The call was on Monday, and just the weekend before I had been a member of the team of facilitators on a Beginning Experience Weekend retreat. These weekends, which are held at an Abbey's retreat center, are designed to help those who have been widowed, divorced, or separated to begin the process of working with and through the grief they are experiencing at the loss of a spouse through death or the dissolution of their marriage. It helps to begin healing of the wounds they have experienced.
I had made the Weekend retreat earlier that year and twelve of us who made the retreat together bonded through our experience and continued to go to the follow up sessions primarily--at least in my case--to be able to spend time with these other people who understand the pain of losing your spouse, and how it streaks like a lightning bolt across your consciousness without warning. You don't have to explain, for example, why you start to cry in the middle of a sentence for no apparent reason. The other facilitators told us they had never had so many people from one Weekend continue on as the twelve of us, and they began to call us the "Twelve Apostles." In September there was an all day gathering when we were told we would learn more about becoming a facilitator, though we didn't have to commit to writing talks or giving them on a weekend. All of us came, and each one of us began writing our first talk. I eventually wrote and gave two talks on that October Weekend, and I was able to see that the talks I gave made a difference to the participants, as well as the empathy and compassion we shared in our small groups. It was a very intense experience because not only was I reliving my own sorrow, but also being concerned about each of the people on the retreat as they wrestled with their own grief.
Then just before I went to bed Sunday night, I glanced through the emails that had come in over the weekend and was met with the news that a dear friend of mine had died suddenly and unexpectedly; as she was getting out of a car, she just collapsed. We had been friends since college, and my beloved and I had visited her and her husband on the East Coast when we were out there in 2010. Then when my husband was dying, she had flown out with another friend to spend some time with us. They had me come to their hotel and have a cup of coffee with them one afternoon when some of my children were with my husband. We spent a couple of hours just talking and I appreciated just being able to escape briefly from the scene of my husband's dying. Now my friend was gone, and her husband had had no preparation at all.
When I began the call with Deborah, I briefly described the harrowing weekend I had experienced, and she was very understanding. Then we reviewed the session that had just ended, in which I had achieved some of my goals but not others. Then she asked me a question that detonated in my mind: if I were to do what is most calling me, what would it be? I knew immediately; in fact I have known it for some time in the background of my life. I probably suspected it even before I was married, when I thought of taking a writing course since I had long wanted to write The Great American Novel. Instead, I decided that I didn't have time to take a novel-writing course so I took a poetry workshop and that was when I met Colette Inez, who was my mentor for over 40 years. I fell in love with poetry then, and I have been writing it seriously ever since. I told Deborah that "I have such a deep desire to keep plumbing more deeply and that the new poem I have started will be different than anything I've ever done before, and it is almost frightening to think about working on it. I can also see poetry as somehow trivial--it will probably never support me, but I don't need it to do that. We talked about being a shaman (and how to pronounce that word!) and the importance that poetry really has." When I recorded this in the progress report for the session, I was crying as I wrote it because "I didn't realize before how key it is to my life's meaning."
The poem I had begun was originally called "The Gate of Gratitude." It slowly grew into a longer poem and when I added some verses from the "Song of Songs," at one point I ridiculously called it "Canticle of Panicles." Fortunately I realized that that would never do for a serious poem, which was evolving into a chapbook, at first just called "Portal," and now "Portal of Light." At some point my daughter Mary offered to look at it and critique it--and since she had been an English major in college and started working on her PhD in Literature at UCLA, I took her up on it, and it has been an amazing collaboration. Since the chapbook is about my marriage, our family, and my widowhood, she has been able to comment on both its literary style as well as the contents, and in every case she has been extremely insightful, even when it meant writing entire new sections or doing major revisions. But everything she has suggested has strengthened it, and I think I am getting close to attacking the final section that needs to be written. I am intimidated by this because Mary said it needs to be a poem that is up to the standard of the opening poem, which is probably the most powerful poem I've ever written. But with several rounds of meditation and journaling since we met last week, I am beginning to believe I can undertake it.