Between Your Heart and Mine

My heart and my mind keep turning to M., my darling little neighbor.  She doesn’t speak often and when she does, it is in a high, childish voice; one that belies her eleven years on this earth; one that sounds more like a little, tiny girl of, say, six or seven years. M. has selective mutism.  

Speaking, except when in the safety of her own home, is not her thing.

I’ve been thinking of how it feels to spend time with M.  Here are the words that best describe that time: Companionable.  Nurturing. Easy. Calm. No pressure. Peaceful.  

Moreover, I notice that as I spend time with M., I speak less.  But we communicate more.  

Commune, is the word I would use to describe our non-verbal time together.  Commune means intimate communication, rapport, and often means a spiritual communion that is without words.  Interesting. Does removing language from communicating enhance our heart connection?

This leads me to consider other  times I use my heart and not my words to communicate.  Presence. Being with. The way that we are in support of another’s being.  I think of my granddaughter. My Mom was observing us and commented: “You’re so calm with her.”  I thought about that. She’s right. The calmness comes from the energy I so want to transmit to S.  I’ve got you. There’s nothing more important to me than you. I love you. Additionally, S. must feel my heart truth:  There’s nowhere I’d rather be than with you. Surely when we are aligned with our being’s purpose, calm is the resulting energy.

When else do I feel that pervading sense of calm?  When my husband touches my back as I’m driving and I feel my being flooded with relaxation.  When I snuggle up with my husband at night. When my sweet yellow lab lays his giant head on me.  When I’m near the ocean. When I listen to music. When I read. I used to feel this all the time when I walked through the woods in Maine.  Swimming in a pond. Creating art with my studio mates. I used to feel this when I was doing crisis family therapy, using all of my senses to read the situation and to respond in a way that brought people together.  Doing hospice work. When I am with my granddaughter.

And when M. and I hang out.

So clearly M. is both eliciting and responding to sacred space.  That is REALLY valuable stuff.   

It might also be that language inherently puts a demand on us, both in speaking and listening.

Why, then, do I care about M. being able to speak with more ease?  I don’t care about it for our time together. I care about it so that she can more readily manage her contacts with our world.  We live in an extroverted, loud, speech dominant world. For women, finding our voices is NOT a given; for this child, even more so.  How can I assist M. in being able to speak up while also valuing her intuitive language, that which elicits communion for herself and for others?

I think about differences.  My spouse is severely sight impaired.  My heart is failing. My neighbor has cerebral palsy . My friend’s parents are both deaf.  If they speak at all, it is accompanied by signing; the spoken word is never going to be their first language.  My Bobah immigrated from Russia and had to adopt a new language, painstakingly. My nephew is non-verbal and autistic.  My son has a disorder of written expression. Our nation of immigrants struggles to find words with which we can reach one another.  

I value diversity so very much.  Being able to HEAR the unique experiences of others is exactly why I loved being a therapist.  It is also why I love jumping into other worlds via books. It is also why I love this big, crazy, noisy, speech centric world.  

And it is also why I treasure quiet spaces, why time with M. reminds me of the inherent value in how she intuitively communicates.  

Here’s another little snapshot:  My granddaughter is a little over two years old. She’s besieged with instructions to use her words.  At daycare she has had her share of biting and hitting. I observe her working so very hard to decipher her world, figure out expectations, figure out her feelings and respond appropriately- which means with words.  What a tall order. And what a relief for her when she comes to play with M. M. allows S. to play quietly , both of them near one another. No demands. Just close proximity. This is, in part, the classic parallel play that toddlers engage in.  It is also more than that because M. is older and is therefore able and willing to share. M. is also attuned to what S. might need. She is a nurturing and non-demanding presence. S. thrives in this context.

But what of M.?  When does she experience such a non-threatening interaction, besides with her parents and perhaps for the hour a week she spends in play therapy?  M. works so hard to communicate at school and with her friends….even with me as she finds the need to employ her high voice-whisper. I frequently have to ask her to repeat herself.  I try to tell her I have old ears, to spare her thinking it is her speech.  

I’ve been reading up on treatment for selective mutism. I consider myself to  be a card carrying member of Team M, which includes her extremely able parents and a cadre of grandparents.  I think I can come up with some fun activities that might also help M. expand her speaking repertoire. But I hope that I will never, ever lose sight of the intrinsic value of M.’s native communication style.  She adds to the color of this world, inviting us to stretch our sense of how we can interact.  

It never hurts to let this question sit alongside all that we do:  Should M. be working to adapt to the speaking world or should the speaking world be working to adapt to her?  I know the PRACTICAL answer to this question. But I raise this more for the apriori preconceptions behind the question.  What are the inherent assumptions? That M. can grow in the spoken word (as opposed to insisting that the blind learn to see or the wheelchair bound walk); That the spoken word is somehow superior to other modes of communicating; That the dominant culture gets saliency; That diversity is not as important as conformity; That we’ve got to “fix” M.  

What do you think?

I’ll leave you with a few words from Alison Krause’s song:  “When You Say Nothing At All,”

It’s amazing how you can speak right to my heart.

Without saying a word you can light up the dark.

Try as I may I could never explain what I hear when you don’t say a thing.

You say it best when you say nothing at all.

What Have We Here?

Yellow dog breathing beside me.  A special friend who knows me well enough to clear the way forward for me.  The sound of my dear husband’s squeaky chair as he writes. My Nora Jones Pandora station playing Clapton’s “If I Could Change the World.” My Candle flickering beside me.  Floor to ceiling windows allowing me to be outdoors on my inside day. My red hummingbird feeder, signaling my hopes that one or two little wonders will choose to stay with me over the winter.

Mindfulness comes a little more easily to those of us with heart failure.  We slow down. Our world contracts. We are more at home and more with ourselves.  

Over the past two years, my new specialized pacemaker has allowed my world to widen.  I’ve done things I never thought I could do again: walking downtown, eating out, paddling around a bit in the pool.  I stopped counting salt and water. I ate what I wanted.  

The shining glory and gold of this time was that I was able to be a grandmother to my  first grandbaby and to grow closer to my daughter and son-in-law. I can honestly say I took not one moment of my time with my granddaughter for granted. Not one moment. 

I did, however, begin to think that I was past heart failure; that perhaps my myriad other heart and health issues were all that was on my plate; that I could be the grandmother I wanted to be to Sam, that I could see my daughter and son-in-law through this next family transition, that I could, I could, I could…..

Instead, I’ve come home again.  My heart failure is back. And my Grandson is due to be born in November.

The timing is not at all what I wanted.  

And it all does break my heart, just a little.   

Back I go to noticing things in my small world.  I hear my dog sigh as he settles near me. I see the blues and pinks in my dining room.  I overhear my husband talking to a student who says: I always feel like a bother when I need help.  Indeed. Indeed.

I need help.

I let those words stand alone because, if I say them at all, I hurry past them.  I always feel like a bother when I need help, this young man admits. Hmmm. Turns out I do too.  But lucky me, I have people in my life who figure that out about me and who are so gracious, so kind and so much fun, that accepting help feels like the Blessing that it is.  These are some of the wonders that will stay with me over this winter of mine. How did I get so lucky?  

Maybe I’m finally going to learn to receive.  Imagine how much more I will have to give then.  Imagine what another period of mindfulness will teach me.  Imagine a world in which we all help one another, as we are able, and that what we can give without depleting ourselves is, most wonderfully, enough.

Imagine growing wise.  

Time to face the strange ch-changes…

Hanging on to the moments

Hanging on to the moments (Photo credit: demandaj)

Tonight I write as my family sleeps.  In my new life since my heart failure, sleep eludes me.  It seems I can neither sleep at night nor nap.  At first I thought of words I had heard about insomnia long ago:  “Do not fear it as everyone eventually sleeps.”  However, I find that this is not entirely true.  I do catch a few hours here and there.  Most often, I sleep as the first light of day comes, catching 3 to 4 hours.  What I have found is that there are few medications I am allowed to take and all of those make me groggy without providing sleep.  That means I am tired enough to want to sleep, but can’t, and am too tired to do anything else.  So, medication is not the answer.  What is?  Going with the flow.  I will sleep as I can and see what happens.  Oh, the ch-changes.

I have noticed that in times of hardship during my life I am most able to live in the moment.  When my son was injured many years ago, I recall realizing that I was literally living one moment, possibly one day, at a time.  I had to.  There was no other way to manage.  A rather elderly man (and boy, isn’t “elderly” a slippery term!  I’m sure I fall into that category in the eyes of, say, high school students) said to me:  “If you have learned to live one day at a time at your young age, you are doing well, young lady.”  I took that to heart.  But of course I did not keep that up.  Several months later, I was again laboring under the multitude of tasks most of us take on, most certainly those of us who are mothers of young children.  As I learned to “manage”  the crisis of my son’s health situation, I inadvertently allowed distance to creep in and obscure that one-day-at-a-time living.  Perhaps it is impossible not to.

As a child, my family moved frequently.  I believe I had lived in something like 12 places before going off to college.  These places ranged from Wisconsin to Mississippi to Long Island.  It seemed I was always pinch hitting.  When I became a mother, this served me well as I was able to respond to the ever changing ages and stages of my children.  If there was a crisis or someone needed me in the moment, I had the requisite skill set.  After I married Marc, my life settled down and I began to experiment with such things as pacing and setting limits.  I remember I used to ask Marc:  what is a normal amount to do in a day?  I had no concept of when or whether to stop “doing.”  This became more of an issue as I would head off at full  speed and suddenly my energy would drop right out from under me.  I was stunned.  I assumed it all had to do with needing to learn self regulation.  And I am nothing if not an eternal student.  So I worked on it.  But even as I gained the skills, the fatigue did not abate.  I wondered if I had simply taken on too much in life.  Perhaps I had used up all the energy allotted for one lifetime.  Too late, it seemed, I learned to hold some energy in reserve.  Some of that was no doubt at play.  But, the larger part of it, I think, was the beginning of my heart failure.  I did, after all, have a “broken heart” many times over.  But I was in no way in a difficult time of life when the fatigue hit.  My kids were in college.  My husband and I were happily enjoying our “empty nest.”  But that is when the heart condition really caught up with me.

The take away message?  Perhaps there is none.  Who knows?  But my thinking on this is as follows.  Stuff happens.  I have no idea why.  I don’t know why my husband can never catch a break with his eye situation.  I watch him fight through pain everyday.  I have no idea why my son would suffer such a brutal injury at such a young age.  There are many more such examples in my family and in pretty much everyone’s family.  But I do know that as an eternal student, and as a person of faith, I choose to try to see what such experiences yield in terms of learning and perhaps wisdom (one can hope!)  So far, I am learning yet again of the primacy of faith.  This can be as simple as:  I don’t know if I will sleep tonight or I don’t know how well I will cope with the next medication change or I don’t know when I will have the energy to post again or when will I have the energy to grocery shop or to return those items to walmart.  Or it can be as high stakes as:  I don’t know what the story of my children’s lives will be and I have to have faith that they have the tools to cultivate joy and to withstand hardship if they must  (of course, I would sheild them from everything if I could).

Now I have forgotten my other point, which is great, because the better “point” is that I am here now, living, watching, trying, appreciating, loving, some days complaining,  and learning what it means to be.

Memorial Day Week end: First thing, Thank you to our vets

This week end I am especially thankful to our vets.  Our daughter, Emily, is dating a wonderful man, Joe, who will be going on his 8th tour of duty this fall.  He was in college during the time when 9/11 occurred.  Like so many brave young people, he enlisted within a couple of years of graduation.  He now serves as an Army Ranger.  We think the world of him.  I can’t imagine how his parents have endured these many deployments.  I pray that all of the troops come home soon and that we, as a country, stand by our vets and make sure they get all of the services they need.  

Yesterday I listened to Vice President Biden’s courageous words to our Gold Star Families.  He spoke from the heart to these families, first  recounting his despair after his wife and brother were killed in an automobile accident.  Vice President Biden was a young man, newly elected to the senate.  He had young children.  As you can imagine, he was devastated.  He told the families that he knew what it was like to want to commit suicide.  He acknowledged that some in the audience may struggle daily with such feelings.  He talked about the black hole of pain.  And he promised that if they were able to endure, that one day, when these families thought of their loved one, they would smile at a memory before the tears came.  And that would be a beginning.  Vice President Biden may well have saved some lives with this “straight talk.”  I am so proud of him.  The last thing these families need is platitudes.  They are in the trenches of grief and loss.  Vice President Biden essentially lit a lamp, held it high, and perhaps offered a path through the darkness for these families.  I will be praying hard for our vets and for the families of our vets this week end.  

Lighter matters:

Today I went to the Kennebunk plant and pie sale at the local hardware store.  I came home with some lemon basil and some chives.  I learned that the chive flowers (supposedly) can be used as an edible garnish to add taste and color.  I will be adding both the chive and the lemon basil to this week’s rice salad.  So, the base will be brown rice and lemon juice.  Add-ins are fresh herbs, red sweet peppers, aduki beans, scallions, corn, sweet peas, zest of lemon and orange.  I will put the rice dish on a bed of Arugula or I will sprinkle watercress on top.  Both of these greens are loaded with vitamins A and C.  Watercress has as much vitamin C as an apple.  In fact, it  has so many nutrients that it is known as nature’s multi-vitamin.  Check these greens out if you like the bitter greens of the early growing season.

Late night snack.  Oh, I have missed having milk and cereal before bed.  At last I have found low salt replacements.  Try Mom’s Best Sweetened Wheat-fuls.  An entire cup has only 10 mg sodium.  Wow!  And they taste great.  Really.  For a milk-like substitute, I am using Westsoy’s organic unsweetened soy milk that has only 30 mg sodium per cup.  It  isn’t quite as tasty as milk or other milk subs, but the salt content is far less.  Oh, both of these products pack a great protein punch.  5 and 9 grams, respectively.  I actually fell asleep before the sun rose this morning and I think this snack helped.  In addition, I tried some melatonin.  That seemed to help as well.  i’m hoping I can get my sleep cycle back in order.  I had forgotten how beautiful the morning is!!!  Ah, but I have already gone through a lot of my water supply for the day.  It is amazing how fast that 2 liters can go.

That’s all for now.  Gus is asleep on the couch.  Marc and his Dad are out having coffee.  Phyllis is relaxing and enjoying the day.  I hope you all have a great week end.


It has been a day full of fog.  Do you like fog?  I had a friend who said fog made her feel claustrophobic.  I was so surprised, as I have always found fog to be comforting, enveloping, a bit like a cacoon, I imagine.  But I am so glad my friend told me that.  It serves as a reminder that we each experience life in a unique way.  Today, as i enjoyed the fog, I was also aware of another perspective.  I thought, also, about moisture made visible, be it rain or snow or sleet.  That turned my mind to the humidity that is so much a part of my life when I am in Alabama.  The cool tendrils of fog please me, but give me humidity as it forms in the south, and I am miserable. Both are air thick with moisture.  Yet they are so different.

My maiden name comes from the words:  sea farer.  I imagine my ancestors sailing through the seas.  I think of how many years I lived on an island and how the sound of the foghorn and of the bell buoys called to me.  It is good to be home, good to know that i still feel at home here after so many years of living “away.”

I realize I have two homes now.  Alabama is one of those.  I have family and friends and history there now.  Instead of choosing between, I am learning to add on.

Tell me about your homes in this world.  What places call to you?