Finding God in the Music

Klimt (visipix.com)

I lost Jesus at 14 when the woman I loved most in this world was ripped from my heart. In typical teenage fashion, I needed someone to blame. Instead of the eighteen-wheeler.

The truth is that I didn’t trust God anymore. What kind of world kills your grandmother (and her three best friends) on the way to a fundraiser?

In the absence of His love and that of my grandmother’s and aunties, I found myself a man; But in the end I couldn’t trust him either. Neither did my own father remain steadfast in his love. Those years were swollen with pain, as I watched my family splinter, until there was little left upon which I could rest my faith.

After I gave up on God, two of my younger sisters took up with him–in that boorish, effusive way of the freshly born again.  Their new-found love, only made me feel lonelier.  Their certainty that Jesus belonged to them, left me wondering how he was ever my friend.

In my twenties, I came to Al-Anon, and there I began dating my “Higher Spirit,” who remained faceless, and who never quite hit the spot like the man in robes with penetrating eyes and long, sandy hair. It would be decades before I came to peace without a spirit lover, and until then I searched for him in many faiths.

When I finally found what I was looking for, it wasn’t in a chapel or a temple or even a women’s circle, it was… in the music.  On the night before my beloved grandfather’s funeral–the man who lost his wife to the tragedy that stole God, my born-again sister handed me some music that she was ready to discard.

While The New Jersey Mass Choir seemed right up her holy alley, I was beginning to understand that there was a hierarchy among Christians which placed Catholics below the born-again.  My sister saved my soul that night, though not in the way she had always wanted.

When the soloist delivered Jesus to me in her rich, sultry tones, it didn’t matter that my passion made no sense.

When the storms in my life are raging. When the weight of this world drives me to my knees… I found a Hiding Place…

I felt the love that had once been mine.

I reclaimed Spirit then, in every song and sound, no matter whence it sprang.

Allah, Yahweh, Jesu, Krishna, Shakti, Earth, Water, Sky, Home.

With music–and now movement–I make sacred the mystery of this journey we call life, without needing to know why.

Kelly Salasin, Vermont

Find out about Falling into the Music with YogaDance here.

ps. Special mention goes out to my two beloved, born-again sisters with whom I share an ever-expanding communion in the Mystery that transcends understanding.

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Late Summer Collection

One of the things that I treasure about blogging is that it’s simple enough to do–even when the kids are home–as evidenced by these posting highlights harvested from each of my blogs this summer.  I hope you  find a title or two that intrigues you. As always, your voice is most welcome.  Read a post, share a comment/connection!

Pissarro, visipix.com

Summer’s Harvest

~This Vermont Life: The Dog Days of Summer and Until I Moved to Vermont, a tribute to the summer sun in the Green Mountains.

~The Motherless Muse: Days Like ThisThe Writing Cellar and Namesake.

~The Marriage Journey: posts from My Sister’s Wedding.

~The Empty(ing) Nest Diary: The Running Away Thing, Last Days of Summer Panic, and The Wisdom of Fatigue.

~ Two Owls Calling (and the Life Purpose Path):  Thought Anthropologist, Dis-Orient Me, Life’s Debris, The Stream of Love, The Path of Women, The Yoga of Teeth, The Party Gene and Weeding My Life.

Kelly Salasin, Fall 2010

The 48 Hour Christmas

I’ve always loved Christmas… and never stopped believing in Santa. I look forward to the season almost as soon as it ends, anticipating its return, the day after Thanksgiving. This is when the watershed of festivities begin: decorations brought down from the attic, lights strung up outside, and best of all— the Christmas music played–for an entire month!

In truth, there have been some desperate years when I unpacked the holiday tunes long before it was “officially” legitimate, but I restricted myself to instrumental selections, careful not to delve any further.

This past year, however, I began sneaking into the carols earlier than ever (July!) We had just moved from one rental to another while embarking on the task of building our first home (my husband doing most of it himself). What was meant to be a temporary living situation, “just for the summer,” was extended, again and again when the house was not completed “on time.”

When the leaves began to fall, I had to face the possibility that my holidays might be celebrated in this rental rather than in our new home as we had expected. I began playing Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole– a line I’ve never crossed before– but even they didn’t cheer me.

On one particularly gray day in November, my sister in Florida emailed, inviting us for a visit as she often did. “Only if we can stay till the house is finished!” I replied in frustration.

To both of our surprise, she answered,” COME!” And thus, just weeks before the Christmas favorites could be played out in the open, I flew south with my boys.

Leaving during the holidays was hard for me. Though I enjoyed my relatives’ traditions, the season wasn’t the same without my own things– and without snow and mountains and sledding.

When my sister’s family decorated their home on an eighty-degree day, I found myself withdrawn and sad; and when that night of all nights came— the one to adorn the evergreen, I couldn’t help thinking of my own ornaments packed away.

In light of world affairs, of families separated by war and devastation, mine seemed a trifling preoccupation, but I couldn’t shake it.

As Christmas approached, the phone calls between Florida and Vermont increased. We each felt the growing strain of our separation, desperate to be reunited. With each conversation, there were reports of progress (or delays) on the house.

After a long day of teaching, my husband would head over to the building site to spend  long and lonely winter nights: framing, sheetrocking, spackling, flooring; installing cabinets, fixtures, bathrooms; and finishing electric and plumbing. It seemed endless, but we both held onto the dream that we’d celebrate Christmas together– in our new home.

After weeks and weeks of anticipation (and three visits to Disney), the boys and I kissed my sister’s family goodbye, and boarded a plane for New England. We arrived in the wee hours of December 22nd, the first day of winter, when the airports were full of folks flying in the opposite direction.

We arrived without knowing for certain if my husband had been able to finish the house, but as we turned the corner of the terminal, and saw his familiar smile behind the gate, nothing else mattered. There was no better homecoming than the warmth and certainty of his embrace after such a long absence.

That first morning in Vermont, I woke to the sun kissing my face. There are few commodities as precious as sun in a northern climate, particularly at the start of a cold day.

The eastern light through my bedroom window was such a delight that it distracted me from the rawness of my surroundings– the unpainted walls; the yellow insulation foam hanging from windows; the rough and unfinished floors; the invasion of cluster flies from an exposed attic; and the lack of doors anywhere, even on the bathroom.

My husband was up and off to work already, and the boys slept beside me, in this, the only livable bedroom.

I was pretty groggy that first day back in Vermont and didn’t do much but unpack the bathing suits and search for boots and snowpants. In the afternoon, I wandered downstairs, and fixed some tea in “my” kitchen on my new stove; sipping it while I watched the boys sled down the hill in our own front yard– a light snow falling.

When my husband arrived “home” from school late that afternoon, our holiday (and our lives here) began. With only 48 hours to unfold, we scuttled to create a Christmas together.

We found one of the last trees at a stand down the road, bought a half-priced wreath and poinsettia, picked up some last minute food at the grocery store, and unpacked a single box of our favorite holiday things. The tree was decorated and the cookies for Santa baked just before the boys were tucked in Christmas Eve.

What had once taken weeks to carefully execute, was joyfully prepared in just two days. The tempo lent a heightened excitement to our festivities, and something more precious– a slowing of expectations.

In 48 hours, Christmas can’t be perfect. I had to let go of so much that had once felt so important, and I had to hold onto that which I treasure most: the company of my family, around a Christmas tree, in our new home, while carols played all the day long.

Kelly Salasin, 2006

Love’s Testimony

Kelly Salasin

I spoke these truths at my mother’s funeral in 2000.

I have the deepest respect for my mother
and  
I’ve always wanted  to be able to offer this kind of public testimony for her–because she was a “background/behind the scenes” kind of person who I felt needed to 
be exalted…

My mom supported and encouraged so many others with their 
dreams and their problems,  but never seemed to need to be the center of 
things or to shine herself.  
For me this made her a kind of hero.   
She was definitely  the “wind beneath my wings” … whether it was acting in a highschool play, going off to college, 
traveling through Europe, moving to VT, or deciding to give up a career and 
be an at home mom.

It was my mother’s constancy of unconditional love and acceptance that made so much 
possible for me.  I always wished that she could have had some of the glory and opportunities 
that I did so it is an honor to glorify her here today.

And I always thought that I would have to get up here and tell people about 
how special she was, but after this summer– 
after all the love letters &cards, poems & paintings, presents & meals 
that were sent her way, I know that others realized the gift she was  too.

And more importantly, there is the testimony that her children offered, each 
and every day this summer in the hospital and at  home, as they lovingly 
cared for mom, and left their personal lives and homes behind. 
  
I was and am touched so deeply by their devotion and by their unified 
strength– 
how they came together and loved my mother whole-heartedly.   
I am continually in awe of this,  and I was blessed to be here on some short 
visits and in her last days to witness this love story.

I’d like to share some glimpses of those last days and hours with you when 
all of us rallied around mom; there were so many beautiful moments, so many 
blessings in the sadness of it all….

So here is a spoken slide 
show of those moments together:
~my brother-in-law Dr. Ken Cramer at my mother1s side, listening to her lungs 
with his stethoscope, tears streaming down his face
~my mother’s eyes closed and unresponsive for hours, suddenly opening wide 
and looking all around  after hearing the cry of my newborn son
~wall to wall air mattresses, arriving daily to be placed around my mother’s 
bed so that each of her children could be there to support her in her last 
hours
~in the wee hours, these beds filled with family who haven’t slept under the 
same roof in fifteen years
~having the little ones toddling around, John and Sequoia and Josh, and to 
see the love they had for their mom-mom
~my aunt cass (my mom’s sister) who massaged my mom’s feet each time she came, even after my 
mom had passed
~to hear laughter coming from a full kitchen of siblings and spouses, 
relatives and friends;  and the meals that arrived daily to feed of all of us
~to share in the sorrow of these days with with each other’s partners, Kenny 
Cramer, Ken Burcham, Casey, Tim, Rich, Frank, and Danny’s Diana who always 
had that beautiful smile and a gift for mom
~to find mom’s brothers and sisters together again to support her
~to see the natural rhythm of the bed-side vigil, always one or two to sit 
beside mom without the need to ask…  holding mom’s hand, telling her how 
beautiful she was, giving her water with a sponge, wiping her mouth and 
brow:  her brother bill, her sister chris, her sister in law Barbara

~the times we all gathered around mom, sobbing, holding onto each other and 
to her, telling her how we loved her and were there for her, thinking she 
was taking her last breaths, only to see her open her eyes and wonder what 
was going on…
~watching Kenny’s tears turn to laughter after this, realizing that his 
stethoscope & medical examination didn’t /couldn’t account for everything, 
particularly mom’s determination
~having Big Dan say at one of these gathering times around mom, that if he 
was a painter, he’d paint this beautiful picture
~the sight of my nephew Corey in tears behind us, and how my niece Jamie 
fell into my sister Michelle’s arms after my mother passed
~little bonnie lying beside mom that last night, staying with her in her last 
hours, and mom waiting to begin to finally let go until Bonnie got up to 
make a pot of coffee
~the incredible pain and blessing of each of us being present around my 
mother as she took her lasts struggled breaths, continuing to breath even 
after her heart had stopped
~the sound of each person’s utter grief
~to have my son Lloyd there when my mother passed, and my son Aidan waking 
just before she was dying, continuing the awesome connection between his new 
life and her ending life this summer
~to watch the love that each one of us gave to her even after she passed… 
causing the nurse and the undertaker to eventually leave to come back hours 
later  to do their work
~to witness the relationship and love that had developed between the nurses 
and my family
~to see my nieces Bekah and Jordan sitting beside my mom alone after she had 
died and lovingly touching her face… while Andrew and Lloyd jumped on her 
trampoline
~to have big Dan bring us all together around mom’s body to offer our words 
of love one last time, and to hear him talk about how special we all were
~to watch my mom’s body being taken, and stand there among sobbing sisters, 
and aunts and uncles on the sidewalk, in the yard and on the porch as 
she left our lives
~to see what a comfort big dan was to my mother, his devotion, his daily 
tears, his touches, and to see the reflection of that in the affection and 
respect held for him by my sisters- for this he has my undying gratitude

For each  of us I think that there will be a “Bonnie” shaped hole in our 
hearts and lives from this time on.  Mine felt like a crater this morning, 
but there is also the blessing that this summer has been for all of us.
My mom’s life, even in its ending, was certainly a success, and so I’d like to close with a poem by Emerson entitled the same.   
I found it on  a card I sent to my mom years ago that she had saved.  It is as true today of her as it ever was,

SUCCESS

To laugh often and much; 
to win the respect of intelligent people 
and affection of children; 
to earn the appreciation of honest critics 
and endure the betrayal of false friends; 
to appreciate beauty 
to find the best in others, 
to love the world a little bit better, 
whether by a healthy child, 
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; 
to know even one life has breathed easier 
because you have lived. 
This is to have succeeded.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

(please consider visiting The Motherless Muse– my new blog of writing following my mother’s passing)

Here is the Church

Kelly Salasin

Here is the Church:
Where i learned about love
with freshly-brushed bangs and rosy-pinched cheeks
and bible stories pieced together
with scissors and paste and popsicle sticks…

Here is the Church and
Here is the Steeple:
Where i met Jesus
His love, warm and constant
streaming through the windows
of my Sunday school classroom
upon white buckled shoes and ribboned dresses…

Here is the Church and
Here is the Steeple,
Open the Door
:
And see me beaming
beside sisters and cousins
an eager children’s choir,
and in that same place
under His cross
twenty years later
marrying the man of my dreams…

Here is the Church and
Here is the Steeple,
Open the Door and
See All the People
:
In these golden pews
four generations of my family pray
summers at vacation bible school
the fullness of God’s love resounding
in sea shells and glitter and song…

Here is the Church and Here is the Steeple,
Open the Door and See all the people,
Close the door
:
As we bury my mother
so young
crying Tora Lora Loo

Here is the Church and Here is the Steeple,
Open the Door and See all the People,
Close the Door and
Hear Them Pray
:
Bowed heads once brown or blonde, now grey
empty choir where the Reverend’s wife once sang
Charlie Rowe, life-long friend
forever walking Aster, parsonage to pulpit
beside each bed when sickness came
beside each grave
when love was lost…

Here is the Church and Here is the Steeple,
Open the Door and See All the People,
Close the Door and Hear Them Pray,
Open the Door
:
Onto bright yellow bonnets
hands held for photos
dollars pressed inside tiny palms
gingerly placed on golden trays
forever carried by Angels
who never age
Rejoice! He is risen!
Baskets filled with eggs
bagels and lox strewn across
my grandmother’s table…

Here is the Church and Here is the Steeple,
Open the Door and See All the People,
Close the Door and Hear Them Pray,
Open the Door and
They All Run Away…

But some come back
and once children, become pastors even
lighting memories of
graham cracker crumbs and grape-juice mustaches
skipping down the Avenue
His words in hand,
shouting
Jesus loves me, this I know!”

(This piece was written while my own boys attended Vacation Bible School at the same church I attended as a child– only now my sister and her husband/pastor were the youth leaders, and my uncle–the Pastor!)

522-1556

my mom’s phone was disconnected today
and although she’s been dead for three years
it felt like the umbilical cord had been ripped between us

my stepfather had finally dropped her outgoing message a few months back
until then we could call
and hear her voice
the one before she got sick
before she herself had an umbilical cord
to an oxygen machine
in her living room

Just a simple 609-522-1556
and I could call
and leave her a message.
“Hi Mom, how are you?  Aidan is three now.”
“Hi Mom, Lloyd has the lead in his school play.”
“Hi Mom, Merry Christmas,  You’d be 60 today.  You’d hate that.”

609 522 1556
“That’s my mother’s number,  Isn’t it honey?
It says it’s disconnected.
How could that be?”

Later I find that my stepfather is changing the phone into his name
and somehow they disconnected the line.
What if he’s lost the number?
It’s her number!

He had moved out and in and out long before she had gotten sick
and had only moved back in full time
after she died
so that he could be there for the kids.

But she was the one who was ALWAYS there
Sitting at the dining room table
Facing the passing cars out the picture window
Answering each call

It takes my breath away
to open my birthday calender book
and see a paranthesis around her name

What a short life
filled with strife
and light

I can’t believe that there are no more Christmas Eve’s together
No more late night birthday calls
No more, “Hi Kels”

No more 522-1556

the Circle of Life

One of our family traditions is displaying the cards we receive for life’s many occasions. My husband’s birthday was our most recent so the window sill in our kitchen holds the few greetings that arrived for his 35th. (When he complains about the dwindling enthusiasm for his day, I remind him that he’s not a kid anymore.)

This year, however, our kitchen window is crowded. Greeting cards are cozy up along the sill, while others hang from the wooden mullions above that lend this Vermont farmhouse its window-paned look.

The abundance of cards, however, isn’t a resurrection of love for my husband, but rather a case of synchronicity: the birth of a child–our second son, Aidan. His welcoming cards with lambs and moons and jumping cows continue to trickle in day after day, and admittedly, do look a little out of place with the cards poking fun of Casey’s age. Still, I keep them together for tradition’s sake.

It’s the cards that I’ve added of late that make me question the whole arrangement: the ones with hazy pictures of flower gardens, deserted beach scenes, and mountain-top views; whose greetings read, “You’re in our Thoughts” and “With Sympathy.” These are the sentiments that are out of place with the party hats and teddy bears and balloons.

They have trouble fitting in my heart as well.

I am as full, and as conflicted, as that window, flooded with an uneasy coupling of joy and sorrow, celebration and mourning–torn by the juxtaposition of events in my life, and blessed with the grace bestowed from the experience of both birth and death, accomplished within weeks of each other.

This summer I received the gift of motherhood, only to have my own mother stolen away–she given two months to live; me with two months left of pregnancy–the two of us, hundreds of miles apart, agonizingly separated by the birth of child who would be such a blessing at this time.

It was as if my mother and I were engaged in some kind of parallel dance–one spinning toward death, the other toward life–each facing an ending and a beginning–and both crossing a threshold of no return.

Sometimes rather than moving together, I felt like we were on collision course; and inwardly I feared that the birth of my child would bring on her demise.

As I began the work of labor with its all-consuming pain, I was acutely aware of my mother’s suffering, and of how, in many ways, we were sharing the same process–one of struggle and surrender, both surrounded by loved ones who “midwifed” the passage.

A week earlier than expected, I gave birth to a baby boy in our home in in the Green Mountains; while hree hundred miles away, my mother lay in a hospital bed in her own home by the sea, unable to walk or even sit, but there to answer the phone when I called with the news.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment. The air outside. The hushed silence of those in the room with me. The feeling of the sheets beneath me.

I knew that my mother would probably never meet her new grandson, and yet I was so grateful that she was there to answer my call.

But she did. Bonnie Kelly Bradley, age 57, outlived her sentence of two months by several weeks–dying on the morning of my husband’s thirty-fifth birthday.

My mother passed surrounded by her eight children, including my nursing babe, who cried out just as she took her last breaths.

I don’t know that I’ll ever fully comprehend the connection between their two emerging souls.

It’s funny how life gets dished out sometimes… with heaps of sorrow or heaps of joy–or in this case, heaps of both at once. Holding both the season of death and the season of birth is a mind-altering experience, I can tell you.

As these seasons pass, I’ve looked at the strange collection of cards in my window and suddenly I realize why I’ve kept them together… I am learning to be whole.

If I can integrate these experiences on my window sill, perhaps I can integrate them in my life.

I’ve learned so much being present to both life and loss, and it has helped me open to the gifts that each brings. For there was an abundance of blessings enfolded in the pain of loosing my mother.

It was the depth of our sorrow that made the expression of our love so powerful, so very palpable–as if the two needed each other, as if they were meant to be held together.

One of my greatest lessons came in the quiet hours sitting at my mother’s side, with the new baby in my lap or on hers, napping.

Ever watch a baby sleep? It’s a profoundly meditative experience–deeply soothing and spiritual.

What strikes me most is how at one moment a baby’s face will light up with a smile, and in the next, his lips will quiver, his brow will wrinkle, and he’ll let out a whimper that pierces your heart.

I love those sleepy smiles, but I’ve always worked to chase away the cries.

And then it occurred to me… maybe they belong together. Maybe the baby, in these early days, was being prepared to be present to both the joy and loss his life would hold.

Children seem to understand this without reflection, as does the Earth. For on the morning of my mother’s passing, the sun shone brightly, and a beautiful ocean breeze blew through the windows of her newly vacant home.

Her grandsons jumped on the trampoline outside the window where she lie in final sleep, while her young granddaughters sat beside her, lovingly touching her face, without any hesitation, casually considering the prospect of their own deaths “someday.”

There was so much healing in the fullness of my experience, and I hold it close as I walk toward winter. When I’m faced with a new challenge, I draw upon my labor and birth as a source of strength, and also upon the death of my mother.

On the days when I feel I can’t handle a fussy baby, another diaper change, or the cold and darkness that sometimes grows inside me, I remember Aidan’s delivery, I remember my mother’s passing, and I know that beauty lies within this moment too, if I choose to see it.

I realize now that my life is a reflection of how I hold each and every experience.

Today, my son is two months old, and his face has begun to reflect back that which he has received: countless hours of love and wonder and devotion.

It was the same with my mother.

In the end, all that she gave was reflected back upon her.

Kelly Salasin, Autumn 2000

(Published in The Cracker Barrel, 2000; & Chicken Soup to Inspire a Women’s Soul, 2004)