I wake to cat screams in the courtyard. I clap and yell, still half asleep, kneejerk. The cat fight stops, low growls outside my sliding glass door. I go outside to break them up, a huge gray cat I don’t know, long hair all fluffed from the fight, his backside disappearing over the wooden gate. My neighbor’s cat, who I love, escapes behind the shed. I talk to her through the gaps between the wooden fence. She sits cleaning herself on the hood of her fathers’ car, all twitchy from the fight. I go back to bed, take her shock with me, sadness welling. I ache for both cats. I hurt for the gray, hope he isn’t feral, isn’t lonely. And then I cry for my own two little ones, four years dead. Later I sweep the courtyard. I hear a kestral calling, looping about a nearby palm. I can’t tell if something has disturbed her, or if she’s just having fun. She widens her arc and flies over the edge of my yard. I stand still, holding the broom before me, watching. And then I see the waning moon is watching, too, big half moon still bright in the morning sky. It’s one of those moments when everything feels all of a piece. I stand there until the kestrel flies away, and it is just the moon and me, and some subliminal sense of all of us right now. The sparrows across the road and the hedges they roost in. The fan palms jutting into the blue in all directions. The mountains and their close, steady, silent presence. After, I cut a dozen branches from my laden tecoma. I apologize to the bush, to the bees. I sweep my part of the little road, a big pile of loose tecoma and bougainvillea blooms, some dried and crinkly and some still soft and fresh, all those shades of yellow and magenta, from pale to vivid. I scoop them up, and it feels wrong to throw them away, this rich and layered art. When I go back inside, I leave the gray trashcan tucked near the tecoma on the street, the cut branches of still-fresh blooms sticking up and out, a big bouquet for the bees.
I peek out the front door to the courtyard. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I have to come back out.” The finch fly off, quiet and light. I’ve already disturbed them once this morning, filling the feeders, rinsing the big terra cotta saucer I use for the bird water bowl. “I forgot to get the paper,” I tell them. I swing the door wide and the doves take off before I see them, one crazy-loud whoosh of wings. “Too many!” I call after them. Too many of them for my little courtyard. I walk to the gate, pick up my paper from the top of the wooden fence where my kind neighbor places it for me. I dawdle without meaning to, find myself stroking the native plant in the pot beside the sliding glass door, the one that makes tiny yellow flowers in the spring. A hummingbird perches on a bougainvillea branch, chittering. I think she’s the one who’s taken over the feeder outside my living room window. I cross back to the front door, and a familiar sweetness settles in me. The feeders are all filled, ready for my birds. The eight palm volunteers are spruced up in their blue pot, the Mexican petunia trimmed, the mullein happy. I climb the steps to my trailer, scanning the courtyard. There’s nothing more I could want, I think. Then lightning swift comes the next thought, nothing except for my two cats to be alive and here with me. I feel my loss, three years old now, and lift my eyes. The waning crescent moon hangs just above the open door, greeting me. I stand on the steps, and I know I can keep my deep, quiet contentment, can hold my joy, my loss, my longing. I can hold it all.
I dream I’ve been working in some capacity with a smaller beast and go looking for the big tiger. I open the door to what looks like a high school gym. The tiger appears through an opening on the left. He walks toward me, his gaze fierce. He growls. I stop walking, slowly turn my back. I stoop over, overwhelmed, I think, or about to faint. When I realize what I’m doing, I remember not to be prey, and I straighten. I walk toward the door, and he does not attack. Outside, there is a dog who knows me at the bottom of the steps. He sees the tiger behind me. “No,” I say. My voice is quiet but vehement. I don’t want him to be killed defending me. He quivers but stays still. The tiger takes my right hand in his mouth. I can feel his teeth press against my skin, but he is gentle. He releases me, and I keep walking. I don’t look back until I’m a short distance away. The dog and the tiger are standing beside each other watching me go.
In November I am gone for three days. When I’m home again, I’m afraid my male hummingbird might not visit me after my absence. But he’s still here! I greet him, and I cry. Twice this morning he comes to my face. I close my eyes but don’t flinch, though the second time he startles me, and my heart does a funny flutter in my chest. Still, having him sit and visit on the back of the chair nearby fills me with a welling joy. I love him. I love these visits. I tell him he makes me feel like my cats made me feel, like I’m the luckiest woman in the world. Bar none. I sit beside him in my courtyard and feel the joy, the tenderness, well up and seep out of me, feel that ache and that fine seesaw line between our 10,000 joys and our 10,000 sorrows. For a moment, I wonder if there is something wrong with me, that I’m wired wrong, that maybe joy should be undiluted. Maybe that humbling awe, that sense of the hugeness of the gifts beyond deserving comes from some faulty circuitry in me. Then I think it is native to our human condition, to being embodied on this planet, to the fleeting nature of things. And then I wonder, how can we not feel unequal to the gifts bestowed, to the marvels of our world? How can we not feel humbled and grateful when we stand beside a mountain, watch a bird stretch her wings, take in the bougainvillea in full bloom? Or by the gift of morning companionship in the tiny form of a hummingbird? Thank you, little one. I’m so glad you’re still here, still making these visits. I’m glad I’m still here, too.
I move the curtain from the open window by the bed just enough to greet Venus in the eastern sky. I’m glad to see her there, glad to catch the scattering of sunrise-colored clouds, but I don’t want to be awake yet. I let the curtain fall and snuggle back beneath the blankets. Blankets, I think. I grin, so pleased it’s autumn now, and I return to blankets. I have a nine a.m. videoconference call this morning. And I want to remember to mention the aloe vera gel to my mom for these last stages of the wound that’s finally healing on her leg. I’m going to focus on building next week’s online classes today. I want to write a blog post, too, I think. I can’t believe it’s been so long. Is this the longest gap in over seven years of my commitment to posting? I must be a zillion weeks behind by now. I don’t even want to know. I can feel the tension mounting in me with each thought. For a little while I even replay all the well-worn reasons I believe I was wronged by someone years ago. I take a deep breath, smoosh the pillow beneath my head, settle down on my left side, close my eyes. I hear bird calls in the distance. I think of my two cats, dead now these two years. I whisper to them, send their spirits love. And then I let myself imagine them going back to sleep with me in this cool early morning air. They used to flank me, Sofia wrapping herself in the curve of my legs and Sable curling up against my belly. I know it’s unlikely I’ll fall asleep again, but I let myself drift, using my imagination now, reaching for memory. I remember waking in the middle of the night, their soft little bodies pressed against me, the comforting weight of them. It always made me feel like the luckiest woman in the world. Drifting, I wonder what that makes me today. But even in that dreamy place shaded by a longing for them, I know the answer. It makes me the luckiest woman in the world because I had that, their dear companionship, night after night for years. And because I get to love them forever.
For the first time in ages, I’m enjoying the luxury of easing into the new year. I took the week off, and I’ve been attending special daily sessions at our meditation center. At first, I was going to plan a demanding daily schedule of writing and sitting practice to accompany these evenings of sitting and teaching. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to stick to my schedule,” I said. Marylou and Richard and I were sitting together on their patio. Richard suggested in the kindest of ways I might be more easy with myself. At the time, I felt defensive and not understood. “Retreats are supposed to be challenging,” I grumbled. But later, I let his gentle words sink through me, and I ease off of expecting so much of myself. Instead of pushing, I let myself sleep in, dawdle over tea, do my morning writing and sitting practices propped up in bed with the San Jacintos stretched out before me. I make soup, nap, read, eat popcorn. Each evening I step outside, close the door behind me. The solar Christmas lights in the bougainvillea greet me in the dark courtyard. One night the crescent moon is cupping Venus. The next night Mars and the waxing moon and Venus are all in a row. They accompany me on my half-hour walk to the meditation center, the air brisk on my face, my scarves soft and warm against my ears. After, the stars walk me home. One morning midway through, I cry without knowing why. But I trust in the rightness of it. One afternoon I fight on the phone with a loved one. I make her cry. When I hang up, I remember to hold my self-hatred with kindness, identify the swirl of other feelings, five in all. I picture them nested in my open palms, the tenderness immense. One day during the teaching I am overcome. To think, we are all here wanting to heal, working toward becoming the peace we want to see in the world. What a gift to be able to do this together. On day seven, a morning session, I look back as I leave my courtyard and see scores of goldfinch in the bare branches of my neighbor’s tree, like ornaments, like lemons. I walk to the center, happy I am me, so glad for these eight days of practice, for the connection with this sangha, this community. The air is cold on my face, but I am warm in my layers. I feel the way I used to feel on a winter night flanked by Sofia and Sable, their small weights warm against my calves, my belly. I would lie there in the quiet dark and cry because I knew I must be the luckiest woman in the world.
This year was laced with the absence of my cats, sometimes glaring, sometimes subtle, more muted as the year progressed. I lit a candle yesterday for Boo, one year to the day. I only cried a little. I’ve quieted most of my if onlys, I think, most of my what ifs. I’ve returned to winter quarters again this year after Boo taught me its wonders when he was sick, and I abandoned our courtyard to stay with him inside. From the blankets in the mornings I watch the San Jacintos, warm tea cradled in my hands. Now in the early dusk, I have the sliding glass door open. The white crowned sparrows flit about near the bougainvillea. I can hear them peeping, hear the rattle of the dried blossoms while they hunt for seeds. Now and then exquisite bursts of song erupt. One lone mourning dove comes to the big tray feeder. The solar Christmas lights looped in the bougainvillea will come on any minute now. The waxing moon is not yet far enough west for me to see her, but when I glance up, I surprise Venus in the clerestory window. The two have been bright companions in the evening sky, heralds of the season. The more the light leaves the day, the happier my timid sparrows are, playing in the corner of the courtyard. I can hear the traffic one street over, the clink of dinner dishes next door. I linger until the sparrows seek their beds, until only the ridge of the mountains is visible against the darkening sky. The solar lights wink on like magic, a bright, wild tangle. May we each be blessed with quiet, glowing, untamed peace like this through all our days and nights.