Such a long, strange, and incredible journey

Twenty seven years ago, in the early morning hours before dawn, I gave birth to my eldest daughter. From the moment I first saw and held her, I knew my life was changed forever. Suddenly, I became “Momma” instead of just a young woman living a somewhat freewheeling, spontaneous life. Motherhood stamps the concept of family upon the soul in ways that are difficult to define, yet nearly every woman who becomes one can relate. Suddenly here is this tiny, fierce being, newly sprung from your own womb, who is simultaneously part of you and also their own self, loudly demanding that you cradle, nurse, care for and love them incessantly for the foreseeable future. Oh my.

As many mothers will tell you, the work of mothering is probably the most difficult and rewarding work that a woman can do, and in society’s eyes, the most undervalued. What a shame this is, since the future of the human race depends on mothers doing the very best job of child raising possible. But that argument can wait for another day. This blog post is for musing and sharing my personal journey over the past twenty seven years, from the moment my life changed until today.

What a long, strange trip it’s been, sang the band The Grateful Dead back in the early 1970s. Surely their words have proved truer than any of us could’ve known back in the days of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. Sometimes memory is a trickster—we tend to idealize the past, bury the uglier or more painful moments, and only recall what was most joyful and beautiful. And yet, we also must admit that, ironically, the most painful moments of our lives tend to be our greatest teachers.

When I take the long view of the last almost three decades of my life, it’s hard to believe so much time has passed. Now that scientists are explaining to everyone more about quantum time, it makes more sense that something that happened decades ago still feels almost as incredible and life changing as it did then. After the first daughter arrived, two more followed over the next seven years. As difficult as they were, the years that I spent raising my three girls were also golden. Golden and magnificent rainbows, with periods of rain and sometimes howling hurricanes—even wildfires and drought.

With so many humans leaving the planet due to the pandemic this year, I wonder if many people aren’t naturally thinking more about their own death, and consequently, their life. The two are inseparable, yet many in modern society are terrified of death and seem to do almost anything to avoid the subject or really peering into their own mortality. I imagine that being born must be at least as traumatic as dying. There you are, all snug and cozy in your mother’s womb where it’s safe, warm, and encompassing you in constant, liquid love, and the next thing you know you are pushed out into a completely other world that is intensely bright, harsh, noisy and you’re suddenly on your own—no more umbilical cord connection to the source of your life and nourishment. What an adjustment period newborns must endure!

Many people see death and dying as a great tragedy, something to be avoided for as long as possible. They espouse the doctrine of staying alive at all costs, using all the tools that modern medicine and science makes possible. Yet, indigenous wisdom teaches something else. The wisdom keepers of our species understand that death isn’t the end, only the shedding of this current costume we are wearing, our personhood. Our ego wants to tenaciously hold on until the very last possible second, only letting go when it absolutely must. But wisdom teachings say that we should work while we are alive, towards a “good death.” To have a good death, one needs to have lived a good life, one filled with as much joy, love, beauty, truth, compassion, and service to others as possible. They teach that when a person has lived well, they will die well, at peace. When death arrives at their door, they won’t be so afraid and hollow inside. The person will simply let go of their physical body as their soul, the eternal part of each of us, continues its journey in the spiritual realms. From what I’ve studied and researched, the journey after physical earth life is complete is quite marvelous. Rather than something to fear and dread, it is a time of great homecoming and joyful reunion with beloveds on the other side of the veil. I can well imagine wonderful celebrations and parties, as we reunite with souls we haven’t seen for a long time and missed. Imagine that!

The Three of Cups in traditional Tarot decks exemplify the concept of homecoming for the newly arrived soul.

There is much wisdom built into our system of birth and death. It’s a blessing that none of us quite know when we will lay down our body and return to the spiritual realms. Some say that all along the trajectory of our life, there are exit doors, so to speak. I think that means that the human is given opportunities to use the escape hatch if the soul, for whatever reason, no longer wishes to complete their entire contract for that particular lifetime. This could explain why sometimes very young people check out of their lives early, or someone is suddenly taken through tragedies like car accidents and the like. We don’t all come to the earth plane with a contract to live to be very old. I believe it’s time to move past our societal fear of death and dying, and instead to celebrate all that the soul accomplished while they were here, and, as cultures worldwide have always done, to throw a party when their beloveds pass on to the next journey. The goodbyes seem to be the hardest part for us humans to say. But they are so critically important, both to the one leaving, and to the ones who stay behind. Both with being born and dying, the most important thing is to surround the incoming or outgoing soul with tender loving care My middle daughter, when a young girl, used to beg for “TLC” which she pronounced “tilk” when she was craving comfort and reassurance. Absolutely, “tilk” is what we need to give each other in the times we are living through now, and all the challenging days and decades to come. Many more souls will be leaving the earth in the near future, and many incoming souls will arrive. Earth is a busy place with souls constantly arriving and departing. I imagine it like this: when a person dies, they board an etheric version of a train or bus, which takes them to the cosmic airport. From there, they will catch a ride in some kind of transport vehicle to their next destination. Ever since I began to envision the afterlife this way, the familiar words that we all hear as our earthly airplanes are preparing to touch down took on a whole new meaning—if this is your final destination, please make sure you have all your baggage with you when departing the plane.  Final destination indeed!!
Dear Readers, if you read this whole post, I thank you for taking the journey with me. I send you love and blessings of peace and joy. No worries, and remember to enjoy every single precious day you have to be alive. What a gift life is!

An adventure, to be sure.

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I sadly didn’t get to spend much time by the pond bordering the camp property where I worked for 5 weeks. Image via https://www.pinterest.dk/pin/355643701793822791/

Hello Readers, it’s been a while since I engaged in the blogosphere. The past couple of months I’ve been working, both externally in the world and internally on myself, in deep and profound ways. This resulted in exhaustion on several levels, leaving me with no energy nor motivation to write blog posts. However, now that August has arrived, I’d like to share a story. If you are one of the readers who likes posts about the various climate crises and protests that I report on, you may want to skip this one. But for those who are interested in the personal narrative, I hope you will read on.

In mid-June, I left the College of Business at MSU Denver, bound for New Hampshire. I had gotten a gig as head cook for a family summer camp in the White Mountains, a place I’d never gone before and knew very little about. The interviews with the director had gone well, and so when offered the job, I accepted. Ready for an adventure, I boarded the plane in Denver with high hopes for a fun and busy summer working as the head of their kitchen.

With characteristic enthusiasm, I plunged right into the work. The camp was old, the buildings even older, and things seemed, let’s say, rustic and quaint from the start. The staff was an eclectic assortment of humans of various ages, genders, socio-economic backgrounds, spiritual beliefs and just about every other variant one could imagine. Most seemed kind, friendly and willing to help me learn the ropes. ­What I couldn’t have known then was that other, older and historical forces were also present, and would soon come into the comedy-drama that was about to unfold.

Let me set the scene. An old, large wooden lodge was the main building. Built on multiple levels, it contained a main floor with a wonderful wrap-around screened porch for guests to lounge, chat and relax. The office, kitchen and dining hall were on this level. Upstairs were guest rooms, named after historical people who’d been important to the camp in some way over the past nearly eighty years. Filled with dark, wood, antique furniture and old pictures, the rooms felt quaint, even charming and offered beautiful views of the nearby forest and mountain peak. There was an extra-long bathtub in one of the bathrooms, where a grown man would be able to lay in comfortably.

The ground level of the lodge housed the economy rate guest rooms, as well as several bathrooms, the laundry room, staff sink and fridge, and the cook’s room, a small room with a bed, dresser and writing table where I would sleep and hang out when not working upstairs. Once I swept up the cobwebs and mouse droppings in the corners, it seemed okay enough. The room was underneath the grain room, a corner of the kitchen area where bulk foods were kept and was the access to the walk-in refrigerator. Without getting deep into descriptions, remember that this place is decades old, and has not had any remodeling during at least the past few. This translates to old equipment, old surfaces, animals and insect populations residing in the walls and between floors, and the natural consequences of these. In other words, Trouble brewing.

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White Mountains forest a hundred years ago. Ghosts from the past are still hanging around. Image via https://www.shorpy.com/node/7618

Then there was the outside world to contend with. Coming from Colorado, I hadn’t given much thought to the perils inherent in a much more humid woodland area to live and work in for the summer. Big Mistake. The mosquitoes were thick from the moment I arrived, in a most unpleasant way. Alongside that, we were warned continually about the ticks which were everywhere there was grass or high weeds (which was all around the camp), and that there were both wood ticks and the more perilous deer ticks that carried Lyme disease. These ticks could be as small as a sesame seed, and once embedded within your flesh, chances are good of getting its debilitating disease without even knowing it and it can last for months or even years. Ugh. Not exactly the happiest welcoming committee for my first days on the job.

The directors had warned me that they were short-staffed, having had trouble finding enough young people to fill all their staff needs before the season opened. Because of this, our kitchen crew consisted of me, a 20 year old guy who had worked there the summer before, an older woman who was the stalwart volunteer for a few hours around dinner service each day, and then we’d see who else was willing and able to help out with prep for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. I quickly learned that the former cook (who had gone on to bigger and better kitchens) was some kind of bodhisattva-saint type character, loved by all and who offended none, kept her cool even under duress, stress and even gangsta rap couldn’t offend her. An impossible bar had been set, it seemed, and so trouble also began early on with the two who’d worked with her in previous years. Not only was I not a kitchen bodhisattva, but I tensed up under pressure (the closer to service time it got, the shorter my sentences became), couldn’t abide rap or other kinds of inappropriate musical genres, and my hygiene standards were considerably higher than those of previous chefs. The stage was set for interpersonal trouble from day one.

Then there were the ghosts. Like I said, this place was old, and there were lots of spirits hanging around, wreaking havoc big and small. They decided to have some fun with me, starting on day two. In the middle of the workday, I fell into a heap of black floor mats piled up in front of the ancient mop sink, which felt like falling into quicksand. It took all my strength to get back up, and I injured what I thought was my right arm at the time. However, the following morning, as I bent over to brush my teeth, my lower back went out as a girdle of pain stretched around my lumbar region. Yikes. That was the morning of day three. Then there were the fire alarms going off in the middle of the night, three nights in a row for no reason. Turns out, apparently the nearly million dollar, modern fire alarm system that was installed a few years back was so finely tuned that even an insect walking across the light beam (infrared?) would set it off (at least that’s the story we were told as to why it happened, repeatedly?). I am firmly of the belief that it was those mischievous ghosts messing with us. They probably thought it was hilarious fun to watch us all have to get up and go outside in the pouring rain at midnight for no reason.

There was also the strange phenomenon of time fluidity at the camp. One day could seem like several ordinary days anywhere else, all compressed into a continuum that seemed unending. Life for me there was ruled by the wall clocks (there were three, all showing different times) which told me when breakfast, staff lunch, guest lunch, staff dinner and guest dinner were supposed to be served. Often, I would begin work after the breakfast cook (fortunately most days we had one other than me) was finished serving, and stay in the kitchen until dinner cleanup was done. I averaged 12 hour workdays, and when I was on for breakfast shift, sometimes 14 hour days. Basically I showered, slept and hung out in my little room after the day was done, since going outside in the evening meant getting eaten alive by mosquitos, possibly bitten by ominous ticks, or engulfed in the rainstorms that occurred regularly.

Still, I was managing it all as best I could until the day the ovens stopped working two hours before dinner service. It was a Friday, which meant roasting forty pounds of cut chickens in six roasting pans, using all three of the old commercial gas ovens. After less than an hour in, two of the ovens decided to give up the ghost. I called the director to let him know what was happening. He later confided that he had smelled natural gas that morning, which clued him in to call the gas company to come fill the tank. But unfortunately it had slipped his mind as he got busy with other tasks. So on a Friday afternoon, when I was responsible for feeding over a hundred hungry guests and staff, we were down two ovens. I went into panic mode, and remembered there was a working oven in one of the guest houses up the hill. So I took the pans of chicken, wearing long oven mitts, and with my favorite helper we walked the pans over to the guest house oven and threw them in to roast off for another hour. Not to mention the tofu steaks for the vegan crowd. Then it poured down rain as I returned with the now-roasted chicken for service. We saved that dinner, but happy I was not. This was the end of week four, out of an eleven week contract (and I didn’t even mention the freezer going out the following day, which nobody mentioned to me until a couple days later as I noticed how soft the ice cream had become).

That night, laying exhausted in the bed, I had a good, long talk with myself. I realized that I was in the danger zone of exhaustion, while it wasn’t yet halfway through the summer. Up until that night, I’d put up with all the problems, the people, the ghosts, the obstacles, one after another. I’d been a good soldier. But that night, a voice inside me said, No. More. Of. This. I knew I’d reached my boundary of what was healthy and manageable. I went to sleep that night, asking my higher self for guidance. The next evening, after another long, hot and uncomfortable day in that kitchen, I wrote out a letter of resignation. I texted the staff coordinator, a lovely, positive woman whom I respected, and asked her to arrange a meeting with her, the director and me for the following afternoon. In that meeting, I handed him my letter. He read it carefully, and then without hesitation agreed and accepted my resignation. I truly felt sorry that I was unable to fulfil my contract and told him so. I suggested that perhaps he could find another cook to take my place by talking with all his contacts and board members. He looked at me kindly and stated, “I think you’re looking at him.” Then he went on to discuss that chicken disaster evening, and told me that I hadn’t handled it properly from a leadership perspective. “You should’ve called a meeting right there and then, with me and the other cook. We should’ve looked each other in the eyes, and agreed on a plan. Then you could have taken the chicken up to the other oven.” I breathed that in, agreeing that I’d failed on the leadership part. He is a kind man, however, and said all this without malice or anger. He told me not to give up on being a leader, because I do know what I’m doing in the kitchen. I just needed more practice with stressful situations. Uh, yeah. Just not there.

A week and couple days later, after two days of travel via bus to Boston, pouring rain, long waits in Logan and JFK airports and delayed flights, I finally landed at DIA outside of Denver. Even the airline not bringing my luggage to Denver couldn’t ruin my mood of elation and utter relief at being home once again. Even though it was still nearly 80 degrees at 10 pm, at least it was Colorado—dry, relatively insect-free, and beloved to me.

Now that I’m back in Denver, my hometown, I am pondering what’s next on this life journey. The major takeaways from the five weeks in New Hampshire are:  I love to cook for other people, knowing I am nourishing their bodies and souls through healthy, good food; never again will I take a job or any position sight-unseen, trusting in another’s perspective of what is workable and manageable; New England is not a region I plan to revisit anytime soon (or ever) without a really good reason; my appreciation for hygiene, equipment that is in good working order, and love of people who can follow directions without giving me attitude has been heightened exponentially; and finally, Colorado is (as I have long known) one of the very best places to live on Earth.

Thanks for reading my narrative, if you managed to read to the end. Stay tuned for further updates and musings on our interrelated lives on this amazing, and sometimes extraordinarily difficult, planet we all call Home.