Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Farewell Zami

            We came home from a weekend retreat to find a reality we have tried to prepare ourselves for had come true. Our twenty-two year old cat had passed. Part of my heart constricted. I couldn’t breathe. I don’t know how we unloaded the car.
We just did.   
On a snowy afternoon in January 1999, Kelley and I made our way to adopt a cat in Fredonia, NY. I had had a dream the night before about an all grey cat, so I thought we knew what to look for. But in the kennel with all the grey cats was a grey tiger with Bengal markings. She met me at the door and, when I picked her up, she tucked her head into the crook of my arm—and the purring! I tried to meet some of the other cats but, each time, she got there first and it was her head beneath my hand. I called Kelley over, repeat. We took her home.
They didn’t know much about her. When the caretaker came out to feed the cat he found Zami waiting outside the barn door, waiting to be let in.
            When we got her, she came with a free spaying. The vet said she was at least two years old. When I called the next day to check on her, they told us that it was going to cost a bit extra for the abortion. I panicked. I knew what a pregnant cat looked like and it floored me. She had been pregnant, though she was so malnourished and skinny even the humane employees had not suspected. For reasons. She had a litter of five kittens. All but one was dead and three were being reabsorbed by her uterus for food. But it would have killed her in the end. Because we picked her, because we took her home, she had a fighting chance.
She was never sick again.
Zami was a great cat. So thankful to be indoors and have snuggles. So grateful for a dry space with couches and cushions. Over the years she has made many friends. It was hard not to love her, even when she kneaded your kneecap in her joy. With her claws. It was her speciality.
            I barely remember an ‘us’ without her.
            She’s gone now.
Best buds, Luna and Zami
            Her name was inspired by Audre Lorde’s biomythography of the same name. It means “female husband” and we knew when we went looking for her, we wanted more than just a pet. Zami was never our kid. She was more like a third partner, one who greatly disapproved of our choice to bring other kittens into the house. When we brought tiny Luna into the house, Zami hid under Kelley’s altar for weeks. The kitten was undeterred and Luna became her greatest friend and companion. Zami never recovered from her loss.
When Bella came into the house Zami was like, “Another one?!” She tried to ignore the tiny presence, but the tortoise shell never went away. Zami spent some time hiding on top of the kitchen cupboards until Bella got bigger. They became unwilling siblings and there were so many moments we would walk in on the two of them, after Luna died, almost-touching and Bella would look at us with big eyes, asking us not to fuck it up, and we would back slowly out of the room to give them that space.
(front to back) Bella, Zami,and Luna on Christmas morning 2008
            Zami never really recovered from losing both of them. She and Mara never really connected, but they tolerated space together. These last few years were hard for Zami. She was old, but otherwise healthy. She walked stiffly around the house and slept on the heating grate in the winter. She slept most of the hours of the day and only got up to pee, drink water, eat, or when one of her friends came to visit.
She loved people. She loved being social. She was a lap whore and she could dead-weight her body in seconds. If you wouldn’t let her in your lap, she would not-make-eye-contact and slink in at a snail’s pace, truly believing that if she didn’t look at you, you couldn’t see her. She was ¼ Bengal cat with long skinny legs and a long skinny tail. She had serious ninja skills, unfortunate for us. She was a night prowler. It was how she kept us safe. I have so many photos of her but they’re all pre-digital images. That says something to me.
(All this past tense hurts.)
She also had a string of special friends, which speaks to her longevity. She had the loudest and most prolific purr. She could go for hours without stopping. Depending on her level of excitement there were also chirps and coos. Somewhere I have a video of her purr, from before Luna died, because we were already wondering when we might lose her. That video is at least six years old.
She was also a hunter of all things rodent and a consistent closed-door-opener. Keeping her out was never a successful venture. I caught her in the act once, and watched her jump up and wrap her arms so she was hanging from the doorknob. And then she hitched her shoulder up and down, redistributing her weight until the knob twisted and the door clicked open.
I don’t know what happened to her on the streets, but she did not suffer the presence of dogs or male cats. Not for a moment. She would cut-a-bitch so quick. That side of her scared me.
            Her eyes would glaze over and she would be a blur of motion. If I was fast enough I could catch the end of her tail and deter her momentum. Food was always a trigger. She wasn’t interested in people food but if there was cat food anywhere she could smell it and she would do whatever it took to get to it. She had some periods of being a big girl. It’s not uncommon for strays to have food issues. 
She had such a long life. These last few years she developed some form of dementia. She barely recognized me and fixated on my partner as a touchstone in a very creepy, Renfield-like manner. She often got lost staring at a wall and would yowl until we found her and turned her around. She spent most nights isolated in a room with her cat beds and a light on. After that she started sleeping through the nights again. She’s not in pain anymore. She’s with Luna again.
I’m sure that will soothe my heart soon. But not yet.
There was one morning, more than a decade ago, where I was dreaming that I couldn’t breathe. I woke up to a house full of smoke, and Zami head-butting my face and caterwauling at me. I got the small fire out and the windows open thanks to her. It wasn’t the only time she saved me. But I’m thinking about that moment especially right now.
I worked till midnight at a grocery store when we first moved here. One night the phone rang while I was counting out drawers in the back room and instead of my normal can-I-help-you greeting I simply said, “What’s wrong?!”
My partner was hysterical. Zami had leaned against the screen window and the screen had given way and she had fallen out. By the time Kelley got outside, she was gone. Everyone was telling us she would come back. I spent days without sleep. I wandered the streets with cat treats. I made a lot of new cat friends. No Zami.
I put up missing signs. A few days later I received a whispered phone call from someone who said there was a cat matching her description inhaling food on his porch. Where was he? Right across the street!! She’d been there the whole time, right under the porch, listening to me calling for her. I’m certain she thought that since she was outside, she assumed that she had done something wrong. She never wanted to be outside again.
When I ran across the street to scoop her up, my heart was so relieved I cried. She hesitated between running to me and leaving the bowl of food, lol. When I picked her up she put her arms on either side of my neck and hugged me. I cried so hard out of joy.
Today, my bags sit unpacked. My eyelids are puffy and swollen. My heart feels trapped in limbo and I am allowing this floaty feeling to calm my grief. She owned one place in the house, the window seat where she watched the world outside.  On one hand, I am already thinking about cleaning it out so that Mara can have a place all her own, but on the other hand…
Not just yet.
But very soon.
Mara is all right. She doesn’t understand why mommies are so sad, but she feels something is amiss. Zami slept most of the day and spent nights in isolation, per her preference. It may take a couple of days before she understands that Zami isn’t here anymore. So even in the face of death we keep our eyes to the living. It gives us something to focus on other than loss.
Now all of our original kids have passed, an entire generation of our life together is gone. As a pet owner you know to expect it. The reality of it is brutal. Our lives changed in her death, more than we can be aware of at the moment. So we must stand in the doorway, at the gateway of death, and say our goodbyes. And we must open ourselves up to what-is-to-come and allow it room for entrance and purchase.
We had to choose to put Luna and Bella down when they were ill. I wished, more than anything, that when it was her turn to pass, that Zami would slip away quickly. And she did.
            After Bella died, and Zami was the only one left, a stray visited me in the garden. I was still in grief and wanted her to go away. We ended up taking her in. I realized this morning that if I hadn’t opened to love, the house would be completely empty right now. For whatever that's worth.
            Hail to the traveler. Zami has earned her rest.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

When Death Settles in for a Long Visit

Our eldest cat is old. At 22 years she's roughly 98-102 in people years. That's the toll her long life has taken on her body. She has outlived two of her sisters. She still uses her litter box. She still prowls the house at night, even though it involves more yowling and getting lost in the dark. Her instincts to hunt are strong but her eyesight is not.

She has slight dementia. It's been a long three years of worrying over her, reassuring her, finding her, calming her, etc. We love her. Of course we do. But some days it's like having a stranger in our home. And death is a shadow fixated on her movements.

Even as I type this, I am prepared to change tenses. I am accepting of the reality that even in the few days before I post this Zami may pass. Every day carries the possibility that she may no longer be with us. And yet she might live another five years.

Who knows?

It's hard to live at that edge, that boundary. Anyone who has ever cared for a dying loved one knows this space. That place of difficulty when they get forgetful. When you have to get up during the night to check on them. When you haven't seen them in a while and you raw straws or play rock-paper-scissors to see who is going to make sure they're breathing. And you make deals with your deities for more time, longer days, and that they pass peacefully in their sleep.

There are days and moments where you will wish their ending to come swiftly. Because you're human and to be a caretaker is to be drained and running on fumes and unable to say fuck it when you need to because there is care to be given. We are human.

We're readying ourselves for a retreat to the mountain. We will tell her we love her before we leave. We will snuggle her and tell her what a beautiful girl she is and how much we love her. And we will tell her that if she is ready, we understand.

You wish kindness for their suffering, but what of your suffering heart?

Let the living care for you. We do what we must for those we love. Listen to your instincts. Listen to your heart. Listen to your head. They will not agree but if you look for the light, the way will become clear. Only you know the best choices for your loved o

The poet Mary Oliver has a piece called "In Blackwater Woods" that has a delicious ending that I cling to when death involves my loved ones. It's easy to be strong for other people. But it's hard when the potentiality of death is in our home. Every breath is precious.

"...To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go."

Disclaimer: I did not get to post this piece before I left on my retreat. Zami was gone when we returned yesterday, which made it feel all-the-more important to publish this as it originally was.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Where Compassion is Needed

I try to put myself in their shoes. It's not hard for me, it never has been. I have always been highly-sensitive to other people, empathically empathetic even. So when I put myself in their shoes I don't just logically dictate how my life-as-I-know-it would change. I create a reality where that *is* my life and I sense-it-as-true intensely.

So I wonder how my world would have changed if, when I went to my mom to ask for my birth certificate and social security card so that I could get my driver's license and/or my first job, she had to reveal a dark secret to me... that I was not born in America. That we were illegal.

I think about what constitutes my childhood near the Great Lakes-- the playground of my elementary school, McDonald's happy meals, craft fairs down Main Street in the summer, playing hide and seek in m neighborhood, babysitting, reading, the library that was my second home, dancing, theatre, applying for colleges, filling out my first round of taxes, etc.

And what if my government told me that I wasn't welcome here? That I had months to settle my affairs before they shipped me back to, for instance, Poland (a country of my ancestry). A country I had never been to. A country I couldn't point to on a map with a hundred percent confidence. A country whose language was completely foreign to me. A country that housed none of my family. What if my government suddenly told me that was my real home?

What if, instead of college, deportation was my future?

What would be crueler? Charging me $500 every two years until I could arrange my naturalization? Or deporting me to a country that is not and has never been my home?

We often let bureaucracy get in the way of taking care of humans. But the institutions we put in place were always meant to be in service to people. And somewhere along the way we lost those pieces. The way back to them involves compassion and kindness. Empathy and love.

Our Dreamers are not terrorists. Their classmates had no idea they were here illegally. They were people with faces and names and hopes for how to help make this country a better world. They were raised to believe they were citizens until they found out they weren't.

I know about living a life in secret. I know about pretending to not be gay. I had a job for two years where I had to make up a whole alternate life where I wasn't in a serious monogamous relationship with a woman. No one should have to live like that. There has to be a better answer for them than deportation.

They did not make the choice to come here.

All of my ancestors came here at some point from another country. That is true for most of us. So I cannot, in good conscience, support the decision to deport people who are culturally as American as I am. Besides, I do not consider myself American first. I am human first. We are all human beneath the color of our skin and the country of our birth. Sometimes that has to matter more.

This video, titled Illegal, is moving and gives a humanitarian perspective on this topic.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Equality Now

Altar items used to cleanse a space of negativity.
I learned this week that it is illegal in Germany to do the Nazi salute in public and to wear or hang any symbols of the Nazi party, especially the swastika.

Yes, I know that the swastika was an ancient Indian symbol for centuries before the Facists claimed it for their own designs. Someone challenged me this weekend, with whether we could let the workings of one group alter the discourse of the original meaning.

My response was that yes, the blood of six million Jews is enough to taint the image forever. Or at least for now. Until none are alive who remember what their ancestors lost to the Nazis.

Which was the moment I realized that we have been remiss in allowing people to wave and hang Nazi flags or shirts or stickers. We have. Because Nationalists, as a rule, are racist. There is no more room to allow free speech to groups who fundamentally believe their superiority over everyone else. We have a responsibility to tell them they are wrong, that divisiveness will not be tolerated in our country.

We are at the point where we have to say it. Because Nationalists don't want equality, and equality should be our human, compassionate end goal. Or what are we existing for?

Everyone fights change. Our country has always fought it. But our nation is changing. As our young people fall in love, ignoring labels and boxes, we are organically becoming a different people, a different race. Why is that a bad thing? It's been happening in the open for the last five decades. It's time we say that being racist is wrong.

I know a lot of white people the generation above me who wouldn't say they were racist but didn't want their children having a relationship with someone of color. I had friends who cried over it and I was witness to some of those family fights. But as soon as there were grandchildren, most of that fear-of-the-unknown-racism melted away. Love filled the space that fear had held.

Love is the greater and more natural emotion.

I stand on the backs of my ancestors. The way we are living right now would likely be offensive to most of them. But as the generations passed, my family did not hang onto cultural values of those who came before us. They adapted.

I have no problem saying that people who believe in an ideology that promotes racism are wrong and have no place in this evolving country. They have to adapt.

I mean that across the board, not just as applied to Nationalists. But they're the ones who are in the news today.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Altars to Alter Space in a Place

I make altars wherever I go. Sometimes when I use the word, people who know I am pagan quiet, not certain how I mean it. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a usually raised structure or place on which sacrifices are offered or incense is burned in worship —often used figuratively to describe a thing given great or undue precedence or value especially at the cost of something else.”

That's fairly accurate. I would define it as a space dedicated as sacred, dedicated with a specific spiritual purpose. I have many in my home and over the years they have been featured on my blog in photos. There are three in my office. The main one is my ancestor altar. There is a second one dedicated to Kuan Yin and Jizo that evolved during my work on finding peace within myself. The last one I call my Working altar. It changes with my spiritual progression but it is always sacred. I don't even set a cup on it for a moment. If you know me, that's saying something.

It is a large part of my dedication to hold what is sacred to me as sacred every day. The creation and tending of altars is integral to that work. They are placed through the house, in the kitchen and the living room. We often joke that if there was room in the bathroom we'd put one in there, but it's a true statement. Some of our altars are so old they look like purposeful artistic installations.

We make ones when we go to the woods. When we go camping. When we stay in hotel rooms. And when I visit my family.

Working Altars
Last year I was in a space of recovery still and I set up a small altar with a piece of fluorite I has used in the Burn ICU. As the week progressed and I pushed at the edges of what was physically possible for me, I added objects to it I found in the park and on the beach and it became a thing of beauty and peace to my heart.

Healing Altars
When I initially had my accident, we created altars in our home with items sent from our loved ones.

And then friends of family of different faiths and beliefs rallied together to send me thoughts and prayers. Each of them created something personal to them with my health and in mind. They were altars created while I was in a coma and my life was uncertain. With their permission, I share some of the photos, just a sampling of altars built around the country, connecting energetically in one purpose. Magic.

From Anne's home...

...and Dani's home...

...and Heather's home...

...and Irene's home...

...and Kaye's home...

...and Kim's home...

...and Michelle's heart...

...and Rahdne's home...

...and Tracy's home.

Altars in Nature
I spend a lot of time in nature. Not as much as I'd like to, but it's my happy place. It fills me with such joy that I feel drawn to make temporary altars in gratitude for the time and space I share with the land and it's other inhabitants. I use what's around- sticks and stones and leaves and ferns and flowers and feathers- and I let my heart guide the end result. There are some spaces we travel often enough that the altar has become more permanent. Enough so that those who visit the space feel the sacredness laid down.

Isn't that the best magic?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Summer Solstice, 581 Days After Near-Death By Fire, and Elsie's Birthday

Blessed Solstice everyone! My house smells like freshly made honey-butter bread and freshly cut strawberries. As the sun sets on the longest day we will eave a fairie offering outside to appease the fae folk. It's one of our traditions.

It is the first day of summer and the longest stretch of daylight we'll see for the year; roughly fifteen hours and fifteen minutes of light for New York. Even as we move into our warmest days the light is waning towards the longest night.

It's a hot one today, too, driving me mostly inside after a morning trip to the laundromat. It's been five hundred and eighty-one days since my accident and after too long in this heat, my insides feel poached. I am also extremely photo-sensitive.

So I am struggling to connect to this glorious holiday that I used to revel in. Today is the Summer Solstice. It is also the day my Great-Grandma Elsie was born. Happy birthday, Grandma-from-Florida! She was born in 1904. She was born one hundred and thirteen years ago. She died in 1994, when I was 17. She loved the summer. I think of her and I smile. It never fails. She is still with me.

Me and Elsie the first time we met.

Elsie and me the last time we saw each other.

Today on her birthday, I got a twinge to check again and there was a hint on her name! I have never been so excited to see a leaf pop up! It brought up a new document that was scanned in- her marriage record to my Great-Grandpa Harold!

They were married August 16, 1924. I knew that already. It happens to be my birthday. I was born on their anniversary, the first one without my Great-Grandpa. He died the year before I was born.

It lists her place of birth as Potsdam NY, which we didn't know. The witnesses were Edwin Kinyon (likely Kenyon) and Pearl Riddle. It also lists her mother- the one whose parents I have been searching for- as Louise Burnett. We previously had Emma Louise Burnah (we know she went by Louise day-to-day). It feels like a present! I now have another lead in the search for more information on Elsie's parentage.

Listen to your gut! Allow your searches to be as intuitive as it is document-driven.

Tonight my house will rejoice in the healthy growth of our garden thanks to the mix of hot and stormy days leading into the beginning of summer. That will be my balm. I will toast to Elsie and thank her for all the love she gave me during the living days she was with me, as well as the days she has been part of my life since her death.

Blessed Solstice!
A screen-capture of the marriage record.

Harold and Elsie the day of their wedding, August 16, 1924.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

How I Keep the Dead Alive

Snuggling with Luna the day before she passed.
I used to go to the local zoo when they housed Bison. I have a special affinity for the buffalo and would sit with them, sharing the day. I spent time telling them stories about their ancestors. I told them about the giant aurochs and the time of the mammoths.

"Your ancestors were giants," I whispered.

When it is quiet at night and my tiny tuxedo cat Mara is curled in my lap, I tell her stories of the furry sisters she never knew. I tell her about Luna's moth hunting skills and how she once drained milk out of a cup without knocking it over or off the side table. I tell her about how Bella had vision problems and lived under the bed for eight years. I tell her about how Bella concussed herself twice slamming head-first into furniture. I tell her how Zami was kinder before her two younger sisters died. I tell Mara that Zami, known at 22 as Crazy Grams, would miss her if she died first.

And then we talk about how she's going to live a very long life.

But no one lives forever. I have a list of loved loves lost to time, some recently inked in. And we miss them forever. We ever get over the loss. We're not meant to. We miss them forever. It just hurts less as time passes. We add more to our life stories and some experiences begin to fill in the cracks.

We become repaired, healing things, more beautiful for the new joys.

When I am feeling insecure I talk out loud to my Great-Grandma Elsie. She used to make sure I knew that I was fine just the way I was. In fact she loved me for it. She would try to explain why people treated me the way they did. She gave me their perspective while affirming that I had a right to be hurt. So I talk to her and I smell her in the room and I feel her sitting beside me.

When I am lost I talk to my Grandpa Dick. He was beloved, the only Grandpa present in my life. He had a way of telling me how reality was while not making me feel wrong. He could help me break down a situation and logically show me where I misunderstood. And I would know I had to apologize, and he would squeeze my hand with pride. And then he would tell me he was sorry I had felt hurt. And he would set his mouth and look at me and I always felt like he really understood.

I was in the room when he died. I felt him leave. But I talk to him still. I ask him for guidance, for help in knowing what the right direction is... and I smell the inside of his Cadillac and I feel like no matter what choice I make, he's along for the ride with me. I'm not alone.

I share the stories of my beloveds. It's how I keep the dead alive.
Grandpa Dick and me during  family generational photo, around '87.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


Every morning the news brings me another story of some woman being harassed for wearing a hijab. It sickens me and saddens my heart. And now those stories are getting brasher. They are being discriminated against. People are refusing to service them. People are snatching their hijabs off their heads. That is akin to stripping them naked.

I don't understand.

At it's core, the hijab is a head scarf. It  covers the hair. It is a symbol of modesty. That is all.

Rather than preach religious tolerance, I thought I'd post photos of the other head scarves and wraps that religions and cultures have worn and still wear. They each have their own stories of discrimination.

Can't we just skip that step this time?

Remember that if you wish your beliefs and practices to be tolerated, you must extend the same courtesy to others. I'm talking about beliefs that do not interfere with someone else's right to life. Beliefs do not harm. Actions harm.

Be kind. Be open. Be tolerant.

[All photos used for illumination's sake are stock photos for public use.]

They're not wearing head scarves, but they are wearing wigs over their hair as a covering.

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