Following a map of light and dark

Light and dark define one another. The other night, I was part of a jam session that was predominantly filled with the sounds of drums…a wall of low and relatively dark frequencies poured out into the early evening silence that rested on the waters of Miller Bay. I began to tap out a rhythm with chopsticks on several glasses of water and the effect was profound. The contrast was striking and I saw it instantly transform the faces of all who were in the room. A few light and precise notes skittered across the mass of low, dark sounds, grasping the attention of us all.

As I lay in bed that evening, I saw the jam session; saw it rather than heard it. I saw tiny, brilliant lights dance out across a background of darkness. I saw how intensely powerful those small stars of light were, and the immense beam their brightness cast in spite of their size. In that moment I saw similarly bright stars bouncing across the map of my own recent life and realized that I’d developed a sometimes habit of dwelling in fear of this unknown place I’ve been traveling through. I’ve noticed though, that whenever I begin to tell someone else what has been going on of late, I hear, I see, those lovely, clear bells that are piercing through the darker shades in my life. It’s easy for me to forget the bells that are ringing.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s what lets the light in

from Anthem by  Leonard Cohen

I attempt here to draw a map of the stars in my dark sky, and, even as these words are written, I realize that in the context of the sky, dark has no positive or negative reference attached to it. It is simply the sky, which out beyond this planet upon which we live, happens to be dark and immense. This map I draw, it is the map of my travels, but the truth is, you have a map as well. The journey will be different – but a grand journey can be found within your own heart. Mostly, it takes the courage, to…simply…look…up. I forget to do this, often. I am getting better at it.

As a reminder, this journey began on New Years Day…and spans three months time.


The Blog:                                                                                                     mid-January, 2011

I got word, on several occasions, from whomever it is that sends me such notices, that I was to start writing a web log (blog). (See this link if you want to read about how I was informed of this.) I heard this about two weeks into the journey described by this map. I cried out to my friends for help and learned that resources were available, where else, but on the Web. My friends calmly told me that it was easy…that yes, really, I could do it.

The Call:                                                                                                          4 February 2011

On one particularly dark-minded Friday, I was deep in the midst of extracting an indescribable (believe me, you don’t want to know more about it) glob from the drain in the bathroom sink. I was well equipped; my hands, protected by industrial strength, dark-blue rubber gloves, held on to a pair of long, needle nose pliers that grasped a slimy mass. I had just successfully pulled it all the way out of the sink, when the phone rang.

I have become extremely skilled at not answering the phone when I am ill prepared for, or not interested in, carrying on a conversation. I can imagine that any observer would have put me in one of those two categories when the phone rang. For some reason though, when I heard the phone, I felt compelled to at least check who was calling (and gave thanks again, for Caller ID). I walked over to the phone, (I left the pliers beside the sink, still clutching the nameless mass…) and looked to see who might be calling. It was a strange identifier: “UNC-Chapel Hill”. “Hmmm, that’s probably not someone I want to speak to right now.” I assumed it was a telemarketer, not aware that I knew anyone from North Carolina. Again, something or someone nudged me, and surprising myself, I picked up the phone with one, now bare, hand.

A woman identified herself; saying that she was a producer for the radio show The Story, and wondered if now would be a good time to answer some questions about the piece that I had submitted. (“A piece that I had submitted? Oh,” I remembered, “back a couple of months ago.”) I looked at my rubber gloves, glanced at the plumbing project still waiting to be finished in the bathroom, took a deep breath to make sure that sound would come out when I attempted to speak, and said, “Sure. Yes, this would be a great time to answer some questions.” I excused myself for a moment so that I could remove the second glove…and turn my thoughts away from unclogging a drain, and toward my piece of writing…hoping I would remember enough about it in the moment to answer questions on something that I had not thought about recently.

Later on, I was struck by the fact that our phone conversation really was a conversation. She asked thoughtful questions that required in-depth answers. I felt that she was willing to take the time to listen to my answers…more often than not, these days, I find that people ask questions, but don’t have time to listen to the answers. By the end of our discussion, I heard her asking if I’d be willing to travel to Seattle to one of our local public radio stations for an in-studio interview, after she got the approval of one last producer. “Yes…YES I would be willing – I would love to do that.” She thought that most likely we would set up an interview for the following Tuesday, but she’d get back in touch with me on Monday.

To say I was flabbergasted, would only begin to sum up how I felt after that phone call. I was elated and completely in awe of the workings of this amazing experience called life. I wandered around, (20 ft x 20 ft is the total size of my cabin, and what I’ve got for wander space)…moving somewhere between dancing, pacing and prancing, probably becoming airborne at some point. Then music began playing in my head – or I finally noticed it. I apologize that I am not able to identify the composer or the title of the piece. At this point, I can only identify it as the music playing during a particular scene in The King’s Speech, a movie that I absolutely love and am willing to admit I’ve seen more than a couple of times.

This particular scene, and the accompanying music, comes at the point where the main character finally accepts what is for him, the most terrifying and unimaginable task he can possibly conceive of. With a great deal of turmoil and hard work, staring into the deepest heart of fear, he grandly succeeds. (If you’ve seen the movie, it’s the scene where the soon-to-be-crowned King George VI and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue, are rehearsing for the Coronation, in Westminster Abbey.) That’s the music that was playing in my head when I hung up the phone. I knew something was shifting in my life. Regardless of whether or not the actual interview took place, I knew that some kind of movement, a new direction, was upon me.

By Monday, Egypt was in the midst of major changes. I received a call and an email saying that they would have to reschedule my interview. They were going to need that time to speak with people connected to the events unfolding in Egypt. I was disappointed, but was certainly able to concede to the historic scale of Egypt’s story. They’d let me know when a time opened up again.

Here’s where my friends, the demons, began clearing their throats. Do you know what those pesky and yes, pretty, little demons said to me? (Previously a friend noted, “I don’t know if our demons ever go away, or if you just get to grow old with them, slowly watching them become, maybe, prettier and prettier”…)They said that the radio show really wasn’t going to call back, that my one small chance was over. I heard them…but I did not look them in the eye. I just kept walking toward whatever grand adventure was just around the bend.

The Invitation:                                                                                                 18 February 2011

Once I received The Call, I began to share the story I’d written with many of my friends and relatives. I was excited…and I had to tell A LOT of people. With each note I included a copy of the story, The Queen of the Flowers. It is about my experiences getting to know an elderly man who had lost almost all of his short-term memory, experiences that became my introduction to the world of dementia.

One such friend is a nurse, and unbeknownst to me, she was, in a number of weeks, to begin teaching a course in Dementia Care. She wrote asking my permission to read the story to her class. !!??!! I was honored that she wanted to share the story with her students and told her so. Then I had an idea…my friend lives up in Canada, a day’s journey from me. I wrote back suggesting that I would very much enjoy reading the story to her class, and then possibly follow the reading with a discussion about some of my personal experiences working with people in the midst of dementia. My friend was delighted with this idea and we began to make a plan. So I guess you could say that I’m the one who made The Invitation.

One possible stumbling block was that my passport was expired…and the passport folks were saying it could take 4 – 6 weeks for me to get a new one. By then, the class would be over. You can probably imagine what the demons were saying. I decided to plow ahead and apply. The next day I ran into a neighbor who said that it only took ten days when she had applied the month prior, which gave me great hope. I received my passport in two weeks time! I saw the demons out of the corner of my eye. They were oddly silent.

The Interview:                                                                                                 24 February 2011

My contact person with the radio show called me to say they had a spot available for the interview…this was about ten days after the original date. I looked at my friends, the demons, in the eye and said, “See…this is going to happen.” They looked right back at me and said, “No it’s not; you’re going to be out of town on that day.” Well, that was true, and I was so disappointed. “No problem,” she said, adding that she’d contact me after my return. The demons said, “No she won’t.” I turned away from them. She did contact me the following week. “Hah!” I said to my pesky friends.

We were having some snowy weather here and the day she proposed had been forecast as a potentially big (for us) snowstorm. “See, it’s not really going to happen…you’re going to get snowed in.” I ignored them. Sometimes, up here on this ridge, we get a fair amount more snow than those just a half-mile down the road. I don’t have a great car for driving in the snow, not to mention that I grew up in Los Angeles, and my snow-driving instincts aren’t that keen. I decided to move my car down to the bottom of the hill, and that way, if, as happens sometimes, it was only we up higher that received any amount of snow…I could just walk down the hill, get in my car and drive to the ferry.

I told the producer my plan, and we agreed that I’d only go into Seattle if it felt safe to do so. I glared at the demons and went about my day. I was, admittedly, pretty wound up about the prospect of the interview, and also about whether or not it was going to snow. Some forecasters were saying it was going to be a harsh storm, which could potentially mean power outages (and no water, as our well water is provided by an electric pump). I decided to get up extra early, giving myself plenty of time to walk down to my car, and get to the ferry.

That next morning was absolutely spectacular. I began my walk down the road just after sunrise, with tender shades of peach and the palest of lavenders pressing up against sparkling fresh snow. Up here we ended up getting three or four inches and down below, even less. The big crazy snowstorm had taken a detour. I had the hillside all to myself. I was the first one out – no footprints, no tire tracks. Crunching down the hill, the sunshine was all mine. I felt blessed. My car started up just fine and we (my car and I) had a leisurely and uneventful ride down to the ferry. I walked onto the boat, which was packed with its usual crush of early morning commuters. We crossed to the other side of the (Puget) Sound upon calm waters, with a breathtaking view of Mt. Rainier dressed in her fresh drape of new snow, early morning pastels still clinging here and there. I hung back to let the mob of morning commuters blaze off the ferry, wandered up to Third Street and took a bus up to the radio station in the University District. Snowflakes flurried around now and then, making the whole experience that much more magical. We don’t get snow all that often around here, and even though it’s been many years since my days in Los Angeles, for me, snow is always magical.

The combination of a pending snowstorm and the possibility of the radio interview meant a fitful night’s sleep leading up to this journey. Perfect – I was too tired to be nervous. By the time I arrived at the radio station, was lead down to the sound studio, fitted with headphones, and the microphone was adjusted, I was pleasantly relaxed and warm. The sound engineer and I entered into an easy conversation as he adjusted the recording levels to prepare for the interview. At some point, Dick Gordon, the host of the show, joined us in the mix (from the producing station at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), and we were off. We spoke for around an hour and had a great conversation. Rachel had assured me that it would feel more like that, than like an interview…and she was right.

Soon enough it was over and I was heading upstairs in the elevator. Standing in the silence of the tiny enclosed space, still a bit awed by all that had transpired since I had uncurled out of bed many hours earlier, I heard my mother speaking to me. She and I had, somewhere along the way, agreed that we would not pry or press each other about personal matters. That may sound strange for the format of a mother/daughter relationship…but that’s mostly how it was between us. There was this one interesting exception. Every year or so…sometimes twice a year, during the last years of my mother’s life, she would say to me, “You know, you have a lovely speaking voice…you really should go into radio. I’m sure there’s a public radio station near where you live…you should call them.” To me, this always came pretty much out of nowhere. Each time she gave me this personal nudge, I was so deeply touched. Based on our unspoken agreement, this was really quite something for her to do…she was stepping way out on a limb. And now, I heard her say it again, and I felt, and saw, her beautiful, broad smile. “What do you think, mom?” I wondered.

On Air!:                                                                                                                 24 March 2011

One month after The Interview the show went On Air. In the week leading up to the show, the producer asked if I had a link that they could post on their website, so listeners could read the story that I’d written. SO. Way back in the beginning, when I obediently listened to instructions about starting a web log…barely knowing what that was, and certainly not knowing why I would want to do, or have, such a thing…when Rachel asked me for a link…I HAD ONE ALL SET UP! It even had a couple of posts, and a second story.

This link will take you to the place where I describe to you what that day was like for me, but in one word, it was magical.

The Class:                                                                                                                 1 Apr 2011

Once I had my passport, my friend and I made plans for my journey. We didn’t really discuss ahead of time what exactly the form of my presentation would be. When I arrived in Canada we talked about it a little, but both of us knew that it would go just as it needed to go. The timing of my visit turned out to be perfect (it all just worked out this way, we did not organize it). The afternoon that I came to speak to her class was the beginning of the time set aside for review of their material, in preparation for their final exams.

The afternoon was just as I had imagined it would be. I enjoyed reading the story, I loved sharing anecdotes about my father who also had dementia, and what was amazing, to all of us, is that each story I shared ended up correlating beautifully with a portion of their curriculum. It was really something…how it all worked out. 

This map that I am describing to you, continues. Most likely I will share more because there is definitely more to share. I am walking along a path that continues to reveal itself to me, as I walk. I cannot see too far ahead, but as I move along, the path just keeps appearing. What’s more, the more carefully I look, the more I notice that there are seeds on the path, seeds that so want to be planted in the luscious soil where they appear. It is spring – time for planting seeds, and I am doing just that.


One thought on “Following a map of light and dark

  1. Buela says:

    so much beauty here….. so many wonderful rich images and textures. i see, hear you and feel
    your journey. thank you sweet sister for your willingness to answer mystery’s call. xoxoxox

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