From the First of November, 2017

Because sometimes it takes a whole month to write it down.

I type with hands that are redolent with garlic, onion, and freshly grated ginger. Today contains a chunk of time for cooking, with hearty stew for him, and Indian spinach rice, spicy, for her.

I walk and sit and rest and work with a heavy heart, weighted near equally with sadness over my cousin Philip’s sudden passing and with the aftermath of a terror attack in NYC. From both those stews, I pull the same saturated question: Is this the new normal, then? Will my peers, other cousins, friends, siblings, begin the dying times now? Is terror on the streets a new given in these not-so-united States?

This is not the self-portrait I want to create. This is the real and Wednesday me, though, as I slosh through to-dos with a heart that is stretched out from carrying big sacks of sad.

And yet, and yet. Perhaps my jiggly, overstretched atriums and ventricles have ever more room for loving, and accepting. Compassion for all beings, or as many as I can find my way towards/ forgiving and embracing and

that Voice, the one that doesn’t belong to me, the one I know I am a part of, soothes low and smooth with notes of

It will be OK. This, too, shall pass.

There is much work to be done here. Tikkun Olam, heal the world you got, baby, and it is good and honest work of heart to hands, heart to words

written
and spoken
and sung.

–Melinda Coppola

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

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

 

 

In Times Like These: Silver Linings of Caregiving

THANK YOU, TEDIUM

 

In the midst of the interminable news;
all-bad-all-the-time,
chaos and tragedy,
aftermath and predictions,
close ups and sound bites
that feed worry
and starve hope,
invite helplessness,

inside this swirl,
this modern quotidian,
there is something else,
not exactly calm, but steadier ground,

and I, who have recently
allowed my own heart to rent space
to darkness and fear,
I’ve watched myself mistrust
this solid ground,
guessing it to be the eye
of the larger storm
which I’ve been naming
How Things Are Now.

This morning, my daughter’s needs
rose strong and clear,
as they often do,
and I turned my intention
towards her, and them,
felt cool, hard floor beneath my feet,
and there it all was before me
spread out like a map
for my frayed, lost senses:

The morning tea and
the reading of her dream,

the string of reassurances
against her fears of the day,

the mechanics of a smoothie,
first juice then fruit,
now let’s shield our faces from the splash
of berries into liquid,
now earplugs before blender,

morning pills and
pink shirt, yes,
let’s try the pants again,
this time with the tag in the back,
and oops! Your shoes found the wrong feet,
and can we make those laces nice and tight?

Packed lunch, yes,
the soup is salty,
the pickles tart, yes, yes

yes there will be late sleep on Saturday,
yes, Mom is a girl,
yes we will go out this afternoon,
yes you will have a snack,

and in the thick of this,
our rituals,
a slow, slow dance of repetition,
naming all the parts
of the day,

I almost fell to my knees,
silently thanking
God/Goddess/ That-Which-Makes-Stuff-Happen,
for the ordinary work of caregiving,
sweet tedium
tethering me to the here and now,
almost sacred in its simplicity.

Eyes on task at hand,
heart humming
with the love that fuels
this tending,
binding me to that which is real,
and necessary,
and lifesaving
and true.

 

-Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

 

STONE LOVIN’

Dear reader, is there something in the natural world that you are really drawn to? Birds, clouds, pine trees? Lightening storms? Is there something for which you have an unrelenting affection? For, me, it’s stones. Specifically, I’m drawn to stones that hail from the edges of the sea.

I feel so very alive and content when I am walking on a stone strewn beach, or when I am crouching over them, admiring their myriad patterns and shapes, colors and textures. When I’m in communion with these rounded beauties, I have no age, no name, no agenda. I am not weighed down with layers of labels and hurry-ups and I’d-better-nots. The stones­­­­­­­—all colors, sizes, and shapes of them– touch a place deep inside me that feels like it’s been alive forever.  My relationship with them is simple and straightforward. I adore them, I respect them, I’m in awe of them. I also delight deeply and earnestly in my time with them, and…. I know them to be alive. They vibrate at a much slower rate than humans do, but they have life nonetheless.

I collect them, but only if they tell me they want to be gathered. My hands and eyes move towards the stones I am drawn to, and sometimes the vibration coming from a stone feels like a definitive NO, don’t take me. Not today. And so I don’t pick that one up, or if I already have I’ll place it gently back down with a silent thank you. Sometimes they are happy to be put into my bag or bucket, and other times it seems they are entirely neutral.

When I am on a beach that is home to stones, preferably in the early morning or late afternoon, I feel like I am surrounded by the most exquisite jewels the Earth has to offer. Who needs diamonds, when there are such gems as these, smoothed by time and water and wind and imbued with a wisdom I cannot adequately describe.

I have thousands of stones in my home and yard. When I have the time and feel the calling, I make art with them. Cairns, specifically—intentional stacks. Here again, the stones guide me in the process. Some want to go together, some are neutral. Some will make it quite clear they do not want to be placed on top of that rock, or in that cairn.

I used to just balance the stones, and I do have some cairns that live that way for a long time. About ten years ago, the thought of gluing them together came to me. I felt my way through that idea, and then brought it to the stones, not knowing how they would feel about being glued. Their radiated answer? Yes, glue is OK. A decade of our time seems to be like a few moments of theirs, and their languid vibrations do not react the way ours might. My deeper sense is that, if they are glued in a cairn and the time comes for them to be free again, the cairn will simply break apart.

My stone love brings me peace.  I’m grateful for their steady reminder that true strength and real balance can coexist in unlimited combinations of color, size and shape.

So, reader dear, what calls you out of doors, what helps you stay grounded when the ways of the peopled world feel oppressive or overwhelming? You can email me privately by replying to this blog, or you can leave a comment below or on Facebook. I do so love to hear from you.

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.

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