My essays The Flow and I Am So Moved
I AM SO MOVED
I pace back and forth like a caged animal on carpet covered with what appears to be extremely wide scotch tape, incarcerated by cardboard boxes stacked nearly ceiling-high. I do not know where to start and I cannot rest until I do. Every time I peel the packing tape back enough to peek in to a box, I see stuff that I’m saving for things that won’t happen, even though I shed most of the contents of my home before the movers came to pack and ship me off to this new, downsized apartment.
Over the 18 years that I lived in that house, my children grew and my marriage broke. As a single empty-nester, the house felt like someone else’s coat. Someone who had a young family and needed a big yard.
One of my yoga teachers said that life is like the ocean: full of inevitable, unavoidable waves. We can frolic in and ride with them, or we can flail and let them pull us under.
Lately I’ve been flailing. The stormy surf of the moving process has tugged and tumbled me. My personal tsunami began with the decision to sell the house, and preparing to put it on the market, and keeping it pristine for visitors. Each showing had me riding high on waves of hope, which were dashed when they didn’t produce an offer. I was afloat in inspections, title searches, and paperwork signing; seasick in limbo.
The riptide of weeding and whittling of all my belongings, packing what remained, and the physical move sucked me under and left me gasping for air. The daunting tasks of unpacking and attempting to settle have me struggling to surface from a sea of cartons. I am exhausted. Proud and empowered, but tired and resentful of doing everything by myself.
Waking up in the new apartment, I’m disoriented, not quite sure where I am. It takes a moment for the fuzz to lift and the reality to dawn on me. In my car, I have to resist the instinct to drive to the old house and remind myself to instead to drive to the new apartment.
I have mixed feelings about the move, and my moods changes like the waves on the shore where I walk almost every day to soothe them.
I am as battered and worn as driftwood. To be perfectly fair to the furniture I have bumped into each piece at least once, creating an interesting mosaic of ocean-colored bruises on my limbs. I have lifted and moved heavy boxes out of tight and awkward spots so I can get to other boxes in hope of finding something I need. I actually almost cried for joy when I found the laundry detergent. I could finally wash everything I’d sweated through profusely in the endeavor. I have put things away which I now cannot find, and still cannot find places for things I haven’t put away
Yet, despite feeling awash in despair, I see rays of light: I can sit on the terrace with my Buddha statue and see trees and stars and the moon.
I go out every single night before I go to sleep to look at the sky, just like I did every night when I worked on a container ship many years ago. There, too, the seas were sometimes calm, and sometimes rough, but the big red ship abided. Silent and strong, slicing through the sea. So I relish this moment in the day that reminds me that I am at home. Surf’s up; let’s ride.
Writer’s Note about the Container Ship
Diane spent the summer after her sophomore year at Middlebury College working on a German container ship. She sailed for three months on Hamburg-Sud’s Columbus-Australia to ports between New York and Australia and New Zealand, accompanied by its crew of 26 men. She swabbed decks and mended linens and had the opportunity to visit Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane in Australia, and Dunedin, Wellington, and Auckland in New Zealand. She waved at Tahiti, and befriended the pilots who helped the ship navigate the Panama Canal. She plans to write more about her adventures.
“C’mon, Mom! The guy is here to show us what to do!” Devon’s voice pulls me out of an eddy of rumination.
I sit doubled over on a bench, wrapped in a neon yellow life vest, a wave of panic washing over me. I’m paralyzed and I want to run. The life vest can’t save me; not from this wave, nor I fear, from the rapids we’re about to voluntarily face for “fun” on this river rafting outing. Anxiety has plagued me since the divorce was final, about a year ago, making my life increasingly uncomfortable. I’d hoped the fresh air and breathtaking scenery on this trip to Colorado would calm me, but the fantasy of a change-of-venue quick-fix has evaporated as quickly as my nerve to get into the raft.
I keep my back to my family – all of them, including my two teenaged boys, nieces (also teens), my sister and brother-in-law, and my mother. I do not want them to witness my meltdown.
“I cannot do this,” I think. I consider how I can avoid the trip down the river, and if I can even sit here alone if they do go without me. I unclench my jaw and fists, let my shoulders drop, and deepen my breath. I evoke images of bunny rabbits to replace the visions of mangled, drowned bodies strewn over river boulders that have invaded my mind. I am trying really, really hard, but I am scared and immobile.
“OK, I’ll be right there,” I manage to mumble, but I’m not sure I can move.
“Are you OK? My sister Suzanne knows I’ve been struggling, and comes over, putting her hand on my shoulder.
“I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know if I can go.” She is quiet for a moment.
“It’s safe, Diane. There’s nothing to worry about. You will have fun. It will be good for you.”
“I know,” I nod.
I decide that no matter how terrified, I will not let my boys see it take me down. I do not want them to see me weak; do not want to worry them. I want to model bravery, not cowardice, under pressure.
I stand up on legs that I’m not sure will hold me. “I’m coming, honey.” I almost don’t even care what happens to me any more.
The current is strong but calm, like I wish I could be, and the first half of the trip flows incident-free. Halfway through we stop for lunch, lugging the equipment and supplies ashore. “That was the easy part, folks!” chirps the sinewy, tanned river guide. “The bottom is a wild ride!”
“I have to pee,” my niece Jessica says, happily distracting me. Nothing like imminent urination to take me out of my own mind. “Me too,” says her sister Julie. Suzanne nods at me to take them to the “bathroom” downstream. We remove our shoes and wade, ankle deep, just out of sight of the group, drop our shorts, squat (thank you, yoga), and let the stream take ours. I’m watching the bank for what I imagine would be hungry bears, but instead see a black snake slither into the water and meander directly toward me.
Interestingly, this “fight or flight” reflex differs from the one I felt on the bench. It’s real – more tangible. Yet oddly, I feel an extreme, almost heavy, calm. The girls have not seen the snake because they are facing away from the bank. I weigh my options. Hurry them up and run? This could be messy for all of us, and aggravate the snake. Stay still and take our chances? I wouldn’t know a poisonous snake from a benign one. I follow my intuition to wait and watch.
I keep a vigilant eye on the foot long serpent as it slides languidly toward my left leg. Just as I reconsider my plan and get ready to pull the emergency cord, it turns sharply right and heads back toward the bank. I follow it every inch of the way in case it changes course. And just where it reaches the shore, something shiny catches my eye. As if the snake wanted me to see it.
We pull up our shorts and start to make our way back, but I pause to unearth the treasure – a silver ring – half buried in the sand. I rinse it off to better see it; it’s covered with what looks like Hindi or Hebrew writing.
“Look, guys, a ring! And oh, there was a snake too.”
“Wow. What??!!” The girls cry. “Let’s see!”
Too big for my ring finger, I slip it on the middle one. I have no idea what the script says, but the ring feels good. Back at camp I think of my boys first, as always, and ask if either of them want it. “No, Mom, you found it, you should wear it,” says Dustin, channeling the voice of the universe that I’ve obviously failed to notice shouting at me. So I do.
I relax into the rest of the ride, letting the current take me. It turns out to be a lovely week at the dude ranch. I make friends with my horse, and he with me. Something shifts with that ring on my finger.
At home I begin a dogged search to decipher the ring’s message, although it again, should have been quite obvious to me. I find the answer in my own proverbial backyard.
“Oh,” says one of my favorite yoga teachers, when I show him the ring. “Sure. It says Om Mani Padme Hum.”
“No way. No way!” I shout. “Duh!” I say, smacking my head, V-8 style.
One of the oldest, most common, and most oft-invoked Sanskrit mantras, it very roughly translates to “the jewel of the lotus flower holds the key to enlightenment,” but it is said to contain all of the teachings of the Buddha within it.
So, in that river, I found compassion. I have worn the ring on my left middle finger every day since for the last seven years. I used to worry deeply about what would happen if I lost it. But at some point I relaxed into the realization that if I did, I would no longer need it. Or perhaps more importantly, that whoever found it would need it more.