Thursday, January 29, 2009

Monsters Inc.

I can remember being a young girl fraught with anxiety over monsters that lurked in my closet. Once the lights went out, my wildly vivid imagination transformed plaid dresses into horrid gremlins with gnashing teeth, and shadows incarnated on the walls as the room closed in around me.

All I needed to do in order to escape the wraith assailants was to close my eyes. But I could not. I felt compelled to look into the darkness as I awaited my dreaded fate.  Would the monster devour me, limb by limb? Would he carry me off to the netherworld?  What would become of me? 

The staring into the darkness did not end in childhood. Rather, this tendency has persisted throughout my life.  But with age, mostly, comes wisdom. I have mostly learned to face my Monsters; to confront those places that scare me. Mostly.  I still stare into the darkness, sometimes paralyzed with fear and anxiety.  

But I've learned that by confronting the Monster-of-the-Month, he's not so scary after all. In fact, when I turn on the light and invite him to sit on my bed and have a chat, he looks and feels very different than he did in the dark. He's softer, gentler, and he doesn't devour me. In fact, sometimes, he teaches me. Oh, it might be a painful process: turning on the light- taking those intrepid steps toward the switch- may be, at times, terrifying.  It seems, though, better in the end to become familiar with him rather than to remain unenlightened.  

The places that scare me the most are also the places of often unexplored territory, unmet potential.  I try to remember that a Warrior opens herself (or himself) to experiences of the unfamiliar. A true Warrior is willing to take the risks necessary to grow. It is in those places, where the Monsters have taken residence, where we can ultimately discover unbreakable truths. Sister Teresa of Avila calls these the "treasures that lie within". 

So, in the end, the Monsters that the Warriors befriend may hold the key to our contentment. How's that for antic (Pixar) irony?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


My youngest, Joshua, hiking Tonto National Forest with me in September, 2008

Peace is not something you can force on anything or anyone... much less upon one's own mind. It is like trying to quiet the ocean by pressing upon the waves. Sanity lies in somehow opening to the chaos, allowing anxiety, moving deeply into the tumult, diving into the waves, where underneath, within, peace simply is.

— Gerald May

I'm reading May's book "Wisdom of the Wilderness" (after already reading his version of Dark Night of the Soul, an iteration of St. John of the Cross), and I'm loving this book.  

I sought after the wilderness, Mother Nature, after Chey's death. I yearned to be close to the earth. I went on long hikes in the red rocks of Sedona; I walked along Christopher Creek in Payson; I sat atop big rocks, where many feet caressed the ground in search of truth and contemplation. Even to this day, a deep sense of spirituality calls to me from the wild, and I often find respite there.  I remember studying the Bible as a child and reading about how Jesus frequently retreated solitarily into the wilderness.  I understood why he did so. I have always felt closer to God- to the Universe- to Creation- to all that is and all that ever was when I was in communion with Mother Nature. May's writing feels much like Edward Abbey or Wendell Berry, two of my favorites.

But May does something special with nature: May uses the wilderness as a means to understand our inner selves as well. He says that the inner wilderness "is the untamed truth of who you really are."

Beautiful. Profound.  He talks about using the wilderness as a catalyst, both the literal and the mythical, to confront fears; an exhortation toward growth. He reminds us to stay awake and present in each moment, even through the suffering that life brings.  

Ultimately, he says, time within the wilderness brings us to a place within ourselves of gratitude and more importantly a place of peace. 

May died of terminal cancer in 2005, after completing this beautiful book.

Monday, January 12, 2009


Between grief and nothing, I will take grief.
—Faulkner, The Wild Palms

I remember in profoundly painful detail the reactions of others during the few months after Chey's death.


"Are you still feeling so sad?"

"Why don't you try having another baby?"

"You need to trust in God's will."

"She wouldn't want you to be so sad."

"All things happen for a reason."

"At least it wasn't one of your older children."

"You should be over it by now."


"Oh, really?" I thought to myself with outraged skepticism. "How could I possibly be over it? Over what precisely? The death of a child? And who set the time limits on my grief? And who says what losses are harder than others? In what book does it outline the commensurate nature of grief's reactions? And, oh, have you spoken to God lately about His will? How can I ever be over it?"

Those words, as if spoken into a deep, dark cave, reverberated through my mind, filling me with self-doubt, despair, and questioning.  Then, I had an epiphanic moment, and I wrote these words in my journal:

"Sometimes just being is the only way that I can be at all."

Sometimes, in other words, being in grief or being in despair, or being sad, or being desperate, or being encased in a womb of pain was the only way I could continue to exist. If that moment of being were somehow removed or rejected or repressed or relinquished, then I would most certainly have ceased to exist. 

I would have become my own emptiness. Nothing. Utter nothingness.

This prospect was the only thing more frightening to me than my grief.

So, instead, just being became my savior.  And now, almost 15 years later, I'm just becoming.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Weeping for Victoria

I manage about 200 to 250 emails a day, many of which are from grieving families around the world. The resonance of their stories coalesces during many times of my life, their valencies a buoy during my own times of existential crisis. 

So I weep. I weep often doing the work that I do. This morning was no exception:

Dear Dr. Cacciatore,

My name is Natalie Anderson. I am writing to express my deepest gratitude for the work that you do on behalf of stillborn children, and their families. In 1996, my first child was stillborn. My life was forever changed.

Yesterday, I wrote about and linked to your foundation on my
blog. I had many people commenting that I should pass along, to you, what I wrote. I have pasted it below. I am certain my writing is not politically correct enough for many people. I wish I could apologize, but really I am not sorry for the things I wrote.

Thank you again most sincerely for your tireless efforts... You(r work has) touched more lives than you can imagine.

Natalie Anderson
Ellicott City, Maryland

Victoria is her daughter, her handsake; and she is Victoria's mother. No political agenda, no imposed labels, no assumptions, and no force on earth- not even Death- can change that.

Thank you, Natalie, for sharing Victoria's precious hands with us all.  

And this morning, I wept for Victoria.


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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