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

Say Farewell [on Two Artists Tuesday]

And just like that, our BabyCat was gone.

He waited until I was traveling so I experienced his death through Kerri’s eyes. His sudden illness. The race to the vet. A dire diagnosis. He died before any decisions were made or treatments considered.

When I first met Kerri there were two approvals I needed to secure. Beaky’s [Kerri’s mother] and BabyCat’s. Beaky’s approval was easy. We took to each other right away. BabyCat’s acceptance took some time. He’d had Kerri all to himself for years and was cautious about this newcomer. It didn’t help that my entrance to his quiet world also came with a rambunctious puppy. After our honeymoon, one evening, with no warning, BabyCat jumped up into my lap and I knew I was in. “Well, look at that!” Kerri said. BabyCat purred. I beamed.

He joined me in my morning yoga. He bumped my legs to alert me of his empty bowl. He trained me to carry him up the stairs for his late night snack [his bowl was on the landing, safe from invasion, since DogDog is afraid of climbing stairs]. He crawled into bed with us each night as we watched our late night trail and made himself available for lavish pets. I willingly became his grateful servant.

Two days after his death BabyCat came to me in a dream. I was still in Colorado and felt badly that Kerri was all alone with her grief. In the dream, BabyCat came to the backdoor and yowled; he wanted to come in. He was an indoor kitty his entire life so I was surprised to find him outside. I opened the door and knelt down. He came in and crawled into my lap and we had a nice pet. He purred. I told him that I was going to miss him.

I awoke with a profound sense of peace. BabyCat was okay. I will always be grateful that he crawled into my lap. I will always be grateful that he gave me a sweet farewell.

read Kerri’s blog post about BABYCAT

Follow The Lights [on KS Friday]

Before moving to Wisconsin I had no holiday tradition. Being “not religious,” my celebrations were more spontaneous and improvisational than rooted in any specific custom or expectation. Dinners with friends. One year I baked bread with strangers. One year I took a boat to an island because there was a hot springs by the beach. One year, because I was alone and life was crumbling all around me, I scheduled for myself 30 coaching calls; that was the most memorable and profound holiday season of my life. I helped people. I met Kerri.

Since moving to Wisconsin my holiday tradition has been to help Kerri create choir performances for services. When I suggest that I helped, I mean I carried stuff, set up chairs, pushed pianos, moved bells into the choir loft, set up microphones, hauled big bowls of sand for candles. I am part Sherpa. It has been the busiest and zaniest time of the year. After playing the late night Christmas Eve service – the last of many running through the week, we come home, and with our neighbors, light luminaria up and down the street, pull two fire pits onto the driveway and stoke them for warmth. We open bottles of wine and place on a table bowls of snacks. People come and, huddled around the fire, we talk and laugh until the cold wee-hours of the morning.

This year, with the loss of jobs and collapse of community, with the pandemic spiking, our traditions are erased. For me, this feels like familiar territory. For Kerri, it is a profound loss and is disorienting. She had a full-on-old-fashioned-melt-down a few nights ago after cutting her finger on a broken wine glass. “It’s too much…” she sobbed. I couldn’t help but feel as she wept that I/We have walked a full-circle. Eight years later, life is again crumbling all around me/us. This could be the most memorable and profound holiday season of our lives. I didn’t offer my thoughts. I have learned in moments of crisis that silence is often more helpful than platitudes of encouragement. I am slow but sometimes I get there.

Leo had a Christmas tradition that I admired. He gave everyone in his circle an orange and a few walnuts. He grew up very poor and, as a child, those were the gifts he received. It was the most and best gifts that his parents could give. Throughout his long and successful life, he gave them to remind himself – and those he loved – that the holiday was not about the stuff. It was about the people who stand in the circle with you, the people who stand in the fire with you. The people who you love, who give all that they have: their hearts. An orange. A few walnuts. Big, big love.

This year, those people will stand virtually with us and we with them. The hot fire of this year has burned away the superficial. The recognizable patterns have all but disappeared. Yet, the essentials remain. The essential few remain. Deeply rooted. Deeply felt.

The cycle of life, the cycle of The Lights in Kerri’s song, reminds us of all that really matters. New life, linking back. Ancient hearts beating in our breasts. Full of light. Full of big, big love.

Kerri’s albums – including the lights – are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LIGHTS

the lights ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

Mourn The Loss [on KS Friday]

last i saw you copy

28 years ago, on this day, Kerri’s older brother, Wayne, died of lung cancer. If you want to know how she feels about it, you need only listen to LAST I SAW YOU. Grief made utterly beautiful in its yearning.

It is the gift of the artist to transform, to turn the darkest day, the breaking heart, into something bearable. It is the gift of the artist to communicate what cannot be captured in language, to transport us, in a safe way, into and through the hurt so we might touch the unfathomable depth of love. It is the gift of the artist to open new pathways and possibilities, to guide communities into and through impossible conversations. To point the way to a new story, a new perspective growing from an old and ancient root.

In my mind it is the greatest loss when an artist turns against their artistry. The entire world loses on the day an artists says, “Why bother.” There’s no money in it. The artist loses most of all because they’ve bitten the poison in the American apple. They wither and die. Not everything is or should operate like a business. Education is not nor ever should be a business. Worship is not a business. Healthcare is not nor ever should be a business. Run them that way and the priorities flip. The greater is lost in the lesser. When making money becomes more important than health or care or spirit or the expansion of minds, we lose our way. We send our kids back to school during a pandemic to open the economy. Sacrificial lambs. Throw them into a volcano to make it rain.

What we value in this nation is abhorrent.

And then there is Kerri. What a gift. What a loss. She read today that someone is now making silverware out of old CDs. “Look,” she said, showing me the article. “We have a basement filled with CDs! Maybe we should have gone into the silverware business!” Proving to herself once again that her gift is less than worthless. Worth less gift. No business.

Great! I thought but did not say. A world filled with forks but void of your music. No one to lead us through the dark, no way to reach the truly beautiful.

“My paintings,” I said, feigning alliance, “are destined for a thrift store.” I’ve given up the fight with her (though, by this post you can see that I am a liar).

I continue to paint with no illusion about “sales” or “showing” or the other necessities of “business.” It’s for me, now. Transformation of dark to light can be selfish, too. Personal. After all, for me, it’s always been a spiritual path. Business necessities pale in the comparison.

If you want to know what I [and Wayne] feel about Kerri turning her back on her artistry, you need only listen to LAST I SAW YOU. Listen for the strings. It will break your heart.

 

LAST I SAW YOU is on the album THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LAST I SAW YOU

 

ray of light WI website box copy

 

 

last i saw you/this part of the journey ©️ 1997 kerri sherwood

meditation ©️ 2015 david robinson

Ask, “What Now?” [on DR Thursday]

weeping man copy 2

“Although each of us is fashioned in careful incompletion, we were created to long for each other. The secret of our completion can only be found in the other. Huge differences may separate us, yet they are exactly what draw us to each other. It is as though forged together we form one presence, for each of us has half of a language that the other seeks.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

My favorite definition of “story” comes from Robert Olen Butler: a story happens when a yearning meets an obstacle. It is, of course, also a great definition of the experience of being alive. In our “careful incompletion” we yearn for other things and other places, other ideas of ourselves. And, so, we set sail. We seek.

Without yearning there would be no story. Without obstacles there would be no story.

Like you, I have spent my time on the kitchen floor, Kerri’s code-phrase for weeping.  When my obstacle was insurmountable, when my yearning required leaving. Loss. Weeping invited surrender. Surrender required weeping. Letting go.

And, after the weeping, emptied of what was, I, like you, stood, took a deep breath and asked myself, “What now?”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WEEPING MAN

 

 

cropped head kiss website copy

 

weeping man ©️ 2015 david robinson