My mother’s going to walk Auntie Gardi out to her car. It’s late, late afternoon when the air begins to chill. She’s standing on the walkway waiting for Auntie Gardi and I to say goodbye. She’s wearing her brown fuzzy coat. It’s the coat that speaks to me without my knowing. It tells me she’s better now, this clear evidence of her taking care of herself. And so when she comes back inside the house I rant at her, that kind of angry outpouring that comes to some of us after danger has passed, when we are no longer holding fear at bay, after we know our loved one is going to be okay. I’m rinsing out the kitchen sink, and even before I’m done venting I am overcome by self hatred. I feel like I can’t contain it. I don’t know what to do, so I go for a walk. I can’t breathe for the welling up of venom against me. I walk downhill. “May I hold this feeling with kindness,” I say. I can’t imagine being able to, but I ask anyway, over and over. When I get to Ocean View, I sit on the curb and cry. Then there is enough room to breathe again even though the self hatred is still pushing up against the inside of my skin, red angry waves of it. I climb back up the hill, look over my shoulder. And there through the branches of the pine trees below me are Venus and the waxing crescent moon. Something softens inside me when I see them together in the late dusk sky. Another voice wonders: how do I deserve these greetings again and again, these tender signposts? Later, I think: I can’t remember the last time I felt that volume of hatred toward myself. Am I going backward? And then I realize what was different here. Yes, I was overcome. I didn’t know how to hold it. It was so big. But it was only feeling. It didn’t have a voice, no words. I wasn’t telling myself what a horrible person I was for yelling at my mother. I felt like I didn’t know how to hold the feeling, but I wasn’t aiming it at myself. I wasn’t attacking. I wasn’t being mean to me. So, no. Not going backward after all. This was something new.
“May I become truly self-assured,” I say. It is a kind of metta I try for my changing. Wishes, Beth calls them. I like that. Part prayers, too, this metta. Part affirmations, maybe. They are all good, all effective, I believe. We only need to bring ourselves to them fully, heart and soul. Not grasping, of course. Believing, hoping, grateful. Funny thing, though, each time I bring myself to this one, I stumble in my mind. I say “reassured” instead of “self-assured.” A mistake, I think. I make it again and again. Then I am at a one-day retreat. I eat Brussels sprouts and radishes leaning against a low wall beside the small fountain on a June afternoon. I eat cool cubes of watermelon for dessert, lick the sweet from my fingers, luxuriate in the summer heat. After, I make a discovery during sitting practice. I say my metta. I make the same mistake. “May I be truly reassured,” I say. And then I know this is not a mistake. To be reassured is exactly what I need. I understand being reassured can be my path to self-assurance. Later, I realize with a kind of awe this is something I trust the universe to give me, no hint of doubt. I make lists in my head, different ways I am reassured. My cats reassured me when they were here in their small furry forms. I get excited about adding to my list, and eager to see how this unfolds, what gets sent to me. On Monday I try to rescue five stems of trimmed orange lantana blooms from the sidewalk, but after my bus ride they are wilted. I kiss them and place them on the bench outside the yoga studio. After in chavasanah I feel bad about not saving them. “But they were loved,” a voice inside me whispers. It is my first clear reassurance since I understood what I am asking for. I am dancing, lying in stillness on the yoga mat. I give thanks. I wriggle, a child about to unwrap a birthday present. What comes next?
This morning I wake up on my back and see the half moon framed in the southwest clerestory window. I feel greeted by magic. I remember Mami’s trouble breathing in the night, our fears on the phone, and I say metta for us all. May all beings everywhere be safe and free from harm. I go out to feed the birds. The hummingbird feeder is full of ants. I dump it in the weeds and use the hose with care to rinse it out, hoping some ants might survive. I think, oh, is this the way the day is going to go, filled with annoyance? After, I am standing in the kitchen and see a black-headed grosbeak join the mourning doves in the small tray feeder. He is startling beside them in his vivid orange, black and white. I’ve seen him in my garden three times in as many days. This grosbeak was one of the first birds I identified over a decade ago from my big stone porch in Hopland, so I have a fondness for them. Today I stand there watching him through the kitchen window and another strange bird emerges on a nearby sunflower, having made her way up from below to nibble on the broad leaves. It takes me a moment to make sense of her. She seems so big, so foreign. It’s only the little goldfinch who I see eating the sunflowers. But she’s a black-headed grosbeak, too. They are a pair. I am dancing inside. I’ve only ever seen one at a time before. Then three more males arrive. I have five grosbeaks, four boys and a girl, in my garden. I can’t stop grinning. It comes to me then my morning echoes life as a whole: lingering night fears, the daylight waning moon, messy, inconvenient ants, five beautiful grosbeaks—all unexpected visitors, the lot of them. Here’s to surprise guests everywhere.