Actually, she still tries.
You live in Seattle? Ugh. It’s gotta be the worst place on Earth.
Why's that, Grandma?
Full of traffic and liberals.
Widowed twice, for much of her later life Grandma Roxie lived alone in her tiny house in the woods among a collection of classic cars. One including a '56 Thunderbird. When I was a little girl every time I walked behind the parked T-Bird, Grandma would point to the shiny metallic spare tire located at the trunk and warn me:
Don’t look too close or you’ll see a Witch! Muah haha.
I appreciated Grandma Roxie for this reflection. I thought this was the highest compliment she could give me.
Witches, to me, are the archetype of wise medicine women who are untamable and uncontrollable. They are our connection to our own magic, our wildness, our inner crone intuition. Our inner Witch teaches us how to honor and respect the cycles and rhythms in our body, the environment and the collective body of Earth. She is our power with time. Time beyond our linear sense of it. Time as a feeling, a knowing of when to begin, continue and end. Time for healing through self forgiveness. Time to learn from our past by being fully present in our now to determine our future. She is our Grandmother energy. Embodying the type of respect one can only earn through the quality of time and space. We all have access to our own inner Witch for power-with time to become our own healer. We just need to be brave to go deep within our own mysteries and into the wonder. Where it's dark.
Healing, especially at the family root, requires time. Requires space. And requires a willingness to confront the darkness. Deep below the surface, underground, into the shadows. Into our internal reality. The unseen, felt sense that bends our timeline with memory and potency. This is how I'm healing my relationship with Grandma Roxie.
Roxie, a smoker most her life, had to move from her wooded dwelling into an assisted living place. She now relied on oxygen tubes and caregivers.
But not just any caregiver...
The news of Roxie moving into my mom's caregiving unit shook my mother to her core. Roxie was my mom's arch nemesis, and vice versa. From the moment my mom got knocked up at age 16 by Roxie's precious only son Gus, she had a vendetta against my mom, my older brother, my younger sister and certainly toward me.
You don't understand. My ex mother-in-law hates me! I cannot be near this woman. My mom confessed to her colleagues.
But even if we try to avoid our scariest shadows, life can play quite the game at positioning us smack dab in the middle of them.
And so the healing slowly began.
Months rolled by and little by little Roxie and my mom evolved from avoidance to cordial moments. A combination of time, space, my mom's huge heart and Roxie's health forcing her to become sober transformed their previously toxic dynamic. Quick glances turned into Roxie requesting (demanding) only my mom for her care.
This same woman, who said so many nasty things to my mom for the 18 or so years she was married to my dad, was now relying on my mother's grace for care.
Speaking of grace.
Friday I had the honor of celebrating the life of one of the most gracious Grandmothers I'd ever met: Mary E. Also known as Grandmere to Max.
Max is my (I don't know what to call him...former high school sweetheart? On and off partner for over 14 years?? Soulmate I met in 2nd grade???). I'll just say Max because labels are limiting. And saying 'my' indicates ownership and I certainly don't own Max or anyone for that matter.
Max and I were going to get together last weekend for the first time in a while, but plans changed with the news of Grandmere passing. She was 98.
So fate-or death- brought us together in a different way. It was the first time seeing Max's family in a while, and time passed is measured by the change in children. Like seeing his "little" cousin who I nannied when he was 4 now a young- and very tall- gentleman at 19.
I entered the Catholic church and sat in the back pew with our friend Randall and attempted to follow, or at least respect, the traditions. I swallowed my giggles while aiming to sing along with the high pitched hymns.
I was able to really pray when tradition was broken.
In their classic, unorthodox fashion, Max and his brother Dillon covered the U2 song 'Grace' for Grandmere.
'Grace finds beauty, in everything.'
Grace filled my heart as layers of grief, unconditional love and wonder were pouring from my eyes.
The timing of Grandmere's passing graced Max with one last gift from her: the ability to go see Radiohead.
Max had originally planned to be in Thailand before our all-time favorite band was set to play 4/8. But Grandmere's service stalled his travel and he got to be his mom's plus one. Max's mom, Beth, was always hip to know the latest Radiohead news and this band was pivotal in our relationship.
As fate had it, I bumped into Max and Beth among the masses at Key Arena.
Seeing them twice in a row after so much space and time had passed between us was healing.
When the first song Day Dreaming came on, we parted and found our separate seats.
I sat across the stadium, opposite from Max and Beth, feeling the familiarity with Radiohead, our memories flooding my heart. And also the space between us now.
Thom's lyrics that night had an exceptionally strong dose of medicine for my continued contraction and expansion with Max.
It's too late, the damage is done.
Feeling all the brokenness and beauty from our many phases of growing together and apart. Allowing our love to remain boundless through all the pain.
When the song Burn the Witch came on I wondered why so many witches were burned.
I imagine it was the fear of the powerful feminine. The patriarchal attempt to control the uncontrollable. The fear of death itself. So of course using the element of fire, the most yang element, to try to erase the very thing we all face: our own darkness. Our own death. Our own mysteries.
The mystery of life in our own unique timelines. And to trust through it all, that:
Everything in it's right place.
Feeling the gratitude for Max, across the stadium yet directly in my heart. Our pure, innocent love and knowing we now have amazing partners with new incredible stories of love, and yet we can still cherish and celebrate our story with integrity. The flowering of consciousness In Bloom.
As I was downloading the Radiohead sermon I kept saying to myself: I'm just so grateful I can feel. Feel all the complexities of being human.
Thom's voice singing to the masses our biggest truth:
THE FUTURE IS INSIDE US
And then, to complete my dose, the very last line they sang summed up all our pain in a mere 10 words:
If I could be who you wanted
all the time.
Sometimes fate confronts you with the opportunity to forgive. Other times you have to confront it yourself.
When I first visited Roxie at my mom's work place 4 years ago or so she snapped and judged me in her usual way. So my wonder led me to ask:
"Grandma, why don't you like me?"
Well why don't you sit down and I'll tell you!
Max was with us (we were still together then) and ready to dodge out of the room when she barked:
No he needs to stay and hear this too! I want him to know the truth!
And so it began...
When you were little you never paid much attention to me. You were always off on your own in the woods or when I came over you weren't that nice to me. And that time when I wanted to take a picture of you in your Aunt Tree's old outfit you just fussed and complained and I couldn't get you to sit still.
Wow... I listened. In awe. Tiny rivers flowing from my eyes not just out of pain about myself but that she had been carrying resentments toward me for so long.
And I suppose part of her story was true.
I was a little Witch at times.
Even my subconscious led me outside when I was too young to scheme my night escapes. I’d sleep walk right out the front door like I was on a mission. I suppose I was. So my parents installed a customized ‘sleepwalking proof’ lock to keep me in.
I don’t blame their reaction.
After all, they were being good parents by protecting me from potential harm. I get it.
But my desire for communing with the night sky could not be contained. So my parents supported my night needs by allowing me and my brother and my sister to slumber outside on our back deck during meteor showers.
We’d also camp at my non-offensive Grandma Emma’s farm in the pasture with the frogs. Lying in the tall grass looking up at the vast sky brought me closer to God, to our world, to my family and to myself. I’d contemplate life and death and infinity and space and time and ask questions. Why am I here? Where do we come from? Who am I? What other life is out there? Where do we go after death? And on and on the questions would flood my tiny head for infinity.
Once I tried to imagine nothing. The deep, dark, scary vastness of no-thing-ness out there in the space. And my mind expanded further and further with every thought- even while thinking of nothing!
And it reminds me of a wise grandmother who gave me the best answer to one of my many questions on existence:
“Grandmother, how was the Universe formed?”- Me
“By you wondering, my dear.” –Grandmother
When I was 16 I was in a wonder-spell with my friend Moof while sitting in her black Honda civic we named Tin Can. We snuck down to San Francisco for an adventure and parked the Can outside a La Quinta. In the middle of my wondering, Moof interrupted:
Boardway, why do you wonder so much?
Then I wondered why Moof didn’t wonder as much as I wonder… I wonder what that’s like? Then I wondered since Moof asked why I wonder if she wondered that she knew she was wondering why I wondered?
It’s no wonder that we all wonder when we look up at the immense night sky. And I wonder if we all wonder the same questions when we’re children? And if so, I wonder why some of us stop wondering. Stop questioning. And thus, stop expanding.
Science, to me, is simply that: wonder. Questions and expanding on those questions to find more questions.
But here’s where I question those who no longer question: what is their reason behind their reason?
I question if it’s out of fear and control of the dark, vast, unknown space of nothing?
And the greatest mystery of all- death- is what keeps us in this wonder of life.
Death, to me, is our greatest teacher. I've always been so curious and fascinated with this common denominator initiation. And also curious and fascinated why so many people are afraid of talking about death when it's the most certain thing we all face? And why our American culture tends to avoid the beauty of aging with anti-aging beauty products? And why our elderly population is often forgotten and not revered for their wisdom of experience shown in their wrinkles, stories and eyes?
I believe the scariest death happens when we die of wonder. And physical death, to me, is the greatest wonder we all face.
My Grandma Emma was full of wonder in her garden but certain about her faith. Her and my Grandpa Ralph would go to meetings at their non-denominational gospel church every Sunday and Wednesday and sing hymns.
So when I was at hospice with Grandma Emma at age 90, I attempted to sing her those hymns while holding her hand and sponging her cracked lips.
I gazed with wonder at her beauty in her face. In her hands.
These same hands that picked fresh strawberries from her patch to make her famous jam. To write with her intricate schoolteacher penmanship to label the cans and all the garden beds. These same hands that flipped countless pages of storybooks to read me before bed. And here we were, writing her last page.
Grandpa Ralph entered the room and wheeled his chair over to Grandma’s bedside. He held her other hand.
Grandpa had been in denial that Grandma wasn’t coming home, asking her to ‘please hang on dear’ each day. But that day was different. Acceptance and grace poured from Ralph’s heart after my mom had the difficult conversation that Grandma wasn’t coming home.
And I alone got to witness this most precious, intimate moment between two souls who cocreated their life for over 50 years. I stopped my singing and simply listened.
Hello Dear, it’s just me. Your old useless husband. I know the Good Lord is calling you. And as much as I don’t want you to leave me, I suppose it’s time for you to go and greet Him.
And then, Grandpa surprised me. He deviated from the familiar hymns and began singing:
You are so beautiful…to me. Can’t you see?
I could barely see through my tears, and yet this image of my Grandparents love is forever imprinted in my sight.
Grandma Emma adventured into her greatest wonder that evening while we all slept by her side.
I wonder why there’s so much fear of the night. I wonder if it’s a ploy to keep us small, contained, and locked inside away from our primal power.
The night is the domain of the feminine. The time to turn yinward and reflect just as the moon reflects the sun. Without connection to Her, we become ‘Hysterical’ and the joke is on us. We lose touch with our wild, untamable, instinctual nature. The domain of our magic under the dark blue canopy of pure potential night sky to remind our soul of the infinite wonder.
Last summer when I was waiting for a layover in Las Vegas it dawned on me how the Sin City holds the most concentrated yang, electric energy than anywhere else in the world (at least where I’ve been). My nervous system was freaking out from all the lights and noise, and it became no mystery why people stupor themselves with ‘substances’ with no real substance to avoid the pain and assault happening on the body. No judgments here, I coped the same way. And as I slurped my margarita I contemplated how much we’ve lost touch to the night because of artificial light. And how we’ve also lost touch to our authentic light because of this over-electric culture, which often produces flash before substance.
I temporarily deviated from my witchy ways, as many women do when they get caught up in the culture of go-go-go and do-do-do. I was lost trying to find myself and purpose for most my 20s. Hungrily seeking an identity in this externally-focused world led me to depression, confusion, dissatisfaction. On the outside I was doing all the ‘right things’. I was the first in my family to graduate high school on time and the only one to go to college. I graduated from the UW esteemed Jackson School for International Studies on the Dean’s List. I received a scholarship to study in Senegal. I cofounded a 501c3 nonprofit to spotlight underrepresented health issues through art. I was expanding and learning and running away from myself in these quests. And, absolutely no regrets. I now know what it feels like to be lost in the woods of society. My wonder brought me out into the world and my wonder brought me back in.
Into my inner world.
Redirecting my focus pocus from an externally driven to internally given existence.
And now the witches are out.
No more hiding. No more secrets. No more regrets. No more shame.
“The witches, interestingly enough, are apparently real. They have power. But the wizard… he just does tricks.” – William Bridges referring to Oz.
So I credit my offensive Grandma Roxie for planting a seed in my young mind that if I do choose to look closely in my own reflection, I will see a witch.
Witch reminds me... back to the healing.
After Roxie unloaded her years of grudge on me, I had some choice. I could either:
e.) call upon my inner Witch Healer for magic
Imagining either Grandma or me dying before resolving our tie led me to my only real choice.
I caught wind from my dad that Grandma Roxie was open to ingesting the green goods to help with her pain. This was pre-legalization, so I was delighted to help out with this mission.
Weed is definitely NOT my medicine of choice and so I never possess it (I end up downward spiraling into never ending paranoia and munchies anytime I touch it), but since I live in the 'worst place on earth filled with liberals'- I know plenty of people who do.
So I began delivering Roxie these peace offerings of special baked goods. Slowly she softened and became more gracious. Receiving my company, and treats, despite her complaints of the cookies not being strong enough.
These visits became more and more amusing and healing for me. I diffused my emotional charge by entering our encounters with wonder. And my curiosity opened me to listening and learning more about Grandma's story.
I began to understand why she developed such a prickly and calloused attitude. Growing up with an abusive father and losing two husbands to heart attacks is quite the harsh hand.
No wonder she chose to lock herself up in her tiny house in the woods to play solitaire, sip whisky, listen to Rush Limbaugh and watch Fox News. That's one way to cope with pain. Build up a life that proves certain things by repeating the same pattern over and over again.
I learned how Grandma Roxie was voted 'Best Dressed' in her school even though she came from a poor family. She knew how to take care of her clothes, and new how to wear them well.
Now I see the beauty in Roxie's toughness. And how this once served her for her own survival. And I also see the beauty in her moments of softening. Hooked up on oxygen tubes, fate nudging her to become more open and vulnerable to her environment for survival now. Even to me and my mother!
I also see how my own bias and story of Roxie has distorted perception of this human being, a soul, who is on her own unique journey of learning. With her own unique lens.
Sometimes our stories are liberating, other times they perpetuate our illusion.
On one of my green peace visits I warned my friend Ellen, who was visiting from San Francisco, about Grandma.
'Ok Elle, just be prepared to be offended and it will be fine.'
Sure enough, within minutes Roxie began rattling off her opinions.
San Francisco?! People are just pooping all over the streets down there. Disgusting.
Ellen, being in nursing school at the time, attempted to reason with her from a mental and public health perspective. How there is a large disadvantage for the homeless population due to racial and social injustice that prevents many marginalized groups from having same access to resources.
I enjoyed an inner smug knowing my Roxie prediction was right.
However, the first time my partner Andreas met Roxie was quite different. Even though I offered him the same "advice".
'Ok Andreas, just be prepared to be offended.'
Well hello Andreas. Nice to meet you. You're a handsome young man.
I stand corrected. Where do I hold onto bias?
But... some things take longer to change. Andreas and I visited Grandma Roxie again yesterday. All was fairly pleasant and neutral until she brought up homosexuality.
When I was younger we knew there were some lesbians and gays but nobody talked about it. People just kept their business to themselves. And now I just don't see why they need to parade around in their garb and announce to the world 'Look at me! Look at me!'
I listened. And this is where I really had to call upon my inner Witch Healer and not jump to defense and my self righteousness. This is where my yoga practice matters. I managed to soften a bit inside.
'That is certainly your own perspective. Thank you for sharing Grandma.'
Well it's simple. You're born either a man or woman.
I held my inner space. Breathing deeply. And then... the magic.
Well what do you think?
'Are you open to hearing my perspective?'
Well hell no I'm not open!
'Well then how can I share what I think with you? I'm willing to offer my view but you have to be open to hearing it.'
Well sure I can hear you, but I don't have to agree with you.
'Ok. From my perspective, the Pride Movement that you're referring to is a response to oppression. And like any movement to bring social justice, Women's Suffrage or Civil Rights for example, people need to bring out the issues into the open. Movements are loud. And this movement is loud and proud to release any shame for people being simply who they are in the complexity of being unique. Shame silences. And there are hate crimes happening against people for being simply who they are. Especially against those that cannot be boxed into any label. So that's why I believe, Grandma, people are willing- and for many risking their own lives- to come out into the open Loud and Proud until we are at a place where it's normalized and safe to simply be who we are and who we are becoming- any race, sexual orientation, gender, any identity.'
My cousin Zack entered the room just as Grandma was trying to prove her point about race being simply black and white...
Our time here was complete.
I told myself let it go. Let her have her perceived certainties about the world because so much of her life was filled with uncertainty.
And on the walk to the car to drive back to the 'worst place on Earth', Andreas, who was raised in an LGBTQ family said:
To her credit, she listened.
Then I asked Andreas, "I wonder what Grandma sees when she looks at me?"
Probably the demise of America.
I imagine my yoga, soma, circus arts and traveling the world and asking questions and being filled with wonder and being weird and continually changing my own identity is quite disturbing to her. To a person who is seeking specifics, certainty out of fear of the greatest certainty: death.
I accept that.
My Grandma Roxie may be set in many of her ways, but I can choose to enter each visit with wonder. And my work is to see the beauty beneath her stories and opinions and biases. No matter how bigoted. Because by shifting my internal reality and purely witnessing her and listening without the need to change her opinion, shift happens. Grandma is shifting me as much as I'm shifting her each time we soften. And we both allow each other the freedom to surprise ourselves with moments of vulnerability. By opening. By listening.
Instead of clenching for control with the expectation of family. Familiarity. To create a temporary and false sense of security in our ever expanding, ever changing Universe.
If I could be who you wanted all the time.
So I'll continue to visit Roxie for my own healing. To listen. And open to her moments of willingness to listen back.
You see real magic is simple. And clear. Not the smoke and mirror kinda tricks that takes us further from the truth. But the magic that brings us deeper into the wonder of each moment. The s p a c e where only time, the magic length of God, can bring us closer to life through the reality of death with grace and forgiveness to carry us through this human becoming experience.
Because there is so much in life that is uncertain, but one thing is certain, is we're all gonna die. The timing of it is unknown, so I ask myself whenever I feel any negative toward anyone, including myself, would I be ok right now leaving on this note if I or they die? Or would I rather have our last words be:
You are so beautiful, to me...