My body moves in water more like thick, embroidery floss through a needlepoint canvas than a dolphin crossing oceans. I am not a proficient swimmer but water feels familiar and lap swimming is as much a spiritual practice for me as exercise. Only after completing a restless hour swimming on Monday the 15th did I become aware that day, July 15th, marked three months since I took my first steps on the shores of Scotland. I couldn’t settle into the present moment of water flowing over my shoulders, spilling down my spine, and splashing behind my kicking feet, but I didn’t know why. Instead I was distracted by the pain in my left leg that lingers since I fell hiking over two weeks ago; frustrated I can’t walk this land and reacquaint myself with these trees and hills. Distracted by strands of past conversations that dropped into my head, following them into thickets of brambles that poked and scratched me and serve no purpose but to hurt. Back and forth I swam, trying to release the distractions.
My half-open eyes see a cathedral in the darkness of my bedroom before I realize I am home. I hear the first notes of birdsong as the light peaks over the horizon and I float with them across the ocean to another land I also call home. What was familiar seems out of place and old routines lie in a jumble on the floor. In my first week home I lost cash, my spare prescription glasses, and my patience while driving. One of the few things that feels grounding is returning to lap swimming. Somehow the fluidity of water settles me. Crossing the threshold home after Sojourning with Grief has brought me into an old place with new eyes. The familiar is now unfamiliar. I am disoriented.
Once, when I had a yard, I bought a packet of wildflower seeds, a mix where you scatter them and wait to see what arises from the earth. Poppies, coreopsis, wallflowers, alyssum, phlox, flax…whatever would take hold. And in my garden I had plants I set into the soil with specific intention. Roses, daffodils, lavender. This sojourn has been a scattering of seeds and in the center was the planting of one intention-to return some of my mother’s cremains to the land of her birth. Last week in the company of her two remaining cousins, I offered her back to the land. My mother-a beautiful English rose.
“What can you teach me?” I ask this question to the rocks and stones I meet on my sojourn. To hear even the faintest reply I must slow my inner clock to ancient time. To liminal time. For the souls that reside in the salt-and-pepper speckled gneiss, the chalkboard black slate, the meringue layers of limestone, and pigeon grays of common igneous hued surfaces I tread on, caress, sit and lean upon speak an unfamiliar language. I have felt an intimate connection with rock and stone during this sojourn. In the wild places, I place my hand against a rock face and wait. Sometimes the warmth of sun fills my palm, or the cool of shadow absorbs into my skin. Rough edges prod my fingertips to ask deeper questions. “What edges of yours need smoothing?” Or “Are those rough edges part of a wildness you need to keep?” Many of the rocks have facial features, as if they are trying to communicate in way we can understand if only we would stand still for a moment longer.
Connections. That is one theme that is emerging as day four comes to a close. Making them. Missing them. Connecting with others, self, ancients, ocean, rocks, trees, birds, sheep…the list is long. The more I slow, the more open I am to connecting to who or whatever is presented.
The long flight to Amsterdam was offset by periods sleep. Being able to recline almost to horizontal with a blanket and pillows allowed sprinkles of dreams to dot my inner landscape and I saw dragons flying alongside the plane, watching over us all. The reverberation of the Friday night blessing still lingered in my body and Loreena McKennitt’s song, Ancient Pines, echoed in the background. I was at peace. When awake, Jamie, the flight attendant, would offer a warm wash cloth, snack, or other kindness and I kept saying “thank you, thank you, thank you.”
The sojourn has officially begun…sweetly and with whimsy. And with yet a reminder to let go and hold things loosely. When I did my 24 hour pre-check in, my flight no longer existed! Calls to Alaska Airline (I was using miles and going through one of their partners-Icelandic Air) had them searching for answers. I must say I had the BEST customer service, but no answers, and only an old confirmation number and phone numbers to call. All roads finally led to Delta Airlines, where my flight had been rerouted to Amsterdam. Pre-check-in was not available and I would be leaving two and a half hours earlier, but other than that, no major issues. I would just have to check in the old fashioned way: at the airport counter.
Funny how Grief will turn our heads and hearts toward the past before we step into the unknown. Five years ago: my mother still living, and I, struggling with her fading. Five years ago: still married, the hard decision to divorce loitering in the shadows waiting for courage to arrive. Five years ago: mired in stress, I drew solace in my work as a hospice chaplain. Five years ago: the trees gathered my heart in, knowing I was a sojourner in spirit if not yet in body. Knew I would be returning over and over to them for guidance and healing.
“I am a becoming.” In philosophy “becoming” means the process of coming to be something or of passing into a state. That one sentence was all that sputtered from my pen the other night as I meditated in preparation for my eight-week sojourn home. I am a becoming. It didn’t make sense. But then much of what has been unfolding in my life the last six months has less to do with making sense and more about letting go. Less about analyzing loss and more about holding Grief’s hand and saying “yes” to the journey.
The last few weeks I’ve been scattered. My focus, my usual gift of staying on task, gone. Blogging at least once a month. Gone. Sitting and reading a book for more than five minutes. Gone. Thankfully being able to sink into music-still here. To find solace in walking and swimming-still here. See, this Friday is the first anniversary of my mother’s death—her “deathiversary.” I know it’s coming. I’ve even planned a ritual for the day. But still the scattering of my thoughts like forest fire ash on wind-soaked days has caught me off guard. I’ve given up on most of my “to do” list, choosing instead to tumble into this day, this week, this moment.