Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflections

This week, in a post created specifically for this challenge, show us an image that says REFLECTION. 

It could be a person who helps you see things clearly, a place you go to collect your thoughts, or an object that reminds you of your achievements. You could also go for something more literal, like a reflection in water. Or something that demonstrates both interpretations of the word.

“A person who helps you see things clearly…” 

What would you say about someone who meets you in your greatest grief, who doesn’t turn away but faces the tough questions with you, offering presence, not answers?  Someone who challenges you to pursue those questions and discover the emotions they evoke, the hopes, the fears, the identity that emerges from within…and who then asks you to decide who you want to be?  Someone who promises simply to be aware and who asks simply for your awareness? 

Steve met me 8 months after my husband of 24 years died.  I was in a state of profound transition, the fabric and framework of my homespun in complete collapse.  On our first date, we hiked around glacial terrain, enjoying the fall colors and talking.  Beside Nippersink Creek, I stopped.  I became silent.  I no longer wanted to fill the space between us with words and thoughts.  I was finally unafraid to be aware that I was with him, in a new place, with a new person, as a new life was beginning.  He sat beside me, quiet and reflective as well.  What I saw clearly was that Life is beautiful and that death does not diminish that one bit. 

Living With Mystery

Possessing a human brain is no picnic. The cumbersome chunk of gray matter is quite the dictator. It wants to know: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? It shines the light in our eyes, makes us squint and squirm until we come up with an answer. And “I don’t know” won’t appease its inquisition. Somewhere in our distant evolutionary history, this dictatorship must have presented some advantage to survival. Possibly it pressed us to a more efficient way to find food or use tools or attract a desirable mate. When the interrogation continues after it has served its immediate purpose, it becomes rather annoying and can create anxiety, frustration, torment and suffering. Think of a 4-year-old asking “Why?” to every explanation offered. It never ends. When you shout back, “I DON’T KNOW!” do you feel you’ve failed and slink off to ponder your existence? (For a good example of this “insane deconstruction” peppered with ‘adult language’, check out comedian Louis C.K. in this clip.)

Humor aside, the suffering is universal. We have all lived the anguish of a mystery at some point. As I write this, I am thinking of all the people whose loved ones disappeared on the Malaysian jet that has been missing for 11 days. Unanswered and unanswerable questions must plague them. The few photos of their grief that I’ve seen are hard to bear. Add to that circle connected to those 239 people all of the families of military personnel MIA throughout history, all of the families of travelers to foreign countries in unstable political climates who never returned, all of the parents of children abducted and gone without a trace. The stories of devastation are heart-breaking and inevitable. The common denominator is The Great Mystery – Death. Ironically, it is the most mundane mystery as well. We will all be touched by it, every one. And we know it. The two deaths that I experienced first hand were not shrouded by any great cloud of darkness. My sister and my husband both died right beside me: my sister in the driver’s seat of a car, my husband in our bed. They were not ‘missing’ by any means. And yet, I will never have the answer to basic questions like, “What were they feeling?” “When exactly did they lose consciousness?” “Was I to blame?”

 Mystery is the Truth. We do not know. We delude and comfort our demanding brains in a parade of ideas. When that effort is expended, can we accept and live with Mystery? What does that feel like? How do I do that?

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You see, again the questions surface, the never-ending tide of the probing lobe of consciousness. Maybe some day that flow will be replaced by the still, mirrored surface of a quiet mind.

 Peace out,

Priscilla

© 2014, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Weekly Photo Challenge: Perspective

Sand structureDribble castles, only inches tall

“Photos aren’t objective – they show what we want them to show.”  Concepts aren’t objective: they reflect our thinking.  Delusions aren’t objective.  Our thinking is only our thinking.  It is never the whole Truth.  Like castles in the sand, permanence is delusion, size is delusion.  Shifting perspective is the dance of the cosmos. (see this illustration of the Scale of the Universe)  “Solid stone is just sand and water, baby/sand and water and a million years gone by.” (Beth Nielson Chapman – in a song she wrote for her late husband; click here to listen)  Listening now, I wonder: what is ‘alone’? What is ‘death’?  Listening beyond the end of the song, I hear a cardinal singing outside.  I am not alone, and life is all around.  That’s what I really want to show.

Writer’s Fourth Wednesday

I’m posting a piece that I wrote for a Memoirs class in November of 2011 for Victoria Slotto’s prompt, but before I do, I must post a joyful Happy Birthday message to my daughter, Emily!

Happy 23rd, Baby Eyes!

On the day she was born, it was pouring rain in California and CNN was reporting the end of the Gulf War.  Does that mean she’s special?  Well, of course!

Okay.  Now my memoir piece.  Not surprisingly, it is visual-heavy.

Sluggishly wiping the drool from the side of my face, I rose from the floor and went down the hall to look in on Jim. He was not in our king-sized bed. I found him in the master bathroom, weak and sweating. He was sitting on the mauve vanity chair, his massively swollen torso slumped over the toilet. He had been throwing up. I knew this meant another infection somewhere, and another trip to the E.R.

“Becca! Em! You kids are going to have to find a ride to the high school,” I called out. “Your dad’s got to go the hospital again.”

“Aw, Mom! Can’t you drive us on the way?”

I mustered that stern, guilt-inducing look that I imagined would silence them until their own anxiety took hold. Was there a better way to tell them that I needed them to grow up and parent themselves so that I could take care of their father? “Save it for therapy,” I told myself and bundled my shivering husband into the passenger’s side of his car.

My own remorse was beginning to gnaw on my conscience. I had spent the night hiding out in my college son’s empty room, Seagram’s gin in hand, crashed on a bare mattress, convulsing in tears and bitter anger, muttering aloud my rejection of the realities of my life.

“This is not right! This is not the life I deserve! Why have you failed me, God? Just make it all go away!”

In the master bedroom suite, Jim was already medicated with his 15 different evening prescriptions and hooked up to his nightly round of technological prophylactics: his insulin pump, his peritoneal dialysis machine, his CPAP (Continuous Positive Air Pressure) mask and the flat screen TV. His dark blonde head was propped up on several pillows, puffy blue eyes straining in a vain attempt to clear the haze of bleeding retinas. There was no way I could sleep with all that whirring and beeping and blinking of light. I wanted to slip into oblivion for just eight hours, escape the strain of appearing sane while chaos, stress and fear overwhelmed me. I figured that if I went into suspended animation and let time go by, things would have to be different when I surfaced. And different could be better. It could hardly be worse. I lay back and let the world spin.

We had arrived on the block 15 years earlier, The Golden Couple from California, high school sweethearts who married right out of college, refugees from the cinder block crack yards of Pomona, eager to raise our four above-average children in the economically stable Midwest. Our baby Emily had been hospitalized with bacterial spinal meningitis just a week before, but miraculously survived without a trace of brain damage. I unbuckled her from the car seat and held her up to see our new four-bedroom house. The moving van driver pulled up, squinted at the August sun, and looked around the neighborhood. “Good move,” he said wryly.

I thought we were finally safe, ready to live out our American dream unscathed. That winter while Jim was shoveling snow for the first time in his life, he felt pain radiating from his chest to his jaw. His doctor said “Mylanta”, but the cardiac stress test said total blockage in two main arteries. How does this happen to a 31-year old, tennis-golf-bowling athlete? We discovered he had diabetes and probably had had it for a decade or so. He had gained weight during our first year of marriage and during my pregnancies, but we never suspected anything. But again, we were saved from tragedy by open-heart, double-bypass graft surgery.

Jim had lived to see his children grow into troubled teenagers, and they had lived to see him grow sicker each day. Which was the cause and which the effect? And why had I failed to be able to pray another miracle into our life? Were we being afflicted for some extraordinary purpose? Driving to the hospital, I kept trying to make everything fit into a positive outlook suitable for our fairy tale life, but a nagging skepticism kept surfacing. We had lost our magic. We were no longer charmed. The dragons were winning, and I was mortally terrified.

Two days after my alcohol-induced escape, I rode the hospital elevator up to the fourth floor, cynically noting how routine the trip was becoming, how familiar and sad the décor seemed. I stepped into the room and saw Jim in the first bed with a tube sticking out of his neck. Betadyne colored the surrounding skin a bruise-like orange brown. Flakes of dried blood speckled the area. A dark-skinned male nurse was applying bandages to the wound.

“Oh, hi! You’re the wife, right?” he greeted me and began his instructions again. “Let me show you what we’ve got on him now. This is where he’s catheterized for hemodialysis. You can’t get this wet, so no showers while he’s using this port. Just sponge baths for a few weeks, okay? If the bandage gets wet or bloody, you’re gonna want to change it. Use gloves when you’re putting on the gauze, and cover it over completely with this plastic patch. These tubes can be taped together and then taped down on his chest like this. Careful of the caps. They unscrew to hook up to the catheter. If you take them off, you have to wear a surgical mask because, you know, this jugular vein goes directly into his heart. Any infection at this site is gonna travel swiftly in a life-threatening direction. Got that?”

I breathed deeply and felt as if I were still on the elevator, dangling by a cable. I then became aware that I had missed the last instruction.

“Um, hold on. I don’t think I heard that last bit. Actually, I’m suddenly not feeling too well. May I sit down?”

My semi-conscious brain was frantically sending warning messages. “This is not sustainable. You are not going to be able to keep him alive.” Jim’s ever-friendly and imperturbable countenance looked meekly on in an odd juxtaposition to this feeling of dread. It seemed like he could take any amount of medical abuse and be grateful for it. “Better living through technology,” he always said. I wanted to cry out, to interrupt this surreal charade, but I felt like I was under water. I realized we had no endgame and had avoided discussing it entirely. Platitudes and prayers were not addressing the issue adequately. Death. Mortality. It wasn’t supposed to be part of our story, and I was woefully unprepared. I blinked dumbly and swallowed.

“Okay. How do I do this?” I finally asked. The nurse blithely continued, never noticing that I wasn’t talking about the bandages.

© 2014, essay by Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Leaf litter

leavesThis is the type of untidiness that needs not to be swept into piles and discarded in the gutter or collected in bags or cans.  This is the dazzling detritus of Autumn, the fancy foliage of decrepitude; this splendid scattering of scarlet and gold makes sweet decay a glorious fate!  Go ahead, Death, be proud!  Come, decomposers, you fungi and millipedes, and create symphonies underfoot!  Take a shuffling walk about this afternoon and breathe the perfume of change (if you’re not allergic!).  Ain’t life (with Death included) grand?!

Came home from work with a poem in my pocket…

Ever had one of those days?  Decidedly moody, unable to focus, liable to shed tears at any moment.  It started as I was driving in to work.  By lunch break, I had a poem scribbled on the back of a museum map in my pocket.  By afternoon break, I had texted my children just to tell them I missed their dad.  Lovely souls that they are, they reached back immediately with cyber hugs.  (thanks, kids!)  So here’s the poem – no title came with it.

What can I do?

                 — it’s October

the sumac is red and my poor, backward head

is flooding nostalgia like liquid amber. 

If I picked up guitar and a blues-country twang

                — and sang

it’d be you in the sunshine

white overalls, your shirt as blue as your eyes

walking me home from school

sweet, musky sweat

your warm, solid arm

the newness of the world in the flash of your smile

               — Hell. 

Now 35 Octobers gone

I’ve aged like a maple leaf

Fall-ing, as once for you,

now with you, in spirit

falling, scattering, lifting

like ashes in a sunbeam

like milkweed in the wind

Shouldn’t I settle in the present?  How can I?

             — in October

when you’re long gone…