CHAPTER 9: THE CABIN

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Over the second summer of living in the tent, we looked for and purchased a parcel of land on the upper border of Adirondack Park. We split the acreage with another couple who were friends of ours. Many warm summer evenings around the campfire, or during long rainy weekends in the tent, we dreamt, schemed, and planned our new home in the northern woods.

Money being tight, and the thought of it drained towards rent in the upcoming winter, caused enough concern for us to become even more creative with our living situation. We decided to build a tiny cabin and stay the winter over the same dirt foundation where the tent stood. We would then tear it down in the spring, reusing all the lumber for our future home on our new land, an ambitious plan, but we had youth on our side. Some lumber from the barn where the roof had collapsed was still usable. Samuel recycled it, ripping it down with a table saw to more modern building code specifications. All the pieces were labeled before erection in the cabin, marked with a big black felt pen so they could be refitted later. Awestruck by the building process, I watched construction of our winter cabin from the ground up.

“Hold this,” he said, handing over the measuring tape, plotting the floor plan where the joists would lie, the tape snapping shut after whizzing back to him once the measurement was taken.

“Hold this straight,” he said, out of breath as he hammered in the corner plate while my hands held it tight to the wood.

A frame, then the floor appeared, next two-by-fours to support plywood walls, rafters, more plywood for a roof, then tar paper over everything. A little black cabin emerged with one window over an old sink looking out to the pines. The cabin took a lot more work than the tent. Mostly I did little except stand, watch, carry, or hold something. It was slightly bigger than the previous space and needed a heat source. We found a small cast iron stove for sale in a newspaper ad. It fitted our needs perfectly, and for fifty bucks the price was right. Jack-Of-All-Trades Samuel built a red brick fire- protective layer atop the flooring in the corner. We easily kept toasty through what would be an exceedingly harsh winter. Due to very limited space, our bed was built on a platform so two dressers could be stored underneath, with a ladder tacked crossways onto one side of the bed frame.

The big, white, two-basined sink had a drain to the outdoors and gravity-fed water from a whiskey barrel elevated outside. Brushing teeth with the taste of whiskey in our mouths might not have been a preferred flavor, especially first thing in the morning, but we were thrilled with the novelty of running water in our rustic cabin. Once the rain turned to snow, the luxury of running liquor-flavored water ended till the spring thaw.

The outdoor john still consisted of a turned-over crate with a toilet seat tacked on, nestled among the same circle of pines a short walk downhill. A bathroom excursion in winter meant shivery snow down my nightgown as my shoulder accidently bumped a pine bough. The outer bathrobe offered no defense against the white stuff falling off the branch onto my neck, sitting upon the “throne” not exactly queenly.

The Coleman fridge and cook stove sat on a table at the end of the bed; ice and gas tanks were staples on the weekly grocery list. Often in the dead of winter, it was so hot inside we kept the door wide open for long periods. Watching the snow fly we snuggled up warm and cozy within. And what a winter!

Samuel had assumed I’d be home to tend the cabin fires by day. I instead began work at the town’s grade school as a teacher aide with special needs children, grades third, fourth, and fifth. Before dawn, after a night of ravaging hard snow, I’d listen eagerly to the radio for school closings. The snows that winter were intense blizzards. I had many days off from my job, but grocery stores never close due to snow conditions. So Samuel fought two commutes: the first just getting to his van through the frigid, icy drifts. On those blustery mornings, I’d watch him leave, glad not to be him. He braved the thigh-deep snow, battling his way down the hill past the barn, then traipsing even further before reaching the vehicles parked by the road at the end of the drive.

Those days I sometimes trudged over to Mom’s for a hot shower or to do laundry, pulling our trusty toboggan that carried an Army duffle bag stuffed with dirty clothes. The toboggan also helped bring in other supplies, like groceries, water, and wood for the fire, roping down the load so it wouldn’t slip off.

And we had visitors. Nelson, a mutual friend, played guitar by the woodstove while we fell asleep in our bunk listening to his raspy voice singing folksy blues. He didn’t seem to mind his meager sleeping arrangement by the fire in a sleeping bag; I suppose the novelty of it replaced any discomfort on the hard floor.

The money saved living this way caused our bank accounts to blossom. We competed to see who saved the most, though we would later burn though it quickly buying lumber for the new dwelling. In the spring, the cabin was carefully disassembled and each stick of lumber that had been specifically marked found its place in the new location, piece by piece. We traveled the five-hour drive on weekends while living again in the tent back home, and married that summer in ‟78.

When fall approached we found a cute little farmhouse to rent nearby for the upcoming winter. It would take three more years of weekends and vacations to build a dwelling that could safely shelter us from the even harsher elements of the upper Adirondacks. We built a gambrel-style home—well, the shell of half of one. We had lacked the foresight to think about the availability of employment in the area.

Reality, the one involving money, had not yet sunk in. But it did five months later. We moved to the new dwelling while pregnant with our first son. The red hand pump in the sink, bringing fresh water from the spring, along with the outhouse complete with a roof, felt like luxuries. But soon our finances depleted. Forced to return with our new baby, we lived at Mom’s until Samuel found steady work. The sale of our partially built house in the northern woods helped pay for our new home, a hundred-year-old dwelling in need of just about everything, including interior walls and ceilings. But that didn’t matter. We owned a home.

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BUDDHA

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Normally I don’t post chapters out of order unless there’s a need, like when posting the chapter on PTSD http://wp.me/s4Qpte-ptsd, Chapter 22: SHATTERED.  When I was abused, I split off from myself in so many ways; one crucial way? Being in my body. Most people take their feelings and connectedness to them for granted. Discovering that connection within my own self has been miraculous for me, and one I am so grateful for. That one basic right of all living things, taken, but re-discovered…

Chapter 23, BUDDHA— I’m not a Buddhist, though the practices have helped me develop as a person and learn what the word relax means. And it’s not a religion. For anyone devout in their religious practices, this does not interfere with those beliefs and practices.

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CHAPTER 23: BUDDHA           

I headed to the Zen Center for a one-day introductory workshop. Ex-therapist Matt had described the center before I quit seeing him. Going there had seemed to help as he struggled through his divorce. I thought, Why not? The bouts of depression and anxiety from years of untreated post-traumatic stress had continued unabated, ramping up rather than calming. I was apt to try anything if it would help find a new way of being. The only way I knew how to exist was by zoning out (don’t ask where I go, I don’t know, just not here) or feeling anxious when I’m around others except Samuel, my kids, and cat, Polly. Out of the four, Polly wins the “most-trusted award.”

We live in the country by a creek. Samuel drives to the city nearby every day for work. I rarely travel there, yet took on the adventure excitedly. The city was foreign territory but I eventually found Harold, a quiet little street lined with trees. The homes sat at varying intervals back from the road, most hidden by more trees and shrubbery. Finding the house, I slowly pulled into the compact gravel parking area nestled under the shady greenery out front.

There’s calmness, a feel about the place that enveloped me like an embrace. My school bus yellow car looked out of place among the trees that formed a natural canopy, their branches shielding occupants from the hot sun. My love of bright colors lightens a tendency towards sadness, so clothing gravitates towards gaiety along with vividly splashed color on a few walls at home; not too many, Samuel, a quiet, conservative man, can only handle so much of that. The Zen Center felt like an oasis hidden amidst the chaos of the city, cement, exhaust, buildings too close and traffic too fast. I sighed, expelling the city with my breath.

As I was about to knock on the door, it opened to a smiling face.

“Hi, welcome. You’re here for the workshop?” the greeter asked, opening the door wide.

“Hi, yes!” I replied, noting the casual dress, relieved with my own choice of khakis and light top.

“Come in. There’s tea on the table. Help yourself. And sign in please. Once everyone’s here we’ll start.” She led me to the sign-in book, then pointed towards the tea table.

While she left to receive more guests, I made a cup of tea and stood near the wall watching the others. An eclectic mix of souls were gathering, maybe wondering “why” like me, searching for truth, or hoping to become one with themselves. Clothing ran the gamut from suit jackets and dresses to decent-looking jeans, shorts, and pants. The expansive entryway retained a simple charm, unpretentious and functional. The wooden walls and planked floors gave the space an earthy feel, helped by the slight hint of incense in the air.

Though alone, I didn’t feel out of place. There were small groups, couples, and other singles. Finally the foyer filled and the group moved to a spacious area down the hall large enough to accommodate forty or so. I chose a seat near the back. This room also had unvarnished walls, earth-toned with a large window behind the speakers’ podium looking out to the backyard gardens. The lighting was soft, easy on the eyes. Milaca introduced herself and absorbed the audience; the lilt in her voice sounding slightly British. Later I learned she had traveled from Australia and would return to start a center there with her husband. Though the receptionist greeting guests at the door wore street clothes, Milaca looked monk- like with a long drab robe and a sash gathered around the waist. The extra cloth signified high ranking from years of practice.

The Zen master entered the room and took the podium. When he spoke, the group became quiet and attentive. He seemed kingly, resembling the lead from the movie “The King and I,” but more because of his regal carriage than his clothing. His words were clear and simple with a surprising addition of humor. He told a story of how Buddha began his quest. Buddha, who searched for the meaning of life, started as an angry young man. Maybe there was hope for me.

I longed for peace, for calmness, for whatever it was I saw in others who seemed to have it, who seemed to digest each moment one by one, slowly, not speeding past it. Full of anxiety, I withdrew to a place only I knew to feel safe from the present and the people in it. Yet those weren’t things I could put into words. I didn’t know what I longed for, just anything different than what I had known. Moments of connectedness within, a calm interior: those miracles were to come. And since I didn’t know them, I couldn’t name them, just that there must be a better way to be.

After the morning’s introduction, we toured the kitchen where the cook prepared lunch and happily greeted everyone. Downstairs a room held cloaks which were offered for meditation, but not required. The cloaks were intended to cut down distractions while meditating so one’s eyes weren’t diverted by clothing colors. A smaller room off the side with little cubicles housed extra pillows for supporting knees and elbows if needed.

We were then led to the room where meditation took place: the zendo. The guide talked in a hush as if in respect of the room itself. The feel of it captivated me, quiet and serene. The only windows were up high near the ceiling, with the sound of birds drifting in from the trees outside, safe from the rush of the city. The smell of incense intensified. A large, almost life-sized gold Buddha sat at the front. Four rows of wide built-in counters, where you sat cross-legged, spanned the length of the room. Anyone sitting at the outer two rows faced the wall while meditating. Before the start of sitting, helpers put up temporary walls along the inner two rows. If you felt sleepy during meditation, by prompting the monitor with your hand by a signal behind your back, you’d receive a slight wrap on the shoulder with a stick. I definitely would not be doing that.

The guide added, “Anyone who experienced physical abuse during childhood or later on, would probably not want this form of prompting.”

After careful explanations about the process, the group broke for lunch, then returned to the zendo for afternoon meditation. Here I would have my first taste of relaxation. A brass gong clanged at the start and I eagerly found a spot. Breathe in, count one, breath out, count two, and so on until you get to ten, then start over. Come back to the breath; find your true nature…

Sounds easy, but too often I lost track of counting, my mind whirling with other thoughts, and suddenly the count was eleven, twelve, or thirteen. Counting to ten with the breath took practice. The gong struck again, signaling a walk around the room with eyes slightly downcast, then more sitting.

My knees ached, throbbed really, but I was determined to be like the rest. There were chairs set up at the outskirts for those with knee, back, or any other problems that interfered with sitting cross-legged. I wasn’t connected enough to my body to realize I was causing further injury to already arthritic knees. I would have been too shy anyway to take a chair and risk being different. So I sat cross-legged and almost cried with the pain as sweat beaded up on my forehead.

Still, even through the pain, something of value happened while sitting silently among a roomful of people. I quieted. Maybe I felt it only a moment or two, relaxation around others, my insides untwisting, but it was enough.

Shaking hands with staff, we said our goodbyes and I headed home, continuing with what I had learned, committing to a half hour a day. And over time, with practice, change occurred deep within.

The first year I set up a pillow as they had shown us, with extra support under the knees. It faced a white wall in a little room off our bedroom. The cross-legged position ended after knee surgery repairing a torn meniscus. Trying to be like everyone else, forcing my knees to bend and overextending the joints, probably caused the tear. Though it sometimes takes a big message, like surgery, for me to pay attention, I did change my position while meditating.

Practice continued by lying flat with a cushion under each elbow, my hands overlapping each other lightly across my lower abdomen, called the “hara”, or spiritual center. Using a thirty-minute timer, my cat curled up and purring on my stomach, my thoughts quieted as I concentrated on my breath. A peaceful interior began to grow, a connectedness within, and the ability to be present, unafraid.

More than all the years of therapists, money, time, and effort poured into feeling even a moment of peace, this one thing helped me find what I had been looking for: myself.

Pain is Inevitable, Suffering is Optional

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This post is inspired by another: http://janetcate.com/2014/11/23/can-i-let-go-of-suffering-2/ and is a collection of explanations found off Goggle pertaining to the above title.

It was also something I’ve been thinking about in regards to my years in therapy with Raymond and what he had chalked on his board in the entry-way that day. It struck me as I read it, thinking the reason he chose that week’s saying pertained to me. He said no. But it made me think. I was dealing with a lot of pain, but did I have to suffer so with it?

I quickly gathered the information below and included the web sites. I cannot attest to its factualness though I like what it says and it speaks to the point of this post in an intelligent way. 

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http://omswami.com/2012/01/pain-is-inevitable-suffering-is-optional.html

“A quote usually attributed to Buddha says, “Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.” What a profound statement!

 There is no suffering if you can let go. Pain becomes immaterial in the absence of suffering. I am reminded of a story I had come across a while ago. As follows:

After a day of preaching and alms, two fellow monks, in brimming youth, of more or less the same age, with one being more senior, were returning to their monastery while the sun was returning to his abode. Firmly established in their conduct, they would walk with their heads down and glances scanning not beyond two feet. Those were the days of monsoon and the gods seemed happy as it rained generously that day too. The valley was green and puddles of water looked like patches of random art on the unpaved roads. Their monastery beautifully set in the magnificent mountains was past a rivulet, barely six feet wide, that would have strong water current during the monsoons. 

Naturally, they had to cross the rivulet to get to the monastery. As they arrive at the bank of the river, they see a beautiful young woman, white like the pearlescent snow-capped mountains of the valley, with a softly radiating face like the morning sun, standing there still but somewhat anxious. They exchange glances; the senior monk understood that the young lady was afraid of crossing the swollen rivulet.

Without any verbal communication and with no further ado, he gets closer to the feminine idol and gently picks her up in his arms. He crosses the river and puts her down, even more gently, on the other side of the river. She bows in gratitude and respect before making tracks towards her home. 

The younger monk is somewhat troubled by the actions of the senior one. Out of veneration and respect, however, he stays quiet. The two monks continue walking towards their destination. Silence persists for a good few hours before it is broken by the junior monk. 

“Can I please ask you a question, if I may?” He mutters.

“Yes, of course.” The elder one replies.

“According to our code of conduct, we are not allowed to touch a woman.” His statement fails to hide the imminent question hiding in it.

The senior monk says, “Yes, indeed.”

The younger one finally asks, “So, how come you carried that young woman across?”

“I did not carry the woman, I simply lifted the one in need, ” the elder one says, adding, “Besides, I left her on the other side of the river and you are still carrying her, brother.””

Peace, Swami

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http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/some-assembly-required/201401/pain-is-inevitable-suffering-is-optional 

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http://buddhistsangha.tripod.com/noblepath2.htm

There is a famous adage: “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” This anonymous saying sums up what you can learn about pain through mindfulness. You cannot avoid pain. Even if you are physically healthy now, at some point you may get sick, you may get hurt, and age and physical changes will occur. Pain is inevitable. It will come, and there is nothing you can do to prevent it—yet whether or not you suffer is another matter. Why is it that one woman can go through childbirth claiming that it was the most painful experience of her life while another declares it was the most transcendent? Along with other conditions, including the ease of delivery, the answer may lie in how to relate to pain. Clearly, sensory experiences are different, but how we relate to them—big or small—plays a powerful role as well.

Suppose we define pain as the pure physical sensation of the body responding to some negative stimuli, and suffering as our response to pain. From a mindfulness perspective, it is important to differentiate pain and suffering because however unavoidable pain is, we certainly have some leeway when it comes to suffering.

The biggest difficulty in working with pain is not the pain itself; it is how we react to it. With mindfulness, you can learn to see how your mental reactions to suffering function and how you can avoid being so caught in them. Here is a practice you can do if you are experiencing any physical pain.

The Practice

Try to get as comfortable as you can in your sitting posture. If the pain is really bad, you may wish to lie down. Find the most comfortable position to practice.

First take a few breaths and allow yourself to connect with the fact that your body is sitting (or lying down). Notice your posture and body shape. Now find a part of your body that is not in pain and bring your attention to it. Find a part that feels pleasant or neutral, at the very least. Explore whether your hands, feet, or legs feel relaxed and pleasant. Let your attention stay at this pleasant area for a few moments. Now bring your attention to the area of pain. What do you notice? Is the pain sharp or dull? Burning? Stabbing? Fiery? Clenching? Is it moving, or does it stay in one place? How deeply does it go into your body? Get very curious about the changing set of bodily sensations.

After thirty seconds or so (you can choose any short amount of time), bring your attention back to the pleasant or neutral sensations for the next few minutes. Notice if you have an attitude toward the pain. Do you hate it, fear it, resent it, blame yourself for it? Can you notice how it is that you feel or think about the pain? Do you feel any accompanying body sensation like a clutching feeling in your gut or vibration in your chest? Notice this reaction, breathe, and let it be there. There is nothing wrong with a reaction. If you have no reaction or the reaction stops, feel free to investigate the painful area one more time.Return your attention to the pleasant area, and once again rest there for a minute or so.

Now, for the last time, return to the painful area. What do you notice? Breathe. Feel whatever is present on the physical level. Offer yourself a little bit of kindness in a way that makes sense to you. You can imagine holding that part of your body with care and compassion, or just offer this attitude to yourself. Notice what happens.

Return your attention to your whole body, sitting or lying and present. Open your eyes when you are ready. 

Adapted from Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness, by Susan Smalley and Diana Winston(Da Capo Press, 2010).

Third Noble Truth – The Cessation of Suffering

Is there a way out of suffering? So far the Buddha’s teaching is a bit discouraging. We have suffering caused by ignorance leading to craving. Are we doomed to suffer forever? NO!

The Buddha tells us that there is a way out of suffering. Because he does not want to create a new craving he emphasizes the term cessation of suffering. When we look further we find that his cessation of suffering is Nibbana or Nirvana.

 What is Nibbana?

Nibbana or Nirvana is the extinction of ignorance which leads to the extinction of craving which leads to the extinction of suffering. Nibbana is a state of mind that we can achieve here and now in this world.

 Is Nibbana Passivity?

It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that the end of craving is the end of purposeful activity. We fear falling into a state of mental paralysis since wanting anything is craving. Nibbana is not passivity, it is freedom from enslavement to greed, anger and delusion.

A person who is free from craving can act from the motivation of loving kindness for all living beings. The enlightened person seeks the happiness of himself or herself and the happiness of all other beings. Such motivation is free from ignorance, craving and does not produce suffering.

The Fourth Noble Truth – The Way To The Cessation of Suffering

This teaching is the practical method of achieving the end of suffering. The Path is traditionally divided into three general areas:

Path Factor
Characteristic
Right Understanding
Wisdom
Right Intentions 
 
Right Speech
Conduct
Right Action
Right Livelihood 
 
Right Effort
Meditation
Right Mindfulness
Right Concentration
The Path is not to be “walked” in sequence from 1 to 8. Rather each part is emphasized when needed and then revisited when the student’s understanding allows further progress.

 Path Factors

We already saw that Right Understanding is the Four Noble Truths. If we look at the other factors of the Path we can see how they help us in our journey.

Right Intentions

The intentions that we aspire to are:

of renunciation, free from craving
of good will, free from aversion
of compassion, free from cruelty

 Renunciation

Renunciation? This is a word that most people are not happy to see. Does the Buddha want us to give up everything, our families, homes, cars and, worst of all, sex?

There are conservative schools of Buddhism which hold that, yes, you must give up all of these things and more. This is a legitimate and sincere view and many of those who give up everything find great freedom and joy. However, there are many other legitimate practitioners who have faith that life in the world as an ordinary person can be a pathway to liberation from suffering.

This is a question that each practitioner must meet with a sincere and open heart. The only right way is the way that you honestly believe is best for yourself and all living beings.

There are some things that clearly must be renounced in order to follow the path. We must renounce greed, anger and delusion if we hope to make any positive change in our lives. The conscious renunciation of selfish craving is one of the most crucial intentions.

Good Will and Compassion

We can never be happy if we feel aversion to others and cause them harm. The Buddha taught that only by raising up feelings of love and compassion for others can we be free of our own suffering.

Right Speech, Action and Livelihood

These are the factors of right conduct in the world which are absolutely necessary for happiness. Is it possible to spend the day lying, causing pain and cheating others and still achieve happiness for ourselves? The Buddha teaches us that harmful conduct brings pain to both others and to ourselves. Only by avoiding harm to the world can we bring an end to our own suffering.

 Right Effort, Mindfulness and Concentration

These meditation factors of the Path deal with the cultivation of the mental state necessary for us to break out of our old habits of delusive thinking. In meditation we learn how to use our minds to let go of the ideas that cause us suffering. We get in touch with things just as they are. When we do this, we become free.

How Meditation Differs From Other Practices

Why do Buddhists meditate instead of praying, reading, talking or following other methods of spiritual development? This question goes to the heart of Buddhism and to why our path is different from any Western spiritual practice.

In our society we think that ultimate truth is expressed in words, ideas and theories. The Buddha taught that conceptual thinking is fine for ordinary day to day problem solving but it does not lead to the highest truth. Concepts are pale shadows of ultimate reality. Liberating insight can only be experienced through direct, non conceptual experience.

Meditation is the means by which we experience reality in itself, unfiltered and uncolored by thoughts, ideas and preconceptions. When we see things as they are, then we achieve insight and freedom.

What Happens In Meditation?

Truth is being with things just as they are. Truth is letting go of greed, anger and delusion. Truth is opening up to the universe and living your life in harmony with all things.

Meditation peels away the clutter in our minds that keeps us from seeing things as they are. Normally we are full of thoughts of the past or the future. We fear, we regret and we fantasize about what was, should be and might be. This is delusion and only when we are free from delusion can we achieve enlightenment.

For more on the Noble Eightfold Path, go to BeyondtheNet and see an explanation by Bhikku Bodhi

THANK YOU MOM

The following letter was given to me last year from my 27 yr. old youngest son…

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1/29/13

Mom. It’s a gift you’ve given me, to have overcome the hooks that trauma has left in your psyche, to have raised two sons in a loving environment in spite of everything you had experienced. You had never known a loving, protective environment, so how did you manage to provide one? The answer, I know, is: with great effort. Constant discipline. With tears, and with therapy, and with Samuel’s patient spirit supporting you. 

You’ve come so far. To be able to write about trauma, and put your real name to it. What a brave and honest act, a defiant stand against the silence you endured so long. 

Raising children – creating people from scratch – is a daunting task for anyone, even the healthiest, happiest people in the best of circumstances. You did not have the advantage of carefree happiness, the stability that comes with a healthy childhood. You did not start with that most fundamental of human capacities – the understanding that you are loved, that you are worthy of love. You were betrayed, your ability to trust shattered. Yet you knew how to accept the implicit trust of two growing children who depended on you for everything, and to never let them down. So that we would never struggle with trusting good, honest people. We were shown from the very beginning that we could count on you and Dad, all day every day. That is the foundation for a healthy life – the ability to love and trust without reservation. That is the basis for the confidence and tranquility I have in navigating the world. I wish everyone could be so lucky. 

I recognize the monumental accomplishment it was for you to be a successful mother, fostering a positive, healthy environment while battling the darkness inside. What a task you set for yourself, quieting your rage while building two human beings from scratch, careful not to pass on these emotions, these struggles, to growing minds. And with what courage and determination you took to it. In spite of everything, mountains of obstacles hiding in the darkness within you, you prevailed. We do not fight the battles that you fight; we do not share your reservations about connecting with human beings. We love and we trust and we are quick to laugh, all because you stood above the darkness. You broke the cycle. 

And here I am, and that’s why I am. That’s why I bring empathy to other people. That’s the gift you gave me – a knack for reading the hearts of troubled people. 

It’s amazing, how people will pour their hearts out if they can find a single willing receptacle, one outlet; one listener. People are dying to get things off their chests, and I can read it in their expressions, in their habits. No one asks them what’s really going on inside. But I ask. When I offer people a non-judgmental ear, the floodgates open. Finally, says the pained expression on their faces. Finally someone will listen to me about all this shit I’m carrying around day after day after day. 

So thank you, for this deep sense of empathy and connection that binds me to other people.  

I love you. 

~C~ 

IF ONLY

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Telling and not being believed or told to be quiet about it and not being protected…if only.

If only I was taken into my mothers arms, held warm and close, and loved, and heard her cry, and heard her chest shake with anger towards her sons, and heard her promise it will never happen again, and me knowing by her reaction that she would keep them away and that she really did love me… if only.

Kids are resilient. If only she had done those things, I would not have been broken. I would have been ok. I don’t think it’s the original acts that broke me, it was after, keeping it all in.

Now I learn to wrap my arms around me and love me.

THE CHRISTMAS THAT ALMOST WASN’T

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Mom and Samuel were asleep. I sat in the living room feeding Shane a bottle. He was tiny at only two months. The tree lights were off but the light next to the couch reflected on the tinsel. I felt as dead as the tree looked, depressed. We’d come home, or to Mom’s, which was as much home as any I’ve had so far besides the tent, the Army and the cabin.

Plans of life up north were over. We had no money, no jobs. I wouldn’t be looking for one, not with Shane to care for. Christmas was coming. I felt numb. One foot in front of the other. Caring for a newborn took everything I had. Though Samuel had hopes of some help with figuring out finances, he’s wouldn’t be getting that help from me.

Earlier that day we had talked about it. His shoulders seem to slump, “You can work,” he said.

I just looked at him as if not even hearing him and bent my head back over the baby. It seemed absurd and not even worth mentioning. Didn’t he know I had nothing left? That taking care of a little human who needed total care for every minute of every day consumed me? That what little I had to give was taken?

Christmas had always been something that brought life into my war torn body and spirit. The war? Acting like I loved my tormentors. Worse, or harder even still, that I did love them yet was afraid of them, and rightly so. But Christmas, how I loved Christmas. I didn’t get that from Mom, who stopped giving gifts at Christmas and birthdays not long after her eight kids hit adulthood. Up till then it must have been just a chore for her, or so she said. But Grandma, who had Christmas every year, held a glow in her eye with her giving and love of it and for us. Grandma had already passed, missing the joy I would have seen if she’d had the chance to hold Shane.

But this Christmas saddened me. No gifts would be under the tree except the five dollar cheap doll set for my step-daughter and a few small things in her stocking. Such a dull, sad time, down a tunnel at the bottom where we sat. Samuel had it harder than me. I was wrapped up in new love for this little creature that captivated me and took all my time. I had the necessities of food, water and shelter from Mom. He was the one that had to go and hunt so to speak.

My brother, Don, who had unwillingly become planted in my psyche as a replacement father, brought his wife and two young children to stay over the Christmas holiday at Mom’s. Somehow we all packed ourselves in her little ranch house. They lived in Vermont but braved the snowy roads to join us.

Christmas Eve felt so dark to me for the first time. Planning Christmas had always brought such joy to my silent closed off world. Even in high-school I made a December calendar and checked off each day until Christmas. But this time it just felt dreary and without hope. Samuel had not yet found work. We were scraping by. Don and Pam were excitedly filling up their kid’s stockings but Don stopped mid-way, his eyes on me.

Then they began putting gifts under the tree for the next morning. They didn’t have too much either as their finances were limited but the array of gifts far outweighed the one gift I’d wrapped for Tina. I felt forlorn and dejected.

Don and Pam had two sleds, and after placing one up against the tree, they turned to me smiling holding the other one.

“This is for you to give to Tina,” Don said, still smiling handing me the long red sled with promises of fun whipping down the big snowy hill across the road from Mom’s.

Because of that smile, because I needed that cold hard lump in my heart to dissolve, because I was speechless, my hand reached out and accepted the gift, as a tear slid down my cheek. The warmth of that gesture still warms me 35 years later.

START FROM SCRATCH

IF

Crying, I picked fleas off my baby’s newborn head.

“Samuel, they are on him!” I cried aghast at such horror, the bottom falling out of our little dream world in the Adirondacks.

We bathed the dogs, flea bombed the house and had a serious discussion. Our meager savings depleted, we knew we had to pack up and move back to Mom’s before the December snows hit and we ran out of money altogether, even for the gas to get home. We had managed a short eight months of living up north.

Upon arrival Mom greeted us but our arrival was solemn. Now what?

One night lying in bed next to Samuel I noticed him crying.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, alarmed. I had not seen him cry before.

“Nothing,” he said, turning away.

But I knew. His minimum wage job at the warehouse that he’d been lucky to find hardly paid the bills. And heaped onto that? Feelings of failure, returning from our newly built home and youthful dreams of an idyllic life in the Adirondacks.  Though we had youth on our side, it came with lack of foresight, even common sense. One needs a job to sustain life, especially in the Adirondacks yet it’s a very tough place to find work unless you hunt, trap or fish.

Things slowly improved. Samuel found work with his long-time friend who owned an electrical company. Now he had employment in an area that interested him and that he taken classes for. We saved our pennies and with the sale of our northern home were able to buy a house and move out of Mom’s.

I need to clarify, a shell of a house? Thirty years ago we purchased this dwelling for $19,000 with $3,000 down. It needed just a few things, like walls, ceilings, floors other than plywood, a new electrical system, septic system, potable water, the list goes on. Oh, and that house that we raised our two sons in practically sat on a very busy train track, much busier than the sellers were willing to admit to. The windows rattled when the trains went by and if you were outside you could not carry on a conversation until they passed.

Yet I danced, twirled and hummed to the radio unpacking, as happy as one could possibly be—we had a home of our own. We were out of my mother’s basement!

I stayed home with the baby filling the old Kalamazoo cook-stove every couple of hours with wood to keep us cozy. That old enamel stove kept us warm but also made a nice dryer for the diapers hanging near-by. We managed on what little we had and were happy there for over twenty years. It’s what we had that mattered, each other.