We have a family of raccoons that visit our apartment complex regularly. They live in the sewers underneath the Unitarian Church down the street, and come out of the bamboo at the fence where our cats like to sleep in hot weather – first the mother and then her three children, staying close together, in search of food. I’m not friends with these raccoons. Last year our Kitty Bear got into a terrible fight with the big one. It had the audacity to come onto our second story porch and I had to chase it away with a broom and rush Kitty to the midnight vet.
But recently our Landlord set a trap for one underneath our kitchen window, and last night the poor thing got stuck, and cried and cried and cried. It broke my heart to hear it so desperate, so upset, so scared. I called the SPCA, who directed me to the fire department, and they returned my call. We spoke several times. I tried to release it myself but couldn’t figure out how to work the trap. It’s family growled at me from the shadows, and it snarled and hissed, and I was afraid. The SPCA called the landlord who promised to send the catcher over right away to release it, but he did not. It cried all night, on and off, between periods of exhaustion. First thing in the morning I will call the SPCA again and beg them to someone to set it free. For now all I can do is … write about it.
It’s illegal to trap wild animals. We’re the ones encroaching on their land, after all. How beautiful must the Bay Area have been a couple hundred years ago? The golden fog-encrusted hills overlooking a big blue bay surrounded by marshlands. There’s a pack of great white sharks off Pillar’s Point, hunting together and chasing the dwindling food supply in an ocean that’s too warm. And last year a mountain lion was found on 9th and El Camino – a good five miles from open space. They figured it came down creek in the canyon looking for food. How terrified and confused she must have been, navigating her way along the sides of parking lots in a city of concrete? They put her to sleep and took her back and further out. Would she have understood what happened? Do lions dream?
It rained today – such a blessing for our parched earth. The air was even cold and the rain came down like it meant it. I drove my husband to school and picked him up too so he wouldn’t have to walk in the unfamiliar downpour. He says it makes him feel like a little kid, but I know he likes it. It was a particularly stressful day at work, so really it was a gift to me as well, to bookend the day with time together – the quiet of the car is always calming for the both of us. So I’ll end the day with early to bed and lots of cuddles. Tomorrow is a new day, fresh and clean with no mistakes in it.
Today was my mom’s birthday, is a birthday gift cheating? The family gave her a lovely celebration, and I’ll just tell you a little part of it…
She’s always loved Halloween and as an adult discovered the haunting joy and brilliance of the Mexican celebration, Dia de los Muertos. This is the day when the ghosts of our ancestors return to celebrate with the living, keeping the string of our families intact and reminding us of the brevity and impermanence in life. This year she made gingerbread cookies and decorated them with cinnamon candies and silver balls, and set up an altar for her parents and her sister. For the altar, I brought a handful of bright marigolds from the farmer’s market and wrapped a saint candle in a painting I’d done of orange, yellow and maroon acrylics that looked like a fiery sunset.
We lit the candle and scattered a few of the marigolds around the picture frames and glass skull she’d set up, ate warm gingerbread with champagne, and smiled together. Happy Birthday Mama.
A woman collapsed at the grocery store while she was paying for her food. It’s a local corner store we go to, and the cashier is a wonderful lady who has known this woman and her husband for years. She practically jumped over the counter and caught her as she crumpled to the grown. People in the store were panicked and loud. Someone called 911. Everyone wanted to help.
My husband and I walked over. We’re both trained in CPR and the crowd dispersed a little, but we didn’t need to use it. We simply sat by her head, smiling and chatting together. Her name was Patricia. The tile under her head was cold and hard, so my husband placed his hands there to make her more comfortable while I rubbed her shoulder and the cashier held her hand. She wore blue jeans, a fleece and a raincoat – too many clothes for the warm California October we’re having, and she was hot. She told us how her equilibrium had been off lately and how she’d recently fallen in her backyard, hitting her face but protecting her eye as she’d fell. She said, they should just chain me up! and I laughed with her to appreciate her joke, and told her that was silly. She said I’m so embarrassed and I said, not at all, everything is fine, you’re fine too, and I smiled. We breathed slowly, together. Her husband was usually there with her, she apologized, but he’d been having trouble walking lately and was waiting for her in the car. She didn’t want him to worry, and the friendly cashier went outside to let him know and help him in.
A few minutes later the paramedic arrived to take over. As I said goodbye and walked away the calm I’d brought seemed to fizzle. I felt tired and shaky, and when we came home I lay on the floor with our Kitty-bear. I thought about marriage and aging, the passage of time, the blessing of health, the pull of gravity, and the kindness of strangers, in costumes, on Halloween. And I realized that my gift for the day was my presence.
Inspired by the book 29 Gifts, I am going to give 29 gifts before Thanksgiving.
I’m feeling myself falling into the old depression – exhausted during the day, sleeping all afternoon, and awake worrying all night. School has been so terribly frustrating, and in meditation I’ve come up against my old demons. The shadows that we hide from can rear up when we slow and quiet enough to listen and take the time to engage in writing practice. Those dark spots seem to find their outlines, and as they become less abstract and more concrete they’re harder to ignore. I can’t bear to record my whiney voice - to see that shadow self in black and white, and to send that energy out into the universe. Instead, I will try to use the frustrations I’m facing as opportunities for metta and mindfulness.
And today I listened to the book and found myself engaged. This morning while covering a high school class I opened with a mindful activity. I filled a cup half full of water and had students stand in circle around the room. We passed the cup around, amid lots of giggling. I then filled the cup up to the top, and we passed it again. I could feel the energy in the room shifting, the giggling more inward as an expression of nervousness, the silence and concentration growing. I then challenged the students, each individual themselves, to do this exercise silently. I reminded them that if someone talked that was ok, everyone was working on their own silence, challenging themselves. I acknowledged that silence is awkward sometimes but we were going to try and just sit in it. And they did. The full cup over water got all the way around the room in silence. THEN we tried it with our eyes closed, with mixed success. But the focus, concentration and effort was there. I went on to teach the lesson and show the documentary Blackfish, and not a single student asked for a break. I feel like this must be a record – certainly it felt like one for me. I feel good having given 30 kids the gift of a minute of silence to carry them through the day.