Back in the Swing written 9/14/13

A couple weeks ago I went to an adult gymnastics class. It was the first time in 26 years I’ve been a student in a gymnasium, being encouraged and instructed by a coach. I was looking forward to it and at the same time I was terrified.

I wasn’t scared of actually getting on the mat, getting on the bars, going upside down, daring to ask my forty-one-year old body to bend into a front walkover or swing around a wooden bar or even of being judged negatively for being different and slower than most of the other people in the gym. I was moving through a haze of old emotions, the ones that asked me to quit long ago because I wasn’t good enough, because I wasn’t worthy to follow this path. I was moving through the internalized critical messages I had heeded in 1997 when I walked away from the gym for what could have been the last time.

As the hour for class drew nearer I could feel myself reeling through the years all the way back to the fifteen year old Heidi on the second floor of the high school, practicing with her team into the evening. I could feel her aching adolescent heart and it made my grownup heart ache with her. I traveled back to eight-year-old Heidi winning five ribbons, including Best All-Around in her first competition and I wondered why she decided to begin giving up little by little, more and more with each competition thereafter.

award celebration

At the family lunch after that first competition

These memories and a host of faceless, timeless others gathered around me, whispering messages I couldn’t translate word for word. It felt like all my sadness in those years needed to finally be heard and acknowledged. I listened with respect knowing all the while I needed to keep moving forward, and not turn back just to quell the emerging pain. In fact I was aware that I simply had to walk through this valley in order to reach higher ground and the joy of getting back to a sport I dearly love.

When I finally re-entered the gym at 7:45pm, I could feel the burden of sadness and the weight of years between then and now begin to evaporate. The bright lights, children in leotards bouncing all over the place, the excited voices bouncing off cement walls, seeing my class gathered in the middle of the large blue spring mat, the newness and yet absolute familiarity of my surroundings; all of this drew me effortlessly into the present.

We began with stretches and goal setting for the new term. Voicing my goals, stretching my muscles, allowing myself to be one among rather than “the one who took 26 years off,” I soon felt back at home, and happy. In the background I could feel a golden thread sewing together the past, not just the sadness but also the delights and the mundane hours, with the present, to create a kind and beautiful tapestry, one of the many in my life.  As this integrating process unfolded, without fanfare or even another whisper, the pain and sadness I had been carrying much the afternoon faded away.

I have a lot to relearn, both intellectually and physically, and I may never get back to executing all the skills I could do before. In fact, one of my favorite moves on the uneven bars isn’t even done now since the “new” standard is for the bars to be set much farther apart than when I was competing. But I’m not in this class to retrieve old glory. I’m back in the gym because it’s a much loved childhood home I never really had to leave. Every Olympics I get incredibly emotional. Now I see it as homesickness, a longing for a place and an activity that has always held my heart.

day on in the gym

My teacher kindly took this photo after the first class

This is only the beginning in a surely unfolding process of healing and also of claiming joy. I’m sure there will be more memories, realizations, valleys, letting go of old misconceptions about myself as a person and an athlete. I’m also sure there will be new shades of wonder, new delights and a greater peace and contentment in my being. Really it’s a mysterious, adventurous path I’m following because it’s time and I have to if I am to be true to my soul.

I think most of us have at least one thing like this, a something-beautiful we gave up as childhood eased into adulthood, something we never had to walk away from but we did anyway and we may not even know why. Maybe we loved theater, or riding our bike around town for no reason. Maybe we spent our most contented hours drawing with colored markers while listening to music, or just singing with friends on long road trips.

Whatever it is, I believe if more adults allowed themselves to revive the old loved activities and arts that, in a way, are still a part of them, and really enjoyed themselves in the doing, we would be a much happier society as a whole as well as on an individual level. Maybe I’m being too idealistic but I also believe that the children of today would see us, the regular people on the street, as their role models, potentially allowing the present rift between young and old to mend, to gradually transform into a common bond of fellowship around shared interests, creativity and joy.

If there were no obstacles, what art, sport etc would you like to take up again?


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One Minute

So often when I feel a poem trying to be written, I get very quiet and observe my surroundings. Then I begin writing what’s around me and see what emerges. I recommend it as a simple yet powerful writing practice. Here is what came through earlier this evening.

Downtown tower bells ring a five o’clock
going-home song of varied tones,
not just a mere five gongs, for all
the wearers of neckties and dress shirts,
black flats and sensible skirts.

The office workers are finally free.

A dog reaches his high-pitched bark
all the way to my café table
on the next block.
His call for attention is underlined
by the grey tones of rolling tires
moving past on all sides.

Everyone has a destination.

Three feet away a gathering of small talk
lifts and fades, rises again then ends
with a few chimes of laughter
a smiling silence
a ripple of half waves.

I write their story in the late afternoon.


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Missing My Mom


I just can’t sit around all afternoon waiting to cry (but I might anyway), waiting for the cold sunlit spaces to help me find a voice. I know what I would say. Our photographs are in the bedroom. I only need a few for the book cover. I dreamed again of how I’d help you heal and stay with us. Please stay longer, longer still, and then never go.

I know what I would say if tears could speak. You would have been 68 next Sunday and I’m working every day to make sure your gift is ready. You know what I am making. It is the collection of our stories. You’ve been silently helping me gather the words just right, but this minute, I’m quiet.

Life can be tended, kittens pet, litter cleaned, garbage taken out, laundry rotated, children kissed before I head into town to find the perfect place to sit and write, perfect for the spirit of this moment. Funny how one day’s writing space doesn’t fit the needs of tomorrow. I’m thinking about tomorrow and yesterday even as I listen to car doors shut and bits of conversation float past.

I’m thinking about how I sit alone so much more than I used to, as often as I did before the children arrived. I’m thinking how you would be sitting across from me today, now that the children are older. We’d eat soup, sip coffee and tea, eat cookies and there would almost certainly be a plan to discuss. There always was.


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Could be…

Could be the angels who sway tree branches,
reminding us we are together,
the ones we see and the hidden others.
The gift bearers, silent drifters,
anonymous assistance, miracle bringers,
inner stillness singers whispering peace,
the waiters for us to be quiet, to listen
with no words or intention,
an inner spiritual breeze.

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My Name Is

“My name is Heidi Beth. My favorite color is purple and I like green too. I like to sing ’cause it stirs my soul and it’s fun. I like to draw flowers and gentle designs with the thin felt tip pens my dad gave me four years ago. My hair is brown and curly. My eyes are green and I’m pretty short. This was all given to me. But I like to draw with colors and I try to be kind.

I learned how to waitress the day after I turned seventeen and I still do it. I wrote a story about a monster named “Hugo” when I was six. That’s “Huge O” I yelled at my dad when he read it wrong. I don’t know what it’s like to have brothers and sisters even though my parents wanted this for all of us. I’d sometimes curl up in my bedroom closet, try hard to figure out the beige telephone, and fall asleep mid-investigation, sometimes lonely, sometimes tired.

I like to climb trees, to get way up in the branches and look at the patterns in wood, watch the sky through the leaves and forget about the ground. Birds didn’t come to the trees when I was up in them. I won’t watch scary movies and I cry in all human directions. I like the soft sound of a pick pulling single strings of an acoustic guitar.

When I was little I thought there’d be these lines I’d cross when I belonged, grew up, succeeded…and now I see life as a dance, round and round to this beautiful music. I have to be quiet to hear it, and to feel the swan like motion. I’m hard on myself when I mess up, and I spend too much energy censoring myself according to what I think other people think of me. Always I look back and see that I only knew the skin of reality, even in my own motivations. I keep trying to learn and get more grown up. I like to take naps in the afternoon in winter. What’s your name?”

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A Gift

The grassy lawn, with her little uneven rises and tiny yellow wind-seeded flowers
beneath my feet, reminds my calves of being at an age of not knowing much more than to
look long at the small flowers growing everywhere over a wandering-way through an
everyday place more beautiful than the sidewalk.

The sun sliding in and out of leaf-swelled branches reminds my shoulders of being at an
age where I never thought to name the sway of my arms, the swing of my legs or the
barely audible music guiding my small body as I walked to the park.

I draw my being back into now, beneath century-old trees, my gaze hazing over these
traces of childhood memory. I close my eyes and listen to the longing songs of nearly-
dusk, the ones between birds and the ache accompanying the coming of darkness and the
quiet wait for morning I rarely don’t notice since my mom flew away.

I surrender my awareness to the remaining sunlight, the fresh summer leaves rustling
overhead dancing with an invisible breeze, and I am content… for the first time in days.
This contentment, this presence, it is not quite a habit but the obscuring film – protection
from hurt, a layer of worry, my eye on a different space in time when thus and so is some
better way (as adults so often do)… – yes, this film is lifting, leaving me free, and tender.

I didn’t mean to forget.

I didn’t mean to name everything.

I didn’t mean to hold on too tight.

I didn’t mean to sing less each day, to sigh more, to give away bits of wonder for shades
of grey flecked with plans of one-day-when.

Now here, beneath the gathering evening, alone on the uneven flower-gifted grass, I
remember again, there is a way back.

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Sandy & Alonzo Coleman

When I decided to begin a year of publicly sharing my gratitude for one person (or two people in this case) each day, you sprang to mind first, so I begin.

Thank you for giving me a light that has guided my path through the years, the difficult and confusing periods as well as stretches of peace and general happiness. Knowing there are people like you in the world and that I might one day get to be a light for someone else has, honestly, been my reason for getting up in the morning so many days. Not like I open my eyes and think, “Maybe I’ll meet someone just like my Baha’i school teachers back in the day!” and then throw off the covers. Rather it is that the enduring and very much alive memories I have of the years I spent at your outstanding school and the hours of hilarious lunch times, beautiful sing-a-longs, and recording sessions shared with both of you has been a backdrop of possibility and an experience of reality I have called on and been visited by while raising my own children, in challenging times, while telling stories in groups of friends, and when I am working with young people (adults too at times) hoping they know how much I value them as complete human beings full of beauty and enormous potential.

Thank you for giving me a lasting and priceless gift. Love.


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I open myself to write and a space
spreads out around my being.
It is large enough to turn
my sighs into a whisper and my thoughts
into a gentle rain landing on everything,
no center, nothing to hold onto.

I don’t mind, yet the practice of poetry has a life
in my finger tips, a music in my spirit.
Like breath. Like what lives in the silence
between heartbeats. This moment
in all its ordinariness – rain, a bit of flute music,
an early dinner on the stove top,
the roll of tires along wet ground
just outside an open window –

asks for me to notice and record,
to feel the soft tick of time press forward
and not move at all, this same stunning
moment that always simply is.
I haven’t a path, not just now.

I have only the rise and fall of a notion,
a shadow, a not-quite-traceable love
settling on my hands, my shoulders,
the lanky forms of my growing children.
For now, this has to be enough.

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Transported in Love

I always see her hands. They are slightly larger but otherwise just like the ones I am using to type this memory. She turns a page of her brown hardcover prayer book, preparing for her turn to pray. A cell phone is perched on one of our legs. We are at the rehab center in Lindenhurst IL, alone in the small second floor lounge. It is dark evening. Behind us, the boys carefully ignore a partially assembled puzzle a resident may be working on, scour hardwood shelves full of games for something entertaining enough to play, and whisper to each other.

I may go back to this time for less than a second, a flash, and then I return to the present before I realize I’ve gone anywhere, or I may, like I did today, linger beside my mom in her wheel chair or on the brown leather couch (she often moved during prayers in an effort to get comfortable in a body that was always in pain) as we share the dim light of two small lamps, and see her there holding her prayer book with such determination. By then, every action required effort. We were so quiet then, hopeful and sad, peaceful and present, and we were together.

My mom and I had been praying together with David and other friends and family, often with some of us on the phone, each night for months, beginning November 2012. We continued to pray nightly in this fashion until July 23rd 2013, the day she passed away. By the end only the slightest movements or change of breath let us know she was listening and praying silently beside us beside her.

We prayed in hospital rooms and hotel rooms, in her bedroom at the rental house on John St where the boys and I lived briefly in order to be near and help take care of her after neck surgery and from her living room in Urbana where she and I would share her small soft white chair (looking back, that was the sweetest as I could rest my head on her shoulder or the other way around), and from both rehab centers where she stayed following surgeries. Prayers for healing of every kind and for many love ones, prayers for unity, peace and Removers of Difficulties for friends in hard times were sent into the mysterious flow that is supplication to our Creator.

David and I still pray together nearly everyday. Our prayers are from this same book my mom held. Often, I am the one turning pages while David drives and as I do, out of all the hours and places my mom and I shared in such reverence, I am transported, mind and heart to that lamp-lit lounge in the rehab center where I see her hands shaking just slightly as she gets ready for her turn to speak, to carry on the melodious verses we’re sharing with and for our dear ones. It was then that I began to sense her strength of spirit.

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no better reason

a warm gratitude flows
through my body when I sing to myself
so softly in a crowd and begin to see
in the eyes of passersby
a beauty ever present
seldom loved without cause
loved just because we breathe
the same air
began in the same helpless
impressionable way
loved for the sake of beauty
for the cause of the ever-elusive
peace most of us yearn for

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