Make A Mess [on Merely A Thought Monday]

One cannot know life’s ups without experience of life’s downs. The quality that defines order is chaos. And, vice-versa.

In the same vein, Horatio hit me with a thought that gave me the shivers: wisdom is the blossom of regret.

Regret is one of those special words that is both a verb and a noun. To lament. A feeling of sorrow. It comes from experience. When he was young, Roger told me that he wanted to live a life with no regrets and although we’ve lost touch, my great hope is that he was incapable of living the life he wanted to live. He is made of deeper stuff.

Hermann Hesse’ novel, Siddhartha, is a story of arriving at wisdom. So, too, is his novel Narcissus and Goldmund. Far beyond the lands of understanding and knowledge, the fields of wisdom are born of messy life. Mistakes made. Fears confronted. Loss and awe. Illusions pierced. A protected life may fill your cup and bank account with information but will leave you with a limited palette of life experience. A full closet of clothes for the ghost that wears them.

Coincidentally, last week, Horatio and I both spent some time on sterile medical beds looking up at the bright lights on the ceiling. Doctors looking down. Suddenly filled with gratitude for the regrets that we’ve racked up in this life.

Sitting by the river, watching the river flow by, we compared notes. We shared life stories. How on earth did I get to be so lucky?

read Kerri’s blogpost about CATERPILLAR ON A ROPE

Say Uff Da [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

I never met Kerri’s dad. He passed before I came into the picture. I feel as though I know him. When a nasty bit of home repair is staring me down, I often ask his advice. “What should I do with this one, Pa?” I ask. Generally, he crosses his arms in quiet consideration and mutters, “Uff da.” And soon a solution comes to mind.

Hanging beside our back door is a bamboo wind chime. It was Pa’s. Sometimes when we open the back door it voices and I respond with a hearty, “Good morning, Pa.”

His nickname for Kerri was “brat.” I know exactly why Pa gave her that nickname. Let’s just say she earned it and, to be clear, has never outgrown it. 20 often looks at me in desperation and says, “She’s torturing me!” He wants me to intervene, to come to his rescue. I know better. Kerri laughs. So does Pa. We love the brat even if we are the recipients of her mischief.

Earlier this year I lost my dad. Yesterday while on the trail, I confessed that I was overwhelmed with a wave of missing him. “Cycles of grief,” as the Wander Women say. Growing older is filled with cycles of grief and I had cycled in. I sighed. Kerri squeezed my hand. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“This sucks,” I thought.

“Uff da,” Pa said.

read Kerri’s blogpost about UFF DA

Ready The Wings [on KS Friday]

“Yes, I’m being followed by a moonshadow/Moonshadow, moonshadow/Leaping and hopping on a moonshadow/Moonshadow, moonshadow” ~ Cat Stevens, Moonshadow

An appreciation of life, no matter what comes. It is the meaning of this lyric, this song – or so I’ve read. It seems obvious. I’m having many, many conversations about loss these days. This has been an era of loss and, so the cliche’ goes, with loss new opportunity arrives. It’s true though one must move through the loss in order to arrive at the new. On the way, there is weeping and fear and anger and disorientation. Chrysalis. The trick, we are told, is about focus placement. One day we shift our eyes and see what we have instead of what we no longer possess. We move toward rather than look back.

Kerri has, for years, surrounded herself with symbols of peace. They are on our walls, on rings that she wears, on chains draped on the corner of our bathroom mirror. She draws them in the sand on the trail. A prayer for the world she desires to create. Inside and out. Since she fell, my solo-piano-playing wife has lost more than mobility in her wrists. Strange stuff is happening. Fingers that sometimes refuse to respond. Pain that shoots, seemingly from nowhere. After a photograph – a wish for the world, a peace sign in shadow – she said, “Come look at this. Look how much my finger is bending!” Strange stuff.

What is most remarkable about this shadow is, a year ago, it would have been cause for frustration. A reminder of loss. Full of fear. Today, it was a curiosity. She looks back, she looks forward. Each day she writes lyrics and poetry and wisdoms. She hums the music running through her mind and heart and, sometimes, she dances. Standing at the crossroads of what was and what is to become. Peace replaces pain. All in good time. Good time. Wings readying to unfurl.

[peace. this is one of my favorite pieces of Kerri’s]

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about PEACE

peace/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Hold The Space [on Merely A Thought Monday]

When I met Kerri, the bar of acceptance I had to clear was not with her children, it was the enormous cat with the name of a rapper: BabyCat. If the sumo-sized cat had rejected me, I’d have been shown the door. Thankfully, BabyCat was merely indifferent to my presence so I got to stay. And, after a few years of kitty-aloofness, one night BabyCat crawled into my lap and I knew I was in for good.

Today, BabyCat would have been 13 years old. He left us in a flash almost a year ago though, to this day, I think I hear him upstairs. I’m not the only one: after breakfast every morning, a year later, Dogga returns to his B-Cat meet-up spot in the kitchen and waits for his pal to join him. With full bellies, they would meet, hang out in the kitchen, and sleep the morning away. Now, after a few minutes, Dogga retreats to the back door and pines.

Though Dogga and I miss our BabyCat, Kerri suffers most from his absence. Sometimes I find her standing still in a room, as if she is listening. I wait, holding the space. “I can’t believe he’s gone,” she says. He came into her life in a period of great upheaval and was her constant companion. Through the years that she lived in this big old house all by herself, she was never all by herself. She had her BabyCat. He had her. They were – they are – bonded.

It is the empty space, the surprising change of pattern, the absence of a normal daily sound: the heavy footed cat coming down the stairs to beg a treat, that makes us stop and listen, move to the back door and pine, or tell BCat stories. Today we light a candle and celebrate BabyCat. We pause to fill the empty space with memories and laughter of all we loved about our enormous tuxedo cat with the name of a rapper.

read Kerri’s blog post about BABYCAT

Look After [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Mike and I exchanged text messages. His mother recently passed and his clan interred her ashes a few days ago. We held services for my dad last week. Columbus’ ashes will find their final resting place in the spring.

Mike is heading for the ocean. Before leaving Colorado, I had to stand in the mountains. Both are places of infinity. Stand in our smallness. Realize the ‘bigness’ of life.

What do we do after…After.

John Irving wrote that we lose people, not all at once, but in pieces. I think we find them in pieces, too. There is so much to discover in the After. Stories are told. Quiet is necessary. An anchor goes missing and then, bit by bit, is rediscovered. Inside.

After. Bit by bit.

read Kerri’s blog post about AFTER

Say, “Hi Pa.” [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Our morning ritual involves turning on the coffee, feeding Dogga, opening the windows, and greeting the plants. As part of our intentional beauty creation this summer, we surrounded ourselves with succulents and plants that called out to us. The plants have names: KC, Boston, Ralph, Spiky, Lil’ Bitch (she bites if you’re not paying attention). We call this beauty Snake-In-The-Grass.

We have to reach over Snake-In-The-Grass to open the back window. It’s an awkward maneuver and my elbow inevitably hits-and-sounds the bamboo chime that lives above and to the left of Snake-In-The-Grass. I don’t know when it started, but each time that chime sounds, I automatically say, “Hi Pa.”

Pa is Kerri’s dad and the bamboo chimes were his. I never met him, he passed before I met Kerri, but I have a nice relationship with him. I feel that I know him. Knew him. Kerri talks of him often. I swear he touched my shoulder one night, early in our relationship when we were in Florida visiting Beaky. It scared the hell out of me. It was a sweet touch, approval (I hope). That single touch began my relationship with Pa. I invoke him when I’m doing home repairs. I sit with him when Kerri is driving me nuts. He nicknamed her “Brat” so I usually ask his advice for how to navigate The Brat. He never answers but he does laugh out loud. Kerri and I both wear on our wrists a length of pull-chain that came from his workbench.

We received news the other day that my dad is failing fast. The message in the email was, “This may be it.” It. I.T. Two letters that point to the unfathomable. The inevitable. Later, after receiving the email, I was closing up the house for the night and I brushed the chime with my elbow. “Hi Pa,” I said, and my voice stopped me in my tracks. The bamboo whispered. A second touch on the shoulder. Reassurance.

“Thanks, Pa.”

Two dads. Pa. Columbus. Rich, rich relationships. Time moves. The nature of the relationship changes. I fear it and am comforted by it. The wind gently sounds the bamboo. Snake-In-The-Grass makes me reach. An awkward maneuver. A lovely way to begin and end the day, the certainty of a father.

read Kerri’s blog post about SNAKE-IN-THE-GRASS

Find A Horizon [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be only afraid of standing still.” ~ Chinese Proverb

Each morning, Kerri wanders outside to check her tomatoes. It is one of my favorite new rituals. I watch from the window as she steps out beyond the deck to the potting table, hands on hips, and scrutinizes the plants for newcomers. After a careful count she hurries back into the house to tell me the results of her count. Each day yields a new arrival. “There are ten!” she proclaimed this morning. Then, she took out her phone to show me the photos she’d taken. A family portrait of tomatoes. Miracles in the making.

Seasoned gardeners might not experience the same level of enthusiasm, but we newbies are wide-eyed at the little green orbs that show up overnight, at the basil plants spilling out of their pots.

It has already inspired new recipes. I blubbered on Sunday evening when I tasted the basil-and-tomato-saute over pasta. Food-that-makes-you-close-your-eyes-and-slow-down-so-that-you-can-savor-every-last-bit-of-it is high on my list of pleasures-to-be-cultivated.

We are learning. We are trying new things. We are setting up new spaces, rearranging furniture. At the same time, we are cleaning out, pulling bins from the basement. Sorting. Making space. The energy is moving.

In the past few years, our growth and learning has looked and felt like loss. Job losses, dear ones passing, broken wrists. Armor falling to the ground. Layers peeled. There’s nothing like time spent in the wilderness to put a fire beneath curiosity. When the questions are basic, “What do we do now?,” the available options are at the same time infinite and absent. There’s only one thing to be done and that is to keep moving. Find a horizon and walk toward it.

The tomatoes are harbingers. The season of losing layers may, at last, be done. There is now plenty of space for curiosity, for growing things. “What do we do now?” is still a question floating in the air. But, from our point of view, with the wasteland just behind us, we see the yellow buds and tiny green orbs as signaling a harvest to come. Hope. The energy is moving. A daily visit to the potting bench, rubbing basil leaves to enjoy the scent, seems like just the right amount of forward movement.

read Kerri’s blog post about TOMATOES

Look To 3 [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

My long-ago-business-partner used to tell groups that every human being wears an umbrella hat called “normal.” That is, we try to maintain and make sense of the world according to our personal (and cultural) criteria. We carry the criteria around with us – it does not exist beyond us. We are comfortable when wearing our umbrella hats. We get really uncomfortable when something comes along that knocks our hats off of our heads.

When we lose our hats, we’ll do anything to regain our comfortable “normal.” The fear of losing our hats is what makes change – personal and cultural – so difficult. Despite what they say, no one wants to lose their hat. Organizations have a nifty phrase, change-management, to shield against the reality that change – real change- requires discomfort. How to prevent discomfort? Manage it! No worries! Everything is under control!

The other strategy – also not very effective in the long run – is to pretend that the hat is still on your head. No worries! It’s all made-up! Everything is normal!

The pandemic blew our collective hats off of our heads. We’ve had a front row seat to the realities and responses of a disrupted normal. The recent photos from Miami Beach, the aggressive non-mask-wearers, the absurd and deadly politicization of a pandemic…all in the name of hat retention and recovery.

In our circle of life, we’ve had the ubiquitous conversation about the return of normal. “When can we get together again?” Prior to the pandemic, our week was patterned on, our lives were grounded in, our Sunday and Thursday night dinners with 20. In a fluid artistic life, dinner with 20 was the shape-giver to our otherwise formless weeks. One day last March, we tossed our hats to the wind. It wasn’t safe to gather.

Over the year we left groceries at his door. He dropped goodies at our door. We waved from the car. We had regular phone calls. A few times, when the weather was nice, we sat in the back yard at great distance and discussed how weird life had become.

We looked for our new-normal-hats but they were nowhere to be found. It’s what happens when change cannot be denied: the management of discomfort is the best that you can do. Keep stepping. Chop wood/carry water. One day at a time. A new normal will surface sometime. A new pattern will be established. Pattern making is what we homo sapiens do.

In the past few months we three were vaccinated. We waited for a few weeks. We diligently read our CDC guidelines. And then, as if a year had not passed in the interim, we gathered to share a meal and drink a bottle of wine. Nothing had changed and everything had changed.

2 at the table is once again 3. We are slowly reestablishing what we once knew as normal. Our laughter is easy as it has always been. But the nation we inhabit, the community we see and experience, is transformed. There are stores we will never again support. There are relationships that will always be superficial. There is a bald ugliness exposed as never before in the nation. Ruthlessness. So many dead amidst such fatuous games of denial. The hot wind that blew our normal-hats away exposed the geography – the actual geography – beneath our nation that espouses equality but has deep division and favoritism woven into its DNA. Control by division. It is a mechanism: black gain is seen as white loss. White gain is built upon black loss. It is a seesaw, an angel/devil game. It’s a system doing – brutally – what it was designed to do.

Disruption is an opportunity for change. With so many lost hats, with so much ugliness exposed, a good look in the national mirror is possible. As we struggle to find our new normal hats, it occurs to me that angel/devil games, deep divisions, are never “solved” in twos. Movement is created by two points. Insight is a three-legged stool. Complexity is addressed through triangles, through a focus on relationship. Opposition-in-twos will keep us forever on the systemic seesaw.

Laughter is restored, possibility uncovered, through the lens of three.

read Kerri’s blog post about 3

Pace The Loss [on KS Friday]

The loss of BabyCat will be forever linked with my father’s disappearance into dementia. I was away from home, helping my mother move my father into memory care, when Kerri called about BabyCat. One loss was sudden. The other loss is glacially slow.

The pace of loss.

I read once that we don’t lose our beloveds all at once. No matter what, sudden or slow, it happens in stages, the heartbreak comes in pieces. Missing daily rituals. Holidays. Last night, as has been my practice these many years, I peeked over the couch to see if BabyCat was going to “check into the hotel” (sleep on the couch) or spend the night with us. And then I remembered.

When I saw him in Colorado, I thought I had grown accustomed to my dad not being able to recognize me. I wasn’t. The tidal wave of loss nearly knocked me off of my feet. Empty eyes.

It’s been several weeks since Kerri chose a piece of her music for our melange. Both of us have, for reasons we cannot articulate, lately eschewed using our artistry in the melange – my paintings, her compositions. I’ve sorely missed diving into her chosen piece of music when preparing our KS Friday posts. When she decided this morning to use her piece, MISSING, I was strangely relieved. A bit of normalcy returned. As I listened, I found myself lingering in the comfort of her composition, the warm yearning of her solo piano, sun through shades, the promise of spring. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. The comforting refuge of memory evoked in Kerri’s MISSING. A sweet-bitter pathway through this forest of loss.

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about MISSING

missing/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

Feel The Absence [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Because I was in Colorado helping my mother navigate her way through a maze-like life transition, I was somewhat detached from the reality of BabyCat’s passing. The full weight of loss smacked me when, coming through the back door late at night, returning from my travels, my ordinarily overly-effusive Australian Shepherd was not bouncing at the door to greet me. I came in, put down my bags and, out of the darkness, DogDog emerged, walked slowly to me, and pressed his head to my leg.

Kerri warned me that DogDog was hurting. She told me about his vigil at the door, waiting for BabyCat to come home. She described his looking-looking-looking around the house for his constant companion. She told me of his quiet, his disinterest in going-in-and-out-and-in-and-out during the day.

He stays close to us. His sadness is palpable. His light is dim.

Initially, when DogDog appeared in our lives, Kerri was worried that BabyCat would never accept a dog into his domain. We knew they’d crossed the bridge into friendship when, one day, to our great dismay, DogDog had BabyCat’s head in his mouth and was dragging him across the hardwood floors. We shouted for DogDog to stop. Always an obedient boy, he released BabyCat, who promptly slapped him. The cat-head-went-back-into-the-gentle-dog-mouth and the game resumed. “Boys,” Kerri looked at me and sighed, “are a mystery to me.”

This morning, as I made breakfast, rather than go out and clear the yard of marauding squirrels, his usual enthusiastic activity, DogDog stood in the sun room, sniffing the spot BabyCat always occupied when it was time to be fed. I sat on the step and ruffled his ears. We’ve explained to him that his BabyCat isn’t coming home, that his BabyCat loved him. We’ve accompanied him as he searches the house, telling him that it will be okay. Now, as is true for us, too, we’re beyond words. We sit together in the silence, in the place where no word can reach, and, together, feel the absence, that only great love, in loss, brings.

read Kerri’s blog post about CONSTANT COMPANIONS