Mornings are still dark when I wake and recently I opened my eyes and saw the moon just outside my window. My head still on the pillow, I spent a few minutes staring at it clear and silver in the sky. Full or close to it, waxing or waning, I’m not sure and it doesn’t matter. It’s the same moon and always there even if we cannot see it and that’s a comfort to me. I thought of the distance, all that space between me and the moon and about the incredible spinning involved to keep us all here. Thinking so much beyond what will I wear today or make for lunch was a great way to start the work day.
Looking up at the sky, thinking about space, casting my gaze at the stars or the sun or even a passing plane – my brain seems to expand. It feels as good as a stretch. A psychic stretch. My imagination gets charged by this simple exercise of thinking beyond where I am while being where I am. Realizing the vastness of being in the present. Does that make sense?
Meanwhile, back on earth on this Sunday morning, I went with my friend Tracy for a hike. We tramped on a path through the woods – nonstop talking because we always have so much to catch up on and even later, I think of something else I meant to tell her. She’s that kind of dear friend. We walked through the intermittent rain across a field and down a nice wide trail and through wetlands full of skunk cabbage and fiddleheads, past boulders and ponds. We were welcomed into this wood by a magnificent pileated woodpecker – gigantic and noisy. Cool and damp, smells and sounds (the birds!) of Spring. The just emerging leaves creating a soft green wash across the landscape.
We saw only one runner, a dog walker and 2 women – our age and gabbing like we were. One of them under an umbrella. Tracy and I both had hoods and weren’t worried about getting wet and she also didn’t care when I got mud in her car. And on the drive back, she asked what that noise was without being too worried and I suggested it was the wind through her car’s skylight. But when we stopped for coffee, I opened the car door and discovered that the sleeve of my jacket had been flapping outside. We laughed hard because it was so silly and we were happy. The coffee was good and I feel grateful to be spinning along and out on this planet during the morning hours in the sweet early greening of Spring.
Tetley shoots out the door ahead of me, barking at shadows cast by streetlights and a waning Moon. Dark mornings extend my dream state as I move almost immediately from bed into the street with a coat thrown over my pajamas, a hood pulled over uncombed hair. Recently my breath is visible in the chill.
Last week Venus, Jupiter and Mars gathered each morning like a gossiping trio on the Eastern horizon, a bonus for my early ritual of searching the still-dark sky for the glow of planets, lingering stars, a sliver or a some part of the Moon. Seeing these wonders gets me thinking about being on planet Earth, part of an extraordinary balancing act and the thought simultaneously dizzies and centers me. Breathing, shivering in the cold of a dark morning, I feel intrinsically part of the magnificence – one of billions on this incredible, flawed place in the universe with other spinning planets and stars.
The night sky at morning gives me a bigger jolt than any cup of caffeine, setting the stage for my day – a glimpse of something bigger than myself before I get sucked into daily requirements.
We turned the clocks back last night. I’ll miss my mornings in the dark.
Weekends, even when I’m inclined to linger in bed a little longer, Tetley, my Cairn Terrier, gets me up. Now that he’s an older dog, he’s more of a sleeper himself, staying curled at the foot of the bed later than he used to. But he’s still going before 9, sidling up beside me, nudging me with his wet nose. I can buy myself more lazy time by scratching his ears and usually, he’ll rollover onto his back so I can rub his belly. Soon, squirming upright, he shakes and starts pawing at me, sometimes punctuating his gentle punches with little guttural pleas to get the hell out of bed.
Especially during these winter months, I’m inclined to hibernate, but Tetley gets me outside a few times a day – at least for a walk down the street. I feel the weather, taste the air, notice the changes of the seasons, the comings-and-goings of the neighborhood. I pay attention. This morning the roads were slick with black ice so I stepped carefully, walking only on the snow covered part of the street. He pees his way up and down the street, sniffing and sometimes barking at phantom or real squirrels. These days, with the branches bare, I watch the birds – Nuthatches, Cardinals, Woodpeckers – darting around the wood. Mourning Doves were perched around like clergy waiting for their flock to show up on this Sunday morning – I still hear their insistent cooing an hour later. I look up at the sky – today, beautifully blue and clear after yesterday’s snow. At night, I watch the stars, where the moon is, whether waxing or waning. These little jaunts, I notice the world in a way I might otherwise not. Thanks to my beloved dog, these walks become a kind of meditation.
Tetley is getting old. Molly was in second grade when he entered our lives and now she is in college. He’s the only dog I’ve ever owned – my only canine love and as true a love as I have ever felt. I purposely forget his actual years – we’ve been saying ‘about ten’ for awhile now. Small dogs can live quite long lives and I trust (and pray) Tetley lives to a very ripe old age. He’s still fit, although his teeth aren’t great and his breath smells like a swamp. He prefers not to have to leap up on the bed anymore, (I lift him) and he sports a distinguished white goatee. Recently, we’ve noticed he gets underfoot and I’m beginning to wonder if he’s just a tad blind. That’s okay – I’ll lead the way, aging too with my aching love for him.
It’s almost sunrise. I force myself to leave my warm bed on this Sunday when a lie-in is possible. Glancing out the window, the clouds in the East are discouraging but the grays of the dawn sky are taking on a yellow glow and there are hopeful breaks of blues. Hidden behind those clouds, the Sun is about to be eclipsed by the Moon and I’d like to see it.
There’s not an open view to the East from my house so I think about driving to the beach but instead, I just walk around the neighborhood searching the sky. Shuffling through the leaves in my driveway, I pull my hood up against the damp chill. To my right, the hedge twitters and beeps with Chickadees and Nuthatch and a squirrel scrabbles up the Oak tree. The neighbors are quiet – no leaf blowers, no cars warming up. In the distance, I hear the hum of the highway traffic and sweetly, a church bell tolls from across the river.
As I turn the corner, a drizzle fogs my glasses and the clouds have turned back to dull grey, closing off sky-views behind a dense wall. There will be no views of this morning’s rare solar eclipse, no glimpse here of the Sun with a Moon shadow. Not in my neighborhood. I turn back to the warmth of my house.
I like to see these unusual celestial events, to gaze up at the sky and think about spinning through space in a universe so much bigger than ourselves. I like these visual triggers to ponder the mystery of existence, to climb out from under the mundane crap cluttering my mind: my desk at work piled with paper, the bills that need paying, the house and yard that needs cleaning. Oh, there are infinite ways I get lost in minutia every day, the lists and worries. But this morning, these things shrink away. My thoughts are in a bigger place: the miraculousness of Earth spinning around the Sun.
I remember that right now, in time and space, my friends in Japan are in their night even as I watch this day’s beginning. With pleasure I think about a dear friend in Tasmania celebrating the warmth of Spring as I ready, reluctantly, for winter. Everywhere around this earth, humans – asleep or awake – experiencing joy, sorrow, birth, death, so fast and endlessly moving yet present, now. Incredible.
I need these reminders of the vastness of the Universe so that my paper-strewn desk, the leaves on the lawn recede, at least for a time, to the appropriate corner of my being. Even as I missed the personal visual, I feel the joy of an expanded consciousness created even by imagining the shadow cast by the Moon over the Sun, behind a bank of clouds.
Eighteen years ago, my beautiful daughter was born in a white-washed little village located just above the heel of the boot of Italy. She emerged on a blazing hot and sunny Tuesday around 4:30 PM. Everyone in Ostuni was still siesta-groggy.
In retrospect, I understand that I’d probably been in labor at least since the night before, but until my doctor peered at the state of my cervix, smacked the side of his head and said ‘ba fungul’ like a cliche, Italian cartoon character, I was in utter denial that my baby might be born 7 weeks ahead of schedule.
We’d already decided that she would not be born in Italy. The plan was, I’d travel in a few weeks to the flat we’d rented in Oxford, England, not far from where my husband was from. I’d spend my long summer days taking a Lamaze class where I’d learn correct breathing technique, indulge in fish-and-chips, wander in bookstores and libraries in search of a perfect girl’s name. And I’d read – spoiled by the abundance of books in English. And I’d wait. In England.
While welcome (no: celebrated!) my pregnancy was not easy. For most of it, I was in Croatia fighting bouts of nausea brought on by the insidious smell of vinegar and cabbage. The war that brought me to the Balkans 4 years earlier with UN Peacekeeping, saw some definitive battles that year, (1995) eventually ending the conflict with a bang. In late spring of 1995, shells were lobbed at Zagreb city, and each time, I lumbered down the 17 flights of stairs from my office to take cover in the building’s garage. A month earlier, I’d been catapulted through the sky on a particularly rocky helicopter ride that rode the crest of the famous “Bora” wind. So I welcomed the early maternity leave offered to me by UNICEF and the chance to join my husband at his new, plum job in Brindisi, Italy.
The villa he’d found in Ostuni was lovely, surrounded by fruit trees and roses and I was tempted to revamp plans and just have my baby there – but Chloe, the Oxford based midwife I hoped would deliver my baby, suggested that I might as well return to Sarajevo if I was going to consider giving birth in Southern Italy – that it wasn’t much better. A visit to the teeny, run-down looking Ostuni hospital cemented our decision to stick with our plan for me to go to England. Flat was rented and plane tickets purchased. My due date was August 1. I’d leave Italy at the end of June to leave enough time to settle in.
At first I ignored the bouts of cramping on Monday evening. When they continued through the night, I called Chloe in the morning. She suggested the baby’s head might be settling into position but I should certainly call my doctor. I would – later. I hated feeling like a moron when making phone calls in baby Italian. It was awkward trying to make myself understood and painful to follow someone blathering on at the end of the phone. My husband went to work in the morning – but called me every hour and finally, hurried home around lunchtime. By this time, I could barely get out of bed. I remember I was reading a very bleak novel set in the Eritrean war and had to constantly flatten the splayed paperback on the bed as yet another pounding cramp ripped through me.
My husband, much more confident about faking his way through languages he didn’t really speak, called the doctor who instructed us to come to his office in a few hours – after siesta. Traveling the 5 minutes to his office by car was excruciating. I couldn’t sit, but rather crawled into the back seat, dizzy watching the clouds spin by through the back window as we sped through the narrow streets of the town. In the waiting room, I stretched across the pleather seats, not caring about the other patients stares as I moaned. Quickly, we jumped the queue and quicker, were told by the doctor to drive to the nearby hospital.
In a salmon pink room that reeked of antiseptic, the pretty Italian nurses undressed me while giving me a crash course in breathing (in Italian) then, wheeling me into the small surgery room. After a two few intense pushes, my daughter was born. That’s it. That was the birth. Within minutes, she was being tapped and prodded on a table to my right.
I craned my neck to see her. The doctors and nurses had unsuccessfully tried to shoo my husband into another room, but he would not budge beyond the doorway and now gave me a blow by blow – telling me she was gorgeous, her legs were so long, she has my eyes. Beyond the doctor’s back – I could only catch a glimpse of her weirdly-moving limbs and tiny rib cage. Wrapping her up, the doctors told me they’d need to take her to the larger hospital in Brindisi. My husband told me he’d follow the ambulance. I was left with the nurses who pattered on in Italian while they stitched me up. All of this happened within 30 minutes.
It was night when I woke in a room with big iron beds that seemed plucked from an old movie set. The other beds were festooned with either pink or blue balloons celebrating the births of healthy babies. My bed in the corner by the window, had none. Most of the women appeared to be asleep but the young mother in the bed next to mine spoke some English. Pulling myself upright, I told her I needed to find out about my baby and she insisted I borrow her slippers – feather adorned, heeled slippers that were at least 2 sizes too small for me. Clutching the back of my hospital gown closed behind me, bleeding and achy, I waddled down the hall to find a telephone.
In my sorry Italian, I tried to explain to the nurse on duty that I needed to call Brindisi Hospital or my husband to find out about my bambina. The nurse put her hands in prayer position and cocked her head to one side to mime sleep. “Domani,” she repeated, ushering me gently back towards my room. I spotted a pay phone but remembered I had no change nor did I know what numbers to call – not even my own. My head low, I clip-clopped back down the hall, past the life size statue of the Virgin Mary, her light-bulb halo casting a strange glow against the ceiling.
Mumbling thanks to my neighbor, I stepped out of her silly slippers and she cooed sleepy reassurances. I stepped barefoot across the tiles to my bed by the window and crawled between the sheets, weeping silently, praying to the sky. A full moon emerging just over the tree tops sent a silver light shimmering through the warped glass windowpanes, bathing my face, my arms limp over the starched linens. As this mystical glow washed over me, so did peace. I knew my daughter would be fine.
A full moon still glowed in early morning sky as I stepped into the cold to take Tetley out for his walk. Something about the quality of the light or the air or the moment, brought me back to a scene from more than twenty years ago.
The man I loved had married another. Heartbroken, I retreated from my life in NYC for a weekend at a yoga ashram in upstate New York. After a few days of solitude and meditation, surrounded by winter fields and more sky than NYC allows, my every pore seemed to vibrate. On a frigid early morning with a moon still on the horizon, I walked out into the surrounding fields of the ashram. I felt as if I had been cracked open, I imagined my sadness might flood the frozen pastures.
Yet, I felt a healing. With every breath, I consciously sent the wrenching pain squeezing my heart off with the disappearing clouds of my exhalations. The moon seemed to speak to me as did the frozen grass crunching underfoot, each step, now a comfort. Even as I felt like I might die of a silent hemorrhage of the heart, I felt completely and beautifully alive. My pain brought me there – a pain that now, I perceive as exquisite. Certainly, it is the twenty years time that allows me to remember it so, rather than be swept away again into the desperate sadness that at the time I feared might drown me.
The thought of anguish as a road to spiritual understanding – as something exquisite – sticks with me, inspired by this random memory of a wintry morning. Pain of the heart and spirit is certainly on any map we choose to follow in life. There is no alternative route, no way around it. I still dread those turns in the road. But today I am reminded of the incredible clarity and beauty, almost a kind of spiritual trance that can lead us, if not away from our pain, to a place of peace. Like that morning so many years ago: the crystalline threads of my breath disappearing into the cold morning air, held the promise that all things must pass.
It was veritable party of flashing cameras last night at the beach, all of us hoping to capture some spectacular image of the well-publicized ‘Blue Moon’. This is the best I could do…
“It’s when there are 2 full moons in one month…” said one wizened fellow to another as they sat sentinel-like on the stone wall overlooking marsh grass and feeding gulls. I overheard them as I passed below, picking my away across the low-tide stretch, leaping over piles of dubious looking Long Island Sound flotsam and jetsam.
And I came across this weird tide pattern – like a quiet echo of the planet now rising on the horizon. The evening, with this rare second-showing of luna and this strange, perfect circle in the marsh flats, felt like a sweet nod to the recent death of the first man to step and prance across that very distant rock-scape.