Category Archives: death & change

The Ugly Fish

Once again, I’ve come upon that lonely, murky pond where nothing seems to thrive but the delicate little herbs along its western shore. Their tiny dew soaked leaves glisten as the muddy roots whisper “grab me up and rub my soul over the wounds of yourself and all those you see!”

But, like a fish in a fitful, feverish dream, my fingers stick together, unable to reach for anything but themselves. I want to shout to the world “I’ve seen something new! I’ve realized something unique! I know it can help you AND me!” Silenced by every unanswered request, struck by each gust of wind in the lives that surround me, my intentions fail to manifest.

I feel life whispering something about the occasional uselessness of language, the meaninglessness of speaking that which can’t be understood. But I am not listening. I’m insisting on saying the things I need to say, confined by my need to release the pressure, hopelessly attached to the outcome of being heard from my core. In this sticky place, my phrases mean nothing to anyone but myself and my pride is the last to let go in its desperate attempt to exist and belong in the normal world.

Enraged, I scream and shake and lose my footing near the water’s edge. “No one can hear me. No one is listening. No one can see the theory behind my pain, merely the mechanics of my strain, ” I try to say. But the forest hears only a tiny whimper as I inhale before going under.

The icy water soothes burning nerves and collapses my tired lungs under the weight of my own unmet expectations. Finally, I exhale and the fighting is over. At last, my limp frame can drift down to the quiet place in the center of the pond, where all the ugly fish go.

“Ah, here you are!” the ugly fish say, catching me with their fins, filling my lungs with bubbles of fresh air.

“We’re so relieved you’ve come back! We’ve been yearning to hear your stories but the mud is so thick. It keeps us from understanding what you’re saying.”

“I didn’t think anyone could hear me!” I exclaim, astonished. “I didn’t think anyone was listening! I felt ashamed, angry and alone!” I cry and cry for hours and the water turns clear and warm. The ugly fish smile and suck at my face, drinking the tears. “I only got here because I lost myself.”

The ugly fish smile. They smile like only ugly fish can smile and tell me, “Isn’t that the only way we do get home most days?”

Because the truth is what’s most funny – I giggle and giggle until I can hardly see their faces through all my giggly bubbles. I giggle until I completely lose the need to take myself seriously. Until I can’t even remember what I thought was so important to say.

“Silly Stephie”, they say. “Silly me,” I agree. With this they scoop me up and set me upon a little rock covered in slippery green moss.

“Please tell us everything you have words to share. We really need to hear anything you really need to say.” I know what they’re saying is true and real because ugly fish don’t say things to please anybody. They don’t say anything they don’t need to say. And they always swim with ugly fish so everybody feels the same way.

I breathe in their bubbles and start from the beginning. And speak and breathe until both become easy for me. And when I’m relieved of the need to speak, I just breathe.

And when there’s nothing left, the ugly fish suck the last tears from my lashes, the last giggle from my lips and give me a gift only an ugly fish can give. They say, “You don’t need to be frightened of getting lost. It is a blessing, because it will always lead you home to us. Fall into the muck of life anytime you need to, Stephie. We will always be here, listening for your stories. We take these stories and weave them into the big Stories and tie them with the threads that unite all lives. We need your stories to keep weaving.”

And then they ask something from me, and I promise to do it. “Bring others’ stories from the world above whenever you come, too. Listen as we listen. Weave as we weave. Broaden the fabric that holds us all together. Live as a part of the whole… as you are a part of the whole.”

And I do and I will, ugly fish. Thank you. And I do and I will.

My Beloved Sister, Susan ~

You squeezed me tight, in our last brief visit, and whispered you were beginning a new chapter in your life. Just weeks later, you found those pages opening with the giant force of lung cancer, a great wave that would soon carry you off from your children, partner, family, and countless friends into the Great Unknown. Behind the tide, near and far from your daily life, we stand grief stricken, unable to imagine truly, joyfully going on without you – your smile, your incredible presence and miraculous, inspiring light.
If I were to leave in such a way, I know you would find clarity and purpose in your grief, you would hold my loved ones in your prayers and mind, tell stories of my life that kept my heart’s vision alive; and you would laugh, cry and rage as needed until you became quiet and calm. You would feel until the feelings led you to peace and understanding. And then you would move forward, embracing your life again with me in your heart.
So, dear friend, I will do the same, in your name, trusting the guiding light of Love to lead me through this dark night. I will hold your loving wisdom as a candle for my walk and let the memories of our times together warm me when my body shakes in the cold, damp sorrow of my loneliness for you.
In rare moments now, I glimpse the indescribable brilliance of Infinity… and feel so guilty and selfish for wanting you here in this limited place. But, isn’t that just so human of me? I rest in the knowing that you and God understand my struggle. And, that I will see you again soon – in soul time – and we’ll reflect together on the vast mystery of these brief human lives with a spaciousness and graciousness my tender, wounded human heart can only now imagine.
All My Love, Stephanie~

My friend, Susan DesForges, passed away May21st at age 43 in the company of her loving husband, Christopher. May her children, Ella & Aaron, Chris, her parents, friends, colleagues, and every lucky soul to have crossed her path be nurtured and supported in this sad time of saying goodbye to Susan. I love her.

In Movement, Goodbye for Now Ojai

Saturday afternoon found me flying solo at the coffee shop. Among the reader, writers, and chatters I noticed a man in the corner, eyes closed, face peacefully upturned to received the kiss of the gentle winter sun. He captivated me with his longing look of hopeful serenity. And then I had to smile. He was holding Total Freedom by Krishnamurti! Oh Ojai, no matter where I go, there you are…

I recall the dry, dusty smell of your valley after many hot months when even the moss in the swimming holes has moved on. And when, at last, the rain arrives, I pray it lingers long enough to wash that seemingly eternal dust from deeply worn crevasses in flesh and stone.

The heat’s expression is rivaled only by the intense solitude of the Ojai people – even those ‘social butterflies’ who meet each sunset at one or another gathering in yurts, temples, cafes or pubs. Artists and healers standing shoulder to shoulder; I could not escape the quietly frenetic turning, churning of so many souls longing and searching for their Great True Expression.

I mourn your mystical myriad flora and fauna here in the city, cannot find a fraction of the stars, and never hear my coyote family singing in the darkness. Tiny tears fall that I will not see them walking by my house or see the streetlight reflecting in their eyes as I say “hello, goodnight, brother”. The owls and frogs don not sing us lullabies. There are no poison oak to sternly remind me when I’ve gone off the path.

I grieve my friends who continue on with walks and potlucks. Their waterland smiles and supple bodies hug like the sea on a kind day. Sometimes it’s as if I’ve died or was never born. It’s as if the wind took me away like the jasmine in the heat, its smell so deeply penetrating in its subtlety, then gone. Just the memory of a flower. Just a delicate vine without sound.

And then I wake again to the bright sunlight of Denver, and it doesn’t scare me. Because I know it won’t burn my skin for months on end. The wind will come and pull a cold rush down upon my day, maybe even bring heavy snow or rain. And my lungs will open with the possibilities that change brings. My shoulders will drop into place and I will breathe. And tomorrow – or later today – the sun will return her rays again to warm my face. And I see that this, above everything, is why I’ve returned to this Rocky Mountain place. I am a mountain bird. My wings need wind and my heart needs change.

Here, 4000 feet above the nest, I rest my feathers in a city decorated with people of every shape, size, color, and background. We walk the paths of sun-speckled parks, raising our children side-by-side in grocery lines and on buses. The intense stillness of your world has been replaced by a humming, musical, collage of sounds, signs and colors. Here I feel free to be seen or invisible, whisper or scream.

Even in the safety of this new expanse, I appreciate the ‘cradle’. For, my daughter was born on your silent shores, Ojai. The insistent, persistent slowness of the vortex finally settled my heart and body enough to give birth. For this, I thank the stillness.The cosmic, collective movement resulting in this creature, Kiya, drew it’s momentum from a long, quiet exhale I could only take in Ojai.

In silence, each day, I return to you. In movement, each day, I say goodbye. And so, in this way, it is with you, Ojai, that I live and die.