Entries Tagged as 'Mason'

The Cemetery

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

20 x 30"

“As long as the sun shall rise goes the old lovers vow.

But we are children of a scientific age & have no time for poetry.

Still, I offer a quiet prayer of thanks for the sunlight each time I see your face.”

–Brian Andreas

We were returning from a light-hearted pizza lunch when my 10-year old nephew Mason asked my sister Kristen, “Mom, when I die, do you think people will burn me or put me in a box thing in the ground?” Kristen and I exchanged a look as she calmly answered him.

“Well Mason, that depends. If you make your wishes known before you die, people generally try to honor what you want.”  

“Oh, okay,” he said, apparently satisfied.

We reached our destination. Kristen headed inside, and Mason trotted around the car to hug me.

“So which do you prefer, kiddo?” I asked, wrapping him in my arms. “Burial or cremation?”

“Hmmm,” he contemplated, “probably burial. That way, if I have kids, they’ll have a place to visit me after I die.”

“Makes sense,” I said. “I’d visit you, too, you know. I’d visit all the time. Who knows, maybe we can even be buried near each other one day.”

“Okay,” he said, “but I hope you die before me.”

“Yeah,” I said, tearing up. “So do I.”

The Return

Saturday, July 25, 2015

 Overlook

I head up for a week in the Great Smoky Mountains with my nephew Mason, who is almost 10 years old. I’ve rented a cabin that we discover, after our 12-hour drive, is country kitsch: Chock-full of bears holding up hearts inscribed with saccharine sayings.  “What’s the deal with all these bears?” Mason asks.  “I don’t know, it’s beary weird, isn’t it?” I say. He puts his arm around me, looks in my eyes and says, “Don’t worry, Aunts make things bear-able.”

During our week together, we settle into a routine. Early mornings, I have coffee and do yoga while he sleeps. Mid-mornings, we hike. In the afternoons, we swim in a cold clear river, and at dusk, we lounge in our balcony’s hot tub and watch the sun set. As it gets dark, we each take a rocking chair and quietly sketch with pastels and pens. Later, we curl up and talk about life and death. “I don’t want you or anyone I love to die,” he confides. “When I think about death, I get sad.”  “Yes,” I say, “we all die. But this is also what makes our time together very precious and beautiful.”  Mason turns his back to me in the dark and cries softly. I feel my own face wet with tears. I put my hand on his back and say, “I’m sad, too. But you know, when people really love us, we can feel their love even after they die. We get to keep their love inside.”

We drive through a dense forest. I’m thinking about our conversation about death. “You know,” I say, “some cultures and religions believe that we live many lives. We aren’t just here one time, we are born into many different bodies, including animal bodies, until we’ve learned everything we’re supposed to learn about being here. It’s called reincarnation.”

“Hmmm, I think I’ve heard of that,” he says. “What do you think, Aunt Sara? Do you believe it?”

“I don’t know what to believe,” I say. “Sometimes I feel like I’ve been here before, but mostly I just enjoy the questions. I like wondering about it, more than anything. I like the mystery of it, you know?”

“Yeah,” he says.

Later on the hike, Mason requests that I ask him questions. He likes it when I ask him, “If you could…” questions, like, “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?”  His answer is, “To live forever.”

I try another question. “If you could come back as anyone, at any time in history, and live their life, who would you want to come back as?”

He gets quiet for a few minutes, thinking.  Then he says, “I bet you know who I’d pick. Take a guess.”

I don’t know. I think of the president, or wealthy people, or famous athletes, but none of these feel right. Then, it hits me. “Yourself?” I say, “you’d want to come back as you?”

“Yep!” he says cheerfully, and offers no further explanation.

I’m deeply touched.

“That’s cool,” I say, when I can find my words again. “You know what, Mason?  Me too.”

Mason is on the edge of pre-adolescence. His body is changing, and each day he speaks with more maturity, but he still retains much of his boyish innocence. Often during our hikes, he slips his smooth little hand in mine. We walk like this for awhile, sometimes miles. Teenage boys and their fathers who are definitely not holding hands cross our path, but Mason doesn’t let go. I wonder if it will ever be like this with him again, which makes our time together precious and beautiful indeed.

Mason sketching

I weave the car down a mountain road, my eyes alight with the scenery, big clouds atop bigger mountains. “Aunt Sara, you’re smiling again. You’re always smiling. Why do you smile so much?” Mason asks.

I am not aware of smiling.

“Because I’m happy,” I answer, realizing it’s true. “I know that life can be difficult, but I love being alive, Mason. I love that I get to be alive.”

We walk the same trails I walked when I was here alone last summer. As we walk, I catch glimpses of who I was last year, when I came to these woods falling deeply in love with the man I was sure I’d marry. Time passed; we parted. I loved him, and perhaps always will, but his heart never opened to reciprocate. Meanwhile, his eyes opened often towards women with bigger breasts, higher heels, shorter skirts, and far more make-up than I wore. It was necessary to let go.

Last summer, I struggled to be present in these woods. I just wanted to return to my lover’s arms and watch our life together unfold. But the path led somewhere else.

This summer, I walk comfortably in my body. I don’t have any romantic prospects or a single pair of high heels, but I’m fiercely in love with myself, these woods, and the ginger-haired boy who walks sometimes ahead of me, sometimes behind, and sometimes with his hand in mine.

The hikers

“This is my favorite part of the path,” Mason says during one of our long hikes to a waterfall. He stops me and gestures to the trees that form a low, dark tunnel over us. “It looks like a wedding,” he says.

I smile. “That’s one wedding I’d want to attend,” I say.

“Walk along, kiddo.” He does, and I take his picture in the dark tunnel of trees.

The Wedding Path

Mason springs up the path ahead of me. I watch his deft feet and wonder who he will become. Highly creative and sensitive, deeply introverted yet a hilarious entertainer, it’s impossible to know from here. Most everything is, in fact. I wonder how he’ll record this summer vacation in memory. I wonder if he’ll return to these memories for comfort, to remember a time when he was really at home in himself and loved so completely. I wonder if he’ll have to lose himself and find himself again, like I did in my painful teenage and young adult years. I think about the people who have helped me get back to myself when I’ve been lost, and wonder if I might be such a person for Mason.

Trees have always done this for me, wrapped me in their green blankets of light until I remembered myself and could open back out to the world. I wonder if I can be a kind of forest for Mason as he grows up, an earthy place he can return to, even just in memories and dreams. In this forest, whoever he is, whoever he becomes, whether he finds himself on or off his path, he can know he is loved just as he is.

These woods, too, tall and verdant with their wide arms above us–we walk and we are held, by branches and leaves, by sticks and legs and careful steps over water, in an improbable world of connections and partings, a world that, just this morning, was declared in Mason’s mom’s Facebook post to be on the edge of total climate collapse.

As we walk, Mason and I make plans to return to these woods each summer, to make it an annual tradition.

I hope we do.

But life is uncertain. Next year, will we both be alive? Will we have the resources and the time and the desire to vacation with each other? We plan to return to the woods, but perhaps what we most want to is to know we can return to a place where we are wholly ourselves, where we belong to and can participate in a sacred world, a world in which we don’t have to question if we are loved. Perhaps this is a place we can return to anytime, always, because we carry it inside.

Green sky

On the drive home to Florida, we don’t talk much. Last year, Mason called me out for making idle conversation just to feel connected to him. Since then, I’ve learned to trust the silences between us, to rest into the connection they hold.

Occasionally we listen to music–Eminem (his choice), Josh Ritter and Krishna Das (mine). We find some common ground with the band Phoenix, and jam out together. While he half-sleeps, I listen to Mickey Singer’s audio version of his new book, The Surrender Experiment. (Mason informs me he “already knows all that stuff,” and perhaps he does.) We also listen to Eleanor and Park, a tender adolescent story of love and loss that a client recommended to me for the drive.

Mostly though, we sit in silence. Time passes. We cover distances. We look at the road and we breathe.

“Ask me some spelling words,” Mason suggests to break the monotony of the drive.

“Fantastic,” I offer.

“Fantastic,” he says. “F-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c.”

“Yes,” I say. “Fantastic.”

Path

 

LOST
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

David Wagoner

Awake

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Awake

Awake awhile.

It does not have to be
Forever,
Right now.

Awake, my dear.
Be kind to your sleeping heart.

Take it out into the vast fields of Light
And let it breathe.

–Hafiz, from I Heard God Laughing – Renderings of Hafiz, Daniel Ladinsky

Days go by. I forget to paint. I forget to open my journal and scribble in my soul’s native language. I forget that the walk to work can be as sacred as my partner’s eyes, and the weekdays as filled with wonder as my heart when my nephew says, “I love you.”

This morning, though, a Wednesday and quite early, the sky was filled with plump pink clouds illuminated like floating ships of light. An old woman in office dress and heels scrambled across the street and jumped smiling to the curb as my car passed; instead of our differences, I saw myself in her, if I’m lucky, 40 years from now, still showing up to something meaningful–I hope–and smiling.

Two-and-a-half years into a very full-time job as a psychotherapist to people in significant pain and distress, I’m learning the value of refueling my own reserves, so I can be present for others from a place of groundedness and inspiration. Refueling in a busy work week takes more intentionality than I realized, and has required a commitment to questioning the frantic voice in my head that says there’s not enough time for me; there’s not enough time to be–there’s not even enough time to fully breathe.

Sometimes painting refuels me, but if I’m not careful, painting can become just another way of keeping busy, of producing a product, and of trying to prove myself.  So I have to make space to just doodle, journal, walk, and sit around, which isn’t easy for me to do. Not easy, but simple, and necessary. Paradoxically though, this unstructured time, with no agendas, can actually yield the richest fruit: Contacting life afresh, with its sweetness and profound uncertainties and difficulties. When I’m in that place, open and letting life reach me, I’m listening, I’m watching, I’m awake. Then painting or not painting, working or not working, doing or not doing: I am being.

Summer Bloom

Monday, September 29, 2014

Summer Bloom
36″ x 48″

 I left town for the weekend in despair over this painting, the colors in disharmony. My nine-year old nephew Mason had declared the piece a failure. “I don’t like the petals or the leaves,” he said, in a statement that condemned most of the painting. “The colors are wrong, too,” he added, not at all apologetically.

I agreed, but I didn’t know what to do; I couldn’t see where it needed to go next. The thought of the dumpster occurred, and possibly setting down my brushes for good. When these thoughts come, I usually just need a little space from the work. So I took it, and tried not to worry that I’d lost the touch and would perhaps never paint again.

When I returned from my trip, I approached the painting with fresh energy. As I worked, the flowers changed, and changed some more, and then, like a camera coming into clear focus, I found the right balance and the painting clicked into place.

Rarely is it my instinct to step away and give the important things in my life the time and space to ripen. I’ve been told I was impatient from the start, eager to grow up, eager to get on with it, whatever it was. However, the natural world takes its own time, and cannot be forced. The same is true of healing, and art, and the great unknowns of the long horizons of our lives. So I need the reminders–that life and its natural unfolding can be trusted.

This painting gave me that reminder.

When I give time and space to a process, I just might be met by a bloom.

Flowers 5

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

flowers 5

Tonight, Mason dropped by unannounced for a hug.  I opened the door wearing my painting apron, brush in hand. “I knew you’d be painting,” he said. “I can only stay a minute–Mom wants me back on a schedule before school starts, so I have to go to bed early.”

We commiserated about the reality of childhood bedtimes. “I’m going to bed early tonight, too,” I told him, “but of course, it’s different when you’re an adult. No one tells you when to go bed. Bet you can’t wait for that, huh?”  He smiled.

“Well, come see the painting real quick, kiddo.”

Mason walked into the studio and gave it a 3-second look. “Still a rough draft,” he pronounced. “Okay, gotta go!”

He’s confident now, unphased by the mess. As if he knows I’m far from done, but trusts I’ll get there. I do, too.

Flowers, 4

Sunday, August 3, 2014

flowers 4

Mason stopped by again today while I was painting. “Is that still a rough draft?” he said, eyeing the changes and smiling.

“Yep! Still a rough draft.”

“It’s getting better,” he said. I agreed.

I mixed matte medium with Mars Black to start the loose outlining, a process that reminds me of tying ribbons to the plants that get to stay in a major landscaping.

“Yeah, it’s getting better,” Mason repeated. “It’s not good yet, but it’s getting better. Where’s the Ipad?”

Then, he sat down on my rug and played quietly like the best kind of studio visitor; I was alone, but not alone.

This made me think about painting, writing, and the growth process in general.  Perhaps every good thing is simply the result of one rough draft after another. Thinking of my work and my life in this way–as a series of successive rough drafts–sure makes me feel safer putting myself out there. First make a mess (experiment, give it a shot, get the sort-of hang of it), then gradually, one rough draft at a time, tidy up till it’s done.

That, and try not to leave messes on other people’s rugs.

Flowers 3 (rough drafts)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

flowers 3

This morning, my nephew Mason, age 8, stopped by the studio as I was preparing to paint. He looked at my easel, at the draft of the painting in Flowers 2, and scrunched up his face.

“Um, you’re going to work on that some more, right Aunt Sara?” he said with that unfiltered critical quality children who are still allowed to be honest sometimes have when they speak to adults about their experience.

“Yes,” I said, “that’s what I’m doing this weekend.”

“Oh, I see. So it’s like a rough draft?”

“Yep, exactly.”

“Oh, yeah, I know what that is,” he said. “It’s like you start off just being messy, and, and then, well then you can mess up.  Like in writing, in art…And then, once you’re done with the rough draft, you can do it nicely, since you have the hang of it. The rough draft is for getting the hang of painting the picture.”

His voice had changed; there was acceptance in it, softness, a knowing. I was floored, but I tried to play it cool. “I like how you describe that,” I said in my best I’m-not-that-interested voice. “Can you tell me one more time?”

He did, and I jotted it down verbatim.

Mason was playing with my pallet knives, trying to scrape off their dried paint. “How did you learn about rough drafts? Who taught you about them?””

“At school,” he said. “My favorite teacher taught me about rough drafts.”

It took everything I had not to envelop him in one of those “Auntique Sara” hugs he hates and loves.

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