retrieved purse and I was inhaling my salad in the front seat, trying to fuel-up for our dance performance.

Life; busy and hectic as usual. No sense of foreboding, no brilliant flash of insight, my only thought when I saw the ice on the road was for my son, driving ten minutes ahead of us. We were in a four-wheel drive, he was just in that little Toyota.

My husband swore as we hit the front edge of the first ice patch and reached down to make sure we were in all-wheel drive. We were, but it wouldn’t do us any good.

We hit the second patch and he knew we were in trouble. He turned into the skid as we began to slide. I imagine we were going about 40 miles per hour but we hit the ice on a steep down-slope and picked up speed as we careened off the right hand side of the road, dropped into a ditch and headed straight for a set of mail-boxes.

I thought, “We’re going to hit those mailboxes.” And I remember the feeling of horror and dismay, knowing we were going to have an accident and no way to prevent it.

That was the moment everything went hay-wire.

We only clipped the mail boxes. Our trajectory changed. I closed my eyes just before we slammed into the boxes—I’m a horrid chicken at times like this—when I opened them, we were airborne. We had careened at high speed back across the road, hit a culvert, where a pipe went under the driveway, and sailed over the gravel lane. We hit railroad ties lining the drive on the other side and sent one flying thirty-feet into a field. We crashed landed through a fence, plowing straight over a wooden post that bent like a toothpick. It didn’t slow the truck at all. Ahead, in the field, we could see the tree coming. Eyes wide open, this time, I watched as we barreled towards it. There was no way to avoid that tree, no time to think, or even react before we hit. I could see doom looming, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

The impact came with a force I was not familiar with, not from falling off a dozen different horses. It started in my low back and ricocheted all up my spine. My head flung forward and my chin hit my chest. I know now why they call it whiplash. My husband and daughter in the driver’s side both screamed in pain. We had stopped, but to what? He shouted, “Don’t anybody move! Stay exactly still!” Immediately, I turned to look at the kids, feeling the strange looseness in my neck and back. They were all staring back at me, eyes wide with shock and pain. All of them awake, alive. Two started crying.

I knew we were supposed to stay put, I had had my CPR training, but I looked back to the front and saw the mangled hood of the truck. My husband was shouting for a cell-phone. There were four in the truck, somewhere. I began frantically looking for mine. It had been charging in my cup-holder but I couldn’t find it. I traced the cord and pulled it from the floor, handed it to my husband. I looked back up at the crumpled front end.

“We’re getting out of here.” I said.

I don’t know what makes a vehicle explode, but I was not willing to wait and see if ours would. I got out, moving with difficulty and had the kids get out, looking them over as they left. Our little boy was bleeding on his lips. I took the edge of his shirt to wipe the blood. Slowly, we climbed the hill and the kids sat on the remaining rail-road tie. By then, my husband had stopped someone on the road who actually had a cell-signal—my phone didn’t—and they called the rescue squad. He also called my sister, an RN.

I looked down at my kids, all crying and shivering in the brisk wind. I took off my coat and wrapped it around the nine year old, wrapped my scarf around the twelve year old. My husband came over and looked at me. We knew how lucky we were,

“It’s good they’re all crying.” He said, “It means they’re all alive.”

“My feet are cold.” My littlest one said. I looked down, he was missing a shoe.

“Mine, too.” The nine year old was missing both of hers.

I noticed my feet were also cold, both of my shoes were gone as well. Where were our shoes? I hobbled back down to the car and found them. I didn’t know you could hit something so hard it would knock your shoes off. One of mine was jammed up under the dashboard where the impact had driven part of the engine into the car. It was a while later that I realized my shin was bleeding and I had a bone-bruise as a result of the engine’s movement.

The EMT’s arrived and put collars on the older four of us and hauled us off in two ambulances on back-boards. The littlest two children seemed to have escaped nearly unscathed, and went home with my RN sister, to be checked out later by our Family doctor.

In the end, we have five cases of whiplash with a lot of pain and stiffness during any kind of movement. My husband was the most gravely hurt with a herniated disc in his lower spine as well as a small laceration to his scalp.

This week, for me, has been a dazed blur, partly due to the combination of pain-killers and muscle relaxers they prescribed for me, mainly due to a kind of numb gratitude. I didn’t know I could feel so grateful. I feel as if I am living in a dream-world, or walking on a cloud. Just the sound of their voices and the sight of my husband and children fills me with an intense, stunned love.

I don’t know why we were so lucky, why all of us were spared. It isn’t easy to total an Expedition. The tree was twelve inches in diameter. We hit with such force, we uprooted it, yet, in essence, we all walked away. I know one day, my name will be called and I will leave this earth to join my maker. I know one day, we will all be called. “Why not now?” is a question that has no answer, yet I can’t help asking.

In the end, I suppose, it just wasn’t our time.

(Photo by Nataraja Bertram)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

six words, no less, no more

December 03, 2008

So, I get these writing prompts from mysterious places. The latest one said write about yourself in six words. My first thought was;

Whoooaaaa! I have to be succinct.
Which is six words if counting.

next I wrote about my life
nobody knows their way before starting
Guinness girl loves men and babies
babies made me into my Mom
I live for love and horses
I only swim in freezing waters
I live with crazy inside me
even fire can burn too brightly
shiny candy shell covers inner darkness
born wild, nothing mundane holds me

then I wrote about my heart
true love is only for takers
where love resides, all demons flee
don't look and think you know

then I wrote about my art
writing lust overcomes uncertainty. I unmask.
in words, I find my magic
come to me, I'll write you

then I wrote about my God
faith floods and washes fear away
where none reside, I am complete
all are born, few truly live

Then I wrote my finished novel

Love happened. She turned. Wrong way.

What about you? What words appear?
Can you write you in six?