The Man in the Grocery Line

Certain special needs are invisible, or really hard to spot. This can include Autism, in some people. That isn’t Bink’s reality, though. Anyone of the neurotypical persuasion who takes more than a minute to observe my adult daughter will understand that something’s up. The way she carries herself, her frequent self-talk and singing, her hands reaching for my hair and announcing frequently, to nobody in particular, “ Brown girl. Mommy is a girl. Brown girl hair” these things are among the give-aways.

When Bink and I go out in public, people’s reactions to her difference tend to fall into three categories:
1. People are nice, they glance a few times, and then look away, feigning indifference, because staring is not what a well-mannered person does.
2. People are nice, with a curiosity that sometimes crinkles the corners of their lips upward and radiates from their eyes.
3. People are caught up in their own affairs and genuinely do not notice.

In the course of twenty five years, I can count on one hand the number of times that strangers have said or done something truly unkind in reaction to Bink’s other-ness. I attribute this to growing and widespread awareness of Autism and other special needs. I’m also a rather understanding sort. In the face of possibly mean or ignorant behavior, I prefer to assume the other person has a headache, has had a really bad day, or has to pee and has been holding it too long.

Now that you’ve got all that background, let me set the scene for what happened last Sunday. Bink and I went to the market, as we often do. We work on several things there. She looks for items from our list, puts them in the cart, and scans them at the self-checkout. I’m selective about how much she takes on in any given visit, depending on time constraints, and her mood, and mine.

We’d set out with a pretty small list that day, but we ended up with about forty things, because our four felines like their stinky food in individual little cans. We found everything successfully and we headed to one of six self-check registers. Things were going well: she was happy, I was happy, there were no lines. I prompted her through the initial steps. Choose English as the preferred Ms Register voice. Let’s type in our phone number for those valuable gas points. Then I asked her to scan, and set myself up at the end of the belt and prepared to bag.

Bink began the process, picking up each item and looking for the funny lines and numbers that make the lady inside the register talk back. One dollar and sixteen cents. Sixty four cents. Savings: ten cents. And so on. The voice is slow and deliberate, and Bink’s actions usually match the pace. If she can’t find the code, she just turns the item in all different directions until Miss Register responds. She was doing a bang-up job this particular day, adding in her own random comments. “Brown giiiirrl. Two sides?” The three of us –Ms. R, Bink, and bagging Mom, were in a nice slow sync. All was well in the world.

From my vantage point as the bagger I noticed that a man had gotten in line behind us. As Bink did her thing, he seemed more and more…ummm..interested. That’s a polite, assume-the-best word to describe his countenance and demeanor. The more items she scanned, the more man-in-line was interested. As we were getting towards the final third of our checkout experience, he began to sigh loudly and move his body in a subtle dance of impatience. A few more minutes, a few more scanned items later, man-in-line leaned way over to his left and ducked slightly around Bink, almost like she was a shopping cart or a magazine display rack. He seemed eager to catch my attention.

I admit, I almost declined to meet his eyes. It sure seemed like he was not a happy man-in-line, and we were almost finished, and things had gone so well. Bink had scanned more items than she’d ever done before, I’m pretty sure. We thrive on these little triumphs. Anyway, I did meet man’s gaze, and it was then he spoke. “Really??” he asked. I detected a really big pinch of sarcasm.

Really?

Did I mention that there were not big lines at the SIX self-checkout lanes? That means man-in-line had five other places he could have gone to ring himself out.

There were so many things I could have said. In retrospect, the possibilities were tantalizing. I was taken off guard, though, by this man’s words. I’m also, as I think I mentioned, a rather kind sort. Most of the time. To most people. So here’s what I did. Here’s what I said. I stood up a little taller, put a big, genuine smile on my face, and said, “ Yes, she’s doing a GREAT job, isn’t she? “

Man-in-line kind of screwed up his face a little. He paused, and then he muttered, to the floor,” Yeah. Yeah.” Bink completed her scanning, I put our bagged items in the cart, and we left. Two happy women, out the door and home.

Is it possible, dear reader, that man-in-line, who appeared very typical in every way, had one of those less visible special needs? Maybe he had a whopping headache. Maybe he didn’t win the lottery last night—again. Who knows, and we never really do know, do we?

I wonder if compassion can be taught, or if it is an innate thing that lives in some hearts and not others. I wonder what could change if we all went a little out of our way to notice each other with a bit more kindness, to scrape up a little more patience, and to let those words fall more readily out of our mouths,” Good job. You’re doing a really good job.”

–Melinda Coppola

Inner Child Remembers

young melinda coppola

Before The Tax

that adolescence imposes on body, mind, and spirit, probably in that order, there were hearty chunks of time that were some sort of unencumbered.

Inner Child remembers

discovering the fairies living well in tall flowers near the sandbox. How I loved to honor them, grabbing kid-sized chubby handfuls of sand and running through the tall stalks flinging the tiny granules. Oh, the sounds that Fairy Dust made! Songs in my ears and in my half-fairy heart. The magic-making kind.

The woods, the woods, the woods, acres of them, full of Brownies and Fairies and adventure. Long and free and wild days spent roaming the neighborhood, without fear or consequence.

On the first of May, I’d gather flowers from the garden and form them into weedy little bouquets. Carrying the wilting lovelies in my hands, I’d traipse ‘round to the neighbors. I’d stand on tiptoe to ring the doorbell, then place a bunch on the front steps, and dash out of sight.

One Christmas there was a little rubber duck, yellow. One of my older brothers had “wrapped” this for me by putting it into a huge box which he taped up. Made me wonder every minute until I got to open it. I loved that little duck so much, I’m quite sure it was my favorite gift that season.

Playing dress-up in the odd eaves above the stairs: I’d search the large steamer trunk housing big old velvet dresses, shapeless, and shawls. Layering myself in their heavy elegance, screwing rhinestones into my tender earlobes, shoving my small feet into pointy-toed high heels. I knew I was beautiful because nobody told me otherwise.

There was chocolate, sweet and smooth, melting in my hands, on my lips. There was the utter abandon of living well in my skin, loving having a body. No shame in me, yet. The eating for pleasure, until full, no thought of waist size or the “virtues” of making less of oneself.

Singing! Fancying myself an opera star, I’d belt out song after song, my 7 year old soprano notes echoing down the hall of that old childhood home.

After we moved from the big old white house with the gardens that housed fairies, I bonded with the small stream that ran through the new land. How I loved the deep mysterious smells of it, and the way it grew crayfish and little minnow things, and rotting leaves and mosses hugging stones.

There was the dreaming of horses, seeing myself riding them bareback and poised and strong.

Inner Child also remembers

watching poems write themselves, my hand dancing as the words flowed onto a notebook at my desk at the window.

There were the family trips to Cape Cod beaches in summer. My three siblings, my parents and I would cram into the wood-sided station wagon along with coolers and fishing poles, towels and beach toys. I rode in the way back, no such thing as seat belts then. At the end of the day, returning home, the tail lights of the other cars were Martian space ships. In fact, I was inevitably kidnapped by them, and they were forever whisking me away to an even better life.
—Melinda Coppola

Autographing Autumn

I was walking, first field–
verdant, moist , glorious
carpet of greens,

and the woods edged closer,
with a beckoning trail,
and then the floor was pine needles,
punctuated with wily
old roots in no
pattern whatsoever.

Sky was rarified blue, bluer,
an artist’s glad canvas,
background perfection to

the leaves! Yellow and orange,
rusty brown, green,
pure gold, shimmering
against that ocean of sky.

A gradual descent
along the acceptably
man-made path ,
and then a turn revealed
more signs of us:

piles of stones and bits
of writing paper, a charm,
all left like an offering
atop a stump.

How interesting, humankind.

That we feel a need to sign everything,
as if
he, she, they, we
were in any way contributing artists,

as if we are desperate
to make ourselves known,
to say, in some small or grander way,
I am here.
I was here.

How is it that the leaves of oak and maple,
the chipmunks, the needles of pine,
are so willing to be here and then go,
in their time,

but we
who fancy ourselves smarter, more capable,
have so much difficulty
letting go?

–Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

 

BRIDGES

We are pausing on a bridge
over the dwindling stream
that crawls through our large,
local dollop of green, Bird Park,

because we always pause, she and I,
on every little bridge
that spans any river anywhere,

so she can look down
from first one side,
then the other,
at that liquid light
which is water in the daytime,

one of many rituals
that string our days and months
together
like a prayer flag.

I watch her watching water,
wondering if she notices
how much thinner the stream
than just last week,

and my ear goes towards the toddler
just arrived and
tumbling in the grass nearby,
which calls my gaze there, too.

The child laughs and spins
as her female loving presence-
Mother, Nanny—tosses a little pink ball.

Too quickly to stop,
ball is rolling into stream.
Just as fast,
the child’s laughter turns to wails,
improbably huge, garish sounds
from such a small body,

and my gaze shifts back to daughter,
who is now squinting,
now covering her ears,
turning away from bridge and water
and back towards the safety of the path
leading away from wailing child.

Now daughter is tense,
and each person, each dog we pass
might be a reason to become undone,
an insult to the tightly wound
system of nerves and cellular memories
ticking in linear, illogical time

and I think of all of us,
everywhere,
living with and without Autism,
carrying years of triggers,
a hundred reasons to become undone,

and how we are each,
at any given hour, maybe
a few breaths away from meltdown,

and the marvel is
how we hold it together,
or pretend to,
in a time when mass shootings
are just a few more storms
punctuating the news cycle,
and everything seems cracked,
precarious.

We find the safety of the car,
she and I,
and an hour later she is
singing in the market,
luscious bluesy notes
in perfect pitch,

and my own triggers recede,
and I think yes,
yes, this is how we go on.

This is how we’ll go on.

 

-Melinda Coppola

 

 

I Come from the World

Bink would say…a long haired girl day, aka a very good day!

 

I’m pleased to share that I’ve had two poems published in I Come from the World, a new literary journal.  If you’d  like to check out this brand new online journal, here’s a link:   https://icomefromtheworld.org/   The poems that are mine, both previously published on my blog, are: Between Faith and the Cable News and My Calling.

Of Two Minds, or Many

What if there’s no such thing as right side up?

 

Of Two Minds, or Many

When Left Brain speaks,
she is right on
about doing it
right or don’t do it
at all, do it
all right, do it
right now,
for all the right reasons.

Left Brain says I’ll whip you
into shape and that would be square,
four equal sides,
no curved lines,
nothing left over and nothing
to spare.

Right brain listens
before she speaks,
and after,
or doesn’t speak at all,
just listens, nods,
listens again.

Right could not care any less
about being true to her name.
She knows what’s left
after all the talking and listening,
after all the reasons and arguments,
what’s left is the raw, moist truth.

Right sings to left body,
coos and coaxes, makes suggestions:
Write with your non-dominant hand.
Pick up the paintbrush, charcoal,
Breathe out a poem before breakfast.

Chakra Theory says there is a meeting place,
a union of two minds,
found deep in the Ajna* forest
of your third eye, where the trees glow
an unearthly shade of indigo
and the birds, when they come,
beak out soundless songs
that make exquisite,
immediate sense.

It’s on my To Go list,
this mercurial destination,
and I know I’ll get there someday,
but right now, my Left says
a unified I
is on the no fly list,
and balance evades,
and all my selves seem content
to wander internal circles,
muttering niceties to each other,
and humming.

 

—Melinda Coppola

* Ajna is the Sanskrit name for the Sixth ( or brow) Chakra, home of inner knowing and intuition, where the energies of Yin and Yang meet

Yogabilities™: Peace as a civil right

Doesn’t everyone deserve to be peaceful?

 

When I tell people that one of my occupations is teaching Yoga, there are some common responses.

Oh, I love Yoga! I take it at the gym/the cool studio in the upscale shopping center down the street
or
I can’t do Yoga, I’m not flexible enough.
                          or, perhaps
I read an article about how many NFL players do Yoga.

When I tell people that one of my specialties is teaching adapted Yoga classes for individuals with special needs, there’s also a common response, variably worded but along the lines of:

               Oh, that is so wonderful that you do that for them.

Translation: you must be a saint. You are so self-sacrificing. That must be so hard.

Insert audible sigh here. I know this territory. As mother of a young woman with special needs, I’ve heard things like it all her life.
1. I don’t know how you do it.
2.
You have the patience of a saint.
3.
God gives special children to special people.

Those are well meaning comments, I know. And sure, it can be really hard, and I do happen to have super-sized patience. I also believe that each incarnated soul is special, and God//Goddess/Universal Life Force has a way of putting the right souls together to help us learn and grow in the ways we most need to. In other words, everyone—parent and child, with or without extra needs— is special, so therefore # 3 applies universally.

When someone would roll out the old “How do you do it?” in the past, I was often too tired to answer, or too taken aback, or too caught up wondering how the hell this person knows what it is I actually do with my kid, given that they maybe just met me.

As my daughter and I grew older, I’d more frequently have the right snappy response, which is “ She’s a blessing.” Short, true, succinct. These days I’ve added on a few new handy lines, also true,” If this were your child you’d do anything you could for her, too. You’d rise to it. You probably have moved a few mountains for your own kids, right?”

So, back to the Yoga teaching. I’ve been teaching my adapted classes, which I call Yogabilities™, for about 11 years now. Like most things in life, I’ve learned as I went along. I’m not a saint, it isn’t a sacrifice, and Yoga is not some special privilege that only belongs to the, umm, …so-called typical folks.

In our times, everyone has stress, most people have anxiety, and I’ll drop and give you twenty push-ups right this minute if you can find someone in your daily life who does not contend with poor sleep patterns, inability to focus, lousy posture, stiffness, or difficulty with balance. Everyone can benefit from Yoga.

Further, people with special needs have more stress than many. Society often treats them like children all their lives, limiting access and choices and self-determination and robbing people of a very basic human right—dignity. So, if anyone is more amazing than anyone else, it is my Yogabilities™ students and their peers. They deal with challenges we can only half imagine, and many do it with humor, patience and grace.

I love working with these particular students because, cliché as it sounds, they teach me as much as I teach them. There is no pretense as we sit together and breathe, practice being present, and share strategies for coping with anxious and unpleasant feelings and situations. We all seem to accept each other rather unconditionally. My experience with my own daughter serves as a constant reminder to release any rigid agenda, meet each person as they are, and go with the flow. Moreover, these students and I seem to co-create an energetic space where each person can feel welcomed and safe. In that container, I’ve seen magic happen.

On those Yogabilities™ afternoons or evenings when I am particularly tired and would like to just stay home and catch up with laundry or check out with an HGTV home show, I cue up a mantra from my daily life and let it nudge me into place: I GET TO, as in

I get to be her mother
I get to go teach Yogabilities™.
I get to spend time with some of the most interesting people I know.

So yeah, I get to share my knowledge of Yoga with people with special needs. Some of them are saintly for putting up with the rest of us. I don’t know how they do it. God must have created the circumstances whereby they can teach me the stuff that really matters. It’s so wonderful that they do this for me.

–Melinda Coppola
www.SpectrumYoga.net

5/24/17

Today I celebrate my incarnation

Fifty six trips around the sun,
carrying a moniker
that took decades to like,
and I continue,
residing more,
or sometimes less,
inside this soft tent of skin
held up by strong bones
that shape this form
we keep agreeing to call me.

So much to marvel at,
a couple tens of thousands
of sleeps, of sunrises,
so many chances
to shake it off and begin again.

If I could line you up–
the ones who noticed,
and the ones who never did,
the ones who took me in,
or under a wing,

and those who laughed at me,
and those who laughed with me,
and those I loved but never told,
and those I didn’t love enough,

and those who knew I could
when I thought I could not,

and those who spoke truth
even when it shattered me,
and those who lied to me,
and those who betrayed me,

and those who were afraid of me,
and those who were afraid with me,
and those who lost hope,
and those who gave faith,
and those who questioned,
and those who accepted,
those who showed up
those who left without leaving a note,

those who explained themselves,
those who never tried,
and those who encouraged,
and those who could not,

if I could gather you all together
I’d go bowing through the crowd,
hands in loving mudra
thanking each of you
with my sentient heart,
for all of it.

As it is,
I ruminate
on how you helped me grow,
and how I hope
perhaps I helped you, too.

I kneel and praise a universe
that does this,
that keeps us
offering ourselves to each other
over and over,
as rough stones,

each encounter smoothing a jagged edge
through pleasure or pain,
returning us as pearls
to a larger sphere in need
of our perpetual adornment.

Melinda Coppola

Welcome, Winter!

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Solstice 2016

On this, the shortest day of the year in my part of the world, I have a confession to make. I’ve been swirling, these darkening days, around and around like a pile of dry autumn leaves. Allowing myself to be picked up by the loudest winds of fear and unrest, carried this way and that, and spun around until I am dizzy. I’ve been letting this happen. And, because I know better, and because I sometimes ask others to know better, it seems appropriate to re-publish something I wrote for my Yoga students a few years back. It goes like this:

How to Welcome Winter

Listening is a dying art and science. Let’s listen to ourselves for starters. We begin to complain about the shortage of light. It is so much harder, we’ll say, to slip in the walk/the run/the gym/the sunrise Yoga, almost impossible, we’ll agree, to Get It All Done. The Holidays, someone will whisper, and you or I will nod gravely and point out the circles beneath our winter eyes. And if we pay attention we’ll hear ourselves repeat the litany of insults that Winter has hurled against us, has slid underneath our skin. It’s so cold, we’ll say to anyone who’ll hear. We’ll find new ways to explain the way the damp chill invades our very bones and how even the car groans when the key inquires about a ride to the market. The market! The lines are long, the fruit is pitiful, the prices prick our sense of decency. Damn the season. You know the one, the one where we are supposed to Joy! and Cheer! and Buy! our way to a healthy economy and happier family and friends.

Stop. Hear yourself. What is it your body needs at this time? Your mind? Your soul? We drown out the true voice within with our very human tendencies to complain and rail against what is. WHAT IS. We know, don’t we, that no amount of protest will raise the temperature, coax the daylight to linger a little longer, or stop the incessant cultural noise that exhorts us to continue on without change as if there wasn’t this season called winter. As if the natural call to slow it down, get a bit more sleep, find refuge in quiet practices….as if there was no wisdom in that.

Winter wisdom doesn’t whisper. When we listen, winter wisdom belts out it’s songs with bold baritone vibrato, sharp and clear in the frigid air. There’s a foot of snow on the ground–stay in! It gets dark earlier; go to bed earlier too! It’s cold outside-eat warm nourishing foods! I am winter, season of introspection. Go within; meditate and bear witness to those seeds sleeping under the frozen earth. They will bear fruit in their time and your worry will not hasten their germination! At least that’s what I hear winter saying, when I really listen.

You faithful Yoginis and Yogis are likely to have a more highly developed ability to tune in and really listen to physical, emotional, mental and spiritual selves. That is, after all, a huge part of our practice, isn’t it? The witnessing without rushing to judgment, the respect for natural cycles and our place within them? This season, let’s do it differently. Let’s go slow as if this is the most natural thing there is. Let’s remember that we are enough, we do enough, and that the gift of being present with ourselves and each other is truly the greatest gift there is. That’s when we can begin to pay attention to that spark of light that flickers in you, and you, and you. We recognize it because it lives within each one of us, and we are mirroring each other. It’s the great grand NAMASTE, the honoring of the divine and universal light and life force in each other that emanates from one source, call it what you will. And that, my friends, is the essence of Bhakti Yoga; our devotion, yours and mine, to what created and sustains you and me and everyone else. It’s highly personal and universal at the same time.

I think winter is a beautiful symbol for the going within that is an essential part of the process of realizing who we are and what we are here for. I also think that’s a run-on sentence, but I digress. What do you think?

Take care, stay true to what grounds you, stay well,

Melinda

 

CHASING A CHEESE BALL MOON

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December, Massachusetts

This time of year in New England, it’s pitch dark at 4:30pm. I’m working on accepting this gracefully, though I do stray from intention a few times a week into cursing-the-darkness mode.

Last Wednesday, shortly after the early blackness descended, I was navigating the narrow curves of North Street, wondering if every town, in every state/province/territory,  has one—a North Street, that is. I reminded myself to slow a bit, and breathe; trying to time the art class pickup just-so, not early as this creates distress for Bink, not late as that has its own kind of dissonance. Autism is timekeeper and taskmaster in her measured life, and thus in mine.

Pickup complete, we made our way towards home, my voice soft and even as I announced the bright seasonal lights strung across a porch, snaking ‘round a pole, or illuminating an inflatable Santa or snowman bouncing on a lawn in the evening breeze. “ Don’t care. Not pink.”, she muttered. Hmmm. Last December she would chirp excitedly, “ Colorful lights!” as we’d pass the seasonal luminary flourishes. I heaved a sullen internal sigh. I really like watching her change as she gets older, but I’m a bit deflated with this latest assessment: no pink lights, nothing to see here, folks! There are precious few pink Christmas lights, have you noticed?

BUT THEN,

we rounded a corner and there it was, an impossibly huge golden moon hanging low in the sky, fruit-like. It dangled temptingly behind tree branches, then just above the highway. “ Look”, said I, “ The moon is huge tonight.”, and she, who finds no beauty in a sky without pink, she, who is finished with a zoo in moments if there are no bunnies, pink pigs or yellow ducks, she, who shuns so many of the flora and fauna that decorate our world because “not interesting” –- that very same she exclaimed, “Cheese ball!”. The hairs on my arms stood on end under my winter coat, and my mind percolated with delight. A shared interest! Super Guy and I do try to nurture any inclination she shows towards the natural world, and we often look for common ground. He and I can be a bit passionate about the moon, but Bink has not shared that, ever.

We tried to keep the cheese ball in our sights, Bink and I, as the car slogged through the traffic that can be the bane of crowded eastern Massachusetts. The lights—Christmas ones and traffic ones and the neon signs that have settled and bred along the main route—were competing with the cheese in the most irritating way, stealing its glory.

We finally turned into the street that leads to the street that leads to our street, and the cheese floated a little higher in the sky, seemed even brighter and more golden. I pulled the car over and grabbed my iPhone, trying to capture a picture of this enormous and other-worldly orb hovering so close to our mundane street. Bink followed suit, pulling her own iPhone out of her very pink purse and taking a pic or two. Still with me, she was! More percolating, more joy tugging upward, then, at the corners of my mouth. Alas, within the limits of phone camera technology, the photos captured none of the magic. The cheese ball looked like another of the many streetlights. Damn the lighted streets! Then I caught the irony of it, having been unhappy with the darkness just an hour earlier. Had a little laugh at myself, I did.

Glancing at Bink’s face, I could see that I was losing her. She was already checking out of this rare interlude of shared excitement about something, anything. “Let’s try , I said brightly, “ to follow the cheese and see if we can get a better picture!” Taking her silence as assent, I swung the car back onto the road and we made our way through the little maze of familiar streets, keeping the cheese in sight. I drove to the darkest end of street I could find, with cheese ball leading the way. There, behind some apartments, I knew we’d find that odd field of interesting, tall, reedy things that look vaguely like cornstalks in October. Here the golden cheese ball moon stood out in stark relief against the very black sky. I parked the car and we both got out, pausing just a few seconds to enjoy the sound of wind as it moved through the wispy reedy things. I made a quick note to find out what they were formally called, these rooted instruments of the field. Bink was making a low, throaty sound which I knew to be impatience. Any moment now she’d tell me she needed the bathroom. I took a few quick iPhone shots of the cheese floating above the crispy reeds in the still-early evening sky. Not stopping to check them out, we were back inside the car and off towards home.

Home. We got to the bathroom in time ( a constant theme in our lives). The photos remained unimpressive. Bink was, umm, uninterested in them. No matter, for these are the times that sustain me; a rare delight shared by my daughter, a reminder of the humor and wonder and joy of being alive, chasing a cheese ball moon through the neighborhood on a cold, black, early night. God, I love my life.

-Melinda Coppola