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Archive for April, 2017

A Story About Crows

I want to tell you a story about crows.  To do so I must tell you another story.  And to tell you that story, I must tell you another one.  And that story is kinda sad, OK?

My aunt Becky passed away too soon.  It was only a year and a half after the passing of her sister and my aunt Susan.  They both died of ovarian cancer when I was in my early-20’s.  And still, a decade and a half later, I mourn them every day.  They were amazing women, gentle and graceful, both of them possessing singing voices that would stop anyone in their tracks.  Growing up, there was always a guitar present at all family gatherings and when Becky and Susan began to harmonize on a song that was being played, their voices rising together with decades of practice, I knew that this world was made of pure magic.  Their loss stings me at times when I don’t know what to make of this life because I imagine that a conversation with them might allow me to be a little more sure of everything.

By the time Susan’s cancer was diagnosed, it was too late and she died just a mere couple of months later.  Becky was diagnosed shortly thereafter and was able to fight the disease for a while.  We watched her go through anger, strength, sadness and peace, sometimes all at the same time.  When chemo caused her to lose the wild array of brown curls on her head, I think we all mourned a little bit more.  It made perfect sense that her memorial service would be filled with song.  She taught music to young children and her students, present and former, attended her service.  People played dulcimers and guitars and mandolins and I watched their tears fall on their instruments as we all sent our voices up to the sky to meet Becky’s spirit.

After the service, my cousin Erin, Becky’s daughter, stood up at the front of the service, displaying a strength and grace that no one of her teenage years should ever have to show so soon, and handed out little satchels filled with Becky’s ashes.

“My mom wouldn’t have wanted to stay in one place,” she said.  “She would want to travel.  So take her with you and let her see the world.”

The following summer I was making a cross country road trip and Becky traveled in the glove compartment until I found the perfect place.  I passed up the Badlands and Yellowstone and the Tetons.  When we reached Zion National Park, I knew that I had found the place.  I asked my traveling companion for some privacy and hiked to the top of a steep trail until I found a vista suitable of Becky’s beauty.  Tears were trapped in my throat as I gazed out over the red rocks that were commanding attention from the blue sky.  I opened the satchel, turned it upside down and the winds quickly caught the ashes and carried them past the canyon walls.  She was gone.  I hung my head.  And then I heard something.  It was a cry and it belonged to a large crow that had come swooping up from behind the butte right in front of me.  As it made circles in the sky, crying its primal call, I finally found release for the tears that had been trapped.

A few years later, life found me in a place that I never would have expected.  I was living in  Aspen, Colorado after following some whims and a good looking raft guide.  My dad had come to visit me and I showed him all around the wilds of my new home.  He had packed Becky’s ashes with him and it was when I showed him the John Denver Memorial rock garden on the banks of the Roaring Fork River that he knew that he found his place.  We returned the next day and stood in front of a large rock carved with the lyrics of the song “Perhaps Love.”  We read the lyrics aloud and then my dad spread the ashes at the base of the rock.  It was then that our attention was pulled to the caw of a crow flying over the river.  I had told him of my own experience and so the two of us simply stood locked in our places for a while.  It was then I knew for certain that Becky’s spirit would always be present, that my aunts’ love for their family was so strong that they would never, ever truly leave us.

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Years after that, life found me in yet another unexpected place.  I was on a Reiki table in the jungle of Costa Rica.  I had made a decision to attend yoga school because my life had turned into what I liked to refer to as a bad country song.  So there I was face down on this table as this ethereal woman moved her hands over me.  Reiki is a practice of healing based on the principles of the subtle energy channels in the body, the point being to release energy from places where it has become trapped.

“I had to do a lot of work on your root chakra,” she told me as I left the session in a bit of a daze.

Now, yoga school isn’t just about learning the perfect headstand.  Oh no, it’s about doing a true exploration of yourself so that you can get to a place where you can guide others to do the same.  And my yoga teacher was very much focused on the chakras, the seven points of energetic homes in our bodies.  We hadn’t yet started working with the chakras at the time of my Reiki treatment so I went back to my bungalow and flipped through my chakra book to figure out why my root was in such distress.  I read about how the root chakra is associated with familial obligation so I attributed my faulty chakra to the fact that I was an only child and thus a lifelong perfectionist and moved on.

And then the day came shortly thereafter when we focused on the root chakra.  We started with a two hour physical practice in which we did a bunch of grounding poses as my teacher told us more about this little spinning red ball of energy located at the base of the spine, at one’s root.  She talked about how our root chakra had to do with our right to be here, our right to have all that we want out of life.  The first chakra is where our survival information lives and asks ‘from whom do you need permission to take care of yourself?’

After this two hour practice, we were instructed to take silence for our hour long break for breakfast. We would do this fairly often in school, so that rather than fill our mouths and minds with chatter, we could start to listen to ourselves.  So I went inside, curled up on a chair and started writing in my journal.  And then I began to panic.  Because what I realized in that moment was that I had no survival instinct.  I had always joked that I was going to drive off a cliff Thelma and Louise style when I turned 65 and in the toughest times of my life I had brief thoughts of cutting that timeline short.  Somewhere deep down inside of me, I didn’t believe that I had the right to be here, the right to thrive.  And I found myself sitting there, wild with fear, no longer wanting to be quiet.

I left the main house and found my shoes and went running down the long dirt driveway that led away from all of my fellow students who were all quietly writing and eating breakfast.   When I made it far enough away so that no one could hear me, I dropped to the ground and wrapped my arms around my legs, rocking back and forth.  The sounds coming out of my mouth were somewhere between a cry and a scream.  And then I heard something else.  I pulled my head from my arms and looked up.  It was that black bird, circling above me, crying.  She had come to see me, to tell me that I was strong enough to do this, that I was meant to survive and thrive.  She came to tell me that she was not going to leave me alone until I did so.  I walked back to the house slowly, tears running down my face but a comfort in my skin that I had never felt before.  That night, in the wee hours of morning, I was awakened by a small earthquake.  It was the first earthquake I had experienced and yet I had never felt so safe as I did in that moment.

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And so we come to my story about crows.  The one that I wanted to tell you.  I wanted to tell you that they now follow me around.  That they appear to me  in times when I most need them.  I want to tell you that there are little signs all over this world and they are just begging you to notice them and that these signs are telling you that everything is going to be OK.

I want to tell you that it’s often when I’m making a difficult decision and finally reach a conclusion—that’s when I will see the crow.  I want to tell you that we all know deep within ourselves exactly what we need to do.  All the time.  I want to tell you to trust yourself more than anyone else on this entire planet.

I want to tell you that losing someone you love in the worst thing in the entire world.   But that the best way that you can honor their life is to live yours with so much strength and beauty and service and zest that you can practically hear them laughing from whatever plane they are inhabiting now.  I want to tell you that when I see the crow, I check in with myself to see what I’m hearing.  I want to tell you that it’s alright to be quiet and just listen sometimes.

I want to tell you that I’m really into spirit animals, creatures coming into your life to call your attention to something.  I want to tell you that if the crow has chosen you as your spirit animal, it supports transformation and connection with life’s beauty in every shape that it takes.  I want to tell you that when I hear the cry of that bird, I sometimes hear the harmonizing of my aunt’s voices.   I want to tell you that this world is made of pure magic; and it’s just waiting for you to notice it.

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IMG_2589I’ve known for a long time that I am going to write a book one day.  Years ago, I attended a talk given by a well-known novelist in which he talked about how all people had stories hidden inside of them and writers were those that had the key in which to unlock them for the world to see.  Afterwards, my friend whom I attended the talk with grabbed me by the shoulders, locked eyes with me and said ‘Ashley, you have a story and I know you have the key as well.’ And in that moment, I had a deep feeling of ‘yes’.  This feeling was a deep knowing, a truth that I had been searching for, a shaking in my bones.  Now, I don’t know when or quite how this will all happen.  And I’m unsure of just how the content will flow.  But I’ve known the title for over five years now.

Five and a half years ago, my life was in a very different place.  I was married.  I had a job managing a running store.  I owned a beautiful home in Carbondale, Colorado amidst the Rocky Mountains.  And I was very unhappy.  I was unhappy because I had a longing inside of me that I could not quite fill.  In the year leading up to that, I had taken a new job and moved into a new house, hoping that those would fill the hole.  And they didn’t.  I was unhappy because I knew that I wasn’t being loved in the way in which I yearned to be loved.  I knew that I had to make a change but I was scared to death.  There were times that I had thoughts of veering my car off the side of one of those steep mountain roads I used to drive, thinking that might be slightly easier that disappointing people.  Because one of my issues is that I really hate letting people down and I thought of all of the people that I would upset by making this change—-my husband, his family, my family, our friends, my boss.

But I did it.  I decided at first that I would simply just spend the winter back in West Virginia.  I would live on my own for a while and make decisions for myself only, take a writing class and just see how it all felt.  I had always hated the snow anyway.  I had been back in the rolling hills for not even two weeks when I knew that this move was not temporary.  I knew this for the simple fact that living on my own, being alone, made me feel less lonely than my marriage made me feel.

And so this is what my new life looked like at this point:  I was going to file for divorce.  I was waitressing at a chain restaurant.  I was living in a tiny garage apartment.  I was still scared to death but that feeling was fading a little every day.

Around this time, during the holidays, my parents and I went to go visit Cricket.  After the death of my grandmother, when I was just out of high school, my grandfather met, fell madly in love with and married Cricket.  Their love story was beautiful but entirely too brief as my grandfather passed away about five years later.  Cricket remains an important part of our family and one of my favorite people on this planet.  To describe her, I’ll simply tell you that she’s going skydiving for her 85th birthday.  But what I was doing during that time was probably a little confusing to her.

Making the changes in my life as I was doing was not quite the norm for people of my parents’ generation and definitely not for Cricket’s.  You go into a career and you stick with it, you go into a marriage and you make it work.  Sometimes those things contain everything you could possibly want out of life.  Or sometimes your longings and dreams might go unattended and that’s OK too.  But I had decided that ‘just OK’ no longer worked for me.

So there we were, standing in the kitchen, Cricket and I, and I was telling her about my divorce, my waitressing job, my little apartment and she looked at me and said:

“I’m sorry about…….your life.”

I looked at her and a smile spread over my face.  “I’m not,” I replied.

Hanging out with my friends a few days later, I relayed this story to them and my best friend looked at me and said that the title of my future book should be “I’m Sorry About Your Life. Love, Cricket.”

And so it is.  Because in every great story, there is a hero.  And that is the moment in which I decided to become my own hero.  Since that time, I’ve been writing a new story.  I’ve had some soaring victories in which I have discovered my strengths and created success for myself.  I’ve made some bad decisions; I’ve learned some hard lessons that stemmed from pain.  I’ve had plenty of humorous anecdotes to lighten these pages. I open new chapters and close others.   I’ve added some important main characters and disposed of others.  And I keep writing this story that is truly my own; I keep turning that little key inside of me.

Change is hard and it’s scary and it has this way of making us feel as though the very earth beneath us is shifting.  But a necessary change comes when the earth is already shaking and trembling beneath you and the longing that screams inside of you can no longer be ignored.  And when you heed to that call, perhaps you can feel as if you are finally turning a page of your own story.  Or better yet, throw out the book that was once a tragedy, or one that was simply too boring to read, or one in which you only appeared as a minor character.  And you write a new one in which you are the hero and you choose your own adventure.  You work towards writing an ending in which you are the main character and this character finds a ground that is stable; you don’t stop writing until the longing inside of you starts to fill slowly with every chapter.  And these chapters keep unfolding and these words become your truth and the ending, though yet unseen, is something that you are so excited to see.

 

 

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