Monday, September 21, 2015

Fingerprints

Our finger prints don't fade from the lives we touch. 
Judy Blume
 

I used to be a clean freak of the highest order, so much so that I'd nightly dust my childhood bedroom with tissues and cross a room nine times to make sure a pillow on the couch sat at just the right angle.  When I was a teacher, Thursday was cleaning day and I was often up until midnight scrubbing floors, waxing furniture, and polishing the stove, but I didn't mind.  I knew I would come home on Friday to the ecstasy of fresh vacuum ridges in the carpeting and a sparkling clean bathtub.
It's the little things in life...right?
Over the years I lighted up...and so did my cleaning schedule.  Sure I still had my first graders sift through the black holes in their desks and organize their books and assignments.  On Friday mornings I would squirt a huge dollop of shaving cream on their desks and had them smear it around so they could practice writing their spelling words before the weekly test.  Their little fingerprints dotted and dashed on the faux wood finish as they giggled with delight.  When they were done, a few swipes of a sopping wet sponge removed all the dirt, grime, and glue blobs that had dried there over the past week.  They ooo-ed and ahhh-ed to see how shiny their desks could be and often asked, "Can we use shaving cream every day?"
Who says you can't have fun AND clean at the same time? 
These days I regularly have folks in and out of the house.  I daily disinfect the bathroom sink and change the towels.  The floors are vacuumed at least twice a week and I regularly walk through the house, putting stuff away before it looks too cluttered.  Sure my desk gets messy now and again, but I'm not one of those people who can stick their hand in a pile of paper, knowing exactly where the odd receipt or bill is hiding. 
I need my stuff in order...and not just the stuff you see on the outside.

It's been a messy spring and summer for me.  If you've been keeping up with Open Road, then you'll know I spent the better part of the past four months being roused from sleep by diggers, jackhammers, and the like while our street and surrounding area were being torn up for a host of reasons.  But just last week the last of the repairs were put into place and the lawn outside my front door was reseeded.  Now I wake up to the sound of crickets and the breeze blowing through an open window...and it's more enjoyable than any cleaning day ever could be.
Still, during all this time I've been cleaning up the messes of circumstances and people who have inadvertently left their sticky fingerprints on my life...some which were stubborn and didn't come off that easily.  And there was no magic shaving cream that could easily remove them with a few swipes of a sponge.  But no matter.
I had elbow grease to spare.
Now that fall is here my schedule has doubled and I'm working so much I hardly have time to write a blog.  Not that I'm complaining.  All that work I did over the summer is paying off in spades since I can appreciate how shiny and new I can be whenever I take the time to polish up my ability to let go of things I can't control.  That seems to be a theme this year, but one I'm learning by heart, so the next time a lesson comes along, I hum the familiar tune and move on...pronto.

When I was a gardener in Big Sur, I often spent time in the afternoon walking up and down the rows of kale, chard, and basil, marveling at the myriad of fingerprints that were still embedded in the compost.  On planting days, we often had up to a dozen people working on the farm so that the over 2,000 little babies could be settled into the soil in a timely way.  Over time I found there was a rhythm to planting, especially the fennel, which was my favorite.  And there in every single bed, were the imprints of my hands.  When I left Esalen, the last thing I did was visit the farm, knowing that a part of me would linger there long after I was gone.  It was a memory so striking, that I lent it to one of my characters in Common Threads, and still can't truly find the words to express what that moment meant to me.
But I can clearly reveal another one that happened this weekend.
On Friday I picked up my pals, Satish and Danta, from school.  After a quick jaunt to Mr. Freeze, we headed over to a bookstore where Danta could pick out his birthday gift.  I told Satish that if he wanted his birthday gift early, I'd be happy to buy him a book or two as well and he eagerly took me up on the offer.  After perusing the shelves for a while, Danta chose an Avenger's title while Satish found a Big Nate comic that he hadn't read yet.  There was still a little birthday money left over, so both of them found the rack of Berenstain Bear books and each chose one to take home.
Now mind you, my pals read well above their grade level. Danta just finished reading a Harry Potter book I wouldn't have tackled in fifth grade...and the kid's only in third.  Satish and I discuss the symbolism of some of the chapter books we've both read and he consistently devours anything on his bookshelf.  Still, it was heartening to watch them sift through the stack of children's books to find a couple that they hadn't yet read.  While they searched, I thought back to all the Monday nights I'd tucked them into bed and read a Berenstain book or two.  When they were old enough, they took over and I enjoyed listening to them read out loud.  
While Satish was at soccer practice, Danta and I laid on a blanket at Pacesetter Park.  We played chess.  He read one of his books while I watched the clouds drift by.  Not once did I think of all the work I had to do at home.  The cleaning and organizing and preparation for this week's busy schedule. 
At one point Danta asked me, "Are you going to be a famous author someday?"
"Maybe," I replied.
"Wow...that'd be so cool."
I shrugged.  "Well, I'd rather be famous to you."
Danta laughed.
"I suppose I could have both," I told him.  "But if I had to choose what I want first I'd say I'd rather hang out with you here while Satish is playing soccer."
He nodded.  "And play chess...and read books."
"Yep," I beamed.  "'Cause you're one of my favorite people in the whole world."
          Danta grinned.  "Awww!"
Later that afternoon when Danta and Satish's dad came to pick them up, we gathered their backpacks from my car.  When Satish shut the trunk I could clearly see his fingerprints gently smeared into the black finish, right next to a set of Danta's who had called dibs to shut the trunk when I had picked up the boys from school. 
"Hey...look at that!" I laughed.  "Your fingerprints are right there to remind me of all the fun we had today."
And to this day they're still there.  Whenever I run an errand or strap my bike onto the trunk rack, I smile when I see the residue of their little fingers...and make sure I don't mess them up.  I suppose I'll lament when the next rainstorm or car wash dissolves them, but no matter.
Their fingerprints have left wonderful memories to spare...ones that remind me that sometimes messiness is the very best part of being human.



Friday, September 18, 2015

I'm ready for some football

I don't really lament never having cable television.  When the antennae outside my living room window became obsolete back in 2009 as local stations switched to digital, I didn't give a hoot.  After spending the better part of the previous year in Big Sur where I had no access to news, radio, magazines, or anything else media-related, I got used to using my laptop as a glorified DVD player.  And upon returning to Ohio in the fall of 2008, watching television was the last thing on my mind.
But times have changed.
It's not that I'm a walking TV Guide like I used to be when I was kid.  I don't miss network shows, and I don't really know what's hot on HBO or Showtime.  Friends who know me well recommend stuff I might like, and over the years I've devoured every episode of The Tudors and Rome and Six Feet Under.  This summer I revisited the delightful series Call the Midwife, and of course thirtysomething  and Northern Exposure are "go to" shows whenever I'm feeling nostalgic.  I even watched A Christmas Story during the last heat wave in the hopes I could trick my autonomic nervous system into thinking it was wintertime.  (It worked...sort of.)
A couple of weeks ago while perusing the aisles at Sanger Library, I came upon Friday Night Lights, a television series that takes place in Dillon, Texas where high school football reigns supreme.  Since checking out season one, I've been hooked...and it's often hard to make myself go to bed when there's another episode waiting on the DVD.  Maybe it's the phenomenal acting (I've been keeping an eye out for Kyle Chandler, who plays head coach Eric Taylor,  ever since he starred in Homefront), or perhaps its the unconventional way in which it's directed and filmed (which reminds me of the plays I had staged managed many moons ago).  Still, it could be that autumn is just around the corner and I'm ready for some football.
Seriously.

When I was a student at Bowsher High School, I didn't miss a single game my senior year.  Sure I had a huge crush on one of the varsity players, but over the course of the season I also developed a love for the sport.  I learned what it meant to sack the quarterback and why the coach often decided to go for the two point conversion.  I figured out who the fastest running backs were and how hard it can be to punt under pressure.
Years later when a friend's son played as a free safety for the University of Toledo, I often braved bitterly cold temperatures in the Glass Bowl and enthusiastically cheered Andy and the Rockets to victory.  He taught me the importance of wingspan and agility, particularly since he was considered to be the quarterback of the defense team.  Later on when Andy was being looked at by professional scouts, I stretched him out before try-outs and listened intently while he explained the nuances of being able to read the other team's offense in an instant.  It was then that I learned that football is more than just a sport.  When  well executed, it's like an intricate, fast moving game of chess.

Professional ball isn't really my thing, for if I'm going to spend a couple of hours watching a game, I'd prefer it to be on the college or high school level.  My pal, Satish, is enthralled with college football and when we hang out in the fall, he keeps me up to date on who's leading in the ranks.  It's not often I can catch a game at his house, but when I do, Satish is quick to point out the stuff I miss and is patient to a fault when I repeatedly ask which plays stop the clock and which ones keep it running.  And yet, while I enjoy being able to see the game up-close instead of being crammed into a stadium, there's something to be said for being there in person.
Now that I've spent some time watching Friday Night Lights, I'm thinking about checking out Whitmer High School's football schedule and maybe heading over for the next home game.  All of my first graders have graduated (I'm delighted to say that over the years, many of them played for the Panthers), but many of my former colleagues still go to a game or two every year.  And it's been a while since I've sat in the bleachers on a chilly night with a cup of hot chocolate and a smile on my face while I watch a group of kids learn more than just the rules of engagement. 
          You won't find me yelling or cheering like I did in years past.  No.  These days I'm more interested in focusing on the strategy.  The sportsmanship.  The camaraderie of the players.   The way the teams respond to winning...or losing.  As a writer, it's all grist for the mill.  But more than observing, I want to feel a part of something that's inherently a part of this autumnal season of change.  Something more than pumpkin-spiced-everything and raking leaves and warm, wooly sweaters. 
I'm ready for some football...and I've got to believe there's more to it than just the sport.  Perhaps I'm ready to get back into the game of life and a fabulous Friday night cheering on a local team might be just the ticket I need.  Like Coach Taylor always reminds his team:  Clear eyes...full hearts...can't lose.



Saturday, September 12, 2015

The way things ought to be

Affirmation is difficult.   We always affirm with conditions. 
I affirm the world on condition that it gets to be the way Santa Claus told me it ought to be. 
But affirming it the way it is — that's the hard thing, and that is what rituals are about.

Joseph Campbell, Power of Myth


It's been an eventful month in my life...and it's only September twelfth.  Then again, there's a series of eclipses starting tomorrow as well as the autumnal equinox sandwiched in-between, so I'm fairly certain that the unseen, yet deeply felt shifts in the seasons will bring even more changes.  That's alright with me.  It's been a bittersweet summer, although there's been time to sit and sift through life as it has been -- not as I had wanted it to be.  But what else is new?  Not much in my life goes as I plan it anyway...and I completely understand that's by Divine design. 
Now that the construction is complete, my neighborhood is consistently peaceful.  What I had wanted all during May, June, July, and August is much sweeter now that cooler weather is upon us.   To be serenaded in the garden by chirping crickets and to feel the soft, gentle early autumn breeze while I tend to the flowers and vegetables makes me that much more appreciative of what I used to take for granted in seasons past.   To be able to sit next to an open window while I write this blog and hear nothing but the soft hum of a neighbor's lawn mower is heavenly...and that's not something I'd even consider last spring.  The reality of what is now can't compare to the way I thought things ought to be this past summer. 
It's even better.
Still, everywhere I go these days there are realities with which I'm not all that comfortable.  The news unwinds a never-ending stream of negativity that only seems to be getting worse.   I often scratch my head at the choices people make....and the ones they don't.  It's not that I think they should live their lives like I do.  It's just that I've come to fully realize that while one can avoid reality, one can't avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.   
Eventually karma catches up to us all.
Which is why I'm really taking stock this month.  Looking at the reality of my financial situation.  The state of my relationships.  The way in which I work.  The choices I've been unconsciously making and bringing them into light to see if they're still working for me...or not.  Truth is there's not much I'd change.  Actually, after this morning, there's nothing in my life I'd change right now, for by accepting things as they are, I'm truly able to be in the present moment.
And that's where the power is...always.

Since I started meditating in my late twenties, I've often used positive affirmations.  It's taken a while to let go of the need for what Joseph Campbell calls looking at reality "the way Santa Claus told me it ought to be".  I truly believed that if I repeated it enough, if I believed hard enough, if I set my intentions clearly, then I could have whatever I wanted.   Over time I let go of the when it would happen, but not always the if, for I had to remind myself over and over again about the simple, yet profound prayer I offered up in 1994:  Please God, don't let me settle for what my ego wants.
And believe me, that's one prayer the Divine has clearly answered.
Over and over again.
I didn't get much of what I wanted when I was younger...but in looking back, I received everything I needed.  Even now, I recognize the fact that my priorities were still a bit skewed until this past spring when a clearer reality set in and my  heart opened up to what I was experiencing in the present moment.   What a surprise to learn that the reality of what I was being given was better than anything I could have imagined...and it arrived in my life when I wasn't looking, when my ego couldn't judge it or think it should be something else altogether for grace took over and said, "You've been avoiding this your whole life...now look at what I've brought you."
Like I said...karma finds us all after a while...and sometimes it's a pretty incredible experience.  

Recently I read an article about how some people think their opinions are fact; the way they see things is the way things truly are.   But that's a slippery slope at best, for most people see the world as they are not as the world truly is.   Others complain mightily about the way things ought to be, no matter if their opinions are riddled with caustic jargon, projection, or distortions of the truth.
While I'm a pacifist at heart, I take action when I can be the change I want to see in the world.  I write letters to congressmen and women and express my concern about equal rights.  I call City Hall to talk about the not-so-savory changes in my neighborhood.  I recycle and reduce waste.  I grow my own food.  I take care of the bees in my own back yard...and mind my own beeswax, too.  For I know that the way others live their lives is their business, not mine...even though I have to live with the reality of their choices.  Still I realize they're affected by my choices as well, for we're all creating this grand design together...hand in hand along with unseen dynamics which will be revealed in time.
Every day I practice a personal ritual in which I strive to accept the world as it is...not the way I want it to be.  Only then can I recognize the things I can change, the things I cannot, and grow into the wisdom to distinguish the difference between them.   Only then can I find some semblance of  acceptance.

Only then can I find some peace in not knowing all the answers...but in being able to accept what is with grace.





Monday, September 7, 2015

Happy birthday, Whack-a-doodle!

Last Friday I picked up my pals, Danta and Satish, from school and had a long-awaited play date.  While we were waiting for Satish's class, I teased Danta that since his birthday is a day before mine, I don't really understand how I can be older. 
"Oh, I'll be fifty this year!" he said seriously.  "So that makes me older than you now."
"For real?" I asked.
"Yep...fifty...can you believe it?" he grinned.
I chuckled, bouncing my eyebrows.  "Wow...you look really good for your age."
On the way home, Danta read some amusing children's books out loud and even described the pictures so I could keep my eyes on the road and still imagine the action.  At one point his rendition was incredibly hilarious and I laughed so hard I snorted.  Glancing in the rearview mirror, I saw the look on Satish's face, a humorous mixture of surprise and acceptance that, yes indeed, I am as silly as his younger brother.  And of course, my snorting only brought gales of laughter from Danta, who read with even more expression.
After an afternoon of fun and board games, it was time for me to go home.  At the door, the boys hugged and kissed me, then wished me a nice long weekend.
As I walked toward my car, I heard Danta exclaim, "See you later, Whack-a-doodle!"
I burst into laughter, remembering how he and I had tossed that word around all summer long, weaving it into descriptions of the funny titles we saw at Books a Million, or the huge new stores being built in Perrysburg.  At one point I asked Danta what the word meant to him.
"Oh, you know, something really ridiculous...funny...and of course just a little bit crazy!"
I suppose when Danta branded me with that moniker, I've became an incarnation of all things eccentric...at least in his mind.  Not that I mind one bit.
I waved back and smiled, "See you soon, Mr. Whack-a-doodlie-doo!"

So in honor of my pal's ninth (okay, fiftieth) birthday tomorrow, I thought I'd share a part of my memoir, a chapter entitled "Bedtime", which reveals a little of Danta's naughty side...and a bit of his softer side, too.
No wonder I often tell him we are twins separated at birth...and twenty-four hours...and forty years. 


"Bedtime"

It’s a cold winter night and I’m getting the boys ready for bed.  Danta is brushing his teeth while Satish finishes his bucket bath (“It’s an Indian thing,” he explained.  “To save water.”).          
The boys are getting bigger, but they’re still hesitant to be upstairs alone, particularly after dark.  I don’t mind at all.  More time to spend with them.  More precious time that will soon slip away as they grow older and more independent.  
Earlier Danta had been using the bucket while I sat in the hallway with his big brother, playing “Hangman.”  “Hey, Katie…come look at me!” he gleefully shouted.
I stepped into the bathroom and saw that he had tightly wedged his little body into the bucket that was overflowing with soapy water.  Delighted with his antics, I giggled, “Am I going to need a shoehorn to get you out of there?”
“A what?” he asked, his eyes wide.
Satish came in to see why I was laughing.  His face turned serious.  “Danta!  You need to use that bucket properly!  We don’t have another one and if you break it, Mummy and Papa will have to go to the store and buy one!”
Pressing my lips together, I turned away to squelch my laughter.  Satish was right, of course, but it was still hilarious to see Danta in the bucket, his knees pulled tightly to his chest.  Only he would think to do something so impish.  And naturally, it’s exactly the kind of thing my inner Ramona finds hilarious. 
Now I ask Satish, “Do you want to read tonight…or should I?”
“Did you bring your ‘George and Martha’ books?” he asks, pulling on his pajamas.
“Yep…all of them.”  The boys and I love reading James Marshall’s silly stories about two hippos who are the best of friends.
“Good…let’s read them together!” Satish exclaims.  “I like the one when George loses his tooth.”
I nod.  “And I like the one when Martha sits on George to stop him from eating all his cookies.”
Danta spits toothpaste into the sink with vigor.
“Good one!” I say, congratulating him. 
“Can I read, too?” he asks, wiping his chin.
“Of course!” I beam. “Which one would you like?”
Danta laughs devilishly.  “The one where Martha and George are in the Tunnel of Love and she scares the pants off of him!”
I chuckle.  “Yeah…that’s a good one.”
As I change into my pajamas in the bathroom, the boys bring their blankets and pillows into the guest room where I’ll be sleeping.  Ashoke and Nidhi are out with friends for the evening.  Amita and Leena are away at a Girl Scout event.  I’ve been looking forward to my first sleepover with Satish and Danta for over a month.  They have, too.  Nidhi says they kept asking, “How many days until Katie comes?”
Now I walk into the guest room and see that Satish has made a nest of sleeping bags and fleece blankets on the floor.  Danta is carrying in pillows and tosses them to his brother.  “I get the Mario Brothers!” he reminds Satish.
“I’m going down to get my George and Martha,” Satish says.  “Will you come with me?”
As requested, I had knit Satish a hippo for his birthday and another one for Easter.  Now he has his very own George (complete with a walking cane and bowler hat) and Martha (accessorized with a fancy skirt and red tulip tucked behind her ear).
“I want my lion,” Danta says, referring to the orange and yellow toy I had made him which has a furry mane and cleverly knotted tail.
“Okay…let’s get ‘em,” I say as we head downstairs.
Once they’ve been tucked into bed and we’ve read several stories, Satish yawns.
“Ready to sleep?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he sighs.
I kiss Satish good-night.  “Jai Shri Krishna,” I whisper.  It’s a blessing he’s taught me that Hindus say to their children at bedtime.
“Jai Shri Krishna,” I say, giving Danta a kiss on his temple.
He takes a shuddering breath.  “When’s Mummy coming home?” I hear the tears in his voice.
I knew bedtime would be hard for Danta.  While he’s fine to play and have fun during the day without his mother, nighttime is when he most wants her near.
Glancing at the clock radio, I say, “She should be home in about an hour or so.”
“Is that long?”
“Not really,” I say gently.  “And I’ll be right here.”
I turn on the nightlight, then turn off the lamp.  The room is bathed in the soft, orange glow of a tiny plastic basketball.
I climb into the twin bed and get comfortable.  Satish is well on his way to falling asleep, but I can hear Danta whimpering.
“Mummy,” he softly cries.  “I want Mummy.”
Leaning down to stroke the hair away from his forehead, I whisper, “Do you want to come up here with me until she gets home?”
He nods eagerly.  Leaving his blankets and lion behind, Danta climbs into the small bed and cuddles close.  “Mummy,” he cries again.   
I soothingly rub his head.  “I know you miss Mummy,” I say.  “She’ll be back soon.  And I’m right here…I’m right here.”
Danta soon falls asleep in my arms.

The next morning he’s disappeared and is sleeping in his parents’ room.  Satish lies on the floor curled up with George and Martha, his breathing slow and even.
I wake up leisurely, thankful for this quiet moment.  Thankful for the Sharmas. Thankful for Satish and Danta and the ease with which we love each other.
Thankful that there will be many more bedtimes when we can read and giggle and share stories.  Thankful that these wonderful children are such a treasured part of my life.
Thankful in knowing that they will be…always.

At the end of every yoga class, I guide my students into savasana, a pose in which they practice gradual relaxation.  Often calling this our “yoga dessert,” I tell them that savasana is the gift and the purpose of all the other aspects of the class so that we can come into silence and stillness with greater awareness.  “All roads lead to relaxation pose,” I often say. 
One of my students has a t-shirt with a stick figure lying prone.  The caption reads:  “I’m only here for the savasana.”  And I know exactly what she means.
Seventeen years ago, when I started my own practice, relaxation was the most difficult, yet intriguing part of the class.  It was terrifying to lie quietly among strangers who were inches away from my mat.  Terrifying to close my eyes among men I didn’t know.  Terrifying to go more deeply within my own body to see what memories might still be lurking there.
For the first six weeks, I would dutifully lie down on my mat and try to relax.  Try to close my eyes.   Try to block out the awareness of the man who was snoring next to me.  It was hard, but not impossible.  And even though I struggled with this very fundamental part of yoga, the benefits were still tangible.
I soon felt lighter and more open.  More aware of my body and its ability to both integrate the benefits of the poses and release the tension that had built up between classes.  With each week I saw progress.  I recognized the many rewards of showing up, doing my best, and letting relaxation pose teach me how to be more present with my fear of being still.
It's no surprise that this part of the practice unhinged me when I was younger.  I had always been anxious about sleeping in a room with others, preferring the pitch blackness and silence of my own space.  I feared being crowded.  Being startled.  Being harmed.  For over three years I attended yoga classes, often taking three a week, and worked diligently to melt my apprehension.  Soften my edges.  Open myself to being unguarded in the presence of others.      
For me, allowing the softness of my soul to reveal itself is very complicated.  Perhaps that’s why I write novels…to reveal the inner-workings of my spirit without the risk of personal involvement.  I can peel back the layers of my vulnerability without the messiness of the human experience.

But with Satish and Danta, I am unbound.  With them I am free to relive the childhood experience from their vantage point, from their very vivid insight.   I’ve told Nidhi that Satish, with his proclivity toward the insightful, resonates with who I am now.   But it's Danta’s enthusiasm for the mischievous, for the boisterous and energetic, that most reminds me of the child I used to be.
Satish and I play endless games of Monopoly and Life.  We like to figure out the strategy in order to discern the best way to succeed.  More often than not, when we play Chess, Satish beats me soundly although I can now give him a run for his money. 
Once when he was doing a silly little victory dance, I told him, “I won, too.”
“Nuh-uh,” he said, hopping from one foot to the other.
“Yuh-huh,” I replied.  “I won because I get to spend time with you…and that’s the best prize of all.”
Satish’s eyes softened as he smiled.
Now whenever he wins a game, he’ll remind me, “I know you won, too, Katie.”
I wink.  “Yup.  Do you know why?”
Satish will nod.  “You got to play with me…and that’s as good as winning!  Right?”
“Yes, sir!”

With Danta it’s a little different.  Satish can be pensive, but his little brother is highly chatty, talking endlessly about anything.  From the time Danta was little, he would love to play rhyming games with me.  Once when I was driving him home from school, another driver cut me off.  “Holy moly!” I exclaimed.  “Did you see that, Danta?”
“Holy moly!” he chirped.  “Sholey, coley, boley, joley!”
Glancing at his grinning face in the rear-view mirror, I laughed.  “Zoley, choley, poley, woley!”
Danta scrunched up his features in thought, then brightened.  “Doley, loley, choley, ga-zoley!”
“Wow, you’re good!” I told him.
Verbally quick as lightening, Danta is a joy to watch while he plays “pets” with Satish.  They have a vast collection of stuffed animals that are used for running races and playing farm and a host of other activities.  The boys know exactly who owns which pet despite the fact that they have amassed nearly fifty between them over the years.  And although it’s not necessary, I carefully stitch their initials into the seat of every animal I knit for them.  It still makes me chuckle to watch them check for their “S.S.” and “D.S.” whenever they open a new toy.
I marvel at the way they both have learned to read with great fluency and expression.  This past spring, Danta delighted me with his uproarious rendition of Fox at Work, another James Marshall favorite.  Effortlessly changing voices, he was able to make the characters come alive as an old Indian man, a cowboy, and even a German immigrant.  At one point I laughed so hard, he had to stop.
“Want me to read it again?” Danta grinned.
“Oh, yes!” I exclaimed, holding my stomach.  “You’re so stinkin’ funny, Danta!”
“Stinker, tinker, binker!” he chimed.
Still, Danta is both silly and sensitive…just like me.
He gets anxious when going to new places.  Worries about “what might happen.”  Wants to be reassured that he will be safe, no matter where he is or who he’s with.
It was high praise when Nidhi called to tell me a Danta story.  It seems Nidhi needed to take Amita to a driver’s education class and Danta didn’t want her to leave the house. 
“Why does Amita need to learn how to drive anyway?” he wanted to know.
“What if you have to go to soccer practice?” Nidhi asked him.  “Amita could drive you if I’m busy taking Leena to violin or Satish to his chess lesson and Papa isn’t home from work yet.”
Without missing a beat, Danta replied, “Well, Katie will take me.”
Yes, I love watching little Danta ruggedly chase a soccer ball around the field and deftly make a goal.  He’s a good sport and cheers on his friends, then takes the lead when it’s offered to him.  I sit on the sidelines, taking pictures and cheering him on.
When it’s time to come home, Danta climbs into the backseat of my car where a basket of Beanie Babies and books await him.  Sometimes he writes in a spiral-bound journal that chronicles our adventures around town.  When it’s full, I’ll pass it on to Nidhi for safekeeping and slip another one in its place.  I know we’ll have many more escapades to enjoy as he grows older.  For the seeds we have planted are now growing strong and steady as the years go by.

During the sleepover when I comforted Danta, it was the first time a child had come to me at bedtime for reassurance and safety.  The first time I had cradled a little one so very much like myself.  In many ways, it felt like I was holding my own five-year-old spirit who longed to feel safe in the night.  To feel protected.
To be harbored in love.
For years I've spent time with the Sharmas, playing games, pitching baseballs, reading books, and telling stories.  Listening and laughing and learning even more languages of love.  Although Satish and Danta wouldn’t agree, bedtime is my favorite part of our Monday ritual.  For just as I help to prepare my yoga students for a peaceful relaxation, I cherish the moments cuddling in bed with the boys.  Giggling over the silly books we read.  Gently rubbing their backs as they make their way into dreamland. 
“Jai Shri Krishna,” I whisper as they drift off to sleep. 
And in blessing them…I am infinitely blessed in return.








Friday, September 4, 2015

Courage is its own reward

My friend, Barb, says I'm a kid magnet, and I suppose it's true.  Wherever I go it seems a spunky little child makes a beeline for me and always has something interesting to say.  These days I find I'm attracting preschoolers, four-year-olds in particular, who regale me with stories about the color of their shoes, the flowers in my garden, or the yummy spaghetti they ate for dinner last night.
The other day I was hiking at the park when I passed a shelter house where a birthday celebration was winding down.  Groups of moms and young children were making their way to the parking lot when I noticed a young boy dawdling behind, gazing up at the trees.
As I passed by, I heard him say, "Excuse me!"  When I stopped to see if he was speaking to me, he grinned.  "What's your name?" he asked boldly. 
"I'm Kate," I smiled.  "What's yours?"
"Darren*," he said.
"Was that your birthday party?"
He shook his head.  "Nah...it was for my cousin."
Worried that he might get into trouble for not keeping up, I glanced over his shoulder at the retreating family.  "Is that your mom?"
"Nope, she's over there," Darren said, pointing.
Sure enough I saw a woman back at the shelter who was helping clean up the errant paper plates smeared with chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream. 
"Great...why don't I walk you over to her?" I offered.
By the time we reached his mother, Darren had told me all about the joys of being four and how much fun he was having in kindergarten.
When we met his mother, we talked for a while and I mentioned that I used to be a teacher.
"I'm proud that Darren was able to start school early because he passed an entrance exam," his mother smiled.  
"He's pretty sharp," I told her.  "What a friendly and polite little fellow."  I gently patted Darren's shoulder.  "Thanks for making my day!"
"Sure!" he beamed.
Walking away I remembered the terrified four-year-old I used to be when I started kindergarten a couple of weeks before my fifth birthday.  Every year after that, I didn't want to go to school because I was afraid of a new classroom...a new teacher...and new kids who might or might not be friendly.  Sure I was smart enough to skip preschool and head right into half-day kindergarten.  But I know now that I wasn't emotionally equipped to handle it...which is probably why every single year I taught elementary school, I spent the morning before the first day either throwing up or managing my bad case of nerves with gingersnaps.

The next day I went hiking once more and on my way in and around Wildwood Park, I passed a host of people.  Older couples.  Young mothers pushing strollers.  Joggers out for an afternoon run.  Deep in the heart of the red trail I saw a couple of men in the distance walking toward me and an old, familiar mantra bubbled up from deep inside:  I will not be assaulted today.  I will not be assaulted by those men.
As they walked by, the men politely moved into a single file so I could pass, saying, "Good afternoon."
I returned their friendly greeting and kept right on walking, letting go of the mantra once I realized I could trust my gut instinct that the men were harmless.  
I'm not afraid to go hiking alone.  I do it all the time, and have for years.  I know to stay alert...to walk with purpose...to look people in the eye.  I've never had an incident at Wildwood or Secor Park or anywhere else for that matter.  But no matter what, whenever I pass men on the trails, I remind myself that I am safe.  That I won't be dragged into the woods and beaten...or worse. 
I imagine many women might feel as I do.  Perhaps being single and going most places alone heightens my awareness and makes me that much more conscious of my surroundings.  I've been stalked, harassed, and humiliated, so of course it's made me leery and distrustful of men I don't know.  Sure, there are a host of great guys in my life who are just like brothers.  But I've been sexually assaulted as well, and that experience often overshadows my friends' kindness and gentility, no matter how much I struggle to let their light outshine the darkness.
It's taken a long time to deal with my history. 
Even longer to admit I'm still healing it. 
Of all the blogs I've published in the past three years, this one is perhaps the most difficult to write.  Still, I feel compelled to do it because I recognize that courage has many faces, and sharing my story is only one of them.  Perhaps this one will find a reader or two who can relate.  Who might need some reassurance that they're not alone in their experience.  That there's someone else who knows that sometimes healing can take a lifetime. 
More than twenty years have passed since I initially found the courage to face the cause of my fear of intimacy and commitment.  Now I'm at the point where, while I don't lead with my old stories anymore, I realize that somehow many of my longstanding defenses still keep me armored, safe from the outside world. But this year I've been striving to work through them, to learn once again that courage does not mean I'm unafraid to move forward.  It simply means I won't let fear paralyze me anymore.
Or at least not for long.
Five years ago I called it quits with men.  After years of attracting ones who were either benign repetitions of the man who had stalked me, or increasingly angry men who mirrored those from my past, I finally decided that it was better to be single and at peace.  Better than being attracted to a person who initially rocked my world,  then eventually rocked my boat until I fell overboard and floundered in the mess and deafening silence he left behind.  
For five long years I taught yoga and wrote books and hung out with my friends.  I kept busy so I wouldn't have to think about how quiet my life had become.   It worked...for a while.
It worked until I realized there are more important things than writing and teaching.

This spring a friend gently prodded me into going on a blind date which I wrote about in "Biker babe".  It took all of the courage I had to say "yes" when she asked if she could give Pete* my phone number.   Even after we had a great phone conversation, a couple of days later I found I had to dig deeper in order to summon the strength to drive to the restaurant and meet him. 
But I needn't have worried.
Pete was a real gentleman.  He was smart and curious and very sweet to me.  I found it was easy to let go of some of my defenses and just be myself.  Even though it was late, I could have stayed at the restaurant and talked with him for hours, but we both had other things we needed to do.
As we walked to the parking lot, I wondered nervously, How do I let this guy know I want to see him again?
I needn't have worried about that either because he gave me a friendly hug and said, "We should do this again sometime."
I smiled, "Sure...that would be great.  Call me anytime."
But he didn't.
Months later, risking the possibility of rejection, I eventually plucked up enough courage to contact him.
But he didn't respond.
I wish Pete hadn't said he wanted to see me again if he didn't really mean it.  And sometimes I wish I hadn't opened up myself to the possibility of a connection with a man only to have the door slammed shut as quickly as it had opened.  But everything happens for a reason, even if I can't understand it all right now.
So here I am, back where I was five months ago.
But not really.

There have been countless times when I've felt that I should have been rewarded for my courage.  That I should have gotten the guy or found the right agent or whatever it was that I wanted.  After all, I had to barrel through a wall of fear to even entertain the possibility of having it.  Yet in bravely focusing on who and where I am now, I've learned to not make any man pay for the pain of a past he didn't create, and I've whittled down all of my baggage into a small carry-on which I often leave at the door when I venture out into the world. 
I might be scared.  I might be unsure.  I might even be silently chanting my old, familiar mantra.  Still I'm ready to leave the shadows of my past, and open myself up to a new life I'm only just beginning to cultivate.  My determination to stay vulnerable in healthy ways keeps me ever-mindful to continue letting go of what has been...and can never be undone. 
My courage is its own reward.  It builds undeniable strength by daring me to walk into the unknown with the awareness and the ability to keep my heart open for miracles....especially when I least expect them.



*Names have been changed.