Late in the mid-January week when I begin to make a kind of comeback, return to myself a bit, I get sick. I think it is minor, but it gets worse every day for five days. My fever lasts for two weeks. When it begins, I have a hunch about why it happened (aside from the woman sitting in front of me on the bus who didn’t cover her mouth when she coughed). I think maybe it’s because I started to come back. I scheduled my Valentine’s Day retreat that was prompted by a sleeping dream in early December. I wrote two blog posts, the first ones since November. I was engaged, moving forward, wobbly baby steps. It happened to me once during a weeklong writing workshop. I got sick after days of writing hard stuff, making a start with difficult material. I don’t claim to completely understand it. It’s as if the psyche and the soul are freed up when we make even small forward movement through things that have been piling up or dammed. Then because the blockages disperse on those levels, they crumble in the body, too, and the body washes away the remnants, piles of tree limbs tumbling free. Weeks later, when I am all but well, I wake to this thought again, wry half-grin on my face. (I have a tendency to be wry.) It comes to me then that getting sick and feeling miserable doesn’t strike me as the greatest reward for a breakthrough.
6:10pm. I am resisting prepping for my class that begins tomorrow. I just don’t want to do the work. But of course I have to. It needs to be done by 8am tomorrow, and it will be. I just don’t want to do it now. So, I wash the dishes, rinse out the sink, wipe down the counters. I decide to let myself read a little first. I feel like dessert, I think. I find a forgotten Lara bar, Pecan Pie, in the door of the fridge. I take it back to bed with me, spearmint tea steeping on the table beside me. I eat the bar all at once, sucking the sweetness into me, this unexpected gift to myself tenderizing me. Halfway through the bar, I begin to cry. I’ve always thought I would do whatever it took to keep my loved ones safe, well, happy. Now I am coming to understand it can’t be quite so limitless, so no holds barred, that I may need to save something of myself for me. So I cry, and I chew, the sweetness of dates, the earthiness of pecans. I grieve for this inner ideal I’ve carried with me for decades, of what it means to love someone fully, a delusion, I think now, that would have left me husk only. Part of me is glad to think I may find my way to giving much but not everything, not viscera, not bone. To think I may have something left when things are done. Even so, the taste of dates and pecans still in my mouth, even sensing that this idea of giving everything was cloudy seeing, I grieve to feel the dream of it crumbling inside me, to feel it slip away.
The mystery black birds appear in the guayaba tree in the late afternoon. They perch and poke for seeds, awkward at the three tube feeders I’ve hung for my house finch. I watch through the open louvers in the back room. I thought they sounded familiar when I heard them in the morning on the telephone pole, but now I have a front row seat. They are red-winged blackbirds! I am in love with them, the females especially, so subtle and intricate—light, bright brushstrokes of paint across their blackness. Watching them in all their quiet glory takes me back to when I lived in Cotati, and I would walk out behind one of the old Hewlett Packard campuses at the end of the day. (It was a walk my friend Meri introduced me to.) Red-winged blackbirds perched on every bush and thrust of stem in an open field. I stood on the edge of the road and listened to the magic, lilting songs, waves of music echoing around me in the late dusk.
Two white-crowned sparrows peck at the seeds in the small tray feeder I have tucked inside the bougainvillea for them. I watch them from my spot on the couch, the sliding glass door open to the courtyard, mountains and wispy clouds in the background. I savor the quiet in my neighborhood. It seems extraordinary today, and then I understand. Mild desert winter day, no loud heater, no A/C running, rare, unexpected quiet. I woke to unusual bird calls, black birds gathered on the telephone pole outside my window. I craned to see them through the open louvers, then banged the pot I used to boil my water for tea against the sink, loud, inadvertent, and the birds scattered. Off and on all morning in between my work I relish the calls of the ravens in the distance. Once, I close my eyes to listen to one raven’s wingbeats, loud and slow and sure, as she flies past outside my window.
Today I spend the day with Sylvia Boorstein, and her guests, from afar, livestreamed from Spirit Rock. Beforehand, I debate the all-day commitment on this day, but being in her presence even virtually and getting to listen to her wonderful stories feels like such a reassuring way to begin the year. After, I feel vulnerable. I am achey and tender and sad. I am all opened up. I feel a kind of longing, I think. Longing to be able to be part of something like this always? Partaking in her big warm love and acceptance? More connected to people like this, this deep kindheartedness? Always with Sylvia my old voices arise, want to lament I didn’t find her years ago when I could have worked with her for decades. Maybe, though, another voice says, you wouldn’t have felt this way about her then. Maybe you wouldn’t have been ready, or maybe she needed time to grow into who she is today. In the end, I settle back into gratitude for the day, for the gift of her. But in me, too, is secret hope to get to spend more time with her, maybe even years of it.