Long Line of Love …

I come from a long line of pain
My family suffered greatly for my gain
And I think a lot about
How my daddy died
So I would not live without

And his heart lives in my song …”
Amos Lee

I love this song, and feel the long line of love, in Amos’ family and in my own, whenever I hear him sing it.  It reminds me not of my father, but of my grandfather, who told me often that, “too many folks done suffered so you don’t have to.”

In hindsight, I wish I’d tattooed that on my arm, in bold text, as a small child.  I might have benefited greatly from seeing those words daily.

If you’ve been reading my sporadic written moments, you’ve seen a lot of words about change & lessons in enough-ness …well, I suppose I have gotten exactly what I asked for …

In this moment, so much around me and within me is changing.  It’s beautiful in ways that I’ll likely find words for shortly, but that at the moment truly seem to be escaping me.

Perhaps because of all the change, perhaps because I’ve been so inspired by the outrageously beautiful writing of my friends, Josslyn and Maiga …or maybe because I didn’t truly commemorate Dia de los Muertos for what may be the first time in my life, I have been thinking about my grandparents quite a bit over the last few months.

My grandmother, who we affectionately called MaPooley (I have no idea where she got the nickname, or what it means. Perhaps I’ll ask my mother), was my entire world as a child.  She was warm, firm, stubborn as all get-out, and she loved me with a fierceness that could have easily crumbled mountains.  I speak about her often because her phrases, her language, and her love and affection live through me.

However, I realized recently that I speak much less about my grandfather.  Daddy Hubert was a big, powerful man.  When I was a child, I believed he was at least 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide …so he was probably about 6’4” and 2’ wide.  He had a voice as deep as the bottom of the sea, and when he spoke, there was no question that he meant exactly what he said.

He was my introduction to the world of being protected and loved by men. His love for me was so powerful, armies might have cowered, rather than deal with his wrath.

The two memories that have been playing like 8 mm films through my head lately are:

Bob Hodge lived three doors down from my grandparents’ home in Oneonta, Alabama (a suburb of Birmingham).  Bob Hodge had a dog who took great joy in terrorizing me every chance he got.  He knew I was afraid of him, and he would sneak up on me while I was playing happily in the backyard.  One afternoon, I was so lost in my play world (I was maybe 8-years-old) that I didn’t see Bob Hodges’ dog until he was almost upon me.  I ran with all my power toward the house, screaming like the devil himself was upon me.  In the course of my hysteria, I fell and badly bruised/scraped my arms and legs.  At that point, MaPooley came out and shooed the dog away.  Seconds later, Daddy Hubert came barreling down the stairs. He picked the dog up by his scruff and marched toward Bob Hodges’ house.  Fascinated at how tiny the dog looked in my grandfather’s hands …and by how unafraid Daddy Hubert was of that monstrous terrorizing dog, I got up, crying, bruised and bleeding, and followed my grandfather.

The exchange went something like this:

Daddy Hubert called out, “Bob Hodge,” in his booming voice.
Bob Hodge replied, “Yessir,” in a surprised tone.
Daddy Hubert said, “Come get your dog.”
When Mr. Hodge emerged from his home, my grandfather said, “I’m gon’ say this one time.  If your dog comes after my grandbaby one more time, we ain’t gon’ have no more words, ya hear?  I’m gon’ kill him just as sure as I’m standing here holding him right now.  Ya hear?”
Before Bob Hodge could answer, I poked my head out from behind Daddy Hubert and brazenly said, “Yeah!”
Neither man cracked a smile.  Bob Hodge reached for his dog.  Daddy Hubert handed the dog back to him.  Bob Hodge assured him he wouldn’t “never have no more problems” with his dog.  My grandfather grunted and said, “You enjoy your Sat’day afternoon, now.”  Then he took my hand and we walked away.

Bob Hodges’ dog never bothered me again.

What’s more, I understood that there was a man in the world who would do anything to protect me.  It changed the way I walked in the world.

Because memories are never linear, the other memory occurred a couple of years earlier:

I was out on one of my many excursions with my grandfather, probably in a hardware store or some such place.  We were standing in line with our purchases when someone walked up to us.  He asked my grandfather about me, “Is this Maureen’s child?”

“Sho nuff is,” Daddy Hubert replied.

“Is you raising her?” the man asked.  I’ll call him Clyde because I don’t remember his name.

“You raise chickens, Clyde.” Daddy Hubert replied, “This here my grandbaby, and we is rearing her, just like her mama and a whole tribe a folks out there in California who is also rearing her to be exactly who she is, exactly how she wants to be.  Ain’t nobody raising her to be just like all the other chickens in the yard.”

I had no idea what my grandfather was talking about at the time, but, like the bold-ass crazy rebel child I was, I stood proudly behind his left knee, poked my head out and said, “Yeah!!” like I meant it.

The man smiled and said, “I guess that’s the right thing to do …too many chillrun is actin’ like chickens anyway, ain’t they?”

This got a loud “Sho nuff,” from many people in the line.

I remember writing the episode down in my little yellow diary (a gift from my grandfather) and vowing to figure out what he meant.

By the time I got back to Alabama the next summer, I felt bold enough to ask him.  He laughed at my memory of the occasion (I don’t believe I told him that I’d actually written it down) and explained, “Baby, too many people gonna want you to be somebody else.  Them’s the ones trying to raise you …raise you up into something you ain’t.  I just want you to know that just being yourself is always enough, that we gone rear you up right – to think for yourself.  You decide what is right for you, you decide who and how you wants to be.  That ain’t nobody’s choice but yours.  Them people ‘round you in California, teaching you about different countries and languages and religions and thangs, those the people rearin’ you up right so you know enough to decide who you want to be.”

Just like that, my little 7-year-old mind was blown.  Perhaps I became more rebellious (sorry mom), perhaps I became more curious, more interested in the world than I already was, more intrigued by the “others” around me.  Perhaps I simply came to understand the reality of my life – the truth that I am part of a whole that includes the entirety of the planet (Universe!) and every single being/thing in and on it.

Sadly, Daddy Hubert died when I was 10.  Even sadder still, I let too many of his words slide into the background of my life.

I’m grateful to have come full circle, to a place where I know fully what he always knew – that I am, that we all are, enough exactly as we are.

And his heart lives in my song,” …the song of my heart, the song of each footstep I take remembering that I can only be me.  That is the song of love I sing today.

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Meetings along the Edge

I’ve seen Ravi Shankar perform so often in my life that I took for granted that he’d always be somewhere, close by, playing his sitar with a sweet smile on his face.

The last time I had the pleasure of hearing his genius was a total “fluke” (there’s no such thing, but the word works).  I’d just started working in Delhi, India, and was en-route to view a site for a work retreat when I saw a massive poster announcing that Ravi and Anoushka Shankar would be offering a free performance at a park in Delhi the next evening.  I think the rickshaw driver thought I was having a stroke, because I nearly fell out of the rickshaw to make sure I was reading it right.

“Ravi Shankar! Here! With Anoushka! Wow!!!! A free show!!!! Double Wow!!!!!”  How it had never occurred to me that he might perform in India is another story …London, Germany, San Francisco, Argentina, New York, Mexico, San Diego, Paris, Los Angeles, of course …I even heard tell that I’d just missed him during one of my trips to Morocco back in the late ‘80’s.  Like me, Ravi was worldwide, and somehow I never expected that he’d be performing in the city I was living in (except for San Diego, of course, because he lived close by in Encinitas) …never mind that the city happened to be in the country in which he was born and reared.

He has a piece called, “Meetings along the Edge.”  The first time I heard the title, I thought, ‘It seems that I’m always meeting Ravi Shankar, and his amazing music, when I’m on the edge of some journey …or just before I step off the edge into another journey.’ I loved the title almost as much as I love the song.

Anoushka was a special treat for me.  I’d just seen her in Los Angeles a week or so before I’d left for India.  She was the headliner of an incredible night of Indian music at the Hollywood Bowl.  I had a blast dancing around with my friend Sheila, and then sat through the outrageously beautiful music Anoushka and her band wove around us.  I could feel her father’s smile in every note.

So, I wrote down the information and made my plan.  The next night, bundled against the cold, I went out, armed with the address and a deep desire to go to that transcendent place Ravi’s live music always takes me to.  After a 45-minute rickshaw ride to some unknown (to me) spot in Delhi, I hopped out and walked into this spectacular park, filled – like many of the parks in Delhi – with the ruins of a lost age.  It wasn’t long before I found it – the makeshift stage with cloth and flowers overhead, the enraptured fans standing, sitting on chairs, or cross-legged in the grass. I felt like I’d arrived – not in a park in a strange city, but at a familiar rest stop filled with love and warmth.

I was in Ravi Shankar’s presence.  All was totally right with the world.

Ravi & Anoushka Shankar (8)

Ravi & Anoushka Shankar (7)

This one is blurry because I laughed when he laughed.

This one is blurry because I laughed when he laughed.

 

I have no idea how long the concert lasted …I believe I was home shortly after midnight.  I remember floating back toward the street, and then sharing a rickshaw with a sweet young American who was in Delhi volunteering.  I can’t tell you what we talked about, although I remember giving him my card and offering to interview him for a volunteer post with the non-profit I worked with.  Mostly I remember thinking that Delhi couldn’t be so bad if Ravi and Anoushka could see fit to bless it with their sweet music.

As bad as Delhi got for me in the months that followed, Ravi continued to help me to see that there is light there.  When I found myself searching for forgiveness in Delhi, I found that it was Ravi’s sitar I heard in my ear.  When I found myself amazed/horrified by the sacred and profane there, it was always Ravi’s smile I saw with my mind’s eye.

Just a few days ago, I had the thought that music is coming back into my life.  Actually, it was a feeling, more than a thought.  I could feel music calling me.  I began to imagine great concerts.  DMB is coming to Philly soon …I thought, “Cool, I’ll go see Dave, then it won’t be long before Ravi’s in town and, well, I’ll have to go see him, ‘cause that’s just how it is.”

Yesterday, I awoke to find that Ravi won’t be rolling through town again anytime soon.

I’m sad to know that I’ll only hear Ravi on my music machines and see him in my mind’s eye (or on videos …whatever).  I am elated because I have so many amazing memories of the seeing great genius Ravi Shankar perform.  I am grateful to/for his Anoushka (he called her that at the Delhi show, “My Anoushka,” with a sweet smile on his face) for learning from him …for all the beauty she brings to the sitar, for all the beauty the sitar brings through her.

I have this great fiction playing in my head – it involves my grandparents, Ravi Shankar and three sitars.  They all have sweet smiles on their faces as they make the most beautiful music ever played … merriment abounds.

I suppose that’s how I saw the great Ravi Shankar …as a grandparent of sorts …one I was graced to follow all over the world.  One whose joy shone through in every note he played.  One who showed me more means of transcendence and transformation than any yoga class I’ve ever attended.

While I will certainly miss his presence in the outside world, I am overwhelmingly grateful to carry Ravi Shankar in my heart.

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Moments …

15 August 2012

This morning, for reasons that can’t be explained logically, I decided that even though I had overslept my alarm and missed the 8 a.m. class, and was “supposed” to start baking for this weekend’s beach trip at 9:30 a.m. so that I could get here “on time” (whatever that means), I really “needed” yoga.

I jumped into yoga clothes, kissed my gorgeous sleeping Bryan and ran out the door.  I caught the last train possible and made it to the 9:30 class at 9:29 (thanks so much to all the lovely people who made space for me on the “fat” side of the asana room).

I was in such a rush to get my mat down & sit with my eyes closed that I missed the harmonium.  When Beth started playing it, I was taken by surprise …and suddenly, I felt myself traveling.  I was in a different room …in a different time.

****

I had the flu …a horrific case, in fact.  I was curled up on the couch watching TV with Brandon and Gabriel (they were teenagers then …2005, maybe) when my phone rang.  It was this musician dude, Shannon.  I knew him peripherally – he’d drummed at some of the classes I’d taught/attended.  I definitely didn’t think he had my phone number, but I didn’t trip.  I asked, “What’s up, dude?”

He said something like, “I hear you can introduce me to Alice Coltrane.”

I laughed and asked, “Do you now?” I explained that I’d been to her ashram a couple of times and had experienced the bounty of her blessing, and yeah I could probably find my way back to the ashram, but that I certainly didn’t know her.

He said something like, “I’ll take it.”

I told him I’d ring him as soon as I was over the icky-yucky flu I was bent under and that we’d make an adventure of finding Alice Coltrane.

I’m sure a couple of weeks passed before we went wandering around Malibu in search of Turiya’s (Mrs. Coltrane’s spirit name …actually Turiyasangitananda) ashram.  We had an amazing day – filled with the wonder of wandering around in Califa’s sacred hills and the joy of a new friendship – but we never found the ashram …that day.

I did a tiny bit of research, found an address and we headed back up there the next Sunday.

I’d been in a gazillion ashrams at that point in my life, and felt I knew the drill. However, something about this day felt different.  Something about that ashram felt different.  Something about me in that ashram felt different.

I sat, chanting the chants easily, fully engrossed in the connected feeling of the music and the harmonium, fully engulfed by the love I felt coming off the woman playing the harmonium.  I was moved to tears by her playing. I kept feeling as if I’d arrived somewhere, but it took a while for me to understand that the “somewhere” I felt I was arriving into was this moment.  I felt no rush to be somewhere else, no desire to think about anything else, no need to do something else.

I was right there, fully invested in my body, my voice, my breath (as Beth said today, “Singing is breathing”), my being in that space, one with all of the voices, one with the harmonium, one with everything.

It felt so easy.  I wonder now how I could ever have left that space (literally and figuratively).

When it was over, Turiya rose and left the room. Once she departed, others stood and began to make their way out of the room.  It took me a while to understand that I should move with them. Soon, I saw beautiful familiar faces and began to socialize, but that feeling …that “right now” feeling remained.

I mentioned to one of the beautiful familiar faces that my friend wanted an audience with Turiya, and within moments we were there, sitting in a room with her.  I sat in a chair off to the side while she spoke to Shannon, and honestly, though I was sitting right there, I have no memory of what they spoke about.  What is deep in my re-memory is that I wondered if my feet would ever touch the ground again.

Of course, true to my the-world-is-my-temple nature, it never occurred to me that I could simply go back there every Sunday.  It never once popped into my twisted mind that I could, perhaps, devote myself to Turiya’s ashram on a full-time basis (as many of the beautiful familiar faces had).  That’s simply not how I roll.

When Mrs. Coltrane finished speaking with Shannon, she called me to the chair he’d been occupying.  I was surprised, but found myself unwilling/unable to say, “No thanks.”  I sat before her and felt myself transformed.  I felt her giving audience to my truth – a truth I didn’t know existed in me.  We talked for what may have been an age …or perhaps it was only one moment.

Same same.

***

The music stopped with the vibration of our collective “Om!” I opened my eyes …eyes filled with happy re-memory tears, and I was back in the asana room at Yogawood, with a different beautiful familiar face smiling at me from across the room.  Within moments, there was Maiga’s delicious laugh, throughout there was Beth’s beautiful voice, “inhale, exhale.” I felt my body moving, breathing, freeing itself from everything that wasn’t “right now” for what may have been an age …or perhaps it was only a moment.

Same same.

As the class ended on the sound of a harmonium-infused Om, I opened my eyes and understood completely why I had ditched all of my plans to rush to yoga (what’s that saying, “Woman plans and the Everything/Nothing laughs”).

I needed to be in this moment, this moment I take for granted so often.  I was futuring about this weekend here at the beach (what Jerseyians call “the Shore”), futuring about next week & the week after that.  It felt like an out-of-body experience to be so far out into some perceived future that has no basis in my right now truth.

It felt really good to come back/feels really good to be back.  To see that it is all wonderful exactly as it is now.

Now.
Now.
Now.

As I pulled up to this beautiful ocean home in Avalon (and yes, Bryan Ferry sings that word in my head every single time I think it), I could only smile at the beauty of all of the moments that have made up my life.  I took a moment, looking out at Mãe Yemanja (the ocean) to thank them all …the moments I remember clearly and those that have faded away.  I took a moment to be thankful for now.

Axé.

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Natalia Michaella

27 August 2012

Today marks the 2nd anniversary of the day I delivered my 3rd child, our daughter.  Her full name is Natalia Michaella Woods-Quigley, but we mostly call her Natalie.

She died in my womb sometime during the early morning of 26 August 2010.  I was 34 weeks (8 ½ months) pregnant.  Because 26 August was the last day she was alive, it is ingrained in my mind as her celebration day, even though she wasn’t stillborn until the next evening.

I’ve always thought of birthdays as the most important day to celebrate.  I feel it is important to celebrate not only the fact that one was born on that day, but the amazing blessing of completing a year of life.  I remember being beyond exhausted after birthday celebrations for Gabriel and Brandon (one year, we took 40+ kids to see “Batman” (with Michael Keaton) because it debuted on Gabriel’s birthday.  Later that year, we threw a big “Where the Wild Things Are” party for Brandon …complete with a “Max” costume for Brandon and life-sized Wild Things …again, 40+kids) …because I felt it was important for them to understand how important they are to me.

I also remember that I’d get sick around my birthday every year as a child because I felt such pressure …a day dedicated to celebrating me.  “Wow!” I remember thinking, “I’m being celebrated.” It felt daunting.

As I write this, I understand why I’ve been so panicked celebrating our Natalie.  It’s a way for me to honor her importance in my life …in our lives.

It’s my way to say that my daughter matters – even if she was stillborn.

My mind plays with those words …still born.  Sometimes I hate them with everything I am, sometimes they reflect an accuracy that humbles me. Still born. Born still. Still, born.

So, I freaked out yesterday when we weren’t celebrating Natalia in a big way.  I wanted to do everything she enjoyed in her short time with us – in me.  I wanted to eat all of her favorite foods in one day {omitting completely that actually doing that would have had me gaining 10 lbs …she had a rich palette, our Natalie}.  I wanted to sing along to all of her favorite music, I wanted to tell every story I had about what it was to carry her in my womb – from the horrible projectile vomiting of morning sickness to the joyous way she danced inside me.

I wanted monuments erected …helicopters flying by with her name in huge pink letters on a banner trailing behind …I wanted a huge party in her honor.  I want the world to know she lived …she lived in me and therefore she is important.  She healed so many in a very short time.  She was strong – her long legs were all muscle and she kicked with all her might.  She was musical – surprising her mother and perfect strangers alike with her ability to tap in rhythm with music.

I want the world to know all about my Natalia, to celebrate her …in the same way that I know the world (or at least, their worlds) celebrate my Gabriel and my Brandon.

I know that my children are my greatest gifts to the world and feel that, as such, they are to be celebrated in every second of their existence.

To that end, Natalia is no different than Gabriel and Brandon. She is my child.

Yet, the reality is that there is a difference.  Natalia is not here – sadly, there is no 2-year-old in our home, going through the joyful-terribleness of being two.  There is no child to celebrate.

But, I’m done mourning her …and I don’t want to simply “forget” her or “not-mention-her” the way the rest of the world does …she is not “taboo”, she is my child.  So what do I do now?

There is no rulebook for this.  There are no guidelines on societal acceptable ways to celebrate the dead.  There is a ridiculous societal-fucking-joke of an idea that I’ll “get over it” and “move on”, “let go” or “move past this” …Whoever came up with that idea was a fuckin’ robot.  Once you have loved, you never stop loving …we – in our own time and in our own ways – learn to keep living without the person we love …and perhaps, because we’re told that we “should”*, we bury our feelings and call it “moving on” …

Here’s my reality …I’ve never stopped missing my grandmother.  I accept that she is dead, and my life continues (and is well-lived) without her physical presence.  I no longer mourn her passing.  However, if she knocked on my front door right now, I’d hug her so hard, I’d take her breath away …and, every day, in some way, through my existence, I celebrate her life – I celebrate the love she gave me.

The same is true – but bigger – with my daughter.  To those in my world who keep wondering when I’m going to get over her death, the answer is never.  Though I may not say the words to anyone (except my amazing baby-loss friends and a few select friends who I talk to about everything), I will always celebrate her …my life is a celebration of the fact that she lived and that her life was important to Bryan and me.  And, while Bryan has a different take on celebrating birthdays …on celebrating in general, I know that, in his own way, he never forgets our baby-girl.

I am grateful – beyond my capacity to express with words – to and for those people in my life who graciously allow me to speak freely about Natalia in conversations.  Know that you are rare and beautiful and that I never take y’all for granted.

I just looked up and saw a ladybug dancing on my ceiling …I’m choosing to see that as a sign …life lives on.

I wish you all love, light, joy and peace …and send hugs and love.

Erica

*I’ve been saying for months now that if I could create my own bumper sticker, it would say, “FUCK Should” … it’s one of those words I’d eliminate from language if I could …like “normal” …but that’s a different tangent for a different day.

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Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes …

20 August 2012

…sing it like David Bowie …

“So I turned myself to face me
but I’ve never caught a glimpse
of how the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes …
“Turn and face the strain
Ch-ch-changes …”

Hello loved ones,

Let’s see …when last I wrote, I was diving into Surrender, Balance & Change …

Over the last couple of months (or has it been several months?), I’ve come face-to-face with the one thing I’ve fought my entire life …that ugly-four-letter-word I’ve been running from for far too long …acceptance.  I’ve made a career of struggling – resisting ease in search of something noble (or at least my twisted mind told me it was noble …or some shit like that).

Why?  It’s simple really …I’ve never seen myself as enough – even when others told me I was, I’d beat myself up (in my head) and struggle as hard as I could when, all the while, ease was there with open arms saying, “Accept me.”

The problem was, ease looked way to easy {pun definitely intended}.

With that, I am also looking deeply at the way I deal with myself.  If someone who claims to love me spoke to me, or treated me with the disdain I (more often than not) shower myself with, we most certainly would not hang out.  I can be incredibly mean to myself – brutal in a way that I would never wish on a proverbial worst enemy.  It stems from the same place – the “not enough” place that I know has been part of my healing for years.  What’s different is that now I’m exhausted by it …it has become futile to continue to resist acceptance and self-love.  I’m seeing the wisdom in accepting that I am worthy of the same level of love I give to the world …and I love the world in a big way.

Part of acceptance is self-love …part of self-love is acceptance.

Acceptance means (for me) seeing that my life, in this moment, is really good …and that many of my “problems” are fiction I’ve manufactured in my head based on past experiences or some crazy ideas that I thought up and then ran with – in my head and/or in the world.

Acceptance also means changing the dialogue I have with myself and others.  It means changing at the ways I describe myself to others (stupid, dumb, wrong), checking myself when I start to apologize for being me …looking at what, exactly, I’m sorry about before I say those words I say way too often.  It means changing the inner dialogue from “What an idiot you are!” to “Hmm, that was interesting,” …or some such statement.  It means stopping when I’m in pain, instead of “pushing through it,” and being gentle and loving to myself in every moment – not solely in those moments when I feel good about myself.

It seems that my subconscious has been trying to help me with acceptance for months (well really years, but we won’t go back quite that far) … A few months ago, I had a disturbing dream. In it, two of my dearest peeps came to visit from LA. I was so excited to see them that I ran outside to hug them.  When I got outside, they whistled and 4 huge dogs came running, “Get her!” they yelled simultaneously.  The dogs circled & growled, but did not attack.

“Why are you doing this?” I asked, “You’re two of my best friends …for years.” I said with tears in my eyes.

“Because you’ve changed!” They yelled at me, “And we want you to change back!”

“Change BACK!!!!” They yelled, chanting it like a mantra.

I woke up crying.  I went about my business that morning, but couldn’t shake the disturbing feeling of the dream.  I kept thinking, “Of course I’m changing …I’m always changing – everyone is, whether they like it or not.”

Because my life truly is infinite blessings, my beautiful-sister-soul, Courtney, called me that afternoon.  I told her of the dream and we had a long, delicious conversation about “Unbridgeable Gaps,” or rather, those who take the entire journey with us and those who ride along for only a part of it.

As always with Courtney, I felt healed after our conversation.  The uncomfortable feeling left by the dream was completely erased with her loving voice.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I dreamt that I was hanging out with Brandon.  We went to the Burger King in Westwood (which, I’m told, might not exist anymore…as such is LA).  I got a fish sandwich, onion rings and a chocolate shake (a total Erica meal).  He got a burger, no mayo, no tomato, fries and a sprite.  We laughed and talked …it was a good visit.  After our meal, we walked back to the car, a convertible.  There was a very dirty, very smelly, incredibly abrasive man in the car.  He insisted that we take him home …demanded, saying it was my job to take care of him, my job to listen to/respond to his every demand.  We asked him to get out of the car.  He wouldn’t.  Brandon threatened physical violence, but the man wouldn’t budge.  So, I hopped in to the driver’s seat and started driving.  We got to Veteran and Santa Monica Blvd. and dropped him off, telling him this was as far as we could take him.

We went “home” (a bizarre hybrid of the apartment I grew up in in Hollywood, the apartment I raised the boys in in West LA, and my current home in NJ).  We were waiting for Gabriel to come home, I was enjoying the heat (dry heat is a delicious thing I never truly appreciated until this icky-sticky humid summer in NJ), when suddenly, there at our front door, was the same dirty man.

“I am your responsibility,” he growled to me, “and I’m not going away until you deal with me!”

I woke myself (and Bryan) yelling, “Get out! Go away!”

It only took me a few seconds to realize that this man was me – all the many things I’m afraid to deal with within myself.

He represents all the things about myself I am ashamed of/scared of/intimidated by/unwilling to heal …what some might call my “shadow self.”

As I wrote about this dream in my journal later that day, it occurred to me that the other dream, the dream with the two LA friends and the dogs, was also about my shadow self.

No one is more afraid of the ways that I am changing than I am.

Fortunately, as always, I am surrounded on all sides with the most incredible, supportive people on the planet.  AND!!!! Everywhere I turn, whether it’s to my incredible yoga community, or to my amazing friends from the baby-loss group here in South Jersey, or to amazing friends in Los Angeles, or to my beloved Bryan, I am reminded that I am enough, just as I am – however I am, in every moment.

Everyone else seems to know that …now I’m starting to accept that again.

I say again because, I remember a time when all this acceptance shit came easy …and I remember other times when it didn’t.  As always, this is just a part of the process – I mean, hell, I signed on to be a human being …I’ve been changing every day since the day I was conceived, and yet, at my core – in the essence of me – I am the same.

So, I’m getting accepting …I’m getting present.  I’m remembering what it means to be Erica – but not the Erica of three years ago or of 15 years ago, or even the Erica of last week.

I’m getting accepting of the balance necessary to surrender to the every-moment-change of being Erica now.

& like Prince said, “I think I wanna dance …” {insert my joyous laugh here}

I wish you all love, peace and joy, and send loving hugs your way,

Erica

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Balance, Surrender, Change & Himalayas

21 March 2012

1:17 pm

 “Balance!
Balance!
Noooo Balance!!”
Brandon Woods, circa early 1990 (he was 18-months-old)

“…I will be changing every day forever and ever, mama.  You need to get OK with that.”
Gabriel Woods, circa mid 1992 (he was 6-years-old)

“Be responsible, respectable
stable but gullible
Concerned and caring
help the helpless
but always remain ultimately selfish
Get the balance right”
Depeche Mode, circa early 1983

I remember taking such offense to that last statement, back at the wise old age of 14.  “Remain selfish”, I remember thinking Martin Gore must be the biggest asshole EVER to write something like that.  Of course, I still loved the song, and the rest of the lyrics, immensely.

What a difference almost 30 years can make …

I heard that song the other day and thought, “This twisty-turny-crazy journey I keep calling life might have been so much simpler if I’d only taken Martin Gore’s advice back in the ‘80’s.”

I no longer take offense to the reality of being selfish. In fact, I embrace it because I know that unless I’m fully engaged in taking the best care of me that I can, I have no room or energy to be concerned, caring, loving, and helpful to/for anyone else.

As I awaken into the love-filled deliciousness that is my life, I am embracing the need to take care of myself …and seeing how that is one of the first steps along the path of knowing and loving who I am now, and in loving myself through every moment of life’s transitions. I’m looking at all of the ways I don’t take care of myself …and of all of the ramifications that stem from my choices.  It feels like a welcome exhale.

On Wednesday morning, when Erik (one of my super cool yoga teachers) suggested we set an intention for our practice, I felt my being say, “Surrender.  I intend to surrender.”

It was only in that moment that I realized I’d been struggling with, and holding on to, so many things that no longer serve me.  Like my favorite quote from Anais Nin, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom,” I have been so consumed with curling myself up tight, I hadn’t realized how deeply I was hurting myself for no good reason … “Surrender,” my body said, “please.”

The exhale that came from my body as I agreed to Surrender felt painful, yet necessary.  There was/is definitely part of me that doesn’t want to let go, that doesn’t want to be free of the struggle, that isn’t interested in changing …

At that moment, as I realized how deeply invested I am in the struggle (which exists only in my head), I saw my little boy (way back when he was a little boy instead of a 6’ 2” grown-man) on the day he understood the word “balance.”  Brandon wandered around the house setting things down, pointing and saying, “Balance!” with the great excitement of an 18-month-old.  Then he’d move those same items to the edge and watch them fall, saying with great relish, “Noooooo Balance!!!”

Fortunately, he didn’t break anything while he taught and learned a lesson in balance.

One afternoon a couple of very short years later, when Gabriel was 6-years-old (he’ll be 26 in a couple of months …when did that happen), he made a declaration about not liking his shoes.  I said, “We just bought those shoes …you picked them …you liked them. What’s changed, Gabriel?”

He looked me in the eyes very deeply and replied, “I’ve changed, and I will be changing every day forever and ever, mama.  You need to get OK with that.”

Before I could think to process his words, his little brother piped in, “Me too, mama!”

I wonder if I was that comfortable with, and surrendered to, every-moment-change when I was a small child.

I wonder if I can find a way to be that comfortable with/surrendered to every-moment-change now.  There is so much involved in balancing, surrendering, changing …I could write tomes about the process and all its ease and challenges, but I won’t.  Suffice-it-to-say today I am welcoming all aspects of it, open to the beauty that will blossom through me as a result.

That said, ericayvettewoods.com is now a live website!  On it, you’ll find musings from me …some silly {of course}, some a bit more intense {like the article about my experiences in India, huge thanks to Claudia S.}, and you’ll likely find links to things I dig. Most importantly, you’ll find links for purchasing a copy of The Patron Saint of the Himalayas, in print or as an e-book, depending upon your preference. Please share the information with everyone you know …let’s spread the gift of Himalayas around.

I send love, love, more love, and a touch of balance! to each of you, infinitely.

Erica

A quick P.S. – Immense gratitude to the few beautiful people I got to hang with in L.A. (you know who you are), even if only for a moment. Thank you to the loving friends who let me crash at their homes, and to all the loving friends who offered me beds, as well.  I flew in to Los Angeles with the intention of floating around a bit to spend quality time with many people.  However, when I arrived, the true purpose of my trip became clear …I realized that I needed to spend as much time as I could with Gabriel and Brandon (and Gabriel’s beautiful Amanda, what a light she is!). I’m grateful to/for Gabriel and Brandon for being so available to their crazy mom. I’m equally grateful to/for friends, family and community healers for your Divine healing embraces.  Whether I was sitting at Gabriel’s watching basketball or sitting next to Sheila in the lodge, every moment of that trip healed me.  It was great to be home.

I look forward to seeing more loved ones when next we’re in L.A.  It won’t be long …

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Delhi, India

20 March 2012

In late 2009, I went to Delhi, India with my eyes wide open.  It was an experience I’m still having a hard time expressing in words.  So many amazing things, so many tragic things …the sacred and the profane, as one friend says often.

At one point, I sat down and wrote pages and pages about the horrors I experienced while living in Delhi.  I’m grateful to my friend, Claudia Stahl, for taking the time to condense & edit those pages in to the article below.  If you know a woman traveling to India, please forward this article to her.

——-

A Warning

I consider myself pretty savvy when it comes to travel and the enlightenment that it brings, for better or worse. I’ve been traveling the world since I could tie my own shoes and have been in South America, Europe, Greece, all over the U.S., and even a few random spots in Africa.

At 41, I decided it was time for another change in my life, and I left Los Angeles for Delhi, India, to begin a new job at a human services agency. I boarded the plane with excitement and optimism, fully unprepared for the reality that awaits an African American woman traveling alone in India.

The shoe thrown at me in a store while the merchant yelled, “nigger out” …

The men who, seeing my skin color, followed me into restaurant bathrooms assuming that I’d be happy to oblige them in some sexual activity.

As a woman of color raised in Hollywood, CA, I was no newcomer to the pain of racism. I also spent a few years living in Bahia, Brazil, where I was once told to “use the servants’ entrance” at a fancy restaurant, and informed by a Black Brazilian shopkeeper that “Black Brazilians steal”—since I was a Black American, he decided not to follow me around his store.

But Delhi showed me racism taken to new lows that brought back stories of the Southern U.S. in the 1940’s like the ocean brings back trash. Within three weeks of being there, I was feeling the stinging pain of stones hitting my head and body, thrown at me by men as I walked through a crowded marketplace or down the street in broad daylight.

Another day, on a main street at two in the afternoon, with plenty of people and police officers around me, I was grabbed by a man thrusting his erect penis at me, smiling and saying, ‘Black American bitch wants to fuck.’

That was the last time I went out alone in Delhi, and I am writing this article so that women, especially women of color, who are planning to travel to India, are fully informed about what they can expect.

Waiting for the Embassy

I had hoped the U.S. Embassy in India would take up my cause, but to my knowledge, they haven’t. Before I left Delhi, a friend and I met with two very compassionate Americans at the Embassy, one of whom was an African American man. When I finished telling them my uncomfortable story, they told me about another woman of color who was granted an emergency loan to return to the U.S. after having similar experiences.

“Similar experiences? How many others have gone through this?” I wondered.

They assured me they would help, and my friend and I were confident that the Embassy would take measures to inform female travelers of color about what they might encounter. For days, we watched for notices from the Embassy with these warnings.

Yet months later, as I departed Delhi, I had seen no warnings from the Embassy.

Women in Delhi

During the year that I lived in India, I spent a lot of time talking to Indian women, taking every opportunity I could to get their thoughts on what had happened to me.  Their stories left me more horrified.

So many of the women I spoke with had been sexually assaulted on the streets of the cities and towns throughout India.  The stories were told in an almost identical fashion, “I was assaulted when I was a girl. When I got home and told my mother, she told me to get used to it and said it had also happened to her.”

I no longer traveled the country unescorted, and still enjoyed many journeys to beautiful sites, collecting positive experience with the bad ones. I even met the love of my life. When I discovered that I was pregnant with his child, the meaning behind a sign in the obstetrician’s office delivered the final blow: “We do not use ultrasound to determine the sex of children…”

I could be carrying a girl. It was time to book a ticket back to the U.S.

Opening Dialogue

As I sit now in the comfort of my suburban home in New Jersey, I find myself deep in the process of searching my heart for a way to love even the person who was cruelest to me in Delhi, to be grateful for the lessons they have taught me.  That is my way.

I’m also finding the courage to speak out against racism, against sexism, and against maltreatment of people in general. I have taken my research further by sending e-mail blasts to a my friends all over the world for their perspectives, and I have gotten many emails in return saying, “Reminds me of Italy,” and “sounds like my sister-friend’s experience of Delhi,” and “Yup, it’s like when I was in Turkey.”

My questions are, “What, if anything, are we going to do about it?” Will we do what we’ve done since the days of Dr. King, Malcolm X– talk quietly amongst ourselves about it and continue to turn a blind eye as our own people perpetuate an image of us that only paints a very small part of the picture of what it is to be African American? Will we be part of a solution that includes making streets all over the world safe for everyone?

And what steps will we take here to end the perpetuation of racism and sexism that leaks out to influence the perceptions of cultures globally?

If my story serves to keep women safe from harm when they travel, I will consider it a success. If my writing serves to start dialogue about change, I will consider that a success.

The only failure would be to remain silent.

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First post

 

February  2012

I’ll post updates on my life, e-mails to friends, and other random musing moments here.

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Hello World!

I like that …Hello World!  It feels appropriate, so I won’t change it.

Welcome to my website, everyone.  You’ll find all sorts of fun stuff here …musings on life, a fun fiction novel you can purchase, and updates on whatever else I happen to be up to.

Enjoy the ride!

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