For Kate

Kate arrived an hour and forty-five minutes into our two-hour long Writing and Well Being workshop. She neither removed her long black coat as she took her seat across from me, nor took out her notebook; simply rested the side of her weary face in her hand until we were through. At that time, she leaned over the table and whispered, “Mary, could I ask a favor? If it’s not too far for you, could you possibly give me a ride home?”

On the way to the parking lot, she paused with knowing sad eyes and made a decision I could see she had been wrestling with for at least the morning, probably longer. Then I noticed the overnight bag in her hand as she requested, “On second thought, I think my family can pick me up if you drop me at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center instead.” Of course I could.

The morning’s rain had changed to blinding snow, so it was some time before I was able to clear the car off.   Although I offered the front seat, she insisted she was more comfortable in the back, nervous with other drivers and accustomed to riding in taxis. Although the Center was just a few miles away, the roads were treacherous. I could see the fear in Kate’s face in my rearview mirror. Not sure whether this was caused by the drive or her condition, I was especially cautious and mindful to keep her calm.  As I drove, I thought about her. I knew very little about this delicate woman, not even her last name. I did know that treating amnesia brought her to our group and when she shared her work through our spontaneous writing exercises it was poetic and insightful genius. Her voice was soft and gentle as if speaking would harm her.   I didn’t even know if the family she spoke of earlier was real or part of her fading memory.

She knew the route to the hospital well. When we arrived I helped her out of the back seat, held her tiny frame in a great big hug as we wished each other a Merry Christmas. It broke my heart to leave her there. She thanked me profusely for helping. I know it didn’t occur to her that she was the one doing me the favor.

With the weather conditions, it took me over an hour on side roads to complete the journey home, which ordinarily would take thirty minutes. That gave me time to contemplate what I had just experienced.   As “Oh Holy Night” played on my car stereo, tears rolled down my cheeks. It was difficult to erase the image of Kate, her long white hair contrasting with her coat as she disappeared into the hospital through the fluffy flakes, grasping her bag. Only two weeks ago I had severed my ties with the mental health system that had sometimes helped, often frustrated me for nineteen years. Kate was evidence that it served its purpose, yet I so longed for her not to be there at Christmas or at all.  My tears shifted from empathy to gratitude-driven as I thought of my own evolving holiday situation. I had earned the title “empty nester” recently when my son smiled and hugged me after stuffing his last trunk load saying, “You knew this day would come.”   Indeed, but so soon?

It will be the first Christmas morning of my life waking up in a quiet house.   Yet I am anything but alone. Christmas Eve will be spent with a large extended loving family, friends and feast.   On Christmas day when I have heavenly peace, it will be in a warm house surrounded by nature. I’ll build a fire in the fireplace and curl up in a blanket with my notebook and a cup of tea.   I’ll fondly reminisce about Christmas’ past and manifest the promises of 2018, which will bring a return to the beach in a big way and vocational transformation back to my true holistic self through new services at Capture Life Writing. Then at sunset I will lift a glass of wine in a toast to Kate thanking her for the unexpected Christmas message she delivered to my heart and send back that magic to her in the form of peace and love.

This season allows me to celebrate the light, as many traditions do. It’s represented in all religions and even Mother Nature shows us with the solstice. As I write this, she is showing it to me in the form of the sunlight glistening off of the ice on the branches of the mighty willows across the street. Stunning. I take this as a reminder of the light we have inside all of us and it brings me joy.

Wishing you all light, laughter and love this season.

Ruby Heads Home

“I am at the emergency vet with Ruby,” read the 10:00 pm text from my daughter. My eight-year-old grand dog was lethargic and had not been eating since the day before, so she brought her in for examination. She was waiting for blood work results when she texted me. I immediately called her and we chatted a bit to pass the time and she promised to keep me updated. A little while later she called with alarming news. All of Ruby’s organs were failing from an infection that she had apparently been fighting for a long time. She had likely been in pain. The vet offered to keep her in the hospital; my daughter made the decision instead to take her to her more comfortable surroundings at home. Her boyfriend was out of town, scheduled to return the next afternoon. Ruby is a Daddy’s girl who clings to his heels at every step, so any decisions needed to be made with him.

My daughter accepted my offer to stay with her overnight. Before I left the house, I let my own dog outside. I looked up into the clear sky and said a prayer, glancing at the constellations. A moment later, a shooting star streaked across the sky. The orionid meteor shower was presenting a gift; signaling something and triggering a sense of awe within me.

When I arrived at my daughter’s, she and I and a friend surrounded Ruby, giving her pets and whispers to comfort her. We curled up around her on the floor and couch. She was as still as I had ever seen her, and later pulled herself up with our assistance to her favorite place on the couch. We stayed in close Facetime and phone touch with Ruby’s Daddy who was feeling helpless. Alternating shedding tears and sharing photos and memories of her healthy days, we fell into half slumber. Toward dawn I woke up to the sound of my daughter’s distressed cries. Her arms were cradled around Ruby who was having a major seizure. Calls to the vet, confusion and our best efforts to calm her brought her through. When it was over, Ruby was breathing erratically and looking fearful. We contacted my daughter’s boyfriend to deliver the news. In a Facetime exchange that I will never forget, they made the mutual decision to end her suffering, him saying Goodbye to his baby from 1,900 miles away and giving her his blessing to let go. She visibly responded by wiggling to the sound of his voice while we all sobbed.

Immediately after, we carried Ruby out to the car and placed her in the back seat for her final journey in this life. From my vantage point in the front passenger seat I could hear my daughter’s calming voice soothing Ruby with comments like, “It’s okay Little Bear, Mommy is here” and “Your so brave, we’re almost there.” My heart was bursting with love and admiration for her courage. When Ruby had another seizure, my daughter cried out again and I was terrified. We were all crying. We also knew that Ruby was close to a way out of this.

When we arrived at the vet’s, the technicians were waiting with a gurney. It was all over in just a few minutes. Ruby was in a peaceful, relieved state at last, and so were we for the moment. I sent my daughter and her friend outside. She had been through enough, and I wanted to spare her the expense, paperwork and system that reduces precious life to an itemized list of services. I made the best of it by accepting the condolences of the kind woman behind the counter. “I’m so sorry. Always, there are no words.” I thanked her, appreciating the compassion and the shaman in me explaining that I could already feel Ruby’s spirit gathering around me. She responded with a similar story about a dog that she owned whose presence she still feels by her side. We parted with a shared smile of likeminded spiritual thoughts.

I held that smile as I exited the building to find my daughter and friend sitting on the curb grieving in their personal ways. “Are you not human?” she asked. “How can you be smiling in a moment like this?” My answer was to point out the sounds of the birds in the sunrise who along with me were welcoming Ruby’s spirit and energy back into the non-physical; far away from her earthly suffering. She had a blast with her Mommy and Daddy, but knew it was time to move on and now she was free.

Later, driving home from my daughter’s house, I’m thinking to myself that grief is perceived so differently by all of us. I view it as individual levels of processing love. My sadness about Ruby’s departure from this life is equivalent to the joy she brought us in her time here. I am also someone who believes that all living creatures come from a source of pure light, love and energy, and return to that. Death is not a relevant concept; I view it as a smooth transition from stream to stream. There is a license plate on the car in front of me that says DFY GRVT. Defy gravity. I laugh out loud and think, “Good girl, Ruby.”

As I sit in the sanctuary this evening reflecting on the events that began this day, birds of various kinds visit, and stinkbugs, ladybugs and bees arrive. I am aware of the distant sound of katydids buzzing; dogs barking. They celebrate the arrival of Ruby. Then I remember the praying mantis who spent two days in the sanctuary last week; I marveled at her visit. I smile at the memory of Ruby chasing her squeaky rubber hot dog, and at the same cry tears for my daughter and her boyfriend’s loss. I admire the strength and courage demonstrated by them in the act of granting her the freedom to go home. I’m so proud of that.

Most of all, I give thanks to the amazing Universe for the gift of that rare shooting star, for I know it was evidence of pavement for Ruby’s exciting next path. She also gets a crescent moon to guide her.

Fare thee well Ruby and Happy Travels.






All I Know is Love

Feeling grateful after I finished a major project for her, my supervisor (bless her heart) told me to spend the afternoon doing whatever I wanted with my time.  No surprise, I chose to write.  Posed at the keyboard and ready for whatever topic entered my mind, I felt a bit of lingering sadness in the air from the conversations surrounding the Las Vegas tragedy earlier in the week.  Thinking about this and other situations that have no answer for the “Why?” question, the following poem came to me.   Being inspired to write poetry is rare for me, and what I compose I rarely share.  Yet as the words poured out on the paper, they soothed me, so I felt the urge to post.

Peaceful weekend, everyone.


All I can do is love.
I cancelled the cable, gave away the television, limit Wifi.
The incoming media was stifling the voice of my inner spirit.
Of course, the stories still get relayed via the grapevine.
I have no power to stop the terrorists, mass shooters; the violence.
Yet I am able to make the choice to love, so I do.

I am aware of the lawsuits, mistrust, diseases, disposable relationships, unrest.
Some in my closest circles are hurting each other; themselves.
I put them in their light and help when I am able.
And always shower them with love. 

It is my desire and nature to bring smiles into another’s day;
kind words and deeds to friends and strangers.
Steering away from the politics and drama not in my control;
pushing forever forward on a path of joy.
Some call me ignorant, blind, living with my head in the sand.
Because I choose to see the beauty on the Earth; in this life.
And seek out those who know it too.
Because all we know is love.

Big love, little love, feel love, live love, spread love.
It is all my intuitive self leads me to do.
Lost in a world sometimes alone not knowing where to begin.
I remember that starting with love is always a good place.
So I manage to find a way.

Lead Follow or Get Out of the Way

Before my father passed away in his sleep at the tender age of 55, one of his favorite things to say was, “lead, follow or get out of the way.” I hear Dad repeating that as I venture down the road of eternal happiness. This trail is often conceptualized as one that is reserved for the afterlife and doesn’t exist on earth. Yet I’ve found it here, and though it is not frequently traveled, it’s a great place to be, even if it’s off the beaten path of our culture. When I first arrived on this road, I found it was a journey ridden with many bumps. Once I persisted however, the road smoothed out and became very scenic, filled with beautiful curves between breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, rolling hills and valleys, mountains and forests.   As I walk along now, I enjoy magic revealed as the curves unfold when I slowly and deliberately approach them fearlessly. Other happy hikers have led me here. Some I know personally, mentors coaches, healers, friends. Others are strangers who are likeminded and touch me through their words. All know this “secret” journey, and we are willing to share with those open enough to learn of it. This road can only be entered via a personal portal when one is ready to desire and believe.

There are many others who share this highway, some newly arrived needing help with their direction. They simply require some roadside service in the form of reassurance. Those are the ones who stumble as I once did and need encouragement in the form of guidance; instruction as to how to fine-tune their personal navigation systems. They do not know that they are perfectly equipped to attune to their intuitive selves, yet with practice they figure this out. Their backpacks are heavier; in the process of getting lighter. When they come into my path now, I hold their hands and point until they discover and break free on their own with a sparkle in their eye and smile on their face. You can tell when the parachute has kicked in and they find their way. They become confident travelers.

There are also those who protest and block the road. They hold up banners that say, “Let me tell you about how much life sucks” or get stuck in the deepest potholes of complaining, dwelling on circumstances or insisting that being happy all the time is not only not a passable route; it is a dead end. These are the people that you wish to tell to get out of the way so the rest of us who have found a way to be there can get by, yet our happiness does not let us know that meanness, so we give a smile and a wave and keep on going. After all, many of us have been there too. We who are busy walking this journey simply step around them and continue on. We remember the time when we were so caught up in what was holding up our lives that we could not find the easy way out that was always available in the form of people, resources, options. Fear is a strong barricade.

The nice thing about travelling up this road is that the further along you go, the more you realize there is no turning back. The belief that this is indeed a real route paved to paradise stays with you and is reinforced by those you meet along your journey. Not only is it viable, it is the only one. Why would you ever go back to where you were when this joyous journey to which you have aspired has always been calling you; paved by that which makes you uniquely amused.

On this road of life, I lead in love, but consider myself more of a follower, of my heart of my dreams, of my intuition. I wonder what Dad would’ve thought about that. He seemed like a pretty happy guy. Only seventeen when he passed, I’m in my fifties now and it took a long time to arrive on this road. He’s a constant companion now, his spirit close to my heart.   As I travel, I want to shout out, “Lead, follow or get out of the way,” because I am motivated to always move forward. But I whisper it instead, walking slowly to enjoy the company and the view.

Relaxing on Gratitude Day

From the Sanctuary:

The Universe has been kind this week, delivering a perfect fit job offer, which I enthusiastically accepted. Since receiving my nonrenewal notice from my employer a year ago, I’ve been part of a job search that I can only describe as humor filled. I’ve hit the submit button on so many different systems that I am almost hesitant now to click that captcha that reads, “I am not a robot,” seriously wondering whether I have become one.  I’ve had a Skype interview for a position down the hall, and a phone interview with a committee of five that was limited to ten minutes and one speedy question from each member that ended midway through a sentence with their declaration of, “Time’s up!”  I’ve received more electronic rejections for jobs I haven’t applied to than ones I have.  Bottom line, I persisted and prevailed.

During the process, I knew the Universe had a better plan waiting for me and all I had to do was be patient; ready to receive.  I will be working to serve the teen and young adult population I have grown to love during my career. In addition, I will also be working with refugees desiring to learn English and adult learners wanting to return to school. It is the perfect opportunity for me to exercise my passion to encourage and serve others.

To celebrate, I spend a contemplative Sunday of Thanks in the Sanctuary. Trust. Believe. Allow. Receive. Today it’s time to rejoice and receive. I look around and embrace the peace of understanding that if I just throw my desires out there and let myself be guided, they will manifest. I think this as I spend time interacting with nature’s late summer visitors. Grasshoppers, stink bugs and crane flies dot the screen of my enclosed porch. Henrietta, our resident giant garter snake rustles through the garden below, much to Baby Chewy’s (my kitty) delight.   After awhile, I grow uncomfortable in my seat, so I impulsively grab a beach towel and lie down on the deck sprawled out on my back like I used to as a teenager.  I let the sunshine warm my smiling face and meditate. I am overwhelmed by the gift of this new opportunity, which lines up intuitively with my vocational path.

After a time, the English Retriever grows restless, wanting to move, so I get up and take him to the creek. The water is quiet today and clear, revealing the smooth stones on the brown bottom; water skimmers on the top. We walk to the edge of the nearby field, which is alive with flowers, butterflies and buzzers. On the return trip, I notice the dandelions in blower form standing out from the manicured grass. Part of me wants to pick one and make a wish, yet I spare them knowing that there is nothing at this moment to wish for; today is a day centered on gratitude.  Tomorrow perhaps I will focus on those wishes and beliefs…the next book to be published, a White Jeep transport for my developing Capture Life nonprofit, a new creek bridge for the Sanctuary.  There’s always something to desire, but everything has its time.  For the moment I simply admire the sparkle and stature of the dandelions, leaving them to thrive in the grass.

Overall, this weekend has been a blast. Front row seats for a magic show Friday where the illusionist made my “Believe” ring disappear from a rope and reappear in his back pocket. Bonus, I was with a friend and her grandson who was picked to assist on stage, a thrill which he will likely never forget, judging from the smile on his face. Saturday brought an invitation from Son to attend the monster truck/demo derby event at the local racetrack. This wasn’t on my bucket list, yet I indulged and was impressed by those Big Boy Toys and the extensive education my own Big Boy enlightened me with about how they are built and run, so I add this to my list of spontaneous surprisingly awesome life moments instead.

As I close out Sunday’s sunset in the Sanctuary, I admire the word art facing me in my corner garden. “RELAX” is all the sculptured metal letters spell.  It is enough.  The deer come as dusk settles in and the last rays of the day penetrate the space between the slats of the fence behind it. I obey the message, trusting that the Universe is cradling, protecting and caring for me, rocking me gently into the approaching darkness.

Can’t wait to start the new position.

Shifting with the Wind

From the Sanctuary:

The wind is blowing heavily on this eighty-degree Labor Day—the Universe is working overtime as I like to observe, shifting the world to our liking.  It is playfully knocking over the plants on my deck, empty soda bottles in my kitchen and banging my screen door.   I go outside to soak in the accompanying sunshine and as I’m sitting there with my notebook, a gust lifts my patio table umbrella two inches up from its base.  I’m marveling at this feat when suddenly, not only does the umbrella pole lift again, but rises up through the hole in the table, clear across the yard, taking the umbrella with it.  I yell and giggle and chase it, grabbing it before it can hop the fence and land in the creek.

Once it is tamed, I sit back down to enjoy the wind through my hair and write.  In the Sanctuary today, the late summer shows its natural shift.  The bees are pollinating the yellow flowers in my butterfly garden and the jewelweed cluster that popped up in the midst of my fading lilies.  The goldenrod is up now bordering the field and grasshoppers are perched on the fence posts clinging in the wind.  I inspect the remnants of my garden from the summer.  A few petunias are still blooming from the hanging plants, and parsley, thyme and basil are thriving for my recipes from May’s farmer’s market and the peppers are there.  Ahhh yes, the peppers…six plants (three in pots, three in the garden) that are still six inches high.  I acquired them too from the May farmer’s market and, they have remained green and healthy.  However, they have not grown a centimeter or produced a single pepper since I transplanted them all those months ago.  Mother Nature’s reminder that she is still in charge.

As the wind shifts, I think of the reflecting shift in my life.  There is change happening in the form of a vast uncertainty and I’m facing that with a courage and vulnerability I have not known that I possessed until now.  I’ve said this enough through my decades in my roles as a Mom and as a coach to thousands of college students, “You have the ability and potential to choose any path in your life.  Do it according to your own values, virtues and unique definition of happiness.  Find your truth and live it.”  In the case of my children, I wanted them to find this based on their own standards, not mine or the world’s.  In conversations with my students, it was the same, except I would remind them not to limit their future pursuits based solely on their academics, consider their desires.

As time winds down on my structured career, it is time to follow my own heart and words; to expand my comfort zone beyond home and University into a world that so needs love, hope, kindness and joy right now.  Having just finished my memoir (my greatest gift as a writer) I have discovered that I have an overabundance of all of those from others, plenty to give away and still keep.  As a result, I realize just how much there is to share.  Reconciliation of the Heart will be my owner’s manual and Capture Life Writing, my nonprofit organization, my vehicle.

Moving forward with both is exciting.  Trust. Believe. Allow.  Receive.  Shifting with the wind, I’m taking off to and reaching the stars understanding that the Universe will meet me half way.   Time to put the umbrella away on this Labor Day and focus on what really matters; helping others.

Wishing you courage, joy and love in your own endeavors.

Celebrating All Nature’s Miracles

From the Sanctuary:

Sitting in the lanai at sunset, pen in hand, enjoying the stillness and quiet of the evening with the relaxing colors of the horizon as a backdrop.

The afternoon’s eclipse hype has passed.   I enjoyed a fun day with friends picnicking on the grounds of a nearby college campus with thousands of other people under the playful sun, sharing the purpose of witnessing one of nature’s miracles.   The crowd is much bigger than anticipated, so the free supply of cardboard viewing glasses gets dispersed long before we arrive.  No worries, we are prepared with our geeky empty cereal boxes, manipulated per Youtube instructions with scissors and duct tape.   We have no idea how to use these.  Thankfully, everyone is friendly here, sharing glasses, telescopes, boxes, texted photos from other vantage points around the U.S. and conversation.  There is joy in the air.

As the moon works its way in front of the sun, it creates a crescent shape that reminds me of a smile.  I imagine that the Universe, glancing down upon these thousands of people staring up, is thinking in a content, happy sort of way, “At last, I have their attention.”  Even more so when at peek time a collective cheer erupts in celebration.  The humans are pleased as well.  It is like a ritual.

At one point my friends head to the telescope line and I stay back on the blanket to babysit our belongings.  I smile as I people watch with pleasure, and contemplate.  Yes, the Universe has their attention now, yet the miracles that nature provides should not be limited to occasions that occur every few years.  They happen every second of every hour of every day.  The birth of babies, a minute seed pushing through and sprouting from its smothering soil, a shooting star, a spider spinning a designer web.  One walk on any path or under a starry sky is all it takes to encounter one if we choose to take the time.  My friends return and I take my turn at the telescopes, marveling at the close up view of the sunspots.  Shortly thereafter, when the crowd disperses, my co-spectators and I make a stop to raise a glass to the day, friends and nature.

I return home to a quiet empty house and the peace of my lanai, and as always, a desire to write about it.   There is a disturbance in the tall branches above me as a large bird lands.  A majestic red tail hawk comes to visit.  He jumps to a nearby dead pine tree and then to a live one.  When I lean forward more closely to admire his amazing stature, I frighten him, and he swoops away into the dusk.  A few moments later Mama deer brings her baby out to feed.  I love that she trusts enough now to allow me a close look and to speak softly to her.  I thank her for the family visit and she looks up at me as always, in caution before continuing to feast on the grass.  The sun is below the horizon now, leaving behind the deep darkening blue that brings out the bats and allows the stars to present themselves one by one.  Baby deer feeds from Mama and their silhouette against that blue has me put down my pen for a bit just to inhale and savor the scene.

Ah yes, the Universe is full of magical moments, and I’m grateful that my today, as always, was so gifted with them.