Per Annum

Every year, now, around my birthday, I feel a tug to write something, employing words to mark the privilege of completing another ride around the sun. This year’s efforts came in the form of a love letter to my life. Here, below, is an edited version, and though it’s all between me and me, I wonder if you can relate to this need or desire to mark the years somehow, to catalog your journey. Do you write a song, or journal? Do you collect things; a feather, cards, ticket stubs, remnants of days you rushed through, moments you think you’ll never forget, yet know you might?

Dear one,

Last Thursday, we woke to the beginning of our 57th year together. It feels like some things need to be said. Probably nothing I haven’t said before, but I find that I tend to forget things more frequently these days. You, too?

Look, we’ve had our challenges. We rarely seemed to measure up to what the world expected of us. I know that’s just a perspective, but then, so is everything else in life. Conjecture, presumption, supposition….call it what you will, but the truth as I know it is that there isn’t one single way to describe the truth. Everyone sees things their own way, depending on their circumstances, culture, upbringing, It’s the simultaneous bane and beauty of being human , I suppose. But there I go again, digressing. It’s something I’m really good at, at least on paper.

There were times I wished we weren’t together. I’m not proud of this, but I am really, really grateful that you didn’t give up on me.

There were times I belittled you, comparing you to other lives. I know this is a common thing people do, but I also know now it is extremely unhelpful. We get what we get, don’t we? It’s how we look at it, what we do with it, how we react to it, that matters.

There were times, too many to count, that I was blind to our abundance, our cup spilling over with blessings. Now we live in a world that has perfected the art of showing and telling the endless and collected horrors and incivilities and the ways we harm each other, the ways in which we hoard while others starve. Now, it is impossible to ignore the inequity, and it feels criminal to imagine we lack a single thing, you and I, or that we should not be grateful and share generously. Perspective.

At nineteen, I knew my life would be one grand adventure. I’d travel, and give birth to poems and stories, and mother them with a loose and loving abandon. If you’d been clairvoyant, and told me I’d all but neglect my writing, for years and years, throwing it just enough scraps of food to keep it hanging on and hopeful, I’d have been horrified. I’d have told you, in no uncertain terms, how confused you were, and how unfaithful.

I could go on, dear Life, and on some more. I’m good at that, remember? But here’s the gist, here’s the heart of it: I love you. I love the way we’ve unfolded together, warts and scabs and miseries included. I loved our adventurous young adult years, and I’ve grown to love these plodding middle years, too. I love the way I’ve evolved; once a fearful, quirky teenager who knew she didn’t want children, and now a mid-life woman, quirky still, whose days are saturated with mothering, and it’s nothing like I imagined. Things so rarely are.

I love the patience and tenacity you’ve modeled for me, helping me grow my own. Also, Life, I am so grateful for the way you’ve pointed quietly to the journal, the keypad, over and over again without lecturing, allowing me to find my Poet’s voice again. I respect the way you just know we are going through the landscapes we must, with the company we need, at the times we should.

I will never abandon you, dear Life. I know we are in this together, for we are nothing without each other. And here I am , down on my sometimes achy knee, asking you for your hand. Here I am, promising, promising to make all kinds of love to you, with my whole self. Here I am promising to be true to you, which means being true to me, for all the days we may be gifted in this flesh, this venue.

Let’s be what you’ve always known we could be—a helper, a blessing, a teacher….and do what you’ve always known we can do—make poems, and art, and stories, and keep guiding a special young woman towards her own life, which will someday be untangled from mine. Let’s take the raw, rough dough we are offered and throw in yeast and punch it down and let it rise, punch it down again and trust it will rise, be transformed by the heat of all the fires and become something that will nurture, and nourish, and sustain.

Happy Birthday to us.

 

–Melinda Coppola

April is….

Autism Awareness Month: Day 1

 

Dear Reader,

You may have noticed that I write about life with my daughter, whose blog name is Bink, on a regular basis. There are poems, and stories, and sometimes pictures of her scribbles, and an occasional photo of her from the back, or from a distance.

I am respectful of her privacy, because she doesn’t grasp what it means to be known in the ways many of us have come to allow. Maybe that will change someday. Maybe she’ll want to be seen, and heard, by more people than those in her immediate physical sphere. She is a pretty cool human. Her creativity extends to occasional stories, quirky artwork, and even poems. She also sings beautifully, yet will not tolerate a chorus group. She tried that when she was younger. It was a perfect storm of sensory overload. Too much noise, too many instructions, waiting…all things that create extreme discomfort for her, which leads to anxiety, which brings more discomfort.

If she ever has the capacity to understand the possibilities of visual and auditory media, and if she chooses to share herself that way, I’ll help her navigate that safely. She’d delight so many people! For now, though, I’ll keep shielding her in the ways I can. I’ll also keep writing about her.

“I want to tell people about you,” I say to her,” because you are soooo interesting. I want people to know you, because you are wonderful and creative and unique in all the world.”

“ Yes,” she’ll respond matter of factly.

Here’s what I don’t say: The world is not kind to people with challenges like yours. People fear what they don’t understand, and when people are afraid, they can be cruel and sometimes dangerous. More people need to know about this thing called autism, so they will be more accepting and protective and so they’ll help create more opportunities for you and your peers to live healthy, happy lives. I worry about what will happen to you after Super Guy and I pass away. Your vulnerability scares me. I don’t know how to guarantee your safety for all of your days.

Truth is, I’ll never say those things to her. It wouldn’t be fair for me to expect her to understand. It wouldn’t be helpful.

I have great expectations of you, dear reader. I think you can understand. I think you can be a helpful part of the change that needs to happen. I think we can co-create a more inclusive, compassionate society where respect for all people will be the norm. I also think you deserve a chance to know my daughter, even if it’s just through my words. So, I’ll keep writing what’s in me to write, and perhaps you’ll keep reading my words and those of others, and maybe someday we won’t need an Autism Awareness Month.

 

–Melinda Coppola

Putting My Foot Down

Putting my Foot Down

I’m no stranger to disability. I’ve been Bink’s mom for 25 years. I know lots of individuals with varied special needs, some of them my Yogabilities™ students. I count a few of these folks and their families among my dearest friends. That said, I’ve been experiencing a temporary kind of disability as I continue to heal from foot surgery, and it has been so eye opening.

Forty nine days an invalid, and not before this post-surgical stretch of days and nights, chunks of hours so similar their names became blurred, Janu-monday and Satuesday, not once before this did I ever take notice of the way the word invalid is a devious thing, a means to invalidate, as if the millions of couch sitters and chair wheelers and bed warmers and leg elevating folks everywhere are less than whole. As if those whose full status as owners of walking, driving, autonomous bodies that move well through the world makes them more valuable or relevant.

Mine has not been a long sentence by most means. Having just recently received the invitation to commence a slow reunion of foot and floor, with crutches sprouting from my tender armpits, my limbs are stiff and recalcitrant, and yet they still remember full mobility.

There is the variant pain in my titanium-enforced right foot, the weakness in the calf, the instability of a body not used to normal biped motion. There is knee pain in the left leg that faithfully supported me throughout and in the right leg that was forced to rest. There is general hip malaise, and my neck constricts despite the Yogic stretches and rolls. Hands ache for mysterious reasons. Still, driving, or even emerging from my home on two sturdy, unaided legs, is surely on the horizon. Not close, but I can see it out there.

My first tentative pushes of sole against solid ground have been uncomfortable, to say the least. I’ll take the pain, though, and thank it as a bridge to full recovery. My calendar has been oddly blank these past few months, but February feels like hope. I know in a few years time these homebound winter months will be my mere memory. What will remain: an aversion to that word — invalid— and a far larger room in my consciousness for those that stay in for reasons not of their choosing. There are those that are recovering and those that never will, those for whom in is all there is.

Thank you, God/Goddess/Source of all, for continually offering me ways to expand my awareness. May I use the lessons to make differences, however small, in a few lives along the way.

–Melinda Coppola

 

Perhaps you’re an island, but you’re still in the world.

Mass Deception

There’s no wonder here.
No wonder we are so
tight tense irritable. Sick more often.
No surprise, no wonderful
to see you,
no more
pleasantries masking indifference
or contempt.

We have been stripped,
no more luxury of pretty
gauzy layers.
Gone are the rote
smiles and murmurings of
sorry I’m sorry excuse me
if we brush against
each other in line,
at work, on the sidewalk.

We are laid almost bare,
our held hates and assorted isms
sloganing en masse
across the country, red
rivers and blue, across
T-shirts and hats
being made in China or the Philippines
by seven year old girls,

and lest we claim
Not I, Not us,
as we proudly flaunt our own
anti-slogans, anti-isms,
sprawled across those same
sweatshop shirts and hats
and on our Facebook pages,
and plumping up our poems and podcasts,
lest we even try to hold
an innocence,

the omnipotent voice,
that which cannot be controlled,
hums beneath the surface
like a million bees in the hive,
whispers and shouts

“We are all one.”
And
“What you do to the other
you do twicefold to yourself.”

Make no mistake.
The Voice will, eventually,
keep us up at night and
beat us down in the light of day,
refusing to leave us alone,
because we aren’t, after all,
alone, and we never were.

What will you
or I
or we
perpetrate, perpetuate,
manifest and instigate
on this day?

Love isn’t love,
if it’s splintered, factional,
and the sun doesn’t shine brighter
for one country, one race, one belief system.

It seems to me we are like pearls
on an endless looping necklace,
having been hidden in a muted shell,
born of irritation and a need for protection,
our beauty is kept from the larger world.

Such a lustre when, emancipated,
soothed and smoothed by mutual respect,
which is a kind of love, after all,

we come together
to sway and jostle and shine,
and oh! How we shine.

 

–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.

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

HOME

The past few days I’ve had home humming in my head and heart. Not my physical dwelling, but rather the whole concept of it: home. It’s a loaded word, to say the least. But I rarely say the least… at least not with pen to paper.

Recently, Super Guy and I visited an animal sanctuary. It’s a magical place with paths and paddocks, ponds and portals; little homes on posts, myriad small barns and shelters and cubbies and soft, warm sleep spots, bowls of food and bales of hay. It’s home to creatures of all sorts who were victims of the transposed violence and dark dysfunction that can live within the human psyche. These animals were mistreated by their previous owners, and the sanctuary provides a place they can heal and perhaps begin to trust again. To paraphrase an old, old song. I wondered as I wandered. What shifts, great and small, could occur that might eliminate or drastically reduce the need to rescue animals from human abuse and neglect?

Here, in this home in the woods, are cats, dogs, horses, donkeys, pigs, bunnies, llamas, goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, geese, doves, peacocks, and, variably, many other expressions of God. These creatures may be one-eyed or deaf, missing a leg or broken winged, living with chronic illness and/or suffering from post traumatic stress – more and than or–  from the inhumane treatment of their previous owners. And, in this place, they are finally welcomed home.

As I walked the paths of the sanctuary with my creature-loving partner ( oh, how I love this about him!), together we greeted the rescued residents, pet the ones that allowed it. I took in the smells and sounds and sights; colors and textures and strange juxtapositions that are foreign to me, to most of us—creatures so different, living together in apparent reasonable harmony. Possible, perhaps, because all are well-fed, well-housed, respected for their particular needs for space, freedom, and safety…places to burrow in? And I thought, too, of the larger world we, who speak this human language, call home. A world full of rules and laws, customs and traditions, that we have created for ourselves, and continue to create. Lately, we hear a lot about the unpleasant effects of some of those laws, rules, customs: strife and anger and injustice and poverty and violence perpetuated, human against human, with sad justifications like:

different
– not as s/he should be

not like me and mine.

Or, sadder still,
That’s just the way things are … .in the Middle East, in the inner city. In that culture, those religions.

And
-That’s what comes with being black, or brown, or female, or poor. That’s just the way it is.

That afternoon, at the animal sanctuary, I walked in step with a wondering that felt more urgent than sublime. What kind of world might it be if all people had a safe and comfortable place to call home? If all people were well-fed, well-housed, respected for their individual needs for space, and freedom, and safety? What might happen to the imbedded acceptance of those justifications for human-to-human violence and subjugation? And, how much might such a world reduce the need to rescue animals from abuse and neglect?

We are all connected. No matter how hard we may try to ignore this, personal action, positive or negative, ripples outward into families, communities, countries, and our larger home, Earth. What are we willing to give up, or change, or invest in, that can move us towards a time and place where Earth -our home– is a sanctuary for all?

-Melinda Coppola