I don’t have to believe my thoughts. – Tara Brach
I don’t have to believe my thoughts. – Tara Brach
First memory: A large bedroom. Four beds in a row next to each other. You told stories at night. You always had the sweetest voice. We lied on the bed underneath the mosquito nets listening about the little princesses. There were always three of them, just like us; except it would always be the youngest one who would go home with the prince or gets the love of father. I wondered why there were no stories where the middle daughter gets to win at love, boy, jewels, friendship, something, anything.
Second memory: The three of us crawled from one bed to the next, because our father had rolled up the mosquito net between the beds, pinning it with safety pins, making sure there were no gaps for the mosquitoes to sneak into our beds. He made a tunnel for us so that we could visit each other.
Third memory: You let us draw on the white walls of this house and we went wild with our pencils. I drew house after house, with flowers in the front garden, trees in the backyard, a car, a dog, with the sun smiling above. The university students had left their drums in the living room, and we lined them against each other, making a fort. We played the drums so loud that Tiny, our tiny Dachshund, would go crazy running around the room. Later, I got the idea that we should sneak into the kitchen at night for a late night snack although no one would have stopped us and there was no real need for this covert operation. It seems even then, I liked the sense of mischief and adventures, only if they are safe and sanctioned.
Fourth memory that sticks: I did not get to see you when my father died. Don’t come back, you said to me. What’s the point now? Stay there and finish school, you said. It would be another two years before I’d get to see you and my sister. From the moment I saw you, you could not stop talking about his last day, his last breath, your last interaction with him. You told this story to me, or to anyone who would listen. I understood then that once some things were seen, heard and lived, they cannot be unseen and unremembered. One night, we were visiting a family friend, and you started to sketch the scene again. My sister and I hid in the bathroom trying to unlisten. I knew your heart was in pieces. It was your way of gluing back what’s left knowing there would always be a gaping hole in the middle of it. The missing piece of the love of your life.
Fifth memory I love: It was your 80th birthday and how happy you were surrounded by everyone you love: your daughters, their husbands, their children. Other mothers get to be with their clan as often as every month, if not every weekend. You, on the other hand, get to be in the same room with your whole family once every six year or longer. This would be the last reunion with the full sets of us. Tragedy would strike us again within days and we lost our beloved brother-in-law.
Sixth memory of my picking: The mornings I lied in bed with fever, you’d come to my room, put your cool hand against my hot brows and would say something soothing to
me, like “No school today”. You’d request the kitchen maid to make a chicken soup for me, with detailed instructions of how to make it. You’d make bread custard pudding and store in the fridge. The cool soft taste of this pudding on my fevered tongue tasted like unlike anything. This was something I would yearn for, would die for, when I first left home and there was no one who would make anything for me or lay a finger to feel the temperature of my skin.
Sometimes I think no matter how much love I had received from you, the child in me is never feeling full. When sick, when lonely, when terrified of abandonment, this child seeks you, your touch, your unconditional love, your admiration that she is smart, she is beautiful, she is enough. Then she will remember the cool fingers on her forehead, the cold sweet dessert on her tongue, the warm chicken soup in her belly, the sweet singing at night, the stories of Mae Htwe Lay conquering every evil person and living happily ever after.
self-image. There are days, like today, I hate every part of me and I resist my reality to the extreme. I am getting older and my body shows it, it knows it. For example I just came back from a yoga class, where instead of finding my Yin, I became deeply sad and depressed about my body. When I say body, I mean every inch of it, from the tip of my hair to the edge of my toe nail. I hate every bit of it. This aliveness that holds me up, carries me around every moment of my life is being subjected to abject hate by the person living in it. Why? Because the mind saw the pretty young girls in Lululemon yoga pants. Because the mind knows this body has the soft belly, the weak thighs, the wrinkles around the eyes. How the body does not fit into the mind’s perception of perfection!
You would think at my age, lack of beauty should not bring a woman down to her knees. But it does. The little skinny girl of childhood always lurks inside me, she is still hearing the taunts, the name calling, feeling the constant need to prove her worthiness. No one has ever told her she is enough when her being alive is enough.
But then at what point in one’s life one has to get over the scars of childhood? I know what Tara Brach would say. She would say, tell myself, “awww I am feeling this sadness,” without judging or what she called “second arrow” and to give the little girl love, to put a hand over my heart and imagine hugging this little girl, who had to try so hard to be accepted, to be validated as worthy for whatever reason, and tell her “I love you sweet heart”. And do this over and over without judging, without analyzing the emotions. Do this every day as many times as I need.
The truth is and I know this deep down, even if there is not a single person in this world who thinks she is not enough (there is plenty though in fact), I love her enough, I know she is enough. How many women have felt this way? How many of us need to be reminded to peel this “reality” filter over my eyes, and know this truth. What feels real is not the truth, Tara Brach has said.
This truth is bigger and freer once I step outside of my head.
It sounds like a cliche but I blink and the last eighteen years flew out the door. My son is graduating from high school in less than one month. My daughter is three quarters into her Sophomore year in college. Soon, she will be in her twenties, and he will be out of the house. I look around and still see the traces of their childhood in the house. Every step, every door handle, every corner of the wall, every piece of carpet, every hollow space holds their sounds, their essence, their imprints.
It’s so easy to look back into the past because it has already happened. I can see every dot that was placed, and could connect them without looking. It’s so hard to look forward into the future. This unknowingness nips at my legs, the way my cat Emmie nips at my toes when I am trying to write a poem. Where would we be in five years, ten years, twenty years? Where would I be? My father had his heart attack at the age of fifty-five, and dead within ten years. How many dreams were buried when he went?
Am I making too many mistakes along the way? How many things will remain undone or done in the most wronged way? Always, fear marches in and I am practicing my mindfulness with so much difficulty.
This life flies. I could almost hear the whooshing sound it makes as it runs at full sprint. Tonight, this poem by Jane Hirshfield speaks to me. Every word makes a powerful impact. Every word forces me to pay attention. (Plus I love the title).
By Jane Hirshfield
So many things
you’d not have thought of
until they were given.
Even the simple–
a cottage cheese sandwich,
a heron’s contractible neck.
You eat. You look.
Then you look back and it’s over.
This life. This flood–
unbargained for as lasting love was–
of lasting oddness.
That was only four years ago, a brief span of time in a lifetime. Looking at her now, she looked so young. I didn’t know it then, of what I know now. That I looked so young, enough to pass for a thirty year-old at times. I didn’t know it then, of what I know now. That without estrogen, skin, like all elements of this body will become a stranger too. That it would thin and crinkle like a wad of tissues. With time, eyes will house every tragedy of this world. And my hair will lose its sheen; the little bird now sings with a crackle and a longing. My mood will dip watching my lover estrogen leave. Every morning, I make rituals in front of my make-shift alter chanting this life, this life, this life when every cell of this aliveness tenses for what’s next, what’s next, what’s next.
March 11, 2011 at 8:14am
We were excited to see it. It was my son who pointed it out to me as we drove onto the highway from the hospital plaza where the kids just had their dental cleaning. I said we have to take a picture. Told them that it was worthy to share, to capture, to keep, to remember for later. And he took the phone from me, as I handed it to him from the front seat to the back where he and his sister had been sitting licking their teeth, and grimacing at the fluoride taste for the past fifteen minutes since we left the dentist office.
It’s a miracle, I said perhaps too eagerly, wanting them to cherish the sight. I am in this teaching mode always but often, there is no student. We are all teachers here. No, it’s not, they replied in unison. It’s science, my son added with conviction. Well, I paused, sensing a losing battle but not quite determined to give up yet. It’s like the rodeo, this thing I do with my kids, where I try time and time again to get on the animal desperate to teach, to tame but in the end, I go away, often with a noticeable limp. Well, I tried again. Miracle is everywhere. Seeing this beautiful sky is a miracle. You and me being here in this car is a miracle. You see?
He frowned, or I guessed he frowned. I couldn’t really see his face, as I was driving on the highway, looking ahead. I heard him fidgeting in the backseat, with the phone camera and with the conversation about miracles his mother was determined to have. It’s not a miracle, he responded but I could tell his focus was now on capturing the light shone from the sky, peering in between the gray clouds.
I can’t get it right, he muttered in frustration. You try, he said, handing the phone to his sister. She started snapping away, without much fuss. She’s like that. No worry. No second thoughts. She just goes. He, on the other hand, is a little body full of careful deliberation. He debates and ponders, considers and agonizes over every details. It’s an alien ship, spotting the church, she chimed in with a smile. Or the little angels tearing the clouds, playing flashlight tag, he started playing along.
Are you going to write a poem about it? my son wanted to know after a while. Maybe, I told him, unsure of my ability to come up with something decent. Recently I’ve cleared out clutter in my head, and along with it, my supposed ability to compose poems went.
Write a poem, he insisted. Call it “Heaven’s light.”
Death has a way of softening us, like a fruit ripening, from the center to the edges. I remember her as a child, a beautiful little girl with striking eyebrows, the kinds that never require penciling in. It’s been so long ago now, but her smile is somewhere edged in my memory. A smile of a happy child, a smile of “before”, a smile of pure radiance. Somewhere along our lives, we will inevitably be covered with scars. We learn to walk, but not all of us learn how to get up again after falling. Falling is so natural. We lean toward earth at all times as gravity pulls.
How to live with silence. So many dialogues inside and out. Today, I am observing silence. My hands itch to write these words I am not speaking. Thinking is dangerous, someone has said. Thinking sharpens the self’s warped senses. The righteousness of self must be put on a dimmer.
Death has a way of opening the mind. I go through the list of people whom I am indebted to: my parents, my first and last teachers, my children, my family, even the boy who told me he could never love me the way I deserved to, the people who opened doors for me knowingly or unknowingly, the inspirations I found at the street corners when I was not looking, the moments that allow me to crack myself open and peer into. So many items on my gratitude list. Every day, someone is changing my life, sometimes with words, sometimes with deeds, sometimes on pages or in person with a smile or a frown. On rare moments when I am truly present, I would walk through these many gates opening right in front of me, and glimpse the wonders on the other side.
Death has a way of ripening the mind. I don’t remember her as a full-grown adult, plagued by her own demons. Somewhere along the way, she got lost. Somewhere along the way, I got lost too. She exited this world now, while I still breathe, right now at least. The fleeting moments cannot be harnessed, but this moment still rests in my cupped palms. This moment. This moment. And this moment.
Most of our moments together in the past eighteen years were colored with my fears –for your safety, for your future, for your life, and with my worries about how I am not delivering the goods a normal perfect mother delivers to a good son like you. Deep under all of this murkiness of my anxieties is my unconditional love for you.
Love is my only gift as you go out into the world on your own in the very near future. Love is the only thing that makes sense in this world. Always remember to love yourself, like I love you.
Continue to hold onto your tenderness, your warm heart full of kindness and empathy. This world you are about to enter is full of predictable surprises. There will be challenges for sure; hardships, heartbreaks and setbacks, but there will also be unbelievable moments of wonders and beauty, sweetness of success and contentment for things small and big. Sometimes, life plays out exactly as you imagine it. But most of the times, life takes you to a path that you had not known to plan or even imagine the possibility of existence. Those paths may bring you to your knees at times but most of the times, they make you feel like you are the most blessed person in the world.
My advice to you is to live in the present. Set intentions of your day. Be mindful when fear is speaking to you, (recognize it like how you would recognize your mother’s voice), and respond instead of react. (Do the opposite of what I have done.)
Remember, your mother believes in you, your goodness, your intelligence, your determination and your creativity. This world is about to experience a little more magic and wonder because of you.
save me, I said
to the blank pages
that remain bare.
save me I pleaded
to the passersbys who
glanced and then went
on with their ways.
save me I cried
until my eyes were
dry wells, having allowed
the earth to shunt away
the hidden vein.
save me I tried
but even I knew
there was no one
who does the saving
or being saved.
save me, I saved
the paper with the poem
I wrote at the Universe cafe.
save me, said no one
to me, and I say to none.
save me, I sent
second, third, fourth
arrow to the sky
until they fell.
save me, my cat meows
Her universe contains
of just three people.