KAIROS: A Rededication

I have decided to become crafty again.

Having felt like a bit of a nomad for the last 3 years I have now successfully landed in Alamogordo, New Mexico. This involved relocating my horse, Pearl, and buying a tiny home. I have furnished it and landscaped as best as you can in the desert! I am hoping the master gardener class I am taking will help me understand this climate and growing environment better.

KAIROS ARTS, the blog, will now get more attention from me as will my Etsy store. The latter is still under reconstruction but will be populated by my creations. I will continue to explore different avenues. The main criteria for my efforts will be my curiosity and interest in experiencing kairos… or opportune moments. I will write more about this in future posts as it has become the unifying theme of my life and spiritual growth.

Craft means “an art requiring skill … often manual.” I believe it demands attention to detail and personal touch. I want to set an intention with whatever I create that it honors kairos and that I fully celebrate the process, mindfully focused, in awe, and grateful for the surprises and connections that emerge!

I have struggled for many years with the notion that I should choose ONE medium – whether it be collage, writing, photography, or any of the forms to which I have been drawn. This has been a barrier. The learning once again is “Beware of the Shoulds” and “Let Them Go!” Very liberating.

So my art will be the kairos experience of whatever attracts me!

My first offering will be this rock I painted honoring Dia de los Muertos – the Day of the Dead.

This is a festival and Latin American holiday honoring All Souls’ Day in the Catholic calendar. This is big in New Mexico, my new home. “Assured that the dead would be insulted by mourning or sadness, Dia de los Muertos, celebrates the lives of the deceased with food, drink, parties and activities the dead enjoyed in life.” This tradition recognizes death as a part of our experience – a continuum of birth and life. Calaveras, or skulls, are a symbol of the festivities.

My hospice work and life-calling continues to emerge and surprise!

Learning with Grasshoppers

Meet George.

He is a 2” grasshopper who lives in the salvia plants by my fence on the north side of my garden.

We have become friends.

George is not excitable like most grasshoppers who will launch themselves forcefully and quickly to escape perceived danger.

He is a gentleman and quite thoughtful.

I arrive at his plants and wait. After much consideration George will take a short, dignified hop to merely get out of my way – not in a hurry and no frenzy. He then watches carefully, perhaps supervising, as I complete my watering or pruning tasks. Then as I finish George will return to his home under the raised water dish just as carefully.

We are developing a relationship of respect.

He never ventures further than 2 feet. This is well within my range should I feel inclined to go after him. I am careful not to start watering his plants until he is safely out of the way. Our actions are non-hurried and intentional.

So goes one of my treasured daily rituals!

I know it is important to practice full moment living by noticing what is happening around me. There are miracles in kairos living if one learns to savor each opportunity.

On Aging and Expectations

I have been learning that letting go of my major expectation of aging and family will be healthy for me. I remember seeing a card once that said “Having assumptions only makes an ass of me.” I am sure my kids can attest – though if they were to say this directly I would probably be pissed.

When I grew up I watched as my paternal grandmother was the honored center of the universe. She moved from one family household to another – 3-6 months at a time. She adored her grandchildren and they her. My fondest memory as a child is with her cuddling on a sofa – my head in her lap, listening to her stomach growl, the clicks of the needles, the murmur of “knit 2, pearl 2” as her latest project, mostly grandkid sweaters, would emerge. If I held really still she would trace my ear with a knitting needle and I would go to sleep smelling her light perfume. This is a totally visceral memory for me – a feeling of being loved and pure contentment.

I know this memory provided support throughout my life as I faced multiple losses – my mom to cancer, cousins, friends, my dad, my step-mom, many aunts and uncles, my grandma herself, a pregnancy, my marriage, and clients of 16 years of hospice work, eventually my career. The memory was of underlying safety and knowing that love was always bigger.

Then a few things happened – I ended up alone with a very small family (mostly my children and theirs)and a handful of very close friends. Emotionally exhausted I was diagnosed with PTSD from prolonged exposure to death, dying, suffering and pain. It expresses itself mostly in anxiety and is triggered by loss, certain places and strong emotions. This is not a good thing when coupled with my childhood expectations of aging into my children’s lives. So another loss – my health.

I manage the PTSD with meds, therapy and Uber attention to quiet living, being in nature, appreciating my animals and the steady rhythm of daily care of my horse. Riding and gardening keep me physically active and while travel is getting overwhelming (too much stimulation and memories of losses) I am back to making friends.

My strength comes from my memory of my grandma, what Penny taught me about time, the steadiness of my friends, art, the occasional writing and my grandchildren. And in current day reality – FaceTime. It all amounts to savoring moments. KAIROS. This is also the source of my faith in the sacredness of love.

What has really tripped me up in recent years is my assumption that my aging would be the same as my grandma’s – that I would become a part of my children’s homes and their children’s day-to-day lives. Families have changed….busy lives are led, priorities differ. Everyone does their best.

And it is not a match with my long held expectation and now my health. Struggling with feelings of abandonment has been the strongest result in many areas of my life from losing my mom early. Now I am learning that my lifelong expectations about aging are triggering these feelings far too easily. I am causing myself too much pain.

I guess learning never ceases and some expectations of life must be let go. I need to work on feeling gratitude for my childhood experience of my gram, to stop expecting a repeat of her life in my aging and to put myself first in self-love – respectful of a health diagnosis that I am told will always be present. It is a hard lesson.

Penny’s Gift

Reposted from Oct 2011

Eleven years ago my close friend Penny Johnston died of ovarian cancer after a long and epic battle that left many of her friends and health providers stunned and profoundly affected. I lost a treasured confidante – a woman to whom I had turned many times in the twenty-one years of our friendship. In her final hours she offered me an opening to the divine and the gift of timelessness that I have experienced ever since.

We met as young mothers of toddlers in a parent cooperative preschool as her son Marc careened into my son Nathan. It was Marc’s way of saying hello….one I’m not sure Nathan ever quite understood nor my daughter Joanna who met Marc’s bother Andy similarly three years later…the same preschool and the same form of greeting. Both times I remember Penny’s exasperated look and sigh of resignation! Within minutes of the first crash Penny muttered the words that in frustration I had felt many times in raising my 2 year old. She said, “I am not sure I am cut out for this.” We both loved our children more that everything and then some, but she expressed in those few words the doubt and reality of being a professional woman reduced to helplessness by a child a third your size. We were in a group where these sentiments were not spoken as “good mom’s” wouldn’t have such feelings. Years later as we both pursued satisfying careers and celebrated successful children we would pause in wonder at how many of our mom’s group went on to have 4 and 5 children! Our journeys were similar in sadnesses growing up, parenting challenges and celebrations, and much more. Both of our marriages were in distress. She stayed in hers, I left mine.

After the preschool years we didn’t see each other that often, 3 or 4 times a year. Each connection was rich in intimacy and deep understanding. I often wondered if our paths had crossed in another time. She fed me tunafish sandwiches during the painful year of my contentious divorce which she deemed my “ghostly” year… I lost great amounts of weight, often could not keep food down, had great memory lapses, and lost all color literally and figuratively. As I recovered and launched my career as a hospice social worker Penny returned to teaching and became a deeply respected debate coach winning nationally with her team. Her high school students adored her. We saw each other less frequently but remained the kind of friends who pick up right where they had left off months ago. Whenever I was undecided about anything Penny was who I called. She was a practical, no nonsense, direct, “this is what you should do” kind of person!

The tables turned way too soon as we had our usual holiday “girl’s night dinner” and she mentioned an upcoming doctor’s appointment. It was the worst reality….advanced ovarian cancer. I referred her to Spokane’s best oncologist and the fight of a lifetime ensued. She and her mom did this battle together and Penny distanced somewhat from me. I understood at a cellular level that this was because I represented hospice and dying.

She would call with a question now and then, and asked at one very painful and discouraged time if I would see that she died comfortably in hospice care if it came to that. Everything they tried for and with Penny went bad. She suffered enormously, stoically and absolutely without complaint. I joined Penny and her mom in Seattle for one more clinical trial and a stem cell transplant that nearly killed her. She was a walking zombie who had no memory of the “months from hell” as I deemed it.

During this fight when everyone agreed it was over, Penny prevailed. She achieved an amazing capacity to coach debate when she could barely stand up. She declared herself queen of hats when she had no hair. She always looked glorious…her spirit trumping the physical every time. She became a bunco nut. Penny insisted I come right away the day her new “fuzz” hair was established enough for public view. I had never felt anything so soft. We cried and laughed at the same time. She willed herself to be escorted down the aisle at Marc’s wedding. She went to a rock concert with Andy and his friends 2 months before her death right after successfully accomplishing an ocean kayak trip because she wanted to. She defied odds and kept going…vomiting 3 to 4 times a day, enduring unbelievable pain, and refusing tubes and hospitalizations.

Penny called one day for me to come. She looked like a ghost with the exception of her eyes which had a depth I had experienced only rarely over my 14 years of hospice work. I would call them “the eyes of God.” Never had I witnessed this in someone so agitated by unremitting pain. She was in agony and asked “will you be on my hospice team?” The referral was not an easy one because Penny insisted on continuing her parenteral nutrition. To my absolute horror this slowed down my agency’s response time. Penny and I had to manage alone an endless weekend of torture. It was an eternity of my begging for high powered pain medications and home administration in a fragmented system with an unknown doctor on call who couldn’t understand Penny’s refusal to endure another tube or to come to a hospital emergency room. I became a banshee and we muddled through.

With Monday came the return of her doctor, the late arrival of a hospice team, enough medication for pain relief and my immediate awareness that Penny was in her final hours. It was she and I in the bedroom where purgatory had been visited just the day before. She was calm, coherent, and beaming. The sun streamed through the window and time dissolved. I told her that her body was changing and she smiled in acknowledgement. No fear, no urgency, no requests. We laughed about the day Marc careened into Nathan. I promised that someday I would tell her grandchildren about her. We cried and laughed at the same time. It wasn’t sadness…it just was. Spirit expanded and soul filled the room. We shared an eternal space and kairos….and it was fine. At some point Penny’s mom and Andy came and Penny asked me to go tell Joni (her oncologist and by this time great friend.) I did her bidding knowing neither Joni nor I would return in time for her death.

From that morning spent with Penny I have experienced a timelessness that is the most extraordinary gift. Everyone says “time goes by so fast” and they mean it. This use to be my experience… but it changed that day. I don’t experience time as moving quickly and often I don’t experience chronological time at all. I feel depth to the moments I am in …. finding they are as full as I care to experience them. It makes memory difficult for me because apparently this capacity for full experience takes brain space! I guess I just don’t mark time in a way that triggers remembering in sequence.

This gift of timelessness came through Penny’s eyes. They were a luminous source of compassion, serenity and hope for both of us. Thank you, dear friend, for your grace and elegance.

Flighty to Grounded

My life has been one long journey from flighty to grounded. Left unattended I have a tendency to float – a trait born of illness in my family as a child. In those days I never knew what each day might bring – so becoming uber sensitive and ‘floating above’ were fine traits for observing and preparing to react. Survival skills.

These same skills were helpful in long years of hospice work. The sensitivity would resonate with subtle changes in my patients as they were detaching from their bodies. It allowed a sort of companionship and reduced their fears. I learned it was important to intentionally ground myself when they transitioned so that I would stay put and not float away.

Eventually when I became emotionally exhausted with waves of loss in my family I found comfort in gardening which for me was “playing in the dirt” – one’s hands on the ground feeling the earth’s stability. This passion remains important to me.

My horse helps ground me also. She demands undivided attention, total “being in the moment.” If I approach her in flighty mode, anxious about something else going on and distracted, she will stomp her feet, swing around and think about kicking me. She demands I have my feet squarely on the ground so we can tune in to each other. Then we both relax.

  • In the dictionary ground, grounded, or groundedness speaks to
  • A solid, firm surface
  • A foundation or basis of belief
  • A conducting connection between an electric surface and the earth
  • To put out of action
  • To be steadfast
  • I like the notion of “energy connected to the earth” as it implies tapping into something so much bigger for strength. “To put out of action” seems to invite stillness which for me is an essential ingredient for appreciating kairos.

I expect I will forever have to reinforce groundedness because flightyness results almost instantly when I am frightened or at all anxious. For now I restrict floating to my dreams. It is there that I can fly easily and am certain that I was a bird in another life!

I Am Oma

“Blessed are the mischief makers for they shall always wear smiles”

I love being a grandma! The spontaneity and authenticity of this relationship is living spirit. Renewal of hopes and dreams. Children live in kairos…the opportune moment. We should bow to such honesty!

The Dancer

There was once a story about a young dancer, wise in the ways of art and delightfully innocent. This dancer would listen closely to the music of the wind and call for the moment’s attention.

Movement was so distinctive that the trees would laugh with the gracefulness of her offer.

There was a decision to make and it became its own adventure.

The dancer had become mesmerized with the edges of the sounds. To fly off the edge would be an act of exultation – with privacy and glory. To stay invited roots and sharing.

The bear watched and ate huckleberries.